Paul Sprawl is a singer-songwriter whom I've known for over ten years now. We are Facebook Friends, and I recently commented on a post Paul made in support of a planned December 12 shutdown of all ports on the west coast. That comment turned into a dialogue, which Paul kindly and accurately (no doubt with a great amount of effort) replicated on his blog. Paul broke up my longer posts with his interjections for easier reading, but other than that (and my correction of some very bad typos on my part) I am doing the same here, without further comment:
Since you believe that collapsing the entirety of the capitalist system by doing things like shutting down commerce is a solution, congrats Paul, you and those who want what you want are winning and are about to see that solution. It will bring darkness. And pain. It'll be shared by everyone, to be sure, and before it spreads across the entirety of the nation all the capitalists you hate will be jailed or killed by the mob, and so for awhile a lot of those who want what you want will be happy. Enjoy what you can when you can. Again, congratulations. Hope you're the one who gets to slit my throat. I'll give you a big hug while you're doing it.
1. Shutting down the ports temporarily isn't the same as collapsing the entirety of the capitalist system. Have the labor unions in the USA been so powerless for so long that we've forgotten what strikes were? For those of us who no longer know, or never did, strikes are the last resort of workers to negotiate with management for fair treatment. That would be the worker's version. The management version is that strikes are an insane and dangerous weapon that should be outlawed. Pick your side. I'm with the workers.
2. All is not well. There is darkness and pain already, but your characterization of it as a quickly spreading epidemic that will engulf all is more like another bad Hollywood plot than the future we will be facing.
3. I don't hate people for participating in capitalism. I participate in it myself, although not happily. Call it what you want, if it results in lots of suffering and death, then it needs to change.
4. Slit your throat? I've had a hard year myself, but the worldwide uprising against heartless systems that brutalize the losers in a game very few win is one of the high points for me. I doubt that you and I want very different things. Human needs are common. They're not being met as well as they could be. You're not presenting much of an argument for or against anything. Being afraid of change has kept us from being good citizens. We've fallen prey to fear mongers manipulating us away from our own good common sense.
1. Your world view tells us everything we need to know. You are a classic Marxist, believing not that the world runs best in the midst of free people, pursuing their own happiness, however they choose, whether it comes by working for themselves, working for others or creating work for themselves AND others; but rather that the world necessarily consists of Management and Labor, and never the two shall cooperate. You don't believe in competition, because competition creates losers; you actually believe that there should never be any winners or any losers, forgetting that humanity has never created a system where everyone is equal. Because it can't happen. Humans are built to be competitive and to desire reward for their work commensurate with its value. Humanity is never equal, under anyone's economic system. The difference is that with free capitalism anyone, at any time, can decide him/herself to take a risk and create something, and take a chance at great wealth, and with the alternative the state is always making sure that it approves of whatever someone wants to do in order to ensure that no one gets too wealthy - except the elites who run the state.
2. A bad Hollywood plot? You betcha. Based on a true story. Every time anyone has tried to create an egalitarian shangri-la, it's turned into oppression. The best that anyone has ever come up with is a state where everyone (except the elites who run things) shares a low-grade mediocrity, where no one is poor but no one is rich or ever has the opportunity to grow rich because the state will tax everything that's earned above the mediocrity-inducing median. And with that, no one is motivated to create anything new or better or different, because it simply isn't worth it.
3. Name one economic system that has not resulted in suffering in a portion of the population. Capitalism produces less misery per capita than any of its alternatives.
4. I embrace change and I believe in many concrete things. Twenty of them are listed in the blog post I'll link to below, and that's just a few of them. I am afraid. I"m scared to death of you, Paul, because history teaches me what happens when people who believe the kinds of things you believe are led like sheep into the darkest reaches of their contempt for the status quo, only death, misery and oppression result. As I say, you're winning, and my belief in your freedom - let me use the word again - your *freedom* to espouse whatever nonsense you want is your right as an individual, I will join you arm in arm to prevent anyone from trying to stop you from saying it. When you break the laws society has created to keep us civilized, however, you should be prepared to deal with the consequences. Sadly, those who are manipulating you and those who join you in your mission to destroy freedom are also winning on the crime-consequences equation as well. And that's why I say: Okay then, have at it. When you find yourself encouraging or participating in the murder of someone you don't like in the street sometime very soon, remember I was the first to tell you.
1.Mark, you don’t know my “worldview”. You just read a Facebook post of mine and some comments.
You seem to be saying that any opposition to free and unregulated corporate state captialism is classic Marxism. Was FDR’s New Deal classic Marxism? Was the Glass Steagall Act Marxist? The Corporate State needs to go. Taking our government back doesn't have to mean anything other than that. All reactionary fears aside, OWS is about ending the corporate state, not ending capitalism. I'm not being used. I have thought, read, listened, and talked about this for 40 years. If we, the people, still want a capitalist system, that's ok with me, but the obscene economic inequality and general social and environmental injustice has to end. Personally, I think a little competition goes a long way, but I can still work with you if you just can't get enough of it.
I have more than a vague notion of what will replace the system that I hate. I want real democracy and I want a socio/political/economic system that works for a lot more people than the one we've got now. What I hate is exactly this: the corporate take-over of Washington. Clearly, our current problem is excessive corporate power. So, we work to diminish corporate control and power in the world. No need for you to make a cartoon of me just yet.
Exactly how competitive humans are “built” to be is not very clear, but encouraging brutal competition seems to bring out the worst in us.
2.Well, the jury is still out as to whether frontal lobes are an evolutionary asset or liability, but that’s no reason to give up. The American Revoltion created a Constitution and Bill of Rights with egalitarian ideals. That’s what Democracy is – egalitarian distribution of power. So, let’s be clear that you’re talking only about economic systems. Egalitarian control of the government isn’t Marxism or Capitalism. It’s Democracy – a political system. What we’ve got – insufficiently regulated Corporate State Capitalism - has deformed everything. There are those who want to hold onto capitalism. I’m more of an anarchist than that, but I’m ok with holding onto capitalism if we can make some progress on taking control of it back from corporations.
BTW, your notion that motivation disappears without monetary reward is foolishly unwise. Clearly, the highest and best human motivations have little to do with money.
3. It’s true that humans create suffering. I think it comes largely from blind obedience and fear of things that pose no real danger. I simply disagree about capitalism producing less misery than socialism, communism, etc. You seem to equate misery with net financial worth. And you seem more concerned with unfettered free market capitalism than with human happiness. Here and now, in the USA, we have a less regulated form of capitalism than has occurred in my lifetime. It has not brought great happiness and satisfaction with it. Once again, I don’t insist on any particular economic or political system. They all get corrupted. The important thing is to keep track of the desired ends of any system and whether they’re being attained. You seem overboard in defense of a system that is not working well for most people in the world. Misery takes many shapes and they don’t all show up in economic data.
4. I don’t see a link to a blog, but Jeebus, Mark, you don’t know much of what I believe or think. You mostly seem scared of your own shadow. I resent your characterization of me as a mindless follower. I have worked hard since I was 13 to read, think, listen, and talk about things on a level that would allow me to make my own decsions. Exactly how you make the leap from anything said here and your mindless fear of losing whatever freedom and control you exercise over your life currently, makes no rational sense at all. Nor does your cowardly fear of violence in the street. More people die on the highway every year. More people die because they don’t have health care. The deaths in Tunisia and Egypt are few in comparison to either. Nothing you’ve written here makes me the least bit curiious to read your blog, but I will work with you on any issue I believe in, including diminishing corporate power. Don’t hold your breath waiting for me to get blood on my hands in the streets. If there is any, it’ll probably be my own. I’ve done well enough at protecting myself so far. We’ll see. Somehow, I’m not exactly warmed by your “concern” for my well being.
Paul Sprawl: (Link to Paul's song, "No Clue," from the album Army of Dreamers)
Mark Humphreys: (Link to Mark's blog post, "Basics")
(At this point I responded to another person who was in the conversation, and I said, in pertinent part, that people who agree with Paul have bullied their way in to the discussion of solutions.)
"bullied their way into the equation" hardly describes OWS or the worldwide people's movement. Bullying involves excessive force - exactly how have the worldwide rebellions anywhere exceeded the kinds of force exerted on them by the various government efforts to silence the people's voices?
OWS is dedicated to the tedious and difficult process of consensual decision-making, which is the polar opposite of bullying, or even the tyranny of the majority.Yesterday at
...they bullied their way in through a protest movement which, rather than consisting of peaceful assembly and the seeking of redress to their grievances, chose to occupy - occupy is the word, is it not? - public (and most importantly private) property without permits, without any way to maintain public health, and by utilizing methods that prevent people from working and/or shut down business completely.
Occupying public land sounds like a reasonable thing for the public to do. (Liberty Square in NYC is public land managed by a private company - a grey area) It was done peacefully. Calling the encampments any sort of bullying is plainly a misrepresentation and a lie. Public health has been maintained in every encampment I've visited or heard about. You have spouted so much that's untrue in your typing. OWS has never prevented anybody from working. On Nov. 2nd in Oakland, the port was shut down because the longshoremen wouldn't cross the line that the Oakland Occupiers created. It was their choice. If you knew much about that situation, you'd know that the Longshoremen are very much in solidarity with Occupy Oakland. There's no coercion happening there, nor has it occurred anywhere else. Business was shut down on Nov. 2 voluntarily for all in Oakland who chose to participate. There was a method to this madness. It was a response to the use of brutal police force by the Oakland cops. It was measured and it was successful.
Tomorrow (December 12) is the scheduled day for all ports on the west coast to be closed down by us - the public. This isn't some insane death wish. It's a measured response to the nationally co-ordinated (and brutal) evictions of Occupy encampments around the continent. May it be inspiring to all.
Mark (now responding to Paul's last full message)
1. Apologies: I should have used the phrase "the worldview indicated by your posts" instead of "your worldview."
FDR was a statist, and most of the legislation passed to regulate the behavior and profitability of individuals and corporations is statist. Which is, essentially, Marxist. The belief that the value of those who provide labor is equal to that of those who innovate and use labor to realize their innovation is Marxist. It's a valid point of view, Paul. It is dangerously flawed, in my view, but I don't condemn anyone for believing in it. I'm simply encouraging clarity.
Statism is the belief that government is good/ necessary. It encompasses a broad spectrum of political philosophies. Statism is not essentially Marxist. Efforts to break up monopolies, to create jobs, to provide a safety net for those who need it, to regulate workplace conditions, protect animals and the general environment, provide common resources such as libraries, schools, fire and police departments, and in short, to protect living things from abuse and damage by dangerous, powerful organizations and individuals, have essentially nothing to do with views of the relationship between capital and labor. It is merely a variety of concern for the bullied, exploited, and disadvantaged. It is not a judgment concerning Marx’s analysis of capital and labor relations.
The attempt to pigeon-hole myself or the global people’s movement as Marxist is simply inaccurate, shoddy thinking. Characterizing it as a moral objection is a more valid generalization, because there’s no unified political philosophy that wraps up the diverse opinions and beliefs of the worldwide uprisings. I recently linked arms with an outspoken Libertarian on my left and a 72-yr old long-time activist on my right. The more accurate description of what’s been happening is that people have been collectively objecting to the abusive control of their countries by dictators – in some cases, the dictatorship is by the banks – Goldman Sachs and the Royal Bank of Scotland being good examples.
Repectfully, I don't think you have anything more than a vague notion of what you want to see in place as an operational society. In your posts and in the lyric to the song you posted, I see a lot of platitudes but no real architecture. You bemoan the state of things and state how much you want to improve them, but you don't say how. You and I both agree tha the level of crony capitalism and illegal abuse of the financial system is out of control. I want to elect representatives who will do their jobs and enforce the law that already exists. You want to tear the entire system down - and you have left me no clue as to what you will replace it with.
I don’t have any idea how long you’ve been lurking in the shadows, but there are plenty of fleshed-out ideas in my FB posts – mostly the work of others. I don’t agree with all of them, but have posted things that I though deserving of greater attention. Yes, it’s true my song lyrics don’t have detailed policy positions. I choose to write the way I write because I find it more powerful and effective. I have left plenty of clues as to what we will replace the current malaise with. For example, in the chorus of Army of Dreamers, you’ll find the line:
Imagine there's no enemy
Only you and me
This line alludes to a co-operative emphasis, which implies de-emphasizing a competitive one. I believe this to be the core of the consciousness shift our species needs. It has been pointed out that the 99% slogans still contain an Us-and-Them perspective. While this is true, it’s also true that the 99% slogans are about cutting a cancer from our body. The poor have been criminalized when the rich are far guiltier of abuse. In some very real ways, the rich have created an adversarial relationship with the rest of us. This abuse guarantees the continued destruction of life on Earth. What do we replace bank dictatorship with? People power – de-centralized, localized, reclamation of power by citizens. Libertarian municipalism is a term I first heard from Murray Bookchin. "The overriding problem is to change the structure of society so that people gain power. The best arena to do that is the municipality — the city, town, and village — where we have an opportunity to create a face-to-face democracy." It describes a system in which directly democratic assemblies would oppose and replace the state with a confederation of free municipalities. This is something much closer to my ideal, but I would be happy to see corporate power diminished on the way to it. It is proving difficult to unseat the bankers (and the other powerful corporations) without changing the centralized system we currently have. So, I see localization is our best option. I, and more importantly, lots of others have plenty of concrete ideas in this regard. Stick around and you’ll see more.
Humans are built for brutal competition, among many other things, all of which arises from what I believe is an instinctual drive for individuality. Individualism must come before all else - without it human society cannot evolve true community or communal compassion.
"Vestiges of brutal competition still exist in the highest civilization, but they are called crimes” - Major JW Powell
Ok, believe that our most basic biological drives are essentially competitive. Whether that’s true or not, is it not the case that co-operation generally benefits participating individuals more than competition? If self-interest is primary, then civilization has broadened it considerably. Narrow self-interest doesn’t benefit the individual as much as altruism. Clearly, civilization requires that co-operation be placed above competition. Just as clearly, an excessive emphasis on the individual and competition results in plenty of suffering. With today's emphasis on the individual and competition, many would leave today’s towns and cities if they knew enough about making it on their own and had good land to go to.
2. I suspect your opening line here was meant as levity, but I think it actually demonstrates a fundamental aspect of the thinking of the Marxist/statist philosophy - that the flaws in humanity might need to be engineered out of us for our own good. I believe that the human "monster," if you will, should be left intact, tamed by responsible people who pass responsible laws with appropriate punishment to curb the monster.
Intended as humorous, yes, but also true. You’ve got Marx confused with Hobbes, or Kant. No thinker has ever suggested that Marx wanted the state to engineer human flaws out of us. I don’t know who you think you’re quoting “monster” from, but it isn’t Marx. Do some reading before you attempt to characterize Marx's ideas.
Okay, so that was an aside. what we're talking about here is the history of societies who allowed themselves to be experimented upon to see if egalitarianism could actually work as a way of governance and economic policy.
The Founders did espouse egalitarianism as a goal, and strove to get as close to it as possible. And they understood that pure egalitarianism is impossible - so they created the U.S. Constitution. That system is republicanism, not democracy. Forgive my use of an overused cliche: Democracy is two wolves and one sheep voting on what's for dinner. The Founders set up a republic, under which direct democracy only applies to the selection of representatives, who are thrust into bodies in conflict with one another - thereby making passage of any new law difficult and time consuming.
Ah, the founders… and which ones are you referring to? Many of them did not strive to be egalitarian, but only to sound like it. For example, the fact that only white, male, land owners were allowed to vote is clear evidence of the values of many of the founders. If equality is a worthy goal, then why not conntinue to work towards it? Our government take the form of a Republic, but in type it is a Democracy. Direct democracy is different from representative democracy. The polis, or Greek city-state was direct democracy. Physical presence on all votes is required for direct democracy. Voting for a representative is just part of representative democracy. Setting up our federal government as a republic was intended to protect the individual and the minority from a tyranny by the majority and was thus egalitarian.
And they set it up in a way that guarantees liberty, in all aspects of life. This naturally flows to commerce, and capitalilsm is the only economic system that is compatible with liberty. Therefore we are, in fact, talking about both political *and* economic systems.
Wow, I wish it had guaranteed liberty - in any aspect of life. In reality, it sounded good on paper, but was interpreted in a way that was a little better than with the English, but still a ways from liberty in all aspects of life. You can have your opinion about capitalism being the only economic system compatible with liberty, but that still doesn’t make it a political system. We are now talking about both, but before you were typing about economic systems.
Mark (now responding to Paul's last full message):
Yes, corporations have taken over too much of the political system. And that needs to be controlled - seriously contolled. In this regard the so-called "Tea Partiers" (whom I count myself among, although I loathe the tag...but waddayagonnadoo?) and OWSers agree on the nature of the problem. The difference is in the solution. We don't believe that dismantling everything surrounding the problem is going to do anything other than take us into the dire situation I've already described. And we don't hate corporations as a rule - we only hate the abuses that have been allowed by our lawmakers. We believe that corporations are good things - they create new products, compete to provide the best and most affordable goods and services and employ millions of workers in the process. All capitalistic endavors are based on the desire to make a profit, and we believe the desire to make a profit is (to be repetitive, sorry) an essential aspect of human nature.
OWS doesn’t have a consensus to “dismantle everything”, or obliterate all corporations immediately. OWS isn’t consensually against capitalism, althought the majority of individuals probably are. Like Ron Paul, OWS is against the corporate state. Ron Paul calls it corporatism. Personally, my opinion is that capitalism needs serious regulation to avoid substantial limitations to freedom. Right now, the important thing is to focus on our common ground and join together to fight the enemy, (which is us) the corporate state.
And ah, the essential difference, and where we each believe the other is horribly mistaken: You're confusing the drive to create and innovate itself with what kills it. It is never good for anyone's soul to do anything strictly for money. but when there is no reward for doing what you love and acheiving results from that work, the human spirit is crushed and slowly the motivation to innovate or create new and better things is diminished. I believe that is undeniable.
First, you’ve created differences between us in your head mostly. Yes, there are plenty of differences between us, but mostly the ones you’ve cited amount to nothing that would keep us from working to dismantle the corporate state together. Dismantling the corporate state doesn't mean the dismantling of "everything". The corporate state didn't always exist. Although the trend was already established, the complete corporate coup in Washington has taken place in the last 30 years. Plenty of work for us to do. No need to de-rail things just yet. Wait until we get a bit further. Then we’ll quibble. For now, we’ve got more important things to talk about.
Doing something you love and achieving results from that work is rewarding. What you’re insisting on is the obvious necessity for money support in a capitalist system, but any society with a monetary system contains the same need for money. I disagree that the motivation to create is diminished without support, but find that the ability and resources needed to create may be. Artists don’t cease to create because of a lack of money or fame unless they were mostly looking for money or fame.
You're also confusing, I suspect, charity with commerce. They are two different things. Helping others is among the highest of human callings. Believing that we should be forced to help others whether we want to or not creates only animosity and defeats the holiness of charity. What most idealists I know want is the complete eradication of asshole-ism in the world. All attempts at making that happen have only resulted in the assholes going underground and making things worse.
The holiness of charity will survive alongside social programs to protect the poor and disadvantaged. Currently our government takes plenty of money from us, but doesn't give us enough for it. I'm not confusing charity with commerce any more than I'm confusing the military with health care. We pay taxes, but tens of thousands die each year because they don't have health care. Our government takes our money and gives it away alright, but to the big corporations that pull the strings in Washington. I'm in favor of protecting the individual in the political and economic arenas. I don't see that these policies have created animosity in the other countries I've lived in or visited.
3. I equate liberty with the greatest opportunity for human happiness. And capitalilsm is an outgrowth of liberty.
Liberty doesn’t equal happiness, but it does make a good foundation for a meaningful and satisfying life. Capitalism is a cancer on this planet, but we can get past our difference of opinion about that and work together, because we agree on many things.
Most, if not all, of your arguments are based on a commendable desire that everyone find happiness. You state you don't care how it happens, you just want to eliminate what prevents it. That is fundamentally flawed. It's like music or mathematics - there need to be parameters within any operating society. If you truly believe there is no need for any structure, you believe in chaos. Humans will never - ever - be able to live without structure; without an agreed-upon set of rules which they can rely upon to plan their journey through life. If you believe otherwise, it is exactly that which makes you so dangerous and why I'm so frightened of you: those who don't need to have a replacement plan for the society they dream of are the ones who are the easiest for the despots of the world to manipulate.
Of course there are parameters. There is structure. There are rules and there’s enforcement of them. You have the cartoon image of the mindless, bomb-throwing revolutionary/anarchist in your head. Banish it. It ain’t me and it doesn’t resemble anyone I’ve met in solidarity with OWS. What you seem oblivious to is the notion that we can work together to form plans. I have my ideals and I can tell you precisely what they are, but in the real world we work with each other, not just our ideas, so I keep a lot of my ideas to myself in the interest of finding common ground. I've revealed some of them to you here, but I keep the end goal in mind and am pragmatically flexible about making progress towards it.
And you *are* being manipulated, Paul. You *are* being used. You are being encouraged to engage your wildest fantasies of what the world will be once the current system is demolished - you are not being asked to think about what will replace it. and that's because the people who are encouraging you to think and act that way already know what the new world will look like. And if you think the current Oakland police force is brutal, I assure you the police in your future are going to make the current cops look like pacifists.
You’ve repeated your accusation that I’m being manipulated several times, as though I had no ideas of my own. Although I’ve objected, you continue to insist that I’m somehow not thinking for myself. Well, yes I am being led. It’s true. Not by individuals though. I’m led by ideas and I follow the ones that convince me. Your insistance on characterizing me as a childish pawn, with no good evidence to support your claim, and with plenty of objection on my part, makes you an obnoxious bore. Your condescending and cowardly cautioning that the police brutality will get worse for me is plain ugly behavior. I’m ashamed for you. No wonder you object to efforts at reducing “asshole-ism”.
4. You're not mindless. And you are not a follower - but you are being led right now - and the brilliance of those who you are following is that they know who to make you feel like you're not a lemming at all.
Enough of this unfounded accusation. Your fears have wreaked havoc with your better judgment.
I am not scared of my own shadow - I am scared that the entire society upon which the greatest hopes of humanity is about to be wiped out by the greatest Marxist revolution ever conducted. And Marxist revolutions are never won by an honorable fight - they are always won by mobs. And mobs do not think. They only destroy. And Paul, you are being herded into the largest mob the world has ever known. You can't possibly know now where you're being led. I encourage you to step away and at least realize that you're being dangled on a multitude of puppet strings.
Your shadow is exactly what you’re afraid of and it consists of all the unexamined things that you refuse access to your consciousness. Your characterization of what’s happening here and elsewhere in the world as Marxist revolution is made in near total ignorance of what Marx wrote and what has been written and done since. You are acting the part of a mindless reactionary – an ignorant slave of your own worst nightmares. Your knowledge in this situation would fit in a very small container. You embarrass and shame yourself with your cowardice and ignorance. And yet, I know you’re not as bad as you appear here. You’re just showing your worst side. It’s ok. I remember better things about you.
I am also horribly sad at the recent turn of events. I have always believed in liberty and the capitalist republic we have in place now. I have known poverty in my life; I have known great pain; and I have even hated my life. But with the freedom I've had and the understanding all along that I was the only person responsible for changing my life, I did. I chose to live out my dreams of touring and playing music with little possiblity of economic reward, and did it not for the money but with the conscious choice of doing it because I loved it. I did not for a minute believe that I was entitled to a living from that - and that was fine with me. All the while I was continuing to build a career in the corporate world, and when I decided that I wanted to achieve more in that world, I worked very hard (and still do) to hopefully someday become one of the so-called "one percent." I may not get all the way there, but I'm certainly going to keep trying. I love what I do, and I love the journey...and I love the struggle. this is what basic American capitalism is to me, and you and those with whom you agree want to destroy that. So yeah, I'm scared. Since you're winning and will probably prevail, it's going to be up to you and yours to prove me wrong. Please proceed.
You’ve always been an interesting person to me. I read your very detailed accounts of how you toured around playing Borders shows, driving maybe 600 miles between shows, sleeping in Motel 6’s, continuing to work as a paralegal all the while and losing lots of sleep. I had a certain respect for those efforts, but always found them somewhat misguided. My own touring methods were very different from yours. I quit my day job. I never played Borders. I was very engaged with lots of people along the way and we weren't surrounded by corporate hell (at least not completely inside it). I slept and cooked in my van. I hardly ever drove 600 miles in a day and never followed it with a performance on the same day. Yes, you always kept your hand in the corporate world. In fact, even in your musical endeavors, you never left it for a minute. Your real aspirations were elsewhere. The battle between the people and dictatorships around the world (in various forms) is far from over. You’ve got it backwards though. If the people don’t win, things will collapse, not the other way around. Who knows how things will go? The big victory will come when our social institutions reflect the reality that it’s just you and me in this together. Life isn't a competition. There really is no enemy.