I was in Sonoma—a town east of Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County, California—yesterday afternoon and evening for a talk by Sam Keen put on by the Praxis Peace Institute. The talk itself was a disappointment; while Keen offers the insight that we are very imaginative in love and not very imaginative at all in demonizing our enemies, he is insufficiently skeptical about the official narratives on such events as the 9/11 attacks and the John F. Kennedy assassination, events where it is probably wisest to acknowledge inadequacies in the official accounts and say we may never know the truth.
But I had arrived in Sonoma well ahead of time. I was looking for something to eat, the local Whole Foods was worthless (for vegans), and on the whole, it seems that Sonoma is a rather vegan-unfriendly place. (It otherwise appears to be what Sebastopol aspires to be, with a downtown that appears historic with local (not national chain) shops, and on a scale much larger than Sebastopol.) Happy Cow suggested a moderately-priced restaurant (expensive would be more accurate) in Boyes Hot Springs, the neighboring town, supposedly a 35-minute walk away. I had the time, so I walked rather than drove, risking an allergy attack as the recommended path led me through a grassy field, and definitely feeling warmer and sweatier than I wanted to be arriving at a comparatively nice restaurant.
The vegan offerings at this restaurant were extremely limited but I was able to order something and as I waited, I tried to catch up on email. I noticed an alert from the European Space Agency about an Ariane rocket launch. I didn’t read the story, but it set me thinking.
It now appears increasingly likely that my dissertation topic will be an analysis of conservative theories and so I am giving the conservative perspective, as I understand it, a bit more thought that I would ordinarily. And of course the European Space Agency—or any space agency—is an example of a big government project. As an anarchist, this isn’t really problematic; in my utopia, people are still able to cooperate to do big things. But for capitalist libertarians who believe in the free market, this is not so easy. Perhaps this particular launch, intended to deliver a pair of telecommunication satellites into orbit, would now be justifiable in some corporate bottom line. The science that made this launch possible, however, was at some stage in the area of “basic research,” something we’re seeing a lot less of now that even universities are scrambling for corporate sponsorships.
I ate my pizza (it was delicious and, I must say, very tastefully done) and started walking back to Sonoma. I don’t walk much these days and having started on the train of thought begun by an account of a rocket launch, I started noticing how pedestrian crossings had changed since I was a kid. Nowadays, the button one pushes for a walk signal includes feedback to let you know it has been activated. The signal is accompanied by chirps and a voice announcing—for visually handicapped folks—that the walk signal is active. I was thinking of Thomas Frank’s Kansans with a simplistic view of life, that for them, the way things were when I was a kid should be good enough, and that to them, the extra money spent on crosswalks must seem extravagant. After all, how many blind people do you know?
I remembered my grandfather, who suffered from detached retinas in both eyes. The condition was curable toward the end of his life, but he was by then so bitter he refused the laser surgery that would have restored his vision. This was a man who had survived the Great Depression by running liquor and from whom it might just be that I inherit my love of long drives. When he lost his vision, he was only able to support his family (my grandmother, my mother, and my two aunts) with help from his family. He was eventually able to return to work at Jones and Laughlin Steel, one of many steel companies in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that fouled the environment and folded as manufacturing shifted overseas (now that industry is gone, Pittsburgh is a relatively clean place). He was already retired when they reduced his pension to a fraction (I think by more than half) of its former amount.
Of course, capitalist libertarians would have insisted that he, a blind man, lucky to work at all, should have saved more money for retirement. They’d have taken no notice of how his range had been reduced pretty much to Dormont, a tiny suburb. After all, in their light, he should have saved for medical expenses as well (never mind that his blindness was incurable for much of his life).
A significant portion of my route back to Sonoma followed a bike path on what I’m guessing was an old railroad right-of-way. I saw a number of people using it, including some kids—some on bicycles and some on skateboards—but also joggers and walkers. I saw someone painting over some graffiti on one of the fences that lined the path, but on the whole, it seemed a pleasant enough pathway, lined with a fair amount of greenery. Capitalist libertarians, of course, would erect toll booths on every block, charging everyone user fees. After all, for them, the market is the arbiter of all value, and if people want something, they will pay for it.
I walked a little past where my initial route had taken me, because I was trying to get to downtown Sonoma rather than from the Whole Foods and came into a park. There was a sign for a community center, which briefly puzzled me because the talk (by Sam Keen) I was attending later that evening was also supposed to be in a community center. Again, the user fees that capitalist libertarians would charge popped into my head, especially as I stopped in the restroom at that community center.
Sonoma’s City Hall lies in the center of another decently sized park, which my route took me diagonally across. The park was packed with people enjoying picnic dinners. Vendors surrounded the City Hall itself, offering food at stands in what must be some kind of arrangement with the town. Admittedly, the vendors are almost certainly paying for the privilege, but the people—a lot of families, you know, the social units that conservatives claim to be under threat and in dire need of protection—didn’t have to buy food from those vendors. They were free to use the park just as I was to walk across it. I can wonder what sort of walls capitalist libertarians would erect around it, to make sure everyone who used it would pay for admission.
As an anarchist, I’m no fan of government either. But I also dispute claims to property and view any exchange system, let alone capitalism, as inherently dominating. I understand the importance of public squares as gathering places and of a fairly broad notion of rights, including those to recreation and self-actualization. I think that property is a message to the homeless that they do not have the right to be anywhere, and therefore that they do not have a right to exist, let alone to live. I think the homeless have as much right to a home as anyone else. I recognize that having to pay is a form of coercion, that it can only be construed as freedom for the rich who control that which others must pay for. Their “freedom” comes at the expense of everyone else, and capitalist libertarians refuse to be grateful for this so-called freedom that they already have, but instead demand “more.”
And all I can think is, what a blight. What a blighted vision capitalist libertarians must have, that everyone must pay for everything at every juncture, that assumes that anyone can—with hard work and “merit” of course—recover from any misfortune, and that money could ever be an adequate representation of value.