Killing Expeditions and Torture are Politically Expedient

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

The latest Wikileaks release joins its predecessor in cataloging the criminality of the United States war effort. The Guardian quotes the Pentagon saying,

This security breach could very well get our troops and those they are fighting with killed. Our enemies will mine this information looking for insights into how we operate, cultivate sources and react in combat situations, even the capability of our equipment.

So “how we operate” is criminal. Of course a good part of the reason we operate in this fashion is a fear that no one, certainly not myself, who has not been at war can truly appreciate, but in all fairness, this leak offers a glimpse of. Simply put, soldiers have no reliable way of distinguishing innocent civilians from insurgents. Soldiers, most of whom are quite young men, few of whom have higher educations, are consistently placed in positions where they must decide between shooting first and asking questions later, as they have been ordered to do, and placing their own lives at considerable risk.

But also, there have been clear cut cases where helicopters pursued and attacked men who attempted to surrender. And the leak details yet more instances of torture; U.S. soldiers sometimes reported abuse they discovered, sometimes committed it themselves, and sometimes threatened to turn detainees over to Iraqi forces who were even more brutal.

I’ve been saying for a while that modern war is inherently criminal. These leaks confirm that. But they also remove any doubt as to the complicity of those in the Pentagon who accumulated these reports.

In The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (New York: Random House, 2008), Philip Zimbardo uses a detailed account of the notorious Stanford Prison Experiment to shed light on Abu Ghraib and assembles a case against senior Pentagon and Bush administration officials for creating a situation which induced their subordinates to torture not only at Abu Ghraib, but also at Guantanamo.

The Obama administration has extended these policies, secretly expanding the war to many more places, ordered more drone attacks that are notorious for killing civilians, defended torture policies in court, not merely preserved military commissions but instituted a two-tier system of justice—civilian courts for those prosecutors think they have sufficient evidence untainted by torture and commissions for more difficult cases—and refused to investigate Bush administration criminality. Because it is now a full participant in that criminality.

I’ve been hearing a lot recently about how we should consider the limits of what is politically possible. But as Paul Krugman has pointed out, Obama chose the Beltway and Wall Street insiders who have determined what is practical, what can be done, and what should be done. Perhaps these people were right about what was possible, but we haven’t even seen a fight for basic human morality.

And people aren’t just getting killed. They’re being stupidly killed, tortured, maimed, injured, and otherwise abused. I’m sorry, but I have a real problem rationalizing this on grounds of political expediency.

But that’s the country we’re in.

What a long, strange, and violent trip it’s been

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

Driving cab in Marin County is, or at least was, for the most part a pretty mellow experience. These days, the companies have grown and I think there are a lot more cabs—and I imagine it is a lot harder to make a living.

But when I was doing it, it was a basic suburban experience with a fair number of rich folks who would occasionally need rides to the airport (I got more airport trips while driving in Marin than I ever did in San Francisco), drunks at the Fairfax bars that no one wanted to go out for, and the occasional icon from the 1960s—I remember a member of I think it was Terry and the Pirates who would get drunk at the Silver Peso in Larkspur and then need a ride home to Madrone Canyon. I got the impression that there was a lot of psychedelic history living out their lives on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais.

None of that prepared me for one night when I was dispatching towards the end of my shift. A call came in for a ride from Mill Valley to Redwood City Kaiser, with a one-hour wait, and return. On the one hand, if it was a good ride, it was a very good ride. On the other hand, it was a weird call—and dispatchers learn that weird calls are often bad calls—and the one-hour wait, towards the end of most drivers’ shifts (so they would be paying overtime during that wait) seemed like a recipe for trouble if I actually gave the order out.

My relief dispatcher had arrived. She heard me take the order. So did the Belaire Dispatcher in the next office. Among us, there was no dispute as to what happened next. I owned my own cab (and was not allowing anyone else to drive it) and I took the order. I don’t think I even wrote it down on the dispatch log but on a scrap piece of paper.

I drove down to Mill Valley. The customer came out and we began the trek to Redwood City. He took out his cell phone, called someone, and identified himself as “Wavy Gravy.” He was talking about “Ram Dass.” I figured these were bogus pseudonyms and continued driving.

We arrived at the Kaiser and he told me it would be an hour and a half—a bad sign: the order had been for an hour wait. Two hours later, I was still waiting. Another driver would surely have blown off the order by now, anxious to cut his losses and get his cab back before paying any more overtime than he had to. But because I owned my cab and didn’t have to turn it in, I could wait, and eventually, my customer came out. I drove him back to Mill Valley and he paid me with a credit card.

A couple days later, I read in the newspaper that Ram Dass—the real Ram Dass—had suffered a stroke. This order had been genuine from beginning to end and if I hadn’t taken it myself, it would surely have turned out badly.

I’m thinking about that in the wee hours this morning, because it was my only real brush with the 1960s counterculture. I actually lived in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, not very far away from the Haight-Ashbury, in the Richmond District. In 1967, I was eight years old; my father kept me well away. I only remember boarded-up storefronts after it was all over.

But the sense that I had missed something was, for me, palpable. Probably none of my schoolmates felt it; by the time I was in high school, I was already sensing a backlash that would continue for decades.

And I’m still piecing the story together. Bettina Aptheker’s Intimate Politics: How I grew up Red, Fought for Free Speech, and Became a Feminist Rebel (Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2006) here. Some books by Angela Davis there. Dim recollections of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Knowledge that a lot of black leaders got killed.

The counterculture movement, for me, decades later and not having actually experienced it, still represents a time when things could have come out differently. It was a time when all the values of society were open to challenge. It was a time when opposition to war meant something, when sexual repression was abandoned, when people experimented with altered awareness (usually with the help of drugs). I truly believe it was an opportunity for sanity.

It was also a time when the strands of history weave together to produce a different result from anything anyone could have imagined. And much to my surprise, I now think this is still playing out.

I’ve commented in the past about how capitalists need consumers to over-consume their overproduction and that our economic system relies upon this unsustainability. The counterculture challenged that and had to be suppressed on those grounds alone.

But another strand in the weave was in 1968, when Lyndon Johnson announced that the U.S. would sponsor Israel and about a month later, Sirhan Sirhan shot Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy, who had sought the Jewish vote by supporting the move, died; and Richard Nixon was elected president.

Nixon expressed his own hatred and the hatred of a lot of other people in a lot of ways. But it seems like the shootings at Kent State (see also here) stand out. Adam Curtis, in his “The Century of the Self” series (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4) series (broadcast on BBC channel 4 in 2002), claims that counterculture movement leaders saw that they could not prevail against the mightiest military power in the world. So they turned inwards, in what became the Human Potential movement, on the theory that if people liberated their minds from the repressive state, the state would become superfluous.

Curtis explains that capitalists eventually figured out how to subvert the Human Potential movement by marketing to people’s “individuality.” The result is, I gather, an even more intensely and viciously individualist society than what we had before, a society that has accumulated so much debt (while feeding capitalist greed and neoconservative lust for war) that I believe it must surely collapse. We have exported the jobs that pay the taxes that can ever get us out of this mess.

I think Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, and everyone else who ways we need jobs for a real recovery are right. But the possibility that the U.S. economy will ever again be “competitive,” ironically the very rationale for economic globalization, is gone. And a message of climate change is that even if the economy could somehow be resuscitated, the environment will not support it.

In hindsight, it very much appears, that as I suspected, the detested hippies of the 1960s were right. And our vicious efforts to suppress the counterculture have exacerbated the very problems they warned us of. I imagine they’ve long since paid off their mortgages on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais.

And while the financial system continues to struggle with toxic subprime mortgages, it is the rest of us who cannot pay our debt to the earth.

Robbing the poor to pay the rich, redux

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

So my cat went out the window to do her morning routine and I decided to take a peek at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) unemployment numbers. It looks like, despite fears it would rise, their U-3 will have held steady at 9.6 percent. A Gallup poll puts the rate at 10.1 percent and their economist believes that the BLS will have missed a rise in the latter portion of September.

But while unemployment remains high—and politicians of both major factions have refused to do anything of substance about it—it appears the criminals who got us into this mess have been engaged in more criminality, fraudulently pushing through foreclosures without proper paperwork. Judges aren’t going along, politicians seeking reelection are demanding a moratorium, and economists fear all this will prolong the housing crisis and require an additional bailout for the banks.

That’s right, yet another bailout for rich criminals, while poor victims are left to suffer. For some reason, this goes unchallenged amongst “serious people.”

Democrats embrace fascism

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

I had just modified my DNS MX settings to ensure that the SSL certificate for the site was consistent when this rolled in from

Dear ,

Stop the Foreign TakeoverIn January 2010, five Republicans on the Supreme Court gave foreign corporations a Constitutional right to buy Congress and our next President.

If foreign corporations want to buy our elections publicly, they can simply create U.S. subsidiaries. If they want to buy our elections secretly, they can launder their money through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which aggressively raises foreign money, or through Karl Rove’s secretive American Crossroads GPS, both of which are spending millions in this year’s elections.

That means foreign leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Hu Jintao of China, and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia can use their enormous wealth to steal millions of American jobs, keep us dependent on foreign oil and even make us fight their wars. . . .

That Democrats join Republicans in appealing to prejudice against other peoples should put any doubts that we are now a fascist country to rest. (UPDATE: According to this article in the Washington Post, the Obama administration is accusing the Chamber of Commerce of using foreign money to fund campaign ads, essentially on an argument that we don’t know they aren’t.)

But as usual with propaganda of this sort, there are glimmers of truth, and it is useful to sort those out and to place them in their proper context.

First, the problem we face with corporate influence in politics is not so much with “foreign” corporations but with multinational corporations who indeed have every interest in exporting jobs and facilities to places where regulations are less strict and where wages are lower. These corporations are not controlled by the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hu Jintao, and King Abdullah but largely by very wealthy stockholders, many of whom are based right here in the United States.

Second, as jobs have evaporated and tax revenues have been eviscerated, it appears that the one remaining asset of any significant value in this country is our military, costing upwards of a half a trillion dollars per year. Historically, the U.S. has used both military, economic, and diplomatic means to advance multinational corporate interests (such as oil in the Middle East and bananas in Latin America) and it is entirely reasonable to expect this pattern to continue. Lack of opportunity in the civilian economic sector makes opportunities such as the military and Xe (formerly Blackwater) attractive, so we can expect that despite Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ worries, such operations will encounter little difficulty finding recruits.

Third, while the Citizens United decision focuses attention, the problem of corporate influence long predates that decision.

So what is really going on with this email, presumably sent out to lots of left-leaning folks? I honestly don’t know. This kind of hysteria appeals far more to the right than to the left—hence the Tea Party. But what it shows us is that Democrats refuse to acknowledge their complicity in the destruction of this country.


From an anarchist perspective, the self-actualized experience and education one might attain can be the one form of authority—not compulsory to anyone else—that we can accept. There is certainly, for example, nothing wrong in learning from such historic works as Peter Kropotkin (1989), Memoirs of a Revolutionist; Kropotkin (1914/2006), Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution; a compilation of Emma Goldman’s essays by Alix Kates Shulman (1998), Red Emma Speaks: An Emma Goldman Reader; a compilation of Peter Kropotkin’s writings by Emile Capouya and Keitha Tompkins (1975), The Essential Kropotkin; and the classic What is Property? by Proudhon (1994/2007). These works, plus others I am sure, are essential to an understanding of anarchist thought. In the modern day, these authors are joined by Noam Chomsky (2005), most notably in a collection entitled Chomsky on Anarchism; and the late Howard Zinn, who is most famous for his People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present. For a picture of modern anarchist activism, I can hardly omit Uri Gordon, in an extremely useful book based on his dissertation, Anarchy Alive! Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory. Many of them are or were highly educated, albeit in an authoritarian educational system.

But anti-intellectualism takes this one non-compulsory form of authority and treats it as in opposition to the interests of ordinary people. Sadly, as Chomsky (1969/2005) points out in “Objectivity and liberal scholarship” (in B. Pateman, Ed., Chomsky on anarchism, Edinburgh: AK Press), academia has often colluded with the worst elite interests. I couldn’t even begin to offer an exhaustive list; the recent revelation of syphilis and gonorrhea experiments conducted in Guatemala captures neither the breadth nor the depth of this evil.

Alfonso Montuori (2006), in “The Quest for a New Education: From Oppositional Identities to Creative Inquiry” (ReVision, 28(3), pp. 4-20) attributes anti-intellectualism among what he calls narcissistic learners to traditional dichotomies between the intellectual and the spiritual, the objective and subjective, theory and practice, reason and emotion, fact and intuition, and the universal and the particular. And there can be little doubt that these dichotomies, marking off what constituted in the positivist paradigm “good” research versus “bad” research, have been tremendously destructive, privileging method, and nearly ignoring meaning, sometimes with bizarre results. Bruce Mazlish (1998/2007), in The Uncertain Sciences (Piscataway, NJ: Transaction) illustrates how positivists sought a unitary method of inquiry and how the quest for this method outweighed even the results that were obtained. Montuori fears a reaction in which the poles are reversed, realizing an approach he sees as just as bad.

Montuori (2006) also emphasizes a perceived dichotomy between Protestantism and the intellect, in which Protestants apparently invert a Platonic frame and align the practical with their god of Abraham, while dismissing the theoretical; Plato, by contrast not only elevated a theoretical realm of Ideals but discounted the world of lived experience as less real (Tarnas, 1991, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the ideas that have shaped our world view, New York: Harmony). The uninverted Platonic view of reality has been influential—Jack Holland (2006), in Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice (New York: Carroll & Graf) attributes misogyny to Plato’s valorization of ideals at the expense of sensual reality. The Platonic view appears again in Montuori’s depiction of a dichotomy between Thinking and Feeling in Carl Jung’s typology, which Montuori sees as a factor in narcissistic anti-intellectualism. But it is almost too easy to associate as anti-intellectual the apocalyptic “fire and brimstone” variety of Protestantism which pretends a literal reading of the Bible; sees evolution as a threat; and obsesses over any matters having any relationship, no matter how remote, to sexuality, reproduction, or primary or secondary sexual characteristics of the human body. At least at first blush, Montuori’s assignment of blame for anti-intellectualism seems inadequate to account for a great many anti-intellectuals who fit neither into the fundamentalist Protestant nor Montuori’s narcissistic archetypes.

I look instead to our system of education, which has evolved—philosophically, anyway—from the Greeks and the Romans. In the Roman Republic, Cicero (my copy is in a reader for a Comparative Traditions of Rhetoric class I took with Anne Pym in 2004) called for skilled orators whose qualifications included

a wide knowledge of very many subjects (verbal fluency without this being worthless and even ridiculous) a style, too, carefully formed not merely by selection, but by arrangement of words, and a thorough familiarity with all the feelings which nature has given to man, because the whole force and art of the orator must be put forth in allaying or exciting the emotions of his audience. (p. 186)

In short, Cicero prescribed a curriculum that included topical information, “that the complete and perfect orator is he who can speak on all subjects with fluency and variety” (p. 192), as well as the arts. What we might today describe as an extreme liberal education was a curriculum Cicero considered necessary for the fulfillment of one’s obligations to the Roman Republic. In another vein, Steven Bartlett (1993) wrote in “Barbarians at the door: A psychological and historical profile of today’s college and university students” (Modern Age, 35(4), pp. 296-310),

it was thought that some intellectual and artistic pursuits have an intrinsic importance to human life. They have no special utilitarian purpose, they do not satisfy particular social needs, they do not tend to bring financial affluence or material comfort, yet they are essential to a fully human life. They are of value in and of themselves, without connection to external gain or vocational advancement. (p. 297)

The notions that higher education ought to prepare citizens for participation in civic affairs or that it had intrinsic value have endured for centuries. T. S. Eliot (1948/1962), in Notes towards the definition of culture (London: Faber & Faber), justified a social stratification based on cultural achievement that people of a particular class were needed to sponsor but which all could appreciate.

But some fear these values have now been lost. In The Greening of America (New York: Crown), Charles Reich (1970) describes an education system intended to prepare non-elite children for lives as consumers and employees—cogs in the corporate wheel—in which they would be pacified by fantasies of prosperity peddled on television while they worked exhausting schedules that left no time or energy for civic engagement. As Bartlett (1993) sees it, “by the turn of the [twentieth] century, the schools stressed manual training and vocational education. Education in America would henceforth serve the interests of social management” (p. 300).

Bartlett (1993) argues that this change “marks the reestablishment of a primitive view of man and of a fundamentally barbaric attitude concerning the purposes of living” (p. 296); condemns what might be viewed as an assembly line approach to education, conducted in the name of equality of opportunity, as devaluing individual talents; and notes that:

To be tolerable in our egalitarian democracy, intellectual superiority must be excused, disguised, and brought down to a commonplace level. The only intellectuals who are really acceptable in America are those with dirt under their fingernails, who speak like any Joe, who possess no unusual qualities of personal distinction, who would, in short, make good drinking buddies.

Bartlett offers his own anecdotes in support of that claim, but I cannot help but think of the 2004 presidential contest between the John Kerry and George Bush. Both men attended Yale and earned roughly equivalent grades (Cosgrove-Mather, June 7, 2005) but Bush seemed incapable of speaking in grammatically correct and complete sentences and he consistently mispronounced the word nuclear. A Zogby/Williams poll found that “57% of undecided voters would rather have a beer with Bush than Kerry” (Zogby, September 19, 2004).

Of course, the description of education offered both by Reich and by Bartlett is oversimplistic; a liberal education lives on, albeit in diminished form, in graduation requirements that many students see as irrelevant to their chosen careers. And herein lies a difficulty I see as leading to anti-intellectualism.

Having completed my Master’s degree in Speech Communication (hence the concern with Cicero and orators) precisely at the low-point of yet another recession in June 2009 (National Bureau of Economic Research, September 20, 2010) which has had lasting effects in employment, housing, and thus, government revenues that have left few job openings for college teachers, I signed up to be a substitute teacher at a few public school districts in Sonoma County, California. It has been a harsh reminder of the difference between compulsory education and college.

Montuori (2010), in “Research and the Research Degree: Transdisciplinarity and Creative Inquiry (in M. Maldonato & R. Pietrobon, Eds., Research on scientific research. A transdisciplinary study, pp. 110-135, Brighton & Portland: Sussex), notes that

critics have argued that education has become increasingly commercialized, test-oriented, and even part of an academic-military-industrial complex (Aronowitz 2001; Giroux 2007; Readings 1997). In a misguided effort to raise standards and to introduce an element of rigour and competence, education has narrowly focused on measuring outcomes and on assessment – in short, on metrics. (p. 111)

Montuori (2008), in “The Joy of Inquiry” (Journal of transformative education, 6(1), pp. 8-26), also compares two headmasters in his personal experience, one of which he credits for his conception of creative inquiry, “where education is seen as a joyful process of inquiry, where the person is engaged in a collaborative process of self-creation and self-understanding, as well as creating an understanding of the world” (p. 11; see also Kottler & Carlson, 2009, Creative breakthroughs in therapy: Tales of transformation and astonishment, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons). In contrast, and in line with the concept of reproductive education, in my substitute teaching I am seeing the exuberance of children and adolescents confined within four walls and forced to topics that seem irrelevant to their lives. As Montuori describes it, “here, the summum bonum is only to reproduce the knowledge offered by the instructor, and to become a certain kind of person who will be able to fit into a mechanized, bureaucratized society” (p. 11). One substitute teaching assignment took me to a middle school in Rohnert Park, where teachers carried walkie-talkies and student movements were strictly controlled. It was not a prison, but to me, it felt like one, and it is no wonder that if this is how we treat our children and if this is the picture they obtain of educated people, that they should grow up to be anti-intellectual.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Paulo Freire (1970/2006), in Pedagogy of the oppressed (New York: Continuum), proposed that rather than requiring people to apply to attend classes in an often remote location, that those interested in educating people should go to those people; that rather than prescribe a curriculum, that we should find out what they want to learn; and that rather than impart our knowledge (the “banking concept” of reproductive learning), that we should join them in sharing experience and learning. Freire argues that his revolutionary education avoids contradictions inherent in authoritarian education, which even with the most benevolent intentions lead traditional educators to oppress and dehumanize rather than to empower and humanize. Frieire insists that “those truly committed to liberation . . . abandon the educational goal of deposit-making,” that is, transferring information from teacher (as authority) to student (as a kind of receptacle in reproductive education), “and replace it with the posing of the problems of human beings in their relations with the world” (p. 79).

But I am far from certain that Freire’s approach can meet challenges such as world peace and global warming. I taught public speaking while I was completing my Master’s degree; I have seen first-hand the reading and writing skills of many students graduating from secondary schools in the U.S. I am deeply aware of their ignorance of current events, and I am extremely certain that our present authoritarian approach is failing, particularly with the poor and with children of color (Kozol, 1991, Savage inequalities: Children in America’s schools, New York: HarperPerennial). Finally, I see its results in the bigotry and ignorance that have gotten much louder since Barack Obama was elected president:

To some in the Tea Party, the very fact that experts believe something is sufficient to disprove it. The media’s insistence that Barack Obama was born in the United States, or that he is a Christian rather than a Muslim, merely fuels their radical skepticism. Other touchstones of the movement’s separate reality include the view that Obama has a secret plan to deprive Americans of their guns, that global warming is a leftist hoax, and that—this is Christine O’Donnell again—there’s more evidence for creationism than for evolution. (Weisberg, September 18, 2010)

To some degree, the Tea Party movement exploits a disillusionment among the working class that has watched their well-paid factory jobs move overseas as the U.S. has shifted to a post-industrial service economy offering them much lower wages. Conservatives have succeeded in harnessing this resentment to the political detriment of affirmative action and social welfare programs (Sernau, 2006, Worlds apart: Social inequalities in a global economy, 2nd Ed., Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge) but blame for the failure of displaced workers to properly attribute their woes to corporate managers (who see humans as an expense to be minimized rather than as an investment) must be laid at the door of our education system.

C. Wright Mills (1958/2005), in “The structure of power in American society” (in T. M. Shapiro, Ed., Great divides: Readings in social inequality in the United States, 3rd Ed., New York: McGraw-Hill), connected members of the political, economic, and military elites in the United States as having similar motivations, as easily exchanging elite-level jobs across hierarchies, and as directing their hierarchies towards similar ends. The education system, as one manifestation of the political hierarchy, can therefore be presumed to fulfill elite objectives rather than those that necessarily benefit students. Mills wrote of the masses that

they lose their will for decisions because they do not possess the instruments for decision; they lose their sense of political belonging because they do not belong; they lose their political will because they see no way to realize it. (p. 145)

If we value human beings for being human rather than merely as soldiers, baby machines, workers, and consumers for a capitalist system, a different educational approach is desperately needed.


Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

I recently had to write a paper that I’m not making public in full partly because it would appear without its larger, intense, and somewhat hostile context. It is enough here to say that I think that a professor is legitimately introducing a new paradigm, but failing to redefine the values he claims to uphold and the terms he continues to use whose definitions are rooted in an old paradigm, which means he is failing to make a clean break from that paradigm and that in my view this failure means his scholarship is incomplete. He did not appreciate—and in fact resented—this suggestion.

But a portion of that paper will be useful to my readers. And I am adapting it for presentation here:

I understand nearly, if not all human problems as traceable to hierarchy. The problems of environmental hierarchy stem from a vision of the earth as resources to be exploited rather than as an ecosystem in which we participate. Problems of poverty can be traced to property, which as Proudhon (1994/2007) explained in What is Property? (Cambridge University Press), privileges those who arrive first at the expense of those who come later, when given a right to life each of us has a more or less equal need of and therefore a right to resources to live. Wars represent the attempt to impose by force that which is not agreed to. That which we call crime can often be understood in much the same way as war and as problems of poverty. Problems of racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice are inherently hierarchical. Health, clean water, and food availability problems in under-served populations, whether around the world or in developed countries are often related to economic systems of exchange, which privilege parties most able to decline deals and thus widen gaps between rich and poor. That much should be obvious to anyone who bothers to consider the fundamental assumptions of society. More generally, as Noam Chomsky (1970/2005) writes in an essay entitled “Language and Freedom” (in B. Pateman, Ed., Chomsky on Anarchism, Edinburgh: AK Press.),

[Predatory capitalism] is not a fit system for the mid-twentieth century. It is incapable of meeting human needs that can be expressed only in collective terms, and its concept of competitive man who seeks only to maximize wealth and power, who subjects himself to market relationships, to exploitation and external authority, is antihuman and intolerable in the deepest sense. (p. 114)

And while T. S. Eliot (1948/1962), in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (London: Faber & Faber), justified a social stratification based on cultural achievement that people of a particular class were needed to sponsor but which all could appreciate, Chomsky (1969/2005), in his essay entitled “Objectivity and liberal scholarship” (in B. Pateman, Ed., Chomsky on Anarchism, Edinburgh: AK Press), asks “what grounds are there for supposing that those whose claim to power is based on knowledge and technique will be more benign in their exercise of power than those whose claim is based on wealth or aristocratic origin” (p. 13)? Chomsky places the burden of proof for justifying hierarchy on those in authority in an interview entitled “Anarchism, Marxism and Hope for the Future,” (in B. Pateman, Ed., Chomsky on anarchism, Edinburgh: AK Press) with Kevin Doyle (1995/2005):

I think it only makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life, and to challenge them; unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled, to increase the scope of human freedom. . . .

That is what I have always understood to be the essence of anarchism: the conviction that the burden of proof has to be placed on authority, and that it should be dismantled if that burden cannot be met. Sometimes the burden can be met. If I’m taking a walk with my grandchildren and they dart out into a busy street, I will use not only authority but also physical coercion to stop them. The act should be challenged, but I think it can readily meet the challenge. (p. 178)

What’s notable here is a vigorous standard of challenge, a challenge Cornel West (2009) clearly appreciates, writing in Brother West: Living and loving out loud (Carlsbad, CA: Smileybooks),

The rabbinical tradition of challenging text is a noble one. A vigorous back-and-forth on a high and respectful level is often illuminating. Socratic questioning—and challenging—is at the very heart of my being. (p. 189)

In many situations, an authority to coordinate or to represent could be granted by consensus, but the person in whom such authority is vested serves expressly at the will of those who consent and only for as long as they consent (Doyle, 1995/2005). But Uri Gordon (2008), in Anarchy alive! Anti-authoritarian politics from practice to theory (London: Pluto) recommends against a grand conception of what an anarchist society should look like; it should evolve according to a consensus among participants.

On entering the Transformative Studies program at California Institute of Integral Studies in 2009, I was seeking an understanding of how people might come to agree to form a society on egalitarian principles. The problem is urgent. Climate change threatens freshwater availability and increased food insecurity for billions of people (Barnett, Adam & Lettenmaier, 2005, “Potential impacts of a warming climate on water availability in snow-dominated regions,” Nature, vol. 438, pp. 303-309; Cribb, April 2007, “The coming famine,” Cosmos). The resulting mass migrations could lead to extremely dangerous conflicts, particularly if extremist evangelical Christian elements who have risen to positions of prominence in the U.S. military interpret such conflicts potentially involving mass migrations of vast numbers of people as Armageddon and are able to circumvent controls on the use of nuclear weapons (Bellovin, September 2, 2009, “Permissive Action Links”; Harwood, July 11, 2010, “Share No Dominion: The Lonely, Dangerous Fight Against Christian Supremacists Inside the Armed Forces,” Truthout; Ludwig, September 30, 2010, “‘Underground’ Group of Cadets Say Air Force Academy Controlled by Evangelicals,” Truthout; Smith, 2007, “Climate change, mass migration and the military response,” Orbis, vol. 51(4), pp. 617-633). If scientists who say humanity faces extinction within 100 years due to climate change are correct (Jones, June 16, 2010, “Frank Fenner sees no hope for humans” Australian), it seems reasonable to expect these conflicts to arise within decades. And if Riane Eisler (2007), in The real wealth of nations (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler), correctly describes how the formerly “lush green” Sahara was transformed into a desert in a cycle of deforestation and receding grasslands that led herders to war for surrounding territories, we can understand that resource depletion and scarcity supports rather than undermines hierarchy. In short, I now believe any mass acceptance of the need for an egalitarian society would arise too late to save our species. And so I am frankly seeing this area of inquiry as a dead end.