Monday, 11 August 2014

Karl Hess: Neighbourhood Power: The New Localism

The rather tired left-right divide has been challenged over the past decades - the latest being the interesting compatibility of many of the ideas emerging from the Tea Party and Occupy movements in the United States:

Rob Kall at OpEdNews has consistently paid attention to the two big, controversial socio-political movements of the past few years: the Occupy Wall Street effort and the Tea Party.
His general position is that progressives and Tea Partiers share a fundamental disgust with the traditional two-party political system in the U.S., which he sees as aligned with “corporatism.” 

Kall offers a list of topics which might be common ground for Tea Partiers and progressives, including:
- corporate influence on government
- corporate welfare
- Citizens United
- congressionally mandated lack of competition for drug pricing
- electronic voting threats to election integrity
- globalization effects on US industries and jobs
- GMO health dangers -- Monsanto forcing farmers to use their GMO seeds.
- the two party system
- the failure to prosecute banker and finance company criminals.
- the aggressive attack on a prosecution of whistle-blowers.

Common Ground between Tea Party and Occupy Movement? - NPQ - Nonprofit Quarterly
Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party: Do they agree on anything?

This comment is from last week:

Occupy the Tea Party

Posted: 08/01/2014 Dave Pruett
The Tea Party fell from public favor following the debt-limit debacle of 2013, and Occupy has gone underground. It would be a mistake, however, to regard either down for the count. The sense of betrayal -- of having been sold out to special interests -- remains raw in both camps. The systemic problems that created the meltdown of 2008 remain unaddressed. And in the six years hence, the middle class has shrunk significantly, the lower class has grown dramatically, and the wealthiest 1 percent has run off with 95 percent of income growth.
If America is to pull out of its tailspin before there's revolution, it may require the cooperation of Tea Partiers and Occupiers. Given the differences in style and substance, this seems unlikely -- unless vast numbers of Partiers awaken to the reality they've been duped. Still, such improbable synergy is the gist of Ralph Nader's new book Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. I've not read it, but Nader could be right. On April 26, Cowboys and Indians (i.e., ranchers and Native Americans) convened on the National Mall to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline in a stunning display of conservative-liberal unity. And in Atlanta, Tea Partiers and Sierra Clubbers have aligned to form the Green Tea Coalition, advocating together for solar energy.
Divided we fall; united we stand.

Occupy the Tea Party | Dave Pruett

But this commonality goes back a long way:

The radical right-wing roots of Occupy Wall Street

By Maureen Tkacik 
SEPTEMBER 20, 2012

If there’s one thing that united Occupy Wall Street with the Tea Party movement from the very beginning, it’s a virulent aversion to being compared to each other.

The Tea Partiers started sharpening their knives before the Occupation even began. Two weeks before last year’s launch Tea Partisan blogger Bob Ellis wrote a post entitled “Socialists Plan to Rage Against Freedom on Constitution Day” – all but daring the lamestream punditry to compare the “infantile” plans of “spoiled children” to “throw tantrums” and “thumb their nose at the American way of life” to the beloved movement that “sprang up from nothing a little more than two years ago in the face of a Marxist president and Marxist congress.”

Then the most radical of the right-wing radicals, Goldwater’s beloved speechwriter Karl Hess, moved into a houseboat, renounced politics altogether and dedicated the rest of his life to peacefully protesting the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of the new aristocracy he dubbed “the one percent.”

Big institutions were inherently hostile to democracy, he explained in his 1975 memoir-manifesto Dear America, because they’d been created by and for the tiny minority of elites who already owned a de facto controlling stake of the nation’s political and economic power:

“1.6 percent of the adult population owns 82 percent of all stock, and thus actually owns American business and industry. In a very real sense, that tiny 1 percent of the population faces the other 99 percent across a barrier of very real self-interest. That tiny 1 percent has been accumulating more as the years go on, not less. The key to that accumulation is assuring that the people who make up the other 99 percent are sharply restricted in what power and privilege they accumulate”

“Work and creativity, then, seem to be the things that actually build and those are attributes not of the reigning rich at all but of the population generally, of the working people rather than the owning people. You know this. Your senses tell you this, and yet propagandists for the rich can come along, as I did and others still do, and tell you time after time that without the rich you would starve, that without the rich the factories would close, that without the rich the farms would wither, that without the rich we would all be forced back to a primitive and animal existence. Is it possible … to imagine America, with its incredibly skilled working people, its array of machines which they designed and built and operate, with its sturdy history of independence, is it possible, to imagine this land going backwards because the Rockefellers, the DuPonts, the Morgans, and the Mellons were dispossessed of their great wealth?”

The radical right-wing roots of Occupy Wall Street | The Great Debate

Karl Hess has a very interesting history:
Karl Hess - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Karl Hess on Appropriate/Community Technology - YouTube
Karl Hess: Toward Liberty (1980) - IMDb

He became fixed on the idea of 'localism' well before it became official UK government policy:

Neighborhood Power: The New Localism by David Morris and Karl Hess

Joel Schlosberg | March 25th, 2014
[David Morris and Karl Hess’s Neighborhood Power: The New Localism]

In 1975, two leftists, one of whom had been a top GOP insider and a founder of the American libertarian movement, collaborated on a book published by a leading Washington, D.C. left-wing think tank and the Unitarian Universalist Association advocating devolution of political power from the federal, state and city levels to self-sufficient local neighbourhoods.

The central focus of the book is the building of neighborhood organizations for the purpose of directly addressing local needs, rather than exerting pressure on the political system to take care of them.

Along the way, attention is given to specific practical issues. While technology is not as central a focus as it is in Hess’s other work (one of his other books is Community Technology), there is a decent amount of material on it. This includes prescience in both local food production (Hess was a central participant in forgotten predecessors of today’s urban farming boom), computers (the Community Memory System has a cameo), and renewable, green energy.

And the descriptions of neighborhood governments flexing their muscles sometimes come off as petty authoritarian (which would seem to be part of the appeal for many), though far less than taken for granted today and tempered by the decentralist aspects.

Senator Mark Hatfield is usually remembered as a moderate due to his opposition to the Vietnam war, but a quote declaring that “It is clear today that the great experiment of our cities is a failure”, lamenting the loss of “community self-management”, and stating the need for “neighborhood government and interneighborhood cooperation” (97) doesn’t sound much like something one would hear from the lips of Nelson Rockefeller.

Given the place of environmentalism in today’s culture wars, it is illuminating to get a reminder of the pre-greenwashed state of the left of the time:

During a meeting a group of avowed Marxists who had been working with automobile workers in Detroit, trying to organize them in opposition to their union and company, were questioned about their ultimate goals. They responded, “To take over General Motors.” “What then?” they were asked. That was enough, they answered; the workers would control production and share in the wealth they themselves have produced. That was said to be “the revolution.”Yet, if we see General Motors as a part of the problem, and the multiplication of steel-bodied, internal-combustion-engine vehicles as contributing to our societal breakdown, a mere change in ownership would not necessarily mean real social change. (119)

Since the mainstreaming of “green” hasn’t led to a concomitant questioning of the “need to maintain the rate of growth and the sheer physical output of this society” (119), it’s worth a reminder that such a paradigm is as obsolescent as the fossil fuels it ran on:

Nuclear-power plants, metropolitan sewage-treatment plants, internal-combustion engines or solar cells, in-house waste-cycling systems, and electric cars. It is not only an ecological and economic choice, but a deeply political one. It asks whether we want to move our productive facilities back into our communities, or remain at the mercy of isolated forces operating on criteria that give human concerns a low priority. (124)

While acknowledgement of the non-economic costs of large scale production have started to go into the mainstream, liberals who never question their economic efficiency are stuck hand-wringing, and many buy-small leftists simply duck the question altogether. Morris and Hess make solid use of a knowledge of the inefficiency of big business, citing the work on diseconomies of scale by Ralph Borsodi and Barry Stein, and offering a sharp rejoinder to stock claims of “efficiency”:

Conventional wisdom holds that larger firms are a natural, even a welcome, extension of business activities, and that they should be encouraged. Such concentrations are said to bring with them efficiencies that lower consumer prices. The reality is that prices grow as concentrations grow. The truth is that bigness brings with it higher profits. Also, it is apparently true that bigness breeds slothfulness, that creativity and igenuity are submerged, in the largest firms, to the goal of profitability, that with their influence in distribution and advertising, large corporations can create markets fromt heir most convenient and profitable items rather than bothering to make products that people genuinely need. Their most imaginative efforts are in marketing, not in production of high-quality goods. Even the large profits of huge corporations may not be a sign of business acumen and efficiency. Many large enterprises get their profits as a result of their political influence, through tax write-offs and subsidies, import quotas, and defense contracts, not through competition in the marketplace. (116)

In recent years, there has been a return to some of the ideas, usually without awareness of the past. Urban gardening, which Hess was a pioneer of, has seen a renaissance. The maker movement has started to push modern technology past the era of mass industrialism. “Collaborative consumption” is rediscovered as an unprecedented novelty. Too much emphasis is placed on the role of the latest technology, and too little on social and organizational factors; it is worth getting a perspective on successes with the technology of the ’70s. To modern-day movements, it offers perspective that they didn’t arise in a vacuum.

Futures Forum: Neighborhood Power: The New Localism
Center for a Stateless Society » Neighborhood Power: The New Localism by David Morris and Karl HessNeighborhood Power: The New Localism: David Morris, Karl Hess: 9780807008751: Amazon.com: Books“Why Neighborhoods Must Secede” by Karl Hess | Left-Liberty.net

And other celebrities at the same time were looking towards local democracy:

Mailer-Breslin-Handbill-Back.jpg (2486×3217)

Norman Mailer’s 1968 mayoral campaign program of decentralization to neighborhood-level control of political power and social services. 
For instance, schools would not be expanded cradle-to-adulthood, but broken up into Paul Goodman’s autonomous “mini-schools” www.univie.ac.at/igl.geschichte/kaller-dietrich/WS 07-08/Deschooling_Lister/chapter 6-10.pdf 
The final line of the inegalitarian Tale of Two Cities invoked by de Blasio just might be a quote of a Mailer campaign button: “POWER TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD.”

Center for a Stateless Society » Two Tales Of Two Cities

The idea of 'bottom-up' governance is not a preserve of 'left' or 'right', however:

Decentralist ideas go far back in history to times even when government was not nearly so centralized. Thomas Jefferson suggested that counties be divided into wards of sufficiently small size that every citizen could attend to public business and “act in person.” De Tocqueville stated that local civic activity in America was the heart of American democracy, since people more closely identified their own interest with local affairs.
However, these proposals and analysis concern only the decentralization of governmental functions without also providing the neighborhood with the political power of also electing the higher-level governance... Cellular democracy provides a more radical change of the parameters of consent from contemporary mass democracy than the mere decentralization of administration.


Even the World Bank has taken up the theme:

Accountability, Transparency and Corruption in Decentralized Governance
The democratic local governance initiatives currently under way in many countries hold much promise for developing effective systems of public accountability that will ensure that government servants are responsible to elected officials, and that the latter are in turn responsible to the public that elected them in the first place. In the process these systems of accountability should increase the pressure for more transparent local governance, in which corruption will be easier to bring to light and thus to curtail.

Accountability and Transparency

See also:
Futures Forum: Probity, accountability and transparency
Futures Forum: Transparency and process in East Devon... a summary
Futures Forum: Lobbying: big business and big government in East Devon
Futures Forum: Fears of losses in accountability at local government level...
Futures Forum: Building resilience in local communities and economies: the Transition Town movement today
Futures Forum: "An appetite for stronger local democratic institutions"
Futures Forum: W(h)ither "localism"?
Futures Forum: Localism and the future of the 'Big Society'

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