Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Tools To Remake Our Lives

I. Market Price: A Story

I know what you are going to say: economic theory is disgusting, repulsive garbage. If any theory is going to be influenced by those who benefit it is going to be a theory about money, one that influences how things are exchanged and decides how much ends up in the possession of the theorists themselves.
And I hope you see right there I played a trick on you: exchange is just one way things pass from one person to another: of the three I know of - taking, giving, exchange - exchange is the least common.
Don't believe it? I'll tell you a story.
I used to be a dealer in rare watches. Behind each and every watch that came into my hands was crime. Either it literally was stolen from a house or a store, in which case often there'd be sharp scratches where various objects rubbed against each other when thrown together in the getaway bag. Or stolen in the sense that you took your grandfather's watch to a collectors watch store in Zurich to sell, and was informed that it was nice, but not uncommon, and had no value other than the meltdown value of the gold in its case. Melt value of the gold was not market value, you'd further be informed, because processing had to be paid for. You'd get 2/3 market.  Do you want to sell?
And still, this isn't what I mean. The crime was each of us dealers, self-employed wanderers from market to market, sometimes, like me, from city to city and country to country, had specialized knowledge about different watches. There were literally thousands of different watches that were offered for sale, each with its own price. Some watches some knew about, no one knew about all. And we all, bargaining with each other, neglected sharing knowledge with each other. But only sometimes. Sometimes we'd make a gift of what we knew, forwent taking advantage of our colleague's ignorance. We sold at market price, in other words.
And what was market price?
All prices were set in effect by the store owners. They decided how much profit they wanted, made a guess based on experience with similar kinds of watch what retail price might be, and offered us dealers accordingly. But only when the market was large enough to justify actually paying for a watch when, as I said, they could be bought for nothing from non-professionals.
Every store owner made the calculations in the same way, because they had the same character, a mixture of greed and relish for cheating. They came up with the same price for each watch, without ever communicating with each other in any way. And there was something else involved.
These store owners constructed watches out of left over, or fake parts, and sold them to dealers or the unsuspecting. They circulated in the market. Buying a watch becomes risky for the amateur, with the result that stores, where the buyer has more recourse for recovery after being cheated, have more customers and so power to set prices.
There never was any free market. Only a "market price" set by monopoly of store owners and their dishonest practices; or taking advantage of someone's ignorance; or making a gift of your superior knowledge. Only monopoly, giving, or taking.
Watch dealers are a colorful bunch. We had what we needed and had a way of living, depending on no one but ourselves, we could be fairly sure of going on having what we needed. We made gifts when it looked like we were going to be friends, we held back when prospects weren't good. We didn't really care.
But I'm talking mostly about myself here. I was constantly on the alert for the others reconsidering, deciding they didn't have what they needed and lowering themselves to the profit demanding practice of the store owners.

II. Anarchist Dialog
As soon as the communes of the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries had succeeded in emancipating themselves from their lords, ecclesiastical or lay, their communal labor and communal consumption began to extend and develop rapidly. The township—and not private persons—freighted ships and equipped expeditions, for the export of their manufacture, and the benefit arising from the foreign trade did not accrue to individuals, but was shared by all. At the outset, the townships also bought provisions for all their citizens. Traces of these institutions have lingered on into the nineteenth century, and the people piously cherish the memory of them in their legends.*
- What do you think is the biggest obstacle?
- Expropriation.
- You think we won't ever be able to convince the majority it's in their best interest? Why, when in exchange for agreeing to work a few hours a day at the job of their choice they'll come out way ahead when the massive riches the few have are shared with everyone equally?
- They'll be afraid of losing themselves.
- Seeing others lose their property they'll be afraid their own will be taken away?
- Yes, and their selves with it. People think of themselves as individuals, as being more individual the more specialized their lives become, the more they take on new roles. The machines people use, the buildings they work in, the people they work with become reflections of their particular place in the world. When the idea of expropriation is raised, suddenly people understand their individuality, reflected and summed up in all these separate people places and things, is not independence, but the opposite, complete dependence. Dependence on all these things being there to be lived among.
- If that is true, the more specialized, technological our societies become, the more resistant to change they will be. What's the solution?
- First, let's come to an understanding about expropriation.
- Alright.
- Would you agree that human beings are fundamentally social?
- More than individual?
- Yes. In the sense that the best and first thing for an individual to do is make friends and cooperate. That there is no other way to come to know ourselves and correct inborn tendencies to error.
- Ok.
- Do we make friends with everyone we meet, or only a few?
- A few.
- Why, if being social is best for an individual?
- Because we can't be with everyone in the world at the same time.
- Not have a dialog with, make something with them all.
- Yes.
- But everyone you begin with and decide against loses the time and special attention that's been lavished on you. In a way you've expropriated his time and effort, took away that piece of life that led nowhere.
- But it was offered freely.
- As a gift. But it is reasonably to give gifts only to people who stay in the same community. Without any direct exchange, everyone is likely to receive a gift just by being there.
- And rejected by you they will not be in your community.
- Making gifts, and expropriation, giving and taking, are our community making tools, as necessary for making a friendship as establishing a state.
- So?
- Specialized people think they are independent because they have an individual, unique set of things they play their roles in the midst of. Really they are dependent on each and every thing remaining as it is for them to continue to feel free. Agree?
- Yes.
- But someone who forms friendships in the midst of the risk and the violence of expropriation and gift giving cannot pass through without exercising real free choice.
- The formation of an anarchist state is an act of individuality.
- Yes. But more than that. Assume an expropriation has been performed. Assume sufficient basics of life, food and shelter, such that everyone in the community could take as much as they wanted, with the exception of hoarders who would be removed.
- By what authority?
- Consensus.
- But would there be a consensus?
- If people understood the principle behind the law.
- What principle?
- You know how in the Orestes trilogy a cycle of vengeance ends with the appearance of the Athena, Goddess of Athens, in effect founding the city by giving it the safety of laws. The fixed relation of people to each other is left behind in contemplation of the beauty of the city newly established.
- You're saying that people could all agree in this shift in the way of looking at things. And the practical result would be in, as in the play, putting aside private interests?
- Yes. Stop doing things as isolated individuals, stop doing altogether. Do nothing for the moment and share a view of something beautiful.
- But we'll never get the specialists in our technological society to see the beauty of a state. We live economic lives, our so-called rest from constant doing and making is only distraction, entertainment, recreation, in fact, just more activity.
- And if we could show how being in our state allowed real, not illusory freedom and individuality?
- Maybe, but I don't see it very clearly myself.
- Once the state is founded it would have to establish relations with other states. Wouldn't it do this on the same basis as it itself was founded?
- I don't know.
- Wouldn't the state make gifts or expropriate, as it found to be in its interest?
- It might.
- And within the state, wouldn't every individual also, making friends, forming businesses relations, creative collaborations, expropriate and make gifts?
- I guess.
- So as the state itself is an expression of freedom, so are the relations both within it and between states outside?
- Yes.
- Now, let's imagine asking our specialized, technological citizen to join our anarchist community. Obedience to a command of "mutual aid" has no part in the plan here. He's given the freedom of Odysseus to steal or be generous in the adventure of his life.
- I think the kind of stealing and generosity you're talking about, openly conditional arrangements, would depress our banker and stock speculating population accustomed to intricate commercial deceptions and magnificent gifts to charities.
- Why? Was there ever a more romantic character than Robin Hood, robbing-from-the-rich, giving-to-the-poor, the founder of a community like Athena? And do you realize that depression itself is no more than the result of someone specialized in life having necessary conditions removed and facing the fact they had no real freedom, that they could go on with their "individual" lives only so long as the other "individuals" didn't change, and now, having freedom, have no tools, no experience in dealing with freedom?
- And we anarchists, living constantly with expropriation and giving, do have the tools?
- Yes. We make friends and make societies. We have tools to remake our lives.**

 'In India, I stuck a computer in a hole in the boundary wall of the slum next to my office. The children came running in, what is it? I said, I don't know. / Can we touch it? / If you wish. About 8 hours later, the children were browsing. How do you know all this, I asked? / You've given us a machine that works only in English so we had to teach ourselves English, they complained.' - Sugata Mitra