POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC THEORY
3The issue of race unwound the massive socialist political movements in Europe and America in the years before World War II. As displaced populations of workers immigrated into a newly industrialized economy, racial conflict in trade unions dominated socialist theory. In Germany, re-education programs were undertaken with recalcitrant union members accused of embracing the brand of “false consciousness” recycled from Bastille Day during the French Revolution, pounding into the heads of German workers that they should not be opposed to either allowing foreign workers into the unions or to their being supported by the Socialist Party of Deutschland (SPD). This strategy led to union takeover of the party and marginalization of its intellectual leadership, who clung to Marxist ideology and split into the Spartacus League following the “Revisionist debate” with Eduard Bernstein, which in turn led to the party’s renunciation of Marx’s time-theory of dialectical materialism and rejection of its revolutionary goals. In effect Bernsteins SPD was the original “New Labor” movement, but some 90 years before in 1906-7, and in Berlin not London. The proto-Brownshirt Freikorps killing of Rosa Luxemberg, the champion of dialectical materialism, and anti-militarist Karl Liebknecht, son of SPD founder and one of Marx’s best friends, in Berlin, was the end of Marxist theory as far as mainstream European politics was concerned. This end was also a beginning: the beginning of the non-theory that followed it. Democratic Socialist Germany abandoned the economic revolution; and autocratic Russia abandoned democracy. Never the twain would meet, except perhaps in Austria, where Vienna Socialists Otto Bauer and his associates approached the same problem of union racism with a different message altogether: “These immigrants are displaced,” said his agitprop comic book character to a disgruntled racist worker; “they have been brought here by our employer; so let’s organize to help them go home.” This shift in approach, the author termed “Positive Dialectics.”
As I understand and use this concept now at the start of the twenty-first century, the premise of Positive Dialectics is that it provides an alternative to the idea of resistance theory, which, after the example of postmodern deconstructionists such as Michel de Certeau, archaeologically searches for and interprets everyday life to find a latent form of resistance to political and economic power. By immersing myself positively into the arena of energy policy and politics, I drafted legislation that aimed to restructure the energy industry. With these new laws in effect, I anticipated that an immersion in municipal democracy would result in implementations of energy transformation at the greatest scale, it would debunk price theory, and indeed it might “restart” history in a critical area of darkness, by providing an alternative to globalization and deregulation – these alternatives otherwise being sadly unavailable. This project took 20 years to deliver 5% of the U.S. population and create the conditions for a conceptual adoption of an economic localist strategy in both major cities and small towns throughout the U.S.
This localist strategy is an alternative to the failure of Enlightenment in the United States. Such failure is manifest in widespread domestic neo-conservatism, the collapse of public education, a political monoculture, religious fundamentalism, and resource imperialism. It is manifest, at the top level of national politics, in the form of President Obama, and at the bottom level, by a rising tide of identity politics. It is manifest in the narrow-mindedness of activists, and the over-specialization of the Liberal Arts, but is augmented en masse through an industrialized Fourth Estate: corporations that launder identity, avoid taxes, corrupt democracies, and finance wars. Imperialism has consumed American virtue and replaced it with perverse identity broadcasters of various stripes. A pageant of liberty fetishizes freedom in sacristies of identity, such as gay marriage and drug legalization, or three-strikes and abortion, while the alignment of corporations and empires continues unabated, even un-discussed. As such, the localist strategy that Positive Dialectics envisions aims to recuperate the American nation’s historic role in initiating anti-imperialist, democratic revolutions against traditional European imperialism.
This pattern describing the failure of enlightenment in America is decades old, arguably centuries. The motion of Positive Dialectics is directed towards this maw of history, which makes Hegel’s Owl of Minerva fly at midnight – the ineluctable march of the state into the “future.” It is concerned with the idea of progress, of not turning back, while also not collapsing into mass hysterias, some coup d'état, and the collective amnesia of warfare and technological violence that continues to erase history and empower tyrants, making voluntary servants of its naïve, ignorant, disembodied, indolent citizens.
The trap that enforces this violence is the Cold War: the last conflict based on political theory in modern history, which has not ended for Americans, because we Americans are the home field products of Cold War social engineering. The punishment of empire? Loss of the home country. The Cold War, which ended for everybody else in the world in 1989, is still not over in America. Because we “won” the Cold War, we are now stuck in an endless victory lap that has turned into a somnambulant crusade. The Russians learned their lessons in 1989 – how Stalin had killed so many millions and assassinated his political peers, the widespread spying, etc…. Now, a quarter century later, Americans must witness the empty crusade of unhindered liberty, and the social poverty of imperial displacement and globalized industrialization on a dying planet, because we are killing it.
Having lost habeas corpus without as much as a whimper, it is hard to say that we are destroying the planet for selfish reasons, in some sacrifice of nature for some greater human freedom. 1.5 million Americans with security clearance spy on millions of Americans like me, and on millions of non-Americans as well – even tenured professors. A nation of citizens without civic literacy shares every detail of their vapid overconsumption experience by Facebook while spies search for the occasional over-opinionated ones. Has this led already to the totalitarian practice of blacklisting the internal enemies of the imperial state? But behind the failure and disappointment of the Cold War is the fact that both sides were wrong – were intellectually bankrupt in fact. So much lying, and so much incompetence took power and killed only in order to hold the reins of government. So many intellectuals were sucked into defending Stalin, then becoming Neoconservatives or Neoliberals when their poor judgment came out with the Glasnost and Perestroika Gorbachev – some like Jeffrey Sachs going on to support the Shock Therapy of Yeltsin.
Humanity’s lack of seriousness would appear to be its greatest enemy. Bernard Shaw mocked the Salvation Army for pretending to help the masses of poor ejected from the industrial machine, while actually filling their minds with religious fluffy. These sentimental fools who want the experience of politics and the thrill of respect, but have not a clue what to do when they are in power: are they to be taken seriously? People can starve and still they cynically claim to care. But with climate change, there is no room for such shenanigans. With climate change we all die, equally. The quick encounter of the American Way of Life with biological reality is the ultimate container for human endeavor. No cheating allowed.
The ecological collapse indeed redraws the horizon of a limited Provider. The envelope of the biosphere is our opportunity, as a society, to end the practice of human sacrifice on the political stage: a million people dead in Iraq being the latest quiet atrocity. To overcome the Cold War, we must overcome not just the mania of market fundamentalism; we must also overcome the vagaries of collectivism - the perilous waters of hideous government agencies, triple-jeopardized bureaucrats, dissembling and borderline psychotic professionalism, corruption/rackets and extroverted psychopathic elected officials; the hollowness of such “comrades” must also be remembered. The next move forward must jettison the moral simplicity of the Cold War (good vs. evil, inferior vs. superior, rich vs. poor) with a more serious intent and scriptural practicing of democratic power – to achieve a circumscription and localization of commercial power in politics, and a liberation of the small, whether individual people or small business, from police power.
Moreover, we have to stop thinking of this as a mass movement, and think of it as an intellectual opportunity: not merely to rethink possible worlds or remember a lost world, but to directly “trespass” across systems of knowledge, cross from ideas into activist participation, into direct legislation, into direct implementation. We must overcome the devastating bureaucracies of American government, and the disheartening mediocrity of America’s elected officials. Americans cannot go back to a traditional leftist position of True Believer in putting governments in charge, because big schools, big institutions, big militaries, big power plant operators, are depressing failures. Big public housing projects in American cities are as disastrous as any Communist housing blocks ever were.
Size matters when it comes to creating civil societies capable of self governance, people equal enough to coexist and give each other regards; similar enough to agree on basic principles of conduct and good manners, idioms of distinction and standards of judgment. America, and the world, must jettison the industrialist scale-fetishism of corporate America, yes – but it must also jettison America’s military might. What is needed in this regard is a standing down, a complete renunciation and criminalization of nuclear weapons. We must jettison gigantism of every kind – industrially and governmentally. Small is beautiful indeed, as Schumacher proposes; but in this globalized world “small” is technically bit – several hundred thousand people, and not Schumacher’s return to village life.
To achieve this, localism must be incorporated into political theory and action. This involves a deliberate rejection of concentrated state and military power alongside a deliberate rejection of commercial power. Localization is a re-establishment of the traditional tribal idea of the municipality being the original and fundamental democratic power founded on the sacred consent of individuals. Thus, municipal power is not subsidiary to, but a constituent power of, states. The United States exists only as an extension of the consent of its fifty states, with no other valid imperial sanction. And the same goes for each of these fifty states: they exist only as an extension of the consent of municipalities.
Insofar as Positive Dialectics is concerned with moving beyond both market fundamentalism and state socialism, it rejects national and state power in the context of a local seizure or assertion of new local powers in the industrial arena. Positive Dialectics is essentially local immersion. Such immersion in the immediacy of the local allows for an imminent critique that creates the basis for a transcendent critique. This results in an action of language, which is distinguishable from resistance or negative critique. This positive dialectical process moves us from the negative dialectical concept of an engagement of knowledge, which merely critiques existing options, toward the creation of new options. It is an occupation of political theory in a specific policy area, based on a specific historical circumstance – a window of history, a change-- in which the positive dialectician can be a stow away passenger and introduce alternative ways of doing. In my case, this has meant energy first; now, a platform of localist law and activity across the economy, government, and civil society.
IMPLEMENTING POSITIVE DIALECTICS
4In 1992, electric deregulation was in the process of being imported into U.S. state legislatures and the U.S. Congress. Deregulation had just taken place in Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s England, and a major initiative was being brought to the United States, through the Harvard Energy Project and other credible major institutions. The University of Chicago economics professor Ronald Coase, responsible for a theory that proposed the creation of a system for pollution credits trading,  also provided advance knowledge that electric industry deregulation would involve legislative proposals to implement “The British Model” of power in the United States.
Looking for a contemporary window of opportunity in which to pursue a new scriptural practice of legism, I learned of a political opportunity to debate and legislate the deregulation of the U.S. energy industry, and so chose this area of economic theory in which to pursue a demonstration of my own competing theory of Positive Dialectics. This political opening was in Massachusetts. For two years, I developed the concept of Community Choice, undertook extensive research in Massachusetts’s law, and drafted a bill that was intended as an alternative to Margaret Thatcher’s initiative in the United States. Securing a position as legislative aide to a state senator in Massachusetts who had just been appointed Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Energy, I used my position to draft and win introduction of the nation’s first Community Choice Aggregation bill, which in 1997 was the first to become law.
As an alternative to the energy policies that Thatcher and her minions sought to bring to the United States first, and eventually also to the European Union, Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) asserted that competition would reduce waste under power monopolies, allow innovation, and lower prices of energy. Vaguely, there were promises that innovation would mean a renaissance for renewable energy technologies. Thus, Community Choice was defined in terms of an alternative and superior, democratically based way to get choice for all customers (not just big business), as having better economics and thus a lower cost base than deregulation, and a profoundly better mechanism for supporting green power.
Turning these vague theoretical promises into discreet practical realities required rethinking the entire energy production and consumption process, and interpreting the status quo with a new prejudice achieved through the perspective of the future that Positive Dialectics envisioned. The emphasis on lowering the price of energy, which Thatcher had put first, Positive Dialectics put last and reduced it to a new, lowered expectation: Community Choice would meet or beat the existing price, but dramatically accelerate renewable resource development locally in order to bring about a dramatic greenhouse gas reduction without requiring higher rates. Under market economics this is presumed UNIVERSALLY to be inherently more costly. With Ronald Coase’s scheme for pollution credit trading in mind and Milton Friedman’s free-market fundamentalism as a backdrop, Positive Dialectics announced routinely that Community Choice had “broken the price barrier” for green power. The new scriptural practice of legism had disproven and humiliated a nearly ubiquitous prejudice in the American Zeitgeist.
In correlation with breaking the price barrier for green power, the implementation of Positive Dialectics required the development of a secondary power, which created a City of San Francisco revenue bond authority to finance renewable energy infrastructure development. This second element provided a firm foundation for the full implementation of the theory’s expanding vision of how to make the economics feasible, and thus create the intellectual foundation, not merely for the purchase of green power facilities, but for financing, building, and owning them locally. This authority was made of the detritus of the existing bond system, based on the use of tax exempt bonds to improve building facades in economic development zones, providing a precedent for the use of municipal revenue bonds to finance rooftop solar panels for ownership by the residents in those buildings. By adapting this existing practice to provide Community Choice cities to build their own power supplies using the same monthly bill funds they were using to pay grid power suppliers, the Local Power model was fully defined as a transformative solution to the energy and climate crisis – profoundly challenging advocates of nuclear power and transmission lines to wind farms as necessary to confront these problems.
The past five years have been spent protecting this construct and maintaining the footprint or impression of its possibility, undertaking a profound immersion into the energy industry’s archaeology, hermetic practices, and secretive economics. This has involved drafting hundreds of pages of implementation plans to create specifications for massive, complex, unprecedentedly large decentralized projects. It has also involved drafting governments’ Request for Proposals documents, collecting and managing formerly secret data held by energy monopolies, and designing major regional infrastructure public works projects with major government partners and funding, including complex database and Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping work.
By pushing a broader platform for localization, Positive Dialectics has fundamentally challenged the most recalcitrant arena of public policy – energy. The resulting policy structure, called “Community Choice Aggregation,” is growing fast, recently adding the city of Chicago, Cincinnati, and Sonoma County, California, among 200 municipalities that approved CCAs in 2013, added to 1000 U.S. municipalities providing power under state laws drafted under the strategy. Today, 5% of the whole U.S. population is served by Community Choice Aggregations under these laws. CCA is already recognized for some of the largest greenhouse gas reductions yet achieved, and I have persuaded a number of major cities, like San Francisco, to use CCA to implement physical energy localization on a scale never before thought possible. Indeed, the scale is comparable to that of the construction of major bridges by municipalities in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as the Brooklyn Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge; but in the case of CCA the enormity of this scale serves a purpose that is not gargantuan. To the contrary, the aim is the creation of a decentralized infrastructure that is to remain under local municipal control and feature shared community ownership. In essence, CCA establishes a demand-side procurement structure that causes the community to physically escape dependency upon fossil fuels and imported grid power over the first years of its new service. CCA is a major phenomenon in energy policy, politics, and economics: but the 1460 cities doing it are barely aware of each other, and do not regard it as a movement – because the work has been done and it is legal to do based on a simple ordinance of the city council. Insofar as Positive Dialectics has succeeded in environmental campaigns to cap carbon, in efforts to stop development, and more generally in restricting targeted human behaviors that favor empire over republic, it has.captured the imaginations of many cities and towns in the United States that are now following this path: a path that demonstrates the success of Positive Dialectics as an alternative to resistance theory.
IDEOLOGY - WITHOUT A MOVEMENT
5The idea of a "movement" is flawed, because it assumes a confluence between the success of an idea to propagate and result in profound or substantive change, and the success of its author to inspire the loyalty of followers. In concept, the world is hardest to influence; but the success of political theorists in politics, while rare, is not nonexistent. Still in reality, it is much harder to command loyalty than it is to influence thought. Like birds, people mimic what they hear, and in America's empty civil society, a tiny super-minority of Americans participates directly in state legislatures and city halls. In this environment of policy committee hearings, public interests are routinely represented by a handful of poorly paid people, while a slightly larger cadre of well-paid shills for organized commercial interests quietly dominate.
Their advantage is so minimal - just the advantage of being the only man in the room, or else the least shameful. Ironically, in the empty room of American politics, the individual has power.
Movements are the fictions invented by activists, to create the appearance of mass behavior. Because the government is conditioned to follow financial interests unless there is mass behavior and an issue appears on the news, activists resort to Sorelian myth in order to have enough clout to qualify as a mass movement. Thus, activists resort to a shadow-boxing of press releases, press conferences, and volunteer-centric public meetings at which a show of support will have influence on the outcome. Because of the over-centralization of political power, a few well-paid lobbyists typically define the tenor of public hearings, such that even five or ten activists in a local or state hearing will balance off that influence. If municipalities are brought into public hearings, and adopt resolutions on policy matters before state legislators, a second level of public influence is achieved, and public interests can easily trump special interests, even in the largest businesses such as electricity.
Our democracy is a theater of the emptiness of Enlightenment. The figure of the Apollonian leader is a Lord of the Flies - a figure of faith before True Believers who have gone back to the bush, but cling to any symbol of their displaced civil conscience. The theater of politics, whether federal, state or local, is a poesis in which the soul of mankind is lost through sentimental attachment to the priestly power of elected senators and representatives. Psychologically, these would-be enlightened leaders are invariably extroverts, grasping for normative foundation in the effluvium of daily events. Overwhelmed by the increasing complexity of managing an empire and a republic, elected representatives are like spies behind enemy lines. They are vulnerable to depression, dissociation, sudden conversions, and outbursts unto betrayal. They are not unlike the worst memories of the schoolyard.
In this cold tarmac of badly shared fate, elected officials drift through the passport agency of the extroverted soul. Elected officials who pass as progressive vary in form from the empty cipher to the overambitious megalomaniac. They are hungry for celebrity and popularity. By winning election, they are injected with the paranoid fantasy of the historical demigod. Men who have spent decades in isolation preparing complex stratagems of policy are blown across oceans of conviction by the winds of public opinion. It goes to their heads. They say that power corrupts, and yea, power corrupts basely, in the form of the congressman selling a vote; but, more fundamental to democracy theory, power corrupts the simple intellectual faculty of curiosity into a gibbering and cowardly pietism. Overwhelmed by the fatigue of over-centralized power, an objective awe overtakes the opinionated Philosophe, or forces higher minds into more specific campaigns.
This ability to steer the activity of politics towards specific outcomes is as good as it gets. Surrounded by the courtesans of activism, the propagator of political theory on the public stage gathers no supporters, only enemies. This is the central irony, the failure to bring about a movement: the people who agree with the ideas and, are empowered to reify their possibility and project their potential benefits accept the information across the ionosphere of public discourse, but remain ambivalent towards the source. They will repeat those ideas to others, but often hide or denigrate the source.
The social incoherence of this process results from the problem of loyalty in relation to political theory, and specifically the problem of civil cooperation in the absence of shared cultural institutions: the American “melting pot” dream of global displacement. To repeat: civil society is highly susceptible to organized principled effort, but the ideas do not result in loyalty, and therefore do not take on the characteristics of a movement. Shunning and punishing leaders, the interlocutors will kill the architects of their pyramids. Unreflectingly, the allies of the Philosophe will propagate language in a permanent renaissance of unending novelty that is forced effectively into serial amnesia. Since the new must dominate politics, changes that take time must be repeatedly reinvented as novel. The application of theory to contemporary historical phenomena constitutes an action of trespass that ultimately rubs the world of funded NGOs and government bureaucrats the wrong way, causing them to criminalize and marginalize the trespasser, while they simultaneously mimic and appropriate his ideology. There is no enemy like the political ally: this normative identification of ideas is distinctly paranoid and defines the American political classes today.
In today’s American political milieu, the two major parties have implemented a bipartisan regime of culture war, mutually eliminating trade policy and war from official party questions. Red states order public schools to remove Darwin from grammar school biology class reading lists, and Blue states insist that transgender kindergarteners must be recognized according to their gender of choice. Which is more fanatical and destructive? While damaging culture war legislation is now routinely passed in various strongholds (Democratic California and Republican North Carolina), this new cultural radicalism has been allowed to dominate each party at the expense of a lock-step conformism on the major material questions defining our world and time. Both parties agree that nothing will change in trade policy and war; only culture is to change, which both parties would like to dominate as much as any Taliban or Communist. The lords of energy rule, and the political caste has learned today, as in the past, to chase the proverbial crumb. These rights prevail over the deafening silence of opposition or controversy, with Democratic interventionism limited only to timid calls for “better regulation” but failing to challenge the fact that the few people who own the energy fuel that everyone else depends upon also dominate Congress, corrupt state legislatures, and own municipalities.
In the years following WWII and based on his experience in organized labor with the International Longshoremen’s Association in Oakland, Eric Hoffer wrote of the True Believer. Influenced by generations of awareness about the dangers of ideology, today’s True Believer has a different, hidden relationship to true ideas. In a repressive Cold War political society, many bureaucrats and elected officials think of themselves as radical compared to their colleagues. Perceiving danger in displaying ideological values, like Horkheimer’s graduate students, today’s activists have internalized the prerogative of the Orwellian state to impose post-historical, anti-ideological censors on acceptable political speech during the American Cold War victory.
The internalization of market fundamentalism into political thought explains much of the paranoid criminalization of “trespass” when politicians and activists mimic and appropriate ideology, whether the grammar and nomenclature of market fundamentalist ideology or of a “positive dialectic” such as Community Choice Aggregation. The propagator of the political theory they now call their own has become, in their minds, a poison container, like a priest, who would convert and molest them. The result of this effortless effort to convert is resentment, the opposite of loyalty.
Positive Dialectics teaches that whenever the greatest work is created, the greatest uproar of anger – resentment – is the answer. Only meaningless work pays. All innovation invokes attack amid a chattering of imitation and appropriation. It is the brawl of the schoolyard, the desire to annihilate and replace the hero. This Lord of the Flies scenario is the limit of the CCA “movement” that Positive Dialectics has generated. There is no loyalty, only a long list of stabs in the back.. Like a witch doctor, the propagator of new political theory faces death every time he looks at his allies: from the enemy, on the other hand, there is only an all-knowing and ironical silence.
Positive Dialectics is not a career, but an opportunity and a privilege. Namely, the chance to exercise one’s freedom to participate and thus empower the language that is trapped in the tragic asymmetry between poeic critique and technical hegemony in the historical world. If this is viewed as historical and not existential, then the door to the vault is open! Tresspass of theory into technical hegemony is in a sense nothing more than a re-invasion of technology by philosophy: not waiting for the masses to understand, not communicating with general audiences, not caring about “the majority,” which can only wait for ideas like energy localization to become possible for them to approve or disapprove. This is not Apollonian, but hubristic in resenting the over-esteem of the masses, the shameless maw of civil desire, its thankless consuming frenzy. It would not speak down to the stupid mass of humanity, but up to its equals. It would de-specialize and occupy technical savoir faire; it would re-enact theory through an uncertified trespass across economic theory, law, politics, policy, finance, and engineering, in order to present not a utopian concept, but an immediate, actionable option.
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