First I should mention one other event during the congress which I attended. Somebody who has been running a BI news service called a meeting, supposedly about what to do about that service. I arrived hoping to give my own ideas about what kind of information needs to be put out.
First, something could go out which would aid BI activists in knowing what is going on in the movement, in their own and other countries. This should include good counterarguments to BI criticisms and examples of successful experiments. We do not need to hear about nonsense which really has nothing to do with a BI, that does not provide an adequate income even for survival.
What is really needed is something like a BI reader, so that new members, or people who would like to know just what the issue is about, can get up to speed, so as to be able to advocate it effectively. This means it must be without misinformation or ideological confusion. Obviously, in order to do this, there needs to be some clarification of what a BI movement is actually advocating, what the aim of it is. Right now, this is lacking.
But all I got at this meeting was a big pitch for more contributors to this news project, and for more people doing routine things to maintain its web site. I found there just was no space in these proceedings to discuss what the problem is with this BI project, and what is really needed.
This BI news is another example of rational psychosis in action; that the way you are going to get something to happen is to convince everybody that it is a wonderful idea. You do that by "educating people". You educate people by deluging them with massive amounts of information about it, even if highly repetitive.
What this news outfit really needs is an editorial board and some real discussion about the point of the endeavor. I hoped that this might happen once all these new people started working together, and so I put my name down. After I got home I started getting e-mails telling me how to log in and get my first "assignments". Also, the "style guidelines" I was supposed to use.
It reminds me of when I undertook to provide an internet news service with frequent contributions. I started getting told that I had to write in something called a "correct journalistic style" and if I thought I could provide a sub heading every four paragraphs.
I rarely do "journalism" and generally refuse to read it unless it is exceptionally good. In the famous saying of Alexander Solzenitsyn about journalists, they are people who report everything and investigate nothing. I find they are rationalistic dorks who think they are in command of the truth. They tend to be amazingly lacking in analytic ability, hence incapable of really investigating anything.
I will get into my view of rationalism below, as it is critical to explaining my way of thinking about the issues raised by this congress. But first I need to go into my own biases or evolved thinking about some ideas which flow out of rationalism and impinge strongly on BI.
I attended none of the sessions on financing a Basic Income. However, "financialism" invariably rears its head in any assembly of BI advocates. The fundamental problem with all of these ideas is that they start from the same basic assumptions as does capitalism.
Of course, many of the advocates of BI are also starting from the assumptions of liberalism, a closely related ideology to capitalism. I have a different set of basic ideas about the nature of society and of political economy, derived from "left" post modern thinking. I am not going to go into them here, but I will refer people to the university essay I did on the need to advocate a BI on post modern terms. Find it at http://www.qaz.ca/blog/2014-04-13.html
Quite a while ago now, when I first started my part time university career, I wrote a paper about Premier "Bible Billy" Aberhart and the rise of "Social Credit" in Alberta, my home province. I cannot find it anymore. The thesis was that there never was any substance to the Social Credit theory, Aberhart finally realized it, and after a considerable fight, drove the SC fanatics out of his party. He then found better advisors and adopted effective measures of combatting the effects of the 1930s depression on agricultural Alberta.
I did not include my view that many of these SC advocates were outright fascists and antisemites who wanted to use the promise of "free money" for everyone in order to get into office, and then to plunder the public treasury and bully whoever got in their way. Aberhart overcame them, but there was always an element of opportunism and scapegoating in the SC party which has tainted Alberta politics to this day.
If you do not have any ability to make a good living in a proper way, but are good at taking people in, you can always try founding a new religion, or discover a miracle cure, or propose an economic system to solve the problems of capitalism. These economic systems always seem to involve giving everybody free money. The only thing that varies is how they plan to raise the money to give out to everyone. They are always dodgy on the details of how all this would work.
"Funny money" people are often able to make a living selling books and tracts and getting people to send in membership fees. It is more lucrative to be bankrolled by right wing political action groups who want to "get government out of the way of the market". Putting into effect any of these schemes really would get government out of the way by destroying its fiscal capacity. This would have dire effects on the economy and everyone except the wealthy.
The touchstone of any legitimate initiative toward giving people "money for living" is that it would be financed by taxes on excess wealth, and does not assume that government does not need to do anything else. To get a Basic Income associated in the public mind with monetary and anti government crankery would be the best possible way to kill it. Yet despite this, or perhaps because of it, BI remains a magnet for these kinds of people.
The reason why all grassroots initiatives for building a BI movement in Canada, which I have seen, have failed, is because they get taken over or disrupted by such monetary cranks. But then, almost every kind of grass roots initiative in Canada seems to fail for the same reason; the way in which middle class people are educated and socialized in this country.
One of the best ways to keep a class system in place, with the middle classes incapable of self organizing to initiate real democracy, is to condition them in just this way. So, rationalism and the rationalist fallacy is the predominant ideology and cognitive error in this society. It is the thing that must be overcome to make a movement like one for BI work.
Rationalism is the idea that people are supposed to be "rational". From this comes the idea that there is one right way to do anything, or to talk or think or act. Or sometimes, that there are no right ways, which is effectively the same thing. People are thus conditioned to think in the rational, meaning synthesizing way, only reorganizing what they already know or imagine they know. People thus "educated" cannot think analytically, cannot use known to find unknown.
Thus, the subordinate classes of people tend to live in a kind of artificial reality, made for them. They expect things to happen in a certain way, and when they do not, they are at a loss. If they reexamine assumptions about how things work they encounter strong resistance from those who are uncomfortable with that. They are being "unreasonable" and sometimes even "rude".
If doing the same thing over and over expecting something different is the definition of insanity, then there are an awful lot of insane people out there. In my anti -poverty activism endeavors, I have seen people go on for decades making the same mistakes, acting out the same delusions, and never getting anywhere. People who have actually achieved something in this area are those who have broken away from the usual activist circles, found a small group of collaborators who have developed a more realistic understanding of the environment in which they function, sharpened their aim by paring down their objectives to what is really important, and got to work at it.
Now, I apply this to what was presented at the BI congress. BIEN is basically a failed organization. It has been around for almost thirty years and has outlived its usefulness, if it ever had any. The problem is the rationalist mentality of its founders, who are in love with abstract ideas but who cannot put anything into effect.
Battles for a Basic Income will be fought at the level of the national state. However, I think there is a need for a limited international group which can bring the top BI activists together periodically to compare information. I expect that fairly soon the more action oriented national groups will bring into being such a group, to meet their own needs.
This may cause some BIEN people to squawk about having competing groups advocating BI. They do not have a patent on the concept.
It seems like Basic Income Guarantee in the US has a similar problem. Worse, the core group cannot seem to distinguish real support for the principle of BI from a desire to turn their movement toward concepts that have nothing to with those principles, are in fact antipathic to them. When you seek to attract everyone you end by driving away everyone.
Basic Income Canada Network has started out better grounded. We have a core group who get it that "cheap support" is no real support. Also, they seem to get it that becoming a space for every snake oiler to flog his brand and for every hobby horser to ride his pet theory around in is the way to oblivion. They seem to reject the rationalist fallacy that drawing in every odd character who claims an interest in the subject and talking it to death for years is going to end up with a program which will satisfy everybody.
BICNs purpose is first of all to pare down and refine our ideas into something which can be supported by most people. Then, to create a powerful movement for it such that the hegemonic classes dare not oppose it. We have the start of this, and within the discussions at BIEN 2014 there have been some good points toward it.
Here are the salient points I take from the congress;
1. The smartest person in the congress was Dr. Louise Haag. The BI idea must not be presented in a legalistic, moralistic, or economistic way. It must be presented by institutional arguments, like it is a natural step.
2. The problem with legal and constitutional approaches is that we become dependent on judicial interpretation and judges are very conservative. Besides, if you can't get a policy change, how will you ever get a law or constitutional amendment?
3. Talking moralistically gives people the idea that BI is something very radical. Moral philosophers, take note.
4. Markets cannot exist without state regulation, though there is always a tension between market and state. Markets are not freedom, they are themselves a regulatory system. Market regulation can benefit the state, citizens, or private corporations. The trick, obviously, is to get it to benefit citizens.
5. Talking about BI as a tool for growth is a loser. Growth does not mean better quality of life. Growth can mean more environmental depletion.
6. There is no way to measure needs exactly, so a blanket approach is needed. We have to be careful to define terms like "welfare state" and "democracy". There are many kinds of each.
7. Big debate about selling democracy or equality. Everyone supports democracy. But can't have popular democracy without equality. It is kind of a "chicken or egg" thing. A participatory democracy requires that people have the leisure to participate.
8. Pilot projects are not a good idea. Who sets them up in order to show what? What happens when they end? They can be used as a delaying tactic.
9. Incremental approaches to social programs generally do not work. They are resisted, they lose momentum, their flaws are not corrected but used to attack them.
Now, we need to get local affiliates of BICN going in each major center. That is in itself a big job. It is tougher in my own city of Toronto, where everybody is so hung up on party politics. I think it would be useful if we could give all new members a course in non rationalist thinking.
Some are saying that we do not need any more large meetings in Canada, such as BIEN2014 or the meetings we held in 2012 in Toronto and 2009 in Ottawa. But I think they serve a purpose if conceived a bit differently. Instead of just listening to people talk, we need debates. I do not mean the endless floating arguments which rationalists get into, but deliberative processes that reach conclusions about matters which need decision, which then become policy.
As well, we cannot do it all by conference call. At regular intervals, the key people in each local group need to come together face to face. They need to have enough time to get to know each other and to decide on policy and strategy. And, to choose the national leaders. This is very important as we will be organizing locally but coordinating nationally to put pressure on a national government.
And with this, there is not nothing more I can say that comes out of the BIEN 2014 congress in Montreal. I think if the other Torontonians I met in Montreal have recovered from the experience and are back from vacation, we can get down to work. International Basic Income week is September 15 to 21st; good dates to work toward. There is now some material from the congress which can be presented. Lets go.