Polycentric Wanderings

Keith's random and sundry thoughts on the challenges of working together.

Should We Be Wary Of Manufacturing Consent In Social Media

A morning post from Gizmodo – Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News – got me thinking about two points.

1. Conservatives -who have an inordinate amount of power in the USA- have an enormous victimhood complex. They are far more sensitive than the overhyped “safe zone babies” (who, by the way have for more rights to grievances than the already powerful conservative movement). I take the “liberal bias” allegation with a grain of salt.

2. Everyone needs to wake up and recognize that social media could be used to manufacture consent. There are stories leaking out of Facebook about higher ups seeking to control the media narratives. Silicon Valley firms know the power they wield, just look at their smug statements extolling the virtues of social engineering through IT. ‪#‎PlatformCooperativism‬ is vital if we are to use social media for collective good, not collective control.

Subverting Democracy Through the Two Party System

We’re in the midst of a fierce primary season. Considering the legitimate rise of Sanders and Trump, we’re seeing a great deal of pushback from partisan stalwarts who seem more concerned with party loyalty than principles of a truly vibrant and competitive (and some say cooperative) democracy.

Sanders and Trump supporters -many of whom are decidedly not from the ranks of the two party cloth- have been calling fraud on the primary system. Party loyalists are correct to note that this is not fraud, but instead the rules of the game. The problem is that the rules are not shaped in an open forum, but instead interpreted by a set of entrenched insiders. Here is an anonymous quote in favor of the New York partisan rule-making:

The rules about primaries have been the same for a long time. Clinton had nothing to do with the rules about voters only being able to vote in the primary that corresponds with the party they have registered in. That particular law is meant to prevent people from crossing party lines in order to vote for the weakest candidate. If Bernie is trying to prove that he would be a good CHIEF EXECUTIVE of the United States, he really should try to do a better job of making sure that his followers understand the rules.

This argument is not so much about defending democracy, but instead about supporting fealty to the two party apparatus. My response:

The only pathway to running for office legitimately in the USA is through the two parties. They can easily make it harder and harder for regular citizens to access the party apparatus. And they do.

It’s simply not justifiable to say “the party rules say this…” Break the two party hold on the system, and make it easy to run for office (by the way, neither party is advocating for this, which is absolutely anti democratic), then the whole “follow the rules” argument carries weight.

So long as the two parties are allowed to create the foundational rules for running for office, we will have to deal with capture and partisan control. And anyone who challenges those rules will in essence be labeled a traitorous interloper.

That is why for those of us who care about living and operating in a functioning democracy we must break the stranglehold of the two party system on the electoral system.

Corporate Activism and the Religious “Freedom” Movement: On the Use of Deplorable Equivalences

North Carolina’s Republican Governor and Legislature have received enormous pushback in the form of corporate activism for their roughshod passage of the aptly-named “bathroom bill,” HB2. HB2 is a blatant attack on the civil liberties of the LBGT community with emphasis on trans-folks. HB2 plays up on one of the worst myths about LBGT folks, namely that they are sexual predators necessitating segregation from cisgender folks (never mind that LGBT folks are more likely to be victims -not perpetrators- of sexual assault).

What are defenders of HB2 saying? You might surprised that instead of defending the substance of the bill, they are instead going after the right-side-of-history corporations. An exemplary quote from commentary by the Republican Washington Times:

Whether it’s Apple opening stores in Saudi Arabia or American Airlines looking to dominate the Cuban travel market, many of the companies that have threatened to cut business ties to North Carolina over its bathroom bill are eager to do business in countries with regimes far more repressive of gays (and everyone else).

What are HB2 supporters telling us? Let us parse this out, shall we?

  1. The bill is acceptable. That means they support the discrimination of an entire class of their fellow American citizens. History will not look fondly upon this,
  2. The most egregious inference here is that “hey, we let other countries oppress folks! Why can’t we?!”

Ya, that’s right. Remember in high school social studies when your teacher would talk about American civic virtues and living up to higher standards? Remember all that claptrap about American “Exceptionalism” which is in part supposed to be about American equality, liberty, and democracy? Apparently the champions of American Exceptionalism -adults, elected to represent the fundamentals of American Constitutionalism- believe we should lower our standards because “…hey! They allow this in theocracies!”

I don’t know about you, but I like to promote my democracy and civil liberties, and encourage others everywhere to embrace liberty and equality for everyone. Myself, I care not to compete with Saudi Arabia human rights.

One would think the North Carolina Republicans -and their supporters in the media- were better than this. Apparently Saudi Arabian values trump American values.

At least they’re on record.

The Dumb Luck Behind Shell’s Misfortune

Shell says it will abandon oil exploration in Alaska Arctic

Huge. The protests against Shell helped to disrupt their drilling schedule, and prolong the regulatory process. Shall claims they lost $7 billion on the project.

Keep in mind, a bit of this was dumb luck. Had Shell struck oil, then all would be for nothing. Had Shell struck significant oil (economically viable, as they call it), then they would continue drilling and exploration in the Arctic. The US Department of Interior reported 75% chance of spillage. Let’s consider this a near miss.

Video abstract – ‘Food Co-ops and the Paradox of Exclusivity’

Excellent analyses and commentary on the paradox of exclusivity in the supposedly open-membership co-operative institutional model.


Forthcoming in Antipode 47(3) in 2015, and available online now, Andrew Zitcer’s ‘Food Co-ops and the Paradox of Exclusivity‘ is a great contribution to the journal’s growing stock of papers on cooperatives, ethical consumption, alternative food movements, and diverse economies.*

Consumer food cooperatives constitute a vital part of the alternative food movement in the United States, alongside farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture, and community gardens, among other initiatives. Like these efforts, food co-ops seek to counter the dominance of industrial agriculture and the decimation of local economies. Yet food co-ops wrestle with a “paradox of exclusivity”, whereby some practices and people are inadvertently left out in order to create conditions for a strong identification among others with particular ways of being and doing. ‘Food Co-ops and the Paradox of Exclusivity‘ explores the paradox of exclusivity through an in-depth study of two food co-ops in Philadelphia, PA…

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Acknowledging the Fragility of Democratic Institutions (and embracing the challenge)

“What Happened to the Berkeley Co-op” is a fantastic complement to Lin Ostrom’s “Governing the Commons,” particularly complementing Chapter 5 on institutional failure.  Ralph Nader’s comment in the prologue points at the tension -and dare I say the danger- of using deep participatory democratic processes as the primary guidepost for turnaround:

“A cooperative has to wrestle with the paradoxes of its principles when it is in economic difficulties. There are calls, not for centralization,” [as we might see in governmental or nonprofit bodies] “but for greater democratic control and participation by the members to save or revive the cooperatives. There are demands by competing factions…” “If there is too much member voice and rights, the community, that is the cooperative, becomes subordinated, anemic and paralyzed.”

These two books point to the need to create structure and channels to keep the chatter laser focused (lest they become white noise), so as to process the diversity of voices into productive outcomes. Democracy is not the problem! But democracy without a vision, planning, and structure is not a solution either (and is pure naïveté), and may pave the way for a tyranny by the few.

Berk Co-op Gov The Com

Glenn Greenwald on Privacy

The ever-brillian Glenn Greenwald on the obvious virtues of respect and support for individual privacy.

Naomi Klein’s Latest (Or the Ironic, Stagnant Ideas of “This Changes Everything”)

A recent interview with prominent activist Naomi Klein featured on On Point with Tom Ashbrook (podcast it, please!) left a surprisingly bad taste in my mouth. I’ve been excited about Klein’s latest book having long been an admirer of her work. But after listening to the interview, I found Klein to be devoid of any real vision outside of the standard left-of-center perspectives that have proven inadequate and obsolete.

A few of my critiques…

-Klein continues a stereotypical exoticizing of center-left Scandinavian governments (Naomi, Norway’s surplus is built on OIL wealth…).

-Klein has no clear definition of capitalism. She seems to be for Germany’s solar economy (which is propped up on shoddy foundations; she’s blind to that) which would seem to be capitalist by her “definition.”  Plus, she doesn’t seem to see the aforementioned Scandinavian systems as capitalist, which is strange considering the Norwegian oil surplus is built upon international oil sales.

-Klein also seems to want to apply a one-size-fits-all model to the problem. Her solution? State socialism. It’s pretty obvious that’s her end game, but she doesn’t go as far as to call it that.

-Klein says the problem is out of touch government and corporate power. Her solution? MORE GOVERNMENT. …and here I thought government was the problem.

-Klein’s worst offense is in “speaking truth to power.” She claims rightfully that the current economic system is irrational. She then proceeds to state how her vision is better for the wealthy and they must come around. Wow… just wow… it’s this entire crock that fits into this empirically false narrative of “if we tell the truth and provide reason, reason will overcome.” …really? How’s that worked for humanity? I think Socrates might have something to say to Klein about this.

Also, there is an emphasis on creating jobs. I reject the notion that jobs are taken as a necessity for society. Can we not create a vision beyond jobs as a primary policy outcome?

We need more institutional diversity, and new policy ideas.  Klein clearly falls short of this.

Wealth Concentration and Candidates for Office: Asking The Obvious Questions

The billionaire Illinois Republican candidate for Governor, Bruce Rauner, has amassed his fortune from managing government employee pension funds.  Which is interesting, considering Rauner is telling his base he intends to downsize state employees and reduce their pensions due to the pending debt obligations.

See here.

This begs the obvious question: should Rauner give back a sizable portion of his wealth to the Illinois pension system?  After all, he did get wealthy from skimming some off the top.  Does he not have an obligation to ensure the system is robust, given that the system enriched him so?  Is he not a part of the problem?  

One thing is for sure.  American workers need a pension system managed outside of the traditional Wall Street financial apparatus.  Too often, the current system that is meant to support worker retirement is used for worker exploitation.  

Language and the Politicization of Refugees

Language is powerful, potentially dangerous but also potentially liberating. We have a crisis of displaced children at the US border, coming to seek asylum from Western funded paramilitaries (particularly in Honduras). Many have families who have been murdered, left homeless. Heart-wrenching.

Now. Call them “illegal immigrants.” Don’t mention why these “illegals” came to the US. Go to Drudge Report to read these made up stories of new diseases being brought to the US by these “illegals.” Also, to the stories on Limbaugh or Hannity (I have) about how these children -er, sorry… ILLEGALS…- are a secret plot by the Democrats to change the conservative foundations of the US. 

This is how political ideology dehumanizes. This is how CHILDREN are made to be enemies, CHILDREN whose parents have been murdered or are under constant threat of it. 

Please don’t let people get away politicizing children. These children need help. They need caring homes. They don’t need to become the latest prop in our reckless partisan media machine. Stop the dehumanization. These are children. It doesn’t get any simpler to understand.