Blog Posts

On Myth, Religion and Innocence

As I've argued in other posts, we are raised inside structures that foster meritocratic reasoning, and encourage people to accept the idea that someone's moral value depends on whether and how others judge them, with the lives of some being worth more than others, who may count hardly at all (e.g. how we view the other animals). This logic informs our own thinking and behavior at every level from the personal to the institutional, due to how we create or change institutions to match our moral intuitions and vice versa. Marshall Rosenberg, Walter Wink, and Walter Kaufmann have in my opinion made compelling cases that meritocratic reasoning and related domination thinking do not come naturally to us, but have to be actively taught, so as to reinforce that specific human tendency. Besides their intellectual arguments, the archaeological and anthropological records also tell us that domination structures are a fairly recent development, after a long period of humans organizing themselves along egalitarian lines. Nevertheless, the past few thousand years of such oppression of the many by the few makes it abundantly clear that it's very hard to get rid of this world-view once it's taken root. 


In The Reactionary Mind, Corey Robin shows that a large part of what drives reactionaries is the desire to silence and repress (or, in academese: deny voice to) others. This partly from a strong belief that their putative 'inferiors' have no right to speak (or to be heard), and partly from a fear that "society" (or their place in it) will be negatively affected by the latter being heard, or organizing themselves; and that the world can only function if everyone 'knows their place'. I found this explanation quite thought-provoking, and it led me to wonder what analogous desire and world-view animates those who the media refer to as 'the (center-)left' (liberals in the US, liberal or social democrats elsewhere), given that the overwhelming majority of these folks are uncomfortable subscribing to the ("radical") egalitarianism, inclusiveness and solidarity that I take as central.

Linking (Neo-)Liberalism, Identity Politics and Bureaucracy

Both David Harvey and Noam Chomsky have already done a lot to analyze and explain the rise of neoliberalism. Both agree that it should primarily be understood as a political project, aimed at discouraging, and keeping 'ordinary' people from participating in politics, after the events of the 1960s.* But where Harvey's account of the start of the counterrevolution only includes the conservative response, Chomsky points out that elite liberals were just as disturbed by what they termed "an excess of democracy". He notes, describing the Trilateral Commission's The Crisis of Democracy:

This is a consensus view of the liberal internationalists and the three industrial democracies. They—in their consensus—they concluded that a major problem is what they called, their words, “the institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young.” The schools, the universities, churches, they’re not doing their job. They’re not indoctrinating the young properly. The young have to be returned to passivity and obedience, and then democracy will be fine. That’s the left end.

Remarks on Violence, War and Terrorizing

In this post, I'd like to talk about violence in general, and war in particular, how the use of violence relates to and is sold via bureaucratic (and hence meritocratic) thinking and reasoning. I hope folks will find it stimulating.

As Walter Wink has argued, nearly everyone who resorts to violence does so because on some level, we understand it as a tool that we can use to realize a certain outcome: to change either the person we inflict it on, or those around them. Yet as Marshall Rosenberg has noted, if we wish to foster lasting behavioral change, violence doesn't work. Because although people may comply, this only seems a success because of internalized misanthropy, which discourages us to care about the reason why someone chooses to behave differently -- it's only logical if you start from the assumption that people must be forced to care about others. Moreover, it's a way of thinking that reinforces the notion that violence is an acceptable tool.

Video Posts

On the need for ideological control (and debt peonage) in democratic societies

Until 2008, I mostly ignored 'economics' as an area of study, as the subject bored me, and I found the mindset too unpleasant. I changed my mind because of the financial crisis, as it made me realize we can't leave economic policy to 'experts.'

I started out responsibly, by reading the serious media, paying special attention to those who were framed as critics, to see how they explained things. Most of what I read there didn't really explain much, though, as they tended to present the crisis as a fluke or a "natural disaster", and the "f word" was hardly ever mentioned. This struck me as suspect, given how beneficial the run-up had been to some, and given the lies we'd been fed during the lead-up the invasion of Iraq and the Dot-com bubble. So I started searching for other sources, until I ran across Naked Capitalism, and shortly after David Harvey's work. Since then, I've slowly been (re-)educating myself.

Nonviolent Communication -- an introduction

A large part of the reason I started this blog is to introduce others to Marshall Rosenberg's nonviolent communication. I ran into his work about a half-decade ago, shortly after going vegan. It resonated with me very strongly, because he and his work showed me not just why it is so easy to lose sight of the fact that everyone's needs have equal value, but also how we can learn to listen for and express what's alive in ourselves and in others, and how to separate the strategies we come up with to meet our needs from the needs that we try to meet that way, and to always focus on the latter. Briefly put, NVC showed me how language enables and reinforces domination structures and inequality, both inside our heads, and in the societies we produce through our actions. 

Remarks on the Game of Thrones ending

(Note: this post probably won't be interesting to people who haven't read (part of) ASOIAF and watched most of Game of Thrones. Before reading this, please first watch Ellis's video. :) )

Visitors to this blog might wonder as to why I'm posting about this show. Obviously, this whole universe is miles away from the kind of egalitarian solidarity I espouse. But what I find interesting about it was how enthusiastically and uncritically this show was embraced, given how reactionary this universe is, with the partial exception of Daenerys and those she converts to her cause, what with the mass of the population mostly counting for nothing, being trod underfoot by elites who go about their business. The fact that most (re)viewers don't comment on the politics of it all disturbs me, as even Ellis (who -- to her credit -- at least makes the politics a topic of discussion, and has done so in the past with other shows, even if her expressed opinions are very safely liberal) is either unwilling or afraid (for reasons of branding, monetization or sponsoring?) only calls it out the ending for being lame writing (which it was), without pointing out that this is par for the course when it comes to "entertainment".

Some thoughts on "How to Turn Litter into Money": Linking Promises, Money and Violence

Reintegrating the dismal science

There are a number of ways to explain what money is, and what it allows us to do. Sadly, the "origin story" that we were all taught in school is a very misleading morality tale, in which exchange of goods is presented as a wholly separate sphere of life. Supposedly, humans were stuck with a so-called "barter economy" until they invented money. This is a complete fairy tale, and this matters a great deal.

Veganism, and "so long as we accept violence in any form, we accept violence in every form"

As I've explained elsewhere, pretty much everyone is taught how to systematically devalue the equal needs of some. By the time we reach adulthood, this 'skill', and the meritocratic moral logic that undergirds it, are deeply rooted, though people differ in how broadly they apply it. As a consequence, hardly any of us manage to ignore the many distractions (skin color, nationality, ethnicity, intellectual ability, wealth, mannerisms, religious affiliation) we are taught to focus on, and to embody the kind of inclusiveness, egalitarianism and solidarity that, abstractly, nearly all of us know is appropriate (and required). The question I want to talk about here is how this relates to our stance on the use and killing of other animals by humans, and how our thinking about the other animals as 'inferior' feeds back into our treatment of other humans.

Life under Meritocracy -- embodied edition

I am a dutch white guy with a lower middle class background, who was among the first to go to uni, with an extended family that I felt strongly encouraged me to embrace petit-bourgeois (Calvinist) cultural values and life goals, in a society that does the same. As a youth, I encountered few positive role models or like-minded peers, and lots of confirmation that I was different, which I didn't know what to do with, and found difficult to accept. Due to social awkwardness, some early bullying and the like, and because I equated social status, likability and attractiveness, I also long doubted both my general likability and physical attractiveness. This gave me the freedom to not care much about people's appearance beyond basic hygiene, as I saw these as facts of life for everyone.

Book Posts