The Lexwerks

50 Stockholms of Syndrome

Please note that this is an amoral thought experiment which goes from the wretched in carnality to the shameless in jokes, and probably vice-versa too. While it is intended to provoke thought through its arrangement of artifacts, it is not intended to be taken too seriously. After all, “Sex is boring.”

“Lackluster take on best seller is way too graphic for kids.” –Sandie Chen, reviewing 50 Shades of Grey film

It was startling to realize that 50 Shades of Grey really is a children’s story. More precisely: 50 Shades of Grey, Twilight, and Beauty and the Beast are all fundamentally the same story, with the targeted age group being proportional to the apparent humanity of the dude involved. Beast, being clearly not human, is targeted at children who can be reassured that actual people they see are clearly not like that. But as the monsters get better at passing for human — vampires, werewolves, billionaires — the targeted age demographic increases. But this particular fairy tale plays off the archetypal promise that a woman can leave the safety of her family/familiars, be subsumed into the domain of an unrestrained and overwhelming foreign power-as-force embodied by her man/men with their possessions, and through passive perseverance (an expression of power that does not functionally compete with the masculine unrestrained power-as-force) gain control of the masculine power-as-force for the benefit of everybody. That’s certainly how Beauty and the Beast plays out, I’ve heard that that’s how Twilight plays out, and that’s how 50 Shades of Grey promises to play out in the movie trailers whether it actually does or not.

That’s also how the book of Esther in the Bible plays out — in which the pretty princess seduces the fearsome foreign despot and so convinces him to not commit genocide against her tribe — and when observant Jews celebrate Purim, they’re basically reading from 50 Shades of Goy.

But in order to understand why a pulpy bit of trash like 50 Shades of Grey developed critical popular mass while all manner of other tawdry romance novel fails to do so, we have to look both at the archetypes 50 Shades of Grey is exploiting as well as where we’re at in society.

Google says this came from some dude on TumblrFirst, we have to understand that everybody loves Stockholm syndrome. I mean, sure, it’s got some difficult bits that seem really horrible — but it’s actually quite sweet when you get to know it, and, in the abstract, it makes for the best survival strategy when you’re conquered by an unrestrained and overwhelming force. And if you go back in time and look at where babies came from during the growth and subsequent collapse of — just as an example — the Roman Empire, you’d find that a lot of kids were born to mothers who were doing the best they could to survive knowing that they’d never see the home they knew so well ever again. And the mothers who were successful at surviving and, to a certain extent, thriving under vicious warlords passed those tricks and personality traits on to their children — who became our ancestors. Prior to that in Greece (as Foucault records in The History of Sexuality, Volume 2) all the slaves in a Grecian house were the physical property of the man of the house: lustful screwings were well within his expected behavior — so long as he didn’t acknowledge actual love for his slaves or any accidental offspring, anyway. And before that, back in the book of Genesis, Sarah “gave” Hagar to Abraham specifically to make a baby with because Hagar was a slave so it was, you know, totally okay. In more recent times, it turns out that a lot of Black Americans have a lot of White DNA in them from 19th century plantation owners continuing the, uh, tradition. And all of this is both horribly sexist and flatly horrifying. But the point is that our ancestors are used to accommodating overwhelming power as a means of survival. Even if we’ve not personally done it — or our ego has reshaped the memory of doing it to something less shameful — the experience is in our blood. All of the fairy tales suggest that we’re children of royalty, that we’re princesses and such: well we probably are sort-of children of the rare royalty, but we’re not the rare princesses — we’re the common and disavowed “and such.” And so as crazy-unhealthy as it rationally seems particularly in modern times, the story of a woman falling in love with an obviously predatory sociopath also seems natural and expected to us.

If we go back even into the pure mythology of Gilgamesh, Shamhat went and passively laid herself out to get fucked by the beast Enkidu for seven solid days until he was tame enough to be a civilized man… where “tame” meant picking a fight with the violent and powerful king and then becoming his best buddy and going on adventures with him until he offended the gods and was cursed to death. Really, “tame” isn’t used as a pejorative here so much as to indicate “has learned the value of a mattress.” But the point is that not only is the survival strategy common throughout history, but the (sexist and heteronormative) idea of feminine perseverance to gain control over masculine power-as-force has been with our species for as long as we’ve been literate.

Sidebar: There’s an unusual sex-inversion of this in The Odyssey where the demigoddess Kalypso has rescued Odysseus from drowning and he’s sleeping with her only “out of necessity.” But after Kalypso has promised to send Odysseus home (because the stupid boy-gods get super-violently jealous when lady-divinities start loving up mortal dudes) if he wants to go, and Odysseus reassures her of his ongoing love for his mere-mortal wife despite Kalypso’s obvious divine superiority… they go and have the gratuitously hottest sex they’ve ever had. Go figure. The strange thing about Kalypso is that The Odyssey seems to regard her favorably despite her utter disregard for Odysseus’s feelings, as if her divinity makes her assertion that she loves him true even though he’s sitting out on the beach crying in homesick despair day after day; her elevated status makes her good intentions of love and immortality unassailable despite the obvious cost in the lead protagonist’s misery.

Now one of the more pernicious things our subconscious does, per Dr. Carl Jung, is too look for ways to compensate for a lack of what our brain considers natural: it finds a way to compensate for the lack of so-considered normality to give itself leeway on actually having to adjust its definition of normality. When our primal behaviors are suppressed or ingrained expectations go unfulfilled in one way, they’re likely to show up only slightly transmuted elsewhere, often in an embarrassingly irrational way. Lacking an engageable power-as-force in waking life, the power-as-force is manifested in fantasy. In this case, it has had the good fortune to take the field as people “grew out of” Twilight, which hit the people who loved Disney’s Beauty and the Beast before it. (But, as a reality check, where’s the overlap between Twilight fans and Interview with the Vampire fans? I propose that there is practically none, and not just because Twilight takes an undead dump on centuries of folklore but rather because Interview isn’t a variation on the Beauty and the Beast story.) The pattern is shared elsewhere: despite having had their first books published at practically the same time, Game of Thrones only became culturally relevant after the conclusion of Harry Potter got people thinking “Yeah, I liked that — but it needed more sex and death” to compensate for their primally ingrained expectations of adulthood that aren’t meshing with our lengthening lifespans.

But there’s also an aspect of sex that we’ve practically lost that the modern uptick in BDSM compensates for: ritualized courtship and foreplay. We’ve got the obvious report that 50 Shades of Grey increases the practice of foreplay and sexual communication and the report that says actual BDSMers say “WTF?” But I think the better comparison is between the vulgar spatially arbitrary debauchery people are reporting in engaging in on Twitter feeds like “Tinderfessions” — okay, moral judgment: I’m not linking to Tinderfessions — and the meticulously maintained and functionally sanctified (that is, set apart for a single purpose and approached in a specific mindset) “playroom.” The re-cloistering of sexual intercourse returns the primacy of discernment to its practice that was de-valued as dominance over our reproductive functionality shook the illusions of the significance of sexual intercourse. Indeed, the disciplinary aspect brings back what may be imagined as the penitent attitude regarding carnal guilt, with the long-running sensual (rather than sexual) aspects of the performance — and certainly the (faux-)documentation of the practice in 50 Shades of Grey — compensating for the old monastic habit of gaining dominance over carnal desire by suspending it in and transmuting it to the language of confession, as Foucault documented in The History of Sexuality Volume 1. As the old joke goes, the young man goes into confession and admits “I have had lustful thoughts about a woman,” to which the priest replies, “ah, that is common — but did you entertain these thoughts?” to which the young man replies “No father — but they certainly entertained me.” The monastic practice was to address lustful urges with ritualized discourse in pursuit of conscious mastery. The masters of BDSM use ritualized play in pursuit of performative mastery. The Tinder crowd just swipes right.

So to recap: given the history of our species in sex, violence, and violent sex, all of which appear to be on the decline, we enjoy increasingly sex-and-death oriented entertainments to reassure ourselves that our “jungle surplus hardware” isn’t mis-evolved for the safe and fairly sterile civilization we’ve built ourselves into (even though it pretty much is), and that’s why old stories get remixed from generation to generation even though they’re insensibly horrifying to modern thought.


Second Speaker Should Simplify

There is a tendency in policy debate for everybody to show how clever they are by spinning out long and improbable stories of how the world will end if we judges do or don’t fill in our ballot in a certain way. For example, every bit of Political Capital hogwash that ends in nuclear annihilation (or some other massive-to-terminal impact) not only relies on a distressing cynicism that our powerful leaders might render our species extinct with an utterly predictable temper-tantrum, from which we can derive that they’re perpetually holding us hostage to their agenda(s) making them — functionally — terrorists with whom — per their own rhetoric — we must not negotiate, but also relies on ignorance of the larger agendas, plural, because there’s always lots of things going on in politics (currently: budget, net neutrality, Keystone XL, Cuba relations, Iran negotiations, immigration reform, authorization of military force against ISIL, avoiding reforming our spying programs, continuing to squander taxpayer money on the F-35, Trans-Pacific corporate-fellatiating & consumer-screwing trade agreement, etc) so the triggering event is always non-unique and cannot be demonstrated to be a causal effect of the not-actually-probable outcome, especially since we’ve suspended the rules of reality to assume an easy fiat instead of guessing how far we could get with the plan in the reality of bloviation and bullshit.

But at the end of the debate, the judge — especially a lay judge or a judge knowing that tab needs to get their ballot in a timely fashion to keep the tournament running — wants a simple way to vote. And giving the judge a simple way to vote is the role of the second speaker’s closing rebuttal. And so Second Speaker: pull out Occam’s Razor and cut the crap off of the debate to show the judge how you win on the big points regardless of how messy the flow got.

The example is coming, but first the education: the core formulation of Occam’s Razor asserts “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.” This is most critical to you now because excess entities eliminates unique causalities rendering your claims suspect, but in the future you should encounter this core concept again and again. This constantly gets applied in my professional life as a software developer in the formulation of “Do the simplest thing that could possibly work,” which tends to make me more effective at my job than many other software developers who build intricate complexities of monumental uselessness with endless layers of architectural abstractions that help the developer feel clever and indispensable, neither of which is true. But my favorite application of Occam’s Razor is the Minimum Viable Product, a concept that you should take with you into college and are trying to figure out a clever way to go from having an idea to having paid off your student loans (see also: The Lean Startup and Lean Analytics), but the “Minimum Viable” is being extended into human power structures with discussions of “minimum viable bureaucracy” and “minimum viable policy.” This is, of course, all just a remixing of Aristotle’s Ethics by way of Occam’s Razor: we need the minimum viable, for example, bravery to get us out of cowardice, but don’t want to go beyond that lest our bravery become suicidal insanity.

So, let’s say that your opponents have made a total mess of the flow and are claiming that Big Pharma leasing NOAA’s pre-existing lab space can save us from dying out in four ways because of diseases, some of which we’ve not even discovered yet, by drinking sea water. (The actual case is almost this absurd.) I would advise the 2NR to straighten it out like this…

Sample 2NR:

It’s been a rough debate, but I’m going to explain why our opponent’s plan hasn’t earned your vote. The flow is a bit messy, so I’m going to straighten it out and signpost as I go.

Harms: Our opponents have claimed that diseases — both known and unknown — will kill us all. This is hyperbole. We know from [cite previously read cards] that diseases thrive when they don’t kill their hosts. We also look back to history and see that the Black Death, the Bubonic Plague, and even Ebola haven’t killed everybody so we don’t expect this to change now. They’re overstating current threats, with the overstated threats being important when considering disadvantages, and the current state of the threats being important in seeing how they’re not solving for them. (Sidebar: infectious diseases aren’t leading killers; heart disease and cancer are.)

Inherency: Our opponents claim that they’re doing something new and novel here, except they also claim that they aren’t: the lab they intend to use already exists (according to them) and the Big Pharma companies they’re leasing it out to also already exist. Furthermore this line of research is already being pursued by other nations and by Big Pharma as per [cite previously read cards], so they’re not really changing the status quo and you don’t have to vote affirmative to get any purely hypothetical benefit here, which I’ll talk more about in just a second.

Topicality: Our opponents probably aren’t even topical because — failing at inherency — this isn’t a substantial increase, so they’re not affirming the resolution, beyond which the actual work isn’t really being done by the USFG so there’s an effects-topicality violation, too. But voting on topicality is basically asking you to say “this entire debate was a colossal waste of my time” so we’re not asking you to vote on that.

Solvency: And we’re not asking for a topicality vote because the huge gap our opponents have in their case is solvency and benefits: they expect the Big Pharma companies that have allowed the status quo to come into being with the harms that they’ve over-hyped to start doing a better job of solving for these diseases. But our medical-industrial complex has allowed for the antibiotic-resistant status quo as per [cite previously read cards], and — as we see in our inherency evidence — it isn’t making the promised strides forward; that’s [cite previously read cards]. And when you look to the specific harms our opponents are calling out, they’re citing diseases in Russia and India — so solving for those with our Big Pharma which hasn’t even finished eradicating Polio yet is laughably improbable. Looking forward to the not-yet-discovered diseases that our opponents promise we’ll be saved from: they can’t even vaccinate people against the correct strain of flu from year to year; there’s no chance they’ll solve for problems that haven’t emerged yet.

Off-Case: So there’s no viable way our opponent’s proposal does anything good. And looking to our off-case we see that it could disrupt the political process we’re going through with the long docket of shit congress isn’t handling appropriately at the moment [if you ran policap, which you shouldn’t have], with an outside possibility that NOAA budgetary ineptitude could exacerbate our suboptimal satellite data availability [if you ran a tradeoff, which you should have], and the overarching point of the affirmative is to reprehensibly expand the reach of Big Pharma’s bio-power [if you ran a Foucault-based bio-power K, which you shouldn’t have not because it’s wrong but because you probably would do it badly — it’s big picture stuff that isn’t designed to be grasped in under an hour or at 800 words per minute, so don’t do it the disservice of trying on a whim].

So the affirmative is utterly failing to do anything good like they promised you they would, so you shouldn’t vote for them, and we’re showing how they’re actually risking or even causing bad effects so you should be actively voting against them and for us instead.

End Sample 2NR.

Of course, the content of each of the buckets is going to vary from round to round — stronger and tighter affirmative cases may force you more onto an off-case position and weighing their harms against your disadvantages, and when you’re on the affirmative you’ll want the reverse to be true, emphasizing harms and solvency while playing down the causal likelihood of disadvantages and impacts — but the fundamental goal of the second rebuttal is to rearrange and simplify the judge’s flow until it’s perfectly clear that you’ve won.

Your life will be easier if the first constructive begins with the second rebuttal in mind.

I read a book a while back on mental skill mastery (sadly I’ve forgotten which book) and it discussed how master chess players learned their game: they learn their game in reverse. Instead of mastering all of the permutations of the chessboard from beginning to end (an impossibly huge quantity), they visualize how they want the game to end in their victory (a limited set of options) and then drive their moves to that goal.

In the same way, you should be working with your partner to ensure that the first constructive includes many/most of the key elements that the second rebuttal needs to win the debate and — more importantly — doesn’t include elements that will undermine the crucial points of the second rebuttal (or worse, the first constructive). It’s okay to jettison points you aren’t winning, but it’s not okay to actively contradict yourself on points you could/should be winning. And the easiest way to avoid getting in that kind of a mess as the negative is to spend more time before the 1NC prepping up your on-case attacks.

For example, given an affirmative case that functionally says (and I’m not even joking) “USFG will give tax credits for OSW and that will [hand-waving] save the EU economy and [hand-waving] prevent Armenia from starting a [hand-waving] nuclear war that will [hand-waving] Kill Us All and [hand-waving] stop North Korea from starting a nuclear war that will [hand-waving] Kill Us All and [hand-waving] prevent Iran from starting a [hand-waving] nuclear war that will [hand-waving] Kill Us All,” the first words out of the 1NC’s mouth should be “Well the wind power generated from all of the 1AC’s magical hand waving could solve for our energy independence for the next century, only they didn’t claim that as an advantage. But let’s take that case apart…”

Then go into Effects Topicality on top: this is a tax policy, the USFG is not exploring or developing anything except our already stupidly convoluted tax code, and all of their links to solvency and advantages are wishful thinking. But it’s worse than that because the Eurozone economy is in trouble not just from Greece but also Spain just as primary pain-points and even if we’re getting our OSW supplies from Europe (which is 2 layers of speculation already: that we would get them is #1 and that we would get them from Europe is #2), our opponents also have to show that we would be getting them from Greece and Spain specifically (speculation #3) and that we’d be getting enough of them to salvage the economies of Greece and Spain (speculation #4) which will somehow (speculation #5) pacify the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict which could otherwise (speculation #6) start a nuclear war that would (speculation #7) kill us all. And that’s just the first section.

Special Bonus Tactic: Any time the affirmative puts multiple extinction scenarios on the table — in this case, we’ve got three paths to extinction-causing nuclear war — the negative should grant out that nuclear war can happen and that when it does, everybody dies. At that point, they only need to win that the affirmative fails to solve for one of their link stories making the plan pointless: “The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict pre-dates the Eurozone economy and will not be pacified by potential and speculative spillover economic benefits; the alleged nuclear war that the affirmative claims they can prevent is actually inevitable and will kill us all and the affirmative plan, contrary to its claims, doesn’t change that, even if they do save us from Iran and North Korea,” repeated for Iran and North Korea in the 1NC transmutes in the 2NC to “The affirmative promised to save us from extinction caused by each of three nuclear wars. But we can only go extinct once, so if any of their shoddy link-stories fall apart, then we should be out partying like it’s our last night on earth and not worrying about enacting the affirmative plan” and then hit whichever solvency links seem the weakest.

What you don’t want to do is toss on a new “biosphere collapse caused by renewable energy” extinction disadvantage that necessarily grants affirmative speculations #1 & #2, ignore speculations #3-6, and only claim that all of the nuclear wars that the affirmative is solving for wouldn’t actually kill everybody.

Also, don’t run an alternate actor counterplan and then indict the mindset of the plan with a, for example, anthropocentrism critique: your counterplan has demonstrated that you have an anthropocentric mindset as well, and because a critique is a mere/pure performative speech-act, its existence is bound to the reality of you having said it: thus critiques cannot be run conditionally and exist across the entirety of a case, such that every point asserted by the case — even the well-conditioned ones, appropriately nested in “even if that isn’t true enough, then this secondary effect comes into play” — risks biting into the critique which exists not as a description of a possibility, but as a perspective taken through declaration. (Really, critiques are a bad idea: they rarely give a reasonable policy position for the judge to evaluate and they forcibly short-circuit their larger position into a tiny space, spewed out faster than any reasonable person who is not already familiar with the position presented can evaluate it. As Nietzsche observed in Thus Spake Zarathrustra, “Slow is the experience of all deep fountains: long have they to wait until they know WHAT hath fallen into their depths” and that’s exactly how No Critique Ever gets run.

But I particularly hate the anthro critique because anthro is inherent in human thought. Here’s Camus from The Myth of Sisyphus with the sexist language being similarly inherent in Camus’s thought because he was a dude:

Now the main thing is done, I hold certain facts from which I cannot separate.What I know, what is certain, what I cannot deny, what I cannot reject—this is what counts. I can negate everything of that part of me that lives on vague nostalgias, except this desire for unity, this longing to solve, this need for clarity and cohesion. I can refute everything in this world surrounding me that offends or enraptures me, except this chaos, this sovereign chance and this divine equivalence which springs from anarchy. I don’t know whether this world has a meaning that transcends it. But I know that I do not know that meaning and that it is impossible for me just now to know it. What can a meaning outside my condition mean to me? I can understand only in human terms. What I touch, what resists me—that is what I understand. And these two certainties—my appetite for the absolute and for unity and the impossibility of reducing this world to a rational and reasonable principle—I also know that I cannot reconcile them. What other truth can I admit without lying, without bringing in a hope I lack and which means nothing within the limits of my condition?

If I were a tree among trees, a cat among animals, this life would have a meaning, or rather this problem would not arise, for I should belong to this world. I should be this world to which I am now opposed by my whole consciousness and my whole insistence upon familiarity. This ridiculous reason is what sets me in opposition to all creation. I cannot cross it out with a stroke of the pen.What I believe to be true I must therefore preserve. What seems to me so obvious, even against me, I must support. And what constitutes the basis of that conflict, of that break between the world and my mind, but the awareness of it? If therefore I want to preserve it, I can through a constant awareness, ever revived, ever alert. This is what, for the moment, I must remember. At this moment the absurd, so obvious and yet so hard to win, returns to a man’s life and finds its home there. At this moment, too, the mind can leave the arid, dried-up path of lucid effort. That path now emerges in daily life. It encounters the world of the anonymous impersonal pronoun “one,” but henceforth man enters in with his revolt and his lucidity. He has forgotten how to hope. This hell of the present is his Kingdom at last. All problems recover their sharp edge. Abstract evidence retreats before the poetry of forms and colors. Spiritual conflicts become embodied and return to the abject and magnificent shelter of man’s heart. None of them is settled. But all are transfigured. Is one going to die, escape by the leap, rebuild a mansion of ideas and forms to one’s own scale? Is one, on the contrary, going to take up the heart-rending and marvelous wager of the absurd? Let’s make a final effort in this regard and draw all our conclusions.The body, affection, creation, action, human nobility will then resume their places in this mad world. At last man will again find there the wine of the absurd and the bread of indifference on which he feeds his greatness.

So not only is anthro inherent in the human experience as it is emergent from our evolved consciousness, but because it’s emergent, it also can’t be consistently or durably solved for; critiquing it is wishful thinking of the “we solve for human nature” sort that got Marx so badly abused by Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. Also worth noting: while some big important people are doing capitalism rather badly, a CapK doesn’t solve for the human nature from which capitalism has emerged and you are actually wallowing in, and your communistic tendencies are more informed by your so-far life-long dependence on your parents for your material needs than any sustainable economic action in the real world. The real point here is that most Ks make you sound like a naive child who doesn’t understand the implications of their humanity, a position that may appeal to the college judges who are still-naive-children just a couple of years older than you, but falls off pretty fast among the parents, teachers, and volunteering professionals that round out the judging pool. This isn’t necessarily because the K is flatly wrong, but because you’re slamming it into a tiny bit of your speech at 800 words per minute and ignoring all nuance and context that the better-thinkers-than-you put into it in the first place: even if the content of the critique were totally true, reasonable, and valid, the structural violence you inflict upon it to put it into a speech will corrupt it. So, generally speaking, Don’t Do It.

But to get back to the previous question of what you should be running instead:

  1. The affirmative should run a case in the 1AC that has a bunch of bells and whistles to distract the negative, but a very simple core that they can defend in the 2AR — and you and your partner should be practiced on knowing which parts must survive and which parts can be dumped. Bonus points for conditional add-ons in the 2AC for more distraction from the unchanging core of the case, because cleverness does have its place in constructive speeches. But don’t lose sight of your end game: to win with a realistic, informative, and even educational minimum viable policy.
  2. The negative should run a broad offensive against the affirmative’s link stories with a lot of “even if that, then still not this” conditioning between points, with the 2NR dropping down to the most egregiously undefended broken links in the affirmative case. Really, even just analytic attacks are fine for seeing what they can’t defend against; in some ways your analytics are better because “if the weaknesses of the affirmative case are obvious to some high school kid like me, then clearly they won’t hold up to more intense scrutiny.” Disadvantages are good, but do condition them in (“even if we accept this ridiculous notion, it would trigger…”) and don’t hope to win on an impact calc. Your endgame is generally going to be: the affirmative has nothing because they’re woefully naive and is risking new/alternate harms because they’re dangerously naive.

Know where you intend to end and be moving in that direction, and then spend your time at the end clarifying on where you’re at in a politely formulaic fashion.


Speaking Greek

Mary Beard has a fascinating article on the chronic silencing of womens’ voices coming down from ancient times, and she starts with The Odyssey. There is a slight problem, though, and it’s one that she senses with a flat reading but doesn’t delve into:

‘Mother,’ [young Telemachus] says, ‘go back up into your quarters, and take up your own work, the loom and the distaff … speech will be the business of men, all men, and of me most of all; for mine is the power in this household.’ And off she goes, back upstairs.​ … There is something faintly ridiculous about this wet-behind-the-ears lad shutting up the savvy, middle-aged Penelope. But it’s a nice demonstration that right where written evidence for Western culture starts, women’s voices are not being heard in the public sphere; more than that, as Homer has it, an integral part of growing up, as a man, is learning to take control of public utterance and to silence the female of the species.
And while that may be a chronic condition throughout history, it’s actually opposite to the point of the scene. So let’s add a couple of contextual details:
First, Penelope’s retreat from the encounter — even in a flat reading — can be in a position of motherly pride. She has not had control of her household for years, overrun by obnoxious suitors as it is: that her son would show a bit of a spine despite ongoing insults to the house and hospitality is a thing she’s likely been waiting for. Recall (per Foucault) that one of the socioeconomic evolutions moving from the Greeks to the Romans was the ability of women to legally have property; Penelope, as iconic of a woman as she was, was also functionally powerless in her own home. Thus I would suggest that she obeys Telemachus (even in a flat reading) not out of compulsion but out of hope that things are going to improve around her house.
But things aren’t going to improve and here’s why: Telemachus wasn’t raised by Odysseus. For all intents and purposes, he’s been raised by the ne’er-do-well suitors, the leeches and the parasites who want to lay claim to Odysseus fortune, house, and throne. When Athena asks him if he is Odysseus’s son, he replies “My mother says indeed I am his. I for my part do not know. Nobody really knows his own father.” And this gets to the second point: the integral part of growing up, as a man, was not merely asserting power but rather taking action to warrant the power. And that’s why, secondly, Athena promptly sends Telemachus out to seek out news of his father’s not-even-actually-happening-yet return: she wants him to quest and journey and be away from the pernicious influence of the suitors who are misdirecting his ascent into manhood.
While it may have been commonly accepted in the culture that an integral part of growing up was learning to take control of public utterance, the action of The Odyssey shows that the right to speak is earned through experience, travel, and the sophistication that is gained from it: contrary to common culture as embodied by the suitors, merely having hairy balls wasn’t really enough. For example, Helen, worldly and sophisticated, takes the lead on her husband in identifying Telemachos with no rebuke forthcoming. But granting this artistic intent, it comes as no surprise that Odysseus, lame from his boar-hunting youth and old from his return from Troy, can wield his real-man weapons and slaughter all of the suitors: his manhood is well-earned through exploits, but the suitors leeching off of his house are only acting as if they’re men, speaking slowly to add depth to their voice.
This rejection of the common culture come up sharply again with Kalypso. Kalypso rescued Odysseus from drowning and was keeping him stranded on her island (in a very sexy way). Hermes comes to Kalypso and says “Hey, Zeus says you have to let Odysseus go.”
…and Kalypso, shining among divinities,
shuddered, and answered him in winged words and addressed him:
‘You are hard-hearted, you gods, and jealous beyond all creatures
beside, when you are resentful toward the goddesses for sleeping
openly with such men as each has made her true husband.
So when Dawn of the rosy fingers chose out Orion ,
all you gods who live at your ease were full of resentment,
until chaste Artemis of the golden throne in Ortygia
came with a visitation of painless arrows and killed him;
and so it was when Demeter of the lovely hair, yielding
to her desire, lay down with Iasion and loved him
in a thrice-turned field, it was not long before this was made known
to Zeus, who struck him down with a cast of the shining thunderbolt.
So now, you gods, you resent it in me that I keep beside me
a man, the one I saved when he clung astride of the keel board
all alone, since Zeus with a cast of the shining thunderbolt
had shattered his fast ship midway on the wine-blue water.
Then all the rest of his excellent companions perished,
but the wind and the current carried him here and here they drove him,
and I gave him my love and cherished him, and I had hopes also
that I could make him immortal and all his days to be endless…”
Hermes, a god, has no cogent response to Kalypso’s righteous fury other than (essentially)  “Yeah, but Zeus is scary,” but Kalypso, having broken the fourth wall to attack the fickle sexism of Greek Zeus-centric polytheism, was already done talking to him. The point of Kalypso was specifically to verbally attack the conventional Greek culture that men (like the suitors) were assuming rather than actually engaging with. Contrary to the culture, Kalypso’s voice was not tamed and she was very exactly not a mere object of pleasure for a man.
The Odyssey is a book that is fundamentally about splitting out the real from the poseurs in a culture growing in decadence: Penelope, Odysseus, and Telemachos are real; the idle suitors and the home-bound servants they corrupted are poseurs. Athena and Kalypso are shown to be real in their actions; Zeus, through his general inaction, is shown to be a poseur. So while Mary Beard’s straight reading of Telemachos silencing Penelope is not wrong, it does miss the contextual clue that it was presented as a bad example: while the audience would expect Telemachos to make such a claim to power, his youth made it intentionally “faintly ridiculous” to show the audience that the claim was fraudulent with the action that followed necessary to validate future claims to power.
(My cuts from The Odyssey were the Lattimore translation.)

Living Wage Slaves

“The humans aren’t doing what the math says. The humans must be broken.” –SMBC

I promise that we’ll get to discussing “Resolved: Just governments ought to require that employers pay a living wage” as it should be debated in just a moment. But first I need to have a word with the Framers.

Dear Framers:

Seriously, WTF is up with you and your idiot notion of “just” civilizations this year? I’ve called you out on this before and now you’ve only gone and made it worse. Using an unattainable ideal as de facto adjective is bad enough, but to set in the way of kids who may then argue about the fact of the adjective rather than the pursuit of the ideal seems functionally abusive to me. Indeed, the current timing seems particularly tone-deaf: we want to debate the idea of a fluid minimum wage — which is a legitimate debate to have — but it comes with this “just” baggage at a particular time when we’re particularly faced with the injustice of the state, from torturing innocent foreigners to militarized police at home.

But all of this has happened before and it will all happen again.

See, back in 2006, the United States Federal Government had a lawsuit against it thrown out of court because actually defending against the lawsuit might have revealed state secrets — like the Intelligence Committee report just did. The basis of the lawsuit was that the CIA kidnapped and tortured a German citizen for many months on the basis of nothing but his name, only releasing him when ordered to do so by National Security Advisor Rice, and even then unapologetically dumping him, malnourished and destitute, on a desolate road in Albania. When pressed for justice, our government chose to value its temporary secrets more.

And back in 2003, Miami was hosting the FTAA trade-and-gobalization conference while competing with Panama City, Cancun and other cities to become home to the FTAA’s secretariat. Asst. Police Chief Frank Fernandez openly endorsed the associated controversial trade agreement, claiming it would bring 89,000 new jobs to the area and add $13.5 billion annually to Florida’s Gross State Product. John Timoney, the Miami chief of police, socialized with the trade ministers and publicly taunted demonstrators. And armed with $8.5 million of federally-funded new equipment for “anti-terrorism” security at the globalization talks and inflamed by weeks of warnings about anarchists out to destroy their city, police in Miami donned riot gear, assembled by the thousand, put the city on lockdown and unleashed an arsenal of crowd control weaponry on overwhelmingly peaceful gatherings. Union retirees were held handcuffed and refused water for hours. Medics, lawyers, and journalists were rounded up. People were charged with with the heinous crimes of “obstructing a sidewalk,” “obstruction of justice,” or merely “disobeying a police officer.” Brenna Bell, a woman I debated against (and lost to) in college, was there as a lawyer. She was sprayed and shot in the back of the leg, and sent off to jail. Many observers said the same thing: “This is not America.” But Miami officials crowed about the lack of damage done to their city and Bill Hitchens, director of Georgia’s Department of Homeland Security, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “I certainly think this is a precursor for what we could see” at the G-8 summit. Speaking of the Miami police, he said, “We need to do much the same as they did.”

We’re not just now hearing Molly Crabapple claiming that “Police are the enforcers of the state.” We’re not just now realizing Chesterton’s observation that aristocrats are anarchists: that while “The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all.” We’re not just now getting clued into Adam Smith’s assertion in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations that “Civil government… is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor.” And if you missed me quoting Niebuhr that “the less a community is held together by cohesive forces in the texture of its life the more it must be held together by power. … Order will have to be purchased at the price of justice,” then I’m simultaneously unsurprised by and unsympathetic to how badly these resolutions are being written.

It perhaps seems a bit of a downer to cite Joseph Campbell’s observation that “All societies are evil, sorrowful, inequitable; and so they will always be,” but then he added “So if you really want to help this world, what you will have to teach is how to live in it.” And that’s not something that can be taught when asserting that an idealized “just government” or “just society” is a thing rather than a pursuit and incidental to our survival. Joy and delight are not states reserved for once we’ve achieved the ideal of justice, but practiced in risk and rebellion against chronic, systemic, and all-too-human injustice.

Love always,
Jason

Having said that, it’s probably no surprise that the affirmative side only feels topical but isn’t really. Regardless, it’s hard to vote against because of how it feels. It goes like this:

As the Republican President Theodore Roosevelt said in 1902, “The great corporations which we have grown to speak of rather loosely as trusts are creatures of the State, and the State not only has the right to control them, but it is duty bound to control them wherever the need is shown.” So the question I see put to us today is whether a government ought to require employers to pay their employees a living wage. As you can see, the affirmative is already shifting the resolution to more defensible ground. The negative is going to have to call them on this by reading the resolution word for faulty word.

Just to clarify the scope of concern:
Employer in this context is a licensed business that submits paperwork to the government inclusive of, but not limited to, information about who all is on their payroll. Within the United States, articles of incorporation have likely also been filed with the IRS and the local Secretary of State. This is an obvious limitation: if we’re talking about any level of employment below what the government knows about, then the government can’t functionally require anything of it.
Living Wage: the Wikipedia-compiled definition states “this standard generally means that a person working forty hours a week, with no additional income, should be able to afford the basics for quality of life, food, utilities, transport, health care, and minimal recreation, one course a year to upgrade their education and childcare.” It is important to note, however, that it is not fixed to a specific dollar-rate; it is fluid and reactive to the economic realities of whichever locality it is evaluated in. Just as many states peg their minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage, so also might the living wage vary from location to location. That’s why we’re talking about living wage instead of a specific value of minimum wage.

Resolutional Analysis: it may be reasonably argued by the negative that the United States does not have a just government. But most people in government anywhere like to think of themselves as being just, and governmental entities within the United States are the only governmental entities we can reasonably expect everybody in the room knows well enough to have an informed debate about in the time allotted. So in order to avoid having to fabricate theoretical ground to stand on, I’m going to be arguing as if the resolution wanted us to debate how United States government (though not necessarily federal) ought to approach a minimum wage since other readings of the resolution cannot be reasonably debated in this context.

Observation: despite protestations from businesses, raising the minimum wage is not determined to result in job loss. The New Republic reported in October that “the researchers did not find a negative effect on employment growth, as conservatives often predict” and PolitiFact, while chastizing Senator Cardin for overzealously claiming job growth, observes that “Modern research tends to show that raising the minimum wage has little significant impact — positive or negative — on employment.” Really, worry-mongering over rising wages is not at all new; Adam Smith wrote about it in The Wealth of Nations saying “Masters are always and every where in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour,” and “Our merchants and master-manufacturers complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price…of their goods both at home and abroad. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.” (This is in book 1, subtitled “Of the Causes of Improvement in the productive Powers of Labour, and of the Order according to which its Produce is naturally distributed among the different Ranks of the People.” Yes, Really.)

We may well be motivated by any of a variety of American values to affirm this resolution. I’m going to do something unusual here and not to insist that any one of them is best and rather appeal to you from multiple perspectives, unified in that the easiest criterion to measure them by in this context is Reduced Dependence on Social Welfare.

Let’s start with the American value of freedom from government. Courtney Moore is a Walmart employee and she spells it out quite simply:

“I am on government assistance. I am on food stamps and I have to get government housing. I should not need that if I am a Walmart employee. My baby should depend on me, and me alone, my baby should not have to depend on Obama and the government to give us what we need to survive.”

Courtney would say that she values her freedom from government in the long tradition of Americans back to our colonial roots, even to Jamestown, preferring to engage in the open market of willing and capable labor, and we’d likely applaud her for it. But those of us who are independent of bureaucratic services might not feel the longing to be free of them in the same way Courtney does, so while we can value it, it may not be the highest value we can personally be motivated by.

Looked at from the government’s point of view, there’s also the American value of fiscal responsibility which is supposed to be as American as Ben Franklin on the $100 bill, regardless of how good we are — or aren’t — at actually practicing it. So let’s look at it as if we were elected officials in a government of, by, and for the people: Al Jazeera reports that

“In October, Walmart announced plans to cut health insurance for about 30,000 of its part-time employees. Although the workers will have the option to sign up for the Affordable Care Act’s publicly subsidized health plans, the retail giant is shifting the cost of its part-timers’ health care to U.S. taxpayers.”

So what just happened is that Walmart realized it could cut its costs if it dumped its reliably employed workers onto the social safety net that was designed for people who aren’t reliably employed. Walmart’s fiscal cleverness transfers the expense of their workers’ health insurance to the government, an affront to the values of fiscal responsibility and maintaining the public trust that all elected officials say they care about, even if they differ on how to best pursue them.

But for us as ordinary citizens, this really boils down to the core American value of fair dealing. Al Jazeera adds that

“It is deeply disturbing that a profitable multinational corporation is shirking its responsibilities and making everybody else pick up the tab for treating its workers fairly,”

but stops short of mentioning that Walmart stock shows that it paid out $1.92 in dividends for its roughly 3.22 billion shares of stock through 2014 — or over $6 billion of Walmart’s revenue was sent to people rich enough to own Walmart stock, paid for by ordinary citizens subsidizing the welfare of Walmart employees.

So as ordinary citizens who value our property rights, we should be grievously offended that companies like Walmart are functionally able to unfairly violate our rights by forcing higher taxes on us, and that our government — despite being able to cross-index welfare rolls with W-2s — hasn’t put a stop to this farcical abuse of their well-intentioned system. That’s not a fair deal. That’s privatizing their corporate profits while socializing their corporate responsibilities.

This may sound like I’m targeting Walmart specifically, but they’re just a prominent example of a larger trend. McDonald’s is in the same boat, having paid out approximately $3.2 billion in dividends to its shareholders in 2014. Consumerist from October 2013, citing a study from the National Employment Law Project and investigation by advocacy group Low Pay is not Ok, reports that

A recent study showed that 52% of non-management fast food workers in the U.S. are receiving some sort of federal benefits to supplement their wages, and that McDonald’s employees alone account for an estimated $1.2 billion (with a “b”) in annual payouts. And when employees call the McDonald’s hotline for workers looking to improve their financial position, operators direct them to various welfare programs.

But in October, “Retailers, including Walmart, have said that they cannot afford to raise wages as it would eat away at their profits.” And that’s the key word: profits. What the company has after is has paid off all the expenses that it’s responsible for. Only these companies are, incredibly, deciding that they’re more responsible to whatever Vanguard ETF Index Algorithm is holding their stock at this particular minute than they are to their employees, forcing society as a whole to expand its governmental welfare net to catch people who are employed, just not gainfully. Writ large, this looks like a consolidation of socioeconomic power whereby the economic top 10% has statistically lead our country out of the great recession, despite most people in the lower 90% being functionally stuck in an economic depression.

Siding with the profitable rich to keep the poor on welfare is not an action that a just government could take, does not align to what we the people hold dear, and is not the way you should cast your vote. Vote affirmative instead.

So given all of that, the wrong thing for the negative to do would be leap to the defense of the profitable multinational corporations from the hordes of poor people that they’re barely employing. Even if you’ve got intimate knowledge of the inner workings of a small business, the perceived behavior of companies like Walmart and McDonald’s make a clear defense of freer enterprise less comfortable territory. So I’d recommend going for an attack like this:

As the negative, we agree with everything the affirmative said about raising the minimum wage. It’s when the affirmative is talking about a living wage — and thus actually affirming the resolution — that we turn livid for a variety of reasons. Thus I am opposed to Resolved: Just governments ought to require that employers pay a living wage.

But first let me observe that the resolution is premised on the notion of a just government. I have a solid stack of claims against this premise, but that would leave little room for the affirmative to argue. So I am willing to assume a potentially or at least trying-to-be just government as the United States claims to have (despite all evidence to the contrary) for the sake of my opponent so long as we are free to debate the conclusion of the resolution; that is, the behavior of the just government when it’s requiring living wages as my opponent believes it ought. Without getting into policy specifics, I believe the process of hypothetical policy can inform the value decision on whether or not to pursue the policy specifics. If this makes my opponent uncomfortable, I’m happy to read all the cards on governments being institutionalized injustice in my rebuttal as a defense of this observation.

And I’m against hypothetical policy expansions because, as Americans we generally value freedom from government. This perhaps sounds strange as we’re taught that the social contract binds us to our government and our government to us. But in his book Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault reveals a different set of teachings which informed the so-called social sciences:

“Historians of ideas usually attribute the dream of a perfect society to the philosophers and jurists of the eighteenth century; but there was also a military dream of society; its fundamental reference was not to the state of nature, but to the meticulously subordinated cogs of a machine, not to the primal social contract, but to permanent coercions, not to fundamental rights, but to indefinitely progressive forms of training, not to the general will but to automatic docility.”

And what I think we should find very telling about the resolution as written is that it expresses the position of the government and the position of the employer (commonly a corporation), but does not actually mention the citizen and only implies the existence of an employee. This dehumanization at the textual level clearly suggests that the conflict of this resolution is control of the permanently coerced, automatically docile, humanoid machine parts for other purposes. It assumes that for us, but when we put it that way: we don’t want it. We value our freedom from that government, and have ever since the Virginia Company ineptly populated the Jamestown colony with useless goldsmiths and left them to starve through the winter.

And the correct way to measure freedom from government is an avoidance of authoritative normalization. On the specific issue of a living wage, this can best be understood with Goodhart’s Law. Check out how many things are determined to be part of normal living in a living wage, as recounted in Wikipedia:

this standard generally means that a person working forty hours a week, with no additional income, should be able to afford the basics for quality of life, food, utilities, transport, health care, and minimal recreation, one course a year to upgrade their education and childcare. However, in many cases education, saving for retirement, and less commonly legal fees and insurance, or taking care of a sick or elderly family member are not included. It also does not allow for debt repayment of any kind … for a family of four. This is two adults working full-time with one child age 9 and another of age 4.

Sidebar: this definition is functionally legitimate and certainly common enough coming from one of the most globally accessible and trafficked websites in existence. But you don’t have to win the competing definition so long as you can win the concept of modeling — that the government has to have some idea as to what the living wage is going to be buying in order to set its value. You won’t be attacking any specific point in the Wikipedia definition, but rather the similar process that any government would have to go through to determine an appropriate living wage.

Now Charles Goodhart, a former advisor to the Bank of England and Emeritus Professor at the London School of Economics, said: “As soon as the government attempts to regulate any particular set of financial assets, these become unreliable as indicators of economic trends.” And we can see that education (with federal student loans), health insurance (since inclusion as a non-wage benefit in World War 2), and home prices (due to mortgage interest tax deductions) have seen their prices climb sharply over time due to government giving them special tracking and treatment. Conversely, the cost of products based on corn has been undercut by government subsidies, making the unhealthy Big Mac & Coke unnaturally cheap.

But overall, Goodhart’s law indicates that adhering specifically to a living wage — instead of simply raising the minimum wage — would result in the focused goods and services being able to raise their prices regardless of broader economic trends, but in accordance with the government’s normalizing judgment in functional collusion with, rather than independence from, the government.

So that’s functionally Contention 1: by necessarily having to define the constituent parts of a living wage, the government would be creating market distortions — per Goodhart’s law — that make the so-determined “basics” of life in that society operate outside of normal economic behaviors, almost certainly having abnormally inflated prices, functionally using the government’s blessing to try to transfer the ever-growable wages of their customers into the pockets of their executives and shareholders. It’s reasonable to be offended by corporations like Walmart paying dividends to shareholders while impoverishing workers, but allowing some businesses to be intentionally inefficient as a source of shareholder dividends isn’t a substantial improvement.

Contention 2a: The government bases its normalization on idyllic wishful thinking rather than sound policy. In the sample definition of living wage, the model was based on “two adults working full-time with one child age 9 and another of age 4,” but the US Department of Commerce, as an official government entity for guiding policy, had both single- and dual-earner models featuring two children in a paper it released in 2010. I’ve already taken umbrage with this paper — really, do read it as it’s better than a debate case on this issue. But then the paper admits that despite its models

Families with two children are a declining share of the overall population, with particularly large declines in the share of the population living in two-parent two-child families. More people are living in single-parent families (even though the share of people in families with single parents and two children has fallen), living alone or living in families without children.

Really, the census data showed that over 41% of households definitely didn’t have 2 children, that 27% of people just plain live alone, and only 20% of households are “married with children”  — and those aren’t necessarily dual-income or dual-child.

So in the government-to-employer relationship described by the resolution, the normalized household model the government uses to govern the policy is necessarily going to be woefully off-target — likely between 40 and 80% of the time — because physical reality doesn’t normalize easily. The government’s sociological map is not the territory of our lives.

Contention 2b: The government’s normalization creates a pernicious disenfranchisement of the abnormal via exclusionary discourse. And we can see this in what the resolution doesn’t mention: it doesn’t mention citizens. It doesn’t even mention workers; they have to be assumed into existence as the recipients of the living wages (mentioned) that the government (mentioned) ought to require employers (mentioned) pay. But there is no actual relation between employee and government mentioned, with the far worse fate being for the 38% of our citizens who are not participating in the labor force: the cruel turn of the living wage is that those who are not earning it are obviously also not living. While the government is busy shaking out its social safety net, the discourse it is using to do so devalues the people that the social safety net is really there for. As this is a side-effect of governmental normalization, it is not truly upholding the freedom from government — indeed, it would only increase the bureaucracy that the vulnerable people relying on governmental services would have to navigate in order to secure the benefits our ostensibly compassionate society rations out to them.

Sidebar: The contents of discourse do matter. Particularly relevant is the Center for Community Change finding that 

From problematic metaphors to reliance on passive voice, much of existing language unintentionally reinforces poverty as beyond our control rather than focusing on how working people produce America’s wealth.

and also

many of the 106 million Americans living at 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Line ignore political debates about them because they do not identify with the language used by policy makers, the media and others to describe them.

Using language that fails to connect us to the people we’re trying to help (as the resolution totally does) or glosses gently over problems that are described intractably (which the resolution does by avoiding any mention of a problem) undermines our ability to work towards any kind of solution. Considerate and competent discourse is critical to aligning social power against a social problem that is formulated in a way that can be mitigated or solved.

Contention 3: Government normalization leads to intimately invasive discourse. For example, the Wall Street Journal claims that

“The U.S. economy, already struggling with stagnant wages and lackluster spending, faces another obstacle to growth: missing babies. … The nation’s fertility rate edged down last year to a record low, the latest notch in a long decline made worse by the recent recession. For every 1,000 women of childbearing age, there were just 62.5 births, down from 63 births in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

with governments from Australia to Japan getting kind of creepy in their desire to see women getting pregnant, going so far as Japan’s 
“Finance Minister Taro Aso sparked criticism for blaming childless couples for exacerbating Japan’s social security woes” and the Washington Post claiming that Japan’s non-sexuality is endangering the global economybut deviance from the government’s model is just a natural reaction to other, often entrenched, cultural and socioeconomic issues. For example, in Japan

“Marriage has become a minefield of unattractive choices. Japanese men have become less career-driven, and less solvent, as lifetime job security has waned. Japanese women have become more independent and ambitious. Yet conservative attitudes in the home and workplace persist. Japan’s punishing corporate world makes it almost impossible for women to combine a career and family, while children are unaffordable unless both parents work. Cohabiting or unmarried parenthood is still unusual, dogged by bureaucratic disapproval.”

And indeed, our own census data shows that childlessness among middle-aged women has doubled in the 30 years from 1976 to 2006 (from 10 to 20%). And what we see with the explicit discourse from Japan, and the article in the Wall Street Journal, is that the government would rather cling to its errant model of how its society should normally function and then invasively tell the people that, in their most private and intimate of situations, they’re just not fucking good enough.

Sidebar: Did you catch that it was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that told us of declining pregnancy rates, as if pregnancy is some kind of plague? Really, there are three sibling organizations to the CDC that would have stronger ethos for delivering this news from their name alone. Having the CDC report it makes it sound like the flu: “A major outbreak of pregnancy in the Manhattan area this month. Be careful out there, ladies — even if you’ve been vaccinated, you can catch it from men!” But seriously, our government really is this tone-deaf.

So when I say I value freedom from government, I mean I as a citizen value freedom from governmental mis-modeling and errant normalization that distorts the economy, that disenfranchises citizens, and that undermines the human dignity of the citizens the resolution actively ignored. I’m totally on-board with the government raising the minimum wage because we see companies distributing profits to their shareholders while their employees languish in poverty, but I cannot support the additional governmental anti-human meddling that would be required to sustain a living wage policy as the resolution suggests we ought to pursue.

And that should give the negative plenty of ground. The obvious response from the affirmative is going to be that none of your evidence is valid because the United States government is not a just government or that values-based debate should only look at ought up to the point of declaring the duty and not what the duty entails, at which point you open a new can of worms in your rebuttal as you promised in your observation which gave a pass on the question of just government.

I didn’t want to read these cards because they’re abusive in saying that the resolution has a faulty premise and can’t be affirmed, but I did warn that I’d use them to defend my observation if we couldn’t talk about the effects of telling even a just-ish government what it ought to do. The affirmative chose to refute my observation with their theoretical shenanigans and thus forces me to extend this line of attack that was initiated in the observation.

First, the practical impossibility of creating a just government was the thesis of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man & Immoral Society, as justice is necessarily granular but government is collective and collective life orients itself towards aligning with the grain of power and ignoring or suppressing individuality in the powerless. This gives us order, not justice. Niebuhr writes:

“It may be regarded as axiomatic that the less a community is held together by cohesive forces in the texture of its life the more it must be held together by power. … Order will have to be purchased at the price of justice; though it is quite obvious that if too much justice is sacrificed to the necessities of order, the order will prove too vexatious to last.”

And

“The inevitable hypocrisy, which is associated with all of the collective activities of the human race, springs chiefly from this source: that individuals have a moral code which makes the actions of collective man an outrage to their conscience. They therefore invent romantic and moral interpretations of the real facts, preferring to obscure rather than reveal the true character of their collective behavior. [… And …] the moralist may be as dangerous a guide as the political realist. He usually fails to recognise the elements of injustice and coercion which are present in any contemporary social peace. The coercive elements are covert, because dominant groups are able to avail themselves of the use of economic power, propaganda, the traditional processes of government, and other types of non-violent power.”

And there’s an indictment of the resolution’s framers as being dangerous guides for our children as their choice of wording in this resolution “fails to recognize the elements of injustice and coercion which are present in any contemporary social peace,” a danger expressly manifested by the affirmative opening to this line of critique.

Second: But perhaps the framers want us to imagine in the way of theorists: if we could give each their due (to reference a common definition of justice), shouldn’t governments require employers to pay living wages? And yet the question still makes no sense. Marxism, which boils down to the principle of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” (with the second half intentionally referencing justice) ultimately resolves itself in anarchy with no government, no distinction of employer or employed, and thus no fixed currency that can constitute a wage. The ultimate formulation for justice and equality regards the resolution as a preposterous structural abomination that implicitly perpetuates the injustice of the status quo as institutionalized by governments, currency, and corporations. So it is possible that the framers only want theoretical arguments, but only if they are woefully ignorant of Marxism which seems implausible to me.

Besides, the optimistic theorists are opportunistically employed by people in pursuit of power as we saw with Stalin and Mao and Castro and other so-called communists that did not want peaceful community-oriented anarchy but rather an overpowering state of which they were the head. Niebuhr abstracts this to systemic practice in Children of Light and Children of Darkness:

“Marxist social theory betrays striking similaries to Rousseau’s conceptions. It fails to anticipate the rise of a ruling group in a socialist society. When the group does arise, the theories are forced to obscure the initiative of the rulers, and to pretend that the policies at which the leaders arrive represent merely the expression of what the multitude has conceived.”

So if the framers of the resolution are pursuing arguments of theory, they’re doing so with wanton ignorance of the historical facts of human nature and effectively maleducating our children, reducing the cognitive defenses of those most likely to be equipped to resist authoritarian abuses of power and distracting them into docility in accordance with what a biopower-oriented state should want.

Third, layered on top of the problems of government are the issues of employers and wages (with wages being an exchangeable currency — based on the idea of current, flow, or fluidity — to procure goods and services). The assumption that there must be employers and wages is fairly new within the scope of human history vis-a-vis slavery, for example, and one that we’ve not wholly adjusted to despite being unable to see past it. In Simulacra and Simulation, Jean Baudrillard asserts:

“[A]ll the recrimination that replaces the revolutionary thought today comes back to incriminate capital for not following the rules of the game. “Power is unjust, its justice is a class justice, capital exploits us, etc.” — as if capital were linked by a contract to the society it rules. It is the Left that holds out the mirror of equivalence to capital hoping that it will comply, comply with this phantasmagoria of the social contract and fulfill its obligations to the whole of society. … Capital, in fact, was never linked by a contract to the society that it dominates. It is a sorcery of social relations, it is a challenge to society, and it must be responded to as such. It is not a scandal to be denounced according to moral or economic rationality, but a challenge to take up according to symbolic law.”

And while this sounds like it’s leaning towards the affirmative, it’s actually critiquing the structuralism embedded in the resolution. Recall that Marxism has neither government nor payers of wages. Baudrillard extends on this: what we call currency is just a “sorcery of social relations” aligned against the social contract’s belief in human pricelessness (and against my value of freedom from government), and affirming that employers should pay living wages inherently also affirms the existence of employers, and draws a morally perverse equivalence between wages paid and the living of human life (per contention 2b above).

Fourth, if that’s not the “just” they meant, then maybe they meant “just government” as exclusivity, but I would clearly contend that human resources departments should also require employers to pay living wages, and do so before the government gets involved because if there’s one thing that employers don’t like, it’s to have governments getting involved. Now this may have sounded like a total joke, but it highlights the absurdity of the resolution: that the framers seem to think that socioeconomically forsaken people can rely on government more than they can rely on the people who are reluctantly giving them paychecks. So…

Fifth, is the implicit claim that individuals ought to depend on their government for justice while expecting nefarious injustice from their employers is ridiculous when seeing that Adam Smith in On The Wealth of Nations wrote that “Civil government… is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor” — which is exactly what see in police actions across our nation today, expressing that we have no experience living under an impossible and theoretically ill-considered “just government” such that my opponent cannot reasonably argue what this figment of their imagination ought to be doing while defending the rich from not merely the vaguely poor, but rather specifically their own forsaken employees. All of this makes sense if you go back to the first point from Niebuhr: order is purchased at the price of justice.

If Adam Smith’s indictment of governmental capacity for justice is too succinct for you, here’s a longer version from Laurie Penny & Molly Crabapple’s Discordia:

As the occupation of Zuccotti Park by homeless young people and anti-capitalist protesters was beaten back brutally and consistently by the NYPD, middle-class New Yorkers started to realise, in their own time, that society is divided into those the police protect, and those the police are protecting you from, and it only takes a small shift of wealth or perspective to cross that invisible line; often it happens before you even realise it.

Why is that line invisible? Because police are people too, and will move that line in the direction they think best preserves order, regardless of justice. In places like Seattle and Nashville, this may come off as a laxness towards protests and civil disobedience intended to avoid exacerbating grievances in the hopes that people can work it out and get back to peaceable orderly living soon enough. In places like New York, Miami, or Ferguson, the aggressiveness of the response is intended to force the disordered persons to get back to their well-ordered place immediately and warn other people to not get out of place in the meantime.

To me it feels like the trend of increasing economic inequality is increasing the mass of people with not much stake in the order of society, with a consequence being an increase in the aggression of order-enforcement as protesters are decreasingly motivated to return to their normal lives. In this, everything old is new again: “While most of the rebel slaves were killed on the battlefield, some 6,000 survivors were captured by the legions of Crassus. All 6,000 were crucified along the Appian Way from Rome to Capua.”

To wrap it up: we can’t have a just government while using the government to enforce structural inequality, but that’s how we recognize order and is a defining feature of our government. If we wanted theoretical justice then we’d be talking about a government-less Marxist utopia, but human nature indicates that we’ll never achieve such a thing. Either way, the resolution is based on a fundamentally false premise and cannot possibly be legitimately affirmed.


Mi-Go to R’lyeh is a No-Go

Because the Internet exists, it became inevitable that somebody would suggest a policy affirmative case with the plan “the United States Federal Government should explore the Great Cthulhu’s sunken city of R’lyeh.” It relies entirely on befuddling the negative into being unable to respond rather than on having any actual strengths of its own, which disappoints me enormously because there are some astoundingly interesting things that can be done with fiat and R’lyeh and this does none of them. So here’s some help for the negative to keep from being befuddled.

Affirmative doesn’t know their authors:

  • Ex-Professor Nick Land gave up being a professor to go work for entertainment magazine “That’s Shanghai” in a total break with his previous body of work: “According to the present-day Nick Land, the person who wrote the following texts no longer exists. Yet for anyone who knew him, it is difficult to speak about these works without recalling Land as he was then.” Indeed, Land’s break from his previous body of work shows that its radical debasement does not lead to a conclusion that even its progenitor found satisfying. While I, having outgrown and disowned a great many lines of thought, can sympathize with Nick’s evolution of his thought, it is important to note that he wouldn’t necessarily endorse his prior published positions.
  • Chris Laliberte is apparently a college student at the University of Toronto, editing his own online journal — of which there has been only one edition — for student work from English department. In other words, he’s functionally a teenage blogger; do not respect his authority because he really doesn’t have any.
  • Howard Phillips Lovecraft… is mysteriously not directly cited by the affirmative that relies squarely on one of his works of short fiction for its plan. That he is not cited directly is unsurprising: his writing style was suitable only for filling pages, resulting in him being “virtually unknown and only published in pulp magazines before he died in poverty“. But failing to cite the author also suggests an ignorance to the overall body of work, allowing for myopic misinterpretations.

While there are other authors on-case, there aren’t enough to make a case; only Laliberte mentions R’lyeh and thus only Laliberte links to plan.

Laliberte is wrong: plan is not linked to case.

Let’s start close to the heart of the case — sending the USFG to R’lyeh — with Laliberte’s assertion that “Cthulhu acts as [Lacan’s] the Real” which is wrong in two ways: first, the Real resists symbolitization absolutely so being symbolized by Cthluhu means that it’s not the Real and secondly, Lacan’s concept of the real came after “Call of Cthulhu” so this post-hoc relationship that was conjured up by some Canadian kid 80 years after the fact is super-dodgy.

This opens Cthulhu up to counter-interpretation: Lovecraft’s fiction provided him with a psychologically compensatory outlet for the “Victorian fictions” most likely keenly felt in New England. As a contemporary to Freud, Lovecraft’s works show a fear not just of the subconscious but of hubris against the irrational pre-conscious and inherited corruption (cross-reference “The Rats in the Walls,” “Shadow Over Innsmouth”). But this is also clear in “Call of Cthulhu.” Lovecraft wrote:

Those Old Ones were gone now, inside the earth and under the sea; but their dead bodies had told their secrets in dreams to the first men, who formed a cult which had never died. This was that cult, and the prisoners said it had always existed and always would exist, hidden in distant wastes and dark places all over the world until the time when the great priest Cthulhu, from his dark house in the mighty city of R’lyeh under the waters, should rise and bring the earth again beneath his sway. Some day he would call, when the stars were ready, and the secret cult would always be waiting to liberate him. … Meanwhile no more must be told. There was a secret which even torture could not extract. Mankind was not absolutely alone among the conscious things of earth, for shapes came out of the dark to visit the faithful few.

This revisits the fear Freud would claim was banished to the subconscious that humanity is not the pinnacle of evolution on the earth and that our civilization has allowed us to misinterpret the natural order which we, as a species, actually carry forward with us from generation to generation — what Jung would call the collective subconscious. And indeed everything about Cthulhu and R’lyeh are detailed out to question what we consciously perceive as the natural order:

  • the sometimes-drowned city counters our belief in terrestrial civilization and the stable social order it invites us to participate in,
  • its non-Euclidean geometry wipes away our adherence to linear thinking fed by false sensory information,
  • Cthulhu’s dead state shreds the veil we face between life and death, and
  • Cthulhu’s dreams that influence people’s waking actions throughout the world smudges the boundaries between the safe and rational conscious life and the dangerous excursion of the Freudian sub-conscious, into which anything unsafe for conscious consumption is dumped — a notion which has since been generally disowned by psychologists but was an active point of psychotherapy contemporary to Lovecraft.

Regardless, Cthulhu does not function as the Real because the sublimity of the Real can’t be reduced to fictional scary monsters. Cthulhu instead functions as the pre-historic, calling out to us from a time when our ancestors were beholden to a dangerously unpredictable and morally indifferent environment which we can only catch vague references to in the epigenetic foundations of our collective subconscious, redressed not to look like the source of danger that was experienced, but to preserve the feeling of danger that was experienced.

Inherency: Status quo shows that the plan is ineffectual.

But ignoring that they’re wrong in the details, it appears that the affirmative case wants the United States Federal Government to have a sublime experience to re-instill fear and awe as a corrective measure to skewed, dare I say “Euclidean,” thinking about the world and our place in it. But they can’t ensure that visiting S. Latitude 47° 9′, W. Longitude 126° 43′ — Lovecraft was very precise with those coordinates — would result in a sublime experience, and no fictions in the 85 years since “Call of Cthulhu” was published, up to or inclusive of last year’s Godzilla movie (in which a giant monster from the sea munches on its natural enemies with an utter disregard for the human civilization it’s stomping through), have proven an adequate proximation of the sublime to bring the hubris of our species under control. Indeed, the literary philosophy of cosmic horror has its own Wikipedia entry, explaining that:

Perhaps the most prominent theme in cosmicism is the utter insignificance of humanity. Lovecraft believed that “the human race will disappear. Other races will appear and disappear in turn. The sky will become icy and void, pierced by the feeble light of half-dead stars. Which will also disappear. Everything will disappear. And what human beings do is just as free of sense as the free motion of elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, feelings? Pure ‘Victorian fictions’. Only egotism exists.” Cosmicism shares many characteristics with nihilism, though one important difference is that cosmicism tends to emphasize the inconsequentiality of humanity and its doings, rather than summarily rejecting the possible existence of some higher purpose (or purposes). For example, in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories, it is not so much the absence of meaning that causes terror for the protagonists as it is their discovery that they have absolutely no power to effect any change in the vast, indifferent, and ultimately incomprehensible universe that surrounds them. Whatever meaning or purpose may or may not be invested in the actions of the cosmic beings in Lovecraft’s stories is completely inaccessible to the human characters, in the way an amoeba (for example) is completely unequipped to grasp the concepts that drive human behavior.

Tangent: R’lyeh isn’t even cosmic per se, ergo not cosmic horror

If you actually read Call of Cthulhu, you’ll realize that it’s the modern characters that anthropocentrically assume the pre-historic Cthulhu is “spawn of stars,” but the entire story is functionally terrestrial — unlike Lovecraft’s entirely extraterrestrial creations like Mi-go and Azathoth. Azathoth’s description shows Lovecraft going right back to pre-conscious that enlightenment philosophy tries to suppress:

[O]utside the ordered universe [is] that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes.

So cosmic horror is really just tapping the Freudian subconscious, and if you really want to spread that the affirmative plan — by needing to stay topical — fails to actually commit to that.

Now we want to highlight that cosmicism tends to emphasize the inconsequentiality of humanity and its doings because that wipes every impact they’ve got off the flow and Lovecraft’s assertion “Good, evil, morality, feelings? Pure ‘Victorian fictions’. Only egotism exists.” collapses their framework on itself. And yet in Beyond Good & Evil, Nietzsche attacks this position, writing:

there may even be puritanical fanatics of conscience, who prefer to put their last trust in a sure nothing, rather than in an uncertain something. But that is Nihilism, and the sign of a despairing, mortally wearied soul, notwithstanding the courageous bearing such a virtue may display. It seems, however, to be otherwise with stronger and livelier thinkers who are still eager for life.

And thus we present…

Counterplan: Astronomy

So we therefore propose this non-fiction, non-topical counterplan, as written by astrophysicist Carl Sagan in Pale Blue Dot (1994), which, while unconventional, makes more sense than anything the affirmative read:

The Pale Blue Dot; Carl SaganAs the spacecraft left our planetary neighborhood for the fringes of the solar system, engineers turned it around for one last look at its home planet. Voyager 1 was about 6.4 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) away, and approximately 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane, when it captured this portrait of our world. Caught in the center of scattered light rays (a result of taking the picture so close to the Sun), Earth appears as a tiny point of light, a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size.

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Disowned Land cards (#3) are wrong about science

Land asserted that physics “is forever pompously asserting that it is on the verge of completion. The contempt for reality manifested by such pronouncements is unfathomable.” without citing any actual physicist to support his claim. Indeed, contrary to this is nobel-winning physicist Dr. Richard Feynman‘s analysis of a flower:

I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.

Thus a good scientist can add to the wonder of conscious living and should not be categorically disregarded.

Disowned Land cards (#3) self-negate by attacking philosophy

But Land moved on to ironically attack philosophy: philosophy “has now reached the stage where it has lost all confidence in its power to know, where envy has totally replaced parental pride, and where the stylistic consequences of its bad conscience have devastated its discourse to the point of illegibility,” clearly foreshadowing his exit from the profession, but also suggesting that what he wants is to regress his (former) profession to a childlike innocence before anything was actually known but much was about to be discovered, indicative of a need for psychotherapy to progress him to a functional adulthood (which hopefully he’s received, and perhaps prompted the move to Shanghai). But this complaint is not new; it easily dates back centuries to J.W. Goethe when he wrote in his epic poem Faust: “I’ve studied now Philosophy And Jurisprudence, Medicine,— And even, alas! Theology,— From end to end, with labor keen; And here, poor fool! with all my lore I stand, no wiser than before” leading us to

Counterplan 2: The United States Federal Government should stage a mass-resignation to take up farming.

In Goethe’s Faust, Mephistopheles’ initial advice to Faust’s existential dilemma is simply this:

Betake thyself to yonder field, There hoe and dig, as thy condition; Restrain thyself, thy sense and will Within a narrow sphere to flourish; With unmixed food thy body nourish; Live with the ox as ox, and think it not a theft That thou manur’st the acre which thou reapest;— That, trust me, is the best mode left, Whereby for eighty years thy youth thou keepest!

Now it’s important to note that Faust rejects this, as is necessary for his epic drama, but it is another alternative to the aggressive anti-humanism of the affirmative position if astronomy doesn’t move you as much as it moves us.

Warrant is wrong on enlightenment versus ocean (#1)

But their case is wrong from the top: enlightenment philosophy is not based on fear of the ocean but on love of consciousness and reason as a stable framework for growth and development — to an excess, which allows for the unchecked and possibly dangerous growth of the unattended subconscious. This is actually quite common in middle management throughout the corporate world today, even seeping into schools: a belief in management by measurement, but anything that isn’t measured is pretty much ignored. This is why we maintain a fear of cthonic forces symbolically undermining our heroic willpower, whether it be Cthulhu or Jaws under the water, or Bane tunneling under Gotham, or the Underminer tunneling under whatever city the Incredibles lived in, or Grendel’s Mother: we are confident in our ability to deal with what’s on the surface, but what lies beneath is a source of worry, and has been from Beowulf to Batman. The ocean, thought of both as a surface and an abyss of vast space — with the Greeks assigning Poseidon to the surface and Phorcys to the hidden dangers of the deep — serves as a metaphor for the edge of our subconscious and the instincts and feelings it can generate and subject our mind and body to. Fear of the subconscious and irrational far pre-dates the enlightenment; the enlightenment just codified the love of conscious reason and really has nothing to do with the actual ocean at all.

Warrant is is wrong on fascism versus ocean (#2)

Then they double-down on this faux-fear of the ocean and say that fascism will try to annihilate unknown people because it fears them. This is ridiculous and their evidence shows it: fascism picks fights with different people who are clearly known to be weak and vulnerable. Dissent, diversity, and Otherness must be identified before it can be purged: just ask Hitler or Stalin or Mao or Mussolini. Indeed, identification is at the root of oppressive power as Foucault identifies in Discipline and Punish:

For a long time ordinary individuality – the everyday individuality of everybody – remained below the threshold of description. To be looked at, observed, described in detail, followed from day to day by an uninterrupted writing was a privilege. The chronicle of a man, the account of his life, his historiography, written as he lived out his life formed part of the rituals of his power. The disciplinary methods reversed this relation, lowered the threshold of describable individuality and made of this description a means of control and a method of domination. It is no longer a monument for future memory, but a document for possible use. And this new describability is all the more marked in that the disciplinary framework is a strict one: the child, the patient, the madman, the prisoner, were to become, with increasing ease from the eighteenth century and according to a curve which is that of the mechanisms of discipline, the object of individual descriptions and biographical accounts. This turning of real lives into writing is no longer a procedure of heroization; it functions as a procedure of objectification and subjection.

We can even see this in our own national politics: after all, isn’t it easier to talk about how our civilization is at risk because of homosexuality (formerly Communists) or the illegal immigrants (formerly Gypsies) or those insidious Muslims (formerly Jews) or those intractably incompetent Republicans (formerly Democrats) than address our inability to draw down nuclear weapons, or wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, or have a genuinely representative government of, by, and for the people?

Disadvantage: plan provokes mass exterminations

So while fascism does do mass exterminations of human life, they’re not driven by a desire to dominate the unknown, but a desire to dominate while recoiling from the unknown. So by forcing a confrontation with the subconscious unknown and the primal perils therein, our opponents ensure that there will be an escalation of purges, mass exterminations, and genocides brought about as a direct reaction to their espoused plan. Which would be a case turn if they thought genocide matters, but their framework of cosmic horror maintains that it doesn’t.

We, however, being the “stronger and livelier thinkers who are still eager for life,” believe that we have a “responsibility to deal more kindly with one another” and are thus opposed to the affirmative plan that would provoke mass exterminations.


Don’t You Forget About Me

Someone is writing down your mistakes. Someone is documenting your downfall. –KMFDM, “Dogma”

When faced with the resolution Resolved: The “right to be forgotten” from Internet searches ought to be a civil right, I am pleased that it is timely, that it has an affirmative side (no matter how weak) and that I can explain from my expert and professional vantage point why it’s a bad idea.

But because we are actively conditioning young people for ongoing surveillance, we should perhaps adjust the tone with this 7-minute John Oliver video explaining what’s going on:

Got it? Now on to the affirmative case:

Observation 1: This potential “right to be forgotten” is an extension of and expansion on existing legal protections from exposure of private truths (known as doxxing) or public fictions (generally libel). Search engines already allow for de-listing such legally questionable content to avoid being complicit in participatory infringement of the law and existing protections for individuals.

Observation 2: Using the European Union as a case study for the “right to be forgotten,” we find that it is checked by public interest rather than being an absolute right. For our purposes, the obvious example would be that it’s unreasonable to think that we’re going to accept requests to purge the sex offender registry, or expunge records of corruption, or moneyed conflicts of interest.

Supporting Evidence: Really, status quo is that Google is rejecting 58% of the “Forget Me” assertions:

“The European Court of Justice ruled in May that people worried about their privacy can ask Google and other search engines to remove sensitive links from their search results. But search engines can decline the requests if they believe the links in question are in the public interest. … Google said Friday that it had received 144,954 requests so far involving 497,695 URLs. Of that total, it has removed only 42%, keeping 58% in its results.”

Observation 3: By specifying “from Internet searches,” this resolution is intentionally avoiding questions of censorship. It doesn’t ask whether or not the ostensibly factual information has a right to be recorded; indeed, it says nothing about asking the publishers of that information to delete their records. The question is whether or not a common set of commercial tools should mindlessly consume and regurgitate that information for their public users.

Observation 4: “Internet Searches” implies public access, different from protected extranet or intranet searches. An internet search engine is a publicly accessible tool that refers to publicly accessible information. I’ll defend this with technobabble in cross examination if necessary.

Supporting Evidence: An Internet search of terms has Google fetching the following definitions from Wikipedia:

Internet: “The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks”
Extranet: “An extranet is a computer network that allows controlled access from outside of an organization’s intranet.”
Intranet: “An intranet is a computer network that uses Internet Protocol technology to share information, operational systems, or computing services within an organization.”

So an intranet is like your office network where you have to log into it and outsiders don’t really know about it. If outsiders do know about it and can request access to it, then it’s an extranet — most web applications (Facebook, Gmail, dating sites) are extranets: they have a small public facing area but most of their content is login-required to access and also user-specific. If outsiders know about the network but no logins are required, then it’s on the Internet. So what we’re talking about here is the information that a publicly accessible search engine like Google or Bing would serve up to anybody who asks for the Huffington Post or Drudge Report, but not the contents of a restricted-access database like your insurance company or the NSA keeps, or even content on Facebook that has appropriate privacy settings applied to it.

Point is that we are, in simplest terms, talking about not being able to g-Oogle the Sideboob section on the Huffington Post. (You’ll just have to bookmark it instead.)

Now that we’ve established what we’re talking about, let’s focus on why: The Right to be Forgotten should be treated as a civil right to mitigate the ongoing encroachment of bio-power.

I say this because I value the idea of rights, which is necessary to understand that people are not just individuals, but also separate from power structures: you are not just an employee or citizen; the ability of your employer or the nation to place duties upon you is legally checked by your rights.

And this is foundational to the social contract in any formulation: we are expected give up access to some liberties to ensure rights are codified within society. We sacrifice some individualistic chaos for a predictability that allows us to grow into the future: the hypothetical contract is supposed to give us some benefits… but we’re not currently using them.

From here on out, all evidence comes from Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish.

The first thing we have to acknowledge is that not everybody loves the social contract — some people prefer to take control and undermine the usability of rights:

“Historians of ideas usually attribute the dream of a perfect society to the philosophers and jurists of the eighteenth century; but there was also a military dream of society; its fundamental reference was not to the state of nature, but to the meticulously subordinated cogs of a machine, not to the primal social contract, but to permanent coercions, not to fundamental rights, but to indefinitely progressive forms of training, not to the general will but to automatic docility.”

But how does this relate to being on the Internet? Isn’t it great when people pay attention to us? Well, not necessarily; not anymore. See,

“For a long time ordinary individuality – the everyday individuality of everybody – remained below the threshold of description. To be looked at, observed, described in detail, followed from day to day by an uninterrupted writing was a privilege. The chronicle of a man, the account of his life, his historiography, written as he lived out his life formed part of the rituals of his power. The disciplinary methods reversed this relation, lowered the threshold of describable individuality and made of this description a means of control and a method of domination. It is no longer a monument for future memory, but a document for possible use. And this new describability is all the more marked in that the disciplinary framework is a strict one: the child, the patient, the madman, the prisoner, were to become, with increasing ease from the eighteenth century and according to a curve which is that of the mechanisms of discipline, the object of individual descriptions and biographical accounts. This turning of real lives into writing is no longer a procedure of heroization; it functions as a procedure of objectification and subjection.”

And a soft ubiquitous network of camera phones feeding Google amplify the objectification and subjection because:

“He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection. By this very fact, the external power may throw off its physical weight; it tends to the non-corporal; and, the more it approaches this limit, the more constant, profound and permanent are its effects: it is a perpetual victory that avoids any physical confrontation and which is always decided in advance.”

And because of our fear of shame or embarrassment while under observation,

“it does not matter what motive animates [the observers]: the curiosity of the indiscreet, the malice of a child, the thirst for knowledge of a philosopher who wishes to visit this museum of human nature, or the perversity of those who take pleasure in spying and punishing. The more numerous those anonymous and temporary observers are, the greater the risk for the inmate [or observed subject] of being surprised and the greater his anxious awareness of being observed.”

In short, perpetual opportunities to be observed cultivate feelings of narcissistic paranoia: we’re constantly afraid to not be at our best lest we be incidentally recorded at not our best. These feelings neutralize our legally protected rights because

“although the universal juridicism of modern society seems to fix limits on the exercise of power, its universally widespread panopticism enables it to operate, on the underside of the law, a machinery that is both immense and minute, which supports, reinforces, multiplies the asymmetry of power and undermines the limits that are traced around the law.”

So in order restore our belief in our own rights through the balanced exchange of social contract, to be unafraid of the repercussions of our freedom of speech or freedom to publish or freedom of peaceable assembly, we need to believe that we can mitigate the casual surveillance society by establishing a Right to be Forgotten from Internet searches. The alternative is, as Foucault observed, a mass automatic docility of people afraid of saying the wrong words, doing the wrong things, or looking the wrong way, punctuated only by the unabashed shamelessness of sociopaths.

That’s the affirmative case, and I’m feeling pretty good about it. It feels in-line with what Ashe Dryden has written and could easily turn towards Sydette Harry’s focus on Black women, a point bolstered by Molly Crabapple’s cutting assertion that “White men are the last people in America who thought they had privacy”* — suggesting that either a discussion of privacy is either long overdue or hypocritically late, with the affirmative choosing the first interpretation… and the negative choosing the second.

Super-Bonus Squirrel: Police camera recordings are currently a matter of public record, as they are recorded with public financing. This has resulted in some asshole posting them to YouTube.

In September, “Police Video Requests” anonymously asked Poulsbo PD for every second of body cam video it has ever recorded. The department figures it will take three years to fill that request.  And Chief Townsend believes it is a huge privacy concern, as officers often see people on their worst days. “People with mental illness, people in domestic violence situations; do we really want to have to put that video out on YouTube for people?  I think that’s pushing it a little bit,” he said.

Of course, police officers could mitigate this by having some copyrighted theme music playing gently into the camera making the recording anathema to YouTube, but for now it’s a problem — a problem that confirms that assholes do this sort of thing while re-affirming that because assholes do this sort of thing, we need to defend it more thoroughly. It’s an argument, but not a fantastic one — especially since it feeds the final negative contention.

Here’s what the negative case would say:

Whatever the affirmative values? Great, whatever, they’re not going to get it.

Specific Privacy Value Attack: The affirmative claims to value privacy, but does nothing to proactively ingrain privacy into our culture — the information made available is still public-by-default, and in order to re-claim a bit of lost privacy the affirmative will expect people to attempt to exercise their rights. But the Internet was made by engineers valuing network resiliency through analyzable retention and replication, not your privacy. As Nick Bilton explains in the New York Times

[M]any services that claim to offer that rarest of digital commodities — privacy — don’t really deliver. “Just because information is unavailable to you and you don’t see it doesn’t mean that it is not being captured, stored, or even seen by someone else in transit,” said Edward W. Felten, a professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton. … In most instances, your Internet service provider or cellphone carrier gets to watch over your shoulder with every click.

So we see that privacy isn’t really the great value that the affirmative wants to sell us on; if it were, the Internet would function very differently from how it does today. What the affirmative is offering you is a placebo value: privacy seems important, so we’ll offer you a way to try to look like you’re re-claiming some of it without digging into the technical underpinnings that have cut through your privacy. As the negative, I’m going to be looking squarely at the technical underpinnings that have cut through your privacy.

Contention 1: First, the (previously mentioned) status quo in Europe show that there are a few things wrong with this right: the government isn’t upholding this right; it’s passing the responsibility for upholding the right off to private corporations. The private corporations are, in turn, ignoring this so-called right 58% of the time. This actively undermines the social contract by diluting the very idea of what a right is. So if you’re okay with this sort of chickenshit:

then you may be peachy-keen with a civil right that’s been overruled by a corporate review board 58% of the times it has been asserted so far. I’m not; I think it shows how weakly-held the social contract is these days and piling hollow rhetorical rights on top of it will merely obfuscate our inability to rely on our rights being legally protected. And the people who need to believe otherwise won’t be fooled by this track record; it’s obvious that rights aren’t being strengthened by adding new faux-rights. But this example also shows that most of the time, even at the surface level of the issue, privacy is not the prime value that the affirmative wants you to believe it is: public interest is held in winder — public — regard.

Contention 2: Because this only applies to Internet searches and not to the original publication of data, this procedurally highlights the information people want to keep hidden. Here’s the technically gory way how (and yes, I am an expert if you want to quote me directly).

  1. Some anonymous troll writes a web crawling script that loads a web page, analyzes the content, then follows all the links on the page, analyzes their content, follows all the links on those pages, et cetera, indefinitely. This is basically how search engines traditionally discover everything on the Internet, but this anonymous troll would probably start with the Huffington Post’s Sideboob section — it seems a likely target.
  2. The anonymous troll adds one special feature, though: ask an actual Internet search engine if it knows about each page that’s been found. Any page the crawler finds that the search engine insists it doesn’t know about is going to look suspiciously like it has been intentionally forgotten. The search engine’s act of forgetting creates a tell-tale hole of metadata where a link should be.
  3. The anonymous troll now has a collection of things that people probably wanted forgotten. This list will, of course, be posted on Reddit and 4chan and wherever else anonymous trolls infest these days, highlighting all the pages that shouldn’t be remembered.

That’s how the shameless sociopaths will easily remember everything people do manage to have “forgotten.” As venture capitalist Alistair Croll observed, “metadata is leaky, and relying on it to protect user data is risky at best.” Or as the Penguin said in Batman Returns, “What you hide, I discover. What you put in your toilet, I place on my mantle. Get the picture?” Because that’s what we’re dealing with here.

Supporting Evidence: What motivates people to do this? Well,

Which, roughly interpreted, means they make money off of selling content so they can eat (cheeseburgers). In case it has to be spelled out for you, they’re selling content to, for example, the Huffington Post with its Sideboob section, or to Gawker. David Auerbach, writing for Slate, has some thoughts on Gawker’s minor empire of sites:

Gawker has been terrorizing celebrities—especially female celebrities—for years, helping to foster an online culture of misogyny and exploitation. Gawker claims to be about journalism, but they’re actually about harassment. Gawker published stolen nudes of Olivia Munn and Heather Morris, outed Peter Thiel, slut-shamed Christine O’Donnell, violated Amanda Bynes’ privacy, and used the tone-deaf headline “Gooks don’t get Redskins joke.” (And let’s not forget Gawker’s initial reluctance to address Jezebel’s rape-GIF problem.) Gawker-owned Jezebel dubs Gamergate a “hate group” in an article by Willamette sociology undergraduate Jennifer Allaway, even as it offers $10,000 for unretouched pictures of Lena Dunham and links to stolen nudes of Christina Hendricks. Now Gawker is stirring up a new bogeyman for clicks, not social justice, defending women only after its revenue streams are threatened—a ploy some advertisers evidently see through.

To think that publishers very specifically like Gawker wouldn’t keep a not-searchable,-just-prominently-linked page of things that people went to the trouble of saying they wanted forgotten would be woefully naïve.

Contention 3: By reducing public visibility while simultaneously highlighting the damning data for the cretins that want to find it, the affirmative would actually create a new institutional power of anonymous trolls to go alongside the anonymized power of your credit card company and the NSA. While this doesn’t weaken the social contract the way generic all-pervasive surveillance would seem to, it certainly continues down the path of having unaccountable institutions subjugating ordinary people for being found out as mere humans, rife with flaws and imperfections. This is ultimately the point of John Oliver’s #MutuallyAssuredHumiliation: that until society is generally willing to accept the people in it, we can’t restore the exerciseability of our rights, and we’re not going to get there until everybody feels a bit humiliated by their own humanity.  Instead, the affirmative tries to help people ineffectively hide their humiliation, thus leaving the power of the credit card companies, insurance companies, and NSA intact while also empowering the shameless sociopathic anonymous trolls who have no respect for any sort of social contract whatsoever.

Supporting Evidence: Creating stores of data on people and then reselling them to other people is a business model, not just what spy agencies do. For example, Natasha Singer writes in the October 4, 2014 New York Times that: 

NewsBios compiles information on journalists from public sources like voter records, real estate records and motor vehicle records. It also parses their public social media accounts for clues about their political leanings, entertainment interests and favorite sports teams. And it makes inferences based on that data. … “We will literally turn over every rock that’s out there that might have some bearing on what the journalist thinks or reports,” Mr. Rotbart said. … NewsBios’ small-scale intelligence-gathering bears some resemblance to the computerized data-mining that large-scale information brokers use to classify consumers’ behavior. For instance, Experian Marketing Services, which helps companies tailor their marketing pitches, segments consumers into categories like: “postindustrial survivors,” “metropolitan strugglers” and “bourgeois prosperity.”

And this data isn’t Internet-searchable because it’s hidden away in the dossiers of status-quo institutional power, thus it’s also not subject to being forgotten even if people knew enough about it to ask for it to be forgotten.

Additional Evidence: Frank Pasquale, a professor of law at the University of Maryland recounts the World Privacy Forum’s estimate of their being about 4000 data brokers participating in the $156-billion-per-year industry of collecting and selling maybe-accurate personally identifiable data surreptitiously harvested from non-obvious sources. Frank writes that:

Having eroded privacy for decades, shady, poorly regulated data miners, brokers and resellers have now taken creepy classification to a whole new level. They have created lists of victims of sexual assault, and lists of people with sexually transmitted diseases. Lists of people who have Alzheimer’s, dementia and AIDS. Lists of the impotent and the depressed … Typically sold at a few cents per name, the lists don’t have to be particularly reliable to attract eager buyers …

Again, this data isn’t Internet-searchable because it’s hidden away in the dossiers of institutions, dossiers that they are selling and trading to augment their power. And not only do people not have visibility to these dossiers to exercise an extratopical right to be forgotten against them, but obfuscating information from public access will only make these semi-accurate data collections more valuable, increasing the power of the shady characters who are assembling them.

Outside Argument: Even if we expand the scope the debate to a more general right to be forgotten to events in general, whether in publicly accessible search results or private databases, it only makes the negative argument against it stronger: first, the memory of the request to forget will be retained in a private database out of necessity — a computer has to remember that it has forgotten something lest it directly remember that thing, so we’ve still got data on what we refuse to have data on. But secondly, and more crucially falling between Foucault’s interest in the confessional and a Kafka-esque absurdity, if you request that a private data store forget something about you that it didn’t actually know, you’ve just informed it of an event that you wanted it to forget — your attempt to exercise a right both proved why the right was necessary, and also failed.

The so-called “right to be forgotten” from Internet searches is wildly counterproductive for privacy, rights, and the general concept of a social contract featuring consent of the governed, and is not something that should be affirmed as a civil right.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here’s the Billy Idol song (performed by Simple Minds) from which this post got its name.

* Crabapple’s point is demonstrated in this recent example: in the status quo, the state of Washington requires strippers to be licensed, which has resulted in an ultra-pious dude asking for dox on 70 strippers so he can “pray for them” in a way that is clearly not-at-all creepy or insecurity-inducing because he’s just preying for them, right? But really — and Elizabeth Nolan Brown of Reason magazine raised this issue after pointing out “it’s hard to imagine many non-nefarious reasons for requesting personal information on a wide swath of individuals in a sensitive job” (spelled out for the sarcasm-impaired) — there is no obvious legitimate reason for the government to be keeping Binders Full of Strippers in public records on the public dime… unless you go back and read Foucault: “The disciplinary methods reversed this relation, lowered the threshold of describable individuality and made of this description a means of control and a method of domination. It is no longer a monument for future memory, but a document for possible use.” We see this come up in modern London:

the public were informed that [automatic license plate recognition] data would only be held, and regularly purged, by Transport for London, who oversee traffic matters in the city. However, within less than five years, the Home Secretary gave the Metropolitan Police full access to this system, which allowed them to take a complete copy of the data produced by the system. This permission to access the data was granted to the Police on the sole condition that they only used it when National Security was under threat. But since the data was now in their possession, the Police reclassified it as “Crime” data and now use it for general policing matters, despite the wording of the original permission. As this data is not considered to be “personal data” within the definition of the law, the Police are under no obligation to destroy it, and may retain their ongoing record of all vehicle movements within the city for as long as they desire.

Clearly they’ve not learned the last lesson of the East German Secret Police: have and execute data disposal plans, lest somebody else tap into your data, steal your power, and shame your organization. Which is off-topic from the debate, but just think — you can go searching for “Stasi files online” these days, some quarter-century after the organization failed.