Saturday, January 14, 2012

Your Greatest Fear

Hola mi gente,
My first week at my new job was better than I could have hoped. You know, there’s always a measure of anxiety when starting over new. There are the concerns over the supervision: will it be micro-managed oppression or supportive leadership? And what of the organizational culture: combative competitiveness or mutually respectful camaraderie -- the feeling of shared adversity and kinship.

Of course, no place is perfect, but there are varying degrees of organizational function/ dysfunction…

I am happy to say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the welcome extended to me at my new job. It’s a smaller shop than I am accustomed to, but throughout my first week, almost everyone of my colleagues made it their business to come to me and extend a personal and warm welcome. My impression is that I am at a place where I will be challenged, but in a supportive way and that the relationship will be a mutually beneficial one.

I also have come to the realization that I tend to underestimate my estimation, that there are people in the field who know of me or my work.

I used to have a printed/ framed version of the following in my office. The last year or so has reminded me of its truth…
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Our Greatest Fear

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

from A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson

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My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ron Paul and Social Justice

¡Hola mi Gente!
Today is the first day at my new gig…

Many people have rightly criticized Ron Paul’s perspective on social justice (while many others, from right and left, have sucked on his cock), but what many don’t understand is that in Ron Paul’s looney libertarian vision of a society, government has no business in advancing social justice. Paul’s perspective leaves him incapable of envisioning social justice.

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We were taught... that man’s business on this earth was to look out for himself. That was the ethic of the jungle... Take care of yourself, no matter what may become of your fellow man. Thousands of years ago, the question was asked, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ That question has never yet been answered in a way that is satisfactory to civilized society.

Yes, I am my brother’s keeper. I am under a moral obligation to him that is inspired, not by any maudlin sentimentality but by the higher duty I owe myself. What would you think me if I were capable of seating myself at a table and gorging myself with food and saw about me the children of my fellow beings starving to death?
-- Eugene V. Debs, 1908 speech

In previous posts, I have looked at justice in general terms, not the role that governments play in promoting it. For the rest of this post, I will explore the idea of social justice -- the idea that we can create a set of social and political institutions that ensures the just distribution of benefits and costs throughout a society.

The idea of social justice first emerged in the late 19th century, and stood at the heart of political debate throughout the 20th. It requires that the state become much more involved in justice than earlier times. It was also a controversial idea: whereas only a few extremists have attacked the idea of justice, social justice has been ridiculed, mainly by critics from the libertarian right, who view it as a transgression against personal freedom, especially the economic freedom they feel a market economy requires. This is what Ron Paul calls liberty. In Paul’s demented social view, Jim Crow and slavery would have been done away with by The Market.

Let’s look at these attacks more closely. When Ron Paul recently yelped, “We’re all Austrians now,” he was referring to the works of critics such as the Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek who argued that there was a fundamental error involved in talking about social justice in the first place. According to Hayek (and many self-loathing neocons that call themselves “libertarians”), justice is a consequence of individual actions. An action is unjust when it violates a general societal rule that allows members of a society to interact with one another. For example, theft is unjust because it violates a rule protecting property. If we look at how resources -- money, property, employment opportunities, and so forth -- are distributed across a society, we cannot describe this as either just or unjust, say libertarians, since it is a consequence not from the actions of a single mediator, but from the actions and decisions of millions of separate individuals, none of whom intended to create this or any other outcome in particular.

To be fair, Hayek is right to point out that “social distribution” cannot be attributed to any single distributing agency or entity, given the complexity of any contemporary postmodern society. But Hayek’s fundamental error -- what he overlooks -- is that the distributive pattern we observe around us does, generally speaking, depends on the institutions that have been socially created , consciously or not. For example, the rules governing property and contracts, the system of taxation, the level of public expenditure on health care, education, housing, and employment policies, etc. -- these are all institutions that have been shaped and can be changed by political decision, and so if we leave things as they are, that is the same as accepting the existing distribution of resources. In addition (let’s not get all “new”), we can certainly understand what the effect of a proposed institutional change would be.

To that extent, the distribution of resources across society -- who gets what benefits, how wide the spread of incomes will be, etc. -- is something that, at least in a democracy, is under our collective control. It is perfectly reasonable, then, to ask what social justice would ask us to do.

But Hayek isn’t done yet. His criticism begs the question of whether social justice is something we should pursue. Hayek’s second claim is that, in attempting to make the distribution of resources match up to justice, we would destroy economic freedom and in that way kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. For the sake of argument, let’s assume Hayek is right when he claims that a market economy is the most effective way of organizing production and trade (this is not an a priori, by the way), and that any alternative would involve a reduction of the living standards in economically advanced societies. The question then is whether striving for social justice means turning our back on the market economy, or whether it’s possible to pursue social justice through a market economy, one shaped in the right way and that has other social institutions working alongside it.

These questions, my friends, and how they have been answered, are at the core of today’s “Great Recession.”

In this respect, we need to look at different ways of interpreting the idea of social justice. The most radical version, touted by Marxists and some communitarian anarchists, reduces social justice to the principles of equality and need. A just society, from this perspective, is one in which each member contributes to the best of his or her ability, but resources are distributed according to need, with any resulting surplus distributed evenly. There is no consideration here for the idea that people need incentives, or deserve material rewards for making their contribution. The question here becomes, could such a society exist?

On a small scale, it undoubtedly has. In addition, China has definitely put a crimp on the notion that communism has died. Still, the question remains whether a large society could successfully practice social justice in this form. On a tangential note, the next time your Ron Paul robot starts blabbering about this kook, ask him to name one instance in which a society has ever existed under libertarian principles.


There is, however, a less radical view of social justice which has been embraced by many democratic socialists and contemporary liberals. From this point of view, social justice requires the equal distribution of some social benefits -- especially equal rights of citizenship such as voting and freedom of speech. It requires that some benefits be distributed on the basis of need, so that everyone is guaranteed an adequate income, access to health care and housing, etc. However, it also allows for other resources to be distributed unequally, so long as there is equal opportunity for people trying to acquire a larger share. These inequalities may be justified on the grounds of merit (“desert”), or on the grounds that by giving people material incentives to work hard and produce goods that other people want, all of society benefits.

Arguably, the most influential interpretation of this form of social justice was developed by John Rawls who argued in his Theory of Justice that a just society must fulfill three conditions. First, it must give each member the most extensive of basic liberties that is consistent with the same liberty for everyone else. Second, social positions possessing greater advantages, higher paying jobs, for example, must be open to everyone on the basis of equality of opportunity. Third, inequalities of income and wealth are justified when they can be shown to benefit the least advantaged members of society -- in other words when they provide incentives that raise society’s productivity and in that way allow more resources to be channeled to those at the bottom of the heap.

Rawls’s theory of justice obviously makes room for a market economy. Rawls’s third principle allows for the possibility for people to keep at least part of the gain they make through producing goods and services for the market if they are going to be sufficiently motivated to work hard and use their talents in the most productive way. This demolishes Hayek’s claim that social justice and market freedom are mutually exclusive. On the other hand, a market economy governed by Rawlsian principles would look completely different from the economic systems of modern liberal democracies.

For one, Rawls’ idea of equality of opportunity is radical. It is not enough that positions of advantage should be given to those who can be shown to be better qualified to hold them. It must also be true that applicants have had an equal opportunity to become qualified. What this means is that from the moment of birth, people of equal talent and motivation should be afforded the same opportunities in education and elsewhere.

Obviously, this is not the case. Furthermore, Rawls’ third principle, often called the difference principle, allows inequalities only when they can be shown to benefit the worst off of society. In actual practice this would mean that governments would set tax rates so that benefits were continually redistributed to benefit all of society. Although most democratic societies have so-called progressive tax structures, they fall far short of Rawls’ requirement.

My own view is that a theory of social justice should retain Rawls’ first two principles -- equal liberty and equality of opportunity -- but replace the difference principle with two others. The first is that of a guaranteed social minimum, understood as a set of needs that must be met in order to assure every citizen a decent life. This minimum is not fixed, but changes over time and within different societies. An enduring and current debate, for example, is the consideration whether health care is a right or a privilege. The second principle is one of merit (desert). Inequalities of income and wealth should be proportional, measured by their success in producing goods and services other people need and want.

As in Rawls’ theory, these principles don’t conflict with a market economy -- at least not in the sense that it entails getting rid of it. However, they do require the construction and maintenance of an extensive web of interlocking social safety nets, as well as a regulatory and flexible legal system within which the market economy works so that there is a real link between what people contribute and what they receive as compensation for that contribution.

Much of the economic turmoil we face today is a direct result of decades of lax governmental oversight combined with an almost slavish devotion toward so-called free market principles. In fact, there is no such thing as a free market. The market couldn’t exist without the social institutions (legal, infrastructure, etc.). Therefore, it is important for people to think about these matters, to question the validity of the apostles of the market.

Of course this would require a real change to the way capitalist countries operate, since the existing rules of property and inheritance allow people to reap huge rewards by virtue of luck, inherited wealth, corporate position, etc. -- factors all unrelated to their contribution to society. What most conservatives and libertarians alike fear is that the pursuit of social justice will take us towards a form of market socialism in which the means are owned by those work in them rather than by outside shareholders, so that the profits can be shared among the actual producers. I don't think this is something to be feared but rather something to be pursued. This is not the communist utopia espoused by Marxists and other radical socialists, since it also allows for harder working and more talented individuals to reap the fruits of their labor. Still, it takes us far away from the failed political agenda of the present, at least as far as liberal democracies are concerned.

Social justice, like democracy, will always be unfinished project. It is up to us to envision what a just society should look like, without losing our pragmatism nor lose ourselves in fantasies. I believe, like many, that the struggle for social justice has been sabotaged by global developments that place the market before the concerns of people -- before the concerns of justice. It strikes me as the ultimate irony to hear others go into the “people are so stupid rants” without paying attention to the larger, more powerful forces at play. What good is intelligence or critical thinking in the face of a global movement in which social justice is scrapped in favor of the bottom line? This is why Ron Paul and many of his conservative brethren are dangerous: they don’t have principles, they are reactionary ideologues.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Your eyes move like the tide...

Today I will go check out Pariah, an independent award-winning film about a 17-year-old African-American gifted student quietly struggling to embrace her identity as a lesbian. I’ve really great things about the film.

It’s Saturday and it’s usually about art around here… 

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Nows [no. 6]

Your eyes move like the tide,
looking first outward,
before sweeping it all in.

We sat on splashed rock
that took a million years
patiently sculpting itself
to be our throne
and waited…

silent, naked and serene,
drinking in the wisdoms
of the sea.

Just now
I was caught in the
quiet of your undertow.

And since the moment
I first brushed against you
I promised myself
I would never live
on an island that was
too small to fit you in

Edward-Yemíl Rosario ©

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Friday Sex Blog [Adult Games]

¡Hola mi Gente!
It’s Friday and it’s all about sex (or something close to it). Have a great weekend!

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Games People Play
The one absolute in the study of human behavior is that people do things because they get something out of it. People's actions, however seemingly ridiculous, serve a purpose.

I once had a therapist tell me I had to learn how to parent myself. It may not sound particularly earth-shattering, but I had never even entertained that idea -- I never thought that could be possible. It was a liberating moment that also held some fear for me.

Modern research shows that the notion of being separate and apart is a myth. In fact, it's a very destructive myth, just take a look at what we're doing to our ecology and you quickly realize that the “me” attitude has dire consequences.

Along with the potential of being destructive the perception of ourselves as separate and apart from the rest of creation blinds us to the biological fact that we are all intimately connected, leaving many of us feeling isolated. Our neurology is a feedback loop. How infants interact with their mothers, for example, has a direct impact on the development of the brain. Infants need physical handling as much or more than food and those who are deprived fall into irreversible mental and physical decline.

Adults also need as much physical contact as children. In adulthood, sensory deprivation can lead to temporary psychosis, for example. But because close physical contact is not always available, we seek emotional fulfillment in other ways. A Facebook contact, for example, may seek emotional “strokes” from his or her friends list in the form of adoration or positive feedback. In the same way, a movie star may get her strokes from fan mail. A scientist may get hers from a positive commendation from a leading figure in the field.

In transactional analysis, the “stroke” is seen as the basic unit of social action. An exchange of strokes is a transaction and hence the phrase, “transactional analysis” describing the dynamics of social interaction. Bear with me here, there's a point to all this and one I feel you will find interesting.

For argument's sake, let's take this as a given -- that we have this psycho-biological need to receive strokes or intimate fulfillment. From this perspective, people consider any social participation -- even if negative -- as better than none at all. This primal need for intimacy is also why people engage in games as a substitute for genuine connection.

In short we play a game, defined as a series of transactions, to satisfy this inner hunger for intimacy, and it always involves a payoff. Still with me?

Let me take this a step further. As much as they will deny it, most people aren't even aware they are playing a game. For most, it's a normal way of interaction. “People games” are like playing poker in the sense that the better we can hide our inner motivation (essentially that we're all needy motherfuckers at heart), the more likely we “win.” In a professional context the payoff could be a raise or a promotion; people speak of the “real estate game,” or “playing the market.” In the relationship world the payoff is usually some emotional gratification or an increase in control.

I once worked with a participant, a former contract killer (a “soldier”), who once compared himself to a newborn infant in the following way:

You ever see when they first bring babies home from the hospital? How sometimes they have to put mittens on babies because otherwise they will scratch themselves? Well, that's how I feel sometimes. Like I can't help but hurt myself and I need psychological mittens to save me from myself.

Rewind back to the time with my former therapist and you can begin to see a model emerging. We all have within us different states or selves:
  • The attitudes and thinking of a parental figure (Parent)
  • An adult-like ability to rationalize and accept truth (Adult)
  • The attitudes and views of a child (Child)
In any given situation, we can emphasize any one of these inner selves, and sometimes shift from one to another quite easily. For example, we can take on a child's wonderment, creativity, and curiosity, but also a child's tantrums and incapacity to empathize. The point being that within each situation we can adopt a role that can be productive or unproductive.

In playing a game, instead of maintaining intimacy to get what we want, we succumb to the temptation to act like a coquettish child, or take on the wise, rational aura of an adult.

Let the games begin! LOL

There are basic games people play. They may vary a little, but they're basically variations on the same theme:

The most common game between people in a relationship is the one in which one complains that the other is an obstacle to doing what they really want in life. For example, a person who may not be aware of her fear of real intimacy may choose to be with emotionally unavailable men and then complain of a lack of intimacy. The game then becomes, “If it weren't for you... ”

I believe people unconsciously choose partners because they seek to be limited. I do a lot of work around complaints. My experience has shown me that if you follow the breadcrumbs of your complaints, you will come face-to-face with your own bullshit. Playing the “if it weren't for you” game gives us the excuse of abdicating responsibility for our own lives, or looking honestly and compassionately at our own fears or character defects.

Another common relationship game is when, in response to a solution-centered suggestion, the partner responds by saying, “Yes, but... ” and then proceeds to find everything that could go wrong with the solution. In Child mode, this allows the person to gain sympathy from others for being inadequate to the challenge. In Adult mode, we would be more willing to examine and maybe even take on the challenge the solution presents us.

These games are like worn out loops of the same tape -- being played over and over. It's amazing how transparent the games appear on social media spots like Facebook or Twitter, with all the trespassing of boundaries, the naked grabs for attention, the openly desperate manipulation for sex. And the one common trait is that all involved deny playing the game.

These are the scripts we inherit from our childhood and though they are limiting and self-destructive, they are also a form of psychological comfort food -- a way for us to absolve ourselves from looking at our own issues.

For many people, games have become so integral to their way of being that they feel the need to create drama, or manipulate those they come into contact with because they fear they won't be as interesting. The more games they play, the more they expect others to play them too; a habitual game player will end up with a psychologically unhealthy tendency to read too much of their own motivations and biases in others.

My Name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization, motherfuckers… LOL!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ron Paul and the Downsizing of Freedom

Yesterday I received the great news that I have been offered the job I consider my “dream” job. It’s a welcome (if a little scary) departure from the direct services/ program development I’ve been involved with for the last fifteen years, but I am totally psyched. Truth be told, I’ve been burned out on the services side, it just takes too much out of you. Now, I’ll be able to concentrate on research and social policy advocacy that can have a systemic impact.

On another note, the offer couldn’t have come at a better time, as my financial situation had reached critical stage about a month ago… Yes!

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We’re all Austrians now…
 -- Ron Paul, during post-Iowa Caucus speech

Much has been written about Ron Paul’s “honesty” and adherence to libertarian ideology since he has surged (somewhat) in the reality show/ clown care debacle also known as the Republican Primary. Paul is kookier than a Laoruche fan on crack, but that doesn’t mean shit these days. Two major influences on Paul are Ayn Rand, the cult figure, former Hollywood hack-turned-novelist, and Austrian economist, Frederick von Hayek. American libertarianism would be unthinkable without Ayn Rand’s influence. Even an establishment conservative like Rush Limbaugh has occasionally shown signs of having been influenced by Rand’s ideas, albeit indirectly, through second or third-hand sources. His attempt to defend the “greed” of the eighties borrows heavily from Rand. Before Rand, only a handful of iconoclasts and other eccentrics would have dared defend greed in public.

Rand’s followers, who often come off as cultists (as do Ron Paul fanatics) attempt to paint her philosophy as grounded in logic and reason, but nothing could be further from the truth. Her understanding of the mechanics of the human brain, or the role of emotions, for example, has nothing to do with modern science or empirical research.

When I was growing up, reading Alisa Zino’yevna (aka Ayn Rand) was almost a family tradition. It was necessary reading in our household. My father would often give each one of us something to read and then we would have to discuss it critically. He also encouraged me to read Walt Whitman and other American transcendentalists -- which was probably the antithesis of Rand’s “objectivism.” Looking back, I see he was trying to show me how to think critically -- how to hold two opposing ideas at once and come away with something of value and original.

I think Rand appeals to young people because it is a philosophy mired in the lower levels of moral reasoning. It appeals to young people because it addresses an immature, self-centered slice of life. In fact, previous posts of mine have been a refutation of Rand’s “philosophy.” Her epistemology has been taken apart by others, no need to revisit that here. I mention Rand today because she connects to the first part of my series on the history of humankind’s struggle to define freedom.

By the 1950s, both fascism and its antithesis, communism, had redefined freedom, but largely failed to deliver anything resembling freedom when implemented by the likes of Stalin and Mussolini. A ramped up Cold War with the Soviet Union was being waged and the biggest thing then was the Red Scare (communists were the Muslims in the 1950s) and the threat of nuclear war. Unbelievably, people were actually buying “bunkers” to protect themselves from radioactive fallout in those days. Today, we’re bombing innocent people in bunkers in far off lands.

In the 1950s, both Rand and Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek proposed a new vision of freedom. Their freedom was more of a negative type freedom. They asserted that self-interest controlled all human behavior, and the only true measure of what was best for individuals were their belongings or what they were attempting to accumulate. This “market” of getting and hoarding, acted out simultaneously by millions of people in a society as complex and huge as the United States, for example, produced hundreds of millions of individual “decisions” every moment. Hayek suggested there existed a force of nature, the product and consequences of all these individual buying and selling behaviors, which he called the “free market.” At the same time, Ayn Rand’s hugely popular novels, the Fountainhead and her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, championed a philosophy of greed and an enlightened self-interest similar to von Hayek’s.

Freedom was being redefined.

Instead of being a collaborative effort, the result of a society working together to provide for the basic needs of the individual, the family, and society, freedom was now being reconceptualized as the individual’s ability and right to act in his or her total freedom for selfish self-fulfillment, regardless of the consequences to others (within certain limitations). Freedom was a negative force in the worldview of von Hayek, his student Milton Friedman (father of the Chicago School of libertarian economics), and Ayn Rand’s objectivism. This freedom was more of a freedom “from” than a freedom “to”: freedom from social obligation, freedom from taxation; freedom from government assistance or protection (now perceived as “interference” or “serfdom”); freedom to consider one’s needs and wants, because if each individual followed his selfish desires, the mass of individuals acting in concert in a “free market” would result in a utopia.

Shades of Thomas Friedman! The world is flat, burn the fuckin’ olive tree and hock the goddamned Lexus!

This vision claims to be the true vision of a free world. Its creators claimed that a world where government limited nothing but violence and all markets were free -- market here meaning the behavior of individuals or collectives of individuals (corporations) -- had never before been attempted. Their opponents, progressives and liberals, pointed out that their system had in fact been tried many times throughout history, and was the history of every civilization of the most chaotic eras (feudal times comes to mind). Lacking a true social contract and interdependence, these societies were characterized by physical and economic violence. In this social schematic, those most willing and able to plunder would rise to the top of the economic heap. In the past, they were rightfully called robber barons and today are diagnosed as sociopaths.

In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, think tanks funded by wealthy individuals and multinational corporations joined forces with subservient politicians to win the “battle of ideas.” Greed, combined with a blind belief in free markets, was their dogma. This movement brought into power both the feeble-minded Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom. Reagan would oversee the greatest redistribution of wealth and the destruction of Labor. Both Thatcher and Reagan would turn government into a force against labor, both busting powerful unions in their respective countries. Both “freed” markets by dropping tariffs and undoing regulations. In both instances, industry fled both countries, to wherever labor was cheapest, and the middle class was rudely bent over and fucked without so much as a kiss.

This new economic religion would be put into operation in Chile with disastrous results. Poverty and wealth gaps would increase dramatically and the privatization of the social security system threw even more people into abject poverty. Of course, a few bankers, industrialists, and politicians became wealthy.

After the downfall of the Soviet Union, Milton Friedman’s “Chicago Boys,” not satisfied with the failures their policies created in Chile, would apply this system with equally disastrous results in Russia. Undaunted and in need of a new country to experiment on, they found a series of willing dupes starting with the inept Ronald Reagan on through to George W. Bush, whose entire cabinet was made up of people who shared the von Hayek/ Rand worldview. The result, as we all have seen, has been a failure of historic proportions. Well-paying jobs were replaced with jobs whose only requirement was that workers ask the question, “Do you want fries with that?”and with social mobility dropping and wealth gaps increasing to levels not seen for over a hundred years.

This is where we are living today and there are people still demanding we continue on this road to serfdom.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…


[un]Common Sense