Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Second Response to Currie

This is the author's response to two commentators. I address each allegation in a separate paragraph, usually beginning with a quotation and proceeding with my rebuttal.

”The first commentator, Mr. Henry, theorized that I was recognizing that poverty exists, but I just didn't care. This misrepresents my position - I care as much as socialists about the welfare of all. I simply feel there is an alternative approach that is both morally and practically superior.”

Fair enough. But in fact the decisions made by people espousing rhetoric and policies like yours have concretely increased inequity (and decreased growth rates), indicating something else is at work here.

In any respect, "practically" superior is a bit of a stretch, as inequity is apparently increasing. Even if capitalism produced more but was more inequal (something that's false), that would make it unsustainable both from a justice and an economic standpoint.

”The first commentator claims "the corporate world relies on the existance of poverty". But how do you define "poverty"? Every individual with even minimal means today has better technology, entertainment, communcations, urban sanitation, life expectance, than at any point in the past.”
1) This is a Eurocentric view. 1 billion people in the planet live on a dollar a day. Global inequity has increased both relatively and absolutely.
2) Wrong, wrong, wrong. People, even people with college degrees, are now making less in real terms. This is why there has been an explosion in the amount of families forced to have two wage earners instead of one. And there is epidemic levels of starvation, mostly in the US but notably enough in Canada too.
3) But is this the result of corporations? The era of the most government intervention, before the 70s, had higher growth rates. So your advocacy decreases growth, not increases it. Further, most of the research to do this was done inside state institutions such as universities. The simple fact is that you’re pulling exactly what a commissar would do in Russia: point to economic growth as an excuse for a system with power and material inequity. It’s not going to work on anyone with a grasp of history.

“Corporations enable the invention, manufacture, and distribution of all the goods and services we take for granted today.”
That’s not even remotely true. The vast majority of the good R&D is done outside of corporations – even the New York Times recognizes that. Further, most of the innovation that occurs inside corporations is “me too” products that masquerade as competition or additions (say, in Microsoft Word) to a product that are burgeoning and useless and make the product more unwieldy.

“So, no, sir, you are wrong - corporations have helped to create a world where people can define poverty as having only one TV, and not two.”
But any economy that isn’t insane have growth rates. An economy without corporations would be, ceterus paribus, better than one without. Why?
1) Corporations are central planning institutions. You know why central planning institutions are inefficient more than I do, but I’ll just mention bureaucracy, nepotism, and ineptitude. ;)
2) Corporations repress the bottom workers, letting even skilled or talented workers work as janitors, thus wasting human potential.
3) Advertising, military production, etc. are all waste forms of production.
“Next came the second commentator, Mr. Wark. He suggests that people born into poor familes were unable to get the skills they need to lift them out of "poverty". How do we address this problem? By assigning huge salaries to unskilled jobs?”
Yes. Why not? As I said earlier, why is it wise to key pay to skills? Is it harder to be a coal worker or be in college?
But a consistent person could argue for money (yes, even subsidies, perhaps) going into corporations and institutions that train people, and for raising the price of jobs as they exist now.
“Or by helping those disadvantaged people get that education? The first violates corporation's freedom to set wages, and actually hurts small business with high barriers-to-entry.”

I have no problem with helping small business, reducing inequity and making proportional regulatory systems like our taxes…. In fact, that’s my position.

Corporations, in my view, don’t have the right to exist. They sure don’t have the right to set wages. Especially since, as a matter of practical fact, if the government does not intervene for the poor it will be guaranteed to intervene for the rich.

“Thus, I favour the second approach: To help the poor with their education, I suggest people should donate to charities that offer scholarships and bursaries to students.”

And when those corporations’ policies contribute to their disability and lack of training? What about the companies who injure their workers then hire company doctors to tell their laborers they’re not sick?

“I also suggest that an OSAP loan, though initially expensive, can pay big dividends for those who want to get a job requiring an education. “

And the rich don’t have to pay those loans. Fantastic. Sounds like a great way to increase inequity in society.

"'If [Safeway was] truly interested in operating as efficiently as possible they would cut [executives'] salaries.'" A reform of corporate governance to make executives more accountable to shareholders may indeed by a good way to curb the worst excesses of executive bonuses. But if a company does have an accountable system in place, high executive salaries are justified - after all, CEOs don't sit around and smoke cigars all day; they put their years of education to work and, in general, work very hard every day.”

As hard as a janitor or programmer? Come on, sir. And why do we reward education? Isn’t education innately rewarding anyways, far more so than, say, having worked in crappy jobs in the meantime?

Further, the studies show that most companies simply don’t have such accountability. And these CEOs often do eat lunch and smoke cigars instead of working.

“Only a few people in the world are smart enough and have the right skills to be a truly great executive. That's why shareholders gladly approve of high executive salaries - to recruit top talent.”

And only a few people are really wiz-bang scientists or car mechanics or artists or writers. Compare their wages for a second and see how silly this argument is. In any respect, A) many executives are mediocre and get paid the same anyways, and B) there’s no reason to reward innate intelligence. Why do I get more and be smart? What control did I have over my intelligence? Even Milton Friedman recognizes this.

”The objection, however, was deeper than simple executive greed: "my opposition.. [is] to the corporations themselves... it's impossible for a capitalist institution to operate for the benefit of society." Every day, people use corporations to get all sorts of good things - hamburgers from McDonald's, clothes from Wal-Mart, food from Safeway (well, not anymore in Thunder Bay). Clearly we think it is to our benefit if we patronize these establishments! Corporations also employ millions of people - this is quite beneficial!”

That’s because they’re the only places that provide those things. In Russia, the only way people got vacuum cleaners was to buy from the state shops; does that mean that the state run shops were legitimate? Again, you’re conflating what any good economy should do with the particular institutions that run it. It’d be better, more efficient, more just and more liberatory if the corporations were replaced.

By your logic, clearly people love the Canadian and the US government because they pay their

"I do find it curious that the author seems to support corporate greed but condemn the apparent greed of unions." Unions should act in the interests of workers' desire for higher wages ("greed", as you call it) - that's their purpose. But when they are aided by government legislation that violently precludes workers from forming alternative associations (associations that might have saved our Safeway), unions become the bully.”

But governments and corporations also violently stop labor organizations: with programs like COINTELPRO, the Pinkertons, Nicaraguan contras, and the current attack on labor that is against things like the Zanon collective in Argentina (remember: the Zanon collective and other organizations are based on factories that have been left behind by bankrupt corporations that are now forcing the workers to turn back over the factories that they reclaimed. When I take an abandoned car and work on it, it eventually becomes mine. But when it's a capitalist company, I don't have that right.)

In any respect, the people who work there have a right to help control it. And that may mean, as part of the class war that the corporations are waging, fighting other people.

"'presumably it's perfectly ok for the state to subsidize and even bail out corporations'. At last, sir, we can agree on a point! Any form of government subsidy to prop up unproductive sections of our economy is needless, expensive, immoral, and benefits no one in the long-term. Government should end this practice. “

But you don’t recognize the key point: Capitalism is so inefficient that it needs these subsidies. So let’s kill it completely. I oppose both the nation-state and capitalism. Not inconsistent.

"The inference that people shouldn't have a family unless they are highly skilled and rich is very disturbing". I find it equally disturbing that children are brought into this world by people unprepared to deal with the burden. My simple appeal is that if one wants to have a family, it is sensible to first seek a good job to be able to provide for that family. Most good jobs require skills - those that don't (like the fat Safeway jobs) are only there because union monopolies unfairly created them. “

That is true, and yet it is not your decision to make. In any respect, those children are not responsible for the actions of their parents; why don’t they deserve some form of aid, like AFDC?

"In the 'real world' (i.e. capitalist world) it is supply of labour not skill that determines ones compensation", says the commentator. Of course, it is both factors that influence an individual's pay, not one or the other - and any one individual should see that an education will help to lift him out of poverty.”

It will help, but it will not always do it, as shown by numerous examples you concede. Meanwhile, the trust fund kiddies who don’t need to work at all to live get a free ride. Mm.

What really determines remuneration is bargaining power. The inefficiency of unions is built in, as is the corresponding reactionary backlash.

“The commentator rejects this because, he claims, it won't work for everyone, and low wages will still abound. But - in this hypothetical world, where we all have PhDs and no one wants to be a garbage man, will the garbage man's salary be low, or high? Why, high, of course, because there otherwise there would be a shortage of garbage men.”

You’re presupposing what’s being rewarded. What will be rewarded is the effort exerted at the job. Of course, instead of having everyone be Ph. Ds except for a few victims, why not share the tasks of society in what Michael Albert has called “balanced job complexes?”

“The commentator suggests that "If everyone... acquired skills, then the supply of skilled workers would increase and wages for high skilled jobs would fall or at best remain stagnant". This allegation is materially false - it commits the so-called "lump of labour" fallacy. An economy doesn't simply have a certain amount of work to "parcel out"; educated people start businesses, need lawyers, and form a synergy and dynamism that soon creates new forms of employment. On a short-term microeconomic level you are correct - a law firm inundated with applications from law-school grads, for example, will undoubtedly stop handing out big starting salaries - but for the economy as a whole, more educated people in the labour market means more prosperity for everyone.”

And since corporations help stop against this, with political pressure and by designing the tasks of society so many are permanently unemployed or underemployed and others are doing onerous and self-destructive tasks?

”1) Government has but one role: to protect individuals and corporations against violations of life, liberty and property. No other service from them is beneficial.”

Including protecting people from managers who take away their liberty, companies that pollute other people’s property, etc. In other words, eliminating capitalism, since these externalities and dominations are built in.

“2) Corporations in a free market compete to provide goods and services that consumers want, as cheaply and efficiently as possible.”

And there has never been a free market, but that’s false because corporations actually compete for profits, collude to reduce competition since it helps them.

Meanwhile, in a parecon (see, no company has an incentive to make profit by making crappy products, no person benefits from increased sales, and the workers (in their worker’s councils) directly get told what consumers want from consumers councils. All producers have the incentive to make the best product, sell it for the cheapest cost possible (while taking into account the full costs and benefits), not sell it to people who don’t want it (though there will be informational advertising), and not externalize their costs onto others.

“3) Individuals benefit in the long term, with a raised standard of living, and in the short term, with cheap and plentiful goods and services.”
And could benefit more with a sensible economic system. Further, some people are actually ”4) Unemployed people should be helped by charities - food banks, people who care. The alternative - government cheques - promotes dependency, and are inefficient and immoral, because they confiscate wealth from those that earned it.”

Actually, in practice these welfare programs have done the opposite: promoted independence, by letting people not be worried about being fired from their jobs if they demand higher pay.
Society has a debt to pay to every human member.

Of course, a parecon could decide to have no welfare for those who don’t work. But inequity will decrease.

”5) People should indeed be permitted to freely associate into unions, as long as employees are left with the _freedom_ to leave if they don't want their representation. Unions can indeed be a useful weapon against oppression - but unions can be as guilty of predation as any corporation, if government shelters them from competition.”

Competition that is sheltered by the amassed power of corporations and governments.

Beginnings and Endings; Free Will; Objectivity; Science

Please forgive me if these three topics seem hopelessly unrelated, at least the first from the second two. They formed part of my meditations on similar topics.

I realized recently (and I forgive those readers who do not have access to my fiction works-in-progress) that I tend to write and Game Master with a clear beginning and clear end in mind. Other writers and GMs (since a GM is a writer working with drastically different constraints), I imagine and have seen, have a less clear idea of what the ending will likely be and let the middle ground shape what their conception of the ending is. In that respect, they're as surprised as anyone else when things turn out very strangely.

Now, mind you, my endings are never really complete endings (they typically have somethng after them: Changing of the Guard comes after Final Battle, in turn coming after the Councils). More importantly, if my players were to do something drastic or my characters simply feasibly could not accomplish what I wanted them to (yes, a writer's characters cannot do anything she asks of them: they are independent entities, and I am as surprised as anyone else when I discover something about them), the ending would change.

I think that my general concept, though, is excusable. For one, it gives a narrative structure. The real point are the things that happen inbetween, for it is not a foregone conclusion that good will triumph, it will only triumph because of some advantage that I discover as the characters develop. Secondly, the greatest stories of all, human stories, are almost 100% (I cannot say 100%, for reasons that will become clear later) this way: the beginning and end, birth and death respectively, are very well predicted and known. This does not contribute one iota to discovering what happens inbetween.

After all, I'd imagine it was a foregone conclusion in Tolkien's mind that good would triumph, even if it may have surprised him that Gollum would deliver (inadvertantly as it may be) the final death blow to evil.

Now, one of these days I will have to write a story where I do not have an ending in mind and the path is chosen by the way the characters develop. But right now my skill is most honed at discovering the inbetween.

This got me thinking about the nature of free will. I truly do believe that humans have it. However, as I discovered, this is in essence an empirical question. (I'll comment on this a bit later). So I will have to prove it not by broad philosophical references, as many try to do, or disprove it either by the same mechanisms, for neither will suffice. Empirical evidence only will do.

At least intuitively, it seems to me that most people share (in practice, when not deluded by philosophers) a notion of free will. They believe when they get up that they can choose whether or not to put on shoes (perhaps they will pick sandals or flip-flops indead). They believe that they can choose whether or not to speed. Perhaps they have disagreements about what they can or can't do, but at least there is an idea that there is a voice in the head that is selecting things consciously and making decisions.

A rebuttal could be that people's decisions are conditioned by all sorts of things outside of their control: societal and cultural mores of morality and fashion and behavior, the weather outside, war and famine, the limits of their very intelligence and body, etc. But this will not do.

For one, all of these are limits to free will. None of them establish without much further argumentation that no free will whatsoever exists. One does not have to believe in an omnipotent humanity to believe that in general people make decisions, even if those decisions are as basic as putting on pants or shorts. As Chomsky argued in his academic smackdown of B.F. Skinner, there is a fundamental difference between someone forced under torture to do particular things and a rock falling to the ground when dropped, and no degree of philosophical sophistry, semantics and solipsism will change that.

Then there are the questions of how much these actually stop people. Many people avoid fires, but some people (firefighters) seek them out and risk their lives to jump into the infernos and recover living beings and property. Others may dance on coals or burn themselves for self-flagellation or martial arts training. Cultural limits, while serious, are clearly not complete, as within cultures there is a tremendous amount of variation. As we saw with the civil rights movement (and, in fact, all successful political movements), it is possible to change attitudes simply by commitment.

Studies done at my alma mater, UC Davis, demonstrated that people can learn compassion even at an older age: To quote:

"'The adult brain is more changeable than we thought,' Shaver says. Standard wisdom once said that the only significant change in adults' brains was death of nerve cells. But new evidence shows that nerve growth can reshape the brain throughout life. Shaver views this finding with optimism.

'It may be that you can change your brain to become better, happier and more beneficial to other people,' he says."

In response, the behavioral studies done by Pavlov and Skinner on humans almost universally failed, which is why they have passed into disrepute and Skinner seems to be cited more often as a philosopher than a scientist. I cannot find Chomsky's rebuttal to Skinner that was featured in The Chomsky Reader, but there is the review he wrote: . When, for example, they gave candy to children to encourage better test results, they found that test scores went back to normal or lower when the candy was removed, while the test group saw slow improvement because they had learned study tactics. People are not pigeons, and even the ability to train animals is rather limited. Choose dogs and pigeons, creatures used to humans, and you can get good results. Try training a hummingbird or ants and you may get a different result.

How could there be a scientific basis for free will? Isn't science deterministic?

Wrong. And this is a common mistake anti-science folks from all over the Left and Right make. Science is not about determining everything in the world. It is about determining what is possible and fearlessly facing what actually exists. Science has some problems, and I will discuss them, but this is not overwhelmingly one of them.

Modern chaos theory, in fact, has formed a basis for some to speak about linguistics (language typically being associated with the free will literature, for some reason). After all, what does chaos theory say?

1) Anthropogenic numbering and limitations, such as rounding at decimal points, can turn small influences over a number of manipulations into rather large ones.

2) Even with completely perfect numbers and sources as well as total omniscience, there are some things that are beyond certainty.

There is a chance, however infinitesimal, for localized reversal of entropy if the aggregate results of quantum flux were to generate it. The whole universe nowadays seems to perhaps not be one reality but a few closely intertwined ones, with numerous possibilities for random events.

Everyone knows about the gremlins that strike complex systems: the bugs that pop up seemingly at random when working with computers, for example.

All of these things establish that it is possible to have something outside of the purview of science to determine. Science's role then would be to find what it could about the limits and abilities of the human will.

These ruminations have caused me recently, since I have more fully read and dealt with Hume, to understand that so many things that are treated as philosophical questions are merely empirical ones. Does God exist? An unanswerable empirical question outside of the reach of our epistemology, but an empirical question nonetheless. What about the soul? What governmental systems will work? All require empirical answers.

And, of course, all empirical questions are subject to a lack of absolute certainty.

First of all, even in very ironclad structures of logic and math, no finite number of cases establish a general principle. Three right triangles that have sides such that A^2 + B^2 = C^2, where C is the hypotenuse, does not establish the Pythagorean Theorem. Only a general proof or an infinite number of cases will establish it. In science, there are no general proofs, because there are no axioms to work from.

Second, in the real world, even an infinite number of repetition of "A follows B" does not establish that "A causes B". We may see every time that when we walk to an automatic door it opens, but this does not establish that our psychic power opened the door - it could have been a mechanical result of the door itself. There may be a 100% correlation between the number of bums and doctors in a city... and yet the real causal influence could be the size of the city.

Hume concluded that we can only INDUCE (not DEDUCE) scientific truths and thus that no statement of empirical fact or causality could be philosophically ironclad. However, it could be highly probable and very instructive, informing better moral activity. In this way, Hume argued that we try to find a degree of certainty to satisfy our moral, intellectual and emotional "passions".

The Matrix example, of course, illustrates the real point: How do you know what you're feeling is real? Could not some powerful force be deluding you? Descartes introduced this concept, but he hastily put away his omnipotent demon. I think there is no reason to believe that God isn't fucking with us, whatever She is.

Science then becomes the search for the best available theory to explain the most recorded phenomena. It sounds like a wholly reasonable activity to me.

I can, of course, recognize science's limitations. Science can trivialize wondrous things; it can be imperially applied to cases where the evidence does not support it as a way to bludgeon opponents; it can be used to generate the machinery for violence; it can attempt to make value questions factual ones and thus disrespect faith and ethics; and so on.

A microcosm of science (and I can comment more extensively, of course, but fundamentally I feel that it has its place): Yesterday, my Mom was talking to me about Jack Parsons, who was a somewhat quirky individual and found out that he needed asphalt one day for his explosives by watching a crew making it. I in turn pointed out Michael Albert's argument that a science devoid of a sense of wonder, feeling, hunches, intuition, and a healthy dose of mysticism would be in the Dark Ages and the one we have that in fact has all those things (remember: Pythagoras was not just a geometer but a cult leader, and the Muslims of the post-Roman period combined their distrust for idols and graven images with beautiful geometric pictures) would be messing around with genetics. Then my Mom smelled the sea and began talking about ancestral memories, and my Dad (a science/math type guy) said (as they were mixing a fertilizer for the garden), "Oh, that's the algae."

Maybe The Terrorists Want Us To Think That They Want Us To...

I love the little game we play every time Bush gets up and makes one of his pseudo-Wilsonian announcements. Imagine, if you will, children's book drawings accompanying these sentences. "If we pull out, the terrorists will know they can just wait us out!" "But if we don't pull out, they'll get more recruitment!" "Maybe they want you to think that!" "Maybe they want you to think that!"

Bush offered the first: That we should not make a timetable of withdrawal because "the enemy" in Iraq would learn they could just wait us out.

That's funny, because the terrorologists and the terrorists fairly explicitly say that :"the enemy" (whoever that is) wants continued US action. As Ritter pointed out, as long as US troops are there, elements like Ba'athists and extreme Islamists become emboldened and can consolidate an increasingly authoritarian and violent resistance. Further, since the Iraqi people and the Muslim world in general want US pullout, the longer the US remains, the more popular the resistance becomes. (But maybe they're just bluffing us! Never mind that this assessment is based not on what terrorists think but the more general outlook of the Muslim world, captured confidential documents, and people with decades of experience).

Of course, we then have to ask, "Who's the enemy?", because it implies that the Iraq war was part of the selective, misnamed and ineffective "war on terror". But that's ridiculous, especially given that the resistance in Iraq is (despite the way the dominant media spins it) actually largely composed of ordinary people. Yes, there are foreigners from Sunni states like Syria and Saudi Arabia, as well as Islamists from all over the place; yes, there are leftover Ba'athists; no, these do not represent the majority of the resistance. Even the mainstream terrorologists who break into NPR and the other serious news networks discuss how the resistance is heterogenuous and has numerous aspects. So I guess "the enemy" who would learn we could be waited out would be.... the Iraqi people? Funny how that works.

This all leads to the most obvious conclusion: Namely, that even if everyone in Iraq was a terrorist and attacking them would decrease terror, it is not the right of the US to unilaterally invade a country, instill its preferred political and economic forms (highly selectively, of course: our globalization still keeps the subsidies and general state protection that capitalism, no matter what they tell you in acadamia, relies upon; and aspects of our system like good checks and balances and federation managed to not make it in), and kill the people inside of it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Thank God for Black Radio

Driving home from work, I noticed something odd. For the last few days, at 1:00 at my local Sacramento public radio station KXJZ, I was listening to a program that didn't sound like a bunch of cackling hyenas or screeching bluejays doped up on coke. It was sensible, rational, interviewed Ralph Nader, talked about the NAACP without mentioning extortion... I didn't want to throw a coffee mug at the radio.

Then it hit me: This was a program with a black anchor and black voices.

It wasn't just tepid white liberalism, either. Here was real social commentary. I was having to constrain the urge to openly applaud.

Today talked about Ralph Nader using the "N word" to express how he felt in this country. Now, I agree with the pundits that for a privileged white male to claim that his experience is anything like the black folks who were and are called that is, umm, sort of racist. I also thought that Nader's statement that he never "made mistakes" like that when he was speaking was laughable and totally indicated how self-absorbed he is. If people are offended by your speech, fuggin apologize. Even if your position doesn't change, you can certainly say, "Look, I wasn't trying to offend anyone for publicity." The best of intentions don't excuse that, ESPECIALLY when speaking to your logical allies.

However, I felt that they were giving the hip hop generation of black youth too hard of a time. Though not a member of the black community, I can see more generally that even very hateful words like the N word can actually be used in very different contexts in very different ways. Equally offensive words (at least historically), like wop or paddy or dago or Jew (the latter in the usage and the application of it to things the speaker things are bad, like "lame" or "gay" or "retarded"), can also be used very differently.

After all, the N word won't disappear if black people don't say it.

The pundits had also talked about the Supreme Court. There seems to be an increasing chance that Rehnquist will retire and Scalia will take the seat.

First of all, let me point out that despite the Supreme Court's disgraceful partisanship in Bush v. Gore, I must respect the conservatives there, even Scalia. After all, in the recent case that established the right of cities to take away private land for private economic development (a woeful decision to privilege the right of economic elites over ordinary citizens), Scalia and Rehnquist voted nay. But a switch of Scalia to the Supreme Court chair, I think, would have more impact than is commonly stated: The Chief Justice does quite a bit more than we imagine.

A Response to Michael Currie's Article on Safeway

Note: The original is here.

"The Pricing Of Unskilled Labour

Let's be honest. Safeway employees' work is unskilled labour, and that's not valuable, since anyone with a few minutes of training can do it. If it was difficult to get cashiers, Safeway would willingly pay more for them. "

1) That's because Safeway designed its entire procedure, in light of Taylorist goals and methodologies, to produce unskilled workers in the first place. For someone to turn around and apologize by saying that this is unskilled labor is the worst form of apologia.
2) So things should be paid by how much skill it requires?
i) Fair enough. Einstein's theories should have earned him billions. Running most management positions in reality could be done with very little experience and should be paid very little. Mothering, something that requires tact and skill, should be paid quite a bit. The fact that Einstein was poor, mothers and fathers get paid nothing for mothering and fathering and CEOs and managers are rich indicates that this cannot be true.
ii) In fact, not fair enough. The only way to insure both equity and economic efficiency is to reward the effort and sacrifice exerted in working, for that is the only thing someone can control.

"At the same time, it would be irresponsible of a company to keep jobs when they aren't necessary. Moreover, what kind of job must one be doing if it can be elimitated efficiently? Not a very interesting one,"

Then why are Safeway laborers striking? Because otherwise they won't get money. It may surprise some bourgeois folk, but not everyone (not even the sons of the privileged, like myself) gets to work at jobs they like or find interesting. Some work at crappy jobs because, through no fault of their own, they have no alternative.

It would be irresponsible of a company if profit is what we want. If we want to help people, something else is required. The question becomes, what does efficiency actually mean?

"Of course, these unskilled labourers want to cling to their cushy jobs at all costs - by pointing the "strike" gun to management's head, they can get paid much more for their jobs than it's actually worth."

How is what it's "actually worth" determined? Answer: By what management pays them. This is the problem of capitalism: Worth accrues to whatever bargaining power one has, not any kind of objective "worth" (of course, it's a basic principle of economics, one this writer ignores with the eloquence of a man eating his own spittle, that "value" is inherently subjective). The union increases bargaining power; thus, its workers get paid more. Whatever you may think about this, it is the only logical outcome of the system.

Want a more objective standard? Fine. Minimum wage in the US is 6.25 an hour or less in many states. It should be anywhere from 12 to 20 dollars if it tracked productivity. It stopped doing so in the 70s not by any miracle of the market but because of conscious choices to undermine Bretton Woods.

"One safeway employee was heard on the radio saying she was paid over $19/ hour. Many people with several years of university education make about the same doing highly skilled work!"

So raise those wages too. Considering that the price of living also goes up, that sounds entirely fair to me.

"This is an example of a union monopoly applying its unfair advantage."

Unfair according to who? What advantage? Companies have all the power in the world. Not too long ago, companies were hiring private mercenaries to kill them: see

And even now, the war of the state against the worker continues:

"Safeway workers: Have some self-respect! If you want to be paid more, get skills and find another job."

Hmm. Sounds like a very human and compassionate outlook. "Do what I tell you because of my preconceived notions." How about they fight for whatever wage they can get?

Of course, I imagine many of them would love to have skills and a better job... so why aren't you haranguing the employers who won't hire them or the schools who keep them out?

And further, why are some skill sets rewarded and others punished? I offered some examples above. Answer: Power, power, power.

The fact is that, no matter what you think, this is wholly predictable behavior given the market. If you want to change capitalism and the market, be my guest (and my ally).

"Management does indeed have "a responsibility to the community" - and it can only discharge that responsibility when it is prosperous, efficient and profitable."

That's laughable even according to the most basic economic theory.

One way to increase profits is to externalize costs onto others. But that doesn't help the community, it hurts it.

Or they could lower wages and benefits. But that also doesn't help the community.

Or they could raise the price of a product or reduce the cost it makes to produce it (usually, its quality). But that also doesn't help the community.

In short, capitalism rewards producers for doing the opposite of what producers should do in a rational economy. The only, very limited, hedge against this is competition.

"That "Safeway had $200m in profits last year alone" does not justify huge salary increases, or even preclude layoffs."

And why?

"Indeed, workers were not laid off despite having profits, they are laid off in order to have profits. Layoffs are unpleasant for everyone, but not evil - it's firms optimizing their operations, and becoming better at
serving customers as cheaply as possible."

But those customers are also workers somewhere else. Further, these companies often raise their prices or raise salaries for management (in fact, as studies have shown, these salary boosts for management have LITTLE CORRELATION to performance). When wages go down, the whole market is affected, and not in positive ways.

And if those Safeway workers were paid more, they could pay elsewhere.

The fact is that, as Dani Rodrik has shown, less inequity means more growth rates and vice versa. The whole of economic history from the Great Depression to the 70s proves you totally wrong.

In any respect, why is the consumer's right paramount?

"Profits aren't evil, either - and they don't necessarily go "straight into shareholders' pockets". Any company needs to make profits to invest more capital in itself and therefore improve wages and lower prices. "

That's true. But ask yourself: Does Big Pharma do this, for example? Apparently not, since their R&D budget is LESS THAN THEIR PROFITS. All thanks to state intervention on their behalf.

"Indeed, it is true that Safeway "[concerns itself] solely with profits, workers are treated as an expenditure." A company is should not prioritize employees over its customers - a firm's only purpose is to provide its goods or services as efficiently as possible."

Says who? In fact, a firm is designed to make profit, even if that means providing goods or services less efficiently or effectively. In any respect, why don't companies have obligations to those sacrificing time and energy for them?

Even the World Bank agrees unions can be good:
The rest of the article is rebutted above. All wholly ridiculous.

(Note: I may find some specific data on Safeway, but forgive me for thinking it won't be necessary).

Rusty Sawblades? Pfah!

Recently, I came across a post on the World of Warcraft forum for non-WoW issues about how anyone with flagging support for the war on terror should view these public beheadings and how such monsters must pay.

The first fallacy made, of course, is that this is an appeal solely to pathos, and a wholly counterproductive one. Let me explain by way of analogy. Were I to say "Look at these burn victims! Look at how awful what happened to them is!", you would probably agree. Were I to then say we should throw oil on a burning fire to stop further actions, you would probably call me insane.

In other words: The only way the "Rusty Sawblade" argument would make any sense would be if the current strategy actually reduced terrorism. (You will hear this Rusty Sawblade argument in everything from debates on Iraq to justifications for Israeli occupation and apartheid to general statements of our superiority). But, of course, this begs the question because everyone from Chomsky to Kerry is alleging that the Bush administration's strategy increases terrorism. In short, people who make this argument are just not paying attention. It is a laughable and useless distraction, and worse, it is wholly disingenuous because such professed concern for the victims will only lead to more such victims.

In further discussion, this initial poster said that he hardly thought that turning down the AC and smacking around detainees at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib was the same as a decapitation. But again, this begs numerous questions. Are these things justified even if they're not as bad? Do they help or hurt in the war on terror? Do they violate the Geneva Conventions and international law? Is it really that, or is the humiliation and torture in fact as bad or worse (which, of course, it often is)? And, most importantly, isn't this response simply laughable apologetics for horrible crimes using a self-righteous American attitude?

But let's take him at his word. Fair enough. So what about the landmines and bombies that the US leaves behind in most areas, undermining the Ottawa Convention against Landmines? Those things tear off arms and legs, killing and maiming children and innocents years after the conflict has subsided. The US refuses to help clean them up. Is that not a comparable crime? What of the defoliation campaigns against Columbia and Vietnam, using chemicals and biological agents that cause horrific birth defects? And the Depleted Uranium that has irradiated and poisoned Iraq, causing children to be born with internal organs on the outside? Isn't condemning all of those innocents (possibly in the millions given the residual nature of the toxins) to an entire lifetime of debilitation and pain worse than a rusty decapitation? And the napalm we use?

And what of the torture practiced by US clients like Israel and Turkey? As just one example:

To be historical, what about the treatment of Native Americans and blacks? What about the French in Algeria, burning people with blowtorches?

Of course such atrocities are awful. But compare them to the general pattern of torture, violence and terror practiced by the colonial powers and one gets a different story that not all the references to bloody decapitations in the world could cover up.

Some Comments on Iraq

For once, the Bush Administration is right on Iraq. Bush is arguing that Iraq is the focal point of the global war on terror. Putting aside the quibbles that the war is in fact a terrorist war and that a "war on terror" makes about as much sense as a war on hangnails (bite those damn things all you want, they'll just get worse), he is very much correct.

And, as terrorologists recognize, this is entirely his Administration's fault, as well as the Congress (both the Kerry Democrats and the Frist Republicans) that supported his drive to war in violation of the Constitution and international law. (Let me note that, while I have my problems with law in general and international law in particular, one of those problems is not that those laws constrain states from imperial aggression or make the world safer, and in any respect hypocrisy, such as the type evidence by "law and order" conservatives blasting law using the reasoning of any anarchist, should be opposed whenever possible.)

An NPR report today interviewed a number of people who were agreeing that Zarqawi and others are using the Iraq war to rally radical Islamist sentiment and demonstrate that the Western world is imperially and heavy-handedly attacking the House of Islam. In fact, allegedly Zarqawi wrote in a captured letter that his worst nightmare was in fact a withdrawal of US troops.

The questions that were being asked were, "Why is suicide bombing used? What is its intent in Iraq?" The answer to the first is fairly easy: Suicide bombing is overwhelmingly used by desperate people in a national resistance movement responding to the invasion of another country. It only becomes sectarian or religious when there is a difference between the two groups (and, I would say, when one is declaring a "crusade" on the other). The answer to the second is a little more contentious. Some say that the bombings are designed to foment civil war. Others point to the fact that 75% are targetted against the US or the government forces and 25% against civilians (mostly in Baghdad), believing this demonstrates that the attempt is to undermine confidence in the government and establish a "winner's win" trend for the insurgency.

Here's an article on the civil war pressures in Iraq:

Now. Let me point something out. That, while these suicide bombers' acts are human catastrophes, so are the deaths of the suicide bombers themselves. If one cannot expand one's compassion to include that suffering, one should not be surprised when others do not extend the same compassion to one's friends and family. In any respect, these suicide bombing actions, while perhaps being done by extremists (often not), are acts of resistance to illegitimate occupations. One can oppose both the bombings and the occupation without being inconsistent, I believe.

This point was not made by the NPR pundits, but the

And before someone throws the charge that I'm supporting Iraqi fratricide, remember that the Israeli and American resistances, to pick two at random, also were highly fratricidal.

The amazing thing is the audacity that conservatives have in defending their ideological fantasies. They allege frequently that the Left is a cult that simply reaffirms itself. This could or could not be true, of course, and one that I'm afraid of (especially given that the information I get often comes from a very few sources, largely because other outlets don't cover the story). One test would be a prediction. I was predicting that terror would increase, WMDs would not be found, looting of suspect material would occur, and the entire endeavor would be a mask for globalization and colonization. Well, gee. Perhaps the insular and circular cult is the conservatives themselves? Read Horowitz and Chomsky side by side and I think you'll see a qualitative difference: on one hand, polemics; on the other, qualified and nuanced arguments. (Horowitz could be right and Chomsky wrong, but the first litmus test for cultishness, that it is deliberately written to piss off everyone of the "opposite camp" and appeal to preconceived sensibilities with little evidence, is passed pretty well. And I should point out that other conservatives are very much more bipartisan and rational, and many leftists are equally cultish and polemical).

On the colonization and globalization side of the question, here are some articles:

And a resolution for the withdrawal of American troops:

(I have yet to find a good site listing the arguments between someone who believes the war is democratizing and others who do not).

I can also see some apologist for state violence argue that globalization will in the end benefit the people of Iraq. As Chomsky argued when Perle made a similar argument, that is not the decision of anyone outside of Iraq to make. We can have academic discussions about the political and economic path that Iraq should take, but overwhelmingly such discussions should only broach onto the policy choices that Iraqis make if they choose it. After all, even if corporate "globalization" was an appropriate economic choice in general (which I and others have, I think, fairly convincingly shown that it isn't, both according to its own theoretical models and its practical results which have nothing to do with the overblown theory), it may not be in Iraq.

Later on in the show, a RAND Corporation analyst came on and argued that democratization of the Middle East, while a lofty goal, should be foresworn in favor of stability moves. While as a Buddhist I would like less conflict, as an anarchist I would prefer freedom before stability. (This commentator alleged that "we" were trying to stop the genocide in Bosnia... the genocide that we caused and supported. Odd way to stop it.) He also argued that neighboring nations, right now supporting Sunnis or Shiites against each other, must be brought on board for a peace process.

The main reason I am receptive, with the appropriate caveats, to this proposal is that it involves power-sharing between ethnic groups; in short, the very federation that this country's democracy has been founded upon. Strange how selective this export of democracy is, hmm?

I will paraphrase a black man cited in the Progressive, whose one sentence is more eloquent than most of this post: You can't export what you don't got.

Monday, June 27, 2005

A Post of My Side of a Correspondence

Note: I commented on education on a forum. Since my comment was a little polemical, someone asked if I had a personal grudge or investment against high school or the education system writ large. What follows is my response.

Not at all. My high school was fairly easy. I got good grades, was in extracurriculars like debate and activism, was tracked into all the honors classes, and got into a good college. Superficially, I was an exemplary honors student.

But I had dealt with social alienation at school (at a very young age: my high school years were qualitatively different). Other things, like having fun, remaining true to my ethics, helping people, and politics were more important than getting an A in some ridiculous class.
I also could understand that high school had all sorts of ridiculous cliques (again, cliques that almost all accepted me because I was smart enough to warrant sucking up to, funny enough to be interesting, and placid/chill enough to not piss anyone off) and that those made people think high school was of paramount importance.

Further, I never really put much effort into high school, getting Bs instead of As sometimes because of it. My teachers knew and I knew that I could teach the class, and often did. Nothing (besides debate, of course) academically interested me. I've always had a lazy side, and that combined with the ability to be lazy and get away with it is a rather deadly combination, unfortunately.

And my friends and people I knew, even in honors classes, felt alienated by the school system. In my spiritual endeavors, I learned that one must broaden one's compassion and see the true sources of the Other's anxiety in the hope of contributing positively. In my political endeavors, I learned that oftentimes the institutions under which we live oppress and demean the human spirit and some do not have the will to fight back; or, alternately, do and are punished for it, and then develop mechanisms to avoid the hurt. Well, I may be getting bad grades, but if I don't think that makes me dumb and if I don't care about what you think makes a person intelligent or get good grades, then you can't hurt me, so fuck off (Tim Wise covers this as a reason why black kids may especially have such hard times learning good study habits).

I find it interesting: So many times (Tim Wise also talks about this, as does Chomsky), people assume that someone who opposes a system must have a grudge against it, rather than being a beneficiary. In fact, I am a white male college student in America coming from upper middle class parents. In almost every respect, I am the paragon of or the beneficiary of privilege. I reject it not because it harms me (though yes it does in the end harm me, as do all ill-gotten gains), but because I have a moral objection to it.

As an ending comment: I forgot to mention that I could recognize that my privilege and my success was largely due to me being a "good kid". In my case, it wasn't being a good kid because of any conformist pressures: the fact that I helped found an anarchist club and faced threats of violence more than once indicates this. Rather, it was that I didn't feel the need to rebel; I understood that the educators I was working with were in a hard position too, and that the administrators were human as well. This may sound strange coming from an avowed revolutionary, but I think it is consistent with my notion of human behavior. I would always try to bring in my political notions to discussion, but not in a way that was destructive. Institutions are complex, and even concerned revolutionaries should not smash them without a good idea of what to preserve and what to eliminate.

Anyways, I could recognize that kids who were my parallel in intelligence or had worthwhile skills felt very disenfranchised. Since I didn't want to denigrate their valid concerns but wanted to help them, I began to think of ways that schools could be more inclusive. And in my meditations, I recognized that it was due to my ability to control myself, something that others may not have, and simply accept authority when I felt I needed to, that let me "succeed" where others failed. I hope that I didn't compromise my integrity by doing so. These are difficult questions that must be approached delicately.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Democratic Peace: Bullshit

I hate to use such a phrase for a theory whose composite logic I am so sympathetic to, but the theory that "No two democracies go to war" or that "Democracies are less violent" is total bullshit. These theories are known as Democratic Peace Theory, and the two versions are respectively "dyadic" (referring to the fact that the first talks about the behavior of sets of two states) and "monadic" (referring to the second's focus on the behavior of each state as a single unit). As far as I can see, there are about seven main problems as of this writing:

1. The theory is just not true even within its definitional confines. A fantastic article by Matthew White lists 22 good cases plus 6 decent to poor candidates at the bottom: . The unfortunate part is that this is not a complete list. Even more exceptions could include US or US-supported action against Italy, Nicaragua, South Vietnam, Grenada, Indonesia, Venezuela, East Timor, etc. To cite William Blum from America: Rogue State, "From 1945 to the end of the century, the United States attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes. In the process, the US caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair." That's simply America: with a little bit of work, I could undoubtedly pick out a few more from other democracies. Of course, many of the DPT advocates would either argue with the facts or my usage of those facts, but I think that underscores problem #3 rather dramatically.

2. Statistical limitations plague the dyadic theory, especially given the use to which the theory is often put and the limits that the advocates use to limit out dubious democracies. White again goes through the various ways one could clip out democracies but also shows that those reduce the number of cases of democracies out there. Also, international wars are rare enough: though one can imagine long-term border disputes and civil wars, actual substantial commitment to an invasion or otherwise large-scale military operation is fairly rare for obvious reasons, even in non-democracies. (Of course, we're also hitting the problem of #3: why is the state necessarily the best resolutional choice? Isn't it indicative that democratic countries have substantial civil wars, such as the American Civil War?)

As White puts it: "This means that among the 39 international wars during the WW2-Y2K Era, we would only expect to find 8 inter-democratic wars anyway. And we've found 6 instead -- maybe. What does this tell us? It tells me that when you're calculating the odds of a rare type of country (democracy) performing a rare act (fighting an international war), the sample is too small to draw any valid conclusion. The difference between 6 and 8 falls easily within any reasonable margin of error." This becomes worse, as he points out, when we use limits like the first peaceful orderly transfer of power, women's suffrage, fair elections, etc. As each exception happens, the number of democracies decreases, but that decreases the sample size, which means we operate from more statistically nebulous territory, which in turn means that whatever causal influence we're looking for is going to be buried more and more under chance and coincidence.

Putting aside the double-standard problem (that's for #3), we hit the worst major barrier. The democratic peace theory is used not just as a descriptive theory saying "Hey, this is what happens" but as a prescriptive justification for the crimes of imperial states. If invading Iraq will increase democracy, it will also increase peace! Yay! Intellectuals have to remember that they do not operate in a vacuum: even a seemingly wholly innocuous contribution, even a good one (say, a new theory of international relations) could be morally dubious if that contribution once processed through the imperial machine became violence. This is especially important remembering the exceptions that the advocates put in. Politicians doing a stump speech will cite their work saying "No two democracies ever go to war" but not mention the fine print that a democracy must be a system with guaranteed constitutional rights, women's suffrage, no slavery, peaceful transfer of power from one party to another, etc. Heck, under the "No constitution" argument, Israel and Britain are excluded, as both only have Basic Laws.

3. Ideological limits also plague the theory. The definitions are notoriously Eurocentric; heck, even a particular type of Eurocentrism. Nazi Germany (Hitler being one of the most popular Chancellors in German history), the Pirates of the Caribbean, the Native Americans, and so on had elements of democracy, often incredibly substantial ones, in that the will of the populace was manifested very organically. In fact, in many respects, the Native Americans and other tribal institutions as well as the Pirates and other voluntary institutions (say, the kibbutz) were substantially more democratic than any state the Western advocates of DPT prefer to focus on.

The DPT advocates also have a de jure bias; that is, they focus on the structure of the institutions (something I'm normally receptive to), but only the political institutions and with no context. They ignore that a monarchy in fact could be very democratic, if the monarch committed herself to doing only what the people said they wanted in referenda. They also ignore the flipside: that economic power in capitalist societies or similar elite domination could make a de jure democracy a de facto oligarchy.

Again from White: "
The old double standard:
Slobodon Milosovic was frequently denounced in his nation's press and challenged in elections by opposition leaders, but he maintained an iron grip on power through vote fraud, private security forces and the judicious application of unregistered cash. His armies fought secret wars. When the voices against him grew too loud, he scurried away like a thief in the night.
Dictator, right?
The same, however, could be said about Richard Nixon. Why do the irregularities of Milosovic's regime prove that Yugoslavia was a dictatorship, but the irregularities of Nixon's regime prove that in America, "the system works"? (Of course, on the other hand, if we accept that Nixon was dictator rather than a democratic leader, it becomes easier to explain that the 1973 unpleasantness between Chile and the US was not an example of two democracies at war.) "

Also take into account that they ignore internal federation (though Weart thinks it's somehow awesome for his theory that no two Swiss cantons have ever fought), separation of powers (if one has a totalitarian executive but a democratic legislative and an appointed judiciary, what is the country), and differences between the US model and the more commonly accepted legislative model.

Further, because of the ideological commitments of these advocates, particular wars often don't count: in general, when America does the killing, it's liberation; if the Soviets did it (unless we liked it), it was brutal invasion.

4. As an anarchist, I argue that the demos and the state are two diametrical poles: voluntary involvement, democracy, etc. versus hierarchy, coercion and domination. In this sense, American democracy like all other democracies are complex balances on a number of vectors between these poles. I can recognize intellectually that a democratic society of racists could be quite violent, but that the worst death has been state-centric not people-centric.

My position is that DPT is likely to be, in the aggregate, correct... but that we don't have democracies.
5. These are two objections I have grouped because I think they deal with the predictive value and assumptions of the theory.

The first is an objection also raised to the Golden Arches Theory, which I'll touch on before the end: Most democracies in any given time period, either the Athenian or the modern post-Enlightenment era, tend to be culturally homogenuous as a fact of the past. For awhile, Britain and America were the only democracies in town. As time went on, most of Europe became democratic... but that's the point: most of Europe. With tied racial, cultural, economic, social, etc. similiarities and connections, of course you're going to have some degree of peace, especially in the post-World War II era where Europe committed itself to peace because the alternative was too hellish.

The second is that the theory often makes a hidden value claim: Namely, that long-term peace is necessarily always worth striving for. Of course, I am a peace advocate, but I am moreso a justice advocate, and I can recognize cases where war may be necessary to resist occupation or change unjust systems. More importantly, though, the DPT theory often concedes that states in transition to democracy can be even more violent, especially if that democracy is instilled onto an unreceptive cultural norm within the bounds set by European power by violent Western intervention (almost always part and parcel of imperialist action as well). In that case, transition to democracy could generate more short-term war in exchange for less long-term war, and that is not an easy question to adjudicate.

6. Though excluded by the theory, I still think cases where democracies attack non-democracies can go against the underlying logic of the theory. Let me explain my reasoning. DPT was developed largely using 20th century data, hence the definitional limitations that wouldn't apply to, say, Athens or Rome. Obviously, democracies went to war with non-democracies within the concept of the theory: World War II and the Cold War demonstrated that fairly conclusively (or did it? See above). But the advocates recognized that a democratic state could go to war with a non-democratic state for humanitarian purposes, to spread democracy, or to contain/deter/defend against a violent totalitarian adversary, among other possible reasons.

Fair enough. But remember that the basic logic is that democracies have conflict-resolution systems, ties to each other, populaces who will be informed and will oppose war, etc. If a democratic state were to have the same geopolitical structure and interests as any other empire (say, even going to war undemocratically - perish the thought!), the theory would lose a lot of substance, even if it just so happened that most of the time a democratic empire waged war against non-democratic foes.

The fact that this is an adequate description of what happened in Iraq (it was about oil, the National Security Strategy, attempting to scare or provoke China, etc. etc., and the majority of the population opposed unilateral intervention according to CCFR and Times polls), during the Cold War (Russia wasn't a democracy but all of our attempts to 'contain Communism' were laughable guises for imperial rule), etc. seems to be an effective rebuttal to the theory as well. A
number of the exceptions listed under White's list establish this fairly well, I think.

7 (updated June 23, 2005): This may seem like a quibble, but it is in fact a methodological necessity. It strikes me that even if we accept the evidence we can reject the causal linkage and say it could be the other way (a reverse causal argument): that a general era of peace and prosperity can help establish democracy. I'm not sure about this thesis either, but it certainly has some initial plausibility. We saw post 9/11 that even very free societies (like the US is in a lot of respects) can have a severe struggle regarding civil liberties during times of war. In general, one sees a phenomenon of a "rally around the flag or leader" during wartime. When times are easier, democracy (though in my eyes not a luxury) becomes seen as an affordable luxury.


A fantastic list of US actions:
Chomsky, Noam. What Uncle Sam Really Wants. Odonian Press 2002. Chomsky cites as follows: “7-8. On "Grand Area" planning for the postwar period by the State Department and the CFR, see Laurence Shoup and William Minter, Imperial Brain Trust, Monthly Review, 1977. There is extensive literature on the development and execution of these plans. An early work, of great insight, is Gabriel Kolko, Politics of War,: Random House, 1968. One valuable recent study is Melvyn Leffler, Preponderance of Power, Stanford University Press, 1992. For further sources and discussion, specifically on NSC 68, see Chomsky, Deterring Democracy, Chapter 1. NSC 68 and many other declassified documents can be found in the official State Department history, Foreign Relations of the United States, generally published with about 30 years delay.” What Uncle Sam Really Wants is available online at

Poniewozik, Jamie. “Fallen Arches”, Salon.

Snyder, Jack and Edward Mansfeld. “Democratization and War”. Foreign Affairs, vol. 74 (May/June 1995), pp. 79-97. Snyder and Mansfeld actually establish that democracies can be more violent, especially in transition.

Weart, Spencer R. Never At War: Why Democracies Will Not Fight One Another.Chapter One. New Haven, CT 1997 Yale University Press.

White, Matthews. “War Between Democracies.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Privacy: "You Have Nothing to Fear if You've Done Nothing Wrong"

You've undoubtedly heard this: "You don't need to be concerned if you have nothing to hide." It's heard in discussions of privacy and always used by the person seeking to establish broader state power.

Strange, most of these people don't want me walking into their home and watching me them make love, or watch their kid 24 hours a day, or peep into their showers, or steal their secret family recipe. Why? Do they have something to hide?

In a sense, yes. They have legitimate activity that they want to do in the seclusion of their own homes.

Now, mind you, I know privacy is often used as a shield for wifebeating... but that's patriarchal norms that we should alter, not the right of privacy per se.

The very point of privacy restrictions is that any polity, particularly the state, will have a chilling effect upon very legitimate activity; that allowing the state to monitor activity in an unlimited manner allows corrupt people to watch; that trusting the state, especially if the state can be changed and taken over by less-than-nice people, is a fantastic way to get tyrany; and the only way to limit this is to risk some degree of loss of police power.

It is also true that privacy rights can be over-extended to apply to non-privacy issues. Privacy implies private spaces: one's mind, one's house, one's doctor's or lawyer's office. Abortion, for example, is only arguably within such boundaries.