This Quantum Diaries blog is an excellent discussion of the virtues of logical positivism in science, namely the vital distinction between claims that can be tested against evidence, and those that cannot, or where the evidence does not exist.

However, logical positivism is a very dangerous framework for the study of human affairs.  This is one of the fundamental assumptions of the thinking behind “The Leaderless Revolution”.  Human society comprises many elements, including economic transactions, and other measurable features.  These measurable elements are however not the whole picture, by any means.  And what cannot be measured may be the most important of all.  These elements include things like compassion, love, hate and our existential sense of being, including our relationship with “Nature”.  There may be some psychological tests that can crudely put numbers to these features of the human experience, but I suspect that even their most ardent proponents would not claim these measurements comprise a complete account.

Despite this grave reservation, this is nonetheless the claim of the neoclassical mainstream discourse of economics.  It does offer, both in its statistics and aesthetics (neat graphs, defined relationships, equations) it offers a compelling and attractive explanation of “what is going on”.  The school of “Freakonomics” etc attempts to put economic explanation to many contemporary phenomena, suggesting that “economics” can explain more or less everything.

This tendency in mainstream economics, which is now expanding to include discourses like “behavioural economics”, is of course well recognised more broadly in the mis-named “social sciences”.  It is not however recognised in our broader culture.  The claims of this very limited form of analysis are perpetrated as eternal provable truths of both individual and business behaviour (“micro-economics”) and the economy and thus society as a whole (macro).  The reason that these claims are rarely challenged in public debate is of course that these claims suit the plutocracy, for whom neo-classical economics serves as a very convenient quasi-scientific platform for their more hidden and implicit project of economic exploitation, both of ordinary people and the environment.  Notably, mainstream economics continues to ignore the pricing of both “social costs” (which in my view are unpriceable in meaningful terms, precisely because they are unmeasurable) and envirnonmental “externalities”) (likewise unpriceable, but to a lesser extent).

It is time to confine logical positivism to pure ‘science’ (the quoted blog was written by a particle physicists) and reject its claims, except in a very limited setting, about human society.  That, to me, is the paradigm shift (to echo Kuhn) that our politics and indeed our culture must now undergo.  An acceptance of the unmeasurable as equally important, and perhaps more important than the merely measurable.  This assumption will allow us to develop a fuller, more accurate and richer understanding of the human project overall, and value, both empirically and otherwise, other things than those that merely appear in the analyses of mainstream “economics”, the most misleading of supposed sciences.

The Leaderless Revolution published today! Info: theleaderlessrevolution.com Buy - http://tinyurl.com/8xn7d9o

How the mainstream will appropriate Occupy & thus eviscerate it

I tweeted about this yesterday.

Looking back at the upheaval of 1968, it’s all too clear that the ideals of that short moment were appropriated by the mainstream and thus nullified.  As Slavoj Zizek has observed, Che Guavara became a T-shirt logo rather than a global revolution.  The words and slogans of the movement (which, like Occupy, was tellingly diffuse) became part of mainstream commercial culture, where their repetition and misplacement gutted them of any political meaning and, above all, effect.

When crockery shops advertise their wares as “gifts for the 99%”, the extraordinary impact of Occupy is evident, but also, sub-textually, the profound risks to its message and impact.  More dangerous still is when the likes of Newt Gingrich and other Republican contenders rivalling the uber-capitalist Mitt Romney use Occupy-type language to criticize his slash-and-burn allegedly job-killing methods at Bain Capital.

We all know that if President, none of these candidates will do the slightest thing to modulate the egregious environmental and social impacts of corporate crony capitalism of the ilk that is so dominant today.  Rather the opposite.  Yet these candidates shamelessly appropriate the language of Occupy to curry favour with a deeply disenchanted public.  Basta!

My conclusion.  As the ‘68-ers manifestly failed to do, Occupy must move from words to action, for relying on the platform of words will see the ground cut from under our feet.  In contrast to the ease with which they can steal the words of Occupy, the Gingrich’s of this world will not be able to appropriate actions consonant with the ideals of Occupy for this would be to enact Occupy’s sought revolution.  And that won’t happen in a century of Sundays.

Wanted: Recommendations for Avatars of The Leaderless Revolution

To celebrate the ideas of “The Leaderless Revolution”, I’d be really grateful for suggestions of individuals around the world who are taking action to affect political and economic circumstances directly, not by campaigning or politicking but by doing - the essence of the philosophy of the book. 

Whether establishing forums of participatory democracy, cooperatives, new banks or using other methods to bring economic and political justice by direct means, these are the individuals demonstrating the new form of politics which brings real results, in contrast to the sclerosis and corruption of an ailing government-centric mode of politics.

The US edition of The Leaderless Revolution is going to be published in hardback by Blue Rider Press (Penguin Books) in one week from now.  A free copy will be sent to one hundred such individuals, so please share your suggestions of who might find the book useful.

Hating new year’s eve: a political analysis:

I am trying to understand why I have always found new year’s eve a dismal affair.  This morning, for some reason, I am in the mood to break this down.

The manufactured celebration affirms our false understanding of time, that it is all about what is past and what lies ahead, when in fact life is “about” neither.  Neither past nor future exists.  There is of course only the present.  

Increasingly, I can only interpret any event or idea politically.  And new year’s eve is no exception.  Almost all politics is about the future, an endlessly recycled promise of better times.  Witness the ghastly rhetoric of the Republican primaries.  The only other political narrative is blame for the past or, less often, the present.  Almost no discussion is devoted to the experience of the here and now.

This is what a new kind of politics means to me.  Instead of the repetitive and often hollow conjuring of a better tomorrow, politics should be about us, here, now (this is one reason why anarchist thought is often associated with atheism, which similarly rejects the false promise of heaven).  Materialism and indeed capitalism relies upon the creation and repetition of currently unsatisfied desires, which are briefly satiated by the act of consumption.  For it is consumption, as we are often told, that drives the economy.

Thus, the current economic set-up requires an unrelenting focus on the future, and not the present: what we might enjoy, rather than what we have today.  It takes little analysis of course to recognise that under the surface, the other requirement is the constant promotion of dissatisfaction with the present.  Advertising must reinforce this.  Things will be better if you purchase this product.

Thus, the false celebration of new year’s eve is the most obvious marker of an economic and political culture which relies upon us ignoring the most important experience of life: what is now.  In its place, we are asked to remind ourselves of the disappointments of the past and the hope of the future, which likewise will be ultimately unfulfilled too.  We must turn a new leaf!

This is why I hate new year’s eve.  Happy new year!

Koestler imagines a post-rationalist future

Near the end of Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon,there is an extraordinary passage:

“Perhaps later, much later, the new movement would arise- with new flags, a new spirit knowing of both: of economic fatality and the ‘oceanic sense’.  Perhaps the members of the new party will wear monks’ cowls, and preach that only purity of means can justify the ends.  Perhaps they will teach that the tenet is wrong which says that a man is the product of one millions divided by one million, and will introduced a new kind of arithmetic based on multiplication, on the joining of a million individuals to form a new entity which, no longer an amorphous mass, will develop a consciousness and an individuality of its own, with an ‘oceanic feeling’ increased a millionfold, in unlimited by self-contained space.”

These are the final thoughts of Rubashov, the central character of the novel, as he contemplates his imminent execution at the hands of his erstwhile comrades in the Communist Party.  Rubashov asks himself what has happened to this rationalist system, communism, that it will use such brutal and oppressive means to attain its just society.  He realizes the mistake in the system is in the precept, the ends justifies the means:

“It was this sentence that had killed the great fraternity of the Revolution and made them all run amuck.  What had he once written in his diary? ‘We have thrown overboard all conventions, our sole guiding principle is that of consequent logica; we are sailing without ethical ballast’.”

Rubashov ends up hoping for a movement that encompasses the irrational (his ‘oceanic sense’) as much as the rational and the logical, treating humans as more than mere numbers.  Notably, it is not a system or structure that he wistfully imagines, but a “movement”.  

Koestler’s scepticism of any science-based, rationalist system must surely apply not only to communism, but our own current rationalist dispensation.  And here too we witness the ultimate destructiveness of a doctrine of ends (material wellbeing) justifying more subtle, less brutal, but nonetheless poisonous, means (inequality, the devastation of nature, and the ghastly emptiness of modern work). 

But in Rubashov’s strange imagining, we see the pre-figuring of a new political dispensation - a movement - where the rational and irrational both find a place, reflecting at last their coexistence in the flesh and blood dispensation that is us, the human.

This article describes the work and ambitions of the Occupy Wall Street working group on alternative banking.

Me discussing Occupy NYC’s work on Alternative Banking with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC last night

The Leaderless Revolution: A new Paradigm of Political Change

This article was posted in Huffington Post today, headed by this video (which can also be viewed here):

A new paradigm of political change:


The political methods of the 20th century are, it appears, less and less effective for the world of the 21st.

The nature of globalization is without precedent: accelerating interconnectedness, with billions of people interacting constantly in a massive, dynamic, and barely comprehensible process.

Yet the assumption persists that the political processes and institutions designed in the 20th century, or earlier, remain appropriate and effective in this profoundly different state of affairs. In fact it appears that the ability of national governments and international authorities to manage the severe problems arising from this new dispensation are declining, despite their claims to the contrary.

Take climate change. The annual climate summit has just ended in Durban, after dozens of “preparatory” meetings and thousands of diplomatic discussions. Its output was a decision to agree a treaty in 2015 to introduce emissions limits in 2020. Oddly, many governments (and commentators) are claiming this as some kind of victory.

It is traditional to blame individual states (the US, China) for the failure to agree to more robust measures, and these do bear some responsibility. It is however also apparent that the process itself is the problem, and has been since its inception. The negotiation echoes traditional models of state-based interaction. Governments treat it as a bargaining process, where commitments to curb emissions have to be matched by other countries. The net result is that nothing is done.

The correct measure of Durban is not the declarations of success by the participating governments, which are required to trumpet their own effectiveness and negotiating prowess. The only output that matters is the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. This has grown with unprecedented rapidity by more than 10% since the first such conference, the so-called “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Effects in the real world should be the test of such processes, and indeed of all political methods, including government’s. By this measure, efforts to curb financial volatility or terrorism have been similarly ineffective. Experts say that the internationally-agreed Basel III rules to reduce risky banking practice are insufficient, and they are already being watered down by banks’ lobbying. Ten years after 9/11, and despite the killing of Osama bin Laden, we find ourselves in a condition of never-ending threat, multiple conflicts and the seemingly permanent embrace of an intrusive and hugely expensive security state.

There is a more pernicious consequence of the repetitive but tenuous claims to effectiveness made by the practitioners of conventional politics and government: everyone else is dulled into stupefied inaction. If “the authorities” claim to be on top of these problems, what does it matter what we do? And here’s the rub. We have been pummeled into a kind of dazed apathy, endlessly badgered by politicians that they can fix it, when in fact we are the most potent agents of change.

At home, democracy has been subverted. Corporations donate copiously to both parties to insure their influence. Politicians initiate legislation in order to extract rents from big business. Private prison owners lobby for longer sentences. There are now lobbying organizations representing the interests of lobbyists.

This legal corruption is deeply entrenched in our supposedly democratic political system, resisting all attempts at reform. It is naïve to expect decisions from this system to reflect the interests of ordinary people. And this is what we see: tax regimes that tax incomes of the poor more than the accumulating wealth of the rich; healthcare legislation whose primary beneficiary is the healthcare industry; a comprehensive failure to regulate the banking industry to prevent further violent crises such as the ‘08 credit crunch.

Cynical despair would be a perfectly understandable response to this dismal picture. But this reaction entirely suits those who profit from the status quo. Instead, this analysis leads to one clear prerogative: there is no choice but to act ourselves. If we are not to stand by while the world’s problems deepen, there is only one alternative: action based upon on our convictions, uniting with others for greatest effect. And as we shall see in the next post, such action is in fact far more powerful than any other method of politics in effecting real and lasting change.

A former diplomat, Carne Ross is the author of The Leaderless Revolution: how ordinary people will take power and change politics in the 21st century, published by Blue Rider Press (Penguin), ebook now available, hardcover to be published in January 2012. For further information and videos explaining the book, visit www.theleaderlessrevolution.com. This is the first in a series of four posts.