Tag: capitalism

Self-described activist creator of Cell 411 app weirdly refuses to discuss its closed source tech because of anti-racist Twitter handle of the person asking

About a week ago I published a post cautiously praising the work of Boulder, Colorado based SafeArx, the company behind a smartphone app called Cell 411 claiming to cut down on the need for police:

Let me be clear that I love the idea of a decentralized emergency alerting response platform. I think it’s incredibly important for such a tool to exist. […] I want to see a project with Cell 411’s claims succeed and be a part of abolishing the police and the State altogether. I think there’s real potential there to make headway on an important social good (abolishing the police, dismantling the prison industrial complex, among other social goods) and I want to offer whatever supportive resources I can to further a project with these goals.

In the post, I raised some basic questions about Cell 411 that seemed to have gone unasked by reporters covering it. Chief among them is that the app claims to be a de-centralized alternative to 9-1-1, except that it’s not decentralized at all. I described this discrepancy as follows:

On the Google Play store, Cell 411 describes itself like this:

Cell 411 is a De-centralized, micro-social platform that allows users to issue emergency alerts, and respond to alerts issued by their friends.

The problem is in the very first adjective: de-centralized. To a technologist, “decentralization” is the characteristic of having no single endpoint with which a given user must communicate in order to make use of the service. Think trackerless BitTorrent, BitCoin, Tor, or Diaspora. These are all examples of “decentralized” networks or services because if any given computer running the software goes down, the network stays up. One of the characteristics inherent in decentralized networks is an inability of the network or service creator from unilaterally barring access to the network by a given end-user. In other words, there is no one who can “ban” your account from using BitTorrent. That’s not how “piracy” works, duh.

Unfortunately, many of the people I’ve spoken to about Cell 411 seem to believe that “decentralized” simply means “many users in geographically diverse locations.” But this is obviously ignorant. If that were what decentralized meant, then Facebook and Twitter and Google could all be meaningfully described as “decentralized services.” That’s clearly ridiculous. This image shows the difference between centralization and decentralization:

The difference between centralization and decentralization.

As you can see, what matters is not where the end users are located, but that there is more than one hub for a given end user to connect to in order to access the rest of the network.

Armed with that knowledge, have a look at the very first clause of Cell 411’s Terms of Service legalese, which reads, and I quote:

1. We may terminate or suspend your account immediately, without prior notice or liability, for any reason whatsoever, including without limitation if you breach the Terms.

This is immediately suspect. If they are able to actually enforce such a claim, then it is a claim that directly contradicts a claim made by their own description. In a truly decentralized network or service, the ability for the network creator to unilaterlly “terminate or suspend your account immediately, without prior notice or liability” is not technically possible. If Cell 411 truly is decentralized, this is an unenforceable clause, and they know it. On the other hand, if Cell 411 is centralized (and this clause is enforceable), other, more troubling concerns immediately come to mind. Why should activists trade one centralized emergency dispatch tool run by the government (namely, 9-1-1), for another centralized one run by a company? Isn’t this just replacing one monopoly with another? And why bill a centralized service as a decentralized one in the first place?

Despite this, I was hopeful that Cell 411’s creator, Virgil Vaduva, and his team would be willing to at least address the point, perhaps by discussing their development roadmap. Maybe it’s not decentralized yet, but they intend to decentralize it later on? That would be awesome, and important. Moreover, I asked if they would be interested in combining efforts with me or others with whom I’ve worked, since we’ve been developing an actually decentralized, free software tool with the same goal in mind called Buoy for a few months now. I said as much in my earlier post:

I want to see Cell 411 and Buoy both get better. Buoy could become better if it had Cell 411’s mobile app features. Cell 411 could become better if its server could be run by anyone with a WordPress blog, like Buoy can be.

I sent Virgil Vaduva an email last week, and tweeted at him before writing my post. (My previous post includes a copy of the email I sent him.) I was ignored. So I started tweeting at others who were tweeting about Cell 411, linking them to my questions. It seems that’s what got Mr. Vaduva’s attention, since today I finally got a response from him. And that response is extremely concerning for Cell 411’s supposed target audience: activists. Here’s how Mr. Vaduva “answered” my technical questions:

I’m not entirely sure why technical questions like these were answered by a hyper-focus on the militantly anti-racist Twitter handle I happen to be using right now (it’s actually “Kill White Amerikkka”), unless of course if Vaduva is having some kind of trigger reaction caused by (evidently not-so-latent) internalized white supremacy. Later, he called my original post, which, again, included outright praise for Cell 411 a “shitty hit piece.” I even offered to change my Twitter handle (as if that has any bearing at all on the technical matters?) for the duration of a discussion with him, but again, the only replies were, well, have a look:

The full thread is…well, classic Twitter.

I don’t know about you, but the idea of installing a closed-source app that reports my location to a centralized database controlled by a company whose founder actively deflects legitimate technical questions by objecting to a militantly anti-racist Twitter handle and making immature pro-capitalist statements when asked technical questions doesn’t sit well with me. But even if that were something I could tolerate, it raises even more concerning questions when that very same app is one touted as being built for anti-police brutality activists.

Last week, I would have told my friends, “Go ahead and try Cell 411, but be careful.” With this new information, my advice is: “Don’t trust anything created by SafeArx, including Cell 411, until and unless the technical issues are addressed, the source is released as free software, and its creators make clear that anti-racism and anti-capitalism is a core intention of their development process.”

In my personal opinion, tools like Cell 411 that purport to be “made for activists, by activists” need to be comfortable materially advancing the destruction of whiteness and white identity, as well as standing in solidarity with militant resistance to white supremacy. But even putting aside concerns over Vaduva’s discomfort with anti-racist Twitter handles, any technologist worth his salt who wants his closed-source technology to be trusted should be able to answer some basic questions about it if he’s indeed unwilling to release the source code itself.

Mr. Vaduva and Cell 411 fall short on both counts. The sad thing is that any potentially latent racism in Cell 411’s creator wouldn’t be a technical concern if Cell 411 itself were actually decentralized free software, since the intentions or social beliefs of an app’s creator can’t change how the already-written code works. As I said in the conclusion to my previous post:

It’s obvious, at least to anyone who understands that the purpose of cops is to protect and uphold white supremacy and oppress the working class, why cops would hate a free decentralized emergency response service. Again, I want to use such an app so badly that I began building one myself.

But if Cell 411 is centralized, then it becomes a much more useful tool for law enforcement than it does for a private individual, for exactly the same reason as Facebook presents a much more useful tool for the NSA than it does for your local reading group, despite offering benefits to both.

Cartoon of a protester ineffectually trying to shoot corrupt government officials with a 'Facebook' logo positioned as a gun.


As long as Cell 411 remains a proprietary, closed-source, centralized tool, all the hype about it being a decentralized app that cops hate will remain hype. And there are few things agents of the State like more than activists who are unable to see the reality of a situation for what it is.

Admiral Ackbar: Proprietary and centralized software-as-a-service? It's a trap!

If you think having a free software, anarchist infrastructural alternative to the police and other State-sponsored emergency services is important and want to see it happen, we need your help making Buoy better. You can find instructions for hacking on Buoy on our wiki.

Cell 411, the “de-centralized” smartphone app that “cops hate” is neither de-centralized nor hated by cops

If you’re following anti-police brutality activists, you might have heard about a new smartphone app that aims to cut down on the need for police. Cell 411 is touted as “the decentralized emergency alerting and response platform” that “cops don’t want you to use.” There’s only one problem: its central marketing claims aren’t true. Cell 411 is not decentralized, and there’s no evidence that cops don’t want you to use it.

Let me be clear that I love the idea of a decentralized emergency alerting response platform. I think it’s incredibly important for such a tool to exist. I’m so committed to that belief that I’ve been building a free software implementation of just such a tool, called Buoy, for a few months now.

Further, I believe it’s equally important that the developers of a tool like this actively eschew the State-sponsored terrorist gangs known as law enforcement, because that mindset will inform the tool’s development process itself. On the face of it and from the research I’ve done to look into Cell 411’s developers, I think there is a lot of welcome overlap between them and myself. Indeed, I’m grateful to them for developing Cell 411 and for dropping their price for it, offering it free-of-charge on the Android and iOS app stores, which is how it should be. Nobody should be charged any money for the opportunity to access tools for self- and community protection; that’s what cops do!

I’ve even reached out both publicly and privately to the developers of Cell 411 through email and Twitter to ask them about a possible collaboration, pointing them at the source code for the Buoy project I’m working on and asking where their source can be found.1 I want to see a project with Cell 411’s claims succeed and be a part of abolishing the police and the State altogether. I think there’s real potential there to make headway on an important social good (abolishing the police, dismantling the prison industrial complex, among other social goods) and I want to offer whatever supportive resources I can to further a project with these goals.

But I am concerned that Cell 411 is not that project. The fact is there are glaring, unexplained inconsistencies between their marketing material, the perception that they encourage the public to have about their tool, and their tool’s legal disclaimers. Such inconsistency is, well, sketchy. But it’s not unfamiliar, because this exact kind of inconsistency is something activists have seen from corporations and even well-meaning individuals before. We should be able to recognize it no matter the flag, no matter how pretty the packaging in which the message is delivered is wrapped in.

On the Google Play store, Cell 411 describes itself like this:

Cell 411 is a De-centralized, micro-social platform that allows users to issue emergency alerts, and respond to alerts issued by their friends.

The problem is in the very first adjective: de-centralized. To a technologist, “decentralization” is the characteristic of having no single endpoint with which a given user must communicate in order to make use of the service. Think trackerless BitTorrent, BitCoin, Tor, or Diaspora. These are all examples of “decentralized” networks or services because if any given computer running the software goes down, the network stays up. One of the characteristics inherent in decentralized networks is an inability of the network or service creator from unilaterally barring access to the network by a given end-user. In other words, there is no one who can “ban” your account from using BitTorrent. That’s not how “piracy” works, duh.

Unfortunately, many of the people I’ve spoken to about Cell 411 seem to believe that “decentralized” simply means “many users in geographically diverse locations.” But this is obviously ignorant. If that were what decentralized meant, then Facebook and Twitter and Google could all be meaningfully described as “decentralized services.” That’s clearly ridiculous. This image shows the difference between centralization and decentralization:

The difference between centralization and decentralization.

As you can see, what matters is not where the end users are located, but that there is more than one hub for a given end user to connect to in order to access the rest of the network.

Armed with that knowledge, have a look at the very first clause of Cell 411’s Terms of Service legalese, which reads, and I quote:

1. We may terminate or suspend your account immediately, without prior notice or liability, for any reason whatsoever, including without limitation if you breach the Terms.

This is immediately suspect. If they are able to actually enforce such a claim, then it is a claim that directly contradicts a claim made by their own description. In a truly decentralized network or service, the ability for the network creator to unilaterlly “terminate or suspend your account immediately, without prior notice or liability” is not technically possible. If Cell 411 truly is decentralized, this is an unenforceable clause, and they know it. On the other hand, if Cell 411 is centralized (and this clause is enforceable), other, more troubling concerns immediately come to mind. Why should activists trade one centralized emergency dispatch tool run by the government (namely, 9-1-1), for another centralized one run by a company? Isn’t this just replacing one monopoly with another? And why bill a centralized service as a decentralized one in the first place?

Virgil Vaduva, Cell 411’s creator, told me on Twitter that the app is not open source but hinted that it might be in the future:

This leaves me with even more questions, which I asked, but received no answer to as yet. (See the Twitter thread linked above.)

Cell 411’s proprietary source code is licensed under an unusual license called the BipCot NoGov license, written by a libertarian group with whom I share distrust and hatred of the United States government. Where we differ, apparently, can be summed up by this Andy Singer quote:

Libertarianism is just Anarchy for rich people.

And that concerns me greatly. Cell 411 originally cost 99¢ per app install on both the Google Play and iTunes app stores. It’s now free, which, again, is a move in the right direction. But by refusing to release the source code, SafeArx holds its users hostage in more ways than one. There are already rumors that the company is intending to monetize the app in the future, perhaps by charging for app downloads or perhaps in some other way in the future. That is fucked. The people who need an alternative to the police most of all are not people with money. That’s why all of Buoy’s code was available as free software from the very beginning; so those people could access the tool. And beyond that, it’s the very people who need an alternative to the prison industrial complex most who are also most in need of safety from capitalism’s exploitative “monetization.”

I hope Virgil chooses to make Cell 411 free software too—i.e., not just free as in no-charge but software libre as in freedom and liberty. A closed-source tool is downright dangerous for activists to rely on, especially for an app that is supposed to be all about communal safety. This has never been more obvious than in the post-Snowden age. If you share our goal of abolishing the State and ending the practice of caging human beings, and you want to dialogue, please do what you can to convince the people running SafeArx and Cell 411 of the obvious strategic superiority of non-cooperation with capitalism.

Which brings me to my next major concern: there is no evidence that cops hate Cell 411, despite the headlines. It’s obvious, at least to anyone who understands that the purpose of cops is to protect and uphold white supremacy and oppress the working class, why cops would hate a free decentralized emergency response service. Again, I want to use such an app so badly that I began building one myself.

But if Cell 411 is centralized, then it becomes a much more useful tool for law enforcement than it does for a private individual, for exactly the same reason as Facebook presents a much more useful tool for the NSA than it does for your local reading group, despite offering benefits to both.

Cartoon of a protester ineffectually trying to shoot corrupt government officials with a 'Facebook' logo positioned as a gun.

I am not saying that Cell 411 is a bad tool. Far from it. My belief is that it is a good tool for individuals and my hope is that it will become a better tool over time. But if Cell 411 is to go from “good” to “great,” then it must actually be decentralized. It must be released freely to the people as free software/software libre. Private individuals who are working to create social infrastructure as an alternative to police must be able to access its source code to integrate it with other tools, to hack on it and make it more secure. This is the free software way, and it is the only feasible anti-capitalist approach. And the only strategically sound way to abolish police is to abolish capitalism, since police are by definition capitalism’s thugs.

It is the explicit intent of police and the State to prevent private individuals from taking their own protection into their own hands, from making their own lives better with their own tools in their own way, by not allowing access to the source of those tools. We, Cell 411 included, should not be emulating that behavior.

I want to be able to run my own Cell 411 server without asking for permission from SafeArx to do so. If Cell 411 were decentralized free software, I would be able to do this today, just as I can publish my own WordPress blog, install my own Diaspora pod, or run my own Tor relay without asking anyone for permission before I do it. This is what I can already do with Buoy, the community-based emergency response system that is already decentralized free software, licensed GPL-3 and available for download and install today from the WordPress plugin repository.

As a developer, I want to see Cell 411 and Buoy both get better. Buoy could become better if it had Cell 411’s mobile app features. Cell 411 could become better if its server could be run by anyone with a WordPress blog, like Buoy can be.

But as long as Cell 411 remains a proprietary, closed-source, centralized tool, all the hype about it being a decentralized app that cops hate will remain hype. And there are few things agents of the State like more than activists who are unable to see the reality of a situation for what it is.

Admiral Ackbar: Proprietary and centralized software-as-a-service? It's a trap!

If you think having a free software, anarchist infrastructural alternative to the police and other State-sponsored emergency services is important and want to see it happen, we need your help making Buoy better. You can find instructions for hacking on Buoy on our wiki.

  1. Here’s the email I sent to Virgil Vaduva, Cell 411’s creator and SafeArx’s founder (the company behind the app):

    From: maymay <bitetheappleback@gmail.com>
    Date: Sat, 27 Feb 2016 20:03:38 -0700

    Hi Virgil,

    My name is maymay. I learned about Cell 411 recently and I’m excited to see its development. It is similar to a web-based project of my own. I am wondering where the source code for the Cell 411 app can be found. I could not find any links to a source code repository from any of the marketing materials that I saw on your website.

    Our own very similar project is called Buoy. The difference is that Buoy is intended for community leaders and intends to be a fully free software “community-based crisis response system,” with the same anti-cop ideology as Cell 411 but built as a plugin for WordPress in order to make it super easy for anyone to host their own community’s 9-1-1 equivalent.

    Our source code is here:


    We have focused on the web-app side of things because that’s where our experience lies, but were hoping to create a native mobile app later on. It seems you already made one. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we’re hoping to integrate what you’ve done with Cell 411 with what we’ve already developed in order to facilitate a more decentralized, truly citizen-powered infrastructure alternative to 9-1-1.

    So that’s why we’re interested in looking at Cell 411’s source code.

    Thanks for your work on this so far.



What tools should we be building to end capitalism?

Someone recently asked me:

In terms of ending capitalism, what tools do we need to start building? How can we help one another connect to the resources we need? If we need laptops and phones to stay connected, but we do not have the natural resources to build them in communities close to us, how do we help one another connect and create while staying decentralized? Does that make sense? Are you already envisioning particular tools?

I wrote an answer I think is the synthesis of a lot of my thoughts about this, and want to share:

That is a really big question. To fully answer, I think it requires an agreement on definitions and a solid shared understanding of those definitions. That’s not something a lone email will be able to offer, so I have to refer you to a number of other sources for that kind of background. (We’ve talked about a lot of them in person, already.)

That said, with the necessary background, I think the answer to “what tools should we be building in terms of ending capitalism” is to rephrase the question so it’s more like: “What are some useful paradigms/models/frameworks we should be building tools based on in order to speed capitalism’s demise?”

I think it’s more important to understand capitalism as a way of thinking than it is to understand that a given tool X is implemented “capitalistically,” because ultimately capitalism is not a thing any more than love or hate are “things.” Capitalism is not a thing one can hold in one’s hand. Rather, it is a way of experiencing the things one holds in one’s hands, or feels about other people with whom one has relationships. There is no physical or digital tool that can directly change such an abstract thing.

Change must come from the other direction: how one thinks and what one values. It is obvious that “how one thinks and what one values” greatly affects the tools one makes, as well as affecting how one chooses to use said tool(s). If you value domination, you will choose to make tools that increase your ability to be dominating. Domination is ultimately what capitalism—the way of being a productive member of society as we know it today—rewards, both financially and otherwise. If society is to thrive, that needs to change away from valuing domination and towards valuing empathy and trust. A society based on domination is not one in which most people’s individual quality of life is high. That’s not just my opinion; a lot has been written in a great many academic and other fields about the importance and correlation of empathy and trust in societies for a joyous life. (Google it.)

But no tool, even tools that were carefully crafted to avoid conferring the ability to dominate on their users, are immune from being used in ways that dominate others. The evidence of this is simply that someone who wishes to dominate someone else can simply withhold knowledge of said tool from them (using the innate human ability of not speaking to that person), thereby increasing the gap of capability between themselves and the person they seek to dominate. And notice that this has nothing to do with the design of said tool. The problem is a human, cultural one, not a technological one.

So with all that said (and hopefully understood), if one chooses to build tools anyway, as I do, and if one chooses to do so with the intent of destroying capitalism, as I do, then it’s important that the tools we choose to build are carefully chosen so their predictable impacts have the most benefit to those who share our intent of destroying capitalism and the least benefit to capitalists.

There are some tools that benefit one group of people more than others. But knowing which these are or will be is complex because that trade-off is never static; it changes with each new tool’s introduction and also with the changing cultural morays of a given society in a given time. This isn’t always predictable, but what is predictable is the ways in which different groups incorporate new tools. Bruce Schneier writes about this when he says:

There are technologies that immediately benefit the defender and are of no use at all to the attacker – for example, fingerprint technology allowed police to identify suspects after they left the crime scene and didn’t provide any corresponding benefit to criminals. The same thing happened with immobilizing technology for cars, alarm systems for houses, and computer authentication technologies. Some technologies benefit both but still give more advantage to the defenders. The radio allowed street policemen to communicate remotely, which increased our level of safety more than the corresponding downside of criminals communicating remotely endangers us.

As anti-capitalists, one of our goals should be to identify, design, and deploy technologies that are more use to anti-capitalists than capitalists. There are many good examples of this. Food banks. Public libraries. Distributed telecommunications (like BitTorrent, IPFS, Tor onion services, etc.). Fighting for truly public spaces (like how Occupy Wall Street tried to take back public parks for living purposes). All of these things are anti-capitalist, and there are many more more like them. We should support all of these things and anything that supports those things, would be great.

In other words, we need to be building infrastructure. And when I say infrastructure, I don’t just mean anti-capitalist infrastructure (infrastructure useful for directly attacking capitalism, such as defunding and directly combating the existence of militaries and police, as projects like CopWatch or our project, Buoy, aims to do, although I do think this is useful and important, too). I specifically mean ALTERNATIVE infrastructure: infrastructure useful for doing things other than capitalism.

What does infrastructure enabling doing things other than capitalism look like? That’s a HUGE, diverse array of things that are actually pretty familiar. Public (shared) roadways are the canonical example. Roads themselves are a tool; they are neither capitalist nor anti-capitalist, they have existed long before capitalism. The capitalist part of the modern conception of a roadway is the part where someone thinks to themselves, “there’s a pothole here, but I’ll do nothing about that because it is not my job to fix it, it is the State’s job to send someone here to patch this up.” That’s how capitalism ends up taking over control of roadways. That’s the force that ultimately enables a powerful, dominating entity, such as a government or corporation, to put up toll booths and “privatize” and thereby control access to an otherwise uncontrollable, un-ownable thing such as physical movement.

We’ve already begun building alternatives to this way of thinking. For example, see the “citizen pothole reporting mobile app” developed over 6 years ago.

This kind of app is a nice try, and there have been a lot of these coming from initiatives like (the badly misguided) “Code for America” brigades, but it ultimately benefits capitalists because the developers of these apps take the basic assumption of capitalism (that someone “owns” the road—and that this owner is the State) and amplifies it.

A more anti-capitalist or capitalist-alternative “pothole fixing” app would have included instructions for how to fix potholes in the app itself, included a feature for locating the materials needed to fix potholes on the map (even if that just means directions to the nearest Home Depot), and then walked the end-user through the process of traveling to and fixing the potholes that they navigated to. Of course, anti-capitalism is a gradient. To offer an even more effective alternative to capitalism, the app could include a feature where people are able to list their own garages as spaces where other users (pothole-fixers) could freely take and/or borrow the supplies needed for fixing potholes. Like a pothole-fixing equivalent of a food bank. Instead, all the app does is further centralize responsibility, not to mention the knowledge, for fixing potholes in the entity who is already not doing a good job of fixing potholes: the local (capitalist) government, while also turning citizens into agents who, themselves, further enforce the cult of capitalism amongst their peers.

Do you see the difference?

So when you ask me, “what tools do we need to build in terms of ending capitalism?” my answer is: “we need to rebuild every single tool that exists, including the tools used for fixing potholes in the streets.”

Which tool will you work on? There are many to choose from. Each is important. Each is necessary. The key point to understand is that building alternatives to capitalism do not come about by building anti-capitalist technology. It comes about by building pro-social technologies IN AN ANTI-CAPITALIST WAY.

In other words, alternatives to capitalism are all about the process, the journey, the way in which you do a thing, not the product, the destination, or the specific thing you choose to do or build.

Hope this helps,

Just say OXI to capitalists: How to understand what’s happening in Greece and why it’s a big fucking deal

Greece gives austerity foisted on them by the Troika the middle finger.

Gotta admit, I haven’t been as excited about the result of a vote, of all things, as I am about the Greek referendum rejecting continued austerity through forced imperialist-capitalism. Here’s a brief roundup of articles explaining the situation that I liked, along with my own commentary sprinkled in for good measure.

Let’s start with an unusually easy-to-read and easy-to-understand article from Business Insider, whose headline is all but shouting from the rooftops in all-caps. Their article, GREECE JUST TAUGHT CAPITALISTS A LESSON ABOUT HOW CAPITALISM WORKS, reads as follows:

Greece has effectively voted to default on its debt to the IMF [which is the International Monetary Fund, basically a gigantic multi-national bank controlled by Western military powers like the USA] and the EU[, in other words, Greece voted to outright defy demands that it pay back money it borrowed], and it is a massive defeat for Germany’s Angela Merkel and the troika [“troika” is a nickname given to the three major capitalist banking institutions, of which the IMF is one] she led, which insisted there was no way out for Greece but to pay back its massive debts.

The vote is huge lesson for conservatives and anyone else who thinks this is about a dilettante government of left-wing idealists who think they can flout the law while staging some kind of Che Guevara-esque dream:


This is what capitalism is really about.

From the beginning, Merkel and the EU have operated from the position that because Greece took on debt, Greece now needs to pay it back. That position assumed — bizarrely, in hindsight — that debt only works one way: if you lend someone money, then they pay it back.

But that is NOT how free markets work.

Debt is not a guarantee of future payments in full. Rather, it is a risk that creditors take, in hopes of maybe being paid tomorrow.

The key word there is “risk.”

If you’re willing to take the risk, you’ll get a premium — in the form of interest.

But the downside of that risk is that you lose your money. And Greece just called Germany’s bluff.

The IMF loaned Greece 1.5 billion euros, due back in June, and Greece isn’t paying it back. Greece has another 3.5 billion due to the ECB in July, and that looks really doubtful right now. [The ECB is the European Central Bank, the bank that controls the Euro currency; the ECB is basically Europe’s version of the Federal Reserve, i.e., “the Fed,” that thing Libertarians hate.]

This is how capitalism works. The fact that it took a democratically elected government whose own offices are adorned with posters of Lenin, Engels and Guevara to teach this lesson to Germany is astonishing.

More astonishing still is that Merkel et al knew Greece could not pay back this debt before these negotiations started. The IMF’s own assessment of Greek debt, published just a few days ago, states: “Coming on top of the very high existing debt, these new financing needs render the debt dynamics unsustainable …”

“Unsustainable”! Germany’s own bankers knew Greece couldn’t pay this back. And yet Merkel persisted.

At this point you’re probably wondering, “Why on God’s green Earth would Merkel and other European political leaders agree to loan money to people they knew could not pay it back?” Well, do y’all remember that big “global financial crisis” in 2008? Yeah, so, about that:

There is another key fact that the Greeks are keenly aware of (but which everyone else has forgotten). This debt was initially owed to private investment banks, like Goldman Sachs. But the IMF and the ECB made the suicidal decision to let those private banks transfer that debt to EU institutions and the IMF to “rescue” Greece. As Business Insider reported back in April, former ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet insisted that the debt transfer take place:

The ECB president “blew up,” according to one attendee. “Trichet said, ‘We are an economic and monetary union, and there must be no debt restructuring!’” this person recalled. “He was shouting.”

[“Debt restructuring” is a euphemism that basically means the terms of a loan that was already made gets changed, usually to benefit the borrower, which has happened countless times throughout history and dates back to Biblical times, but that capitalist bankers basically never want to admit is possible because it means they don’t get their money back.] The result was that the ECB made this catastrophically stupid deal with Greece, according to our April report:

And so there was no restructuring agreed for Greece. The country paid off its immediate debts to the private financial sector — investment banks, basically — and replacement debt was laid onto European taxpayers [that is to say, instead of forcing the private sector’s big banks to account for their own financial losses, the financial records/”agreements” were altered so that the Greek government and thus the Greek taxpayer was held responsible for replacing the money that the non-Greek/big bank creditors lost]. The government [of Greece—which at the time was controlled primarily by corrupt conservatives, more on that in a moment—]agreed to a package of harsh government spending cuts and structural reforms [in other words, cutting social services, things we think of as “food stamps” and the like, and making daily life even harder for the already-poorest Greeks] in exchange for loans totalling €110 billion over three years.

Trichet made a colossal, elementary mistake. [Or so Business Insider likes to characterize it. But was it a “mistake,” or an economic power grab that ended up as an overreach thanks to Greek defiance? Hold that thought!] The right place for risky debt by definition is in the private markets, like Goldman. The entire point of private debt investment is that those creditors are prepared for a haircut. The risk absolutely should not be borne by central banks who rely on taxpayer money for bailouts.

In fact, had Trichet made the opposite decision — and left the Greek debt with Goldman et al — then today’s vote would be a footnote rather than a headline in history. “Goldman Sachs takes a bath on Greek debt.” Who cares? Goldman shareholders and clients, surely. But it would not have triggered a crisis at the heart of the EU. [In other words, if the ECB had let Goldman Sachs eat the losses they, themselves, brought on themselves, rather than demanding that already-poor countries like Greece make up for the lost revenue on Goldman’s behalf, Greek’s defiance today would not be a big deal, obviously. But since the ECB insisted that the public sector, i.e., regular working people, pay back the capitalist bankers’s own lost money, Greek’s vote to defy doing so is a major blow to the Troika’s power.]

Now Italy, Spain and Portugal are watching Greece closely, and thinking, hey, maybe we can get out of this mess too.

Not just the other EU states, though! The rest of the world, too. Like, say, American students saddled with student loan debt. After all, if an entire country can just refuse to pay back money it supposedly owes—even though they didn’t really owe any money to start with (it was really Goldman Sach’s debt), an important detail we’ll talk about in more detail a little later—why can’t you or I just refuse to pay back our student loans, or our credit cards? What’s stopping us from just saying we won’t pay back money we borrowed? It’s clearly not impossible to do just that! Look at what Greece is doing!

But of course, since this article is in Business Insider—which is basically capitalism’s version of a fetish magazine—despite being a fantastic summary of the history, its conclusions take a bizarre turn for the demagogically extreme against Greece’s defiance, predicting disaster for the Greek people:

Now, before we all start singing “The Red Flag” and breaking out old videos of “The Young Ones” in celebration, let’s inject a note of realism. Greece isn’t actually a country full of crazy socialists who don’t understand how the FX [that is, Foreign eXchange] markets work. In fact, a huge chunk of its tax collection problems[, which is one of the reasons the Greek economy has been shrinking for years] stem from the fact that there are two and a half times more self-employed and small business people in Greece than there are in the average country. And small businesses are expert at avoiding tax, Greece’s former tax collector told Business Insider’s Mike Bird recently. [Which may be true, but let’s not forget, dear capitalist wet dream magazine, that large businesses are even more expert at avoiding taxes, duh.]

Conservatives who hate paying taxes and who urge small businesses to pursue tax avoidance strategies take note: Your dream just came true in Greece.

If Greece was more socialist — more like Germany, with its giant corporations that have massive unionised workforces paying taxes off their payrolls — then tax collection would be a lot higher in Greece. [Eh, maybe, because let’s remember that tax collection, just like banking, is actually a “voluntary compliance” system, because agencies like the IRS don’t actually have a budget for hiring people to force citizens to pay taxes. Instead, the government, through a combination of its IRS auditors and law violence enforcement arms, can only retro-actively punish people for not paying taxes. This distinction matters because it’s actually exactly the same model as credit cards and debts: if you loan someone money and they don’t or can’t pay it back, what can you do about it? Sure, maybe you can afford to hire someone to break their legs, but the point is that, in America, the IRS literally can’t afford to do that to everyone who pays taxes. They can only afford to commit violence again (in the form of incarceration) or violently threaten, a few people who they are also able to catch not having paid taxes sometime in the past. And what if you loan money to an entire country and that entire country collectively declares it just won’t pay you back. What if every citizen of that country collectively decides, en-masse, they just won’t pay taxes anymore? Sound familiar to any Americans celebrating Independence day this weekend? No? Does a tea party sound good to you right about now? As the ruling government, what are you gonna do? Break the legs of every citizen in that country? Nuke it? Srsly, what you gonna do?]

Greece is now likely an international pariah on the debt markets. It may have to start printing its own devalued drachma currency. It will have no access to credit. Sure, olive oil, feta and raki will suddenly become incredibly cheap commodities on the export markets. Tourism in Greece is about to become awesome. But mostly it will be awful. Unemployment will increase as Greece’s economy implodes.

But the awfulness will be Greece’s alone. Greece is now on its own path. It is deciding its own fate.

There is something admirable about that.

Told you: Business Insider is predictably pessimistic about the Greek people’s own ability to make due without invading capitalist banking systems, almost to the point of outright racism. I mean, we can’t have people thinking a total break with capitalism will lead to anything other than death and starvation, now can we, Business Insider? But also, damn those dirty, untrustworthy, irresponsible Greeks, amirite? No. Just no. A blog post on Interfluidity perfectly sums up why not:

Greece is a remarkable country full of wonderful people, but along dimensions of development and governance, the place is plainly pretty fucked up. It has been fucked up that way for a long time, for decades at least. This has never been secret. Anyone who has visited Athens knows it has far more in common with Bucharest or Istanbul than with orderly Western European capitals. In the run up to Greece’s joining the Euro [i.e., abandoning their national currency in favor of the European Union’s joint currency], everyone who wanted to know knew that Greece’s qualifications to join the Eurozone were, shall we say, ambitious. Mainstream establishment banks “helped” Greece and other Southern European countries with accounting fudges that, while perhaps obscure, were not secret even at the time. Despite protestations when these deals hit the news in 2010 that officials were “shocked, shocked”, they were explicitly blessed by the agency that compiles the statistics on which Eurozone entrance was based in 2002 and Greece’s gaming was extensively reported in 2003 (ht Heidi Moore, both cites). The Euro was and ought to be primarily a political enterprise. In order to sell the common currency to Northern European elites, its architects required Eurozone members to meet strict “convergence criteria” and especially the requirements of the Stability and Growth Pact. But in practice, those criteria have always been interpreted flexibly. Most Eurozone members have broken their promises at one point or another, including both Germany and France. The Euro was a unification project, and erred (not unreasonably, I think) on the side of building a big tent.

Emphasis added because this is really important, my fellow navel-gazing Americans: the Eurozone and its unifying currency has always been about consolidating political power through economic power. That is, the whole point of the European Union is to be a single political union, not “a single monetary and economic one,” as former ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet screamed it was when denying Greece the courtesy of debt restructuring. As we’ll see, the presence of a unifying currency (the Euro) only benefits the rich members, while shitting on the poor members, despite all the promises to the contrary.

In simpler terms, what this means is that “the Eurozone” is like Europe’s version of the “United States.” Europe is a a lot of countries in a similar way as America is a lot of States. “Unifying” those smaller, disparate regional communities into one larger group of people has the effect of creating an even more powerful entity than all those that previously existed, but without being accountable to the smaller or less powerful constituent members. If the individual pieces of that entity all like, trust, and cooperate with one another, this kind of consolidation is a win-win, the very best of human ingenuity and empathy. But when there is animosity, resentment, or coercion between those groups, creating a larger super-group is bound to be, well, “problematic,” to put it mildly. This is pretty obvious stuff to anyone who’s ever tried playing a board game at a party one night with someone they can’t stand. And just as with the Euro, the value of a US dollar goes a lot farther in some States than it does in others, which tends to be good for richer States and bad for poorer ones.

Now, the way geopolitical power works today (in the model that world governments and nation states still operate under and have existed in since the Peace of Westphalia and the end of feudalism), is that, in basic terms, the amount of political power an entity such as a country has comes in part from sheer geographic size and in part from the unification of the beliefs and goals of the people in that geographic region. In other words, the more people in a single physical space that believe the same things, that want the same things, who make their goals the goals of their neighbors, the more political power that group has. If that unification of belief and goals is missing, there is, of course, an alternative: violence. Someone doesn’t agree with you? They won’t do what you want voluntary? Just force them to!

This is why empires colonize. It’s not rocket science, people. An empire is simply a nation state with a lot of people “belonging to” it (whatever that means) who have a lot of weapons and who use those weapons to project the power those weapons give them outside of their own home. In other word, they’re bullies. This rather bluntly describes the political foreign policy objectives of the United States and most of the richer Eurozone members like England, France, and Germany, and has throughout much of history. (World Wars. Crusades. Slave trade. And on, and on….) These are colonialist countries; they colonize other territories for the explicit purpose of increasing the amount of power they have.

Forget currency for a minute. Take one more step back, don’t think dollars. Think bullets. Forget debts. Think deaths. From a geopolitical perspective, currency and bullets are effectively two sides of the same coin. Whoever has the bullets sets the economic terms. The remarkable difference between the “barbarous” days of pre-history and today’s modern “civilization” is that, today, we have many more and different tools of violence and coercion than just big swords or guns (although we have those, too). We have tools like money, or to put it in even more euphemistically whitewashed terms, economic policy.

Which brings us back to the wrinkle that the Business Insider article conveniently overlooked: how did it come to be that the troika was able to just unilaterally decide that Greece had to pay back the debt that Goldman Sachs and other private sector banks actually incurred? How did that even happen? That’s like if you go out to dinner with three rich guys who all want to eat at a 5-star hotel restaurant (hey, they can afford it), and you want to go to a corner deli (because that’s the only thing within your budget), and somehow y’all hit up the 5-star hotel restaurant but you’re the one holding the bill at the end of the night. Like, hold the fucking phone, ya know?

The Interfluidity article described the issue here really nicely:

The European financial system was architected to make lending to Greece — and Spain and Portugal and Italy — a money machine for bankers with little career risk over a medium term. Sketchy credits tend to punch above their weight in terms of volume of issuance, so there was a lot of nice paper to buy. The bankers who lent to these states understood perfectly well that there was in fact a long-term risk, an uncertainty, a constructive ambiguity. They lent anyway, and took home very nice salaries and bonuses for doing so. It was conventional to lend, the mainstream consensus was that credit risk was over and worry warts were old-fashioned, Europe was strong and would work this out. If the worry warts turned out to be right, it was likely years away, IBGYBG.

When the game was up, when the global house of credit cards collapsed in the late Aughts, European leaders had a choice. They had knowingly and purposefully brought weak states into the Eurozone, because they genuinely, even nobly, wished to build a large, strong, United Europe. [Although who really still believes that it was about anything other than the money?] When they did so, they understood there would be crises. A unified Europe, they had always claimed, would be forged one crisis at a time. The right thing to have done for Europe at this point would have been to point out the regulatory errors and misaligned incentives that encouraged profligate lending and enabled corruption and waste among borrowers, and fix those. Banks that had made bad loans would acknowledge losses. The banks themselves would have to be restructured or bailed out.

But “bank restructuring” is a euphemism for imposing losses on wealthy creditors [i.e., “bank restructuring” is a way to say that those rich guys who stuck you with the bill should actually have to pay their own share of said bill]. And explicit bank bailouts are humiliations of elites, moments when the mask comes off and the usually tacit means by which states preserve and enhance the comfort of the comfortable must give way to very visible, very unpopular, direct cash flows.

The choice Europe’s leaders faced was to preserve the union or preserve the wealth, prestige, and status of the community of people who were their acquaintances and friends and selves but who are entirely unrepresentative of the European public. They chose themselves. The formal institutions of the EU endure, but European community is now failing fast.

It is difficult to overstate how deeply Europe’s leaders betrayed the ideals of European integration in their handing of the Greek crisis. The first and most fundamental goal of European integration was to blur the lines of national feeling and interest through commerce and interdependence, in order to prevent the fractures along ethnonational lines that made a charnel house of the continent, twice. [Two World Wars leaves a bunch of scars, after all….] That is the first thing, the main rule, that anyone who claims to represent the European project must abide: We solve problems as Europeans together, not as nations in conflict. Note that in the tale as told so far, there really was no meaningful national dimension. Regulatory mistakes and agency issues within banks encouraged poor credit decisions. Spanish banks lent into overpriced real estate, and German banks lent to a state they knew to be weak [that is, they lent to Greece]. Current account imbalances within the Eurozone — persistent and unlikely to reverse without policy attention — implied as a matter of arithmetic that there would be loan flows on a scale that might encourage a certain indifference to credit quality. [Which is to say, the math doesn’t equal out. Somewhere, someone’s debt is going to be forgiven. The question is whose? The rich banker shitfucks, or yours?] These were European problems, not national problems. But they were European problems that festered while the continent’s leaders gloated and took credit for a phantom prosperity. When the levee broke, instead of acknowledging errors and working to address them as a community, Europe’s elites — its politicians and civil servants, its bankers and financiers [the Goldman Sachs, the hedge funds, the corrupt politicians, the guys who just said “IBGYBG” and made off with mountains of cash in the process] — deflected the blame in the worst possible way. They turned a systemic problem of financial architecture[, an architecture that, due to the unaccountability of the big banks, systemically incentivized major corporate fraud that reached a head in 2008,] into a dispute between European nations. They brought back the very ghosts their predecessors spent half a century trying to dispell. Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame.


With respect to Greece, the precise thing that European elites did to set the current chain of events in motion was to replace private debt with public during the 2010 first “bailout of Greece”. [The taxpayer got stuck with the bill. Again. And this is that bait-and-switch again! How did they just “replace” it???] Prior to that event, it was obvious that blame was multipolar. Here are the banks, in France, in Germany, that foolishly lent. Not just to Greece, but to Goldman’s synthetic CDOs and every other piece of idiot paper they could carry with low risk-weights. In 2010, the EU, ECB, and IMF laundered a bailout of mostly French and German banks through the Greek fisc. Cash flowed into Greece only so it could flow out to rickety banks. Now, suddenly, the banks were absolved. There were very few bad loans left on the books of European lenders, everyone was clean, no bad actors at all. Except one. There were the institutions, the “troika”, clearly the good guys, so “helpful” with their generous offer of funds. And then there was Greece. What had been a mudwrestling match, everybody dirty, was transformed into mass of powdered wigs accusing a single filthy penitent [the Greeks] (or, when the people with their savings in just-rescued banks decide to be generous, a petulant misbehaving child). [antidote]


But don’t the Greeks want to borrow more? Isn’t that what all the fuss is about right now? No. The Greeks need to borrow money now only because old loans are coming due that they have to pay, and they have been trying to come to an agreement about that, rather than raise a middle finger and walk away. The Greek state itself is not trying to expand its borrowing. Greece’s citizens and businesses would like to expand the country’s borrowing indirectly, by withdrawing Euros from Greek banks that the Greek banks won’t be able to come up with unless they are allowed to expand their borrowing from the ECB. That is, Greece’s citizens are in precisely the place France’s citizens and Germany’s citizens were in 2010, at risk that personal savings maintained as bank deposits will not be repaid. Something was worked out for French and German citizens. Other than resorting to the ethnonational stereotypes that European elites have now revived in polite company, what is the justification for a Greek schoolteacher losing her savings that wouldn’t have applied just as strongly to a French schoolteacher five years ago? Because Greeks are responsible, as individuals, for what the governments they elect do? Well, then I deserve to be killed for what my government has done in Iraq and elsewhere. Is that where we want to go?

Put another way, France and Germany and the United Kingdom and Belgium and all these richer EU member countries didn’t get stuck with massive amounts of public debt when their banking systems came to a screeching halt due to the very same kind of banker malfeasance and political corruption that’s been plaguing Greece. Have a look at this chart showing the differences between the various “recoveries” that the troika’s “helpful” policies have provided for different EU member states:

Chart shows the Real gross domestic product of various EU member states following the 2008 global financial meltdown. Only the UK, Germany, Belgium and France have had growing economies. Greece's economy has plummetted.

That is to say, in the version of the three-rich-guys-take-you-out-to-dinner-story for French or German citizens, you (the citizen) didn’t get stuck with the bill. But in that version, you’re French, or German, or English. You weren’t Greek. Only in the Greek version of this story does the regular citizen, the worker, the taxpayer, only in the Greek version, the version of the story featuring an already-poor country, it’s only in that version where you get stuck with the bill at the end of the night. Because fuck Greek people, right?

And this is the ultimate answer to the puzzle of how the troika saddled Greek with public debt: because they had the political and economic power, backed by many, many more bullets than Greece has, to do it. When you peel away all the layers of bureaucratic and linguistic euphemisms, what it boils down to is the ability to muster sheer force to enact one’s will. In the case of the Eurozone, it is in the elite’s interest to stir up racist stereotypes of lazy, irresponsible Greeks because that pits Frenchman against Grecian. This is exactly what US politicians do when they invoke racist stereotypes of “welfare queens,” conveniently forgetting that welfare was very strongly supported by social conservatives so long as the public funds went only to widowed white women, keeping them in the kitchen and out of the workforce, which was the original intent of social welfare programs. It wasn’t until Black women got in on the deal that the narrative was flipped on its head. Point is, if you’re a banker who’s made mountains of cash while knowingly offloading long-term risk to your fellow citizens, it’s way better to have all Frenchmen hating all Greeks than to have all Frenchmen less wealthy than you are (which would be most of them) and all Greeks hating you. Just as if you’re a racist white demagogue politician in Amerikkka, it’s better to have poor white people hating poor Black people than have all Black people and poor white people hating you together. It’s a tactic right out of the classic colonial playbook: divide and conquer.

Hence why the Greeks’s collective refusal to accept the newly-horrific terms of their already-heartless creditors (the troika) is so meaningful: it shines the spotlight of culpability directly back on the creditors, avoiding the ethnonational and racial accusations that the capitalist bankers are using to wage their class war. The Greeks are not paying the bill they’ve been unfairly stuck with, and they damn well shouldn’t have to, not just because it’s unfair, but because it’s actually even worse for them than I’ve let on so far. Unlike the overly simplified analogy of the dinner bill, the actual Greek people—the schoolteachers that Interfluidity mentions and even the conservative small business owners that Business Insider mentions, I mean the actual humans that make up the Grecian population—these actual humans didn’t even get to enjoy the 5 star meal. They’ve been dealt cuts to social services imposed by the economic policies of their creditors. This latest “No” vote was not just a refusal to pay back debts that weren’t even fairly levied against them in the first place, but also to refuse to agree to even worse terms of the deal than they originally had.

Greece is supposedly the birthplace of the model of democracy that America likes to tout as delivering a truly free society. Well, there’s certainly something decidedly American about what’s happening in Greece, “where, in the Course of human events [it became] necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.” This idea of national independence that was so eloquently composed by the American revolutionaries when they were colonies has now been adopted by the Greek populace, who correctly feel as though they’re being treated like a colony of an invading European (and American) Empire. Whether or not Greece chooses to leave the European Union formally, a so-called #Grexit, as Scotland almost did for similar reasons, remains to be seen, but there’s no question now that this will be determined in large part by just how heartless and sociopathic Greece’s creditors are.

And while there may be some historical analogies to draw here, many things are also decidedly different between the United States and Greece today. The biggest difference relates to who Greece’s creditors actually are, versus who America’s creditors really are. Again, Interfluidity hits the nail on the head:

If citizens aren’t going to be held responsible for their governments’ bad debts, how will sovereigns borrow at all? Well, how do firms raise equity, when an equity claim makes no promise whatsoever that any cash will be returned? People invest in shares not because they have any sword of Damocles to hold over the enterprise, but because they believe the firm will engage in activities sufficiently productive that throwing some cash back to investors will not be burdensome, and because firms know repayment enhances access to continued finance. The same is true of sovereigns like the United States or the UK, which borrow easily in currencies they can print any time. Nothing prevents the US from conjuring $100T USD and handing it out to citizens, engineering a one-time inflation that leaves outstanding bonds nearly worthless. It wouldn’t even constitute a default. But the US has organized itself in ways that persuade creditors that their funds will be treated reasonably. Inflexible debt sows seeds of coercion and enmity between borrower and lender. Equity-like arrangements, including “debt” denominated in securities issuable at will by the debtor, require and encourage trust and collaboration. Sovereign debt in particular should always look like the latter, not the former, given the regularity with which government borrowings are disbursed into insiders’ bank accounts rather than used to aid the publics who might be pressured to foot the bill.

The United States, the United Kingdom, and the Eurozone can all do something Greece simply cannot, or at least cannot if it remains agrees to remain under the strict control of the troika as things were until now: Greece cannot arbitrarily create more money. Remember, the United States can just print more money. Literally, that’s what the Fed does. If there’s a need for more dollars, the Fed just decrees, like God Himself, that the money exists, and it does. Why can’t Greece do that? Because Greece has basically no power in the troika; the IMF and the ECB are not Greek institutions. In contrast, the Fed is an American institution, so if the American government finds itself lacking dollars, it does not need to petition some external actor to create more of them. It just creates those dollars itself.

What’s bizarre here is that Britain has basically the same situation as the United States, because they trade in Pounds Sterling, not Euros, even though they’re a Eurozone member. Strange, right? What gives London the right to set its own economic policy, to decide its own monetary interest rate, while other Eurozone member states like Greece are forced to adopt the policies of the (largely British) troika? Again: bullets.

In other words, Greece’s creditors are, of course, the richer European countries and—surprise, surprise—the American government and its corporate puppet masters through their influence at institutions like the IMF (which is headquarted in Washington, D.C., by the way). Here’s what Interfluidity has to say about that:

Blaming victims for having insufficiently perfect leaders is standard fare for apologists of predation. Unfortunately, understanding this may be of little comfort to the disemboweled prey.

Europe’s creditors are behaving exactly as one might naively predict private creditors would behave, seeking to get as much blood from the stone as quickly as possible, indifferent to the cost in longer-term growth. And that, in fact, is a puzzle! Greece’s creditors are not nervous lenders panicked over their own financial situation, but public sector institutions representing primarily governments that are in no financial distress at all. They really shouldn’t be behaving like this.

I think the explanation is quite simple, though. Having recast a crisis caused by a combustible mix of regulatory failure and elite venality into a morality play about profligate Greeks who must be punished, Eurocrats are now engaged in what might be described as “loan-shark theater”. They are putting on a show for the electorates they inflamed in order to preserve their own prestige. The show must go on.

Throughout the crisis, European elites have faced a simple choice: Acknowledge and explain to electorates their own mistakes, which do not line up along national borders of virtue and vice, or revert to a much older playbook and manufacture scapegoats.

Such tiny, tiny people.

Tiny people. With fat wallets. Holding big guns.

Just say OXI.

Interviewer: I’d like to detour just a little bit[. A]s someone who’s gone from, y’know, the consulting world, or the for-profit world, and is doing real good things now[, …] what made you make that shift in your life and what you were doing?

Maymay: I started by doing good stuff that wasn’t for profit, when I was a kid. The detour was the for-profit, corporate stuff, as I think is the case for most people. And I think a lot of people simply get derailed on what they were already doing as young people and youth and children, which was good and helpful for their community and their family, [they get derailed] by things like school and jobs, and then they can’t ever seem to find the—like, they think a career or something is a path back, but they get stuck in the rat race. But that’s the detour for most people. That’s not where people start. That’s not where I started.


Dear Soycrates, you moralizing vegan blowhard, suck my big fat satirical cock







Maymay is hard at work on the next Predator Alert Tool!

Predator Alert Tool for Diaspora* will be the first truly unhosted PAT app, robustly designed to work across de-centralized, federated social networking plaforms, and with an even stronger focus on addressing cyberbullying and online harassment as well as offline violence.

However, as you can see above, they are also having some technical difficulties. Their laptop keyboard has stopped working. They’ve worked out a very temporary, clunky solution for now, in order to keep coding. But their real keyboard needs to be replaced — a repair that costs a little over $200.

If you’d like to support development of the Predator Alert Tools (or just want to support maymay in general), now is a great time to send them a donation. More information about how to do that here. Thanks!

Seriously, maymay has created an entire collection of tools to help and protect survivors, since the big names who run social media site can’t be bothered, and they do it completely for free and basically on their own. So yeah, if you can donate or signal boost so they could fix their keyboard, I think that’s the least we could do.

I’ve broken my laptop in the exact same way last week, and while I sympathize, I’m going to stress that this is no way gets in the way of coding. This does NOT make using any program harder. I’d love for someone to pay to fix my laptop so I can understand why they’d want someone to, especially when they provide a free service, but to say their keyboard “needs” to be replaced is kind of an overstatement, don’t you think? 

Hey there. I don’t know you, so I’m assuming that means you also don’t know me and don’t know much about Maymay. But, for what it’s worth, Maymay is homeless, lives on the road, and receives absolutely zero income except for donations of money and food. And the reason they live this way is largely so that they can focus 100% on helping solve serious but not lucrative social problems that more financially-motivated others with their type of technological expertise have chosen to ignore

If you’re interested, you can read a little bit more about what they’re doing here.

Having someone else pay to replace your keyboard might be unnecessary for someone in your position, since I assume you have a job and a house. I imagine it was unpleasant but not impossible to cover the cost of your own repair. But someone who has no income, has to carry everything they own around, and does a lot of their coding in places like bus terminals and other crowded public areas doesn’t have that luxury. $200 is several months of bills (phone, server), food, and transit costs for May. They can’t realistically blow that kind of money on a computer repair.

Obviously, everybody’s got their own financial situations they’re dealing with. There’s certainly no expectation on you or anyone else to help a stranger out. Hell, I already spent all the extra money I could afford this month (and more) donating to another friend who needs help hiring a trans*-friendly custody lawyer. But for those folks who do know Maymay, understand their situation, appreciate their work, and have some extra cash to spare, making a small donation would be appreciated and very sweet.

I’m sorry, I must have been unclear to warrant this response.

“Having someone else pay to replace your keyboard might be unnecessary for someone in your position, since I assume you have a job and a house. I imagine it was unpleasant but not impossible to cover the cost of your own repair.“

There’s no way in hell I could afford a $200 laptop repair. But I’m in the exact same boat:


I don’t have to pay to fix my entire laptop, as you can see, since I bought a keyboard for $20 dollars that works just fine. No, it doesn’t look fancy. But there’s nothing wrong with it!  And even though I could ask for help in getting my laptop fixed, I really feel there are better things people could be doing with $200 dollars than making my laptop look nice. $200 could buy a lot of food and blankets for a lot of people.

I think you thought I said that they should just suck it up and pay for their own laptop repairs, which is definitely not what I’m saying. I’m saying there laptop works fine, even if it doesn’t look great. I understand wanting to have a more aesthetically pleasing workplace and having the comfort of a laptop that doesn’t come in a bunch of pieces (I work from my laptop too, with probably about as much income as they receive – we’re probably very alike in the ways that we live!), but in no way does this make the laptop any less usable than a laptop with a normal keyboard.

I do suggest that, if enough donations are raised, it would be just as cost efficient to get a used or refurbished laptop altogether – unless they are using something like a mac (even then, it would be much more cost efficient to sell it and get a cheaper laptop). There are laptops in the 200-300 price range, which makes it pretty awkward to pay for repairs on a broken laptop for the same price.

I didn’t mean to cause any offense (and I certainly don’t think I meant to convey that they shouldn’t be asking for donations) but it did make me intensely curious as to how this situation could be a problem that was described as “needs fixing”. 

In the very least, consider this a signal boost to my 5,765 followers.

Alright, fine, I mean this is basically splitting hairs over semantics. Certainly, nobody absolutely “needs” to have a computer that works in a specific way, or to own a computer at all, or whatever. Arguably, nobody really “needs” anything except maybe food and, even then, endless debates rage about how much and what kind of food counts as “needed” vs. “wanted.” Whatever. I’m just trying to help my friend get their laptop fixed for christs’s sake.

Here’s the thing: In my experience, the distinction between “needs” and “wants” is a pretty abritrary one. They are hardly universalizable categories, for obvious reasons. I could get into some argument here trying to justify Maymay’s decisions about why they ask for crowdfunding support around certain things (like computer repairs) and not others (for example, I personally think they could really use a warm coat that fits and some gloves, rather than just wearing three layers of beat-up hoodies full of holes and shivering all the time — but they’re never in a million years going to ask anybody else to help them with that.) But I’m not going to.

Why? Because different people have different priorities about what things make their lives more worth living. When I have a little bit of extra money, I spent it on bodywork and psychotherapy, because that’s what I feel like I “need” — and I make other decisions in my life that allow me to prioritize that. Others might argue that getting regular massage is a luxury, but they spend money on videogames or eating out at lunch or they drive a new car or own a smartphone, all things which probably feel necessary to them for their well-being (and very well might be) but that I see as indulgent expenses that I could never countenance for myself. It’s not that the way a given individual spends their resources should never be subject to analysis. It’s that these kinds of decisions are so personal and contextual, there’s no point in arguing about them at such an oversimplified level of abstraction.

The point here is that I am not Maymay’s mom, and neither are you. Repairing your laptop isn’t a priority for you, fine, don’t repair your laptop. But lecturing total strangers about how they should spend their money is just rude — whether that be lecturing Maymay about how they should purchase a more “appropriate” computer for a homeless person, or lecturing Maymay’s supporters for sending them donations instead of using that money to buy people blankets, or whatever. Come on. Nobody’s asking you to fund a financial decision you consider irresponsible. But this is the beauty of crowdfunding. If you don’t want to support the thing, don’t.

Meanwhile, there are other people for whom it feels good to have an opportunity to help out someone whose work they appreciate in a way that is directly related to the continuuance of that work. And, if there are enough of those people to raise $200, Maymay will use it to get their laptop fixed. And, if there aren’t, they’ll figure out some other way to cope. Because that’s how crowdfunding works. We’re not talking about how the government allocates our tax money, here. We’re talking about how relative strangers on Tumblr decide to spend $10.

Anyway, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to tear into you personally. I just have a lot of loved ones who are or have been homeless, and so I hear this kind of shit constantly and it drives me crazy. Homeless and poor folks are entitled to just as much agency around how they spend their income as anybody else. If you, for whatever personal reasons you have, don’t want that income to include money you gave them, don’t give them money. But suggesting that other people who do want to donate shouldn’t, because you think the person asking doesn’t really deserve the kind of support they’ve requested, is fucked up.

TBQH: My personal opinion is that, if you’d like to have a working keyboard and you can’t afford to get your laptop fixed right now, you should try asking your friends and family (or some of your 5,765 followers) for support. Why haven’t you? I bet some of them would be genuinely happy to help you out.

Thank you for the signalboost. Sincerely.

Dear Soycrates, esteemed Philosophy BA from McMaster University,

How many blankets or how much food could you have bought for homeless people with the money you spent on your tuition?

If you’re truly concerned with efficient use of money, why did you choose to major in philosophy instead of, say, business or accounting?

If you don’t want to donate money, have you considered sending me some food instead, or would you first want to know whether I eat vegan, like you and your well-cared for Vegan High Horse, or if I eat the cheaper mass-produced poison that’s actually what I can afford without stealing?

Meanwhile you think your college degree is an effective use of your money to change the world or something? Shit son, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

Speaking of bridges, would you like to join me for a sleepover under a highway overpass while we hide from cops? I know of a number of really good ones with relatively spacious cavities and a few even have nice views of nearby cities. Bring everything you own, including your sleeping bag, your clothes, food and water enough for three or four days, your laptop, and don’t forget your bulky external keyboard, which I’m sure you use to type out philosophical masterpieces about ethics that literally no one else on the planet can type, especially not the University Ivory Tower professors who you paid how much money to study under, again? I mean, why do either of us even bother with keyboards at all, we should just use pencils and paper, especially given that neither of us are writing computer code. Oh wait.

No but seriously, we should just use pencils. Certainly that’s a more efficient use of our money than typing code for anti-rape software that no one else is writing, anyway. But if you are gonna bring your keyboard to the sleepover, I hope the keyboard isn’t too heavy or hard to carry, because when you carry everything that you own with you wherever you go, every ounce matters, which I trust you already know because apparently our lifestyle is pretty similar, according to you and your extensive personal knowlege of my life that you acquired as a BA in Philosophy. Silly me.

Anyway, obviously you are spot-on about my main concern about my broken keyboard is how my laptop looks, because aesthetics is definitely the only thing I’ve been talking about here, unlike your morally superior focus on utility and efficiency. I’m so glad you’re here to keep me focused with your incredibly perceptive Tumblr blog!

You’ve convinced me. What I was asking for help with was stupid and entitled of me. I’m a bad, bad greedy person. So you can forget about the keyboard, and I’d be very appreciative of any donations of food you can offer instead, because then I’ll have to spend less money on food and can save more of it for other, more discretionary spending that isn’t morally approvee by esteemed ethicists like you, which of course I will check in with you about first to make sure it meets your standards of efficiency and necessity for what things my poor dirty hands touch.

But I also understand if you choose not to donate to help me out. Hell, everyone knows we homeless people are just gonna spend our money on keyboard repairs anyway. Next time when I ask for financial help, I’ll be less honest and just tell you I’m gonna buy a 40 and a dime bag, a’ight?

See also: How to patronize homeless people with a morally superior attitude that reeks of liberal judgment 101, a new McMaster University course taught by Soycrates. Tuition cost: free!

David Whitehouse on the disturbingly intimate relationship of policing and schooling

In part of a larger talk on “The Origin of Police” at the Annual Socialism Conference in June 2012, David Whitehouse spent some time pointing out the disturbing connections between policing and schooling:

First of all, we need to put policing in the context of a bigger ruling-class project of managing and shaping the working class. I said at the beginning that the emergence of workers’ revolt coincided with a breakdown of old methods of constant personal supervision of the workforce. The state stepped in to provide supervision. The cops were part of that effort, but in the North, the state also expanded its programs of poor relief and public schooling.

Police work was integrated with the system of poor relief, as constables worked on registration of the poor and their placement in workhouses. That’s even before the police were professionalized—the constables were sorting out the “deserving poor” from the “undeserving poor.” If people were unemployed and unable to work, constables would direct them toward charity from churches or the city itself. But if folks were able to work, they were judged to be “idlers” and sent off to the horrors of the workhouse.

The system for poor relief made a crucial contribution to the creation of the market for wage labor. The key function of the relief system was to make unemployment so unpleasant and humiliating that people were willing to take ordinary jobs at very low wages just to avoid unemployment. By punishing the poorest people, capitalism creates a low baseline for the wage scale and pulls the whole scale downward.

The police no longer play such a direct role in selecting people for relief, but they do deliver a good deal of the punishment. As we know, lots of police work has to do with making life unpleasant for unemployed people on the street.

The rise of modern policing also coincides with the rise of public education. Public schools accustom children to the discipline of the capitalist workplace, including the submission to strict rules about the proper time to do things. The school reform movement of the 1830s and 40s also aimed to shape the students’ moral character. The effect of this was supposed to be that students would willingly submit to authority, that they would be able to work hard, exercise self­-control, and delay gratification.

In fact, the concepts of good citizenship that came out of school reform movement were perfectly aligned with the concepts of criminology that were being invented to categorize people on the street. The police were to focus not just on crime but on criminal types—a method of profiling backed up by supposedly scientific credentials. The “juvenile delinquent,” for example, is a concept that is common to schooling and policing—and has helped to link the two activities in practice.

This ideology of good citizenship was supposed to have a big effect inside the heads of students, encouraging them to think that the problems in society come from the actions of “bad guys.” A key objective of schooling, according to reformer Horace Mann, should be to implant a certain kind of conscience in the students—so that they discipline their own behavior and begin to police themselves. In Mann’s words, the objective was for children to “think of duty rather than of the policeman.”

Needless to say, an analytic scheme for dividing society between good guys and bad guys is perfect for identifying scapegoats, especially racial ones. Such a moralistic scheme was (and is) also a direct competitor to a class-conscious worldview, which identifies society’s basic antagonism as the conflict between exploiters and exploited. Police activity thus goes beyond simple repression—it “teaches” an ideology of good and bad citizenship that dovetails with the lessons of the classroom and the workhouse.

The overall point here is that the invention of the police was part of a broader expansion of state activity to gain control over the day-to-day behavior of the working class. Schooling, poor relief and police work all aimed to shape workers to become useful to—and loyal to—the capitalist class.

In other words, the ruling class’s overtly violence police forces need not do a lot to retain control over a population of people who are already policing themselves and each other. Policing children’s minds is what school was designed to do from the very beginning.

‘Being homeless is better than working for Amazon’

This is an extremely familiar story. For those of you who have been following me for a while and think I’m unique. Look at this. I’m not. We are living without jobs. You can do it, too. And if enough of us opt out of employment, we will finally, FINALLY, have a chance of ending the slavery on which capitalism still relies.

Some choice excerpts to which I can relate personally, bolded for emphasis, but Nichole Gracely’s full piece is worth a read:

I am homeless. My worst days now are better than my best days working at Amazon.


Superb performance did not guarantee job security. ISS is the temp agency that provides warehouse labor for Amazon and they are at the center of the SCOTUS case Integrity Staffing Solutions vs. Busk. ISS could simply deactivate a worker’s badge and they would suddenly be out of work. They treated us like beggars because we needed their jobs. Even worse, more than two years later, all I see is: Jeff Bezos is hiring.

I have never felt more alone than when I was working there. I worked in isolation and lived under constant surveillance. Amazon could mandate overtime and I would have to comply with any schedule change they deemed necessary, and if there was not any work, they would send us home early without pay. I started to fall behind on my bills.

At some point, I lost all fear. I had already been through hell. I protested Amazon. The gag order was lifted and I was free to speak. I spent my last days in a lovely apartment constructing arguments on discussion boards, writing articles and talking to reporters. That was 2012 and Amazon’s labor and business practices were only beginning to fall under scrutiny. I walked away from Amazon’s warehouse and didn’t have any other source of income lined up.

I cashed in on my excellent credit, took out cards, and used them to pay rent and buy food because it would be six months before I could receive my first unemployment compensation check.

I received $200 a week for the following six months and I haven’t had any source of regular income since those benefits lapsed. I sold everything in my apartment and left Pennsylvania as fast as I could. I didn’t know how to ask for help. I didn’t even know that I qualified for food stamps.

I furthered my Amazon protest while homeless in Seattle. When the Hachette dispute flared up, I “flew a sign,” street parlance for panhandling with a piece of cardboard: “I was an order picker at amazon.com. Earned degrees. Been published. Now, I’m homeless, writing and doing this. Anything helps.”

I have made more money per word with my signs than I will probably ever earn writing, and I make more money per hour than I will probably ever be paid for my work. People give me money and offer well wishes and I walk away with a restored faith in humanity.


I couldn’t afford to be working poor and now I’m chronically homeless. My homelessness isn’t really a mystery. I simply could not afford to keep a roof over my head and asking my family was not an option. I’ve met other intelligent, hard-working homeless people. Many put in years of service before becoming disabled and summarily tossed outside without any money. We’re expected to be dumb. We didn’t choose homelessness.


I did not simply perish when I lost all sources of income and could no longer afford to pay the bills. A survival instinct that I didn’t even know I possessed manifested itself. I learned to live without money and without a home. I worked at REI in Eugene, Oregon back in 2002 and I know how to live outside. I refuse to live within oppressive walls. I stopped worrying myself with terrifying numbers. They aren’t even real any more.


I’ve camped and protested for the right to construct modern-day Hoovervilles. I slept on cardboard and concrete throughout Seattle’s rainiest March on record. Camped on DOT land off Interstates. Rubber tramped then leather tramped, carrying sleeping bag, tarp, and a change of clothes, not knowing where I was going to sleep for the night, hiding so I could get some rest.

My wallet does not contain a single bill. I need glasses. I need winter clothes. I need cash and an opportunity. Anything! I’ve applied for jobs, both professional and with physical labor. Taken my MA off my resume so I don’t look overqualified. I’ve tried everything. Maybe it’s because I protested Amazon; maybe it’s because my credit is wrecked. Maybe it’s because I used homeless services as addresses. Maybe it’s because there really aren’t many jobs available.

The homeless and cash-starved are merely kept alive while nothing changes. In actuality, austerity measures are felt on the ground and essential social services are woefully inadequate. We’ve woken up outside on most days and often walked miles before breakfast with a pack on my back.


My heart has expanded and I have learned that the American people are much better than our political and economic systems. I have been the recipient, and giver, of acts of kindness that I never before knew were possible.

Anyone who bemoans the weakening of Americans should look at the hardy homeless. It takes tremendous strength to get through a day. I’m stronger, healthier and happier than ever. There’s more respect for a homeless woman out on the streets than there is in a warehouse for Amazon workers.

For those of you not already familiar with my own story, here are some of my blog posts about it, both personal and political:

TL;DR: This is a brilliantly written and extremely hard-hitting personal account of employer abuses. The only problem with Nichole Gracely’s article is that she ultimately advocates employment. Unfortunately, employment is itself a form of abuse.

“To Fix School, Make It Consensual,” which is to say, abolish school

Long commentary on this news item is long, but worthwhile.





I’m really happy to see people talking about the inherent abusiveness of compulsory schooling, even if they don’t quite take the step of pointing out that forcing someone to do something without their consent is abuse. When it gets to the part about how parents should approach their children, however, you can still see that they’re prioritizing adults over children:

A self-directed parent who wants her kid to take violin lessons doesn’t just sign him up for lessons. She explains her reasoning to him: “I want you to appreciate music,” for example. She suggests other activities that could provide the same benefits, such as guitar lessons, digital composing, or attending the symphony. She sets clear expectations for any classes or tutoring: “I want you to give your best effort to three lessons.”

I mean, yeah, they say to not force the kid to do what you want, but they still assume that what the adult wants is something that should be centered in the child’s life. Why are you trying to decide what your child’s hobbies and interests should be? Instead of starting from a place of what you want to happen, you should start from a place of discovering what your child is interested in. It’s fine if you start with what’s of interest to you, but the idea that you decide that your child ought to appreciate something specific and have that as a goal that you are trying to lead them toward, however “nicely”, is manipulative. Better approach:

“There’s a symphony in town performing music I really love and appreciate, would you like to go see it with me?”

“When I was young I learned to play the violin and really loved it (or really wish I had learned). Do you think you’d be interested in learning to play the violin or any other instrument?”

It might seem similar, but it’s actually very different than saying “I want you to learn the violin because I have decided that you should appreciate music. If you don’t want to learn the violin, which will disappoint me, I will begrudgingly allow you to learn another instrument or go to the symphony instead. Which option do you choose for learning to appreciate this thing that I have decided you should appreciate?” Obviously, I’m exaggerating, but this is the kind of thing that comes through when you approach a child with the thought, “I want you to do X, how do I get you to do it?”

And that completely arbitrary, ”I want you to give your best effort to three lessons”? Ew. If they want to give up after one lesson (or no lessons), then that’s up to them. Instead, talk to them about why they want to quit. Maybe they simply decided it wasn’t for them, but maybe the instructor or class was a bad fit, or maybe they were just discouraged by the difficulty and you can talk to them about how to approach difficult tasks and see if maybe they want some help in giving it another shot. But any of that could happen after 1, 3, or 30 lessons, and you should be willing to have those conversations with them regardless, and then trust them to make the decision about how many lessons they need to know if it’s something they want to continue or not.

Your children are not obligated to appreciate or be interested in the same things your are. You should be centering their wants and interests, or helping them to discover what their interests are without centering your own wants. Approaching them with the idea of “I want them to do this thing, how do I convince/persuade/cajole/trick/push/manipulate them into doing it?” is not prioritizing consent.


bolded for emphasis.

although lets remember a lot of families can’t afford to pay for lessons (maybe the parent themselves can’t actually play an instrument, for example, but its what the child would like to do) although barter of goods and services may be an option in this case, but again we are assuming that the parents have access to transportation and people who know what the child may want to learn.

also a lot of parents send their kids to school so they can:

get a hot meal (breakfast and lunch) that’s free

and have a place for the child to go while the parent goes to work.

obviously as the child gets older then maybe they can do more self directed learning.

I’m not saying this isn’t something that need to be fixed in society. but for now it’s an only choice for a lot of families.

I’m just throwing out some things I thought of while reading this. I probably missed something. I’m also thinking of personal experience. I’m not trying to discount these ideas at all.


You’re absolutely right, I was just trying to focus on the particular attitude behind the given example and how it isn’t really taking consent into account despite the focus of the article being about consent. In reality, though, everything is much more complicated. I think maymay covers some really important points about this in their reply here. Excerpt:

[W]hen parents force their children to go to school they are acting abusively AND in the best interests of their children, because the parents are under massively coercive forms of violence from places like the State (they will be judged “negligent” parents if they do not force their children to go to school), the economy (they are forced to have jobs and thus not spend their time raising and helping their children educate themselves, as well being restricted from forming relationships with other adults who are not parents who may be able to help in a “it takes a village” model, see “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: A Radical Parenting Allies Handbook” for more on this), and the abusive social norms of what parenting really means (such as the idea that children “belong to,” i.e., are the human property of, their parents, see John Bell’s “Understanding Adultism” for a primer on this).

Obviously I am not suggesting that parents should NOT cede to the threats placed on them if it is not actually safe for them to resist. And we are in a very dire situation right now where it is in fact not safe for many parents to resist acting abusively towards their children because of these external and internalized threats and fears. But that does not in fact mean that these parents are not acting abusively.

To take this to its hard radical conclusion, what this means is that if you choose to have children in the context of current society, you are virtually guaranteeing that you will have to abuse someone with less power than you at some point. This is no different from the claim that if you believe there is such a thing as wholly ethical and uncomplicated consumption under late capitalism, you are deluding yourself. And it is also the same logic that I use when I say that if you choose to have sex in the context of rape culture, you have to take it as a given that you will probably violate someone’s consent at some point.

All of these are issues we have to learn to address in ways other than abject denial. That is what Consent as a Felt Sense is all about. That is what the work to “break the abusive/consensual binary” is all about; dissolving the abuser/abuse victim binary is the only way to effectively end the cycle of abuse.


Also, @ socialjusticevegan’s first response, “having a conversation with your child” is not something you can do on command. Forcing your child to interact/communicate with you is abusive.

Yes, all of this.

I have only a couple things to add, nothing to refute.

Here they are.

First, when socialjusticevegan describes it as “an exaggeration” when parents do things that translate to, “Which option do you choose for learning to appreciate this thing that I have decided you should appreciate?” the exaggeration is more about the overtness of the ultimatum, not the fact that there is an ultimatum. The less trivial a given task or action is perceived by the parent (or any other authority, really, like teachers), the more likely it is that their ultimatums will be presented more overtly.

As an example of this, see this excerpt from Alessandra Orofino’s speech, “It’s our city! Let’s fix it!”

So far, most city governments have been effective at using tech to turn citizens into human sensors who serve authorities with data on the city: potholes, fallen trees or broken lamps. They have also, to a lesser extent, invited people to participate in improving the outcome of decisions that were already made for them, just like my mom when I was eight and she told me that I had a choice: I had to be in bed by 8 p.m., but I could choose my pink pajamas or my blue pajamas. That’s not participation[.]

(Emphasis added.)

Second, when gincoffee describes the predicament that many parents are in, they are not exaggerating when they suggest that for many families, economic conditions are so bad that their decision boils down to, “If I don’t send my children to school, I can not ensure that they will have at least one minimally nutritious meal a day.” But like so many other things in capitalism, this is not really a choice, it is a threat.

Wage slavery or stavation? *scratches head* That's not a choice, it's a threat!

Beyond that, if you actually examine the contents of school meals, you will find that the food safety and nutrition standards of school lunches are far worse than the standards of fast food companies. The takeaway from this is not that we should “privatize school lunches because corporations do it better.” The takeaway is that food itself is a weapon of class antagonism; the classic bumper sticker, “It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber,” isn’t only relevant to money, it’s also relevant to food.

Finally, gincoffee‘s also correct to point out that another reason compulsory schooling survives is because society needs to “have a place for the child to go while the parent goes to work,” but I would rephrase this to focus on the cause of this problem, which is that “parents are forced to abandon their children in order to labor for other people’s profit.”

The fact of the matter is that there is a direct line between the abuses of schooling and the abuses of employment. I’m not merely speaking here of the abuse individual children endure at the hands of school faculty (trigger warning for graphic video of electrocution torture of a youth in school), nor am I speaking solely of the specific abuse perpetrated against a worker by their boss. I am speaking also and intentionally about the fact that schooling as well as employment are both abuses, themselves. Moreover, they are the same abuse mutated in different forms and applied at different ages of our lives.

The direct line between these two abuses should be obvious to anyone who has ever gone to school or felt the need to get a job in order to survive: you go to a good school to get a good job so that you can labor for other people upwards of 40 hours a week in exchange for paltry sums of currency tokens (that don’t grow on trees, after all) that you are then forced to trade for things that you need to survive, like food, which literally grows on trees.

And that says nothing of compulsory education’s designs dating farther back than the formation of The Education Trust in the early 20th Century, whose intentionally classist objectives was described in a polemical fashion I find delightful in Chapter 2 of John Taylor Gatto’s book, “The Underground History of American Education,” titled “An Angry Look at Modern Schooling.” An excerpt:

School was looked upon from the first decade of the twentieth century as a branch of industry and a tool of governance. For a considerable time, probably provoked by a climate of official anger and contempt directed against immigrants in the greatest displacement of people in history, social managers of schooling were remarkably candid about what they were doing. In a speech he gave before businessmen prior to the First World War, Woodrow Wilson made this unabashed disclosure:

We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.


With the breakdown of home and village industries, the passing of chores, and the extinction of the apprenticeship system by large-scale production with its extreme division of labor (and the “all conquering march of machinery”), an [“]army of workers has arisen,[“] said [Ellwood Patterson] Cubberley [one of the most influential theorists of compulsory education administration], [“]who know nothing.[“]

(Emphasis added.)

And this, of course, is the entire design of both school and jobs. Jobs are school for adults, devoid of education, disdainful of learning, and retributive of exploration. And so is school. That was always the point.

Well, that was part of school’s purpose. Another purpose of school is genocide. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

“How I Explained Heartbleed To My Therapist”

This is an important post by Meredith L. Patterson:

“Remember back around April or May, when you had to change your passwords on all the websites you use? Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn, everywhere?” He nods, vigorously. “Do you remember hearing the word ‘Heartbleed’ back around then?” A blank look. Maybe I should have worn the T-shirt. Too late. I have to press on.

“That part’s not important. It doesn’t matter what the problem was called. What matters is, there’s one piece of software that nearly all those websites use to make sure that all the messages that go between your browser and their site are private. And nobody pays for it.”

“Nobody at all?”

“Nobody. The people who write it have been working on it for like fifteen years now, and they’re basically all working for free, the same way I’m doing on the work I’d rather be doing, even though Google and Facebook and practically every company with a website relies on that software these guys make. ‘Relies’ as in without this software, all their business evaporates.” I leave out the part where half of “these guys” are my dead husband’s friends and they’re not all guys; there will be time to talk about that at a later appointment. “And back around New Year’s in 2011, one of those guys made a little mistake with a really big consequence. The upshot of it was that any jerkoff could just ask whatever websites they wanted for whatever private information they had on hand at the time — your passwords, your calendar, whatever.

“And nobody in a position to fix it noticed until April of this year. Which is why you and everybody else had to change all your passwords. And in the meantime, who knows how many credit card numbers and god knows what else got snatched.” My e-cigarette is nearly empty but I fidget with it anyway, calculating on the back of the envelope in my head whether I can dredge just one more hit of nicotine without burning the coil to an ashy, taste-ruining wreck. Everything has become a cost-benefit analysis on the edge of a razor in this New New Economy that has become my life: how far can I stretch the resources I have before physics or information theory dictate they snap? “And even after a disaster like this, these poor fuckers are still running on handfuls of donations. They’re still overstretched and understaffed. It’s a tragedy of the commons problem.”

That’s a catchphrase you hear sometimes in sociology, a cousin dialect to the language of psychoanalysis he speaks. He leans forward. “In what way?” he asks. I hope it means I’ve given him firmer footing than all this computery shit he doesn’t speak.

“These bugs that happen, these mistakes in software that lead to vulnerabilities, they aren’t one-off problems. They’re systemic. There are patterns to them and patterns to how people take advantage of them. But it isn’t in any one particular company’s interest to dump a pile of their own resources into fixing even one of the problems, much less dump a pile of resources into an engineering effort to fight the pattern. Google could easily throw a pile of engineers at fixing OpenSSL, but it’d never be in their interest to do it, because they’d be handing Facebook and LinkedIn and Amazon a pile of free money in unspent remediation costs. They’ve got even less incentive to fix entire classes of vulnerabilities across the board. Same goes for everybody else in the game.

See also, “Your Consent Is Not Being Violated By Accident” and “Predator Alert Tool as a Game Theoretic Simulation of Countermeasures to Rape Culture,” two posts further describing the intentional abuse by the Silicon Valley for-profits against individuals and organizations who explicitly declare a “people over profit” motive. Also relevant is this short post about the so-called “sharing economy,” bluntly titled, “Get on your knees and thank the Silicon Valley elites for your chance to serve them.