Saturday, September 29, 2007

Evolution Meme Blog Tag

     Yesterday I got tagged by Vjack of Atheist Revolution. The idea behind this tag is that we are supposed to list five of our older posts which are reflective of the evolution of our blog, and then of course we are required to tag 5 other bloggers afterwards.

     Generally I don't get that interested in blog tags, but this one seems like it could be interesting. I started blogging in April of 2005, about half a year after I helped "reelect" George Bush to his second term. For those who read my blog now, it's pretty obvious that my ideas have changed substantially since that time. Unfortunately part of this change happened in that six months after the election so it's not possible to see the evolution in its entirety. But regardless, there were significant changes outside that time period as well.

The Problem with Conservatism-This was my first blog post and so I think it reflects on the motivation behind the creation of this blog. Inititally my idea of the blog would be that it would be primarily a blog opposed to religion and the "values" that social conservatives hold. This focus probably had a lot of to do with the fact that I lived in Texas at the time, and was continuously exposed to Christian messages and "arguments", whether it was while I was driving on the road, reading the official editorials of our campus newspaper, or just walking around campus. Nearly everyone I came in contact with wore the badge of social conservatism with extreme pride, and for me it represented nothing but cultural backwardness and a whole list of "-isms". In this post I specifically target 'social conservatism' and omit discussion of economic/political conservatism. This was to be something that I would change later on, but at this point the blog was primarily to attack social conservative arguments and its main pillar, Christianity. An interesting note is that in this post the only political advice I give the readers is to "vote Democrat", which seems very naive looking back on.

Is Socialism Superior to Capitalism?- In this post I pose the question as to whether socialism is superior to capitalism. This idea was rather blasphemous for me at the time. Throughout most of my life I had been very patriotic and so accepted, somewhat blindly, that because the U.S. had a capitalist system that it must be necessarily the best. But this was not because I viewed inequality and class domination as good, it's just simply that previously the whole notion of 'class' was foreign to me. In the good ol' jingoistic days of my thinking, my nationalist feelings lumped all Americans together in one big community. The thought that our leaders wanted something different than the people seemed absurd. I mean, hell, we were all Americans right? Our nation is a force for freedom and democracy worldwide, right? And if our leaders cared about such ideals, then how poorly could our internal system be constructed? However, this post marks a significant change in my thinking. I still cared about the collective welfare of ALL American people, but I was coming to the realization that capitalism was not about people working together to improve their lives. The idea that we weren't a single group with the same interests was critical to my initial socialist leanings, which were more nationalistic in origin perhaps then they were for the reason that socialism is more just, is able to sustain democracy, and may be the only system capable of protecting the planet's environment. The thoughts contained in this post and comments by me were fairly uneducated at this point. I was simply interested in the topic. The majority of my other posts maintained to be about religion.

The Media-A Tool of Propaganda- This post was written right after I had watched a documentary based on Noam Chomsky's book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. In the documentary Chomsky puts forth his Propaganda Model, which explains right-wing, corporate bias in the media in terms of structural economic causes. This documentary and book marked a significant shift in the focus of this blog. This changed my thinking from believing that progressive change could come naturally fron discussion and the eradication of irrational religious belief. I was now more concerned with the impact that the media played, which pandered more to corporate and government interests than it did to religious interests. I started seeing this blog as more of a vehicle to circumvent the bias in the media, and began seeing capitalist control of media as more threatening to postive change than to what theists happened to believe. My blog would necessarily take a more political tone from here on out.

To the Christian Left-This blog post was directed towards progressive Christians. It was basically a call to work together towards changing society for the better and putting the rather unimportant (in terms of daily life) issues regarding whether or not there's an invisible, magical being in the sky off until a time when we've got nothing better to argue about. This post really marks a shift in focus because here I'm calling on progressive Christians to unite in opposition with leftist atheists to oppose the entirety of right-wing politics whereas just a couple months before I was calling on fiscal conservatives to unite with atheists against religious belief. This shift was mostly due to the experience I had at an anti-war rally in San Francisco a month before, which I wrote about. In this post I write
Yesterday I saw many people who could see through the bullshit that not only the adminstration puts out, but also the bullshit the media puts out. And many of these people were not atheists. And I identified with these people and felt like we were a group of thinking, concerned citizens even though I knew they probably believed in a magical sky daddy or two. See, what I've come to realize is that there are many aspects of having a realistic outlook of the world. Some of us see through the religious bullshit very easily, but then we are still fooled by the non-religious crap that we were indoctrinated with at the beginning of our lives. These things, I believe, include strong feelings of jingoism, a strong commitment to free market capitalism and the associated economic belief that both the rich and the poor "earn what they get", as well as the inability to see that the corporate-owned media is, without exaggeration, essentially propaganda. However, there are some people who see the latter stuff very early in life but still believe in the ridiculous religious stuff.

     From here on atheism and attacks on religious would take a backseat to discussions based on historical events ignored in the media, contemporary media bias and criticism, and anti-capitalist discussion. However, this should not be taken that I think atheism-oriented blogging is unimportant. On the contrary, I think the elimination of blind religious devotion and its associated control on thought is of paramount importance to the creation of a citizenry capable of effective political action. My personal preferences in posting had just shifted away from this.

The Progressive Popular Front- This post and idea is very recent, but I think it also marks a significant shift in my outlook. Before August, my real-world political activism was extremely limited. I was seemingly content with reading books,learning some things, and then throwing a couple of them up on this blog. Political activism would have been fairly hard for me to do before this also, as my political beliefs were changing fairly rapidly that I didn't know if my thinking would stay stable enough to get involved with real-world activities. However, in the past few months my guilt at not participating more has come to weigh heavily on me. Additionally, my political views have changed only in details for about a year now, giving me the comfort of having a stable and somewhat "tested" outlook on the world. What good am I doing if I sit at home and read about socialist politics and history, U.S. opposition to democracy and human rights, and media issues while our world goes down the shitter? So I've decided to become more active in politics and try to change society for the better. While I am still a dedicated socialist, I am oriented my efforts around more short-term goals like universal healthcare, election reform, etc. Some people on the left will accuse me of being 'reformist'. That's fine, although maybe I should address this claim. In my opinion a socialist revolution is like jumping a creek. The act of jumping to the other side surely requires strategies outside of the official political avenues (general strikes, dual power structures, etc.) but reformism is the walking up to the edge of the creek before you jump. People cannot be instantly lifted to a higher political conciousness. I think (in the absence of major disasters) it has to be gradual. We must work to transform society little by little, with the newer society producing people capable of transforming it even more. But with this being said, I should make it clear that the extent of my 'reformism' is basically the support of Green politics. Anything less than that is not fighting for worthy change at all in my opinion.
     But back to topic, in this post on the Progressive Popular Front I propose an organization which I hope will be able to make progressive changes in America, perhaps bringing the United States to the level of the other advanced Western countries. I've set up a new blog here with this purpose in mind.

Okay, thanks for reading, now to tag 5 other people. I choose:
    1)breakerslion from Confusion of Ideas
    2)Mookie from Meme Processing
    3)Parge at the Environmental Atheist
    4)DT from Drunken Tune
    5)Beep Beep from Beep Beep It's Me

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Book Review: Mao's China and After

    China is the world's most populated country, has a very rapidly enlarging economy, and according to Department of Defense estimates (as opposed to official CCP figures which neglect nuclear weapons and also some funds used for military development) ranks second in the world in terms of military expenditures, while still only spending 1/5 of the leading United States (which of course doesn't need this excess money for education or healthcare). This power is also perceived by many around the world. I have a couple of friends who are taking Chinese language classes and I ask them why they are taking Chinese as opposed to some other language. Typically I get responses along the lines that they hope to be giving me orders in my work camp after the Chinese invasion. So clearly, both in terms of numbers and perception, China is a very powerful country on the world scene today. And for me, as someone who likes to pride myself on the idea that my political views are at least loosely correlated with social and political reality, my previous near total lack of knowledge on the country and history of China made me feel like I had a huge gap in my understanding of the world that needed to be filled.

     This gap has been substantially reduced after reading a book by Maurice Meisner titled Mao's China and After: A History of the People's Republic. The book goes through in great detail the transition from China being a completely unindustrialized country that was exploited by Western imperial powers to its current state as one of the most rapidly industrialized countries whose people are now simply exploited by international corporations in association with the ruling 'Communist' Party.
     The book starts with a description of the iconoclasm of many of the youth and intelligentsia at the beginning of the 20th century against the ruling 'Confucian' social order that had ruled Chinese society for centuries. Many people in this group in China looked toward the western parliamentary democracies as models that China should emulate and believed that this would transform China into a powerful country that could not be humiliated by imperial powers and would also bring China's socially backward populace into the 20th century. This movement took a turn on May 4, 1919 when thousands of students demonstrated in Beijing in response to the decision of the Western democracies to give German imperialist possessions in China to Japan as 'war booty'. Meisner explains how this event changed the political landscape in China:
The dramatically new political situation radically politicized a significant number of intellectuals. Many who had regarded themselves as liberal cosmopolitans emerged as militant nationalists, defending the country against the menace of foreign imperialism. Many who had rejected political participation because they attributed the plight of China to fundamental deficiencies in culture, for which political measures offered only superficial solutions, now began to favor immediate political action to save the nation from the external threat and to resolve the grave social and economic crises that threatened from within. The new spirit of political activism permeating the cities raised hopes that the masses could be organized for effective action and that the intellectuals could be effective in leading them. Concurrently, the intellectuals' views of the West underwent a dramatic transformation. The bitter nationalist resentments aroused by the fateful decision at Versailles, coupled with growing national political activism at home, led to a rapid erosion of the faith that the "advanced" Western nations would instruct China in the principles of democracy and science. The foreign teachers were now perceived as oppressors, and the old image of a Western world providing progressive models for the regeneration of China was replaced by a new image of a West made up of cynical and aggressive imperialist states. Having rejected traditional Chinese intellectual and political values, the intellectuals still looked to the West for guidance; but they now began to look more to Western socialist theories, which were themselves critical of the West as it was, in placed of conventional Western liberal ideologies, which sanctioned the existing capitalist-imperialist order.........To become a Marxist was one way for a Chinese intellectual to reject both the traditions of the Chinese past and Western domination of the Chinese present.

     The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was founded two years later, and then over the course of a long civil war it finally won against the Nationalists in 1949 when the state of the PRC was formed. The CCP led by Mao Zedong, during the revolutionary years of the civil war, was a remarkably grassroots and popular organization that appealed to large numbers of the Chinese population, both in terms of their hopes of social betterment, but also in response to the understanding that the CCP would finally free China from the control of foreign imperial powers. This progressivism and connection with the masses was to deteriorate once the former revolutionaries found themselves as leaders of a state, as expected when you create a new ruling class with privileges not enjoyed by others.
     The book then discusses the early years of the PRC, and its attempt to reconcile the fact that, at least according to orthodox Marxist theory, it was building a socialist country in economic and cultural conditions that were not suited for doing so. There are many parallels to the Soviet experience of course, but the Maoist experience is also in many ways very much different than the situation encountered by the leaders in the Soviet Union. Industrialization was to proceed rapidly, in order to build up the economic 'preconditions' for a socialist society. But this rapid industrialization and the need for increased production was hard to reconcile with the socialist aims of worker control and popular democracy. The need for centralized control over production to achieve maximum economic growth was in direct opposition to the socialist aim of direct control and the withering away of the state and the power and influence of the bureaucracy exploded in the years following the birth of the PRC. This fundamental dilemma, between building the political and social aspects of a socialist society (i.e., a democracy of producers) and that of building the economic aspects of a socialist society (a modern industrial base), was to rear its head many times in the first two decades of the PRC, manifesting itself in events like the The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
     After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, new leaders took over that promised more intellectual freedom and democratic reforms. These leaders, most notably Deng Xiaoping, were to soon to lead China on the road back to capitalism. They also soon went back on their promise of democratic reforms, as could be seen by their persecution of China's Democracy Movement. This persecution is most widely known from the incident in Tiananmen Square in 1989, in which the Chinese government massacred thousands of students and workers who were fighting for democratic reform of the government. In the wake of protests, the government declared martial law in Beijing. The first troops that were sent to Beijing fraternized with the students and workers, and so were withdrawn. The city was then surrounded by 200,000 veteran troops loyal to the government and on June 3rd they entered the city and began their attack, with the army's tanks, machine guns, and AK-47s firing indiscriminately into the waves of protesters who were courageously fighting back with bricks, sticks, and Molotov cocktails. At the end of the second day, thousands of people had been killed and over 40,000 would be arrested in the subsequent two months for their political activism. Below is a good Youtube video showing scenes from the attack:

     Today we have a China which is still very controlling of their population. Political dissent is suppressed, and the workers are forbidden from forming their own labor unions in response to the exploitation that they suffer from at the hands of companies who go for cheap labor with no threat of labor unionization. I think the power that China has and the influence that America could have on it requires us to be knowledgeable about the situation there and its historical causes. For this reason I very much recommend this book.

Other reviews:
Of the thousands of books that have been written about contemporary China, only a few will stand the test of time. This is one of them. --Foreign Affairs

Splendidly relates the human drama of the Chinese people and their leaders, with empathetic understanding and constructive criticism
--Zhiyuan Cui, professor of Political Science, MIT

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Progressive Popular Front - I think we're going to do this

     Thanks for all the feedback everyone. There was actually quite a bit of support for this idea, many of you having emailed me directly. There was enough so that I feel like it would be worthwhile to give this idea a shot, so I plan on taking it to the next phase. So what would the next phase be? This is up for debate of course, but a general outline I was thinking about goes as follows:

1). Obviously one of the first things we need to do is really clarify what this project would be about, both in deciding how the idea would be presented to the public and also hammer down the details for ourselves in how the organization would be structured, function, etc. Some of this may be able to be made up as we go, but it would be nice to get some basics down. Additionally, the list of progressive issues that we want the Popular Front to represent has to be decided upon. We clearly cannot ask anyone to 'sign on' to the PPF if we don't have the issues beforehand. To help in both of these purposes, I have set up another blog at Progressive Popular Front. In terms of organizational structure, perhaps that can be done some over email and then a little bit as well on the blog itself. For the issues, I plan on having a post on each potential issue where we can openly discuss the position. We can also invite people who are active in these respective fields (other activists) to come and give us their opinion.

2). Once we've completed the previous tasks, the next stage will be to officially launch the project. This requires a few things:
  • A better website: we will need to get off Blogger and onto a new url and hosting with more capabilities. We may be able to get hosting for free, as there are some small businesses which give free hosting to progressive organizations, but this usually requires that we be a ....

  • registered non-profit (501(c) in the US tax code). This should not be hard to get I believe.

  • Volunteer drive, website design, and shirt, bumper sticker, etc. designs. This is where we prepare to really launch the PPF

  • Now that all the groundwork is done, we begin, hopefully in enough time so that we may influence the 2010 or 2012 elections. All types of activism will start here, and we will also try to raise money so that we may purchase more visibility for the organization and message.

The timescale for the above outline is obviously highly dependent on how well we are able to get a lot of grassroots support and participation.

     Except for comments to these past two posts, let's take all discussion on the PPF over to the new blog. If you'd like to get involved in this endeavor please let me know, either by posting here, at the new blog, or emailing me at

    Also, if there are any strong criticisms of this idea in general or some of its specifics, please bring it to my attention. The more minds working on this the better.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

An idea for the progressive movement - the Popular Front

     One of the biggest problems I think we have as progressives is that it's tough for us to really organize ourselves into committed, long-lasting movements. The primary reasons for this in my opinion is as follows:

  1). We have no support from the media, so our organizations and small victories we may score go unreported in the news. Everything we do in this sense has to be grassroots. The media also defines what 'mainstream' views are, and these views are generally quite conservative.

  2). Our organizations have trouble fighting for change because there's a strong impulse to let our values be coopted by attempts to elect the 'lesser of two evils'. Even though I think progressive views are strongly rooted in the minds of many Americans, these people, come election time, are usually torn between those who vote their conscience and those who think that doing so is handing the election to the Republicans, who they may view as only slightly worse than the Democrats that they will be voting for. I think this issue is actually one of the biggest problems facing the movement.

     So last night I was thinking about this, and I thought of one solution. The progressive movement, instead of focusing its efforts on rallying support for the Green Party or for Dennis Kucinich, should focus its efforts on convincing people to vote their conscience and to agree on a limited number of progressive goals that any candidate must meet to get their vote. A benefit of doing this is that one's efforts from one election cycle don't go wasted for the next election. So rather than simply rallying for Kucinich, who may not run again next election, the activist energy that you put in today could be then applied to a different progressive candidate in the future. Also, by having people commit to issues and not politicians or parties, the movement can also avoid being stuck to a party which may go conservative. So if the Green Party all of a sudden changed its platform, it would automatically lose the support of those who had agreed on the issues that they felt were necessary to qualify for a vote.

     Now, for the movement to gather momentum, people will want to see it grow and see that it's making progress. This is why this effort would need a name. My first thought for this name would be the 'Progressive Popular Front'. And basically how it would work is that we'd need to establish some basic progressive goals that the PPF supported. Some suggestions would be universal healthcare (the real, non-for-profit kind), some sort of election reform (IRV or something along those lines), legalizing same sex marriage, legalization of abortion, end the war on drugs, clean energy (with some details to be provided on its nature), fair taxes, diplomacy over war (again in actuality, not politicians paying homage to diplomacy while preparing for war), etc. The exact list needs to be progressive enough to be worthwhile but also not too radical so that we can have a substantial following. We would then attempt to convince people that they should only vote for candidates who can meet these criteria and ask them to sign on to being part of the 'Progressive Popular Front'.

     So now what we would have is a movement which was issue-oriented, and uncompromising with its votes. Also, it would be easy to keep the movement cohesive because we've put all these issues under the umbrella of the Popular Front. So rather than saying "hey, do you support x,y,and z, and will only vote for someone who also supports this?" you can simply say "hey, are you part of the Progressive Popular Front?", and if not, convince them to join.

     Now to show that the movement is making progress, because it won't be reported on in the media, we can have tshirts, a website giving statistics, Popular Front icons for blogs, and bumper stickers saying "I support the Progressive Popular Front". Each person who puts this on their car will show to others that they are not alone (I think alientation is one of the reasons why people let their political desires be coopted). As the movement grows, more and more people will have this displayed and this will help prevent people from voting for the "lesser of two evils".

     The Popular Front website will give analysis each election cycle to help the members determine which candidates support the views they signed off on. Perhaps we can have some sort of internal election so that the Popular Front can officially endorse a candidate.

     Now these ideas are very rough, but I wanted to get your opinion on it. If you like it, we could start and get the ball rolling. It'll of course start out small, but if the idea is good it should grow in size.