December 04, 2010

Killing WikiLeaks, and Making Collaborators of Us All

First, Amazon forbade WikiLeaks the use of its servers. Now, PayPal "has permanently restricted the account used by WikiLeaks." WikiLeaks won't be able to receive any donations via PayPal in future.

Coincidentally, I had recently been attempting to learn some of the details regarding precisely how Amazon attained its behemoth status online. Conservatives and "libertarians" devoted to the "free market" (and probably many contemporary liberals as well) doubtless believe Amazon's success is due solely to creative and marketing genius. Of course, that's a lie.

The very existence of the State means that certain groups and individuals will receive favored treatment, while those who are disfavored will be marginalized to varying degrees, or even prohibited from entering the market altogether:
From the first historic forms of the State, the State has always formed and will always form alliances with certain individuals and segments of society -- to which the government bureaucrats will provide favors and special dispensations, and to the severe disadvantage of those individuals and groups that are not so favored.
In fact, and to go to a still deeper level of analysis, the formation of the State itself means that certain interests have established their dominance over others:
Thus, it is not enough to say, as I myself did, that "the State has always formed and will always form alliances with certain individuals and segments of society," although that is also true. The more accurate statement, and a formulation that delves more deeply, is that the State would never have taken form at all, and it would not have been able to impose its rule, but for the existence of a class or group of individuals that crafted the State to their particular ends. Here, I am not concerned with evaluating whether those ends are good or bad (except for the fact that one may believe that domination and exploitation are always bad, as I do), but rather with identifying the basis on which the State is founded.
These ideas are developed further in "The State and Full Spectrum Dominance."

If you study the history of any industry in the United States -- from the railroads, to telephone companies, to steel and automobile companies -- you will find that the most successful companies are those which have received the most favorable treatment from the State. Sometimes it is "legal," in the form of regulations largely crafted by the regulated industries themselves (which is exactly what happened during the Progressive Era of the early twentieth century: "It was not a coincidence that the results of progressivism were precisely what many major business interests desired," Gabriel Kolko), subsidies and the like, or illegal, via bribes and other forms of payoffs.

So while I haven't yet gotten very far in my research on Amazon in particular, I know that favored treatment by the State must necessarily be involved. After several decades of reading about and studying this subject, I have yet to come across a single exception to this general rule. More significantly, given the nature of the State and its manner of operation, it simply isn't possible for any enterprise to become and remain notably successful (especially when it is as dominant as Amazon, for example) without becoming enmeshed in the State apparatus. It's possible that a company may escape more complex involvement with the State in its early years, but if a company maintains its dominance over a significant period of time, it necessarily must be the recipient of State favoritism. In the better case, such a company may be largely the passive recipient of such favoritism (in contrast to those who eagerly seek special treatment from a succession of government agencies and flunkies and will happily pay for it in any manner demanded), but such favoritism will always be present.

This is even more true given the incomprehensible, endless and endlessly complex regulations which control every area of our lives. (Consult an essay from over five years ago, "The Waiting Game," for a discussion of the extent of State control over our lives. Some formulations in that article trouble me now, and there are a few I would even reject, but I fully stand by the principal argument.) To be successful in the United States, you must necessarily collaborate with the State in innumerable and byzantine ways.

What I'm certain is true for Amazon is also true for PayPal, which is unquestionably the dominant service provider in its field. If the market were genuinely free, and if the State did not provide numerous advantages to PayPal (whether those advantages are sought after or not), it would not be able to maintain its sole dominance over the length of time it has.

Therefore, when WikiLeaks states, as it has about the decisions of both Amazon and PayPal, that those companies are acceding to the demands and pressures of the U.S. government, WikiLeaks' statement must necessarily be true. The success and dominance of these companies in the corporatist State mean it cannot be otherwise. And the State need not say much at all. Those who created and lead Amazon and PayPal are obviously not stupid, and they understand very well how the system works. Again, they could not be as successful as they are if they did not know how it works. If they want to survive in their current form, and if they wish to continue on their current level of success (and perhaps become even more dominant), they will do as the State demands. They will obey.

As I wrote in "We'd like his cooperation...," I have no doubt at all about what the U.S. government would like to do to Julian Assange, and very probably others involved with WikiLeaks as well. But people can be killed in a variety of ways, as humans have repeatedly demonstrated with nauseating imaginative capacity throughout history. Cutting off WikiLeaks' means of survival, be they internet access, funding or otherwise, is another way of seeking the death of those whom they wish to destroy. Make no mistake about the ultimate aim: the U.S. government -- and a number of other governments too, I'm sure -- want to kill WikiLeaks. If they can force enough people to obey their orders to cut off WikiLeaks' lifelines, they may well succeed in time.

One additional aspect of the operation of the corporatist-authoritarian State is especially critical, so I set it apart by itself for emphasis:
The corporatist-authoritarian State is designed to force all of us to become its collaborators. If you wish to survive in such a State, you either collaborate or your life becomes increasingly difficult. In the most extreme case, your non-cooperation means you will die.
In response to the Amazon denial of service to WikiLeaks, some people have decided to boycott that company. Amazon provides many advantages to the consumer (the huge variety of products, speed and reliability of service, etc.), but a person can find other outlets for the products he wants. It may be more difficult, but it's not impossible. Note how the impact of the associated cost has shifted: the loss to Amazon is undoubtedly very small (I can't imagine that such a boycott will come to represent a serious loss of revenue to the company), but the cost to the individual consumer may be considerable. In some cases, perhaps with regard to certain products needed on a mandatory schedule, the cost of using a non-Amazon service may be prohibitive.

I think all of this is almost certainly more true of PayPal. I've heard of other donation/payment services, but I've also read a number of complaints about them. Most of those complaints concern the availability of funds; since that availability is largely the point of such a service for the person or organization which asks for donations or sells goods, this may mean that PayPal is necessary for survival itself.

Allow me some personal notes. I've linked Amazon a number of times in the past, using the Amazon Associate Program links (which means I get a very small percentage of the purchase price for each item shipped). I won't do that in the future, and I won't link to Amazon at all. That's a negligible sacrifice for me; given my very small readership, the amounts I received through the Associate program were very small (in most months, the amounts have been so small that they don't even meet the minimum required for payment to me). I won't swear never to purchase anything from Amazon myself ever again; I can imagine a situation where I can't find what I need anywhere else. I would expect that to be very rare, but it might happen.

In my case, it's complicated because of my particular circumstances. My very bad health means that I'm almost entirely housebound. That, in turn, means that almost everything I get has to be delivered -- not just the occasional book or DVD, but groceries too. Once or twice a week (and sometimes less often these days), I'll walk to the grocery store a block away; it's mainly for the exercise, since I can't carry much now. But to do so is exhausting for me, and it now takes me about five times longer than it did just a few years ago. So ordering online is a necessity for me; unless kind friends and neighbors are willing to run errands (and asking for such favors constantly creates a different set of problems), I can't survive without it.

My health also means I'm unable to do anything other than the writing I try to do here, and even that has become increasingly sporadic over the last few years. As regular readers know, sometimes I'm in such bad shape that I can't write for months at a time. Other than the donations I receive through PayPal, I have no income at all. That's all I live on, and I barely manage to do that. I am profoundly grateful for the generosity of a number of readers; unfortunately, I must again note that my readership is painfully small. Hence, the amount I receive through donations is not all that much: enough for rent, food and basic bills, and some books, CDs and such -- but never anywhere close to enough for the kind of medical care I so badly need, and which I'll never be able to afford. I've known for a while that one of the results is that I'll die five or ten years before I would otherwise. If you think knowledge of that kind doesn't tend to drive you insane much of the time, you're very badly mistaken. In order to survive, I forbid myself to think about it. I don't always succeed.

I don't know of a reliable service for donations other than PayPal. If I refuse to use PayPal, I'll be without food and shelter in fairly short order. And that, as they say, will be that. Even though it's entirely possible I might die at any time now (a worsening heart condition that's not treated tends to lead in that direction), I also might survive another few years. There's more writing I'd like to do, if I can. So as desperately as I'd prefer not to use PayPal, I'll continue to use it for the moment. And sadly enough, I had been planning to ask for a few donations again in another week or two. Now that I've paid the December rent and basic bills, funds are beginning to run low again.

Given PayPal's action, a few points about that. If you have any suggestions about another service, please let me know. Also, if you continue to use PayPal, I think it lowers (or perhaps even eliminates) the fee that PayPal receives if you send the donation to me directly instead of using the donation button. You need to have a PayPal account to do that. If you have one, go into your account, and then simply send the donation directly to my email address for the PayPal account: arthur4801 at earthlink dot net. Some kind readers already do that, and I've been meaning to mention this issue for a while. Also, if you want to send a donation by old-fashioned mail, please write me for my address. Since I don't read email regularly any longer (too many nasty missives from extraordinarily nasty people), please put "Mailing address" in the subject line. I hadn't liked to do that in the past for several reasons, and sending donations by mail in my case isn't as simple as you might think. But I'll explain that to those who inquire.

The complications that I only allude to in my case result from the fact that in some crucial ways, I do not cooperate with the corporatist-authoritarian system that has now targeted WikiLeaks. If you've read a fair number of my articles, and if you read one like this in particular -- and then ask yourself what it would mean not to support a system like ours, which seeks to make us collaborators in our own destruction -- certain of my actions should become clear to you. It's not that hard to figure out. Please keep it to yourself, when you do. (As I was writing this, I remembered that I discussed in some detail how the victims are forced to participate in their own destruction several months ago: "Memo to the Victims: You Yourselves Will Pay for the Crimes of the Ruling Class.")

I've described some of my own thinking about the issues raised by the Amazon and PayPal decisions in part because I'm certain that many others are also grappling with these issues. And I see one benefit from the actions of Amazon and PayPal, as deeply horrifying as it is. It throws into stark relief the depth of the evil embodied in a system such as the one that now rules us. That system seeks to force all of us to collaborate not only in our own destruction, but in the destruction of all those we value. In such circumstances, we must withdraw our support in every we can. But if we wish to continue living, and if we are unable to relocate to another country, we cannot withdraw our support entirely. It may be that to breathe is to collaborate -- but degrees of collaboration, and therefore of guilt and responsibility, remain. To identify the different degrees of collaboration and their significance becomes a singularly crucial task.

I have no solution to this unspeakably terrible dilemma, but can only shed light on it to the extent I'm able. I am convinced that the first step in this journey is one I return to again and again: we must see evil for what it is, we must identify evil as evil.

The corporatist-authoritarian system that rules our lives desires nothing more than to see all those who would protest its true nature commit murder and suicide in slow motion. If such a system is not evil, then nothing ever was or ever will be.