Dispassionate Compassion

With the rise of self-anointed spirituality and the sudden caché of “Buddhism”, discussion of compassion is all the rage. I have often pondered the possible obligations of “compassion”. I don’t see compassion as mandating the provision of another’s desires. Nor does compassion mandate I interfere in another’s “just desserts”. As I see it:

  • wishing is foolish,
  • celebrating another’s misfortune is not compassionate, but acknowledging they deserve their present circumstances does not reflect a lack of compassion, and
  • the whole karma/dharma thing is religious nonsense.

It is clear that there is a divide of sorts between Buddhist views of compassion and some more “romantic” Western notions. 1 A discussion of compassion by Jenniger Goetz 2 points out the “cold” nature of compassion as viewed by Buddhism.

The more one reads Buddhist writings, the more one realizes that Buddhist compassion is similar to lay conceptions of compassion in name only. While lay concepts of compassion are of warm feelings for particular people in need, Buddhist compassion is not particular, warm, or even a feeling. Perhaps the most succinct and clear mention of this is in the discussions of the Dalai Lama and Jean-Claude Carriere (1996, p. 53). A footnote explains in refreshingly plain language that compassion in the Buddhist sense is not based on what we call “feeling”. While Buddhist’s do not deny the natural feelings that may arise from seeing another in need, this is not the compassion Buddhism values. Instead, Buddhist compassion is the result of knowing one is part of a greater whole and is interdependent and connected to that whole. It is the result of practiced meditations. Indeed, Buddhist compassion should be without heat or passion – it is objective, cold, constant and universal.

Trungpa (1973) argues true compassion has the potential to appear cruel or ruthless. Compassion requires prajna or transcendental wisdom – an ability to see past shallow appearances and see true suffering and need. For this reason, compassion may involve giving someone what they really need, not what they want. In addition compassion is an open gift, it is generosity without demand. One does not expect or require reciprocity or confirmation of compassion. Indeed, true compassion will often not be appreciated and may be received with anger or hatred. The next section discusses the threat of anger to compassion and the methods for dealing with this.

From a Buddhist perspective, Harris notes 3 that,

Viraaga literally means the absence of raaga: the absence of lust, desire, and craving for existence. Hence, it denotes indifference or non-attachment to the usual objects of raaga, such as material goods or sense pleasures. Non-attachment is an important term here if the Pali is to be meaningful to speakers of English. It is far more appropriate than “detachment” because of the negative connotations “detachment” possesses in English.

and

In fact, at least three strands of meaning in the term “compassion” can be detected in the texts: a prerequisite for a just and harmonious society; an essential attitude for progress along the path towards wisdom; and the liberative action within society of those who have become enlightened or who are sincerely following the path towards it. All these strands need to be looked at if the term is to be understood and if those who accuse Buddhist compassion of being too passive are to be answered correctly.

Bodhi 4 states,

Like a bird in flight borne by its two wings, the practice of Dhamma is sustained by two contrasting qualities whose balanced development is essential to straight and steady progress. These two qualities are renunciation and compassion. As a doctrine of renunciation the Dhamma points out that the path to liberation is a personal course of training that centers on the gradual control and mastery of desire, the root cause of suffering. As a teaching of compassion the Dhamma bids us to avoid harming others, to act for their welfare, and to help realize the Buddha’s own great resolve to offer the world the way to the Deathless.

Considered in isolation, renunciation and compassion have inverse logics that at times seem to point us in opposite directions. The one steers us to greater solitude aimed at personal purification, the other to increased involvement with others issuing in beneficent action. Yet, despite their differences, renunciation and compassion nurture each other in dynamic interplay throughout the practice of the path, from its elementary steps of moral discipline to its culmination in liberating wisdom. The synthesis of the two, their balanced fusion, is expressed most perfectly in the figure of the Fully Enlightened One, who is at once the embodiment of complete renunciation and of all-embracing compassion.

Both renunciation and compassion share a common root in the encounter with suffering. The one represents our response to suffering confronted in our own individual experience, the other our response to suffering witnessed in the lives of others. Our spontaneous reactions, however, are only the seeds of these higher qualities, not their substance. To acquire the capacity to sustain our practice of Dhamma, renunciation and compassion must be methodically cultivated, and this requires an ongoing process of reflection which transmutes our initial stirrings into full-fledged spiritual virtues.

But, you start to whine,  isn’t compassion a call to action. Mustn’t one DO something?

The simple answer, of course, is, “Yes!” But while compassion is about helping another find the power to overcome their circumstances, that power truly comes from helping another find detachment5, NOT by way of resolving someone’s difficulties. It’s not about which side of the mushroom to nibble on; it’s about acknowledging one has no need of the mushroom. 6


 

Homo Echhhh

I had started to do a piece about where Homo economicus was hanging in 2019. This was in no small part because of the suggestion that I came across that les Mises-erables had now gone full cannibal on Homo economicus 1.  This was hysterical as here we had those who started out by assuming that humans acted rationally, now arguing that the very model of human rationality was a straw man.

But what had statted me down the path was a rather ridiculous piece by Paul Collier 2 in which he made largely the same claims as McMakken, from arguably “the other side”. Collier largely relies on Blueprint: The evolutionary origins of a good society by Nicholas Christakis 3, an intriguing anecdotal book that is, however, far less effective in arguing human eusociality than anything on offer from E. O. Wilson. 4

So, let everyone (other than admitted “orthodox” economists) agree that humans are NOT rational. They are, contra Solnit 5, not universally altruistic. They vacillate between reliance on their forebrains and their inner chimp 6 And those whose seem to have issues with their cognitive inhibitor circuits tend to be fruitcakes who are also outbreeding those that appear rational.

And now. we have come to the great spasm on the crest of COVID-19, brought to our species courtesy of SARS Co-V-2. While many of us are seeing the “better angels of our nature”7 (Pinker really should stick to linguistics) as Solnit argued, one would be blind and deaf not to be aware of the greedy, careless of Phillipa Foote 8, massing like the real zombie apocalypse. And I have to suggest at this point that the claim of rationality, today, most likelt is an admission that the claimant suffers from Dunning- Kruger 9

I am not sanguine about our future.

 

 

Kids With Nukes

A clever friend suggested that we should be concerned with how media is framing its messages.

How is the discussion framed? Crisis, Crisis, Crisis, Insanity. Immediately you are blasted with a state of emergency. Its essentially all editorial conversation. And if you look at it objectively, the language is very charged, and frankly antagonistic at every turn. So, you keep pumping that message into the head of a person who already believes that there is a crisis. There is a perceived emergency. Eventually one of them is going to go, “well, shit, its my job to do something about it…” and so, you read what that kid had to say. And it was batshit… it reads like some kinda Gen Z Cliffs Notes Turner Diaries. And if you peep around his social media presence, you will find him posting things like wishing Bill O’Reilly a happy retirement, and thanking him for all the Lib tears… seems to me that there is a relationship.” 1

To put that in psychological terms, elicitation of limbic response via increasingly disturbing images can lead to aggressive behavior. 2 We also KNOW that the kind of media that these people are consuming will raise a limbic response, and that most of them are huge consumers of that media. And we know that these media systems are intentionally targeting these individuals and ramping up their anger.

There is research that suggests that where the subject can differentiate the imagery from reality that this is not seen (hence the literature suggesting that video games may not lead to juvenile violence in al cases). However, where the subject cannot differentiate (i.e. where they believe for example that Fox News is “fair and balanced”), we can eventually expect to see much what we see in teens, whose amygdala are impacted developmentally already, and much, much, worse (read mass murders) . Of course, the external objectives of this media also exacerbate feelings of impotency, and promote projection of personal anger over perceived circumstances the individual feels were unfair, allowing the individual to map the one onto the other.

Our responses, from “thoughts and prayers” to a scolding over taking advantage of an unfortunate event involving a single mentally ill individual are old dodges; we certainly are not going to provide increased resources to address mental health nor is it likely that any deity is going to intervene. Cases like these will not be ameliorated until we recognize that gas powered autoload, high capacity magazines, and short barrels have one purpose. And though most of the dying from handguns is the result of suicide, the same is true of handguns.

I would suggest that these people are not “mentally ill” because I think for most purposes that phrase is largely meaningless. I would also suggest that we have seen Cambridge Analytica, by their own admission and through the analysis of others handily manipulate whole segments of the population, and that the methods for accomplishing that are very much the same mechanism by which media like Fox News can manipulate persons who would otherwise manage. In fact I have watched the mechanism work on persons reliant on Medicaid, turning them into raging phobics intent on putting an end the very benefits that were keeping them alive. Are these people weak minded? Well, that are certainly not 3σs, but the key, recent fMRI work suggests, is that they have cognitive filters that do not work (hence the jokes about Republicans being mentally defective). Its not that they are less capable (though some of them obviously are) but that they are more credulous.

Unfortunately, as a society we are committed to the concept of free speech, and even the concept of “hate speech” worries me. What can we do when we recognize that enough people in our society can be manipulated via media to change election results based purely on tweaking their emotional responses? How do we outlaw poison that 30% of the population insists on consuming, lol? We can’t manage booze or heroine, let alone Fox News!

I had put my hope in good schools, but in fact we will never reach student teacher rations or effective enough teacher instruction to do more than keep our thumbs in the dikes. We COULD limit political campaigns, shut down funding to campaigns (free speech issues again), etc. but those with the money are not about to let the voters they control agree to that now, will they?

Of course there are those who swallow Pinker’s claim that society is getting less violent, so why sweat a few mass murders.  Well, not only is Pinker wrong about the data, he is rather callous in suggesting that my neighbor has no real value.  3 And let’s also put to rest the arguments that if someone can blow up a building with fertilizer, why bother with guns. Even BATF and Congress know that is mere foolishness. 4

This is not about “those people” where we obliquely reference some inconsequential demographic of unofrtunates. It’s about the fact that all humans screw up on a regular basis. So many people are killed and maimed by automobiles that we implemented regulations as to both safety AND insurance. There is even a distinct area of the law that deals with dangerous instrumentalities; it’s called strict liability.

There is no rational basis to have millions of weapons w auto load, high cap mags, and short barrels. They are designed for only one purpose, and that purpose is not only unlawful, but seen as immoral by most.

We now know how easy it is to push someone over the edge, and that we have lawful enterprises constantly engaged in doing just that. This second issue is much more fraught than the first as it challenges our ideals about speech. It is not a new problem; orators regularly set off mobs in Rome. But it has gotten to be endemic and the foundations of our polity are now threatened.

Logically one should start with the resolution that toddlers should be allowed to tinker with armed tactical nukes. 5 As one rejects progressive removals from that premise, one is forced to recognize a number of themes which argue for what libertarians might call, well, “liberty”, each of which on close examination can be seen to be elements of a factually insupportable credo.

The inner chimp affords us the altruism of the band, along with the ferocious response to the “other”. As the fore brain competes evolutionarily with the inner chimp, it seems to me that those with limited fore brain functioning outbreed those with fully functioning fore brains, and that bespeaks a Wellsian future…

A bit of roasted Morlock?


 

Recall Dunleavy Volunteer Packet!

If you are too impatient to read on, skip to the packet below by clicking here.

Most Alaskans I think understood that there would be recall fever as soon as petitions were available, which is why it was so important that rollout by the organizing group be impeccably planned in advance. Well, let’s just say that their hearts are definitely in the right place and they are moving forward.

In the interim, I have been able to secure the volunteer packet (which, YES, does include petition forms). It apparently was distributed to some persons under the e-mail appended below from Meda Dewitt (my link to the packet appears below that). The font choice is mine to separate this post from DeWitt’s e-mail.

Additionally I am informed and believe that packets will be available at the AFL-CIO Offices in Anchorage on Monday.

Go get some signatures!

___________

For new signature gathering volunteers that you have recruited who want to start gathering signatures. Or if you would like to know more about the process. Please have them read the Volunteer guide and attend the webinar at 1pm this afternoon. If they are unable to attend, that is ok, we will be recording this session so that they can access it with a link at a later time.

Thank you! Meda

__________

Good Evening Fellow Alaskans,

First and foremost I would like to thank you for your patience. This process is moving quickly and there is a tremendous amount of energy behind the Recall of Michael J. Dunleavy from the office of Governor of Alaska.

Please see the attached compressed folder, in it you will find:

– Volunteer Guide. Please read it thoroughly and ask all of your volunteers to also read.

– Recall Signature form. Most important document, print double sided, do not alter.

– Statement of Legal Grounds for the Recall of Dunleavy.

– Recall Legal Memo. This explains the legal grounds. (We know there is a typo. I promised this email for no later than today, will send the updated one tomorrow.)

– An open letter from Co-Chairs Joseph E. Usibelli and Peggy Shumaker to Alaskans.

– Volunteer Sign up sheet. Please don’t confuse this with the official signature sheet.

Recall Dunleavy will be hosting a webinar/call in session tomorrow for any questions and general check-ins from around the state on how everything is going. Please read the attached documents before the webinar, it is quite comprehensive.

Thank you,

Meda DeWitt, Chair of Recall Dunleavy

P.S. You may get duplicates of the email, because I will be sending it out to different threads and replies to make sure it gets to the people who need it. Thank you for your continued patience.

Recall Dunleavy Volunteer Q and A session

Sat, Aug 3, 2019 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM AKDT

Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.

https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/896701869

You can also dial in using your phone.

United States: +1 (646) 749-3112

Access Code: 896-701-869

New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting starts:

https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/896701869
.

 Click for Recall Dunleavy Volunteer packet

Click to go to RecallDunleavy.org

Preamble Lost

A few comments about HRes 109, the Green New Deal 1

The Western Caucus’ response to the Resolution 2  sounds just like the folk who pushed to end the “war on coal” and enable dumping of spoil in waterways.3

After a parade of horribles (declarations by the paid Congressional shills owned by the energy extraction industries), the caucus makes the bald faced claims that

The Green New Deal would:

  • Intertwine the federal government in every aspect of our daily lives,
  • Overhaul American energy, manufacturing, and transportation sectors,
  • Jeopardize jobs and take-home income of hundreds of thousands of Americans,
  • Expand the power of federal bureaucrats far beyond what our Founding Fathers ever intended,
  • Impede the energy efficiency and carbon capture research and development industry has invested in, moving America further away from our emission goals,
  • Destabilize our electric grid and energy dominance and independence compromising our national security, and
  • Undermine federalist principles our nation was built upon.

Whoa!!!!! As one can easily see, there is no evidence tat the Resolution would do ANY of this. I am waiting to see documentation by the Western Caucus evidencing, well, anything.

I strongly suggest that EVERYONE actually read HRes 109 and if you are seeking to convince others how horrific it is, I would argue that the onus is on you to provide a sectional analysis (that’s what rational folk do). I for one would like to know what is problematic with pledging

(D) to secure for all people of the United States for generations to come—
(i) clean air and water;
(ii) climate and community resiliency;
(iii) healthy food;
(iv) access to nature; and
(v) a sustainable environment;

Sounds very much like what the US Constitution requires of our federal government. The preamble states

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

If you want to frighten yourself, go see a Manoj Nelliyattu “M. Night” Shyamalan movie. In the meantime, unplug from Fox News, try to be critical when you read or hear rants from people trying to suck your life blood and render your community a toxic desert, and do try to behave in a manner that suggests that you are a rational person entitled to enfranchisement.

 

 

 

 

 

Right to the Gut

The modern approach to property is to see property as a “bundle of sticks”, abandoning the 17th Century notions (the ones that today are touted as the basis for libertarianism) as largely foolishness. This jurisprudential analysis bore fruit in the discussion by Hohfeld of jural correlatives over a century ago.1 2 Philosophically, this echos the development of the social sciences, and the recognition that Homo sapiens is closer to termites3 than one might expect. In other words, we are tribal and symbiotic, and may very well be largely a function of what our group and our gut mandate.

Practically speaking, we are intersections of complex matrices (a high tech verbalization of “bundle of sticks”). There is no such thing as ownership; there is only these complex relationships. To say that Locke’s idea that we own ourselves is not to say that someone else owns us, but to say the very notion of ownership is something only a child might entertain.

Even with this realization, as Justice Johnson notes 4, the forces that drive our jurisprudence still try to focus on only one side of the balance, as it were, and the judicial appointments of culture warriors hearten such ideological forays. As Johnson puts it, “Professor Hohfeld brought legal jurisprudence a long way by giving courts the analytical tools to understand property as a set of interdependent relations that involved both rights and obligations. That work evolved into the bundle of rights, but there has been much more emphasis on the rights, and less on the obligations. Any new theory of property rights has to emphasize broader obligations, as well as rights, if we are to confront the fairness question.”

When we hear people like Mia Love preach possessive Narcissism, when we see mobs rallying to “I built it”, we are seeing the ignorant response to the demagogues call to shed the mantle of responsibilities that all members of any society wear. Indeed, in one of many inconsistent moments Locke actually makes it clear that while individuals should have the right to elect membership in a polity, once the election has been made, the individual is caught and held fast by the tyranny of the majority (and taxes are not theft).

In sum, we are perhaps better defined by our obligations than by our “rights”. As potlatch societies recognize, status is maintained by what is given, not by what is taken. One’s position in any society is dependent on the myriad relations one manages with all the other persons and things one lives among. Hubris, at its core, is the belief that the individual is wholly responsible for their own destiny, and has been the subject of scorn for millennia. It is our great challenge that we face its resurgence today.

Consensus

In a Facebook discussion  1  stemming from Andy Hollman’s posting of Jacob Bera’s recent piece for the AASB 2 questions of the value of one of AkDEED’s experiments in teacher assessment were raised, and as it seemed to me that the discussion was turning away in part from a focus on what Jacob had to say, I thought I would start a thread focused on that alone.

AkDEED, face with continuing concerns with regard to evidence-based certification and assessment of teachers, decided to look at whether a consensus could be produced regarding appropriate praxis. AkDEED enlisted the assistance of hundreds of Master Teachers who then watched hours of videos of teachers teaching, rating performances on multiple scales. These volunteers then reviewed and discussed what they saw, why they rated the video the way they did, and how any differences might be resolved.

Now, the use of videos as a tool for teacher evaluation is widely accepted (it is in fact a major element of National Certification3 ). However, as anyone familiar with the topic will note, the teacher is free to submit any video the teacher wishes, and may redo the video over and over, and even school their students in performing for the video. So one can see that using video is at best fraught and dubious (yet it is one fundamental to one of Jacob’s arguments, but that is for another discussion …)

What I wish to address here, and what I tried to point out there, are some of the premises underlying any evaluation. There are two matters that are particularly of concern: 1) the manner in which any evaluation rubric is established, and 2) the manner in which evaluators (NBPTS uses the terms “assessors”) are qualified. To put that into rather simple language, can we agree on what good teaching is, and can we identify individuals who can sniff that out?

AKDEED adopted an Aristotelian, rather than a Platonic model. In other words, AkDEED thought they would crowdsource from those who would likely really understand the subtleties of educational praxis. We can arguably contrast that with NBPTS, which self-selected persons to set up a system to find those like themselves. I won’t argue the pros or cons of either methodology here; my focus here is on whether one can expect to obtain a consensus from experts on what those experts are supposed to be doing.

In a sense, AKDEED developed a practical exercise in what can be described as a modified Delphi method, running various prompts repeatedly through a group of experts to see if consensus about what good teaching is could be obtained.  Note that this part of the process has little or nothing to do with how the videos were prepared.  The focus is on whether what is being viewed is evidence of good teaching. In fact, such videos are used as part of educational instructional across the country.

The results were problematic. There was little agreement on what good teaching was, and some rather heated arguments about what wasn’t. In as much as the responses to videos were arguably more dependent on a teacher’s philosophy than on the evidence that of course made it just as difficult to grapple with the second horn; it was going to be virtually impossible to get any cadre of evaluators to agree on most anything.

Many teachers will assume that they and their colleagues are all extremely competent, but absent broad opportunities for peer review, those views seem more a collection of prejudices than evidence-based conclusions. I have to consider how teachers are “prepared”, and I see little that argues that first year teachers hired from UAA are by virtue of their degree, competent to teach. Whatever your thoughts about the management of ASD, it would appear that ASD has essentially agreed with me for some time. No, I am not saying that all UAA teachers are useless twits; I am saying that we have little evidence to show that they are competent independent professionals.

I have been inordinately lucky in some respects. I have had many teachers observe my teaching and have been able to observe many teachers across numerous subject areas and levels. Personally I think that is invaluable experience and is why I am a proponent of peer review. But then I see teaching like excellent theater, an approach I think not shared by all that many.

But to return to the focus of this reflection, if teachers can’t develop a consensus, then they are either agreeing that anything goes, or that they will knuckle their forehead to some arbitrary authority (who may be a philosopher king, or a tantrumming tyro.) I am not a fan of Doors 2 and 3.

From Soup to Nuts

I was a bit taken aback by a Facebook comment shared recently by John Fulton 1, a person I know to be intelligent, compassionate, giving, sensitive, and a devout Catholic.

It breaks my heart and shatters my soul to see the depravity that our society has perpetuated today.

New York not only legalized abortion to the day of the child’s birth, but they also removed protections in the event the child survives, they can still murder the child with impunity. They removed the requirement of abortions to be performed by doctors. The slap in the face was the signing of the bill by New York governor Andrew Cuomo, a purported Catholic.

As a faithful Catholic Christian and Knight of Columbus, it sickens me. The fight for the sanctity of life has always been one of the most important moral issues that exists. I pray the rosary daily, contribute what I can to organizations that forward that cause, and participate in what events I can to hopefully end this culture of death and disregard for God’s greatest gift whether it is at conception or towards the natural end of life.

Curiously enough, John ends his tribulation with a  borrowed piece entitled, Intercessions for Those Involved in Abortion 2 the last stanza of which is borrowed from Jeremiah. 3

How did the Roman Catholic Church come to see abortion as depraved?

As an Irishman recently was want to say, “It is interesting to wonder though, by which revelation was it made known to the Roman Catholic Church that heaven does not approve of abortion?” 4 Somehow, Western society has gone from entertaining the notion of creation from a cosmic soup to unfettered procreation, and it’s of import to more than just the Irish how we got here (and what can be done about it)!

Certainly, Jewish law at the time and since has been that a fetus is not a person until most of it has emerged from the mother. Nor is there any credible argument that the New Testament holds otherwise. That did not serve to stop Christian theologians from trying to rule women’s bodies, as even the shortest review on the topic suggests. 5 It is difficult to take the depth of Catholic feeling all that serious though, when so many historians have demonstrated the rather dubious adoption of such policy by the Church (I am reminded of Catholics who taunt Muslims about Ramadan, but are actually wholly ignorant that their obligations during Lent are strikingly similar, lol).

My bottom line is that when one looks at the overall policy of the Church, it would appear to be in many respects focused on unbridled breeding, and the inevitable death and misery that entails. Yes, I have to argue that anyone who subscribes to such nonsense, not as an historical artifact that should be remembered but set aside now that we know better, but as present guidance for survival on Earth, is INSANE.

and I have to ask you, what do YOU want to do with all these insane persons?

 

Just Another Simple Solution

There’s no easy way to put this, so I might as well come out and just say it: Mr. Donley appears to be very confused.1 Unfortunately this is only to be expected from the silver bullet crowd who invariably see all problems as susceptible to simple solutions, solution simple solutions that they, of course, have at the ready.

Social promotion has been a concern for years 2, but it is not the source of the problem. The  reason for social promotion is that we have a system largely based on age based cohorts. And for most of a students school years, and removal from their age cohort is a kin to branding the child as “defective”.

Many educators have pointed out ways to address retention and social promotion 3 and underlying may of those recommendations is the fact that  if schools moved to a skill based system as opposed to an age based system, artifacts like social promotion would disappear, especially as the granularity of the skill based modules is increased. In fact, some of the more successful programs on view in schools attempt to exploit just such options, like Walk to Read 4, where students are grouped across classrooms for reading instruction.

Certainly there are challenges to any educational system. A typical criticism of skill based cohort management is that this is simply “tracking”5 and that tracking breeds elitism. Gross tracking could clearly lead in that direction, but effective course management and the distribution of children make it pretty clear that such results might only be seen for 3 of a thousand children, all of whom would have been entitled to IEPs as exceptional children until the likes of Mr Donley “fixed” the Alaska Statutes.

But changing the cohort system is not just a different “silver bullet”; it is not a comprehensive solution. Not only do we need to change the cohort system to focus on instruction (instead of focusing on “management”) but we also need to implement early childhood and Pre-K surveillance, assessment, and service,  as well as clinical intervention to address fundamental inadequacies in literacy and numeracy. It is not like we can hide our heads in the sand any more; we KNOW that early deficiencies in reading WILL result in likely trauma, incarceration, etc.6 Spend the money now, or spend the money later.

Lastly, let me note that this is not likely a sudden inspiration on Mr. Donley’s part. With the election of the current Governor, we will be seeing a bill along the same lines introduced in the legislature . 7 I don’t want to fault Republican legislators for being concerned about education; but endorsing a corporate package unsupported by actual research is a recipe for disaster.

 

The Short Shrift: Socialism Versus Social Activism

Bernie Sanders has called out Amazon in the BEZOS Act, and Jacobin Magazine says its time for socialists to organize at Amazon, but I can’t help wondering if this activism misses the soul of socialism as the increase in wages comes at the loss of access to ownership.

Setting aside the rants of the Randian culture warriors,  most have seen ownership of the means of production as the keystone of socialism.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product. 1

Unfortunately, in the US the big union money typically moves in the other direction, with health and welfare funds and pension funds being managed by greedy Wall Street bankers solely on the basis of monetary return (which amounts to workers essentially capitalizing rentiers).

The value of Amazon stock is now about $1800/share, with a market capitalization of a bit over $900B, much of that owned by institutional investors and mutual funds. So, in broad terms all that needs to happen to make Amazon a socialist powerhouse is to finance employee purchase of $450B in stock.

The alternative, no matter how noble it might appear from time to time, amounts to begging or blackmailing, as Amazon’s market power is arguably no match for activists. 2

But is worker ownership of a behemoth like Amazon a pipe dream? Now that is an organizational question  worth pondering. Rather than propose that thousands of militant socialists seek employment at Amazon quietly for the purpose of an October Revolution, why not organize for the takeover of the company; it is certainly just a “doable” as rendering Amazon a union shop, and it makes “labor” management.

Seems to me that if one is going to hitch one’s wagon to Hope and Change, then charging into the fray for the purposes of continuing to be regarded as beggars at the gate is not all that inviting.