The conundrum with cities

There’s no shortage of commentary that getting from the status quo to a more humanistic and sustainable system of social organization means radical social change and lifestyle changes. But as people face increasing deprivation, both in real terms and relative to currently utilized indexes of productivity, in the current paradigm,[1] it may be the case that they are inclined to hang on to what they have even more vociferously because the fact that our way of living constitutes a paradigm places alternatives beyond imagining. “Lifestyle change” is thus framed as more deprivation in a society that heavily emphasizes consumerism.

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  1. [1]Michael Cooper, “Lost in Recession, Toll on Underemployed and Underpaid,” New York Times, June 18, 2012,; Steven Greenhouse and David Leonhardt, “Real Wages Fail to Match a Rise in Productivity,” New York Times, August 26, 2006,; massacio, “The Death of the Liberal Bargain,” Firedoglake, August 12, 2012,; Theresa Riley, “Making the Rent on Minimum Wage,” Bill Moyers, April 2, 2012,

Explicit consent and “legitimate rape”: A binary approach to sexual assault

Todd Akin, official 109th Congress photo
Fig. 1. Todd Akin, official 109th Congress photo
It is possible to hope for three positive outcomes from the present uproar that has arisen in response to Todd Akin’s (figure 1) remarks about “legitimate rape” and his notion—apparently widely-shared among anti-abortion Republicans—that a woman’s body resists pregnancy from a “forcible” rape.[1] First, we can hope that this will contribute to a backlash against politicians who have exploited social conservatism as a means to power.[2] Already, we can see Republican politicians who have pushed further and further to the repressive right abandoning their support for Akin and pressuring him to withdraw as a nominee in a Missouri Senate race as the magnitude of public revulsion against his remarks has become apparent.[3] Clearly, even regressive politicians who have aggressively waged what some, including the New York Times editorial board, have called a “War on Women”[4] sense that Akin went too far—at least in an election year. Second, we can hope for a turning of a rising tide that seemed destined to inundate and annihilate abortion rights as increasingly conservative Justices have been appointed to the Supreme Court and as Republicans have launched a vicious assault on abortion rights in an apparent attempt to develop a test case to enable the Supreme Court to revisit its decision in Roe v. Wade.[5] Third, we can hope to re-open the discussion about consent, a discussion that most notably last arose with the Swedish accusations against Julian Assange and was lost in the appearance of duplicity on behalf of the United States that accompanies those as yet non-charges.[6]

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Thank you, Ecuador

It is not going to be very often that I express my gratitude to a government. I continue to believe that a dominator system is a wrong way to organize human affairs. But this morning, Ecuador has done a very brave thing in granting Julian Assange asylum.[1] The problem of getting Assange out of the United Kingdom to (hopefully) safety in Ecuador remains.[2] It is also appropriate to be concerned about repercussions, not only from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Sweden against Ecuador, but the possibility that Barack Obama will employ his private army, the Central Intelligence Agency, or other assets to deal with Assange extrajudicially once he has escaped Britain. Beyond that, Mark Weisbrot, writing for the Guardian‘s “Comment is Free” section, has captured my sentiments well.[3]

  1. [1]Guardian, Ecuador grants WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange political asylum,” August 16, 2012,; Kevin Gosztola, “Ecuador Endorses Julian Assange’s Fears, Grants Asylum,” Firedoglake, August 16, 2012,
  2. [2]Adam Martin, “Julian Assange’s Great Escape,” Atlantic, August 15, 2012,
  3. [3]Mark Weisbrot, “Julian Assange asylum: Ecuador is right to stand up to the US,” Guardian, August 16, 2012,

The raw face of the state

In his classic text on social inequality, Gerhard Lenski argues that while elite rule is by force, the elite will employ propaganda in an effort to establish their rule as legitimate.[1] Jürgen Habermas, however, describes an effort by rulers to place their decision-making beyond challenge by denying their subjects information and by denouncing purportedly uninformed discussion, an effort that in the case of the European bourgeois, failed.[2] These goals are paradoxical in that trust is a two-way street; for rulers to gain the trust of the people, they should themselves trust the people. But as Max Weber pointed out, “Ultimately, one can define the modern state sociologically only in terms of the specific means peculiar to it, as to every political association, namely, the use of physical force.”[3] He went on to observe “that a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”[4]

In the suddenly escalated drama of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s request for asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, it appears we are seeing the elite demand for secrecy manifest in a threat of force. According to the embassy, Britain is arguing

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  1. [1]Gerhard Lenski, Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification (New York: McGraw Hill, 1966).
  2. [2]Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1991).
  3. [3]Max Weber, “What Is Politics?” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, 4th. ed., ed. Charles Lemert (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 114.
  4. [4]Weber, “What is Politics?” 115.

Reverse Robin Hood economists

Romney Hood and his Merry Band
Fig. 1. Romney Hood and his Merry Band (Juan Cole)
I wish those who call themselves capital-L “Libertarians,” referring to a hyper-capitalist economic view, and “anarcho-capitalists” would go away. I really do. But they’re like houseflies; you might get rid of them for a while, but they’re never permanently out of your life. Earlier this month, I was engaged in a conversation on Friendica[1] which precipitated my posting here entitled, “Why I’m an anarchist.”[2] In that posting, I quoted at length from an early draft of my dissertation proposal, in which with the assistance of Max Weber and Jürgen Habermas, I describe a faction of conservatism I call capitalist libertarian,[3] of which so-called “anarcho-capitalism” forms a subset.

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  1. [1]The Artist formerly known as JP, OK I like it., “It’s Hip! It’s Cool! It’s #Libertarianism!” Friendica, n.d.,
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Why I’m an anarchist,”, August 2, 2012,
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Research Proposal: Deconstructing Conservatism,”, April 20, 2012,

Cold water on a Mars landing: The persistence of an unsustainable pattern

When I learned how complex the landing of Curiosity, the latest Mars rover, would be,[1] my own curiosity was piqued and my skepticism was aroused, and not so very much unlike when I was a small boy, enthralled with the moon landings, I watched as the landing seemingly went flawlessly,[2] and was relieved and amazed as the the mission control room at the Jet Propulsion Lab erupted in celebration.

But in the intervening years since that amazing moon landing with incomparably less sophisticated technology, I’ve also learned to be somewhat more circumspect about the space program. Yes, I worry about human needs here on earth, but the budget I would cut to fulfill those needs would not be NASA’s but rather the military’s. I’m more concerned about the continuation of a colonial ethic, that presumes new territory is terra nullius, that here on earth, discounted indigenous people, committed genocide against them, left those who remained as refugees on reservations on the margins of society, and continues to devalue their cultures. If this argument seems strained, recall that just as we arrive on Mars, assuming no intelligent life is to be found, so European colonizers arrived almost everywhere else on the planet. The difference is that where explorers and settlers encountered indigenous people, regarded them as subhuman, as suitable to be enslaved, and as an obstacle to be shoved aside, we have yet to encounter Martians—indeed, we have yet to find life at all and are looking for signs that life could ever have existed.

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  1. [1]National Aeronautics and Space Administration, The Challenges of Getting to Mars: Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror – June 22, 2012, QuickTime video, 5:07,
  2. [2]Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “NASA Lands Car-Size Rover Beside Martian Mountain,” National Aeronautics and Space Administration, August 6, 2012,

Why I’m an anarchist

I'll Keep My Freedom, My Guns and My Money. You Keep The Change!
Fig. 1: Bumper sticker: I’ll Keep My Freedom, My Guns and My Money. You Keep The Change!
The truth is, I’ve seen this bumper sticker before (figure 1). But I’m just as truly losing my patience with it. The Amazon seller who offers it warrants that it is “guaranteed to piss of [sic] a liberal.”[1]

I don’t consider myself a liberal. But I am an anarchist and I’ve also had my fill of capitalists who call themselves “capitalist libertarians.” I explained the mentality in an early draft (I’m still at that stage) of my dissertation proposal, quoted here at length:

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  1. [1]Sticker Hog, “I’ll Keep My Freedom, My Guns and My Money. You Keep The Change!”, n.d.,