27 July 2009

Mistakes of State

Discussions of Human Rights frequently assume that the securing or providing of those rights is the responsibility of an authoritarian “other”, a State. Stepping over this implicit claim fails to explain why a State is right for this job and effectively externalizes respect and responsibility for human rights. This leads us to further reliance on external authority and distances individuals from their own capacity for responsibility and respect.
The inference that governments or external authorities should ultimately be responsible for securing human rights is mistaken in two ways. The first of these assumes that governments are the entities best suited to secure human rights. I will show that this is not the case and States are in fact very poorly suited to secure rights. Secondly this assumption is mistaken because it suggests that human rights, and perhaps even rights in general, are things that do not exist outside the sphere of governmental or authority recognition. In short, that without government, people do not have rights at all. I will show that individuals and social groups independently possess rights which governments often abrogate.

In Security and Subsistence, Henry Shue makes the assertion that security and subsistence rights are basic rights in that they are the sine qua non of all other rights. Without basic rights one is inherently unable to enjoy other rights. Many discussions of rights like those of Joel Feinberg and Shue place emphasis on the assertion that in order to hold a right, a person has to be able to make a claim to something which is to be enjoyed as the substance of the right. Shue says “a moral right provides the rational basis for a justified demand that the actual enjoyment of a substance be socially guaranteed.”
The key term here is social for it is generally held that human beings are inherently social creatures. Shue builds Feinberg’s statement that rights infer a claim to dignity, claims which Feinberg says confer upon a person respect in their own eyes and those of others . Respect and dignity are not given by authority, but often mark the line beyond which external authority cannot pass, or where it is forced to recognize its own limitations. This suggests that to a large extent claims to dignity and respect require an affirmative response external to the claimant. As Shue says “someone somewhere [must] make some effective arrangements” to secure the substance of rights. Much public and academic discourse on the subject takes place with the implicit assumption that the someone is, and should be some form of government, but this is a simple mistake.

If basic rights are the cornerstone of other rights and providing these rights requires social affirmation, what should constitute the affirming “other”? Governments, it is thought are more effective at this task because in a complex society they can bring great amounts of resources to bear on a problem and are hence better suited than individuals with limited resources. This assumes that in the absence of an authority, individuals would necessarily be at odds, and it is hence the role of authority to prevent such conflicts of interest and that they function on the people’s behalf in spite of the people. Similarly it is assumed that without direction, people would simply not feel compelled to secure their rights or respect those of others. But these assumptions have already defeated their own raison d’etre, for in deriving its existence from the society, authority is merely a reflection of what already constitutes its parts.
Furthermore, in maintaining and upholding standards derived from its constituency, a government is necessarily in a condition of perpetual catch-up or even resistance to the development of rights concepts as it struggles to maintain the status quo against the forces of social evolution. Familiar authoritative legal systems typically fail even Shue’s limited definition in that protections of rights are overwhelmingly punitive rather than preventive or provisional. Crimes committed in violation of basic rights, (e.g.murder for example) are not prosecuted until the violation has been committed. Additionally, removing autonomy from citizens and centralizing political, and economic forces introduces a screen of bureaucratic opacity between individual members of a society reducing their capacity for self-sufficiency and mutual aid. Hence a centralized authority that is distant (as it must necessarily be) from its constituency and whose apparatus composes only a fraction of the population is unable to effectively cope with the securing of basic rights.
This leads us to the conclusion that it is not a right’s protected legal status that coerces citizens into respecting it. Rather as Thomas Pogge suggests a citizenry are ultimately responsible, and in fact more reliable for securing the substance of their rights as governments frequently change personnel or are too physically and temporally distant or concerned with power maintenance to be effective.

The forgoing assumptions also suggest that people on their own cannot secure the substance of their rights. This idea is also taken as a given but rarely discussed in conversations about basic human rights.
We have seen that humans are social creatures and that rights do require an external affirmation of some kind. Simply because a State performs some necessary social function does not mean that such functions will not be performed in the absence of government authority . Some philosophers like Peter Kropotkin have pointed out that in the centralized authority systems we know in the modern world, the vast complexity of human endeavor and interdependence takes place outside of government jurisdiction in “freely constituted societies” and relationships. This suggests that individuals largely free of authority can and do voluntarily affirm each others rights without being compelled by authority to do so. Like Feinberg’s traffic intersection where motorists are compelled to stop not by an authoritative externality, but by a responsibility to their fellow motorists . This reinforces the assertion that a government is perpetually playing catch-up with its constituency, “to sanction everything that gets done without it, and indeed despite it.” Indeed, as Peter Kropotkin has suggested the daily life of people is conducted with little if any regard for a government that in any case merely approves of what has already taken place. This is evidenced throughout history in the actions of neighborhood associations grouping together for mutual assistance in times of need. We can see it in the Abolitionist, Civil Rights and independence movements. Pogge is correct when he suggests that rights are the substance of the moral actions of a people and not the legal actions of their governments.

The dual assumptions that governments are best for securing rights because people are unable to do so are incorrect and this points us toward a new understanding of the sources of basic human rights. Albert Meltzer asserts that the presence of unnecessary State apparatus atrophies the public will to take an interest in providing for their own rights. A loss of such public self-motivation over a long period of time might lead us to assume that it never existed and lend false reassurance to the claim that States are necessary to the provision of basic human rights. By definition the term atrophy tells us that this assumption is not true, and lends credence to the claim that “a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.”
Within the current global predominance of the nation-state and various forms of State capitalism, it is unreasonable to claim that governments should not currently play any part in securing human rights. However this is a consequence of the incorrect assumptions I have described, and it is thus perfectly reasonable to claim that decentralizing authority and reinvigorating public participation will greatly further our realization of a robust and universal conception of human rights

26 July 2009

Local Food Resources

The Equal Exchange coffee shop in the grocery store where I work is affiliated with an organization called Grassroots International that seeks to build sustainable food sovereignty throughout the world. They have a free downloadable course packet for developing ideas of how to build food sovereignty. The Food For Thought And Action website also has links to some other interesting websites devoted to the issue of food justice. Check these out, they are good:
Local Harvest
Food Routes

A new Seattle project brought to my attention by Regis is called City Fruit seeks to catalogue all the fruit trees on public and private land within the Seattle-metro area so that they can be better cared for and the food they provide can be used and distributed more effectively. This is an awesome project, one that would be relatively easy1 to start in any city. It's just more proof that local agriculture can and should provide subsistence to the local community. Check out their website learn about it and volunteer.

23 July 2009

And Then You Spontaneously Accrete a Coherent Thesis

In discussions of Human Rights it is frequently implicit in the language that the securing or providing of those rights is the responsibility of an “other”. Usually this other is an authoritarian “they”, an entity external to the speaker, and in most cases a government or other cultural hierarchical system.

My claim however is that this inference, that governments or external authorities should ultimately be responsible for securing human rights, is mistaken in two ways. The first of these assumes that governments are the bodies or entities best suited to secure human rights. I will show that they are in fact quite the opposite, the worst entities to do so. The second way in which this assumption is mistaken is that it suggests that human rights, and perhaps even rights in general, are things that do not exist outside the sphere of governmental or authority recognition. In short, that without government, people do not have rights at all. I will show that this is also untrue, that individuals and social groups independently possess rights which governments often abrogate.

I do believe that within the current global predominance of the nation-state and various forms of state capitalism, it is unreasonable to claim that governments do not play an integral part in securing human rights. However, I believe this is a condition of the foregoing assumptions. I think it is perfectly reasonable to claim that over time, removing the concept of external guarantees to the enforcement of human rights is something that we can and should strive for, and which will greatly further our realization of a robust and universal conception of human rights.


It's pitiful that at the times you most feel lonely and stupid and unattractive you most want attention.
When you want to be shown some affection, you "realize" that to desire such is futile and decide its better just to be left the fuck alone.

Being a social creature is so much more complex than just being around other people and dealing with them. It requires dealing with yourself and your own reactions to other people, and your reactions to other peoples reactions to you. That's kindof what makes it seem futile.

19 July 2009


You cant tell from this picture but I am grumpy today.

17 July 2009

Jungle Irony

Yesterday being the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing I was reminded of the memoirs of several Vietnam War veterans who recalled being in country and getting variously shot at and humping the bush and hearing the news of the landing on the radio.
What the fuck are we doing out here when we're up there?

15 July 2009

Ticket Resistance

too much detail, and it doesn't tell us how the other passengers are also involved in berating the ticket guy. By the way, it's not a pair of pliers, its a hole punch like some systems use on trains, for example the EU train system, and in India. Most Americans won't be familiar with this because we don't ride trains and on most busses you have to show your fare to the driver. Not so in Germany where the story this illustration accompanies was written.

This last one above is what I went with even though I'm not satisfied, it appears in today's issue of Real Change. Just because I post the "artwork" here doesn't mean you shouldn't find a vendor and buy one.

11 July 2009

A Refutation of Commercial Agriculture

It might, and has been argued that commercial agriculture is far more beneficial to modern society because it can produce vastly larger amounts of product in a shorter time and smaller space than organic or horticultural methods. Superficially this is true if you consider only the volume of product as it is harvested. But, my contention is that factory farming is at its root a massive waste of resources, both renewable (the food itself) and non-renewable (transportation, refrigeration, cultivation, presentation) and is detrimental to social welfare.

First consider the requirements of producing such large volumes of plants, the chemical/petroleum fertilizers and herbicides and pesticides, these are primarily what make commercial farms so productive. Next we must consider the amount of fuel and refrigeration required to transport the product from the factory-farm to the store. In the case of national retailers such as Kroger (a.k.a. Fred Meyer, QFC, Smiths) these are shipped to central warehouses before being shipped to the outlets. That's why your tomatoes are picked green and taste like nothing when you eat them weeks later.

Secondly, most, if not all of the surplus generated by commercial factory farms is squandered in the packing shipping and handling process when the product must be shipped farther and handled more. Finally much of the surplus that is wasted is thrown away because it does not meet visual standards. Cases upon cases of fruit and vegetables are thrown away because they are bruised or damaged. Most of the time this doesn't affect their edibility, simply the appearance, and if it doesn't look pretty and perfect it won't sell. Simply, it encourages us to prefer attractive foods over nutritious and delicious foods.

Hence, considering the total volume of factors that go into commercial production of plant-food, it should be obvious that the program is a total waste on multiple levels and a detriment to human and animal life in general. I suggest that local de-commercialized produce farming is crucial to sustainable agriculture, and that we as consumers need to familiarize ourselves with realistic fruits and the most basic methods of production.
Understanding the centralization of production, particularly with food, compounds inefficiency and it will benefit all of us financially and nutritionally to focus on local production, and especially consumption.
Think local, eat local.

06 July 2009

The Power and The Glory

Dude has mastered the ancient art of awesome, he is fucking METAL.

Urban Agriculture

I started thinking about food issues a couple of years ago when I learned about the concept of "food miles" and "real cost". Basically this means that the actual cost of a food item would be pretty exorbitant if you included the realistic cost of: petroleum based chemical fertilizers and chemical petroleum based pesticides and food waxes (which have to be packaged and shipped from the point of manufacture), transportation of the produce or product from the field or factory to the store, cooling systems to keep the food fresh if it's perishable both in shipping and display in the store, packaging (which also has to be shipped to the processing plant). And considering that, at least in the case of produce sold in the US, much of it is grown in Mexico or elsewhere south of the border and the field workers probably aren't getting paid a living wage (or provided with healthcare etc.) all of this even without calculation, just looking at the list, looks like a mindboggling amount. But bananas, which overwhelmingly come from the Caribbean or Central America are only what, 1.50 a pound?

One of the things that makes me think about this so much is the incredible waste of space that is lawns (and their evil engorged brethren the golf-course) could be far better used to grow food for local consumption. In many cases (particularly with the golf courses) greens-keepers/yard maintenance people are already employed, it would be a minor shift to convert to food production. Now a further point might be that we do have the technology to create largescale sustainable greenhouses that could at least to some extent provide such exotic items as listed above, though in a far smaller volume than we currently enjoy.
This will also require a far greater commitment to composting/food-waste recycling in order to maintain the productivity of public horticulture.

I have written before on how this could also be useful and productive in rehabilitating criminals (though that can of worms also requires further exploration) and returning them to society in an empowering and ultimately beneficial way, not to mention it would reduce the social cost of their incarceration.

Yes, this does mean that we should give up some of the more delicious perishables that are imported from far outside our locale; oranges, avocados, durian (just kidding), but my suspicion is that if we were willing to invest in it rather that taking the (temporarily) easy way and continuing business as usual, we would be ridiculously successful.

Here in Seattle, a lot of these things are in place, mostly a local social interest, and a metropolitan composting program as well as what is known as the P-Patch system. This latter however is ridiculously inadequate, one of my roommates has been on a waiting list for a plot for 3 years. I lived near one for 2 years and during that time I witnessed a portion of the "crop" simply rotting on the vine, unharvested.
A much better solution is simply guerilla appropriation of the sort where residents of an inner city, or anywhere for that matter, take over a piece of derelict land or an apartment rooftop and start a neighborhood garden. This is not a new idea, just try Google searching "urban agriculture", or urban horticulture, or urban farming. Finally, consider working at your boring/shitty/degrading/mindless or even interesting but ultimately monotonous job one or even two days less a week. Calculate the amount of money you spent on the food you actually consumed in one week, and how many paid hours of work that represents. Now consider spending half of that time in a garden and not at "work".
People are doing it in Havana, London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Baltimore, Taiwan, Chicago, Olympia etc. etc.

One Seattle area agricultural cooperative is called Seattle Market Gardens, and I've noticed a hell of a lot of backyard food-gardens popping up just in my neighborhood of Ballard, not the least of which is the one I share with my roommates.

There was a good article in the June '09 issue of but the online version is broken. In any case it was about Detroit's Wayne State University and their SEED project which is quite interesting and worth checking out.
Also, a recent New York Times article on the subject talks about "urban farming", as does this one, and also this related article about Milwaukee's urban farming genius Will Allen, the last line of which is absolutely fucking priceless and captures the whole goddamned essence of this concept.

City Farmer News
Sprouts In the Sidewalk
Sustainable South Sound

03 July 2009

Old World, New World

I have a small conflict inside.
I had a really great time in Germany 2 years ago, and a really great time in Yucatan 1 year ago.
But I had a great time in each for totally different reasons, and reasons for both which are totally ethereal.
Both are impossible to describe in standard vocabulary.
Germany knows that it's (culture is) old, and isn't afraid to show it, in fact is proud of it. You can go to a spot in Berlin, I'm thinking Alexanderplatz, and if you're a history nerd you can feel all the people walking past you all at once.
In Mexico the culture is just as old but they take it for granted, or maybe, don't really care. They aren't worried about showing it off (in most cases).
The irony is that Germany shows off it's history while being incredibly modern, while Mexico is just fucking practical.
The sad thing is, I liked Germany a lot, but (I'm ashamed to say) it's just a more gutteral version of what I know well. Is this because I am white and descended from Germans, We have a common cultural simian ancestor?
(I don't think colonialism has any positive aspects, but it lays bare the favorable comparison)
Mexico is a whole different story.
Welcome to the New World white boy.

01 July 2009

Thoughts On This Stupid Philosophy Business and Being An Adult

I'm having a hard time getting through all the ideas presented in this class. Not that they are absurdly difficult beyond the normal scope of philosophical concepts, but that we seem to be trying to outpace the concepts without first concentrating on fully demystifying the concepts themselves.
Put simply:
We're hypothesizing on top of the ideas without first fully dissecting the ideas themselves.
The thing about philosophy that I think many people (and one in particular) find frustrating is that it doesn't deal in concrete ideas, in fact it often intentionally avoids real problems in favor of the theoretical.
This is the difference between descriptive analysis and normative analysis.
The difference between the way it is in physical reality, and the way it ought, or should, or might be in an idea reality. (I intentionally said "idea" instead of "ideal")
Put simply again; philosophy doesn't offer direct answers or solutions to problems, it suggests broad ways of finding potential answers. It is ideas for seeing things; different lenses to put in your "reality glasses".
That's incredibly frustrating. I quite literally clutch at my hair and get tooth-grindingly teary eyed trying to parse these bizarre abstractions in the context of real world problems. An abstraction of possible conceptions and definitions of human-rights while people in this very city suffer from destitution and poverty.

And I feel like an idiot, or maybe more precisely a dunce when people in class bring up "actual world" what if's, "well, Shue claims that human rights is this, but what happens when...", and I'm still trying to really figure out what the fuck Shue is really trying to say. I mean, it's not that obvious is it? Fuck you home-school jackass who say's "you just have to keep up with the reading", I read Shue before this quarter, I've read this piece three times since class started and you don't even have the book yet!
The problem is not me, it's everyone else!

Okay, that's out and I can move on.
But seriously, I can't possibly be that dense that the nasty hoop-earring tanning-bed girl has a better grasp of this than I do?
At the moment I feel like I'm frustrated because I see a couple of people who are a bit younger than me (6, 8 years) behaving in the same way that I probably behaved at that age, and thinking and acting like they're really smart (and they are!), but by arguing the details and trying to make their point, they're just confounding the broader points of the issue.

I know that I'm not stupid, but it feels like I'm struggling with the depth of these concepts. The highly vocal argumentation of these few others has a twofold effect on my reaction, it (1) makes me feel dumber because I don't have anything to say in class as they buzz around these issues, and (2) results in me having to try and parse the core idea itself on my own anyway.
I can do that, I've been doing it my whole life to some extent; trying to understand my own ideas and other peoples ideas. But I'm tired of doing it by myself. It's like solitary confinement in here, I literally feel absolutely alone in my head.