The Lexwerks

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.


Unapproved Curriculum #1

Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap.

This is not that 90%. This is the starting point for resources that my smartest students over the years (debaters all) consistently reviewed favorably if not enthusiastically as beneficial to their critical thinking, their persuasiveness, and their capacity for charisma.

Scott Berkun’s “The Attack of the Butterflies.” A book chapter that’s all about handling the stresses of public presentations; should take about 10 minutes to read. Starts with:

“While there are good reasons people fear public speaking, until I see someone flee from the lectern mid-presentation, running for his life through the fire exit on stage left, we can’t say public speaking is scarier than death.”

Shawn Achor’s “The happy secret to better work.” This 13-minute TED-talk covers an insane amount of material on psychological framing for superior performance and is hilarious while doing so.

Paul Graham’s “What you’ll wish you’d known.” This essay is about how to optimize for being stuck in high school; it’ll take about 20 minutes to read. Contrary to what you’re generally being told but super-relevant to my techniques, Graham observes that:

“It’s dangerous to design your life around getting into college, because the people you have to impress to get into college are not a very discerning audience. At most colleges, it’s not the professors who decide whether you get in, but admissions officers, and they are nowhere near as smart.”

Movie: Thank You For Smoking. 90 minute film covering a wide variety of rhetorical and persuasive techniques. Rated R for pervasive language, a couple instances of mild violence and 2 non-graphic sex scenes; you’ve likely seen and heard worse just wandering the halls between classes. Sample scene (low video quality, sorry): Demonstration of Reframing a Debate.

Tavris & Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (but not by me). A book explaining why people insist on being wrong and irrational, which is important because everybody often is. It is a litany of cognitive blunders and horrors, but a simple and compelling read. For example:

“Self-justification… allows us to create a distinction between our moral lapses and someone else’s, and to blur the discrepancy between our actions and our moral convictions. … A president who justifies his actions only to the public might be induced to change them. A president who has justified his actions to himself, believing that he has the truth, becomes impervious to self-correction.”

Heinrichs, Thank You For Arguing. A modern book on rhetoric and getting people to hear what you’re trying to tell them using a plethora of simple examples such as

“As reliable as my watch and twice as annoying, the cat persuades remarkably well for ten dumb pounds of fur. Instead of words she uses gesture and tone of voice — potent ingredients of argument.”

Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why.” The most important part of any speech or presentation you give is the reason Why you are giving it. This 18-minute TED-talk covers the cognitive style of pitching on values, a technique which is obviously relevant to value-frameworks but even more effective in situations where no persuasion is expected.

So now that you’re cleverer than your peers and better prepared to persuade them to align with what you’re intending to pursue, let’s bring you back down to Earth with one final selection.

Carl Sagan’s “The Pale Blue Dot.” It’s just a 6-minute video about the entire history and foreseeable future of our species. Please watch the whole thing.


Presumed Donations: Got Guts?

Given “Resolved: A just society ought to presume consent for organ procurement from the deceased.” we have to find in the negative, which is kind of sad because we’re totally in favor of organ donation, but presumption is simply going too far and is incompatible with the condition of a “just society.”

Seriously, this is a terrible topic because it’s mis-written. It should be written “Society ought to presume consent for organ procurement from the deceased,” with the debaters’ respective values elucidating what kind of society they want to live in. Insisting on a “just society” is nonsense — ref Niebuhr, Campbell, et al — and practically makes the resolution, as written, impossible to affirm. So I’m not going to write a sample aff case because I don’t know how to affirm this as-written; I could argue for utility or a more general good, but that’s not the same as “just society” as I’ll cover in a block at the bottom. Conversely, this half-baked neg case references Nietzsche and the Bible because — while I insist on internal consistency for people who don’t know what they’re doing — I’ve read enough of both Nietzsche and the Bible to perversely enjoy and confidently defend putting them on the same side.

First, What is presumption? It’s not an opting-system per se. With an opt-in system, the system starts at a known point and a box needs to be checked — the person’s action opts in. With an opt-out system, the system starts at a known point and a box can be un-checked — the person has an clear opportunity for action to opt-out. With a presumptive system, the system doesn’t start — it simply is — and if you don’t like what is presumed, you have to find that point that document that presumption has obfuscated within an institution, assuming you even know about it, which — looking to the history of Living Wills as an example — you probably won’t. There is no distinct or obvious point for an individual to counteract a presumption made about them.

In case you don’t know, Living Wills are a directive to health care institutions that changes the presumptive goal of “keep this person alive no matter what.” “The living will is the oldest form of advance directive. It was first proposed by an Illinois attorney, Luis Kutner, in a law journal in 1969 [but] by the late 1980s public advocacy groups became aware that many people remained unaware of advance directives and even fewer actually completed them.” Interesting tangent: Jacob Appel wrote an essay: “When Any Answer is a Good Answer: A Mandated Choice Model for Advance Directives,” Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, Volume 19, Number 3, Pp. 417-422 — this sounds like an attack on presumption and might be worth looking up.

Second, What is Just? Check the synonyms for just, synonyms like: equitable, even-handed, impartial, unbiased, neutral, unprejudiced, and open-minded. Look at the scales our iconic statue of Justice holds: they don’t weigh claims against a static objective measure, they weigh one set of claims against a competing set of claims. Heck, look a justified text: the text gets its kerning distended to ensure that the left and right margins are treated equally.

Let’s back up this assertion of Competing Claims: If some bloke is arrested in possession of 100 kilos of heroin, they still have the right to a trial in which their claims of innocence — or at least claims of mitigating factors — will be weighed against the prosecution’s claim that they were packing 100 kilos of heroin. Society accepts the cost of giving the heroin-toting defendant a fair trial instead of just railroading him off to prison because we like to think of ourselves as being interested in justice and seeing justice served, and that can’t happen if we refuse to hear his competing claims. Now, it may be true in the real world that we’re doing such a bad job of listening to the competing claims of defendants — especially impoverished defendants — that we’re lying to ourselves about our love of justice, but that’s out of scope for this topic. The point is that we require ourselves to be open to competing claims for the sake of justice even when we know the competing claims will be laughably inadequate and not change the verdict.

So what we’ve got here is society wanting to be actively partial, biased, and prejudiced in favor of organ procurement from the deceased. That’s not a just society, so the resolution is false on that part. But in order to determine just-ness in any specific situation, we need to know what the competing claims are.

Did the aff claim “Justice is giving each their due”? Then you say “If we are to give each person their due, we have to pay attention to who all is involved.” Or take a shot, if you’re old enough to turn this into a drinking game.

So while I value Justice (as my opponent almost certainly does), this debate really has to be decided on whose form of justice is open to the competing claims. So the necessary criterion to measure our adherence to Justice is Openness to Competing Claims.

Now what I’m claiming is that the affirmative’s presumption means they can’t possibly maintain a just society. But let’s look abstractly at the claims they’re ignoring, because

  1. It’s an offense against both customs and the customary definition of justice:
    1. Looking back a few thousand years, the Bible says “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17) If we’re ignoring the natural grieving process of orphans and widows because we’re ghoulishly harvesting the remains of their loved ones, then we’re failing to seek justice in a very traditional & customary sense.
    2. On the topic of tradition, humans have been going through funerary rites and burying our dead for tens of thousands of years; it’s hard to find a more traditional behavior for our species.
    3. But the affirmative’s society thinks it can claim the body of the deceased from the grieving family for its coldly calculated utilitarian purposes. Nietzsche warns that this will turn the people against the state in Thus Spake Zarathrustra:

      A state, is called the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly lieth it also; and this lie creepeth from its mouth: “I, the state, am the people.” It is a lie! [Creators were they who created peoples, and hung a faith and a love over them: thus they served life. Destroyers, are they who lay snares for many, and call it the state: they hang a sword and a hundred cravings over them.] Where there is still a people, there the state is not understood, but hated as the evil eye, and as sin against laws and customs.

      So the affirmative’s “just society” is sinning against the customs of its people and increasing the animosity of the already grief-stricken people against it.

    4. How bad of an idea is it to do that? This presumptive intrusion into private grief is so abhorrent that not even the US Military — which values and honors the sacrifice of self for the sake of team and society and presumes enough ownership over its recruits to risk getting them killed — simply “presumes” ownership over their remains, despite almost certainly having lots of potential recipients for replacement organs. That’s page 8 of the Survivor’s Guide. So even our military ostensibly knows better than to ignore the human needs of widows and orphans, but the affirmative doesn’t.

    So in defending the right of the widows and orphans to dispose of their loved ones’ remains with minimum state intervention, I’m siding with tens of thousands of years of history, the Bible, Nietzsche, and the US Marine Corps — a pretty diverse group, but they appear to agree on this.

  2. But you may still want to vote affirmative — this is actually normal. Reinhold Niebuhr observes in Moral Man & Immoral Society that:

    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 romantic and moral interpretation of this situation is simple: you think you can help somebody that needs an organ transplant, that you can give them their due health care, and that you therefore should. It’s a lot harder to want to relate to the powerless primal grief of the bereaved. We don’t know what they need from us; all we really know is that we don’t want to be them. We’d rather identify with the people we know we can help than identify with the people suffering the profound grief that we can’t help.

    But respecting their situation and defending their rights in that awful situation that we don’t want to identify with is exactly what justice requires. And our society can’t be just if we can presume to turn away.

Now the affirmative is almost certainly going to make two claims; each has multiple responses that really augment the power of this negative case:

  1. “There’s good to be had from donating organs to people that need them.”
    1. But the resolution specifies a just society — not necessarily a good society or a utilitarian society or an expedient society. Goodness is more general than justice and the specificity of the resolution requires a tighter focus from the affirmative.
    2. The resolution also only specifies “organ procurement” making no mention of what happens to the organs once society procures them. Presumably the just society will do something just with them, but without a stated purpose for the procurement, any consequentialist cost/benefit analysis goes extra-topical when the affirmative assumes they know how the organs are being used.
  2. “People who need organs are due organs, so it’s just to procure them from people who aren’t using them anymore because they’re dead.”
    1. Cross-apply extra-topicality from above: the affirmative is assuming that society is justly redistributing the organs, but the claimant in the resolution is society, not any specific individual in need of a new kidney.
    2. This totally and unjustly ignores the rights of the next of kin as this resolution (wrongly) intends to; the affirmative must show — which they can’t — that they’ve considered all competing claims in this situation, and they can’t because actual claims can’t be abstracted down for expedient presumption.
    3. Most importantly, why does the affirmative’s just society need people to die in order to give other people their due medical care? Shouldn’t a just society be working to give people what they’re due without relying on the timely demise of suitable organ donors, never mind the part where this society is exercising eminent domain on corpses despite the rights and responsibilities of the survivors? That violating the rights of widows and orphans with what is essentially grave robbery is the affirmative’s go-to plan “for great justice” is utterly astounding and I am gobsmacked that they’re trying to defend their position like that.

You probably won’t want to say that last line out loud in competition, but damn was it a fun mic-drop line to write.


On Not Being Sportsman-Like

“My way’s not very sportsman-like.” –Fezzik, The Princess Bride

It seems odd to me that a bunch of nerdy kids ought to argue about “Resolved: On balance, public subsidies for professional athletic organizations in the United States benefit their local communities.” but I suppose this is appropriate irony as you may catch on to by the end of the sample negative material below.

Before we run the negative material, though, let me address common affirmative sleight of hand: it is likely that they will go off-topic to say that professional athletic organizations benefit their local communities, which can easily be true regardless of public subsidies that are a fiscal detriment to the public. It is always in the interest of professional sports organizations to make money, and they will always endeavour to do so, and even if they aren’t actively bribed to maintain a position within a specific community in violation of free-market capitalist principles, they will ultimately provide whatever vague and hypothetical benefits that halos their existence for whatever communities they settle in. To re-clarify: any supporting jobs or whatever that a subsidized team would create in metropolis A are indistinguishable from the jobs that a proper team would create in metropolis B; the subsidy does not create a benefit.

Now let’s negate the community-oriented resolution.

Back in 1899, economist Thorstein Veblen called out the socioeconomic distinction of the “leisure class,” explaining that

“The leisure class lives by the industrial community rather than in it. Its relations to industry are of a pecuniary rather than an industrial kind. Admission to the class is gained by exercise of the pecuniary aptitudes—aptitudes for acquisition rather than for serviceability.”

Last year, Gregg Easterbrook brought this into focus: “Nearly all NFL franchises are family-owned, converting public subsidies and tax favors into high living for a modern-day feudal elite.”

Easterbrook then drops a laundry-list (Tom Landry-list?) of status quo subsidies:

  • In 2010, the National Football League moved its annual Pro Bowl away from Honolulu for the first time in 30 years. At the very time Hawaii was cutting its budget for public schools, state lawmakers voted to pay the NFL $4 million per game to bring the event back to their capital.
  • Though Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal claims to be an anti-spending conservative, each year the state of Louisiana forcibly extracts up to $6 million from its residents’ pockets and gives the cash to [Saints’ owner Tom] Benson as an “inducement payment”—the actual term used—to keep Benson from developing a wandering eye.
  • Judith Grant Long, a Harvard University professor of urban planning, calculates that league-wide, 70 percent of the capital cost of NFL stadiums has been provided by taxpayers, not NFL owners.
  • The fact that game images created in places built and operated at public expense can be privatized by the NFL inflates the amounts kept by NFL owners, executives, coaches, and players, while driving up the cable fees paid by people who may not even care to watch the games.
  • Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would owe at least $6 million a year in property taxes. Instead he receives no property-tax bill, so Tarrant County taxes the property of average people more than it otherwise would.
  • The National Football League is about two things: producing high-quality sports entertainment, which it does very well, and exploiting taxpayers, which it also does very well. Goodell should know—his pay, about $30 million in 2011, flows from an organization that does not pay corporate taxes. … That’s right—extremely profitable and one of the most subsidized organizations in American history, the NFL also enjoys tax-exempt status.

So we’re looking at 3 types of subsidies:

  1. blatant subsidy of directing public funding to private enterprise,
  2. subtle subsidy of refraining from taxation with the larger public having to pick up the full expense of infrastructure, and
  3. legally sanctioned privatization of wealth generated by public spectacle.

These are the obvious and prominent dollar-damages. And all of this is allowed wherever the elected officials that vote on laws and budgets say it is: “Politicians seem more interested in receiving campaign donations and invitations to luxury boxes than in taking on the football powers that be to bargain for a fair deal for ordinary people” Easterbrook explains.

At the point where professional sports teams can-and-do lobby the government to pillage the public treasury, they aren’t just not being of great benefit to the community; they are being evil. As Lawrence Lessig describes in Republic, Lost:

“The great evil that we as Americans face is the banal evil of second-rate minds who can’t make it in the private sector and who therefore turn to the massive wealth directed by our government as the means to securing wealth for themselves.”

This is non-unique to professional sports, but the lobbying efforts of privately profitable professional sports participates in the corruption of our government and the transformation of our nation into a plutocracy. Lessig reports in the wake of the great bailout:

“when Rock the Vote! polled its members about their plans for the 2010 election, the single largest reason that young people offered for why they did not plan to vote was “because no matter who wins, corporate interests will still have too much power and prevent real change.””

Even if you ignore the great piles of money transferred from assorted anonymous communities to the billionaire trolls like Donald Sterling, even if you ignore all of the other civil benefits that the money might be allocated to instead, these points remain:

  1. Crony Capitalism is antithetical to our shared principles of Free-Market Capitalism and
  2. Reinforcing the socioeconomic power of Plutocrats is antithetical to our shared value of — and belief in — Democracy.

And because this behavior, this practice of transferring public funds to private sports teams, contradicts our self-description of who we are it is flat-out bad for the existence of our communities.

Supplementary Material:

As previously noted, the affirmative may claim that people love their sports teams — but this is irrelevant: I’m choosing to avoid arguing that professional sports are bad (because it runs into too much judge bias), but rather that subsidies for private enterprise are bad. Here’s the snarky response from Veblen — and yes, snark existed in 1899:

The possession and the cultivation of the predatory traits of character [common to sporting competitions] may, of course, be desirable on other than economic grounds. There is a prevalent aesthetic or ethical predilection for the barbarian aptitudes, and the traits in question minister so effectively to this predilection that their serviceability in the aesthetic or ethical respect probably offsets any economic unserviceability which they may give. But for the present purpose that is beside the point. Therefore nothing is said here as to the desirability or advisability of sports on the whole, or as to their value on other than economic grounds.

Affirmative is going to claim that there are really economic benefits (which will be utterly indistinguishable between subsidized and upstanding teams), but Kurt Vonnegut explains the problem with this in Hocus Pocus, reminiscent of Veblen’s “aptitude for acquisition”:

“The richer people at the top of a society become, supposedly, the more wealth there is to trickle down to the people below. It never really works out that way, of course, because if there are 2 things people at the top can’t stand, they have to be leakage and overflow.”

But if we’ve got elected officials who are acting with the ostensible “consent of the governed,” then clearly this is all okay, right? Except that it’s not because the consent of the governed is actually the silence of the ignorant. Lawrence Lessig recounts from a variety of sources:

“Americans are ignorant about politics and our government no doubt. Less than a third of us know that House members serve for two years, or that senators serve for six. Half of us believe foreign aid is one of the top two federal expenditures. It is actually about 1 percent of the budget.”

And solving for that is why a bunch of nerdy kids ought to argue about “Resolved: On balance, public subsidies for professional athletic organizations in the United States benefit their local communities.”