Saturday, 24 April 2010

Introducing... Joseph Hubbard

In our series of introducing new members to the group, Joseph Hubbard presents his views!


“We are a diverse group, united around social justice and
anti-capitalism.“ -SLLU website


“Well, let's see how far I can stretch that statement, shall we?” -
Joseph Hubbard


Hi there, my name is Joseph Hubbard, Second Life
resident for over four years. I come to SLLU as (it seems) a half-fit to
the ideology of the cause. I share a sympathy of viewpoints on pragmatic
actions with the SLLU cause on several fronts, which means that my
interests aren't diametrically opposed to yours. Whether I am welcome
depends, perhaps, on this introduction, so please let me know in
comments if I would be wasting my time or yours with participation in
the group.


By way of background, I was born, raised, and continue to live in the
United States of America. While in college, I successfully attained both
a degree in physics and a degree in philosophy. Perhaps I have some sort
of love for the “F with a Ph” sounding topics, though I stayed far away
from pharmacy. The physics isn't particularly germane to me giving my
bio to SLLU (I never had a single physics professor make an even mildly
political statement. It was all about figuring out the guts of the
universe), but the philosophy is. Several of my favorite courses were in
the social and political philosophy vein, with a particular focus on
philosophy and race relations due to the academic specialty of the
particular professor involved. To paraphrase Charles W. Mills, I was a
fish who began to recognize the water of race-based and gender-based
privilege he was swimming in.


I remain, though, rather enamored of the capitalism of my youth not
because of the unsavory results it can produce when loosed, but for the
bottom-up structuring it provides. I like the idea of socialism in
theory except for the need for a top-down hierarchy, which is inherently
unstable, to use a phrase from my training in physics. I see both
systems as unworkable in practice if employed to their logical extremes.
I'm sure I can make a rather thorough blog post about my views on this
at some point and let you fine ladies and gentlemen find the weak joints
in my arguments. For now, sufficed to say that if SLLU is
“anti-capitalism” and this is interpreted as 'the full and utter
revocation of the concept of personal ownership,' I'm likely not
eligible as a member.^*

By turns I'm a pessimist and an optimist... a pragmatist and a
realist. I am an idealist in the classical sense, if there is one. I
believe in the power of ideas to illuminate and empower, if one merely
takes the bold step of following the truth regardless of how it may
square with one's own preconceptions. It's a temptation to all of us
(and I exempt myself from this in no way shape or form) to view any
circumstance, argument, or position that doesn't square with our own
point of view as inherently oppositional. It's a habit we could all
stand to train ourselves out of as much as possible.



The greatest recent example of that one in Starr's life and mine was a
chain email from a conservative (U.S. brand conservative) family member
making some predictably hyperbolic claim about “Obama has just done
this-or-that with taxpayer money! OMG!” With about five minutes on a web
browser, I had gotten the information about the event from the
government financial institution actually involved, clarifying the
nuance of the event and simply showing no need for alarm. I typed this
up, replied to all senders, taking exquisite care to state only plain
fact in evidence, and call for people of all political affiliations to
pursue only the truth.. The next weekend Starr and I visited said family
member who insisted that my reply was highly partisan.


It takes all kinds, they say.


What might we agree on, and why am I interested in participating in the
SLLU?

*

The social, political, financial and intellectual systems of
racism and sexism must be dismantled.

*

A state has no legitimate interest in enforcing any religious
belief via law or de facto discrimination.

*

Progressive income taxation makes sense (within limits).

*

A war of a nation against an idea is wasteful and self-defeating.

*

As a species we have some enormous challenges ahead in the area of
resource consumption, not just in terms of our impact on climate,
but also in terms of the dwindling supplies of certain elements
and compounds.

* I mean by “personal ownership” something in the vein of 'A person can
reasonably say that “An object, X is mine. That is, it is my sole
decision what becomes of this object in the future, even if X can make
copies of object Y.”' If there are no localized objects X which fit this
model of “personal ownership” then I'll have nothing to do with the
theory because it's simply not cutting the reality of people embodied in
this world at the joints. Where I think a socialist will disagree with
me is on X being able to make Ys, which makes X a means of production.
My hands can make Ys. They are mine. My computer via my ability to
program can make new Y computer programs. It is mine. On a subtler
level, extend X to include one's own body and I think there's an
argument to be made that all oppression takes the form of a rejection of
personal property.


I'm excited to be here!

-Joseph Hubbard

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13 comments:

Joseph Hubbard said...

Wow. My apologies for the formatting problems! I shouldn't have sent that along to Plot via my email client.

Plot Tracer said...

Don't worry, Joseph... I'll tidy it up later. Haven't had much time... been doing stuff for the rl election here in the UK (see www.campsiesocialists.com for some of the videos and articles I have been doing, plus the local "SSP Voice". The National version of the paper can be found at www.scottishsocialistparty.org )

Zoe Parness said...

This comment is by SLLU member Zoe Parness who had difficulty posting and asked me to do so. (Plot)

________

Welcome to SLLU Joseph

I feel that your full and honest blog contribution deserves a response.

Not that I feel qualified to reply. How interesting to have an academic background both in Physics (the way the material world works) and in Philosophy, (how human beings make sense of that world).

But one of the most revealing things I felt Joseph said about himself was that he was American. Don’t get me wrong ... some of my best friends etc :)

We are all products of our cultural history and I may now be exposing vestiges of British colonialism (although neither of my parents were English I have been brought up here).

Joseph places himself firmly in the Libertarian box in his Johari window. It’s not a bad place to sit. It enables you to hold progressive views about gender, sexuality and race while not really having to deal with some of challenging issues facing the world today. Having said that Joseph’s example of the response he received on his observations about Obama reminds me that it can’t be easy to espouse such views in his circle of family and friends.

Joseph has difficulties with the term ‘anti-capitalist’ and I can understand why. The notion that capitalism is the only possible effective system is deeply ingrained and we don’t have any really effective alternative models in our history to point to.
Those of us with an education and an income in the West have until now done rather well if you judge this in terms of material goods and having enough to feed our kids etc. And of course Joseph doesn’t want to lose his ‘stuff’. These are the things that we tend to use to define ourselves by. There is also a notion that capitalism is somehow a ‘natural’ system, that any other system would require huge regulation and suppression of individual freedom.

I don’t want to go into a traditional Marxist critique of capitalism here, others can do that if they wish but would just like to reflect on where we are now.

Capitalism depends on various elements to continue. One element is continued growth and another is continued exploitation. Neither of these conditions are acceptable to me. Our relative wealth has been gained at the expense of others.
Huge swathes of our planet have been ruined, perhaps forever and the whole future sustainability of our world is at risk. Millions of our fellow human beings live in poverty, sickness, hunger and fear.
Even among those of us who seem to have benefitted, many are isolated, alienated and live with economic insecurity and in cultural deprivation.

Surely recently we have had two serious wake-up calls. One, the near collapse of the capitalist banking system the effects of which are not yet over. The second, the compelling evidence of global warming and the consequences for our climate and our very survival.

I therefore remain convinced that the capitalist system is intrinsically unable to respond to these challenges. I cannot believe that it is beyond our capability to devise a better economic system. This does depend however on clearing our minds of years of ‘cold war’ propaganda and of the illusion that we can continue to consume at this level.

Yes, change may mean giving some things up and living a more simple life. The alternative is however unthinkable.

From what Joseph has said about himself, about his intellectual rigour and about his beliefs I’m pretty sure he can live with those of us who are happy with the anti-capitalist ‘label’.
*hugs* Zoe

Starr Luna said...

I feel compelled to comment, regarding a couple of Zoe's comments. For better or worse, I usually open my mouth, so here goes:

"Joseph places himself firmly in the Libertarian box in his Johari window. It’s not a bad place to sit. It enables you to hold progressive views about gender, sexuality and race while not really having to deal with some of challenging issues facing the world today." - Surely, Zoe, you didn't intend for this statement to sound quite as condescending as it did? The test that both Joe and I took, which placed us on the compass (both quite left, in fact) required, in itself, for us to face challenging issues. We face challenging issues every day, when we wake up, and decide whether we're going to ethically stand for what's happened in Arizona, or simply in the many, many conversations and hours of personal inventory that it's taken for us to have come this far in each of our individual and independent political treks. I daresay Our not choosing any party has been representative of our deciding to take personal inventory, and take a great -deal- of issues to task. Not avoid them. Not avoid the key, or "challenging" issues. If it was about doing the 'easy' thing, we would have just been Democrats.

Next up: "...And of course Joseph doesn’t want to lose his ‘stuff’. These are the things that we tend to use to define ourselves by."

I can't begin to describe to you the level of that line's craptastic presumptuousness. -what stuff?- Joe, a man who graduated at Purdue, double Major in Physics, and Philosophy, had job offers through a professor at the University for secret government work, post 9/11, that he turned down. He could have immediately gone forward with his education towards a Masters or PhD.. and taught at the University level, or, true to what his father wanted, turned to Engineering, where some serious income also lay.

But Joe had two things on his mind. Three, actually. 1: Be happy. 2: Marry me. 3. Be a high school teacher.

The wedding was not an overly happy day for Joe's parents. He, a healthy, bright boy, with all the potential in the world, was marrying an older, disabled, barren girl, with none. But we loved each other, and we were happy. And that was fine. We did not, have not, and never will, need 'Stuff'.

So.. my question remains.. 'What stuff?' Joe and I bought, with a loan, of course, a gutted $3,000 frame of a modular home, and refurbished it over a summer. We put it on the family farm, and we live out here, contently in our little house, with a minivan that was given to us by my aunt. The house doesn't get cleaned much, because I can't clean it.. so things are in quite a state. Everything nice that we have, we've been given, with the exception of a couple very small, very expendable things.

My life would be sad without the net, because being so sick.. it is my source if interaction. I'd miss t.v. too, for the same reason. I don't hear people's voices enough. I use it for noise and motion. But I don't -need- these things. I -need- the people in my life. I -need- my dog. And the Joe is all the more so.

Just because we may not identify with a political philosophy in the same way you do... because we may not think it may pragmatically work out (is it the ideal? Yes! Both Joe and I agree with that!) doesn't mean that we can be so generalized. I realize it was probably an offhanded statement, and not meant as such, but it was rather hurtful.

Joseph Hubbard said...

Zoe,

"I feel that your full and honest blog contribution deserves a response."

Thank you! I appreciate that. :)

"Not that I feel qualified to reply. How interesting to have an academic background both in Physics (the way the material world works) and in Philosophy, (how human beings make sense of that world)."

In a sense, the scientific training and the philosophical training is what seared both extremeties of the political spectrum out of contention for me. Too far in either direction and you're just engaging in the latest iteration of Platonic-style utopia-crafting... and entropy(physics) and human nature(philosophy) will always bite such plans in the ass.

In essence, we need a system that disincentivizes people from screwing each other over in the various ways they like to. We need an economic system and a political system that are robust against people trying to game the system.

"But one of the most revealing things I felt Joseph said about himself was that he was American. Don’t get me wrong ... some of my best friends etc :)"

Ahhh, Well. I'm sure you're [Property A], but that's alright, because some of my best friends are [Property A]. :)

That line was, I hope it's clear, intended in a rather satirical light. I'm directly satirizing your nationalism there.

On a less reactionary track, it's equally revealing that you think you can glean such a wealth of information about me merely by virtue of knowing my country of origin. The fact that certain statistical trends exist is not in doubt. But your comment suggests to me that you are entirely willing to take such likelihoods at face value.. as bare exposed facts about a person. It is as if I am not, now, a fully unique person to you, but have been flattened out, into a paper-thin sheet of properties stamped "American", to be filed with the rest.

People have done this to other people throughout history. It rarely ends well.

"We are all products of our cultural history and I may now be exposing vestiges of British colonialism (although neither of my parents were English I have been brought up here)."

Given your last line, yes it does seem like you're going paternalisitc or at least condescending on me. I could hazard a guess as to why you are doing so, but there are too many possible reasons, and I'd just end up tearing down a Straw Man argument of my own devising.

"Joseph places himself firmly in the Libertarian box in his Johari window. It’s not a bad place to sit. It enables you to hold progressive views about gender, sexuality and race while not really having to deal with some of challenging issues facing the world today."

I think you failed to read my entire post. Or you've chosen the option of condescention, as mentioned above.

Sufficed to say that I think we have some enormous issues to deal with today, and I don't see how my viewpoint avoids tackling them, except to conclude that you think I hold certain opinions that I do not in fact hold. But then we're back to the part about you not having read my post and/or making assumptions about me based solely on my nationality.

[more on the way]

Joseph Hubbard said...

"There is also a notion that capitalism is somehow a ‘natural’ system, that any other system would require huge regulation and suppression of individual freedom."

Capitalism is bottom-up in that the organization, if any, happens at the level of individuals. It is a sum of the decisions of individuals. This doesn't make it natural so much as it does make it stable.

Stability is not a goal in and of itself. Capitalism unchained with actual, historical (as opposed to ideal, abstracted) human beings at the helm will tend to filter resources and property toward those who already have more of both, and produce deleterious effects on the environment. This is a bad thing, and the stability of the system isn't an overriding good. In fact, stably producing bad effects is quite bad indeed!

Top-down organizations of human beings, in contrast tend to be inherently unstable because they constrain the activities of people in certain ways that we seem to end up chafing at. Individual actions that aren't in line with the predetermined heirarchy tend to push the structure away from the way it is "supposed" to be. The only way to maintain the stability of the system is to prevent the people from taking such actions. That causes the aforementioned chafing experience, and as a result, revolution and a toppling of the structure is inevitable.

The basic features of this dynamic are there in both economic systems and political ones.

Capitalism and Democracy are stable, but can have deleterious effects (exploitation and the tyranny of the majority)

Socialism and Dictatorship are unstable, and can have deleterious effects in an effort to keep from crumbling (loss of individual freedom and loss of expression of political dissent)

Yes, I do include a loss of individual freedom in a fully functioning, non-collapsing, maximally-socialist arrangement. If I were in such a society and wished to personally own a means of production and organize in support of others who wished to do the same... what happens to my activities? Conversely, if nothing happens to my activities, what happens to the societal economic arrangement? Q.E.D.

"I don’t want to go into a traditional Marxist critique of capitalism here, others can do that if they wish but would just like to reflect on where we are now."

Cool with me. I've read Marx. And as I mentioned in the post you were replying to, I find pure capitalism untenable. It's just that I also find pure socialism untenable as well.

"Capitalism depends on various elements to continue. One element is continued growth and another is continued exploitation. Neither of these conditions are acceptable to me."

You'll have to demonstrate this to me. I'll clarify a bit: I don't think you can prove this to me about capitalism from a theoretical point of view. You certainlycan do it from a historical point of view. That I agree to.

Historically, capitalism is just as you've said. No argument from me whatsoever.

Theoretically, the structure of capitalism isn't predicated on exploitation of person A by person B or by an ever-increasing consumption of resources. Those are features that emerge when you apply actual human beings to the theoretical framework. Turns out, you can get rick quicker by screwing over other people and the planet.

The requirement for ever-continuing growth isn't a feature of the theory of capitalism either, it's a feature of certain traditions (which have been enshrined in law) in banking that stretch back hundreds and hundreds of years. Yes, banking implies capitalism, but my only point is that we're not talking a feature of capitalism qua capitalism.

[more]

Joseph Hubbard said...

"Having said that Joseph’s example of the response he received on his observations about Obama reminds me that it can’t be easy to espouse such views in his circle of family and friends."

So it is for all children anywhere who grow up to have opinions different from those of their parents. My experience is not special in this regard, or even all that uncommon, I would think.

"Joseph has difficulties with the term ‘anti-capitalist’ and I can understand why. The notion that capitalism is the only possible effective system is deeply ingrained and we don’t have any really effective alternative models in our history to point to."

First, I actually have no difficulties whatsoever with the term 'anti-capitalist'. I think it's entirely possible to have a rigorous anti-capitalist set of philosophical views. I only brought up the term because it's featured in the purpose-statement-like sidebar statement on the SLLU blog, and I did not want to become a member of an organization for which I was not a fit member.

I said as much quite explicitly in the very beginning of my post, and again near the end. My first post was somewhat oppositional in tone, or could have been read as such, merely because I was expressing what I thought might have been a difference of opinion that would disqualify me from membership. I had no intention of crashing a party not intended for me, so to speak.

Second, I also said quite clearly in my post that I view capitalism and socialism as equally unworkable if each is taken to its logical extreme.

The only positive economic/philosophical position I did state was that I'll have nothing to do with a system that disavows personal ownership. I also mentioned that if one includes ownership of one's self/body, I think there's an argument to be made that all exploitation is a rejection of personal property.

"Those of us with an education and an income in the West have until now done rather well if you judge this in terms of material goods and having enough to feed our kids etc. And of course Joseph doesn’t want to lose his ‘stuff’. These are the things that we tend to use to define ourselves by."

You speak in the collective, so I assume you're speaking for yourself as well. Either that, or you were disincluding yourself and getting condescending again. I think I'm merely reading you wrong, so you're not being condescending.

Since I'm sure you're not being condescending, I'll conclude that you were saying that you define yourself by your 'stuff', but you don't need to include me in your camp there. There's really nothing at all that I own that I define myself by, save for perhaps two things.

Starr and I live a fairly hand-to-mouth existence right now. There's honestly not much "stuff" for me to lose. What I cling to materially is only our health insurance and certain sentimental items like my bass guitar. In the former case, I will take care of my wife, she has major health care needs. In the latter case, I'm a musician and without an instrument I'm left without that path towards personal fulfillment.

Obviously the former case trumps the latter in less than a heartbeat. I'll be a bassist without a bass long before before I'll be a Joseph without a Starr.

[more]

Joseph Hubbard said...

"Our relative wealth has been gained at the expense of others."

Certainly. People are complete assholes and will exploit each other to get ahead if they can.

Socialism can be viewed, perhaps, as a reaction to this? You can fix the problem by making it impossible for Albert to get ahead by screwing over Bertrand. In that way, Albert and Bertrand will get along!

I submit that Albert will still be an asshole, he'll just find some other method to screw Bertrand over with. You cannot remove the ability of Person A to screw over Person B unless you remove them to opposite ends of the universe. (Originally, my example was going to be both Albert and Bertrand are enslaved, but Bertrand is still in trouble there. Then I tought of both of them being in prison, but that obviously works out poorly too. Eventually, you end up at the conclusion that A and B just have to get ultimately separated to remove every opportunity of A to exploit B.)

"Huge swathes of our planet have been ruined, perhaps forever and the whole future sustainability of our world is at risk."

Also mentioned in my original post.

I would argue that regardless of the economic system, we human beings were destined to make major negative environmental impacts during the period of time where our techological ability to alter the environment exceeded our abilities to estimate and understand our impact on the environment. During that period of ignorance mixed with potency, we were destined to act quite stupidly indeed.

In that sense, this statement is somewhat orthoganal to any claim about the evils of capitalism.

Capitalism allowed this period of ignorance to create more harm than a socialist arrangement would have, but the difference is of degree, not kind. Regardless, we've got to get on now with the business of acting a bit more intelligently about what we're doing and getting off of our addiction to our behaviors during our stronger-than-our-vision phase.

"Millions of our fellow human beings live in poverty, sickness, hunger and fear."

Agreed. An alternate history of major-power socialism mixed with the nationalism, racism and sexism that characterized the last several centuries could have caused nearly the same harm. So in that sense, I'd say we need to also be mindful to blame nationalism, sexism and racism for this outcome, but capitalism shares a large portion of this blame.

So in essence, I agree quite strongly on this point.

"Even among those of us who seem to have benefitted, many are isolated, alienated and live with economic insecurity and in cultural deprivation."

This seems to be more a philosophical statement than anything else?

[more]

Joseph Hubbard said...

"From what Joseph has said about himself, about his intellectual rigour and about his beliefs I’m pretty sure he can live with those of us who are happy with the anti-capitalist ‘label’.
*hugs* Zoe"


Well thank you!

It seems to me that you took my post as a defense of historical and/or maximal capitalism, which prompted a lot of your reply? If there are any things that my post was not, it was these though.

I think that the best road forward is with maximal political involvement of all people coupled with political and economic systems that are tolerant of dissent, able to adapt to future conditions, and foster the best possible living conditions for all mankind within the constraints of long-term sustainability.

More than anything, we need more people to know more about all of this stuff. Like I said in my original post, I believe in the power of ideas, and the more an more that people understand about these issues, the better and better they will craft their society as a result.

The more widely disemminated information about sustainabillity and the environmental impacts of human choices becomes, the better the economic and political choices made by those people become.

As a teacher, I really have no interest in what the political opinions of my students are or become. I encourage them repeatedly to get out there and vote for what they believe in, whatever that is. It's not my job to tell them what to think, only to arm them with the tools of thinking itself. Frankly an education in basic physics is enough to let them conclude quite on their own that sustainability and mankind's environmental impact are issues that don't just get ignored away.

I do truly think that the only thing that can allow us to pull ourselves out of the current arc we're on (other than our own direct involvement of course) is the education of the next generation, and their education of the next, and so on.

Take care,
-Joseph

Joseph Hubbard said...

"Surely recently we have had two serious wake-up calls. One, the near collapse of the capitalist banking system the effects of which are not yet over."

See my comment above. We've had moronic banking rules for generations now that demand continual geometric expansion or else the system collapses. Since we aren't on a planet that's expanding at a geometric rate, either we're headed for self-extinction or a modification of those rules. These are customs established when we were less mathematically sophisticated as a species, and we haven't managed to change our system yet. Sooner or later, reality will force us to.

This reminds me of something I did a year ago while my students took a test. (Did I mention I'm a physics teacher?) I extrapolated the population growth of humanity during the 20th century ahead into the future... and found that if we kept up that geometric pace, we'd have converted the entire mass of the planet Earth into human bodies before the year 3000. The entier Earth, right down to the core. Of course, the lesson is that we run out of space and resources far far far far before that. It was a neat exercise for my students both in a pure mathematical sense and in the way of showing them that math can point out dangers ahead of us way before they seem real to us.

"The second, the compelling evidence of global warming and the consequences for our climate and our very survival."

In the 1800s, physicists collected enough evidence to show that an increase in global CO2 would raise global temperatures. I am keenly aware of this issue and mentioned it in my post. Also irrelevant to capitalism/socialism as who owns the means of production is irrelevant to the fact that those means of production crank out CO2. The solution is a political and a lifestyle one, not a matter of the economic system in and of itself.

"I therefore remain convinced that the capitalist system is intrinsically unable to respond to these challenges. I cannot believe that it is beyond our capability to devise a better economic system."

I agree with you 100%, as stated in my original post.

"This does depend however on clearing our minds of years of ‘cold war’ propaganda and of the illusion that we can continue to consume at this level. Yes, change may mean giving some things up and living a more simple life. The alternative is however unthinkable."

See above.

[only one more!]

Zoe Parness said...

I'm so upset

That's the last time I try to welcome someone to the group

I'm sorry if you find me 'condescending' 'presumptuous' 'hurtful'

I feel suitably put down and humiliated ... so you win

You know nothing about me or my life ... but even so, you must have guessed that I have feelings

It's probably best that we leave things where they are

Zoe

Starr Luna said...

Zoe, and everyone. I do humbly apologize. While I did address comments, It was never my intention to be disrespectful or hateful.

Nor have I ever intended to make someone feel so hurt. Though I think my words were misunderstood, they still caused harm. And I'm very sorry for that.

- Starr

Joseph Hubbard said...

Zoe,

Please don't let one bad experience spoil your inclination to welcome new people to the group.

I am so sorry that me pointing out how your words made me feel has you upset. It wasn't my intention to cause you distress.

I never felt that this was a game, and I certainly didn't have the goal of putting you down or humiliating you.

For what it it worth, I am sorry if any of my words has made you feel bad in any way, shape, or form. That was entirely against my purpose, and certainly not something that I'd take any delight in.

Take care,
-Joe