Ernesto Laclau, 1935-2014
Ernesto Laclau passed away on April 13, 2014. This marks the passing of a great thinker and fighter for equality in our time.
I want to just use this moment to encourage any and everyone to check out Hegemony and Socialist Strategy and On Populist Reason, which have been highly influential in my own body of work.
Adios, Professor Laclau.
Here is a link to the news story in the Buenos Aires Herald: http://www.buenosairesherald.com/article/156933/ernesto-laclau-passes-away-at-78
I have like four entries that I am working on right now and this topic came up and I decided to address it now (again). It came up when I was reading the comments on a story that 94% of female homicide victims were murdered by men they knew (and the subsequent proposal to make it illegal for men to own a gun if they were convicted of domestic violence).
Guns are a big deal in the United States. A huge deal. And every time the topic comes up, we are inundated with opinions. The problem is that most of them are based upon little substance. This is probably one of the most prevalent topics of our time and for good reason. In 2012 we had a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 28 people. Earlier that same year, we had 12 people killed and 58 injured in a movie theatre shooting in Aurora, Colorado. There was also a shooting at a Sikh Temple in 2012 that killed 7 people. In 2010, 11,078 people were murdered by firearms. That is 3.6 people per 100,000. (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/homicide.htm) A recent article from ABC News cites a study that says:
The United States has more guns and gun deaths than any other developed country in the world, researchers found.
A study by two New York City cardiologists found that the U.S. has 88 guns per 100 people and 10 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people — more than any of the other 27 developed countries they studied.
Japan, on the other hand, had only .6 guns per 100 people and .06 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people, making it the country with both the fewest guns per capita and the fewest gun-related deaths. (source)
It makes sense that many people want something done about this issue. On both sides of the debate, as the researchers in the aforementioned study pointed out, are baseless claims. As per my profession, I tend to look at the issue from a theoretical perspective. In this theoretical examination, we have to look at the Second Amendment and what it means, as well as the nature of our democracy.
As pointed out ad nauseum (nearly ad infinitum), the Second Amendment (as ratified by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State) states:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
People constantly refer to “shall not be infringed” as an argument that there should be no restriction on gun ownership at all. So we are going to look at what the Second Amendment really means, and the theory behind it. Continue reading Second Amendment Again And Again
(This is part of the “Government Is Not The Problem, You Are” series.)
The other day I had mentioned to someone that I believed people want wealth because they want the freedom they believe accompanies the wealth. If one is wealthy, they can travel wherever they wish, whenever they wish. They can spend their days doing whatever they wish. The less wealth one has, the less freedom they have to pursue their own interests. The response I got what an “of course.” It does seem intuitive. But I don’t think it’s such an obvious statement.
The Bondage Of Poverty
Capitalism tells us that people accumulate wealth because it’s our nature to accumulate wealth. That we want “stuff.” The issue here is really even broader than just the freedom that accompanies wealth, but the lack of freedom that accompanies a lack of wealth. If wealth is freedom, than capitalism is bondage. It is true that there’s nothing radical or revolutionary here in this topic. Though, I do think it’s not a commonly explored or examined topic today. In the investigation of this, we go from Erich Fromm to Herbert Marcuse and beyond. But what interests me is that the way so many claim to adhere to political ideology, but these discussions remain in the realm of pedagogy.
A quick web search for the topic of wealth as freedom leads to numerous articles on financial planning for the future, strategies for increasing financial wealth, and a chapter from a text by Professor R. J. Rummel (who recently passed away, on March 2) about how democracy promotes the growth of wealth. None of this really addresses the epistemology of wealth as freedom. It all operates under the general assumption that the freedom associated with wealth is anything but illusory.
In any discussion on such a topic we need to really define what all of these words mean. Even in an academic sense, “freedom” is not a concrete word like “neuron” or “tungsten.” When I use “freedom,” I use it to mean negative liberty. In this context, that is exactly what I mean. It is the freedom from external constraints, freedom from coercion and external force. When I speak of “liberty,” I tend to mean positive liberty. Positive liberty is a bit more complicated and nuanced. It’s technically considered to be the freedom from internal restraints (such as addiction), but also is freedom from some internally, external restraints. Racism, sexism, classism, and other such concepts conflict with positive liberty. It could be said that positive liberty is the protection of the individual against that which would infringe upon their negative liberty, or the protection of one individual’s freedom from another person’s freedom when they conflict. Basically, I’m referring back to Erich Fromm, in his “Escape From Freedom” (or “The Fear of Freedom” outside North America). In this text, Fromm describes negative liberty as “freedom from” and positive liberty as “freedom to.” The importance of this will arise later. Continue reading Wealth As Freedom
It comes up, from time to time, that there are reasons why there is a lack of support for movements and/or issues. I thought I’d take a moment from espousing theoretical positions and explain problems found within some movements today. Quite often, this is not condemnation of these movements or issues. More often than not, I’d be more than happy to be wrong. Primarily, the lack of support for Occupy is not a denouncement of the movement or a desire to see it fail. It’s just a view of the theoretical failings that seem to be rationale on why I believe it’s a waste of energy. Similarly, I’d love to be wrong about Anonymous or even Edward Snowden. As time progresses, I don’t feel as though I am wrong.
But the question comes up: What is this website about? I see people are reading it, though few comment or contribute. I think, for the most part, people aren’t quite clear what this is all about, because it does radically depart from much of the rest of the internet. I really hate hyperbole. I try really hard not to use it. I also really hate demagogy. Without hyperbole and demagogy, there’s much less appeal to internet readership. Which brings up another issue… there will be no baseless assertions or claims of authority that have no substance.
A colleague of mine recently brought up my recent railing against “the democratization of expertise” that I have been on lately. He stated, “The amount of confidence most people have in their own thoughts has grown to a level of ridiculousness.” I completely agree. Whilst any opinions are accepted on this site, not all opinions are equal. Continue reading Official Positions
It’s difficult, at times, to walk the line between theory and practice. Every once in a while, the two converge in a specific issue. I was watching the television the other day and I happened upon Governor Rick Perry talking about taxation and employment in his state of Texas. He was speaking on how low tax rates coincide with the level of increased employment. (Everyone that thinks this is going to be a rail against tax cuts for the wealthy or spurious connections used by politicians can keep reading, as this isn’t the case.) What really struck me and stuck with me was the constant discussion of “levels of employment.” The only measure discussed was “how many people are employed.” There was no mention of the type of employment, the pay for the employment, the benefits that accompany this employment, and so on. It’s as if the only thing that really matters is that people are employed.
Arbeit macht frei
This stuck with me because it’s become a major talking point in most of Western society. It’s most prevalent in the United States, but you can hear these same talking points in the UK or France. (Or even outside of Western Civilization, like in China or South Korea.) But what does it really mean? Why is it so important that everyone “is working”? This idea of “work for the sake of work” troubles me because I had later realized it has serious and dangerous implications.
Quite simply, why should we be pleased that someone is working at WalMart, but still receiving government benefits for food and housing because they are still living in poverty? Why should we be pleased that someone is doing backbreaking, tedious labor for menial pay instead of sitting at home watching television or reading books or playing video games? How does this really benefit these people or our society? For me, the answer is easy but not simple. It is the result of the Protestant Work Ethic. Continue reading The Protestant Work Ethic