Sunday, 23 September 2007

You Must, Because You Can

I couldn't post a blog last week. I was far too enraged to clearly compose a single thing. Steve Jackson put out a message on his Daily Illuminator that was out of this world. Read this.

September 15, 2007: The Global Perspective

And today on the headlines at, we see that while they're eating their pets in Zimbabwe, the U.S. Department of Justice is holding conferences at which it pays $5 per meatball and $4.55 per can of soft drink to feed the attendees.
-- Steve Jackson

This is the very thing that drives me mad. The ridiculousness of the capitalist system is that it allows this kind of injustice to happen. It allows one person to exploit another to the point that people have to eat their pets. And yet, in another part of the world there is so much wealth available that the government can afford to pay too much for food. So, in the face of these horrible statistics we see two failings of our system.

Failure to meet the needs of the needy
The reason that we have a system at all (be it capitalist, socialist, monarchist, or whatever) is open for debate. However, if the system does not look after the needs of the needy, then it is an immoral system and must be changed. We must do more with our lives than simply accumulate money. Money should only be accumulated if it is going to be used to benefit those who contributed to the accumulation in the first place. Zimbabwe has a large amount of labour that could be easily harnessed to help feed Zimbabweans. Does it happen? No. Why not? Because the capitalist system is unfettered by obligation and responsibility to anything except the accumulation of capital. As long as one person does it, the system works.

Failure to create genuine exchange of money for goods
The capitalist system allows anyone to charge anything for anything. This is less of a failure because it is a double edged sword. High prices ought to result in fewer customers and the bankruptcy of the business itself. However, if this were truly the case there would be no outrageously priced anything. Fashion items that retail for many times the cost of the materials and labour are the easiest example. The retailer has convinced the public to become consumers, that they must have this item. The desire to own it is overwhelming, no matter the price.

It could be argued that it is not the system that has caused these things, and that is true. But to quote Murray Gell-Mann, "Everything that is not forbidden is compulsory." It is not forbidden to exploit another human being in order to increase your own profits - therefore it is compulsory. To put it another way, "You must, because you can."

And yet, it is impossible to forbid it. The moment that anyone puts out the command, "You shall not accumulate money at the expense of others" you will immediately be filled with the desire to disobey. You are caught. Trapped. Unable to get out of it except by denying everything around you. Deny your right to withhold money from the needy. Deny your right to live in a suburban McMansion. Deny your right to ignore the people around you. You must do this ...because you can.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Baby Osama

The artist who put this together also included a comment that read, " If you get offended, then the terrorists have won."

I declare this to be the new catch-all excuse for all offensive behaviour. Use it at will.

Osama by *kris-wilson on deviantART

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Existential Youth Violence

I was listening to a podcast about youth violence at parties. One of the guests, a researcher at Griffith University, said that as a survey response to the question "Is violence an acceptable method of solving problems?" the respondents overwhelmingly say that it is not. However, research showed that when the context changes through the addition of alcohol and unfamiliar social situations (e.g., a party with gatecrashers, a party including people who don't normally socialise, etc.) then violence is more likely to erupt.

There appear to be two factors at work here. One of them is chemical and the other is social. The chemical one is easy: the presence of alcohol as contributing to violence. It is no secret that alcohol lowers inhibitions and self-control. A sober feeling of sexual attraction can become a drunken feeling of sexual arousal. A sober feeling of embarassament from a tease can become a drunken feeling of anger. The potential list of examples is as endless as the range of human emotion. I don't think that the solution is prohibition or abstinence. Admittedly, this reduction in self-control is probably part of the reason that in Australia there is an age limit for the consumption of alcohol. There is an assumption that people develop greater emotional maturity (including self-control) with aging. I think it is fair to say that this is not a universal law. There are some very mature teenagers and some very emotionally stunted adults. If anything, this is a call for moderation and some kind of sober presence. People need a designated driver, not just to get them home, but to act as an inhibitor for losing control. Alcohol, when consumed in moderation, has been counted as a blessing and a joy for centuries. When consumed in excess, it is an evil that causes more social harm than heroin or methamphetamines.

The second factor is social, or existential. That is to say, the behaviour of the individual changes as the social and environmental context changes. Wittgenstein would suggest that this is because the language game has changed, and therefore the rules by which the participants play has changed. Context (the language game) dictates how the participants play. Alternatively, this can be viewed as a matter of how people behave in the moment, in the instant of the action. In that moment, the violent act has created a violent person. The perception of that person as held by onlookers is immediately changed. We see this in statements like, "I never knew he was a violent person" or the even more delusional statement from the perpetrator, "I'm not a violent person. I don't know why I did that."

It is an existential truth that the act defines the being, that existence precedes essence. Perhaps Forrest Gump said it well, "Stupid is as stupid does." Violent is as violent does.

And yet, once the person is removed from the context (the presence of antagonistic strangers, the excessive consumption of alcohol, etc.), they cease to be a violent being. The violence is a product of that person in that context. Strategies to stop this kind of violence must take that into consideration. Any less and the solution will be false.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Call for Roleplayers

This is a call for Brisbane roleplayers to join a Spirit of the Century campaign set in London of the 1860s rather than America in the 1920s.


See the full call for players at Tabletop Manifesto, a blog about indie tabletop gaming in Brisbane.

Do it now! The world needs heroes.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Who Gets My Vote

I like to think of myself as a swinging voter. Each time an election is called, I will take the time to do my research on the various parties and determine which of them will most closely represent my views on the issues important to me. It takes a bit of time to do, but is part of the responsibility of a citizen of a democracy.

There are plenty of people who vote according to family tradition and I used to be one of those. Mind you, I also took this approach when deciding which football team to support. With regard to football teams, this seems to work well. The team will rise and fall through the seasons - occasionally winning the championship. But football is just a game. Politics is something more serious than football.

Although I'm sure that there aren't any newspaper editors or federal policy makers reading this, I'm going to list the top priorities for me as we approach the next Australian federal election.

In the last Queensland election, I had a choice of three parties in my electorate. Only one of them even had a policy about poverty. I was enraged about this for a day or so. And then I voted for the only party that had taken the trouble to even think about the issue and put it into writing. We are a prosperous society and if we don't use our prosperity to help those in need then we ought to be ashamed. Any party that wants to control community funds (hooray for taxes) should be using that money to benefit those in the community who need help.

Although I'm pursuing postgraduate studies, I don't think that this is appropriate for everyone. A society could not function if all members of it were doctors, lawyers or experts in English literature. There is a place for that kind of education, but I hardly think that we would have enough people to do the mundane work that goes into an industrialised society. Someone needs to operate the garbage truck. Someone is required to be a waiter in a restaurant. Someone needs to do data entry in an accounts firm. That said, we should tailor education for vocation. A carpenter has no need for a university place, but they do need a place in a technical college along with a business that is prepared to take them on during an apprenticeship. This requires good policy in education and in business relations.

It is not enough that a nation should have a plan for forceful defence as a response to violence by others. I am looking for a party that will work for peace. I want my government to be a maker of peace. "Blessed are the peace makers," said Jesus. "Power to the peaceful," said Michael Franti. Any political party that is not committed to establishing peace through peaceful means in the world is not going to get my vote.

We are a nation of wealth and intelligence. We should be using this position to eliminate poverty, improve our community through relevant education and actively creating peace by peaceful means.