It Is Accomplished V: A Sensibly Radical Young Man, Advocate, 30/09/2015

Continued from last post . . . So what do my social democratic views actually look like? And why would I call them radical, when social democracy is a style of politics usually associated with boring Scandinavians?

Basically, my politics comes down to an opposition to centralization. That’s not libertarian, because they’re only opposed to centralization in the government. And I don’t share the libertarian opposition to unions in themselves, only unions that centralize their policies and actions from an in-crowd of leadership. Here’s how things break down for me.

In the politics of the 2015 West, we've come to fear
our security institutions
more than whatever it is they
apparently protect us from.

The classical liberal (and post-Nozick libertarian) belief that the state’s only essential function is providing security comes from a Hobbes-style thought experiment that presumes an anarchic and violent natural world from which the state delivers us.

It rests on the false presumption that only a universal institution of police and prisons can protect us all from constant rioting. The presumption is that before the development of states, there was nothing but an atmosphere of constant violence, or at least the constant possibility of violence and banditry.

Really, I think communities – at least at the local level of neighbourhoods – naturally live in peace. And institutions to settle disputes are only needed as a society grows bigger than the neighbourhood. Even then, it’s dangerous to let our security agencies grow so powerful that they think they should run the whole show.


You can’t really have a free society without people being free to start businesses and build their own careers according to their own talents and desires. An entire country’s economy is too complicated for a centralized planning authority in the state to assess correctly and arrange jobs and careers for the whole population.

All a government can do is set conditions for economic development through taxes, interest rate controls, financial regulations, and labour rights laws. Much more control over competitive economies than that, and you have massive draconian actions and the collateral damage alongside. 

Economic systems, relationships, and processes are where small interventions – small acts at key points that proliferate through the whole network – do the best work.

Uber is a business model that depends on a labour
force that has no power to make any claim that the
company is at all responsible for any of their
employees' assets or investments in their job. I've
ranted about this model before.
Working People’s Rights

Very few contracts are ever negotiated from a position of true equality. Owning a business, or having a secure middle management position that’s responsible for hiring in a larger company – that’s more power than an interviewee who’s been on the job market for months and is nearing the end of her savings. 

Not everyone who holds that power will abuse it, but worsening labour conditions overall for folks near the margins are a sign of imbalance. A fair government should somehow have the backs of the vulnerable.

My old libertarian friends used to tell me that as long as you weren’t being oppressed by the state, you were free. You could be one of the working homeless, employed but barely able to buy food or pay rent anywhere. But you're still free.

Poppycock. Freedom isn’t an either/or of liberated/enslaved. It’s not only freedom from oppression. Freedom is a set of powers that can always grow, it’s your capacity right now and your potential to become more and other than what you are. A just society does its best to make sure our powers can always develop.

Keep Public Services Public

The myth of privatization is that everything works better in the free market. That’s generally true. But not every private market is free. A lot of public utilities – like electricity, roads and transit, education, health care – become schizophrenic when there are multiple providers all in competition.

These need to be monopolies. But they can’t be privately held corporations, because a privately held monopoly is an economic despotism, a cartel. It’s Monty Burns with the power to block out the sun. 

So these public utilities need to be run by transparent, publicly accountable entities with communication channels at all levels of the hierarchy for constant feedback from the people they serve. This, to me, is the legitimate role of the state: holding the means of common goods in the public trust, which we all fund in common by paying some taxes.

The most powerful civil rights movement since King
and Malcolm. And digital media means that we can
all be some small part of it if we wish.
Social Movements

These are the real cornerstone of democracy. Not elections, not representative government. Movements of ordinary people working together to voice their concerns and work for real change in their communities.

It could be to reform an oppressive security apparatus that does violence to a community. It could be to fight a government policy that enriches the already wealthy while impoverishing the poor. Or a general strike. Or a community garden. Or opening your home to refugees from a terrible war. Those are just some of my favourite examples.

Democracy is about people connecting with each other to solve each other’s problems together. 


This is a simple issue. If we don’t keep our planet’s ecosystems in reasonably good shape – the species diverse, the oceans’ currents flowing and full of life, the soil nutritious, the air clean – then none of these other principles and values will make any sense. 

We’ll all be dead. Humanistic politics – capitalism, communism, libertarianism, feudalism, apocalyptic American or Islamist Taliban, whatever! – forgets that without a healthy planet, none of their values matter. So we need to develop our technology to enhance the biodiversity and strength of our ecosystems.
• • •
Basically, that’s me. This is my utopia. I don’t think it’s that weird. But I often get the feeling that a lot of my views about how best we should live are pretty unusual. I just hope this moment of honesty doesn’t turn people off.

It Is Accomplished IV: Tying Myself Up in Red Tape, Research Time, 29/09/2015

Continued from last post . . . See, this is what frustrates me about having political conversations sometimes, that a lot of the time, people think I’m one type of person when really I’m another. 

This was clearest in conversations with my old libertarian friends. I would say I’m a person of the left, and they’d talk to me as if I was a doctrinaire, state-centric socialist. But I actually think that kind of government is ridiculous. 

It stifles economic sectors that are more productive and ethical in competition under state ownership. It enables mass corruption, since the state becomes a universal monopoly that people game to advance in society. 

Brazil depicted a central character who was stuck in a
world of bureaucratic conformity, but who dreamed
of being absolutely unique.
The tradition of art from Franz Kafka’s The Castle to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil helped me form a lot of my political sensibility. I saw clear expressions of the economic and political flaws of state socialism when I studied the history of North America and Europe, and clear expressions of state socialism’s ethical flaws in films like Brazil.

So when I say that I think the post-Reagan political order needs some serious structural change if we’re really going to lift millions out of poverty (again) and start repairing our immense ecological harm (for the first time fucking ever), state-centric communism won’t be an answer.

Fukuyama makes that much clear. Mind you, he emphasizes what I think is ridiculous because he believes it and makes it the centrepiece of his conception of economic progress. Fukuyama says that human mastery over nature – his core principle of science’s unity and progress – ensures our prosperity.

This was an important element of Marx’s philosophy too. Science progresses by growing humanity’s mastery over nature, so we produce more and more from the Earth. He just considers communism the best political system for fairly distributing the bounty from our authority and control of nature.

Environmentalism – and ecological thinking more generally – shows us how dunder-headed this way of thinking really is. The last 200 years of humanity understanding “mastery” of nature as our ability to exploit it with increasingly efficient rapaciousness* hasn’t made us more powerful at all. Instead, we’re the engines of Earth’s sixth Great Extinction.

Because humanity-enabled atmospheric changes have
dried out so much of what was once lush land that
huge swaths of forest are burning down and will likely
become desert in decades. I mean, holy fuck.
* My ecological perspective (which you can read about here) is what makes reading about Fukuyama’s virtue of insatiable desire so off-putting. I’m too accustomed to the idea, which should be MORE taken for granted today, that insatiable desire is terribly destructive.

Humans need a government that guards their freedom. Democracy generally does that best. Or at least, it has the best potential. Where I differ from a liberal is how.

Robert Nozick struck such a chord in traditionalist liberal thinking because he situated his philosophy in a long-established liberal premise: people fundamentally need physical security above all else. So the primary (and it turns out, only) legitimate function of the state is to provide physical security: national military defence and domestic police. 

If the politics of my own time, the early 21st century, demonstrate anything on this matter, they at least call it into question. You can’t take seriously mass-scale domestic espionage and the inevitable disaster of anti-terrorist intervention with a military built to fight states, and say there might not be an essential problem with a state monopoly on our physical security.

Folks who worry about state socialism say that a political institution shouldn’t have a monopoly on all industry and employment. This is true. But not enough people worry about the political institutions that hold a monopoly on the use of lethal weapons and the prison system. 

I’m not going full libertarian here, but Latin Americans – even more than the most paranoid North Americans – have lived through generations of military men who think their power over the guns and prisons gives them more right to rule than civil servants and elected officials. 

The scary part for the liberal tradition – from Hobbes to Nozick – is that this conclusion can follow from having made physical security the primary purpose of the state.

Where I fall for an alternative is with social democracy. But it’s a form of social democracy that keeps the state and the military in a very subservient role. It’s my humbly radical utopia. . . . To be continued.

It Is Accomplished III: A Necessary Revolution, Research Time, 28/09/2015

Continued from last post . . . Last time I talked about Francis Fukuyama's work, I got hung up on how weird I found it that he conceived of naked, insatiable consumerism as a human virtue and a necessary condition of political freedom. Seriously. Pretty strange.

But today (and possibly tomorrow, depending on how long this post eventually runs), I want to talk more specifically about his explicit political thinking, revolutions in particular. 

This is seriously important for my Utopias book project, because of the Big Four philosophers of modern conservatism,* Fukuyama is the only one, to my knowledge so far, who endorses social revolution as an essential engine of historical progress.

The American Revolution is an inevitable historical
touchstone in any story of the evolution of democracy.
But too many writers in American conservative society
treat the revolution and the origin of the United States
as the culmination of political freedom. It was really
a phase transition in what we understood political
freedom to be.
* Say the incantation with me now, in chronological order: Friedrich Hayek, Ayn Rand, Robert Nozick, Francis Fukuyama.

There’s a particular point in some social process when the entire order of the government, civil society, and the most powerful organizations in the economy just kind of have to go. Any of these can be destroyed by some popular uprising or other shock at any time when things are fragile. 

But beyond this contingency, there's a point where there can be no other way forward than to upend the entire order of things. Revolution becomes necessary, not just in an ethical sense, but as if the very nature of things determine an explosion. Strike a match. It burns because of what it is, and what's happened to it.

Fukuyama calls the issue that brings a society to its breaking point a contradiction. He's following Hegel, who saw such necessary explosions as dictated by the universal logic in nature. 

So I'll just call the issue an essential problem. A society has a structure that creates different groups, but the nature of the groups themselves means they'll inevitably conflict. You can't solve the problem without fundamentally changing all the groups.

Fukuyama says that capitalist liberal democracy is a society with no insoluble problems because in its society, everyone is free from authoritarian government and has a share of the material prosperity that enterprising economics produce. He dismisses Marx’s idea that the impoverished masses essentially conflict with the super-rich.

He does so because he’s already explained how capitalist societies allow everyone to prosper. It helped his case because he contrasted mid-20th century economic growth in capitalist societies with the snowballing stagnation of authoritarian communist states. A capitalist worker is twice as productive and works twice as hard as the communist worker. So the capitalist worker is four times richer.

But that's not how it worked out. In the decades since Fukuyama wrote, ordinary workers have seen wages and salaries stagnate, legal protections and the ability to bargain with employers stripped away. Many workers are now treated as independent businesses, even though they're individual people, allowing employers to cut away their obligations to workers. 

As a result of this loss of economic power, people in the middle class have grown more indebted, less prosperous, and less secure. In such an era when the very rich are the only ones with much economic power, conflict is inevitable.

That’s the conflict of the 21st century's populist left. The rich have become oligarchs with enough influence over state laws and international trade agreements that they can remove the capacity of people who have to work for a living to build any kind of material parity to demand moral obligations from the folks who sign their paychecks.

Social stratification of the rich and poor is the conflict of our time. But unlike Marx’s answer, we now know that full state-centric communism won’t emerge from this conflict. . . . To be continued

Dying of the Past, Doctor Who: The Witch’s Familiar, Reviews, 27/09/2015

And so the rotted, grotesque horrors of the writhing undead exploded from their mass graves in an earthquake of slime and terror to drown and choke their descendants in bubbling ichor. Honestly, there are few better endings than that.

Much has been made of the seeming meaninglessness of
the titles of this story, The Magician's Apprentice and The
Witch's Familiar
. Here's my take. Part One sees Clara
taking on a Doctor-ish role as she tries to track him down.
The child Davros eventually learns about mercy and
compassion from the Doctor. They're apprentices. Part
Two sees Davros and the Master carrying the show as
the Doctor and Clara draw out their malevolent natures.
They're each the familiar of a villainous witch.
It was much better than the actual last moments of the episode, where the Doctor returns to grant the child Davros a moment of mercy. It’s been done many times before, the idea that the Doctor can rewrite the past of the Daleks to make them just a little less malevolent or a little less brutally powerful. According to Phil Sandifer, this idea has recurred in Doctor Who since Genesis of the Daleks.

I find it very appropriate that The Magician’s Familiar two-parter has transmitted the week that I’ve started reading Phil's book of TARDIS Eruditorum essays on the Peter Davison and Colin Baker eras of the show. That book collects the essays that cover the decline of Doctor Who in the early-mid 1980s.

There are many reasons why Doctor Who declined in that era, which Phil explores in depth. The reason most important for this story is that the show’s producers thought that what the popular audience wanted was the ersatz return of old monsters and continuity porn.

For the whole story of this collapse, and Phil’s quite brilliant diagnosis of the mess, you should just buy his book. The epub version is only US$5 from Smashwords.

But I thought at first that The Magician's Apprentice was starting to slip down this hole. The first episode this season was filled with a ton of continuity points and echoes to past iconography, most of which didn't really serve much purpose and cluttered the story with images and plot points that a non-superfan audience would have trouble picking up on.

Images of the long-dead William
Hartnell haunt Doctor Who today.
The first episode included sound clips and images of the Doctor's classic-series confrontations with Davros going all the way back to Tom Baker in Genesis, including Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy. The Daleks themselves included designs from the whole history of the show. William Hartnell’s image appears in the Master’s story segment that opens The Witch's Familiar

Even Davros' talk of creating a Dalek - Time Lord hybrid evoked the ideas of the most beautiful catastrophe of the Davies era, Evolution of the Daleks.

The dead past of Doctor Who still lives, and it bubbles up from forgotten margins and joking sequences to drag the show underground with its gravity.

The first episode worried me that, having unified the classic and current series in The Day of the Doctor anniversary special, Steven Moffat was letting his inner fanboy leak too much into the show's production. 

He's now a lifelong fan who’s held the chief producer’s role longer than anyone except Nathan-Turner. His story and philosophical ideas are already starting to repeat themselves. And if he isn’t careful, the continual insertion of nods to the past will overcome any creative impulses that can push Doctor Who to new directions.

The continuity and imagery of Doctor Who's past is part of its legacy, but its re-emergence without having been transformed to fit what progress would be in the present will only choke the show's own creativity and originality. That happened once already, in the mid-1980s. And it can happen again, so we must always be on guard in case it does.

But it looks as though Moffat already understands that his time is limited. At least judging by that ending, whose meaning is pretty clear to me.

I've also been impressed with the casual grotesque body
horror thrown around Doctor Who this season. I don't
have any profound reason for liking it. I just do.
The Hamza landmines that menace the young Davros on the battlefield warn of danger. In our mythology, they’re wards to protect you from evil. Diegetically, they’re markers of death. They haul you into a muddy, slimy ground. Burying you alive.

As Clara and the Master break back into the Dalek city, they go through tunnels whose walls are made of the living dead. Corpses that have decayed to slime, but still live. Although Skaro is a planet of creatures who are made to kill, its society and its earth are made of creatures that can never die.

The past made real, given the energy of life, rises from the muddy wastes of decimated, zombified earth, and drowns all hopeful life in its ocean of liquified flesh. That energy comes from the Doctor, a character who is essentially a living beacon of hope, progress, and optimism.

Remember what Clara says about the Doctor as she and the Master begin their trek back to the city. The Doctor survives because the first thing he does is assume he's going to live.

Davros’ scheme – overcomplicated and slightly insane in the grand tradition of Doctor Who supervillains – is to trick the Doctor into donating some of his regeneration energy (the magic of the Time Lords, as he says, the transformative nature of progress) to fuel his own regeneration and that of the Daleks.

A running theme with Davros is that he always tries to
convince the Doctor that they're basically the same,
which they aren't. While Russell T Davies' Journey's
 let Davros' challenge stand, The Witch's Familiar
shows how ultimately empty it is. Not only with its
conclusion of the Doctor's magic burying the Daleks
in an assault from their own enraged dead. But
because the moment where the Doctor sits in Davros'
chair has no significance besides a quick action
aside to pad out an episode running short on plot.
So that last moment of their conversation pits the Doctor's hope, love, and optimism* against the nihilistic nationalist rage of Davros. The result is the grotesque collision of two utterly incompatible and contradictory ways of life. 

* It’s no wonder the New Democrats pepper the ad slots on the Canadian catchup streams with their election ads. 

When Clara is sealed in the Dalek, she can only communicate on Dalek terms – every emotion is expressed as "Exterminate!" and every action unfolds through a prism of rage. When the energy of transformative progress and optimism hits such a creature, of course the whole system would destroy itself. 

When "I will live!" is the same concept as "I will kill!" then an infusion of such energy will inevitably destroy itself. The Witch's Familiar explores that fundamental philosophical opposition of Doctor and Dalek from a new, grotesque, Lovecraftian perspective.

The past – and the dead – are never really dead. Memory of trauma, violence, and death can drown you if you let it have the energy. Only when driven by compassion and optimism can life become genuine progress.

It Is Accomplished II: Perfection Is Satisfaction, Research Time, 25/09/2015

Continued from last post . . . Francis Fukuyama wrote to reclaim Georg Hegel for liberals. The strong influence of the old German Logician™ on Karl Marx had relegated him to the hated left. But Fukuyama made a successful bid to restore his influence for the Cato Institute set. 

Didn’t really turn out to be the best idea, but that’s how the catastrophic military occupations go down.

The real fantasy of They Live!, apart from how
unbelievable it is that a movie could be so awesome, is
that humanity has to be told by infiltrating alien
overlords to care only for consumption. At least, so says
(and I'm paraphrasing) Francis Fukuyama.
Fukuyama resurrects Hegel as a foundation to argue that there’s a mechanism driving human history to a necessary conclusion, a conclusion where human society has the shape that guarantees people’s maximum freedom. He considers such a society capitalist liberal democracy.

Now, in the broad sense, this is a controversial claim to say the least. But I’m going to leave the controversy to the side because what I find really fascinating about Fukuyama is why he believes that capitalist liberal democracy maximizes human freedom.

There’s the negative reasons why. Fukuyama is writing in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and during China’s transition to authoritarian (and heavily corruption-enabling) capitalism. 

These authoritarian communist governments were notoriously inefficient at managing their economies because increasing technological complexity results in too many components in even everyday household items to price by centralized bureaucracy. 

Just think about all the individual components that go into your smartphone, computer, television, kitchen gear, and car. Imagine the expense and slow speed of having to make all those pricing decisions in an economic central planning committee. Plus, they had a massive secret police apparatus to instil universal paranoia and quash all dissent.

Fukuyama’s positive reason why? I stare at it, conceptually, in amazement, like one of Arthur C. Clarke’s explorers in an impossibly smooth and massive alien ship. I’ve rarely come across an idea that combines naïveté, misanthropy, and personal ego into a package of utopian optimism.

He believes that our base, insatiable desire for more and better stuff combines with scientific and technological progress in exploiting nature to produce a world of constant innovation in consumer goods and a free economy so that everyone can buy as much of it as physically possible.

It's just a weird feeling as I read The End of History and
the Last Man
 that only occasionally appears. But I
sometimes feel like Fukuyama's voice in the text is
what Patrick Bateman would sound like if he wrote a
book of political philosophy.
It reads like a pure misanthropy: human progress is driven by our never-ending drive to gorge ourselves on more and more. A society that perfectly satisfies humanity will be a constantly innovative push to feed our all-devouring maws. Yet in this image, Fukuyama sees our highest dignity: innovation and progress.

Actually, it reminds me of the conceptions of desire that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari explored in their work. But they at least took an open joy in perversity and the grotesque. Fukuyama feels too clean-cut, which is disturbing for someone with this conception of human desire.

Capitalism is the best social system to satisfy this blazing nuclear furnace of consumerist desire because of its immense productivity.

Fukuyama discusses the most famous remarks that Karl Marx made about the post-communist paradise of perfect productivity and a perfectly satisfied humanity. That we’ll work in the morning, and pursue all our passions and loves for the rest of the day. And Eastern Bloc countries, he says, often had four-hour workdays, which were able to satisfy everyone’s basic needs.

But capitalist production is so efficient and so innovative that enough work to satisfy basic needs can be done in an hour. Then the worker happily continues his eight-hour day – so Fukuyama says – so he can have as much surplus money as possible to buy more and more things and services. 



Sorry, I don’t know what came over me there. Maybe I should shut this down for today and continue to work through this utopia after Shabbos.

That’s why I’ve been taking Saturdays off from blogging lately. Living with my Jewish partner has exposed me to a lot of positive ideas and material benefits of taking a day off. 

If not a total day off from everything electronic or creative (I’m not sure if I could ever do that), then at least a day to relax and step back from my everyday projects to think about why and how I do what I do. To step away from frenzied activity and enjoy low-intensity life with the one I love, and with friends. 

That, at least at this moment, is no better refutation of Fukuyama’s perversely normalized conception of human nature than any other I can think of. To be continued . . . 

It Is Accomplished I: What Will Make Our World Collapse? Research Time, 24/09/2015

There’s been a fundamental shift over the last 70-ish years in how we understand ourselves and the world, at least in the West. I consider it to mark a categorical shift in our culture. The generations since the advent of nuclear weaponry understand that the end of humanity can be entirely contingent and purposeless.

If you ever watch the movie Threads, it's a docu-drama
depicting how what remains of society would collapse
into mass misery after nuclear war, if we were unlucky
enough to survive. It's traumatizing to watch.
This isn’t universal for every culture or society, because some societies have such strong religious beliefs that even a contingent end is seen as the culmination of a divine plan. Or their education standards have been terrible. 

It makes sense to say that for the vast majority of human history, we’ve understood ourselves as having some kind of role in a divine order. Maybe it’s the profound humanism of the Western religions, the broadly ecological Asian faith and ethics traditions, or the animist traditions of the rest of humanity. But there’s a divine order to the world and time.

Except I can’t bring myself to believe that, and I think that view became very popular since the Second World War. The main driver was public knowledge of what nuclear weapons could do, and the cultural context of the American-Soviet arms race and geopolitical standoff. 

A global misunderstanding with just a teaspoon too much paranoia could end all life on Earth in a bath of fire and radiation. During the same era, the environmentalist movement also took hold, whose core concept is that pollution and other destructive side effects of otherwise productive human industry could lead humanity to drown in its own shit.

So it’s weird to read Francis Fukuyama and find him seriously considering the notion that history culminates with a human triumph. While humanity could come to a contingent, undignified end, he gives the idea lip service, as if it were a possible accident unimportant to understanding human purpose.

Fukuyama envisions the culmination of human history in a secular kingdom of heaven where everyone is perfectly satisfied. Such a kingdom, says Fukuyama on the democratization of Russia, is capitalist liberal democracy.

It's weird to me to read someone so sincerely write this. Most ardent defences of unrestrained capitalism are today made by right-wing ideologues for whom suggestions of building a universal health care system or unionizing the local Walmart is totalitarian communist subversion. 

Even the dry economist’s tone of Friedrich Hayek could sometimes burn with the nervous electricity of an extremist’s pitch black fear.

Progressive left politics today are the social movements popular protest and utopian visions of a world free of racism, authoritarian police power, or environmental destruction. The expressions of the new 21st century Western left in state politics are similarly opposed to unrestrained capitalism: Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos.

I’m not accustomed to hearing a voice as calm, peaceful, and hopeful as Fukuyama’s praising pure capitalism as the only social system that provides universal prosperity. 

This is because he believes in a mechanism – a universal framework of human desire and knowledge – that drives human history toward a society that most efficiently and creatively develops our knowledge to satisfy our always-shifting desires. For Fukuyama, that’s capitalism in a liberal democratic society.

His reason for believing this lies in how he understands why societies collapse. Fukuyama talks about societies collapsing from internal contradictions, social and economic structures that put different populations in conflicts that can only be solved through confrontation.

So the perfect society would be one that’s immune to revolution. Is that really pure, individualistic, capitalism without restraint? To be continued . . . 

Losing the Base for Empty Gains, Jamming, 23/09/2015

The other day, a Facebook friend of mine called Thomas Mulcair a neo-Thatcherite, and the New Democrats an anti-worker political party.

This is only one – slightly cartoonish – voice among many people among the populist urban left who are traditionally a major base of the NDP, but it reflects a growing feeling in this pillar of the party’s support. 

The major popular force of support for Mulcair's NDP
came when he stood against Bill C51's repressive
security measures, but his campaign's focus on the
message that he'll consistently deliver balanced budgets
is losing the support of what could be a dedicated base
among the anti-austerity young left.
Dissatisfaction with the NDP’s balanced-budget messaging this election season is growing enough to inspire VICE think pieces and, I hope, a change of course for the party I support. 

But I don’t think that change will come. The reason why lies in the peculiar nature of the NDP’s growing pains into a big-tent mainstream party that can compete realistically for state power at all levels of our government pretty much anywhere in Canada.

This disaffected activist and middle class urban left is plugged into social media for their major sources of news, and it has also become their public square. 

They may be denounced as slacktivists at times, and there are many among us who do no political activity except tweet and post. But conversation is still a political act: even the slacktivist argues, complains, and occasionally convinces.

This is the class and generation who plugged into the ideals of Occupy and carries that enthusiasm into the contemporary liberation movements that have organized through social media: they’re the allies of Black Lives Matter, the Arab Spring, Idle No More, and Yanis Varoufakis’ Syriza. And they’re relentless opponents of austerity politics. 

The rhetoric of balanced budgets is the demand of Tea Party Republicans, Hayek and Rand inspired libertarians, and the European Central Bank leaders who brought the Greek people and Syriza to heel with the humiliation of deepening austerity. It’s a political priority that, in our fragile economic times, frequently brings mass poverty as social services and supports for the middle class are destroyed.

So why the hell is the leader of Canada’s progressive, social democratic political party talking about how his top priority is balancing the budget above all?

This is the myth of the rightward turn of the NDP. It is a myth, but understanding why takes a little history, and a little theory. 

Nathan Cullen, pictured here hanging out with one of his
sons at the 2012 leadership convention while I sit in the
row behind him, was my favoured candidate to lead
the NDP. Don't worry; he knows I was there and we
spoke many times.  I supported him primarily for
his dedication to  environmentalism and a new,
fairer relationship of Canada's settler populations
with its indigenous. Mulcair was number two on my
preference ballot,  so after Cullen was knocked
out on the third round of voting/counting, my
(and many others') second-place vote put
Mulcair above Brian Topp.
A quick history. Jack Layton removed the references to socialism in the NDP’s constitution and central documents, and lessened the direct influence of large unions’ leadership over the party’s policy. 

Thomas Mulcair is a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister in Quebec, who has overseen the toning down of anti-Israel sentiment among rank and file. During the 2012 leadership convention, he saw off several opponents challenging him from his left: Nikki Ashton, Peggy Nash, Nathan Cullen, and Brian Topp. Topp’s support was almost entirely from the old union network of the NDP, and he’s the only one of the four challengers without a prominent, visible place in the parliamentary leadership. 

Beyond Mulcair himself, NDP leadership in last year’s major elections in Ontario – the provincial election and the Toronto mayoral race – have seen humiliating NDP defeats, caused largely by triangulation-style communication strategies that tried to appeal to Conservative voters on their own terms. 

Olivia Chow and Andrea Horwath centred their campaigns on promises to do right by taxpayers and rule by prudent fiscal responsibility, saying nothing of doing right by the people and ensuring the prosperity of a more equal society.

Mulcair’s talk of balanced budgets appears to be more of the same. As I write, the Liberal Party has just climbed a few percentage points over the NDP. 

The roots of Mulcair’s message about balanced budgets lie in a strategy born of NDP anxiety, and a ghost that haunts the party in Ontario. Bob Rae.

I volunteer with the NDP campaign in my riding. That’s Phil Trotter, the candidate for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, a riding with a diverse population, but an overall suburban geography. We usually encounter friendly smiles and support from working class and immigrant folks, but the more affluent upper-middle class remains skeptical of the NDP.

Speaking of ghosts whose rattling chains and wails of
terror horrify even the strongest of people.
The first reason they usually give is that they don’t trust the NDP because of Bob Rae’s NDP government of Ontario, the accompanying economic collapse, and Rae’s complete incompetence in dealing with it. I call it the Bob Rae Hangover.

Conversations that Phil and I have with voters convince them that the NDP has rejected Rae, and has a much stronger tradition of good governance and smart policy from its provincial governments in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and now Alberta. But we can’t talk to every skeptical voter in the whole riding.

The balanced-budget message was designed to appeal to these people. They’re messages in the mass media that are intended to calm the anxieties of Ontarian voters who still suffer headaches from Rae Rum and delerium tremens from Harris Vodka.

Ontario is rich in ridings, and the growth of NDP support since Layton’s era that continued under Mulcair means that many of those contests are three-way races. Many of those are close to statistical ties that will likely be decided by desperately thin margins on October 19. 

Given the state of our current horse race, every vote counts everywhere. In Atlantic Canada for the blue-red races and three-ways, the west and Quebec City for its blue-orange races, Montreal for its red-orange, and the rest of Quebec for its teal-orange. But southern Ontario will likely carry the victory on many tight, three-way races.

The federal NDP’s communications and campaign strategists have decided that curing the Rae Hangover is the key to winning urban Ontario. Or at least enough of urban Ontario that gains elsewhere in the country can bring the party more than 170 seats.

Occupy is the revolutionary movement that began in
New York, spread throughout the world, and continues
in social movements against entrenched elites all over
the world. A left-wing party that doesn't embrace its
values will die, because they're the people's values.
The balanced budget message is how they think they’ll do it. The problem is that this message is costing them a lot of support from the anti-austerity social movement that has revitalized left-wing politics around the West, from Bernie Sanders to Jeremy Corbyn, from Podemos to Syriza. 

The NDP should be on that list. Instead, many in that social movement are abandoning the NDP as a party hijacked by the neoliberal consensus.

The irony is that the NDP leadership doesn’t actually plan to deliver balanced budgets above all else. 

All their other messages describe the actual priorities of a Mulcair cabinet: raising the minimum wage, strengthening unions, restoring environmental protections, real engagement with climate change, a national daycare strategy and pharmacare plan, higher taxes on the rich and multinationals, more power for the Canada Revenue Agency to break down overseas tax havens. 

All of these are incompatible with an overriding priority of balanced budgets. Their social services won’t run deficits forever, but it will take time for greater revenue of their truly progressive tax plan and enforcement to deliver the adequate government income. 

The balanced budget message is a lie to win over Ontarians still suffering from the Rae Hangover.

The question is whether the NDP can still win the election if they continue to haemorrhage support from the most energetic leftists in the country today. 

Manufacturing Authenticity: Three Guidelines for Modern Communications Strategies, Jamming, 22/09/2015

I was originally going to write a little bit more about the roots of neoconservatism today, but I came across a beautiful piece of journalism about Donald Trump

There's a lot to think about when you try to understand Trump and Trumpism: the theatre of politics, the popularity of bigotry, bullying as a legitimate form of public discourse, the possibility of a resurgence of genuine fascism in America.

Trump is epochal. A world-historical man.
What most interests me about Frank Rich's piece, at least for this blog, is how he describes the changes social media has caused in communications practice for political figures specifically and public figures in general. I think the public relations profession hasn’t yet grasped the radical nature and essence of this change. 

Rich identifies, correctly I think, that the essence of Trump's ability to connect with people is his aura of authenticity. He isn’t kowtowing to donors like the Koch Brothers (as every other Republican is) because he's a billionaire and entirely self-financing his campaign. He isn’t relying on campaign communicators to craft his messages. He's just rattling off the in-your-face nationalism, xenophobia, bigotry, and brutish insults that connect so well with the Republican Party's base.

I mean, yes, it's horrible. But it's still effective. Says more about America than Trump himself.

As a communications practitioner, what most intrigued me about Rich's long-read was the contrast of the improvisational Trump campaign with the Clinton campaign, whose communications aides manage every message with infinitesimal attention. 

The most insightful and hilarious element of this contrast comes when Rich discusses a New York Times article that centres on an interview with several top Clinton public relations staff, where they announce the strategy they're building to display Clinton’s authenticity. I’ll just quote Rich in full.
“By announcing this 'new focus' to the Times, which included ‘new efforts to bring spontaneity’ to a candidacy that ‘sometimes seems wooden,’ these strategists were at once boasting of their own (supposed) political smarts and denigrating their candidate, who implicitly was presented as incapable of being human without their direction and scripts.”
Aside from the problem of discussing strategy on the public record before you’ve even started, there’s a profound arrogance in the act of making this statement that sows the seeds of the strategy’s own destruction.

The question is how you can plan spontaneity.
The Clinton campaign strategy is to strengthen her appeal to voters by emphasizing her authenticity, her humanity. But the strategists say on the record at one of the most read news outlets in the country that they plan on manufacturing this authenticity in their strategy sessions. 

Implicit in this public admission is the presumption that the public will accept the genuineness of your client’s authenticity when you've just gone on record about how you'll manufacture it!

The social media era has given the internet-savvy a crash course in general media literacy. People are constantly exposed to – and participate in – media messages that flow with a speed faster than it is possible to plan. This radically transformed media ecology has created a fantastically mature audience in a short amount of time.

More people are able to tell a truly spontaneous expression from a massaged, planned, focus-grouped expression by the subtleties of written tone and the flavour of reaction. Digital communications media doesn't make people illiterate, as was the original fear of texting culture among the older generation. 

People are becoming hyper-literate. 

This isn't true of all people, of course. But it’s true of a critical mass that changes the character of knowledge and critique in public discourse. The new public square is the global lightspeed transmissions of our 4G networks and smartphones.

Communications practitioners and strategists will need to follow different rules than the top-down approach of micro-managed messaging that characterizes traditional public relations plans and approaches.

1. A message is now an idea, not a phrase. 

Standard practice in public relations is that a message is a key phrase, repeated over and over again. But when someone says the exact same, relatively complex, phrase repeatedly in a social media conversation, it's clear that they're just repeating a talking point. So their opponents dismiss them and they lose social capital. 

So a communicator has to express her key message in different ways, varying how she discusses an idea by platform and conversation. To do that, she must understand the idea that the message expresses.

2. Train your foot soldiers VERY well.

Sending someone to Twitter for a communications strategy with a five minute briefing and a single sheet of talking points is like sending a soldier into Aleppo with barely enough training to shoot her gun properly. Without a gun. You need a deep, nuanced understanding of how the strategy justifies every message concept, and how each message expresses its specific element of the strategy. Otherwise, you'll trip up under pressure (and likely also verbal assault).

I can express this point better this way: even the lowliest agency intern needs the same knowledge of a strategy as its chief architect.

3. Trust everyone.

This follows from the previous two points. Making a communications strategy work in the high-intensity public square we now have requires a team as tight as the Seven Samurai. Everyone must be able to perform their required roles to their maximum talent and flexibility. The least slip-up can create a disaster for the strategy, and fear of punishment only makes a person nervous. 

When people get nervous, they make mistakes. So no matter the rank, everyone in a strategy has to treat each other as equals, and have each other’s back when it's needed.

See Evil, Doctor Who: The Magician’s Apprentice, Reviews, 20/09/2015

The Magician’s Apprentice is a collision of the greatest spectacles that Doctor Who can produce, in rapid succession. It's a frenetic, bombastic swirling chaos of an episode. Its imagery is particularly remarkable in throwing so many strange visuals at the audience that it almost feels wasteful.

The Doctor's hilarious "biggest useless anachronism in
human history" sequence is a brilliant moment of
Doctor Who's style of bombastic comedy.
As for what the imagery is, I'll have to say 


before continuing.

The Master’s trick of stopping all the planes on Earth could be the foundation of a whole story. Instead, it's a quick sequence to re-introduce the character as theatrically as possible. A creature as beautifully terrifying as the Colony Sarff could be the central villain of a Doctor Who story. He even receives the gravity of a major villain, as he intimidates icons and iconography of Doctor Who’s history.* Instead, he's a henchman, a glorified messenger.

* Sarff terrifies the gathering of many different Doctor Who aliens, including the remarkable Ood, at the partying spot that I like to call the Doc Eisley Cantina. He pushes the Shadow Proclamation around, in their first on-screen appearance since The Stolen Earth, Russell T Davies’ climax of bombast. He confronts the Sisterhood of Karn, now a pivotal figure in the Time War and whose origins stretch back to The Brain of Morbius in 1976.

This whole episode still engages with the shadow of Russell T Davies, using many of his tropes and tones as he sets up the story. The montage of global cable news, the theatrical alien manifestation, the kitchen sink style of narrative excess. But he sets them up only to overcome them trivially, as if to show how ordinary the legacy of Doctor Who's most transformative and historically pivotal figure of the last decade has become.

The story begins looking entirely normal and traditional, as traditional as anyone can say Doctor Who can be. But no, it doesn’t begin this way. It begins in terror, a stark, disturbing landscape haunted by icons of evil.

This image has existed in Western culture for so long
that we can feel its power on sight, even if we have no
idea (like most Christians) what it is.
The Doctor meets Davros as a small boy, trapped in a minefield, demanding rescue. It's a manifestation of a classic problem in philosophy, so classic that I found it very dull whenever I’d encounter it (all too frequently) in moral philosophy discussions and articles. It’s the problem of committing evil to prevent evil.

When the Doctor was Tom Baker, he asked this question in the story that invented Davros in the first really notable cavalier revision of the show’s continuity. If you discovered a child, an innocent child, who you knew that one day would commit great evil, could you kill that child?

Could you bring yourself to overcome your immediate feelings of compassion? Could you let rage overcome your sense of basic decency not to shoot a small boy in the face as he asks you to help him?

When the Doctor first appears to the boy Davros, he tells the child that his chances of survival are one in a thousand. So concentrate on that one. Then, when he discovers that the boy will grow up to create the Daleks, he walks away, abandoning the boy to die in the minefield. 

Clearly, simply walking away wasn't enough to finish the job. The Doctor’s inspiration and Davros' own grit and intelligence was enough for him to escape. The Doctor must take the active step of killing the boy.

The mines themselves evoke what a true narrative collapse this is, what kind of a bomb has just gone off in Doctor Who, what a fundamental challenge and threat to its nature. In Jewish and Muslim culture, there’s a symbol called the Hamza, an open five-fingered palm with an eye staring from its centre. 

It’s a symbol of warding, meant to guard against the powers of ill wishes, destructive schemes and insidious, acidic stares. It manifests to guard you against powers that would destroy you. 

Throughout their relationship, Davros has challenged the Doctor to admit that his compassion is a weakness. The defining concept of Davros is that he considered compassion and love for others (even love for the self, love in general) such a weakness and an obstacle for survival that he created a creature that was physically incapable of compassion, love, or sympathy of any kind. The Daleks.

The cliffhanger for The Magician's Apprentice, the
narrative collapse of the Doctor overturning all the
ethics that have defined his character for almost the
entire history of Doctor Who.
Davros' ethical challenge is the centrepiece of the cliffhanger of The Magician’s Apprentice. The Doctor now lives in a timeline where his oldest friend and his current closest friend have been brutally killed, and the quickest way to rewrite history is to murder a child you've just promised to rescue.

Beyond the question of compassion’s value, Davros is also offering a challenge to the entire fabric of the show. The last image of the Doctor, holding a gun on the little boy Davros surrounded by deadly manifestations of the Hamza, shouting “Exterminate” is clearly an ethical narrative collapse. 

It returns to the same conflict that the Doctor as a character grappled with in Dalek, back when he was Christopher Eccleston: the Doctor is becoming a Dalek, acting with violence instead of searching for a more inspirational way to end the conflict. But there’s a further collapse of the show's premise here.

It begins with the return of the Master, and her substantiated claim that she's actually the Doctor's best and oldest friend. Clara challenges this idea: the Master killed Danny Pink last season, and throughout the history of the show has been responsible for the deaths of billions. She even murders a UNIT operative in one scene, and brags about his having had a family.

Yet the Doctor continues his relationship with her as continued sparring, when the end of the Nuremberg trials is a more appropriate way to treat her. The villains of Doctor Who, despite their horrifying destructive power and achievement, can never be killed forever. This is for a simple reason. 

Doctor Who is a television adventure show, and a big part of its appeal is the charisma of its iconography. We saw this in the opening sequences of The Magician’s Apprentice, the intoxicating montage of the show’s icons. This is its history, playing these images and icons against each other to create adventures. 

As much as I love the iconography and imagery of the
Master, especially the Michelle Gomez version, the
character only makes sense as a performance, an icon
for plays and fictions instead of a real person. Yet we're
so accustomed to judging a performance for its realism.
The history of these images and their adventures are part of the excitement of being a fan of Doctor Who. There are so many icons that we can explore through the 52 years of the show. I can freeze-frame through the Skaro sequence in this episode to spot the different Dalek designs from throughout Doctor Who’s history. 

I can compare the performances of different Doctors,** Masters,*** and Davroses**** (Davrosi?) for their strengths, weaknesses, similarities, and peculiarities. But all this playfulness is haunted by an ethical dark spot. An evil eye from which the ground of Skaro grows its Hamza to shield us.

** William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, John Hurt, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, and Peter Capaldi.

*** Roger Delgado, Peter Pratt, Geoffrey Beevers, Anthony Ainley, Eric Roberts, Derek Jacobi, John Simm, and Michelle Gomez.

**** Michael Wisher, David Gooderson, Terry Molloy, and Julian Bleach. They sound almost like incantations, rosaries.

We hold up the Doctor as an ethical role model, but the Doctor as a phenomenon in our world commits egregious ethical wrongs: he lets the killers and murderers go to kill more. He fights evil, but can't destroy those evil forces forever. Without the monsters, Doctor Who can't continue. So the battles among gods are everlasting, without interest in peace. 

How can a character whose essence is wrapped up in these eternal, never-ending conflicts be a hero?

The Engine of Radical Change, Research Time, 18/09/2015

Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History has a very strange intellectual ancestry compared to the others of the modern conservative Big Four. Robert Nozick is a fairly straight analytic philosopher. Friedrich Hayek came from the Austrian School of economics. Rand had her bizarre flavour of intellectual anti-intellectualism.

As I think about it, intellectual anti-intellectualism is a very American type of idea. 

Historical progress is spurred by the creativity we apply to
solving the problems we face as a civilization. Air
pollution and the other destructive side effects of
petroleum-fuelled industry is one problem. An ecological
thinker, like I try to be, has to accept that when one of
these possibly-fatal challenges arrives, victory is not
assured or even sometimes likely.
But Fukuyama explicitly connects himself with the philosophy of Hegel, declaring one purpose of The End of History as rehabilitating Hegel for democratic theory. The main reason he says that mainstream democratic theorists had left Hegel behind was the influence of Karl Marx.

Fukuyama makes Hegel his ancestor through his belief in there being a clear direction of progress in human history, that humanity will (setbacks and stumbles aside) ultimately progress to a state of perfect freedom in society. Hegel saw this perfect freedom in the liberal state. 

But Marx saw the liberal state riddled by class conflict: the people who owned the factories and other capital that produced goods were in tension with the people who didn’t. The owners were masters, and the ones who didn’t own these production engines were practically slaves. At the least, they weren’t free to determine their own destinies to any reasonable degree.

A society couldn’t sustain or create genuinely universal freedom when this class conflict remained. So only a classless society could sustain freedom. But every real-world attempt at creating a classless society ended up in dysfunctional, brutal authoritarianism or totalitarian police state nightmare. 

So Fukuyama declares Marx wrong and Hegel right: The state of perfect, realized freedom is the liberal democracy with a capitalist economy. Liberal culture gives every individual her freedom, democracy empowers people over their government, and capitalism is economic freedom.

The reason underlying why freedom is the highest state of humanity lies in a curious concept in the liberal tradition. I’ve touched on it when I discuss Luc Ferry's critique of romantic environmentalism in Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity

It’s the idea that humans can become whatever they want. There's no permanent, essential human nature except that humans can change their essential nature. We can break from what’s come before and create a new way of life.

Now, in my own ecological philosophy that I lay out in that book, I make the case that humans aren’t special in this regard, because everything that exists can change what it essentially is. Humans aren't the only creatures that become, in a world where everything else eternally is. Everything changes.

Hegel was conceptually innovative because he first developed the most radical implication of humanity's power to change, to become. Historicism. The idea that humanity itself transformed through confronting cultural change and material problems. We were so free that we could transform simply with time and activity.

Marx makes an imposing idol. I'd say the main reason
why more people haven't picked up Marx again is
because his ideas were associated with totalitarian
terror states for decades. But many of his insights
about the problems of class conflict involving a
super-wealthy elite are still quite valuable today. If
only so that when we find that he was wrong, his
creativity can inspire our own.
My issues with Hegel are over what's free and what activities are most important to transforming a species. Over what's free, Hegel says only humans; I say everything is free, to varying degrees that we can chart, depending on what's possible for a process or body as it currently exists. 

Over the activity that spurs change, Hegel says it's contradiction, the collision of opposites. Societally, that's master and slave. Conceptually, it's the positive and empty dualism of how we think about the world. From being and nothing, up to the contradiction-less state of absolute knowledge. He thought mapping that process was what philosophy was.

I think the agent of change in the world is a process reacting or adapting to a new challenge in its circumstances. There's no negation, no opposition. Just different ways for different parts of the world to stumble into each other. Conceptually, we just figure out new ideas to make sense of the challenges and possible challenges we could face.

There’s no endpoint to that. No culminations. Just constantly trying to catch up to a world that always challenges you. The challenges aren't all potentially fatal, but some are, and those are pretty serious crises. So they require some creative thinking to find a way out of that mess. I think that conceptual creativity, the practically-minded art of thought, is what philosophy is.

That’s why, even though I work outside the academy, I still read, think about, and write philosophy. I apply it to my work in business and non-profits, as well as write my more creative works like this blog and my books. It’s the creativity to understand our challenges in the world, understand them, and adapt to deal with them. 

The creativity to innovate new thoughts and ways of life. Hopefully, for the survival and prosperity of us all.