Why WikiLeaks is important

The WikiLeaks intelligence documents have started appearing in the papers. There’s no earth-shattering revelation, yet this disclosure to the public is extremely important because it brings to light our two alternative conceptions of democracy. In the classic idea of democracy, the one you learn at school and the one reflected in the structure of electoral institutions, participatory democracy is the ideal and representation is merely a device to make democracy practical at large scale. In classic democracy, the public is at all times the source of authority and arbiter of decisions. Openness is essential, and the role of the media is to keep the representatives in line with the wishes of the public. In classic democracy there is no question that the information recently released by WikiLeaks should be routinely open. While that might make the work of government at times inconvenient, this type of democracy is the safest and least oppressive form of government we have so far discovered.

The alternative view of democracy, now prevalent de facto, is the democracy of the management firm. The state is governed like a large public firm. Political parties are management consultancies bidding for contracts to run the firm for a number of years. Elections are the general meeting, where citizens vote one share but large investors (businesses) vote according to their share of the economy. The role of the media, if it’s not the firm’s own newsletter, is to carry advertising. In this kind of democracy, the management firm, once hired, is allowed and expected to work behind closed doors. Their performance is judged only by aggregates, such as economic growth. Citizens are certainly not routinely informed, and have no say unless some investor lobby (large business interest) feels that the management performs poorly and calls for an early general meeting. If that is the democracy we have, WikiLeaks is wholly irresponsible and out of place.

Which type of democracy do you think we should have?

Racism is about human rights and feminism isn’t

Racism is seen as a violation of minorities. Allegedly, it has defined perpetrators and victims. Two categories. That people are rigidly divided into categories is taken as given, and fighting racism is supposed to be about limiting and maybe one day reversing one category’s depredations on the other. It’s not supposed to be about universal rights but about protecting black people and other minorities from whites.

That’s wrong. It’s an unhelpful and misleading conception of racial conflict. Seeing it as a category conflict serves the wrong agendas. In fact, the crime of racism is about denying rights that are universal. That white people are the perpetrators and blacks usually the victims is of no bearing on the nature of the injustice. The correct formulation of racism is that people form groups based on arbitrary identifying traits, the groups fight, and it happens that certain groups become habitually victimized. The correct course of action is to frown upon loyalty to arbitrary groups and instead embrace all people as moral beings. The response to racism is to be universal.

Feminism is supposed to be a violation of universal human rights. Respectable formulations of feminism are not gendered. In law, rape is about people forcing sex upon other people. It could be two men, and from that viewpoint the crime could only be defined in terms of fuzzy universal rights. Emancipation of women is uncool. Equal opportunity is polite. Equality is supposed to mean the same access to some abstract rights that no-one is going to get too worked up about.

That’s also wrong. It is a massive appropriation and dilution of the movement. Feminism is not about universal good behaviour. It’s brutally gendered. Violence is being perpetrated by men upon women, because of the different reproductive biology that defines the categories “men” and “women”. Men wish to claim control and extract reproductive benefits from women while dumping reproductive costs on them, or rather evading their share. Everything about feminism is about redressing this gendered crime. Visions of the solution are not symmetric, and to say that they are is complicit. Credible feminism isn’t about defining universal abstract rights. It’s about rebalancing the benefits and costs of reproduction to be more just, specifically between men and women.