Chapter 4: Rebirth
"It will, of course, be said that such a scheme as is set forth here is quite impractical, and goes against human nature. This is perfectly true. It is impractical, and it goes against human nature. This is why it is worth carrying out, and that is why one proposes it. For what is a practical scheme? A practical scheme is either a scheme that is already in existence, or a scheme that could be carried out under existing conditions. But it is exactly the existing conditions that one objects to; and any scheme that could accept these conditions is wrong and foolish. The conditions will be done away with, and human nature will change. The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. Change is the one quality we can predicate of it. The systems that fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and development."
Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism
COUNTERPOINT: Translation: Live in denial! It's fun!
I guess Oscar would know.
Utopians fail to envision postrevolutionary diversity
Marx considered it presumptuous to attempt to predict how people would live in a liberated society. "It will be up to those people to decide if, when and what they want to do about it, and what means to employ. I dont feel qualified to offer them any advice on this matter. They will presumably be at least as clever as we are" (letter to Kautsky, 1 February 1881).
COUNTERPOINT: One can only hope, Karl. One can only hope. Just remember, Ken's on your team. Not mine!
POINT: His modesty in this regard compares favorably with those who accuse him of arrogance and authoritarianism while themselves not hesitating to project their own fancies into pronouncements as to what such a society can or cannot be.
COUNTERPOINT: I told you Ken had a plan. What? You didnt believe me?
POINT: It is true, however, that if Marx had been a little more explicit about what he envisioned, it would have been that much more difficult for Stalinist bureaucrats to pretend to be implementing his ideas.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken still likes to pretend that Marxism and Stalinism were completely disparate phenomenon. Ken lives in denial. Just like Oscar!
POINT: An exact blueprint of a liberated society is neither possible nor necessary, but people must have some sense of its nature and feasibility.
COUNTERPOINT: And you thought Ken didn't have a plan. Shame on you!
POINT: The belief that there is no practical alternative to the present system is one of the things that keeps people resigned.
COUNTERPOINT: Actually, Ken, the reason people think you're silly is NOT because they believe that there's "no practical alternative to the present system." They just think you're insane. Or living in denial. Whichever.
POINT: Utopian speculations can help free us from the habit of taking the status quo for granted, get us thinking about what we really want and what might be possible. What makes them "utopian" in the pejorative sense that Marx and Engels criticized is the failure to take present conditions into consideration. There is usually no serious notion of how we might get from here to there. Ignoring the systems repressive and cooptive powers, utopian authors generally envision some simplistic cumulative change, imagining that, with the spread of utopian communities or utopian ideas, more and more people will be inspired to join in and the old system will simply collapse.
COUNTERPOINT: DO NOT MISS the last sentence of that paragraph! After you get the gist of GENERALIZED SELF-MANAGEMENT you'll look back on that sentence and laugh and laugh and laugh. I certainly did. Ken, whatever his faults, definitely makes me laugh. That's why I love him so.
POINT: I hope the present text has given some more realistic ideas of how a new society might come about.
COUNTERPOINT: Sorry, Ken. No dice!
POINT: In any case, at this point I am going to jump ahead and do a little speculating myself.
To simplify matters, let us assume that a victorious revolution has spread throughout the world without too much destruction of basic infrastructures, so that we no longer need to take into consideration problems of civil war, threats of outside intervention, the confusions of disinformation or the delays of massive emergency reconstruction,
COUNTERPOINT: Sure, Ken. No problem. Nobody cares about that stuff anyway. Actually, that's not true, Ken. I care. In fact, I care quite a bit. I'd like to know how much "destruction" you're willing to put up with, how many human lives you're willing to expend on this little venture of yours. Two million? Three million? More? Abolishing CAPTALISM is hard work, Ken! I'm only asking for a rough estimate. Inquiring minds want to know!
POINT: and can examine some of the issues that might come up in a new, fundamentally transformed society.
Though for clarity of expression I will use the future tense rather than the conditional, the ideas presented here are simply possibilities to consider, not prescriptions or predictions. If such a revolution ever happens, a few years of popular experimentation will change so many of the variables that even the boldest predictions will soon seem laughably timid and unimaginative.
COUNTERPOINT: They already seem that way to me, Ken! Way ahead of you!
POINT: All we can reasonably do is try to envision the problems we will confront at the very beginning and some of the main tendencies of further developments. But the more hypotheses we explore, the more possibilities we will be prepared for and the less likely we will be to unconsciously revert to old patterns.
COUNTERPOINT: Rest easy folks! Ken is looking out for us!
POINT: Far from being too extravagant, most fictional utopias are too narrow, generally being limited to a monolithic implementation of the authors pet ideas. As Marie Louise Berneri notes in the best survey of the field (Journey Through Utopia), "All utopias are, of course, the expression of personal preferences, but their authors usually have the conceit to assume that their personal tastes should be enacted into laws; if they are early risers the whole of their imaginary community will have to get up at four oclock in the morning; if they dislike womens make-up, to use it is made a crime; if they are jealous husbands infidelity will be punished by death."
If there is one thing that can be confidently predicted about the new society, it is that it will be far more diverse than any one persons imagination or any possible description. Different communities will reflect every sort of taste aesthetic and scientific, mystical and rationalist, hightech and neoprimitive, solitary and communal, industrious and lazy, spartan and epicurean, traditional and experimental continually evolving in all sorts of new and unforeseeable combinations.(1)
COUNTERPOINT: Will we still be allowed to experiment with CAPITALISM, Ken? I didn't think so.
Decentralization and coordination
There will be a strong tendency toward decentralization and local autonomy. Small communities promote habits of cooperation, facilitate direct democracy, and make possible the richest social experimentation: if a local experiment fails, only a small group is hurt (and others can help out); if it succeeds it will be imitated and the advantage will spread.
COUNTERPOINT: How do you plan to break up 6 billion people into such small groups, Ken? Evacuate all the cities? Pol Pot already tried that, Ken. What if CAPITALISM turns out to be so successful that everyone decides to imitate it? What if CAPITALISM becomes so popular that it spreads to the very ends of the earth? Would you be satisfied with that, Ken? Huh, Ken? Huh?
POINT: A decentralized system is also less vulnerable to accidental disruption or to sabotage. (The latter danger, however, will probably be negligible in any case: its unlikely that a liberated society will have anywhere near the immense number of bitter enemies that are constantly produced by the present one.)
COUNTERPOINT: Don't kid yourself, Ken. You've made an enemy out of me, and we've never even met. Congratulations!
POINT: But decentralization can also foster hierarchical control by isolating people from each other. And some things can best be organized on a large scale. One big steel factory is more energy-efficient and less damaging to the environment than a smelting furnace in every community. Capitalism has tended to overcentralize in some areas where greater diversity and self-sufficiency would make more sense, but its irrational competition has also fragmented many things that could more sensibly be standardized or centrally coordinated. As Paul Goodman notes in People or Personnel (which is full of interesting examples of the pros and cons of decentralization in various present-day contexts), where, how and how much to decentralize are empirical questions that will require experimentation. About all we can say is that the new society will probably decentralize as much as possible, but without making a fetish of it.
COUNTERPOINT: What if they make a fetish out of GENERALIZED SELF-MANAGEMNT, Ken? You'd be OK with that, right?
POINT: Most things can be taken care of by small groups or local communities; regional and global councils will be limited to matters with broad ramifications or significant efficiencies of scale, such as environmental restoration, space exploration, dispute resolution, epidemic control, coordination of global production, distribution, transportation and communication, and maintenance of certain specialized facilities (e.g. hightech hospitals or research centers).
COUNTERPOINT: Does "coordination of global production" include child bearing, Ken? Please say no. Please? I might not respect you in the morning.
POINT: It is often said that direct democracy may have worked well enough in the old-fashioned town meeting, but that the size and complexity of modern societies make it impossible. How can millions of people each express their own viewpoint on every issue?
COUNTERPOINT: Good question, Ken. Good question.
POINT: They dont need to.
POINT: Most practical matters ultimately come down to a limited number of options; once these have been stated and the most significant arguments have been advanced, a decision can be reached without further ado.
COUNTERPOINT: Wow, Ken, you make it sound so easy. What if I want to strangle you, Ken? What are my options? The most significant argument I can advance is that you suck. Eureka! Wow, a decision really CAN be made without further ado! Thanks, Ken! I owe you one! Now if you'll just come stand over here for a moment...no, over here, where I can reach you...Aww, come on...Please? Pretty please?
POINT: Observers of the 1905 soviets and the 1956 Hungarian workers councils were struck by the brevity of peoples statements and the rapidity with which decisions were arrived at. Those who spoke to the point tended to get delegated; those who spouted hot air got flak for wasting peoples time.
COUNTERPOINT: I've got a whole truckload of flak right here, Ken. Ready and waiting. Just for you!
POINT: For more complicated matters, committees can be elected to look into various possibilities and report back to the assemblies about the ramifications of different options. Once a plan is adopted, smaller committees can continue to monitor developments, notifying the assemblies of any relevant new factors that might suggest modifying it. On controversial issues multiple committees reflecting opposing perspectives (e.g. protech versus antitech) might be set up to facilitate the formulation of alternative proposals and dissenting viewpoints. As always, delegates will not impose any decisions (except regarding the organization of their own work) and will be elected on a rotating and recallable basis, so as to ensure both that they do a good job and that their temporary responsibilities dont go to their heads. Their work will be open to public scrutiny and final decisions will always revert to the assemblies.
COUNTERPOINT: Yup, it'll just be ONE LONG COMMITTEE MEETING...UNTIL THE END OF TIME...or until I strangle Ken. Whichever comes first.
POINT: Modern computer and telecommunication technologies will make it possible for anyone to instantly check data and projections for themselves, as well as to widely communicate their own proposals. Despite current hype, such technologies do not automatically promote democratic participation; but they have the potential to facilitate it if they are appropriately modified and put under popular control.(2)
COUNTERPOINT: "Popular control" is such a vague term, Ken! Famous last words!
POINT: Telecommunications will also render delegates less necessary than during previous radical movements, when they functioned to a great extent as mere bearers of information back and forth. Diverse proposals could be circulated and discussed ahead of time, and if an issue was of sufficient interest council meetings could be hooked up live with local assemblies, enabling the latter to immediately confirm, modify or repudiate delegate decisions.
But when the issues are not particularly controversial, mandating will probably be fairly loose. Having arrived at some general decision (e.g. "This building should be remodeled to serve as a daycare center"), an assembly might simply call for volunteers or elect a committee to implement it without bothering with detailed accountability.
COUNTERPOINT: Notice that Ken isn't worried about "accountability," per se. This is your first clue that what Ken is actually describing is Anarchy. Think about it. Thousands upon thousands of committees, and not a single one of them has to hold the other accountable for their various activities, because once you start trying to hold each other accountable, one of you has to have the AUTHORITY to say: you're wrong, that's not good enough, or try harder, etc. But Ken isn't willing to invest ANYONE (including himself!) with that much authority, because then you've just gone and invented HIERARCHY all over again, and then Ken's whole Revolution was all for nothing! That's what makes this next section such a howler...
Safeguards against abuses
Idle purists can always envision possible abuses. "Aha! Who knows what subtle elitist maneuvers these delegates and technocratic specialists may pull off!" The fact remains that large numbers of people cannot directly oversee every detail at every moment.
POINT: Any society has to rely to some extent on peoples good will and common sense. The point is that abuses are far less possible under generalized self-management than under any other form of social organization.
COUNTERPOINT: Get it? Abuses are far less possible under GENERALIZED SELF-MANAGEMENT! How so, you ask? Let's let Ken explain...
POINT: People who have been autonomous enough to inaugurate a self-managed society will naturally be alert to any reemergence of hierarchy.
COUNTERPOINT: See? Now doesn't that make you feel better?
POINT: They will note how delegates carry out their mandates, and rotate them as often as practicable.
COUNTERPOINT: "As often as practicable." Famous last words again, Ken! Dictators and tyrants will always find reasons why "rotation" is rarely, if ever "practicable."
POINT: For some purposes they may, like the ancient Athenians, choose delegates by lot so as to eliminate the popularity-contest and deal-making aspects of elections. In matters requiring technical expertise they will keep a wary eye on the experts until the necessary knowledge is more widely disseminated or the technology in question is simplified or phased out. Skeptical observers will be designated to sound the alarm at the first sign of chicanery. A specialist who provides false information will be quickly found out and publicly discredited. The slightest hint of any hierarchical plot or of any exploitive or monopolistic practice will arouse universal outrage and be eliminated by ostracism, confiscation, physical repression or whatever other means are found necessary.
COUNTERPOINT: "Skeptical observers" have to be placed in positions of authority to carry out their tasks, Ken. Aren't you worried that appointing Skeptical Observers to oversee various departments will establish a hierarchical relationship between the Observers and the observed? I didn't think so. Oh, and Ken, secret police usually expect to get paid. Might want to rethink that whole thing about abolishing money...at least until the Observers are paid off. Just trying to be helpful, Ken!
DO NOT FAIL TO NOTICE that Ken openly implores these Observers to resort to "WHATEVER OTHER MEANS are found necessary." Theft, rape, torture, murder, WHATEVER OTHER MEANS - no repressive tactic is forbidden, as long as it achieves Ken's desired aims. Now I'm not trying to suggest that Ken openly endorses theft, rape, torture, or murder, etc. But he DOES heartily endorse WHATEVER MEANS NECESSARY. See, I told you Ken had it all worked out! I feel so much safer now. Don't you?
POINT: These and other safeguards will always be available to those worried about potential abuses, but I doubt if they will often be necessary.
COUNTERPOINT: I don't know Ken, CAPITALISM is such a subversive idea. You need to be vigilant at all times. You never know when CAPITALISM might rear it's ugly head! I might even be entertaining CAPITALISTIC thoughts in my brain RIGHT NOW, Ken! You need to stamp them out by WHATEVER MEANS NECESSARY! It may even be necessary to torture and KILL ALL THE SUSPECTS, Ken! Brain splattering is hard work. Especially with those hard-headed CAPITLAIST puppies.
POINT: On any serious issue people can insist on as much mandating or monitoring as they want to bother with.
COUNTERPOINT: Hmmm. "As much mandating or monitoring as they want." Or to borrow a couple of French words: Carte blanche. Here's two more words for you, Ken: HEADLESS PUPPIES!!!
POINT: But in most cases they will probably give delegates a reasonable amount of leeway to use their own judgment and creativity.
COUNTERPOINT: Of course they will, Ken. Of course they will. The Gestapo was famous for it's leniency! Why would your Skeptical Observers be any less reasonable?
I'm not sure which is scarier; the fact that Ken has just given himself cart blanche to set up his own secret police force or the fact that Ken doesn't even realize he's just given himself permission to do so. I worry about Ken sometimes.
POINT: Generalized self-management avoids both the hierarchical forms of the traditional left and the more simplistic forms of anarchism. It is not bound to any ideology, even an "antiauthoritarian" one.
COUNTERPOINT: Of course not, Ken. Perish the thought!
POINT: If a problem turns out to require some specialized expertise or some degree of "leadership," the people involved will soon find this out and take whatever steps they consider appropriate to deal with it, without worrying about whether present-day radical dogmatists would approve.
For certain uncontroversial functions they might find it most convenient to appoint specialists for indefinite periods of time, removing them only in the unlikely event that they abuse their position. In certain emergency situations in which quick, authoritative decisions are essential (e.g. fire-fighting) they will naturally grant to designated persons whatever temporary authoritarian powers are needed.
COUNTERPOINT: So. If "some degree of leadership" is required, the people involved will give "someone" "temporary authoritarian powers" until the situation is resolved? Hmmm. Let's use Ken's ever helpful "fire-fighting" illustration and see where that leads, shall we?
ME: Help! Help! My house is on fire! And my poor little puppy is trapped on the second floor!
KEN: Attention everyone! This poor guy's house is on fire! Tom, get the fire hose! Dick, you check the fire hydrant! Harry, go find a ladder!
TOM: You're not the boss of me!
DICK: Or me!
HARRY: Yeah, I thought you said "NO LEADERS!"
KEN: That was then, this is now! I'm granting myself "temporary authoritarian power" until this crisis is resolved!
TOM: Hey, you can't do that!
DICK: Hey, no fair! You got to play "temporary leader" last time! It's my turn!
HARRY: I nominate myself as "temporary leader!" Tom, you get the ladder, Dick, you get the fire hose, I'LL check the fire hydrant.
TOM: You're not the boss of me!
DICK: Where's the fire hose at?
HARRY: How should I know? That's why I delegated that task to you.
TOM: No fair! How come I have to get the ladder? I'm afraid of heights!
HARRY: You don't have to climb the ladder, Tom, you just have to find it!
TOM: Who's going to climb the ladder?
HARRY: Ken's going to climb the ladder!
KEN: I am?
TOM: Hey yeah! I nominate Ken!
DICK: You can't nominate Ken, Tom. Harry's the "temporary leader," he makes the nominations!
TOM: No way! Anybody can nominate anybody? Right, Ken?
KEN: That's right!
HARRY: I've already nominated Ken to climb the ladder, Tom, just go fetch it!
TOM: You did? When did this happen?
HARRY: Just a moment ago.
TOM: No you didn't! You never said 'I nominate so and so!'
HARRY: Ok, fine! I NOMINATE KEN TO CLIMB THE LADDER!
KEN: You're not the boss of me!
HARRY: Hang on, where's Dick?
TOM: He's still looking for the fire hose, remember?
KEN: AHA! I think it's perfectly clear to everyone present that Harry can't properly manage the people under his own supervision! I hereby strip Harry of all his authoritarian powers! I re-appoint myself as "temporary leader!"
HARRY: Hey, you can't do that!
DICK: *panting* ...OK...Here's the fire hose...hey, chum! Why the glum face?
ME: My house burned down...*sniff*...and my puppy died...*sob*
DICK: Cheer up, mate! Thanks to the wonders of GENERALIZED SELF-MANAGEMENT, now that the crisis is over, we don't need a "temporary leader" anymore! Isn't that swell?
KEN: Aw, nuts! And I was just getting good at it too!
There's no such thing as "temporary authoritarian powers," Ken. Nine out of ten authoritarian dictators agree. The lone dissenter was promptly dragged out into the street and shot.
Consensus, majority rule and unavoidable hierarchies
But such cases will be exceptional. The general rule will be consensus when practicable, majority decision when necessary. A character in William Morriss News from Nowhere (one of the most sensible, easygoing and down-to-earth utopias) gives the example of whether a metal bridge should be replaced by a stone one. At the next Mote (community assembly) this is proposed. If there is a clear consensus, the issue is settled and they proceed to work out the details of implementation. But if a few of the neighbors disagree to it, if they think that the beastly iron bridge will serve a little longer and they dont want to be bothered with building a new one just then, they dont count heads that time, but put off the formal discussion to the next Mote; and meantime arguments pro and con are flying about, and some get printed, so that everybody knows what is going on; and when the Mote comes together again there is a regular discussion and at last a vote by show of hands. If the division is a close one, the question is again put off for further discussion; if the division is a wide one, the minority are asked if they will yield to the more general opinion, which they often, nay, most commonly do.
COUNTERPOINT: Especially if opinionated majority carry guns. Foregone conclusion, really.
POINT: If they refuse, the question is debated a third time, when, if the minority has not perceptibly grown, they always give way;
COUNTERPOINT: Tasers. Tasers can come in real handy. You know...just in case you run out of guns.
POINT: though I believe there is some half-forgotten rule by which they might still carry it on further; but I say, what always happens is that they are convinced, not perhaps that their view is the wrong one, but they cannot persuade or force the community to adopt it.
COUNTERPOINT: If only they had been smart enough to arm themselves. Oh well, too late now. Morons.
POINT: Note that what enormously simplifies cases like this is that there are no longer any conflicting economic interests
COUNTERPOINT: Nope, just a conflict of aesthetic tastes. And we all know how easy it is to resolve those. I recommend gunpoint!
POINT: no one has any means or any motive to bribe or bamboozle people into voting one way or the other because he happens to have a lot of money, or to control the media, or to own a construction company or a parcel of land near a proposed site. Without such conflicts of interest, people will naturally incline to cooperation and compromise, if only to placate opponents and make life easier for themselves.
COUNTERPOINT: That's right, Ken. Human beings are universally lazy and risk-adverse. Good thing too.
POINT: Some communities might have formal provisions to accommodate minorities (e.g. if, instead of merely voting no, 20% express a "vehement objection" to some proposal, it must pass by a 60% majority); but neither side will be likely to abuse such formal powers lest it be treated likewise when the situations are reversed.
COUNTERPOINT: You don't watch C-Span much, do you Ken? Ever sat in on a session of Congress? No? I didn't think so.
POINT: The main solution for repeated irreconcilable conflicts will lie in the wide diversity of cultures: if people who prefer metal bridges, etc., constantly find themselves outvoted by Morris-type arts-and-crafts traditionalists, they can always move to some neighboring community where more congenial tastes prevail.
COUNTERPOINT: It's nice to know Ken supports Freedom of Assembly in his brave new world. If you're unhappy with the stifling little community you're currently in, you can always move on the next stifling little community. My mind is at ease now. Isn't yours?
The geography of Ken's utopia still puzzles me. Where are the cities, the great urban expanses? Ken seems to think he still has enough room to divide the whole of humanity into equitable little groups. Neat trick, that. Still, you'd think there'd be at least SOME large cities left. Somewhere. Unless Ken depopulated them all. Ken wouldn't do that to us, would he? Nah!
POINT: Insistence on total consensus makes sense only when the number of people involved is relatively small and the issue is not urgent. Among any large number of people complete unanimity is rarely possible. It is absurd, out of worry over possible majority tyranny, to uphold a minoritys right to constantly obstruct a majority; or to imagine that such problems will go away if we leave things "unstructured."
COUNTERPOINT: What's that, Ken? Hierarchies are OK now? WILL YOU PLEASE MAKE UP YOUR MIND!?!?!
POINT: As was pointed out in a well-known article many years ago (Jo Freemans "The Tyranny of Structurelessness"), theres no such thing as a structureless group, there are simply different types of structures.
COUNTERPOINT: Has Ken just openly admitted that his plans to abolish Hierarchy are little more that a pipe dream? I don't think he meant to.
POINT: An unstructured group generally ends up being dominated by a clique that does have some effective structure.
COUNTERPOINT: Unstructured groups are just begging for LEADERSHIP, Ken. Trust me on this.
POINT: The unorganized members have no means of controlling such an elite, especially when their antiauthoritarian ideology prevents them from admitting that it exists.
COUNTERPOINT: Oh no! How will they ever break free of the chains of GENERALIZED SELF-MANAGEMENT? Huh, Ken?
POINT: Failing to acknowledge majority rule as a backup when unanimity is not attainable, anarchists and consensists are often unable to arrive at practical decisions except by following those de facto leaders who are skilled at maneuvering people into unanimity (if only by their capacity to endure interminable meetings until all the opposition has got bored and gone home). Fastidiously rejecting workers councils or anything else with any taint of coercion, they themselves usually end up settling for far less radical lowest-common-denominator projects.
COUNTERPOINT: Oh, the HUMANITY!!!
POINT: Its easy to point out shortcomings in the workers councils of the past, which were, after all, just hurried improvisations by people involved in desperate struggles. But if those brief efforts were not perfect models to blindly imitate, they nevertheless represent the most practical step in the right direction that anyone has come up with so far.
COUNTERPOINT: That's right, Ken, commies know best!
POINT: Riesels article on councils (SI Anthology, pp. 270-282) discusses the limitations of these old movements, and rightly stresses that council power should be understood as the sovereignty of the popular assemblies as a whole, not merely of the councils of delegates they have elected. Some groups of radical workers in Spain, wishing to avoid any ambiguity on this latter point, have referred to themselves as "assemblyists" rather than "councilists." One of the CMDO leaflets (SI Anthology, p. 351 [Address to All Workers]) specifies the following essential features of councilist democracy:
Dissolution of all external power
TRANSLATION: Total all-out war against ALL external powers.
Direct and total democracy
TRANSLATION: No representatives! Only...delegates...oh, wait...
Practical unification of decision and execution
TRANSLATION: Dissenters will be dragged out into the street and shot!
Delegates who can be revoked at any moment by those who have mandated them
TRANSLATION: Why bother trying to vote them out of office when they can be REVOKED?
Abolition of hierarchy and independent specializations
TRANSLATION: No chairpersons! No experts! No observers! No delegates!...oh, wait...
Conscious management and transformation of all the conditions of liberated life
TRANSLATION: No exceptions!
Permanent creative mass participation
TRANSLATION: No escape!
Internationalist extension and coordination
TRANSLATION: Down with CAPITALISM! Extinction is nigh!
Once these features are recognized and implemented, it will make little difference whether people refer to the new form of social organization as "anarchy," "communalism," "communist anarchism," "council communism," "libertarian communism," "libertarian socialism," "participatory democracy" or "generalized self-management," or whether its various overlapping components are termed "workers councils," "antiwork councils," "revolutionary councils," "revolutionary assemblies," "popular assemblies," "popular committees," "communes," "collectives," "kibbutzes," "bolos," "motes," "affinity groups," or anything else. ("Generalized self-management" is unfortunately not very catchy, but it has the advantage of referring to both means and goal while being free of the misleading connotations of terms like "anarchy" or "communism.")
COUNTERPOINT: It's still a total crock, Ken, no matter what you call it. Besides, I know how much you loathe Orwellian semantic games. Political correctness is so 90's!
POINT: In any case, its important to remember that large-scale formal organization will be the exception. Most local matters can be handled directly and informally. Individuals or small groups will simply go ahead and do what seems appropriate in any given situation ("adhocracy"). Majority rule will merely be a last resort in the progressively diminishing number of cases in which conflicts of interest cannot otherwise be resolved.
A nonhierarchical society does not mean that everyone magically becomes equally talented or must participate equally in everything; it simply means that materially based and reinforced hierarchies have been eliminated. Although differences of abilities will undoubtedly diminish when everyone is encouraged to develop their fullest potentials, the point is that whatever differences remain will no longer be transformed into differences of wealth or power.
People will be able to take part in a far wider range of activities than they do now, but they wont have to rotate all positions all the time if they dont feel like it. If someone has a special taste and knack for a certain task, others will probably be happy to let her do it as much as she wants at least until someone else wants a shot at it.
COUNTERPOINT: Finally! Remember when I asked you whether or not Janitors and Doctors should be paid the same wage? The reason I ask is because Ken has this whole system worked out where everybody gets to do whatever job they naturally enjoy doing...indefinitely. No one has to be rotated out of the position they enjoy working at "if they don't feel like it." If someone wants to be a doctor, for instance, others will probably be happy to let them be a doctor for as long as they want - at least until someone else wants a shot at it. Not everyone is equally talented or motivated to be a doctor, and certainly no one should be forced to try being a doctor if they don't want to. The important thing is that no one's making any money at what they do, so whether you're primarily a Doctor or a primarily a Janitor, you both get paid the same (nothing). Differences in ability will undoubtedly diminish when everyone is encouraged to develop to their fullest potential. Hence we stumble across the following scene:
ME: Ohhhhhh! My side aches! I think I might have appendicitis!
KEN: Tom, go fetch Hank, right away! This poor guy needs and appendectomy!
TOM: You're not the boss of me!
ME: Who's Hank? I want need to see Jenny! She's the best doctor in town! Ohhhhhh! The pain!
KEN: Try to keep calm. Just relax! I sent Tom off to go and find Hank. Hank will take good care of you.
ME: You mean Hank the janitor? You're kidding right?
KEN: Not at all. No one has jobs anymore, remember? It's all about playtime and learning to realize your full potential...
ME: Has Hank ever diagnosed appendicitis? Does he even know what an appendectomy IS?
KEN: No, probably not. But I know he's been aching to try his hand at minor abdominal surgery for some time now. Or maybe he just has some sort of weird knife fetish. I can't remember which. Besides, Jenny's on vacation.
ME: Vacation! Isn't there someone else more qualified? Ohhhhhhhhhhh. My insides hurt!
KEN: Well, we wouldn't want Hank to miss out on his chance to play doctor, now would we?
ME: Well, since you put it that way...AAAAAAhhhhhhhh! *vomits*
KEN: Ewww! Vomit everywhere! The stench is getting to me already! Aha! A new crisis has arisen! I appoint myself "temporary leader!" Dick, Harry! Clean up this mess!
DICK: Aw, man! I just got done putting away the fire hose...
HARRY: You're not the boss of me! Call the janitor!
I have a theory to lay on you, Ken. Listen closely now and see if you can follow along: Maybe - just maybe - Doctors SHOULD be paid more than Janitors. You see, learning to become a doctor takes years of schooling and practice. All you have to do to become a janitor is show up on time and know how to operate a mop. People place different VALUES on different types of work, Ken. That's why they get paid UNEQUAL amounts of money. Because janitors and doctors aren't interchangeable, Ken. You can't just wish away the need for specialists in any given society, and you certainly can't motivate people to become specialists if you plan to pay them the exact same wage that non-specialists make. And here you were planning pay both of them absolutely nothing! Weren't you, Ken? YOU IMBICILE!!!
POINT: "Independent specializations" (monopolistic control over socially vital information or technologies) will be abolished; open, nondominating specializations will flourish.
COUNTERPOINT: Sure they will, Ken. Sure they will.
POINT: People will still ask more knowledgeable persons for advice when they feel the need for it (though if they are curious or suspicious they will always be encouraged to investigate for themselves).
COUNTERPOINT: Like if janitors want to switch jobs and become brain surgeons, for instance. They could just read a book. How hard could it be?
POINT: They will still be free to voluntarily submit themselves as students to a teacher, apprentices to a master, players to a coach or performers to a director remaining equally free to discontinue the relation at any time. In some activities, such as group folksinging, anyone can join right in; others, such as performing a classical concerto, may require rigorous training and coherent direction, with some people taking leading roles, others following, and others being happy just to listen. There should be plenty of opportunity for both types.
COUNTERPOINT: See, Ken knows that in order to have fun stuff like band concerts and dramatic performances (and let's not forget the ever popular FOLK SIGNGING!), some form of hierarchical organization will be necessary. After all, not everyone can be the star of the show. Just as long as the hierarchies disband RIGHT after the performances are over. That will help put Ken's mind at ease.
POINT: The situationist critique of the spectacle is a critique of an excessive tendency in present society; it does not imply that everyone must be an "active participant" twenty-four hours a day.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken has just put my mind at ease. I'm so grateful!
POINT: Apart from the care necessary for mental incompetents, the only unavoidable enforced hierarchy will be the temporary one involved in raising children until they are capable of managing their own affairs.
COUNTERPOINT: There you go again, Ken! Always making allowances for "temporary hierarchies!" Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Yoda says so.
I wonder if Ken thinks the institution of marriage is only a "temporary" hierarchy. Don't you?
POINT: But in a safer and saner world children could be given considerably more freedom and autonomy than they are now. When it comes to openness to the new playful possibilities of life, adults may learn as much from them as vice versa.
COUNTERPOINT: ON THE WIT AND WISDOM OF CHILDREN:
CHILD: Hey, Mommy! We were playing by the pool today and tossed a puppy in the water! You know what happened?
MOTHER: No, child, do tell!
CHILD: The puppy swam to shore, all by itself! Did you know puppies could swim, Mommy?
MOTHER: You don't say!
CHILD: You know what else? After we dried the puppy off, we decided to throw baby Jessica in the pool.
MOTHER: Really? What happened too her?
CHILD: Well she didn't swim so good. Actually, she drowned and died! Did you know that babies drown when you drop them in the pool, Mommy?
MOTHER: Well, I think we've all learned a valuable lesson here today...
POINT: Here as elsewhere, the general rule will be to let people find their own level: a ten-year-old who takes part in some project might have as much say in it as her adult co-participants, while a nonparticipating adult will have none.
COUNTERPOINT: Got that? Non-participating adults don't have any say in the project. Stupid adults!
POINT: Self-management does not require that everyone be geniuses, merely that most people not be total morons.
COUNTERPOINT: How about doctors, Ken? Don't doctors need to be geniuses? Or are you willing to settle for a doctor's degree which certifies that theyre merely "not a total moron?" The time for choosing is now!
POINT: Its the present system that makes unrealistic demands pretending that the people it systematically imbecilizes are capable of judging between the programs of rival politicians or the advertising claims of rival commodities, or of engaging in such complex and consequential activities as raising a child or driving a car on a busy freeway.
COUNTERPOINT: Everyday life is such a burden...for Ken.
POINT: With the supersession of all the political and economic pseudoissues that are now intentionally kept incomprehensible, most matters will turn out not to be all that complicated.
POINT: When people first get a chance to run their own lives they will undoubtedly make lots of mistakes; but they will soon discover and correct them because, unlike hierarchs, they will have no interest in covering them up.
COUNTERPOINT: Doctors who cover up their mistakes get sued for malpractice, Ken. And that's what happens in CAPITALISTIC societies. Who knew?
POINT: Self-management does not guarantee that people will always make the right decisions; but any other form of social organization guarantees that someone else will make the decisions for them.
COUNTERPOINT: Well now that's the most important thing, isn't it Ken? Glad to see you have your priorities straight! We wouldn't want ANYONE to make decisions for anyone else! Mothers deciding that children shouldn't play by the pool unsupervised would just be so...HEIRARCHICAL!
Eliminating the roots of war and crime
The abolition of capitalism will eliminate the conflicts of interest that now serve as a pretext for the state.
COUNTERPOINT: It's called DENIAL, Ken. Get over it!
POINT: Most present-day wars are ultimately based on economic conflicts; even ostensibly ethnic, religious or ideological antagonisms usually derive much of their real motivation from economic competition, or from psychological frustrations that are ultimately linked to political and economic repression. As long as desperate competition prevails, people can easily be manipulated into reverting to their traditional groupings and squabbling over cultural differences they wouldnt bother about under more comfortable circumstances.
COUNTERPOINT: See? Just make everyone's circumstances more comfortable, and then no will feel compelled to go to war! Couldn't be simpler!
But consider this: "White collar" workers have much more comfortable material circumstances than the average "blue collar" worker. I wonder if Ken can explain how it is that the materially well-to-do are still capable of committing "white collar" crimes (embezzlement, insider trading, etc.) Is it because they just aren't materially comfortable enough? Huh, Ken? Rich people commit crimes to, don't they? The poverty of Ken's thinking in this regard is truly staggering.
POINT: War involves far more work, hardship and risk than any form of constructive activity; people with real opportunities for fulfillment will have more interesting things to do.
COUNTERPOINT: It's impossible for Ken to comprehend how soldiers of any ideological stripe could possibly derive any sort of "fulfillment" from what they do. Ken doesn't know very many soldiers, now does he?
POINT: The same is true for crime. Leaving aside victimless "crimes," the vast majority of crimes are directly or indirectly related to money and will become meaningless with the elimination of the commodity system.
COUNTERPOINT: Most of the 9-11 highjackers were upper middle class, well educated, well-to-do. I wonder what drove them to commit suicide? Oh, that's right, they were oppressed. How could I have forgotten?
POINT: Communities will then be free to experiment with various methods for dealing with whatever occasional antisocial acts might still occur.
COUNTERPOINT: Riots in the streets? No problem! Feel free to experiment with whatever occasional antisocial act that might occur. If that means killing all the dissidents, well, at least you put forth your best effort!
POINT: There are all sorts of possibilities.
COUNTERPOINT: Indeed there are, Ken. Indeed there are.
POINT: The persons involved might argue their cases before the local community or a "jury" chosen by lot, which would strive for the most reconciling and rehabilitating solutions. A convicted offender might be "condemned" to some sort of public service not to intentionally unpleasant and demeaning shitwork administered by petty sadists, which simply produces more anger and resentment, but to meaningful and potentially engaging projects that might introduce him to healthier interests (ecological restoration, for example). A few incorrigible psychotics might have to be humanely restrained in one way or another, but such cases would become increasingly rare.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken wants to preserve deterrents to crime. Honest!
POINT: (The present proliferation of "gratuitous" violence is a predictable reaction to social alienation, a way for those who are not treated as real persons to at least get the grim satisfaction of being recognized as real threats.) Ostracism will be a simple and effective deterrent: the thug who laughs at the threat of harsh punishment, which only confirms his macho prestige, will be far more deterred if he knows that everyone will give him the cold shoulder.
COUNTERPOINT: Oooooh! The dreaded Cold Shoulder! The horror! THE HORROR!!!
POINT: In the rare case where that proves inadequate, the variety of cultures might make banishment a workable solution: a violent character who was constantly disturbing a quiet community might fit in fine in some more rough-and-tumble, Wild West-type region or face less gentle retaliation.
COUNTERPOINT: Not to worry, folks, "These and other safeguards will always be available..." I told you Ken had it all worked out!
POINT: Those are just a few of the possibilities. Liberated people will undoubtedly come up with more creative, effective and humane solutions than any we can presently imagine.
COUNTERPOINT: You mean like killing all the.....oh, never mind!
POINT: I dont claim that there will be no problems, only that there will be far fewer problems than there are now, when people who happen to find themselves at the bottom of an absurd social order are harshly punished for their crude efforts to escape, while those at the top loot the planet with impunity.
COUNTERPOINT: Repent! Extinction is nigh!
POINT: The barbarity of the present penal system is surpassed only by its stupidity.
COUNTERPOINT: What else can I say, Ken? I completely agree! The Soviet Gulags were a cruel abomination surpassed only by their...oh, wait...That's not what you meant, was it, Ken?
POINT: Draconian punishments have repeatedly been shown to have no significant effect on the crime rate, which is directly linked to levels of poverty and unemployment as well as to less quantifiable but equally obvious factors like racism, the destruction of urban communities, and the general alienation produced by the commodity-spectacle system.
COUNTERPOINT: You're right, Ken. People who commit crimes are never responsible for their own behavior - CAPITALISM MAKES THEM DO IT!!! Obviously.
POINT: The threat of years in prison, which might be a powerful deterrent to someone with a satisfying life, means little to those with no meaningful alternatives. It is hardly very brilliant to slash already pitifully inadequate social programs in the name of economizing, while filling prisons with lifers at a cost of close to a million dollars each; but like so many other irrational social policies, this trend persists because it is reinforced by powerful vested interests.(3)
COUNTERPOINT: You know what happens when you put most of the criminals in jail, Ken? Crime rates go down. Go figure.
And now, the part you've all been waiting for...(drum-roll please)..........
A liberated society must abolish the whole money-commodity economy. To continue to accept the validity of money would amount to accepting the continued dominance of those who had previously accumulated it, or who had the savvy to reaccumulate it after any radical reapportionment. Alternative forms of "economic" reckoning will still be needed for certain purposes, but their carefully limited scope will tend to diminish as increasing material abundance and social cooperativity render them less necessary.
COUNTERPOINT: Told you!
POINT: A postrevolutionary society might have a three-tier economic setup along the following lines:
1. Certain basic goods and services will be freely available to everyone without any accounting whatsoever.
COUNTERPOINT: Let's think about that for a moment: an economic system without any accounting whatsoever. Genius, Ken! Pure genius! Why didn't I think of that?
2. Others will also be free, but only in limited, rationed quantities.
3. Others, classified as "luxuries," will be available in exchange for "credits."
Unlike money, credits will be applicable only to certain specified goods, not to basic communal property such as land, utilities or means of production. They will also probably have expiration dates to limit any excessive accumulation.
COUNTERPOINT: Hmmm. I wonder who will get to decide which commodities will be classified as "luxuries" and which ones won't. I've got twenty bucks that says Ken will gladly appoint himself "temporary leader" just in case we get stuck. Such a trooper, that Ken!
More importantly, I wonder how Ken plans to place limitations on his precious "credits" so that they can't be spent on land, utilities, or means of production. How do you limit peoples' choices on what they can and cannot spend their credits on? Like expiration dates, for instance. How does Ken plan to enforce those?
ME: Hi, Ken. I'd like to purchase this luxurious chocolate bar.
KEN: No can do, friend! Those credits of yours are expired!
ME: What! Why won't you accept my credits? You said I could exchange them for luxury items!
KEN: Nope. These credits are no good. They've expired!
ME: What happened to my credits!?! They were just fine last week!
KEN: That was then, this is now. Your credits have expired! Now if you'll excuse me, I have other customers to attend to
ME: But just a few minutes ago I spent some of these credits at Tom's place in exchange for a bottle of wine!
KEN: You WHAT!?!
ME: Yeah, see, Tom bought a whole case of wine last week and now he's offering to sell individual bottles at discount prices. He said he'd even accept "expired" credits at double the cost. That way none of our expired credits will ever have to go to waste! Isn't Tom a genius?
KEN: THAT FILTHY CAPITALIST PIG!!!
You see, Ken, if you take away everybody's money, all you're really going to do is force them to re-invent money all over again. Money works, Ken. People have been using money for millennia. Trust me on this.
POINT: Such a setup will be quite flexible. During the initial transition period the amount of free goods might be fairly minimal just enough to enable a person to get by with most goods requiring earning credits through work.
COUNTERPOINT: Just enough goods to get by Yeah, I can see how people would gladly reject all forms of CAPITALISM in favor of Ken's generous offer. Don't you?
POINT: As time goes on, less and less work will be necessary and more and more goods will become freely available the tradeoff between the two factors always remaining up to the councils to determine.
COUNTERPOINT: You hadn't forgotten about the "councils," had you? Good. Just don't call them "bureaucracies." Bureaucracies make Ken cry.
POINT: Some credits might be generally distributed, each person periodically receiving a certain amount; others might be bonuses for certain types of dangerous or unpleasant work where there is a shortage of volunteers.
COUNTERPOINT: I wonder if Janitors will get hazard pay. You never know. But seriously, would you ever have a shortage of volunteers for something as essential as garbage disposal? I mean, who are we trying to kid? Besides Ken, I mean.
What's intriguing about this passage is that Ken tacitly admits that "profit motive" is necessary to entice people to do hazardous jobs. He even anticipates a shortage of volunteers for the unpleasant jobs. So he plans to pay them bonuses. I wonder how much more CAPITALISM Ken is going to have to adopt in order to make his economy work
POINT: Councils might set fixed prices for certain luxuries, while letting others follow supply and demand; as a luxury becomes more abundant it will become cheaper, perhaps eventually free.
COUNTERPOINT: Price controls never produce exactly the intended effect, Ken. The drawbacks are considerable. But then, if you'd been paying attention at all, you'd already know that. Wouldn't you, Ken?
POINT: Goods could be shifted from one tier to another depending on material conditions and community preferences.
COUNTERPOINT: See, we'd have a black market up and running in no time! Just don't tell Ken. Shhhhhhh!
POINT: Those are just some of the possibilities.(4) Experimenting with different methods, people will soon find out for themselves what forms of ownership, exchange and reckoning are necessary.
COUNTERPOINT: CAPITALISM seems pretty necessary to me, Ken. What do you think?
POINT: In any case, whatever "economic" problems may remain will not be serious because scarcity-imposed limits will be a factor only in the sector of inessential "luxuries." Free universal access to food, clothing, housing, utilities, health care, transportation, communication, education and cultural facilities could be achieved almost immediately in the industrialized regions and within a fairly short period in the less developed ones.
COUNTERPOINT: Food, clothing, housing, utilities, health care, transportation, communication, and education are all luxuries that only free market economies can afford, Ken. The Soviet economy was spent disproportionately on military hardware and weapons research. Learn from their mistakes, Ken! If you can. Moron.
POINT: Many of these things already exist and merely need to be made more equitably available; those that dont can easily be produced once social energy is diverted from irrational enterprises.
COUNTERPOINT: Just like in the Soviet model, Ken? Good thinking there, Ken!
POINT: Take housing, for example. Peace activists have frequently pointed out that everyone in the world could be decently housed at less than the cost of a few weeks of global military expenditure.
COUNTERPOINT: Peace activists frequently point out a lot of things that aren't true, Ken. Maybe it's because they're pushing an agenda, or something. Do you have any idea how much the U.S. Government spends on Social Security and Medicare each year compared to total sum of its military expenditures? I didn't think so. You know what I think, Ken? I think you're too ignorant to have a valid opinion on most economic issues. The reasons why you suck just keep piling up over here, Ken. Haven't we suffered enough?
POINT: They are no doubt envisioning a fairly minimal sort of dwelling; but if the amount of energy people now waste earning the money to enrich landlords and real estate speculators was diverted to building new dwellings, everyone in the world could soon be housed very decently indeed.
COUNTERPOINT: But who would pay the construction workers' salaries, Ken? You?
POINT: To begin with, most people might continue living where they are now and concentrate on making dwellings available for homeless people. Hotels and office buildings could be taken over. Certain outrageously extravagant estates might be requisitioned and turned into dwellings, parks, communal gardens, etc.
COUNTERPOINT: Confiscation of private property is the root a many evils, Ken. Just look at the Leninist revolt of 1917! Whatever happened to the workers' paradise they were promised? It all ended in tears, Ken. And blood. Lots and lots of blood. Sometimes you make me sad, Ken. This is one of those times. Is it OK if I strangle you now?
POINT: Seeing this trend, those possessing relatively spacious properties might offer to temporarily quarter homeless people while helping them build homes of their own, if only to deflect potential resentment from themselves.
COUNTERPOINT: Or they just might go out and buy bigger and better guns. You never know about those wily rich people, Ken. They crazy!
POINT: The next stage will be raising and equalizing the quality of dwellings. Here as in other areas, the aim will probably not be a rigidly uniform equality ("everyone must have a dwelling of such and such specifications"), but peoples general sense of fairness, with problems being dealt with on a flexible, case-by-case basis. If someone feels he is getting the short end of the stick he can appeal to the general community, which, if the grievance is not completely absurd, will probably bend over backward to redress it.
COUNTERPOINT: Of course they will, Ken. Of course they will. You hideous fool.
POINT: Or Compromises will have to be worked out regarding who gets to live in exceptionally desirable areas for how long. (They might be shared around by lot, or leased for limited periods to the highest bidders in credit auctions, etc.) Such problems may not be solved to everyones complete satisfaction, but they will certainly be dealt with much more fairly than under a system in which accumulation of magic pieces of paper enables one person to claim "ownership" of a hundred buildings while others have to live on the street.
COUNTERPOINT: One begins to suspect that Ken has a very limited perspective on how land-ownership works. Or how CAPITALISM works. Or how anything works, really. He's such a moron, that Ken.
POINT: Once basic survival needs are taken care of, the quantitative perspective of labor time will be transformed into a qualitatively new perspective of free creativity. A few friends may work happily building their own home even if it takes them a year to accomplish what a professional crew could do more efficiently in a month.
COUNTERPOINT: Winter only comes once a year, Ken. No hurry!
POINT: Much more fun and imagination and love will go into such projects, and the resulting dwellings will be far more charming, variegated and personal than what today passes for "decent."
COUNTERPOINT: I wonder if Ken has ever built a house. In fact, I wonder if Ken has ever hammered a nail in his life. Place your bets now, ladies and gentleman!
POINT: A nineteenth-century rural French mailman named Ferdinand Cheval spent all his spare time for several decades constructing his own personal fantasy castle. People like Cheval are considered eccentrics, but the only thing unusual about them is that they continue to exercise the innate creativity we all have but are usually induced to repress after early childhood. A liberated society will have lots of this playful sort of "work": personally chosen projects that will be so intensely engaging that people will no more think of keeping track of their "labor time" than they would of counting caresses during lovemaking or trying to economize on the length of a dance.
COUNTERPOINT: KEN JUST WANTS TO GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY! Go have your mid-life crisis somewhere else, Ken. I don't see why you have to keep trying to drag the rest of us down with you. Sheesh!
Absurdity of most present-day labor
Fifty years ago Paul Goodman estimated that less than ten percent of the work then being done would satisfy our basic needs. Whatever the exact figure (it would be even lower now, though it would of course depend on precisely what we consider basic or reasonable needs), it is clear that most present-day labor is absurd and unnecessary. With the abolition of the commodity system, hundreds of millions of people now occupied with producing superfluous commodities, or with advertising them, packaging them, transporting them, selling them, protecting them or profiting from them (salespersons, clerks, foremen, managers, bankers, stockbrokers, landlords, labor leaders, politicians, police, lawyers, judges, jailers, guards, soldiers, economists, ad designers, arms manufacturers, customs inspectors, tax collectors, insurance agents, investment advisers, along with their numerous underlings) will all be freed up to share the relatively few actually necessary tasks.
COUNTERPOINT: Shortly after Pol Pot abolished Cambodia's commodity system, most of the former salespersons, clerks, foremen, managers, bankers, stockbrokers, landlords, labor leaders, politicians, police, lawyers, judges, economists, ad designers, customs inspectors, tax collectors, insurance agents, investment advisers, (along with their numerous underlings) were all corralled into forced labor camps and were ultimately worked/starved to death. But hey, at least they were all "freed up to share the relatively few actually necessary tasks."
Oh, and in case you hadn't noticed, Pot kept all the jailers, guards, soldiers and arms manufacturers well fed (just in case). You can never be too careful, Ken. Always plan ahead!
POINT: Add the unemployed, who according to a recent UN report now constitute over 30% of the global population. If this figure seems large it is because it presumably includes prisoners, refugees, and many others who are not usually counted in official unemployment statistics because they have given up trying to look for work, such as those who are incapacitated by alcoholism or drugs, or who are so nauseated by the available job options that they put all their energy into evading work through crimes and scams.
COUNTERPOINT: I wonder how Ken intends to rehabilitate all those habitual drug users. Especially since he wants to legalize recreational drugs. Oh well.
Notice also that Ken doesn't think poverty causes crime, he thinks LOOKING FOR JOBS causes crime. Who knew?
POINT: Add millions of old people who would love to engage in worthwhile activities but who are now relegated to a boring, passive retirement.
COUNTERPOINT: After you read the last few paragraphs of this chapter, you'll come to understand that Ken wants to pressure all of humanity into one long, boring, passive retirement. Feel free to skip ahead if you don't believe me. I won't mind. I'm my own boss.
POINT: And teenagers and even younger children, who would be excitedly challenged by many useful and educational projects if they werent confined to worthless schools designed to instill ignorant obedience.
COUNTERPOINT: Maybe kids go to school because they plan on getting jobs someday, Ken. Who are you to stand in their way? Their life of crime has to start somewhere, Ken.
POINT: Then consider the large component of waste even in undeniably necessary work. Doctors and nurses, for example, spend a large portion of their time (in addition to filling out insurance forms, billing patients, etc.) trying with limited success to counteract all sorts of socially induced problems such as occupational injuries, auto accidents, psychological ailments and diseases caused by stress, pollution, malnutrition or unsanitary living conditions, to say nothing of wars and the epidemics that often accompany them problems that will largely disappear in a liberated society, leaving health-care providers free to concentrate on basic preventive medicine.
COUNTERPOINT: But why would anyone WANT to concentrate on basic preventive medicine if it pays the exact same amount as finger painting? Wouldn't finger painting be much less stressful? You're totally in to reducing stress, aren't you, Ken?
POINT: Then consider the equally large amount of intentionally wasted labor: make-work designed to keep people occupied; suppression of labor-saving methods that might put one out of a job; working as slowly as one can get away with; sabotaging machinery to exert pressure on bosses, or out of simple rage and frustration.
COUNTERPOINT: No one will work as slowly as they can get away with in Ken's economy. Ken will abolish laziness! You just wait and see.
POINT: And dont forget all the absurdities of "Parkinsons Law" (work expands to fill the time available), the "Peter Principle" (people rise to their level of incompetence) and similar tendencies that have been so hilariously satirized by C. Northcote Parkinson and Laurence Peter.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken will abolish all absurdity! Like the freedom to overstock on luxury items, for instance. Freedom is for suckers!
POINT: Then consider how much wasted labor will be eliminated once products are made to last instead of being designed to fall apart or go out of style so that people have to keep buying new ones. (After a brief initial period of high production to provide everyone with durable, high-quality goods, many industries could be reduced to very modest levels just enough to keep those goods in repair, or to occasionally upgrade them whenever some truly significant improvement is developed.)
COUNTERPOINT: I know this is going to come as a surprise to you, Ken, but NO company sets out to design products which will fall apart or go out of style. Not even on purpose. Consumers who feel cheated by low quality products usually stop buying from the company which sells those products. As long as other companies are allowed to compete against the offending company, anyone can easily win over the consumers' confidence by developing competitive products which don't fall apart or go out of style as much (or as quickly) as the next guy's.
You see, Ken, CAPITALIST economies have all sorts of self-correcting measures built into them, but in order for markets to work like that, they have to be FREE to compete. Hence the term: free market economy. Free market economies are a beautiful thing, Ken. You should try participating in one sometime. If you're unhappy with the products you're buying now, why not start your own company and put out competitive products, Ken? Assuming you can keep the socialists and the commies at bay, I'm sure you'll do just fine.
POINT: Taking all these factors into consideration, its easy to see that in a sanely organized society the amount of necessary labor could be reduced to one or two days per week.
COUNTERPOINT: The depths of your ignorance never fails to impress, Ken. Rock on!
Transforming work into play
But such a drastic quantitative reduction will produce a qualitative change. As Tom Sawyer discovered, when people are not forced to work, even the most banal task may become novel and intriguing: the problem is no longer how to get people to do it, but how to accommodate all the volunteers.
COUNTERPOINT: Duping your neighbors into whitewashing your fence is a one-trick pony, Ken. Trust me on this. They're on to you!
POINT: It would be unrealistic to expect people to work full time at unpleasant and largely meaningless jobs without surveillance and economic incentives;
COUNTERPOINT: You mean like garbage collection (janitors)? Or sorting mail (post office workers)? Shelving books (librarians)? Answering phones (secretaries)? Stocking shelves (grocers, etc)? You mean people actually need ECONOMIC INCENTIVES to do this sort of work? You don't say! CAPITALISM already has you covered there, Ken. Sorry.
POINT: but the situation becomes completely different if its a matter of putting in ten or fifteen hours a week on worthwhile, varied, self-organized tasks of ones choice. Moreover, many people, once they are engaged in projects that interest them, will not want to limit themselves to the minimum.
COUNTERPOINT: Of course not, Ken! Once garbage collectors pick up the scent of the hunt, there's no stopping them!
POINT: This will reduce necessary tasks to an even more minuscule level for others who may not have such enthusiasms.
COUNTERPOINT: So...reducing the need for garbage collection (how?) will minimize the need for people who shudder at the mere thought of garbage collection? I'm not sure I follow you there, Ken.
POINT: Theres no need to quibble about the term work. Wage work needs to be abolished; meaningful, freely chosen work can be as much fun as any other kind of play.
COUNTERPOINT: All right men! Ken has given us ten to fifteen hours to collect all the garbage and take it to the city dump! Now go play! Enjoy yourselves! Ken commands it!
POINT: Our present work usually produces practical results, but not the ones we would have chosen, whereas our free time is mostly confined to trivialities.
COUNTERPOINT: That's right, Ken! Once we find out that we don't necessarily enjoy the jobs we currently have, we are COMPLETELY POWERLESS to quit our jobs and seek more fulfilling work! They chain us to our desks in these CAPITALIST societies, Ken! There's no escape! Come rescue us, Ken! Our savior!...uh, I meant "temporary leader!" Come back, Ken! Please?
POINT: With the abolition of wage labor, work will become more playful and play more active and creative. When people are no longer driven crazy by their work, they will no longer require mindless, passive amusements to recover from it.
COUNTERPOINT: If you think that sounds bad, just wait until you hear about the mindless, passive amusements Ken expects us to pursue once his utopia is achieved!
POINT: Not that theres anything wrong with enjoying trivial pastimes; its simply a matter of recognizing that much of their present appeal stems from the absence of more fulfilling activities.
COUNTERPOINT: One should bear in mind that Ken's idea of a good time is staring at a blank wall and listening to himself breathe (you know, Zen mediation and all that). Now just imagine all the good times ahead! Go ahead. I dare you.
POINT: Someone whose life lacks real adventure may derive at least a little vicarious exoticism from collecting artifacts from other times and places; someone whose work is abstract and fragmented may go to great lengths to actually produce a whole concrete object, even if that object is no more significant than a model ship in a bottle.
COUNTERPOINT: Ships in bottles for everyone! I can hardly wait!
POINT: These and countless other hobbies reveal the persistence of creative impulses that will really blossom when given free play on a broader scale.
COUNTERPOINT: One of the many creative impulses that Ken thinks will really blossom is bird-watching. And orgies. And antique shopping. I kid you not! Read on...
POINT: Imagine how people who enjoy fixing up their home or cultivating their garden will get into recreating their whole community; or how the thousands of railroad enthusiasts will jump at the chance to rebuild and operate improved versions of the rail networks that will be one of the main ways to reduce automobile traffic.
COUNTERPOINT: If Ken doesn't even understand why people prefer the relative autonomy and freedom which automobile driving provides as opposed to the rigid, hierarchical nature of train schedules well well I'm not sure there's much hope for Ken. Sorry, Ken! You moron.
POINT: When people are subjected to suspicion and oppressive regulations, they naturally try to get away with doing as little as possible.
POINT: In situations of freedom and mutual trust there is a contrary tendency to take pride in doing the best job possible.
COUNTERPOINT: Careful there, Ken. In situations of "freedom and mutual trust," CAPITALISM has been known to flourish! Vigilance, Ken! Vigilance!
POINT: Although some tasks in the new society will be more popular than others, the few really difficult or unpleasant ones will probably get more than enough volunteers, responding to the thrill of the challenge or the desire for appreciation, if not out of a sense of responsibility.
COUNTERPOINT: You'd be swimming in garbage within a week, Ken. Mark my words! No one collects other people's garbage out of a desire for appreciation. They do it for the money, Ken. The money! SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!
POINT: Even now many people are happy to volunteer for worthy projects if they have the time; far more will do so once they no longer have to constantly worry about providing for the basic needs of themselves and their families. At worst, the few totally unpopular tasks will have to be divided up into the briefest practicable shifts and rotated by lot until they can be automated.
COUNTERPOINT: What if they never get automated, Ken? For that matter, how DO you automate all the totally unpopular tasks? Like garbage collection, for instance. Robots, Ken? Researching robotics is full time work, Ken. How will anyone find the time to research robotics if they have to keep taking breaks to pick up all the garbage? Furthermore, robotics labs require HEIRARCHY and SPECIALISTS, Ken. Are you really sure you want to go there?
POINT: Or there might be auctions to see if anyone is willing to do them for, say, five hours a week in lieu of the usual workload of ten or fifteen; or for a few extra credits.
COUNTERPOINT: ECONOMIC INCENTIVES, Ken? Are you sure? Isn't that what a FILTHY CAPITALIST would do?
POINT: Uncooperative characters will probably be so rare that the rest of the population may just let them be, rather than bothering to pressure them into doing their small share.
COUNTERPOINT: There's never a shortage of "uncooperative characters," Ken. Trust me on this.
POINT: At a certain degree of abundance it becomes simpler not to worry about a few possible abuses than to enlist an army of timekeepers, accountants, inspectors, informers, spies, guards, police, etc., to snoop around checking every detail and punishing every infraction.
COUNTERPOINT: What about those "skeptical observers" overseeing all the "councils," Ken? You already hired an army of timekeepers, inspectors, informers and spies just to prevent HIERARCHY from erupting inside the councils. That's what the secret police are for, Ken. Don't you remember?
POINT: Its unrealistic to expect people to be generous and cooperative when there isnt much to go around; but a large material surplus will create a large "margin of abuse," so that it wont matter if some people do a little less than their share, or take a little more.
COUNTERPOINT: That's right, folks. Corruption with thrive unabated in Ken's utopia! Question for you, Ken: If some people do a little less than their share, or take a little more, how will you prevent them from building up their own surpluses? Remember how desperate you were before to prevent people from hoarding basic commodities, Ken? You were even prepared to stamp expiration dates on your money...I mean credits. What happened to that plan, Ken?
POINT: The abolition of money will prevent anyone from taking much more than their share.
COUNTERPOINT: Of course it will, Ken. Of course it will.
POINT: Most misgivings about the feasibility of a liberated society rest on the ingrained assumption that money (and thus also its necessary protector: the state) would still exist.
COUNTERPOINT: Well now hold on there a minute, Ken. Your "credit" system still exists in order to give people economic incentives to do unpleasant or hazardous work, right? And that's completely different from a monetary system...because...because you call them credits instead money? I worry about you sometimes, Ken. I really do.
POINT: This money-state partnership creates unlimited possibilities for abuses (legislators bribed to sneak loopholes into tax laws, etc.); but once it is abolished both the motives and the means for such abuses will vanish.
COUNTERPOINT: That's right, Ken. Those Skeptical Observers are impervious to corruption. Especially the ones already taking more than their fair share.
POINT: The abstractness of market relations enables one person to anonymously accumulate wealth by indirectly depriving thousands of others of basic necessities;
COUNTERPOINT: Ken thinks that market systems are a "zero-sum" game in the sense that if one person accumulates wealth, thousands of others are "deprived" of that same wealth. It doesn't occur to Ken that the "thousands of others" are perfectly capable of generating their own wealth, thereby adding more currency to the existing wealth already in circulation. There's a lot of things that don't occur to Ken. Oh well.
POINT: but with the elimination of money any significant monopolization of goods would be too unwieldy and too visible.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken doesn't mind corruption, just as long as it's not a significant monopolization. Always looking out for us, that Ken.
POINT: Whatever other forms of exchange there may be in the new society, the simplest and probably most common form will be gift-giving.
COUNTERPOINT: Of course it will, Ken. Of course it will.
POINT: The general abundance will make it easy to be generous.
COUNTERPOINT: It's called charity, Ken. The more money you have, the more charitable you can afford to be. America pays out billions of dollars in foreign aid each year. More than any other country in the world, Ken. In fact, America is a ridiculously generous country. CAPITALISM is the fuel that makes all that charity possible. If you want to inspire giving, Ken, why not give the gift of CAPITALISM - the gift that keeps on giving!
POINT: Giving is fun and satisfying, and it eliminates the bother of accounting. The only calculation is that connected with healthy mutual emulation. "The neighboring community donated such and such to a less well off region; surely we can do the same." "They put on a great party; lets see if we can do an even better one." A little friendly rivalry (who can create the most delicious new recipe, cultivate a superior vegetable, solve a social problem, invent a new game) will benefit everyone, even the losers.
COUNTERPOINT: Careful there, Ken! Friendly competition had been known to foster CAPITALIST activity. Just a friendly warning.
POINT: A liberated society will probably function much like a potluck party.
COUNTERPOINT: Yippee! A potluck party that NEVER ENDS! I can hardly wait!
POINT: Most people enjoy preparing a dish that will be enjoyed by others; but even if a few people dont bring anything theres still plenty to go around.
COUNTERPOINT: Even CAPITALISTS know how to put on a good pot luck party, Ken. Trust me on this. I've even been to a few. Honest.
POINT: Its not essential that everyone contribute an exactly equal share, because the tasks are so minimal and are spread around so widely that no one is overburdened.
COUNTERPOINT: I don't know, Ken. Sometimes the people who do the majority of the cooking and the cleaning up can feel a little "overburdened." Especially after dinner is over and the game is on TV. Good help is hard to find, Ken.
POINT: Since everyone is openly involved, theres no need for checking up on people or instituting penalties for noncompliance. The only element of "coercion" is the approval or disapproval of the other participants: appreciation provides positive reinforcement, while even the most inconsiderate person realizes that if he consistently fails to contribute he will start getting funny looks and might not be invited again.
COUNTERPOINT: OH NO! Not the dreaded COLD SHOULDER!!! Actually, Ken, once the slackers figure out they can keep getting a good meal for free and the worst thing onlookers will do is give them "funny looks," they'll keep coming back, time and time again. They don't care what you think of them, Ken. They're just there for the free food. Trust me on this.
Have you ever actually been to pot luck dinner, Ken? And what food did you bring?
POINT: Organization is necessary only if some problem turns up.
COUNTERPOINT: Like if nobody brought any food? Everyone must have been under the impression that every one else was bringing the food. Don't you just hate it when that happens?
POINT: (If there are usually too many desserts and not enough main dishes, the group might decide to coordinate who will bring what.
COUNTERPOINT: Careful, Ken. HIERARCHY! Don't forget to watch out for the HEIRARCY! Where are those Skeptical Observers when you need them?
CHILD: I appoint myself as "temporary leader!" Next time everybody will bring one bucket of chocolate ice cream!
KEN: But I'm allergic to ice cream!
CHILD: No exceptions! And no more "bonus credits" for you, Ken!
KEN: You're not the boss of me!
POINT: If a few generous souls end up bearing an unfair share of the cleanup work, a gentle prodding suffices to embarrass others into volunteering, or else some sort of systematic rotation is worked out.)
COUNTERPOINT: You just keep telling yourself that Ken.
CHILD: I appoint myself as "temporary leader!" Tom, you clean off the table! Dick, you have to wash the dishes! Harry, you get to dry the dishes! I'm going to go outside and play. Ken, you start cooking supper!
KEN: You're not the boss of me!
POINT: Now, of course, such spontaneous cooperation is the exception, found primarily where traditional communal ties have persisted, or among small, self-selected groups of like-minded people in regions where conditions are not too destitute.
COUNTERPOINT: They're called family picnics, Ken. CAPITALISTS have them all the time. Honest.
POINT: Out in the dog-eat-dog world people naturally look out for themselves and are suspicious of others. Unless the spectacle happens to stir them with some sentimental human-interest story, they usually have little concern for those outside their immediate circle. Filled with frustrations and resentments, they may even take a malicious pleasure in spoiling other peoples enjoyments.
COUNTERPOINT: They're called in-laws, Ken. Learn to cope.
POINT: But despite everything that discourages their humanity, most people, if given a chance, still like to feel that they are doing worthy things, and they like to be appreciated for doing them.
COUNTERPOINT: Even CAPITALISTS, Ken? I didn't think so.
POINT: Note how eagerly they seize the slightest opportunity to create a moment of mutual recognition, even if only by opening a door for someone or exchanging a few banal remarks.
COUNTERPOINT: It's called social etiquette, Ken. Get a clue.
POINT: If a flood or earthquake or some other emergency arises, even the most selfish and cynical person often plunges right in, working twenty-four hours a day to rescue people, deliver food and first-aid supplies, etc., without any compensation but others gratitude. This is why people often look back on wars and natural disasters with what might seem like a surprising degree of nostalgia. Like revolution, such events break through the usual social separations, provide everyone with opportunities to do things that really matter, and produce a strong sense of community (even if only by uniting people against a common enemy). In a liberated society these sociable impulses will be able to flourish without requiring such extreme pretexts.
COUNTERPOINT: Of course it will, Ken. Whatever their faults, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot - they never had to resort to "such extreme pretexts" to get their revolutions started. History speaks for itself.
Present-day automation often does little more than throw some people out of work while intensifying the regimentation of those who remain; if any time is actually gained by "labor-saving" devices, it is usually spent in an equally alienated passive consumption. But in a liberated world computers and other modern technologies could be used to eliminate dangerous or boring tasks, freeing everyone to concentrate on more interesting activities.
COUNTERPOINT: But who will create, build and maintain all of the computers, Ken? You're just making more busy work for people. And don't you dare try to use SPECIALISTS, Ken! Or I'll sic those Skeptical Observers on you faster than you can blink!
POINT: Disregarding such possibilities, and understandably disgusted by the current misuse of many technologies, some people have come to see "technology" itself as the main problem and advocate a return to a simpler lifestyle. How much simpler is debated as flaws are discovered in each period, the dividing line keeps getting pushed farther back. Some, considering the Industrial Revolution as the main villain, disseminate computer-printed eulogies of hand craftsmanship. Others, seeing the invention of agriculture as the original sin, feel we should return to a hunter-gatherer society, though they are not entirely clear about what they have in mind for the present human population which could not be sustained by such an economy.
COUNTERPOINT: Notice that Ken realizes that "regressing" to a previous technological state wouldn't be able to sustain the world's current population. I wonder why he hasn't applied this train of thought to his own revolution, don't you?
POINT: Others, not to be outdone, present eloquent arguments proving that the development of language and rational thought was the real origin of our problems. Yet others contend that the whole human race is so incorrigibly evil that it should altruistically extinguish itself in order to save the rest of the global ecosystem.
COUNTERPOINT: You mean like: Repent! Extinction is nigh! - Something like that?
POINT: These fantasies contain so many obvious self-contradictions that it is hardly necessary to criticize them in any detail. They have questionable relevance to actual past societies and virtually no relevance to present possibilities.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken's utopia has questionable relevance to actual past societies and virtually no relevance to present possibilities, BUT WILL HE SHUT UP ABOUT IT? I think not.
POINT: Even supposing that life was better in one or another previous era, we have to begin from where we are now. Modern technology is so interwoven with all aspects of our life that it could not be abruptly discontinued without causing a global chaos that would wipe out billions of people.
COUNTERPOINT: But hey, what are a few billion dissidents between friends?
POINT: Postrevolutionary people will probably decide to reduce human population and phase out certain industries, but this cant be done overnight.
COUNTERPOINT: Depopulation is hard work. Just ask Hitler.
POINT: We need to seriously consider how we will deal with all the practical problems that will be posed in the interim.
If it ever comes down to such a practical matter, I doubt if the technophobes will really want to eliminate motorized wheelchairs; or pull the plug on ingenious computer setups like the one that enables physicist Stephen Hawking to communicate despite being totally paralyzed; or allow a woman to die in childbirth who could be saved by technical procedures; or accept the reemergence of diseases that used to routinely kill or permanently disable a large percentage of the population; or resign themselves to never visiting or communicating with people in other parts of the world unless theyre within walking distance; or stand by while people die in famines that could be averted through global food shipments.
COUNTERPOINT: People sat by and watched while millions starved during the heyday of the Soviet Union, Ken. Western journalists swore up and down on a stack of bibles that everything was just fine. One of them even won a Pulitzer Prize for helping to cover up Stalin's crimes. You underestimate people, Ken.
POINT: The problem is that meanwhile this increasingly fashionable ideology deflects attention from real problems and possibilities. A simplistic Manichean dualism (nature is Good, technology is Bad) enables people to ignore complex historical and dialectical processes; its so much easier to blame everything on some primordial evil, some sort of devil or original sin.
COUNTERPOINT: You mean like the way you pin all of the world's shortcomings on CAPITALISM, Ken? I thought so.
POINT: What begins as a valid questioning of excessive faith in science and technology ends up as a desperate and even less justified faith in the return of a primeval paradise, accompanied by a failure to engage the present system in any but an abstract, apocalyptical way.(5)
COUNTERPOINT: Imagine Ken's dilemma. He needs people to build robots in order to pick up all the garbage, but the people he's trying to persuade are a bunch of Luddites who think monkey wrenches are tools of the devil. Poor Ken.
POINT: Technophiles and technophobes are united in treating technology in isolation from other social factors, differing only in their equally simplistic conclusions that new technologies are automatically empowering or automatically alienating. As long as capitalism alienates all human productions into autonomous ends that escape the control of their creators, technologies will share in that alienation and will be used to reinforce it. But when people free themselves from this domination, they will have no trouble rejecting those technologies that are harmful while adapting others to beneficial uses.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken loves technologies! But only the nice ones.
POINT: Certain technologies nuclear power is the most obvious example are indeed so insanely dangerous that they will no doubt be brought to a prompt halt.
COUNTERPOINT: Hope you folks enjoy dining by candlelight! Ken is going to take away all your nuclear power - if you let him.
POINT: Many other industries which produce absurd, obsolete or superfluous commodities will, of course, cease automatically with the disappearance of their commercial rationales.
COUNTERPOINT: Translation: France will implode, literally.
POINT: But many technologies (electricity, metallurgy, refrigeration, plumbing, printing, recording, photography, telecommunications, tools, textiles, sewing machines, agricultural equipment, surgical instruments, anesthetics, antibiotics, among dozens of other examples that will come to mind), however they may presently be misused, have few if any inherent drawbacks. Its simply a matter of using them more sensibly, bringing them under popular control, introducing a few ecological improvements, and redesigning them for human rather than capitalistic ends.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken thinks "human" and "capitalistic" ends are very different things. Maybe he should tell the CAPITALISTS that. They seem not to have noticed. I wonder how it could have escaped their attention.
POINT: Other technologies are more problematic. They will still be needed to some extent, but their harmful and irrational aspects will be phased out, usually by attrition.
COUNTERPOINT: I wonder if Ken thinks the Internet is a "problematic" technology. I'd be especially interested to see how he plans to phase out all of the harmful and irrational CAPITALISTIC aspects of the Internet through attrition. Not that Ken would derive any pleasure out of taking eBay away from us, but I'd enjoy watching him try.
POINT: If one considers the automobile industry as a whole, including its vast infrastructure (factories, streets, highways, gas stations, oil wells) and all its inconveniences and hidden costs (traffic jams, parking, repairs, insurance, accidents, pollution, urban destruction), it is clear that any number of alternative methods would be preferable.
COUNTERPOINT: Like trains, for instance. Assuming they run on time.
POINT: The fact remains that this infrastructure is already there. The new society will thus undoubtedly continue to use existing automobiles and trucks for a few years, while concentrating on developing more sensible modes of transportation to gradually replace them as they wear out.
POINT: Personal vehicles with nonpolluting engines might continue indefinitely in rural areas, but most present-day urban traffic (with a few exceptions such as delivery trucks, fire engines, ambulances, and taxis for disabled people) could be superseded by various forms of public transit, enabling many freeways and streets to be converted to parks, gardens, plazas and bike paths.
COUNTERPOINT: Bus drivers have to stick to a predetermined route and have to run on a predetermined schedule. My car runs on my own schedule and the route I take is pretty much up to me. One mode of transportation limits my choices, the other frees up my choices considerably. When in doubt, people will invariably choose the mode of transportation that affords them the most freedom and the most flexibility, Ken. Cars are here to stay, whether you like it or not. They're just too darn useful!
Furthermore, if you take peoples' cars away from them, they'll just invent more. Just like money, and hierarchy, and luxury items and all those other things you hope to regulate with impunity, people will just reinvent them, Ken. With or without your permission. It's called Freedom, Ken. People love Freedom. More than you will ever know. I pity you, Ken. I really do.
POINT: Airplanes will be retained for intercontinental travel (rationed if necessary) and for certain kinds of urgent shipments, but the elimination of wage labor will leave people with time for more leisurely modes of travel boats, trains, biking, hiking.
COUNTERPOINT: None of those things are as fast as cars, Ken. Dream on.
POINT: Here, as in other areas, it will be up to the people involved to experiment with different possibilities to see what works best.
COUNTERPOINT: Like cars, for instance?
POINT: Once people are able to determine the aims and conditions of their own work, they will naturally come up with all sorts of ideas that will make that work briefer, safer and more pleasant; and such ideas, no longer patented or jealously guarded as "business secrets," will rapidly spread and inspire further improvements.
COUNTERPOINT: Garbage collection is a bitch, Ken, no matter how you look at it.
POINT: Like With the elimination of commercial motives, people will also be able to give appropriate weight to social and environmental factors along with purely quantitative labor-time considerations. If, say, production of computers currently involves some sweatshop labor or causes some pollution (though far less than classic "smokestack" industries), theres no reason to believe that better methods cannot be figured out once people set their minds to it very likely precisely through a judicious use of computer automation.
COUNTERPOINT: There's no reason to believe that you know what you're talking about, Ken. But don't let that stop you (as if it would).
POINT: (Fortunately, the more repetitive the job, the easier it usually is to automate.)
POINT: The general rule will be to simplify basic manufactures in ways that facilitate optimum flexibility.
COUNTERPOINT: Actually, Ken, the general rule will be to ignore anything you say. Trust me on this.
POINT: Techniques will be made more uniform and understandable, so that people with a minimal general training will be able to carry out construction, repairs, alterations and other operations that formerly required specialized training.
COUNTERPOINT: My mom still doesn't know how to program her own VCR, Ken. Neither does yours.
POINT: Basic tools, appliances, raw materials, machine parts and architectural modules will probably be standardized and mass-produced, leaving tailor-made refinements to small-scale "cottage industries" and the final and potentially most creative aspects to the individual users.
COUNTERPOINT: You mean like pre-fabricated homes, Ken? FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, Ken! Where have you been for the past half century? People already have all this stuff, Ken! And they didn't even need to join your bloody revolution to obtain it! All they had to do was embrace CAPITALISM, Ken. Sheesh.
POINT: Once time is no longer money we may, as William Morris hoped, see a revival of elaborate "labor"-intensive arts and crafts: joyful making and giving by people who care about their creations and the people for whom they are destined.
COUNTERPOINT: They're called County Fairs, Ken. You should look into those before you get yourself worked up over all this Revolution nonsense.
POINT: Some communities might choose to retain a fair amount of (ecologically sanitized) heavy technology; others might opt for simpler lifestyles, though backed up by technical means to facilitate that simplicity or for emergencies.
COUNTERPOINT: Sounds suspiciously like Iowa to me, Ken.
POINT: Solar-powered generators and satellite-linked telecommunications, for example, would enable people to live off in the woods with no need for power and telephone lines. If earth-based solar power and other renewable energy sources proved insufficient, immense solar receptors in orbit could beam down a virtually unlimited amount of pollution-free energy.
COUNTERPOINT: Sure they could, Ken. And who's going to launch them into space? You?
POINT: Most Third World regions, incidentally, lie in the sun belt where solar power can be most effective. Though their poverty will present some initial difficulties, their traditions of cooperative self-sufficiency plus the fact that they are not encumbered with obsolete industrial infrastructures may give them some compensating advantages when it comes to creating new, ecologically appropriate structures.
COUNTERPOINT: Have you been to Africa lately, Ken? Because if they really did have a tradition of "cooperative self-sufficiency," why are they so impoverished to begin with?
POINT: By drawing selectively on the developed regions for whatever information and technologies they themselves decide they need, they will be able to skip the horrible "classic" stage of industrialization and capital accumulation and proceed directly to postcapitalist forms of social organization.
COUNTERPOINT: If you want to lift them out of poverty, you're going to have to give them CAPTIALSIM, Ken. Sorry about that.
POINT: Nor will the influence necessarily be all one way: some of the most advanced social experimentation in history was carried out during the Spanish revolution by illiterate peasants living under virtually Third World conditions.
COUNTERPOINT: First time I've heard of it, Ken. How much influence did you say they had?
POINT: Nor will people in developed regions need to accept a drab transitional period of "lowered expectations" in order to enable less developed regions to catch up. This common misconception stems from the false assumption that most present-day products are desirable and necessary implying that more for others means less for ourselves.
COUNTERPOINT: Whatever gave them that idea, Ken? "The abstractness of market relations enables one person to anonymously accumulate wealth by indirectly depriving thousands of others of basic necessities " - Your words, Ken, not mine.
POINT: In reality, a revolution in the developed countries will immediately supersede so many absurd commodities and concerns that even if supplies of certain goods and services are temporarily reduced, people will still be better off than they are now even in material terms (in addition to being far better off in "spiritual" terms).
COUNTERPOINT: So they'll still be poor, just not as poor as they used to be. Besides, prosperity would bad for their "spiritual" health. Ken says so. Always the humanitarian, that Ken.
POINT: Once their own immediate problems are taken care of, many of them will enthusiastically assist less fortunate people.
COUNTERPOINT: I already explained the concept of "charity" to you once Ken. Don't make me come over there.
POINT: But this assistance will be voluntary, and most of it will not entail any serious self-sacrifice.
COUNTERPOINT: Of course not, Ken. Perish the thought!
POINT: To donate labor or building materials or architectural know-how so that others can build homes for themselves, for example, will not require dismantling ones own home. The potential richness of modern society consists not only of material goods, but of knowledge, ideas, techniques, inventiveness, enthusiasm, compassion, and other qualities that are actually increased by being shared around.
COUNTERPOINT: It's called Habitat for Humanity, Ken. They do good work. So should you. Dumbass.
A self-managed society will naturally implement most present-day ecological demands.
POINT: Some are essential for the very survival of humanity; but for both aesthetic and ethical reasons, liberated people will undoubtedly choose to go well beyond this minimum and foster a rich biodiversity.
The point is that we can debate such issues open-mindedly only when we have eliminated the profit incentives and economic insecurity that now undermine even the most minimal efforts to defend the environment (loggers afraid of losing their jobs, chronic poverty tempting Third World countries to cash in on their rain forests, etc.).(6)
COUNTERPOINT: But...but...I thought you were still planning to offer "bonus credits" to entice people to do the more unpleasant/dangerous jobs, Ken. Do you even know what "profit motive" IS? You're making me dizzy again, Ken. Stop that.
POINT: When humanity as a species is blamed for environmental destruction, the specific social causes are forgotten.
COUNTERPOINT: When humanity as a species is blamed for environmental destruction, that's your first clue the environmentalists have escaped the asylum again, Ken.
POINT: The few who make the decisions are lumped with the powerless majority. Famines are seen as natures revenge against overpopulation, natural checks that must be allowed to run their course as if there was anything natural about the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which force Third World countries to cultivate products for export rather than food for local consumption.
COUNTERPOINT: You're right, Ken. Planned famines are much more humane. Just ask Khrushchev.
POINT: People are made to feel guilty for using cars, ignoring the fact that auto companies (by buying up and sabotaging electric transit systems, lobbying for highway construction and against railroad subsidies, etc.) have created a situation in which most people have to have cars.
COUNTERPOINT: And here I was thinking that you were "anti-car," Ken. How silly of me.
POINT: Spectacular publicity gravely urges everyone to reduce energy consumption (while constantly inciting everyone to consume more of everything), though we could by now have developed more than enough clean and renewable energy sources if the fossil-fuel companies had not successfully lobbied against devoting any significant research funding to that end.
COUNTERPOINT: Companies all over the world have been researching clean renewable energy resources unabated for decades, Ken. Nothing much to report so far. I'll let you know as soon as something turns up.
POINT: The point is not to blame even the heads of those companies they too are caught in a grow-or-die system that impels them to make such decisions but to abolish the setup that continually produces such irresistible pressures.
A liberated world should have room both for human communities and for large enough regions of undisturbed wilderness to satisfy most of the deep ecologists.
COUNTERPOINT: There's NEVER ENOUGH undisturbed wilderness to satisfy deep ecologists, Ken. Ecologists are funny that way.
POINT: Between those two extremes I like to think that there will be all sorts of imaginative, yet careful and respectful, human interactions with nature.
COUNTERPOINT: It's called farming, Ken. You should try is sometime.
POINT: Cooperating with it, working with it, playing with it; creating variegated interminglings of forests, farms, parks, gardens, orchards, creeks, villages, towns.
COUNTERPOINT: We already have a place like that, Ken. It's called Iowa. Have you ever been to Iowa, Ken?
POINT: Large cities will be broken up, spaced out, "greened," and rearranged in a variety of ways incorporating and surpassing the visions of the most imaginative architects and city planners of the past (who were usually limited by their assumption of the permanence of capitalism).
COUNTERPOINT: I'm now awarding myself bonus points for accurately predicting that Ken planned to empty the cities all along! Ken gets negative points because Pol Pot thought of it first!
POINT: Exceptionally, certain major cities, especially those of some aesthetic or historical interest, will retain or even amplify their cosmopolitan features, providing grand centers where diverse cultures and lifestyles can come together.(7)
COUNTERPOINT: We already have a place like that, Ken. It's called Manhattan. Have you ever been to Manhattan, Ken?
POINT: Some people, drawing on the situationists early "psychogeographical" explorations and "unitary urbanism" ideas, will construct elaborate changeable decors designed to facilitate labyrinthine wanderings among diverse ambiences Ivan Chtcheglov envisioned "assemblages of castles, grottos, lakes," "rooms more conducive to dreams than any drug," and people living in their own personal "cathedrals" (SI Anthology, pp. 3-4 [Formulary for a New Urbanism]). Others may incline more to the Far Eastern poets definition of happiness as living in a hut beside a mountain stream.
COUNTERPOINT: We already have a place like that, Ken. It's called Las Vegas. Have you ever been to Vegas, Ken? Watch out! You might meet a few CAPITALISTS there, Ken. Just a friendly warning.
POINT: If there arent enough cathedrals or mountain streams to go around, maybe some compromises will have to be worked out.
COUNTERPOINT: My idea of compromise is to ignore your advice in the first place, Ken. Satisfied?
POINT: But if places like Chartres or Yosemite are presently overrun, this is only because the rest of the planet has been so uglified. As other natural areas are revitalized and as human habitats are made more beautiful and interesting, it will no longer be necessary for a few exceptional sites to accommodate millions of people desperate to get away from it all. On the contrary, many people may actually gravitate toward the most miserable regions because these will be the "new frontiers" where the most exciting transformations will be taking place (ugly buildings being demolished to make way for experimental reconstruction from scratch).
COUNTERPOINT: On the contrary, most people move to the suburbs to get away from the "most miserable regions," Ken. I wonder how that could possibly have escaped your attention. You do know HOW to pay attention, don't you, Ken?
The blossoming of free communities
The liberation of popular creativity will generate lively communities surpassing Athens, Florence, Paris and other famous centers of the past, in which full participation was limited to privileged minorities. While some people may choose to be relatively solitary and self-sufficient (hermits and nomads will be free to keep to themselves except for a few minimal arrangements with nearby communities), most will probably prefer the pleasure and convenience of doing things together, and will set up all sorts of public workshops, libraries, laboratories, laundries, kitchens, bakeries, cafés, health clinics, studios, music rooms, auditoriums, saunas, gyms, playgrounds, fairs, flea markets (without forgetting some quiet spaces to counterbalance all the socializing).
COUNTERPOINT: Goodness knows civilization couldn't survive without the flea markets, Ken! But notice some of the things Ken left off his list: power plants, sewage treatment plants, landfills, etc. Ken thinks he can have cities without all that messy infrastructure. Completely idiotic? Or completely in denial? You decide.
POINT: City blocks might be converted into more unified complexes, connecting outer buildings with hallways and arcades and removing fences between back yards so as to create larger interior park, garden or nursery areas.
COUNTERPOINT: They're called "gated communities," Ken. Why don't you go join one and leave the rest of us alone?
POINT: People could choose among various types and degrees of participation, e.g. whether to sign up for a couple days per month of cooking, dishwashing or gardening entitling them to eat at a communal cafeteria, or to grow most of their own food and cook for themselves.
COUNTERPOINT: That's right, Ken, force everyone to revert back to subsistence farming. You'll be the most popular man in the world. And everyone will be so GRATEFUL. Especially the farmers. Honest.
POINT: In all these hypothetical examples its important to bear in mind the diversity of cultures that will develop. In one, cooking might be seen as a tedious chore to be minimized as much as possible and precisely apportioned; in another it might be a passion or a valued social ritual that will attract more than enough enthusiastic volunteers.
COUNTERPOINT: It's hypothetically possible that you're just kidding yourself, Ken.
POINT: Some communities, like Paradigm III in Communitas (allowing for the fact that the Goodmans schema still assumes the existence of money), may maintain a sharp distinction between the free sector and the luxury sector. Others may develop more organically integrated social patterns, along the lines of Paradigm II of the same book, striving for maximum unity of production and consumption, manual and intellectual activity, aesthetic and scientific education, social and psychological harmony, even at the cost of purely quantitative efficiency. The Paradigm III style might be most appropriate as a initial transitional form, when people are not yet used to the new perspectives and want some fixed economic frame of reference to give them a sense of security against potential abuses.
As people get the bugs out of the new system and develop more mutual trust, they will probably tend more toward the Paradigm II style.
COUNTERPOINT: Or not. Some of them might just re-invent CAPITIALISM, if only to break the monotony.
POINT: As in Fouriers charming fantasies, but minus his eccentricities and with much more flexibility, people will be able to engage in a variety of pursuits according to elaborately interrelated affinities. A person might be a regular member of certain ongoing groupings (affinity group, council, collective, neighborhood, town, region) while only temporarily taking part in various ad hoc activities (as people do today in clubs, hobbyist networks, mutual-aid associations, political-issue groups and barnraising-type projects). Local assemblies will keep tallies of offers and requests; make known the decisions of other assemblies and the current state of projects in progress or problems yet unresolved; and form libraries, switchboards and computer networks to gather and disseminate information of all kinds and to link up people with common tastes. Media will be accessible to everyone, enabling them to express their own particular projects, problems, proposals, critiques, enthusiasms, desires, visions. Traditional arts and crafts will continue, but merely as one facet of continuously creative lives. People will still take part, with more zest than ever, in sports and games, fairs and festivals, music and dancing, lovemaking and child raising, building and remodeling, teaching and learning, camping and traveling; but new genres and arts of life will also develop that we can now hardly imagine.
COUNTPOINT: People do that sort of stuff all the time, Ken. In fact, most of them already live in CAPITALIST countries. The people living in socialist states, however, seem to be stagnating a little. I wonder why. Probably not enough personal freedom (or something).
POINT: More than enough people will gravitate to socially necessary projects, in agronomy, medicine, engineering, educational innovation, environmental restoration and so on, for no other reason than that they find them interesting and satisfying.
COUNTPOINT: Of course they will, Ken. Of course they will. But just imagine - JUST IMAGINE - how much more motivated they would be if they were able to PROFIT from their own labors! CAPITALISM already works, Ken! Honest.
POINT: Others may prefer less utilitarian pursuits. Some will live fairly quiet domestic lives; others will go in for daring adventures, or live it up in feasts and orgies; yet others may devote themselves to bird-watching, or exchanging zines, or collecting quaint memorabilia from prerevolutionary times, or any of a million other pursuits.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken's imagination runs rampant! Bird watching! Orgies! Antique shopping! (You thought I was making that part up, didn't you? For shame! As Simon Hawke would say: Always trust your narrator!) Ken must not get out much. Actually, Ken's idea of a good time is staring a blank wall, listening to himself breathe, remember? More to the point, everything on Ken's list is old hat compared to what most Americans already do on any given weekend. Once again, Ken seems not to have noticed. He's probably never even heard of Spring Break. Poor guy.
POINT: Everyone can follow their own inclinations. If some sink into a passive spectator existence, theyll probably eventually get bored and try more creative ventures.
COUNTERPOINT: Why not? They're getting paid just as much as the rest of us. I thought Ken said he was trying to SAVE US from a boring, passive retirement, remember? Oh well.
POINT: Even if they dont, that will be their affair; it wont harm anyone else.
COUNTERPOINT: What if they go off and decide to re-invent capitalism, money, hierarchy and personal freedom, Ken? You wouldn't mind, would you?
POINT: For anyone who finds the earthly utopia too insipid and really wants to get away from it all, the exploration and colonization of the solar system perhaps eventually even migration to other stars will provide a frontier that will never be exhausted.
But so will explorations of "inner space."
COUNTERPOINT: Youve been watching reruns of Star Trek again, haven't you, Ken? Star Trek is old school, Ken. Trust me on this. If you had a holo-deck that actually worked, why would you ever leave your house, let alone explore space? Inquiring minds want to know.
More interesting problems
An antihierarchical revolution will not solve all our problems; it will simply eliminate some of the anachronistic ones, freeing us to tackle more interesting problems.
COUNTERPOINT: Ooooh! This should be good...
POINT: If the present text seems to neglect the "spiritual" aspects of life, this is because I wanted to stress some basic material matters that are often overlooked. But these material matters are only the framework. A liberated society will be based far more on joy and love and spontaneous generosity than on rigid rules or egoistic calculations. We can probably get a more vivid sense of what it might be like from visionaries like Blake or Whitman than from pedantic debates about economic credits and recallable delegates.
I suspect that once peoples basic material needs are generously taken care of and they are no longer subjected to a constant barrage of commercial titillation, most of them (after brief binges of overindulgence in things they were previously deprived of) will find the greatest satisfaction in relatively simple and uncluttered lifestyles.
COUNTERPOINT: You mean like the Amish, Ken? Sure, Ken, let's all become Amish. That would show those filthy CAPITALISTS who's boss!...I mean "temporary leader!"
This, again, is one of the central fallacies of Ken's thinking. People who have "enough" never want "more." Either Ken is deeply, scathingly wrong about this, or he just doesn't know very many people.
Consider the whims of the wealthiest members of our society - think about the spending habits of movie stars, rock stars, sports stars, software moguls, media giants, millionaires, billionaires (there are a few) - the richest people you can think of. How about pop-music stars since they tend to spend the mostly lavishly, the most pointlessly, and the most publicly? Pick someone who lives in the most ridiculously extravagant lap of luxury, someone who Ken would vilify as filthy "rich." Now consider asking this filthy "rich" person whether or not they think they have ENOUGH. Go ahead. You see what you get. Even if they proclaim that they have no material wants, there is invariably something on their wish list. A new car, and new house, a second house, a new (and younger) spouse, a new child, a new pet, a new project, a new book, a new pony, a new pastime, more market share, more money, more food, more clothes, more fame, - I wish I had I wish I had I wish I had - something MORE.
It's called LUST, Ken. True lust is never satisfied. Take food, for example. The body needs food (and water) to survive. Our bodies lust after food, insatiably. We'll have a lavish meal and when the hostess asks us if we'd like desert, we'll say, "Oh no, I'm much too full. I couldn't possibly eat another bite." But the next day the hunger returns, gnawing at our bellies, demanding to be satisfied. And it can be, for a time. The lust for food, drugs, sex, money, power, fame, (take your pick), they can all be satiated, for a time. That's why we need to be careful which lusts we awaken and choose carefully which ones we pursue. Not all lusts are healthy or in our best interests.
As a Buddhist, Ken should understand this. Gautama Buddha taught that lusts or desires are at the root of all suffering and that in order to eliminate suffering, one must eliminate lust first. There are lots of steps to attaining this desire-less state, but ultimately you have to be convinced of the fact that the self is merely an illusion. Once you understand this and truly accept it, the self will cease to be, and you will have obtained enlightenment or nirvana. Buddhist monks devote their entire lives to persuading themselves that they don't exist, that there is no self, hence no desires to be thwarted, hence no suffering.
Notice that this teaching is diametrically opposed to Ken's goal of Revolution, in which all material desires are satiated indefinitely, leaving humankind to pursue more worthwhile goals. Ken realizes that in order for civilization to thrive, in order for humanity to have enough "playtime" left over to pursue the "finer" things in life (i.e. literature, poetry, painting, sculpture, interior decorating, Leftist propaganda, Parcheesi, etc.), our basic material needs have to be met first. Instead of working by the sweat of his brow to meet these needs, Ken wants society to meet these needs for him just SO HE CAN GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY!!!
Ken gives whole new meaning to the term: SLACKER! Ken's utopia isn't so much about Revolution, or pursuing an abstract utopian ideal, as much as it is about REODERING THE WHOLE OF CREATION so Ken only has to work ten to fifteen hours a week - HE JUST WANTS TO GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY!!!
And he was even kind enough to include "temporary" hierarchies and a "limited" monetary system to provide the incentives/infrastructure needed to ensure that the garbage gets picked up and that the trains run on time. Wasn't that nice of him? Here's a thought, Ken: WHY DON'T YOU JUST GET A JOB!?! All play and no work makes Ken a dull boy, or at the very least, a one-note-wonder. Seriously though, does Ken's version of utopia really sound much different from an en-masse retirement home in Miami? Bird watching and orgies and antique shopping (you can substitute "surfing-for-porn" for "orgies" if you don't want to exert yourself)? Once again, I thought Ken was trying to SAVE US from that particular fate. Oh well.
Still, it makes perfect sense that Ken would embrace Buddhism, since it at least prescribes moderation or balance in the course of daily life. (Until you reach nirvana, that is. And seriously, who ever reaches nirvana these days? Or really wants to?) The point being that Ken's practice of Zen Buddhism must be of the watered-down, choose-your-own-adventure variety that doesn't take Buddha's core teachings too seriously. Even so, Ken still has to reconcile the insatiable appetites of the body with his desire to obtain "freedom" from the baser "material concerns" of this world. And he can't. He doesn't know how. He thinks he can just appoint a non-hierarchical, non-bureaucratic "council" to look after all those cumbersome material "needs" while he GOES OUTSIDE TO PLAY!
It is at this point that one must ponder whether or not Ken realizes this inherent contradiction exists within the core of his revolutionary utopian ideal. I have seen no evidence thus far to suggest that Ken even knows the contradiction exists, let alone how he intends to resolve it. In the meantime, I've only been able envision four possibilities:
1. Ken doesn't realize he's full of crap and lives in blissful ignorance.
2. Deep down Ken knows he's full of crap but prefers to live in denial.
3. Ken loves staring at blank walls and listening to himself breathe so much that any excuse will do.
4. Ken is one of the stupidest human beings that ever lived.
Don't pretend you don't know which possibility I'm rooting for.
POINT: The erotic and gustatory arts will undoubtedly be enrichened in many ways, but simply as facets of full, rounded lives that also include a wide range of intellectual, aesthetic and spiritual pursuits.
POINT: Education, no longer limited to conditioning young people for a narrow role in an irrational economy, will become an enthusiastic lifelong activity. In addition to whatever formal educational institutions there may still be, people will have instant access via books and computers to information on any subject they wish to explore, and theyll be able to get hands-on experience in all sorts of arts and skills, or to seek out anyone for personal instruction or discussion like the ancient Greek philosophers debating in the public marketplace, or the medieval Chinese monks wandering the mountains in search of the most inspiring Zen master.
COUNTERPOINT: They'll just end up surfing for porn, Ken. Trust me on this.
POINT: The aspects of religion that now serve as mere psychological escapes from social alienation will fade away, but the basic questions that have found more or less distorted expression in religion will remain. There will still be pains and losses, tragedies and frustrations, people will still face sickness, old age and death. And in the process of trying to figure out what, if anything, it all means, and how to deal with it, some of them will rediscover what Aldous Huxley, in The Perennial Philosophy, refers to as the "highest common factor" of human consciousness.
COUNTERPOINT: Just bear in mind that what Aldous Huxley referred to as the "highest common factor" of human consciousness is located somewhere just to the left of Ken's happy place. Won't you join Ken? In his happy place? Oummmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Are we there yet?
POINT: Others may cultivate exquisite aesthetic sensibilities like the characters in Murasakis Tale of Genji, or develop elaborate metacultural genres like the "glass bead games" in Hermann Hesses novel (freed from the material limits that formerly confined such pursuits to narrow elites).
COUNTERPOINT: The "material limits that formerly confined such pursuits" will continue to confine them until the end of time, Ken. But dont take my word for it, consider Mick Jagger's dilemma: If he "can't get no satisfaction," it can only mean that he hasn't obtained nirvana yet. Most people don't. The concept of self is a pesky thing, Ken.
POINT: I like to think that as these diverse pursuits are alternated, combined and developed, there will be a general tendency toward the personal reintegration envisioned by Blake, and toward the genuine "I-Thou" relations envisioned by Martin Buber.
COUNTERPOINT: That means no nirvana for you either, Ken. There is no "I" or "Thou." Buddha says so.
POINT: A permanent spiritual revolution in which joyous communion does not preclude rich diversity and "generous contention." Leaves of Grass, Whitmans wishful thinking about the potentialities of the America of his day, perhaps comes as close as anything to conveying the expansive state of mind of such communities of fulfilled men and women, ecstatically working and playing, loving and loitering, strolling down the never-ending Open Road.
COUNTERPOINT: Or it might just all end in tears. And blood. Lots and lots of blood. Oh well.
POINT: With the proliferation of continually developing and mutating cultures, travel could once again become an unpredictable adventure. The traveler could "see the cities and learn the ways of many different peoples" without the dangers and disappointments faced by the wanderers and explorers of the past.
COUNTERPOINT: No danger + No chance of disappointment = No adventure, Ken. Sorry, Ken. That's just the way it works.
POINT: Drifting from scene to scene, from encounter to encounter; but occasionally stopping, like those barely visible human figures in Chinese landscape paintings, just to gaze into the immensity, realizing that all our doings and sayings are just ripples on the surface of a vast, unfathomable universe.
COUNTERPOINT: Aren't all of our "doings and sayings just ripples on the surface of a vast, unfathomable universe," regardless of whether or not the Revolution comes? Ken fails to specify.
POINT: These are just a few hints. We arent limited to radical sources of inspiration. All sorts of creative spirits of the past have manifested or envisioned some of our almost unlimited possibilities.
COUNTERPOINT: Including CAPITALISM, Ken? I didn't think so.
POINT: We can draw on any of them as long as we take care to extricate the relevant aspects from their original alienated context.
COUNTERPOINT: Sorry, Ken. If there's no CAPITALISM involved, you can count me out.
POINT: The greatest works do not so much tell us something new as remind us of things we have forgotten.
COUNTERPOINT: I've already forgotten the point of this essay, Ken. Does that help?
POINT: We all have intimations of what life can be like at its richest memories from early childhood, when experiences were still fresh and unrepressed, but also occasional later moments of love or camaraderie or enthusiastic creativity, times when we cant wait to get up in the morning to continue some project, or simply to see what the new day will bring.
COUNTERPOINT: You're rambling now, Ken. I can watch It's a Wonderful Life on tape whenever I want. You didn't have to put me though this ordeal, Ken. Honest.
POINT: Extrapolating from these moments probably gives the best idea of what the whole world could be like. A world, as Whitman envisions it,
Where the men and women think lightly of the laws,
Where the slave ceases, and the master of slaves ceases,
Where the populace rise at once against the never-ending audacity of elected persons,...
Where children are taught to be laws to themselves, and to depend on themselves,
COUNTERPOINT: Yay! In Ken's utopia, all human beings will realize that they're above the law! No more leaders! No more hierarchy! You're not the boss of me! Just don't insinuate that Ken is trying to advocate Anarchy or anything. "Anarchy" is such an ugly word. I know, why don't we call it GENERALIZED SELF-MANGAGEMENT!?! There. That's much better.
Where equanimity is illustrated in affairs,
Where speculations on the soul are encouraged,
Where women walk in public processions in the streets the same as the men,
Where they enter the public assembly and take places the same as the men...
The main shapes arise!
Shapes of Democracy total, result of centuries,
Shapes ever projecting other shapes,
Shapes of turbulent manly cities,
Shapes of the friends and home-givers of the whole earth,
Shapes bracing the earth and braced with the whole earth.
COUNTERPOINT: I wrote a poem too, Ken, just for you:
Christians still wait for the Second Coming of Christ.
Jews still wait for their Messiah.
Ken Knabb still waits for his Utopia.
The irony of this is lost on Ken.
1. P.M.s Bolobolo (1983; new edition: Semiotext(e), 1995) has the merit of being one of the few utopias that fully recognize and welcome this diversity. Leaving aside its flippancies and idiosyncrasies and its rather unrealistic notions about how we might get there, it touches on a lot of the basic problems and possibilities of a postrevolutionary society.
2. Although the so-called networking revolution has so far been limited mainly to increased circulation of spectator trivia, modern communications technologies continue to play an important role in undermining totalitarian regimes.
COUNTERPOINT: Porn-lovers of the world, UNITE!!!
POINT: Years ago the Stalinist bureaucracies had to cripple their own functioning by restricting the availability of photocopy machines and even typewriters lest they be used to reproduce samizdat writings. The newer technologies are proving even more difficult to control:
COUNTERPOINT: Just think of how difficult it will be to suppress CAPITIALISM in your utopia, Ken. Think about that before you thumb your nose at those stalwartly Stalinists.
POINT: "The conservative Guangming Daily reported new enforcement measures targeted at an estimated 90,000 illegal fax machines in Beijing. Chinese analysts say the regime fears that the proliferation of fax machines is allowing information to flow too freely. Such machines were used extensively during student demonstrations in 1989 that resulted in a military crackdown...
COUNTERPOINT: So you DO know how the Tiananmen Square incident turned out! MASSIVE NEGATIVE POINTS, Ken! The most negative points you've ever earned in one turn! Unless you ban fax machines in YOUR utopia, Ken, it won't last more than ten days! Oh, wait...
POINT: In the comfort of their own homes in Western capitals, such as London, oppositionists can tap out messages to activists in Saudi Arabia who, by downloading via Internet in their own homes, no longer have to fear a knock on the door in the middle of the night...
COUNTERPOINT: Nope, just the fear of hijacked planes crashing into buildings, Ken. As if you'd notice.
POINT: Every taboo subject from politics to pornography is spreading through anonymous electronic messages far beyond the governments iron grip...Many Saudis find themselves discussing religion openly for the first time. Atheists and fundamentalists regularly slug it out in Saudi cyberspace, a novelty in a country where the punishment for apostasy is death...But banning the Internet is not possible without removing all computers and telephone lines...
COUNTERPOINT: Don't tempt them, Ken!
POINT: Experts claim that for those willing to work hard enough to get it, there is still little any government can do to totally deny access to information on the Internet.
COUNTERPOINT: Unless, of course, they decide to kill all the dissidents. There's always that. Have you ever heard of Tiananmen Square, Ken? Are you listening to me, Ken?
POINT: Encrypted e-mail and subscribing to out-of-country service providers are two options available to net-savvy individuals for circumventing current Internet controls...If there is one thing repressive East Asian governments fear more than unrestricted access to outside media sources, it is that their nations competitiveness in the rapidly growing information industry may be compromised. Already, protests have been voiced in the business communities of Singapore, Malaysia, and China that censoring the Internet may, in the end, hamper those nations aspirations to be the most technologically advanced on the block." (Christian Science Monitor, 11 August 1993, 24 August 1995 and 12 November 1996.)
COUNTERPOINT: Yes! CAPITALISM and FREEDOM for everyone! Oh, wait...
POINT: 3. "In the postCold War era politicians have discovered crime-baiting as a substitute for red-baiting. Just as the fear of communism propelled the unimpeded expansion of the military-industrial complex, crime-baiting has produced the explosive growth of the correctional-industrial complex, also known as the crime-control industry. Those who disagree with its agenda of more prisons are branded criminal sympathizers and victim betrayers. Since no politician will risk the soft on crime label, an unending spiral of destructive policies is sweeping the country...Repression and brutalization will be further promoted by the institutions that are the primary beneficiaries of such policies. As California increased its prison population from 19,000 to 124,000 over the past 16 years, 19 new prisons were built. With the increase in prisons, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the guards union, emerged as the states most powerful lobby...As the percentage of the state budget devoted to higher education has fallen from 14.4 percent to 9.8 percent, the share of the budget for corrections has risen from 3.9 percent to 9.8 percent. The average salary and benefits for prison guards in California exceeds $55,000 the highest in the nation. This year the CCPOA, along with the National Rifle Association, has directed its substantial war chest to promote the passage of the three strikes, youre out initiative that would triple the current size of Californias prison system. The same dynamics that evolved in California will certainly result from Clintons crime bill. As more resources are poured into the crime-control industry, its power and influence will grow." (Dan Macallair, Christian Science Monitor, 20 September 1994.)
COUNTERPOINT: As I've noted before, Ken, there seems to be a mysterious, almost mystical connection between high incarceration rates and reduced crime rates. I wonder what it could possibly be. Any ideas, Ken?
POINT: 4. Other possibilities are presented in considerable detail in Workers Councils and the Economics of a Self-Managed Society (London Solidaritys edition of a Socialisme ou Barbarie article by Cornelius Castoriadis). This text is full of valuable suggestions, but I feel that it assumes more centering around work and workplace than will be necessary. Such an orientation is already somewhat obsolete and will probably become much more so after a revolution.
COUNTERPOINT: But of course, Ken! But of course!
POINT: Michael Albert and Robin Hahnels Looking Forward: Participatory Economics for the Twenty First Century (South End, 1991) also includes a number of useful points on self-managed organization. But the authors assume a society in which there is still a money economy and the workweek is only slightly reduced (to around 30 hours). Their hypothetical examples are largely modeled on present-day worker co-ops and the "economic participation" envisaged includes voting on marketing issues that will be superseded in a noncapitalist society. As we will see, such a society will also have a far shorter workweek, reducing the need to bother with the complicated schemes for equal rotation among different types of jobs that occupy a large part of the book.
COUNTERPOINT: You mean Ken didn't even come up with the grand idea of GENERALIZED SELF-MANAGEMENT all by himself? Weak, Ken. Weak!
POINT: 5. Fredy Perlman, author of one of the most sweeping expressions of this tendency, Against His-story, Against Leviathan! (Black and Red, 1983), provided his own best critique in his earlier book about C. Wright Mills, The Incoherence of the Intellectual (Black and Red, 1970): "Yet even though Mills rejects the passivity with which men accept their own fragmentation, he no longer struggles against it. The coherent self-determined man becomes an exotic creature who lived in a distant past and in extremely different material circumstances...The main drift is no longer the program of the right which can be opposed by the program of the left; it is now an external spectacle which follows its course like a disease...The rift between theory and practice, thought and action, widens; political ideals can no longer be translated into practical projects."
COUNTERPOINT: Like GENERALIZED SELF-MANAGMENT, for instance?
POINT: 6. Isaac Asimov and Frederick Pohls Our Angry Earth: A Ticking Ecological Bomb (Tor, 1991) is among the more cogent summaries of this desperate situation. After demonstrating how inadequate current policies are for dealing with it, the authors propose some drastic reforms that might postpone the worst catastrophes; but such reforms are unlikely to be implemented as long as the world is dominated by the conflicting interests of nation-states and multinational corporations.
COUNTERPOINT: Their proposals aren't likely to be adopted by anyone who can see for themselves that the sky isn't about to fall anytime soon, Ken. "Crying Wolf" is bad for your reputation. Trust me on this.
7. For a wealth of suggestive insights on the advantages and drawbacks of different types of urban communities, past, present and potential, I recommend two books: Paul and Percival Goodmans Communitas and Lewis Mumfords The City in History. The latter is one of the most penetrating and comprehensive surveys of human society ever written.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken says so. It must be true!
AND IN CLOSING, PLEASE ALLOW ME TO OFFER UP A PERSONAL NOTE FROM ME TO KEN (As if he cares):
I know you probably stopped reading this Point/Counterpoint Edition of THE JOY OF REVOLUTION shortly after I started hurling personal insults on the first page. That's OK, Ken. I don't mind. I'm my own boss!
In truth, I've said some unkind things about you, Ken. I've called you names. I've openly ridiculed your ideas and your writings. I might even have implied that you were the stupidest human being that ever lived. I meant every word of it, Ken. Sorry about that.
It's not like I honestly believe anything I have to say is going to persuade you one way or the other, Ken. If I ever found out that something I said or did caused you to change your mind about anything, I would be very disappointed! Delusions as thorough and as articulate as yours are hard to come by, Ken. As the Reverend Jessie Jackson would say: Keep hope alive!
Please know that I bear no malice in my heart toward you, Ken. I mean, sure, sometimes I had the urge to strangle you, but I just went to lay down for a while until those feelings went away. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't hate you, Ken. Far from it! Words cannot adequately express the hours and hours of joy you've given me! I've had endless fun satirizing you, Ken, and for that I'm truly grateful! Honest.
In fact, whenever I'm feeling blue, whenever I'm down in the dumps, I just think to myself: Hey, at least I'm not as fripping deluded as Ken Knabb! And then my spirits soar! - even if only for a brief moment. You make me laugh, Ken. You possess a rare and wonderful gift. Don't ever change, Ken! I love you just the way you are!
Hugs and Kisses,
Joel A. Hoekstra
Omaha, Nebraska, USA
January 10th, 2005
P.S. You idiot.
Index Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4