Archives for category: Social justice

The Baby Boomer experience hasn’t been the same across the world but, due to globalization, you, the next generations, share much more, experience wise, than what we did. Frustration, that is.
Having said that, I don’t think that blaming us, your ‘parents’, for everything you have to put up with, will solve much.

First of all, let me explain what I mean by Baby Boomers having experienced different things across different parts of the world.
Actually, it is fairly obvious that the American Baby Boomers had it differently than the Western European ones and that the Eastern Europeans had the almost opposite experience from the first two.
The American Baby Boomers had been raised by the absolute victors of the WWII, the Western European ones by those who had been saved – from both war and the subsequent misery, by the Americans while the third category had been ‘eased into the world’ by people freshly fitted with the communist yoke.

Yet the X-ers and the Milennials have a very common Weltanschauung, on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Internet explains only half of what’s going on. Yes, the ‘coordination’ that bind all the X-ers and the Millennials has happened through the Internet but is due to the entire Euro-Atlantic region being under the same ‘spell’.

And You, X-ers and Milennials, blame us, Baby Boomers, for the present situation.

Which, in a way, makes a lot of sense.

As a matter of fact, I, and many around me, used to put a lot of blame on our parents for the damages inflicted on all of us by the onset of communism in Romania.

Then I realized three things.

That it could have been far worse.
That each generation has to face the mistakes committed by previous one but tends to brush aside the accomplishments  inherited from their parents.

The biggest of which, Baby Boomer accomplishments, being the fact that we have somehow managed to keep ‘cool’ the WW we have inherited from our parents.

OK, unlike our parents, we’ve somehow ‘lost the peace’… that’s on us, indeed.
Those who had won the WWII  had been wise enough to help the nations which had happened to be on the losing side.  Which process didn’t take place – not on the same scale, anyway, after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Those who had lost the WWII had been wise enough to learn something from being fooled into following the fake prophets that had brought them so much misery. And to assume their part of the blame. Again, this has yet to happen in the former communist countries.

And the third thing that I’ve learned is that no generation, however enlightened, will ever be able to stray very much from the previous one. It can, sometimes, understand and avoid a few of the mistakes committed in the past but will always be ‘tugged back’ by the ‘ways of the past’.

Is there any way out of this historical ‘vicious circle’? Preferably one that will conserve the benefits brought about by the virtuous circle spinning in parallel with the vicious one?

I’m afraid there’s no ‘one size fits all’ remedy.
Each generation has to open their collective mind and select what to take over and what to fix from what they have inherited from their parents.
Specially now, when so much of the whole world is almost in ‘sync’.

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I’m gonna insert three links.
They might be opened in any order, the link between them is evident, in all directions.

 “It’s a natural and powerful temptation to do unto them as they have done unto others. They have abused, reviled, and humiliated others: So let them be abused, be reviled, be humiliated. Yet if you go that way, you do not repudiate Trump. You become Trump.”

David Frum,
Michelle Wolf Does Unto the White House as It Has Done Unto Others,
The Atlantic, Apr 30, 2018

“It is particularly rich, too, to see a president who brags about his lack of political correctness and willingness to tell it like it is to be so thin-skinned he won’t even attend a party where he knows he’ll be roasted. It is revolting to see members of the press, who should have an adversarial relationship with the White House, comforting the press secretary and standing up for her honor when she is a chief architect of and apologist for these new political norms of idiotic crudeness, rank corruption, and unapologetic deceit.

Reporters allegedly expressed their sympathy to Huckabee Sanders after the dinner. This is insane. Reporters: Sarah Huckabee Sanders lies to you. She is a powerful and influential figure, and it is your job to be a check on her and the administration she speaks for – not to commiserate with her when a comedian makes some salty jokes, and certainly not to be her sympathetic friend.

Michelle Wolf ended her monologue by wishing the audience a good night, and then adding, “Flint still doesn’t have clean water.” “

Jill Filipovic,
The Bizarre Reaction to the WHCD Reveals We’re in Deeper Trouble Than We Thought,
Cosmopolitan, Apr. 30, 2018

Donald Trump is here tonight! Now, I know that he’s taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald.
And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter –- like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?
But all kidding aside, obviously, we all know about your credentials and breadth of
experience. For example — no, seriously, just recently, in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice – at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team cooking did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around.
But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil’ Jon or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey.
And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night.
Well handled, sir. Well handled.
Say what you will about Mr. Trump, he certainly would bring some change to the White House.”

Barack Obama,
2011 White House Correspondents Dinner.

One of the oldest literary works, a poem written some 4 millennia ago, is about the prince of the land, Gilgamesh, helping his ‘commoner’ friend, Enkidu, to reach ‘full human-hood’. Along with the rest of the people under Gilgamesh’s stewardship.

Prometheus, the Titan who had given us “the gift of fire and the skill of metalwork“,  ended up chained to a pole and having his liver eaten out by an eagle.

The Jewish God had made Man in His own image. All men, and women, equal among themselves – since they had all been cast in the same mould, and all of them sharing a divine spark – since that mould had been made in God’s resemblance.

Some two and a half millennia ago, in India, Siddhartha Gautama – the highly pampered son of a local ruler, had figured out – and started to teach his followers, that the manner in which you lead your life is far more important than being celebrated as a winner.

About the same time, in China, Laozi had written a “handbook for the ruler. He should be a sage whose actions pass so unnoticed that his very existence remains unknown. He imposes no restrictions or prohibitions on his subjects; “so long as I love quietude, the people will of themselves go straight. So long as I act only by inactivity, the people will of themselves become prosperous.””.

Two millennia ago, in Jerusalem, a teacher had reminded us that God’s teachings have been meant to be followed in earnest, not ‘faked’ in a callous manner. And that we should respect each-other, regardless of our respective ranks.

Less than three short centuries ago, Adam Smith had figured out that human society has passed through a series of ‘stages’:  “the original “rude” state of hunters, a second stage of nomadic agriculture, a third stage of feudal, or manorial, “farming,” and a fourth and final stage of commercial interdependence.
‘Commercial interdependence’ meaning that each and every one of us depends on everybody else.

“We don’t expect our dinner from the benevolence of the butcher, brewer, or baker but from their regard for their own interest; we appeal not to their humanity but to their self-love, and talk to them not of our needs but of their advantages.”

Adam Smith,
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776

In other words, Adam Smith reiterates the very same thing that has been already told so many times in so many ways.

That it is in the interest of each and everyone of us for the free market to remain free. If we allow any of the ‘butcher’, ‘brewer’ or ‘baker’ to take any kind of precedence over any of the other – or over any one of us, then we are all doomed. Including those who had enjoyed, for a while, the spoils of ‘precedence’.

I’m not making much sense here?

Let’s take a short glimpse back.

Not many of Gilgamesh’s ‘nephews’ have followed his example.
During their rule, the area had been a quagmire of internecine warfare. It still is, unfortunately.

Prometheus’ is a very interesting story.
His very gallant exploit was punished dearly.
What if there is some hidden meaning to it? Related to that of the ‘original sin’?

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So what do we have here?
The serpent gives Eve an advice – which comes to be true, Adam and Eve haven’t died from eating ‘the apple’.
Adam and Eve ‘realize they were naked’ and dress themselves.
God finds out and chastises Adam: ‘what have you done? Haven’t I told you not to eat from that tree?’.
Adam snitches on his woman, the one made from his own rib, at his own request:  “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” And Eve passed the blame along to her teacher…

Well, maybe there is a sort of an ‘original sin’… and not one necessarily based on our tendency to disobey orders… after all, ‘disobeying’ is the only way to learn anything…

Let’s go back to the Bible.

22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

What if God was not as much mad at Adam and Eve for acceding to self awareness as he was afraid of what they will do with their newly acquired skill? Specially if they would have been allowed to hone it for any considerable amount of time?
Specially when considering what each of them had done after they had learned about their individual oneness? Tried to blame others for what each of them had done?
Each of them had tried to use whatever difference there was between their individual beings and all the rest to their exclusive advantage? As a way to invent and win a competition instead of a reason to start and engage in a cooperative effort?

Would it be farfetched to interpret this episode as ‘God, in his immense wisdom, knew that allowing an imperfect ‘knowledgeable person’ to ‘hold on to power’ for too long would transform that person into a tyrant?’.
For we are, all of us, ‘imperfect knowledgeable persons’… regardless of what we think about ourselves…

Going back to Prometheus, ‘fire’ and ‘metalwork’ are powerful ‘competitive advantages’. Societies which control these ‘skills’ can very easily subdue those who don’t. And they have done it, several times in history.
With ‘mixed’ results, to put it mildly.
Could it be that Prometheus’ punishment is a metaphor meant to teach us about the perils of inducing extreme disparities among various groups of people?

The Jewish people have demonstrated an uncanny ability to survive. As a people, I mean. Against incredible odds.
I don’t know whether this has anything to do with any help from God but I’m convinced it has everything to do with the manner in which they treat each-other. More precisely, with the manner in which they help and respect each-other.

Only three countries in Asia have not been completely overrun by the Europeans during the XIX century. China, Japan and Thailand. The common thread among them is that all three follow the teachings of Buddha and Laozi. Which are very similar, in their essence.

Christian Europe, the land inhabited by people supposed to love each-other, has somehow reached a world dominant position during the XVIIIth and  XIXth centuries, process which has been furthered by the rise of the equally Christian US of America.
Unfortunately, during the same three centuries, the same Euro-Atlantic space has been the theater and origin of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of humankind.

The free-market capitalism envisioned by Adam Smith worked wonders.
Well, not the capitalism itself. The people cooperating according to Smith’s division of labour in the realm of the free market.
The entire world is currently living in way better conditions than, say, one hundred years ago.

Yet, there are some ominous clouds rising their ugly heads over the horizon.

In Europe – which had wised up after WWII, at least temporarily, ‘differentialism’ is on the rise again.
The Cold War had ended but those who won it didn’t apply the lesson that had become evident after WWI and WWII. That the victor has to help the vanquished out of its war induced relative misery if things are to be settled for good.

For many, capitalism has become synonymous to greed.
Which is both absolutely wrong and very descriptive of the current situation.

How about us making better use of the comprehension skills for which Adam and Eve had been banished from the Paradise?
And revert to more modest manners? More helpful for our longer term survival?

Would it make any difference if I reminded you that Rome had fallen while Byzantium had survived for another millennium?
What was the difference between these two?
The people in Byzantium had converted en masse to the religion which considered people as being ‘Equal Children of the Loving God’ while the Roman emperors had continued to bribe their ‘constituents’ with ‘panem et circenses’.

“He would rather govern rich men than be rich himself; since for one man to abound in wealth and pleasure when all about him are mourning and groaning, is to be a gaoler and not a king.”

Thomas More, The Utopia.

Any way you look at it, a human individual is a decision making machine.

When living in the bush, the decision making process was rather straightforward.
Information was available on a ‘what you see is what you get’ basis and bad decisions had the rather nasty habit of becoming obvious after a very short time.

Now, when living in a social context, things are a little more complicated.
Other people want from us.
Other people actually depend on convincing us to do various things and not to do other things.

‘Convincing us’ means influencing our decision making processes.
Which can be done using one, two or a combination of the following methods.

By ‘managing’ the information we have at our disposal when making a certain decision.
By altering the way in which we feel about the outcome of that decision being put in practice.

The A&B of the matter, for those familiar with the domain…

But there are two other things which are rarely discussed about these matters.

How ethical is it to manipulate other people?
Specially when the manipulated are not fully aware of what’s going on, which puts the manipulator in almost full control of the whole process.

What are the longer term consequences of the whole thing?
Is there any difference between manipulating people to ‘consume’ things which are more or less detrimental to their health and manipulating people into making far reaching political decisions?

As in ‘is there any difference between convincing people that smoking isn’t that bad for them (or at least pleasurable enough to balance the risk) and convincing them to vote for/against … (feel free to pick your own candidate/issue)?

“The researcher whose work is at the center of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data analysis and political advertising uproar has revealed that his method worked much like the one Netflix uses to recommend movies.”

Matthew Hindman,
https://theconversation.com/how-cambridge-analyticas-facebook-targeting-model-really-worked-according-to-the-person-who-built-it-94078

The American Revolution was fought under the banner of ‘Taxation without representation is tyranny”.
Meaning that the first Americans saw taxes as money well spent, as long as paying said taxes allowed them to vote. As in ‘being able to determine their own future’. Albeit in a collective manner.

In fewer words, the early Americans viewed liberty as being valuable enough to die for, let alone to spend some money in order to maintain it.

10% anual pay rise

time.com

And what made so many modern Americans willing to sell their hard won ability to vote? To determine their future?

Are they so poor that, for them, liberty has become an empty word?
Have they lost all confidence in the democratic process?
Are they so infatuated with money?

Any mix of all of the above?

 

Recent developments connected with some people having used Facebook to manipulate the public opinion have led me to understand something absolutely trivial.

Almost everything can be used as a resource.
And it’s us, all of us, who are ultimately responsible for how these resources are being used.

For no other reason than it is us who will eventually bear the consequences.

Having said this, I’m now wondering about the wisdom of our ancestors…
And the nearsightedness of some of our contemporaries!
the golden rule

Part II ended on the Western side of the Mediterranean sea, right before WWII.
Which, by the way, was a consequence of the WWI victors making a terrible mistake.

For the III-rd part we have to cross to the Eastern side of the aforementioned sea and to fast forward to the aftermath of WWIII. The Cold One, if you haven’t figured that out by yourselves.

I’m going to make a small detour now and bring back a subject that I’ve already mentioned.
The changing nature of war itself.
Up to the start of WWI we had war as a conflict between ethnic/imperial chieftains while from then on really important wars had been started by ethnic/imperial chieftains and won by the attacked democracies. The key word here being ‘won’.
Which is not exactly true.
Those wars had not as much been won by the victors as lost by the aggressors. All that the democracies had to do was to (actively) resist long enough for the aggressors to rot from within and crumble under their own weight.
Actually all three WWs had been lost from the first moment. Simply because the aggressors had been inflexible ‘imperiums’ – social systems where the decision making mechanisms were controlled from the top in a more or less absolute manner.

Let’s go back to Syria.
What we had here was a population who had lost patience with being mistreated by a dictator and which, somewhat encouraged by what was going on globally, had tried to ‘buck the rider’. To carve a better future for themselves.

Just as in Spain, almost a hundred years ago, things had become way more complicated than they should have been.
Opportunists of all persuasions and from almost all over the world have jumped in to the occasion. And all those who could have dragged their asses instead of doing something useful for the longer term did exactly that. Dragged their asses and done nothing.

The parallel is staggering. Unfortunately things are becoming far worse and far more complicated.

In Spain, the world had perceived the whole movement as being predominantly of a communist nature. Which, eventually, made it so. Perception wise, in this case.
In Syria, the world perceived the whole movement as being predominantly of an islamist nature. Which, eventually, made it so. Simply because only the islamists of the world became involved, while all the rest did next to nothing. On the really ‘progressive’ side, that is.

In Spain, the only ‘outside’ power which had intervened decisively was the loser of the previous WW. More precisely, the decisive intervention was carried on by the  dictatorship established over the population which had felt mistreated after WWI.
In Syria, the ‘outside’ power which intervenes decisively, helping the ‘regressives’, is the loser of the previous WW. More precisely, the most effective outside intervention is carried on by the authoritarian regime established over the population which had felt mistreated after the Cold War. In Syria’s case we also have a second intervention on the side of the ‘regressives’, carried on by yet another authoritarian regime established over yet another population which feels mistreated by some of the most powerful governments on this Planet.

Then we have the popular sentiment in the rest of the World.
In Spain, people from some 50 nations had volunteered to fight on the Republican side. Very few of them entertained any communist convictions and most of them had a place of their own where to return after the war was over. And when they did return, they were welcome to do so.
Syria has also seen her ‘fair share’ of volunteers. But there’s a marked difference here. While those who went to fight on the Republican side in Spain were animated by some romantic ideals, most of the aliens who came to fight in Syria were driven by a sort of desperate ennui and an acutely perceived lack of any perspective in their countries of origin.
While those who went to Spain did it to help the Spaniards fulfill their dream, those who went to Syria were hoping to carve a piece of land where to build theirs.
While those who went to Spain were welcomed back by their families and neighbors, those coming back from Syria are shunned by their relatives and investigated by the authorities of the states they are returning to.

And the most complicated aspect of the whole thing is ‘separatism’.

To be continued.

At the beginning of Part I there’s a list of what we’ve accomplished during this century.
I’m going to remind you now some of the mistakes we’ve made.
Genocide, atomic bomb, global warming, widespread pollution… basically, we’ve turned the tables upon ourselves.

I had the first inkling of what’s going on when I started to compare what’s currently going on in Syria with the Spanish Civil War.
NB, even the name we use for this kind of conflict is an absolute aberration. War is, by definition, the opposite of civility. Why on Earth any of us might consider that war waged between co-nationals can be expected to be more ‘civil’ that the ‘regular brand’…

Spain and Syria have evolved in eerily similar manners. Multiple ethnic groups of multiple religious convictions have been forced by geography to coexist and to evolve together. Each of them had passed through very similar stages, albeit following different time-tables. The whole thing culminated with both of them passing, during the last century, through ‘revolutionary’ episodes. There are two small differences though.
Spain’s ‘revolution’ had taken place at the end of a turbulent period and had produced a dictatorship – Franco’s, while the Syrian one is the consequence of a dictatorship and has not yet yielded a clear result.

And why is any of this of any interest when analyzing the entire century? Except, maybe, that the two atrocious episodes have marked the start and the beginning of the said century?

Well, it’s how the rest of the world have chosen to react in each instance which I find extremely interesting.

First of all, let me remind you the broad picture in both cases.

Spain’s took place shortly after the end of WWI and immediately after the Great Depression. The most important ‘disruptive ferment’ was militant marxism and although not all of those fighting on the side of the revolutionaries adhered to this ideology the presence of the marxists had decisively shaped the reaction of the democratically elected governments of the world. They had chosen to basically stay out of it. Despite the fact that Franco was leading a rebellion and that the Republican Government had been dully elected to office.
At the beginning, France’s first socialist PM, Leon Blum, had assisted the Republicans but recanted shortly afterwards, “under pressure from Stanley Baldwin and Anthony Eden in Britain, and more right-wing members of his own cabinet”. Which, in a way, made some sense. Western Europe was frightened that communism might spread westwards and many of the Spanish Republicans were of communist persuasion. “Baldwin and Blum now called for all countries in Europe not to intervene in the Spanish Civil War. A Non-Intervention Agreement was drawn-up and was eventually signed by 27 countries including the Soviet Union, Germany and Italy. However, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini openly ignored the agreement and sent a large amount of military aid, including troops, to General Francisco Franco and his Nationalist forces.” Stalin also ignored the agreement and send some help to the Republicans but got bored and by 1938 he practically forgot about the whole thing.
In the end, the conflict had been won by the side supported by those seeking revenge for being defeated during WWI – and for the harsh conditions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.
That had been the ‘institutional’ reaction.
On the popular side, despite the ‘hang-over’ produced by the WWI and the Great Depression, some 60.000 volunteers from all over the world had joined the ‘fight for freedom’. The fact that they were organized by the Comintern didn’t help in the end, on the contrary, but the population at large looked at them with sympathy. Proven by the success enjoyed by the literature and art produced by some of the volunteers/sympathizers.

Guernica

 

 

 

A huge, and growing, number of people, of all ages and from all social strata, are mad about capitalism.
They see it as the ultimate cause for the misery and unhappiness too many of  us seem unable to escape.
On the other hand, a very vocal and very influential group, most of its constituents belonging to the mature section of the society, keeps  saying that ‘greed is good’.

What’s going on here?

Human minds, yours and mine, have to deal with information belonging to two, actually three, categories. I’ll leave aside the third one – ‘details’ concerning the innards of our bodies.
We have to deal with facts and with impressions/opinions/sentiments.
The facts happen or are ‘perpetrated’ and impressions/opinions/sentiments are felt and/or expressed.
We find out – or are told – about both facts and impressions/opinions/sentiments
Simultaneously, what’s going on around us elicits an emotional response from us, drives us to formulate impressions/opinions and, sometimes, to react. A.k.a, to commit other facts.

In fact, our present situation is the consequence of the accumulated facts ‘perpetrated’ by our predecessors. And, to a smaller but significant degree, by us.

This whole introduction was meant to explain the fact that we are here as a consequence of what we did during our earthly existence, including under ‘capitalism’, and that our impression/opinion/sentiment about capitalism will shape our future. And that of our children.
I’ll make a small intermezzo here and address myself to those of you who believe that our fate is determined by ‘God’.  “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” 1 John 4:12

Now please let me make a very short recap of how we got here.

I’ll be using ‘scientific’ information. I know that some of you will find it ‘unreliable’.
The following questions are meant to help you decide ‘on whose side are you’.
Did you ever travel in a plane?
Were you, or a family member, ever saved by modern medicine?
Do you use the internet?
Are you aware that planes, medicine and internet have been brought to us by ‘science and technology’?
I agree with you that individual scientists are prone to making mistakes but will you agree with me that planes most often than not reaching their destination, medicine not killing all its patients and internet being used by so many of us are strong indications that science and technology, on the whole, are ‘right’?

Let me go on.

We, Homo Sapiens, have two close cousins. Pan Troglodytes and Pan Paniscus.
The common and the pygmy chimpanzee. The latter also known as ‘bonobo’.

The differences between the regular chimpanzee and the bonobo are very important for those studying ‘capitalism’.
You see, both are social animals which live in close groups – like us, humans.
Chimpanzees are ‘authoritarians’ by definition. They follow a strict hierarchy – as long as the alpha male is able to impose it – and the leader harshly punishes any misdemeanor. Fights between chimpanzees are rather common and sometimes they end up with the death of one of the opponents.
Sex has a strict reproductive function and the dominant male sometimes discourages ‘his’ male ‘subjects’ from copulating with ‘his’ females.
Bonobos are democrats by excellence. When a male becomes too aggressive a few females – who are individually smaller and weaker than the males – band together and ‘knock some sense into his head’. But this instances are rare, more often any disputes are solved through sex. Yes, sex. The bonobos share our ‘ability’ to have sex, homosexual sex even,  “in a social context, with the same benefits as humans, such as stronger bonding and social hierarchies. It also has been seen to maintain a more peaceful environment amongst their community as aggression amongst the males can be vented through sexual acts.

What both chimpanzees and bonobos have in common is the fact that they have multiple sexual partners – which makes it impossible to know, bar a DNA analysis, who is the father of a certain baby.

I’ll come back to this in a short while.

After coming down from the trees of our early childhood and after having learned to run – as a manner to chase pray and to escape danger – we ‘discovered’ our ‘free’ hands.
And started doing things with them.

One other small thing was ‘the cherry on the cake’. Our ability to articulate sounds.

I don’t know when our brains had started to grow. Before or after we had started to hunt cooperatively, using weapons and verbal coordination. Does it really matter for the problem at hand?

Fact is that at some point in our history we were in possession of certain attributes and certain abilities. Big and flexible brains, the ability to walk using only two limbs – freeing the rest for other uses, the ability to communicate meaningfully with the rest of the gang and the ability to vent our frustrations through sex.

From here, our evolution has been very fast. Determined exclusively by the geography of the places where we happened to live. In the prairies we learned to raise animals and became herders, near rivers we learned to till,  seed and harvest while in the Arctic and in the jungle we remained hunter-gatherers.

The herders and the agriculturalists developed in two different directions.
The herders adopted – unwittingly – what is now called ‘the extensive way of development’ – by increasing the size of their herds – while the agriculturalists have tried to maximize the output of their limited plots of land.
The herders – being on constant move – have coalesced later into states, or never, while the agriculturalists had done it earlier. For reasons pertaining to labor productivity and the administration of justice.
In a herding environment there is no ‘police’ to turn to so individuals tend to fend for themselves. Some coalitions of tribes did organize annual meetings – Loya jirga  and Kurultai being but two examples – where ‘things’ could be discussed and settled but it was more often that people had resorted to a vendetta like justice.
In an agricultural environment things are more stable and a different set of demands have to be met.
Herders have very few property other than their stock and relatively little trade is exchanged among the members of the community.
Agricultural economy works differently. Higher productivity means the division of work is way deeper so trade is a lot more intense in this environment. This calls for ‘police protection’ which, in turn, calls for a relatively stronger state. Anyway, a stronger state was already needed since a richer, and sedentary, agricultural community is way more attractive for ‘thieves’ than a constantly traveling band of herdsmen.

A community which has a powerful group of professional fighters – ‘police’ and/or ‘army’ – is prone to become, sooner rather than later, an authoritarian regime. Where the ruler imposes his will over the entire community.
If we look closely this is what had happened all along human history. All states which depended heavily on agriculture had become authoritarian regimes. From Ancient Egypt and Sparta to the Medieval France and from the Aztec and Inca empires to China, on either side of the globe.
The problem with authoritarian regimes being that they inevitably fail. History doesn’t offer us a single example of an authoritarian regime which had been able to survive his own increasing weight. Rome was crumbling long before it was finally sacked by Odoacer, the American empires so easily conquered by the Spaniards were riddled by superstitions and by individual people being unable to think for themselves – living under terror tends to have that effect on those who survive – and there are countless more examples.

On the other hand, herders and those who trade in wares  made by others tend to behave ‘democratically’. Simply because herding and trading asks for a more individualistic and quicker thinking person. Compare Ancient Athens to Sparta, Medieval England and her Viking traditions to Medieval France and her Romanic reminiscences.
And also the democratic precursors I’ve already mentioned. The Mongols had their Kurultai, the Afghans their Loya Jirga.

By looking closely at all these examples I’ve reached the conclusion that people ‘yield’ better results whenever they enjoy as much individual autonomy as possible in a given situation.

The authoritarian Sparta had time and time again been beaten by the democratic Athens.
Athens had been destroyed as soon as it had lost her democratic status – Pericles was a dictator, you know…
The Roman Empire had been build as a democratic Republic and had started to crumble as soon as it was run as a dictatorship.
Slavery used to be a just as widely spread institution in Europe as it was in Asia at a time when Europe was extremely backward compared to Asia. Slavery had remained widely spread in Asia until recently while in Europe it had almost but disappeared since the VI-th century. Now consider the differences which existed between Europe and Asia around 1900…

The Soviet Union had crumbled under the combined weight of the apparatchiks while the US had become, for a while at least, the sole hegemon.

Now some people want to give up capitalism!
And replace it with what?

But what exactly is capitalism?

We currently use the history as it had been ‘layered’ by Marx.
He had done that using his preferred criterion: ‘who owned the “means of production”‘.
According to him we had three main historical stages and one bright future.
‘Slavery’, ‘Feudalism’, ‘Capitalism’ and ‘Communism’.
We already know that Communism has failed, abysmally, so let’s see what Marx might have overlooked.

‘Slavery’ means that the owner has every right over his possessions, even when those possessions are other human beings, while the ‘possessed’ individuals have absolutely none. A slave had no more rights than a modern day hammer. I can do whatever I want with my hammer – except using it to kill someone – just as I could have done with a slave in Ancient Rome. Including burning both of them, alive!
Can we speak of any autonomy being enjoyed by the slaves? Other than that extended, ‘haphazardly’, by the owners?
And you know what? The people were OK with all that. They simply thought that ‘that was how it was meant to be’. Until Spartacus had a different opinion…

‘Feudalism’ means that the king has every right over everything under his domain, including that of burning alive any of his subjects. But he was the only one to enjoy such  rights. A marked improvement over slavery!
The lords acted as the trustees of the king. They were given certain pieces of land, or other ‘perks’ – to collect a tax at a river crossing, for example – but not the right to dispose at their will of those living on the land at their disposal. And, at first at least, the lords were not entitled to sell those lands – only to bequeath them to their children, or other relatives, and even that was subjected to royal approvement.
A marked improvement – individual autonomy wise – from what was going on when Slavery was in full swing, at least for the commoners, but still far from what we have today. Ordinary people could not own much of anything, usually they could not live where they chose or exert the ‘profession’ they  liked without somebody allowing them to, etc., etc.,… Trade was also tightly ‘regulated’, whenever some merchandise was traveling from one place to another a lot of ‘right of way taxes’ had to be forked out towards various landlords.
The landlords, and the king, were also the ‘keepers of justice’. OK, they usually followed the ‘rule of the land’ but they were also able to ‘bend’ it to suit their will.

Not quite harsh as ‘slavery’ but still a very authoritarian regime, right?
Remember what I said about authoritarian regimes? That they tend to buckle under their own weight? As the French Monarchy did during the Revolution?

Now, who would initiate anything while living under an authoritarian regime? Where everything has to be ‘approved from above’? Specially when that ‘anything’ was an untried novelty or, God forbid, something that might have produced the slightest controversy?
Well this is exactly why authoritarian regimes have very little ability to innovate/adjust to external change.

Now that we’ve learned how authoritarian regimes dig their own graves – by insisting that there is only one correct way – ‘theirs’ – and that nobody may cross certain limits – those that have been drawn by ‘them’ – let’s examine what ‘capitalism’ looks like.

People usually associate capitalism with ‘money’.
Not even Marx had made that mistake. In his view ‘capital’ was everything that could be used to produce something: land, tools and raw materials and capitalists were those who owned that ‘everything’.
What Marx had forgotten to mention – or to understand – was that ‘merely’ owning something was never enough.
In order for ‘something’ to be truly ‘productive’ somebody must use it.
And in order for somebody to embark on an enterprise more complex than his ‘cooking his next dinner’ that somebody must be reasonably convinced of two things. That nobody would try to rob him of whatever he was going to do and that he will be able to trade the results of his work for anything he might covet.

See what I mean? For capitalism to flourish it is not enough for people to own things. People must be able to freely transform those things, according to their skills and abilities, and to trade them at their will.
In this sense capitalism needs to happen under the rule of law and its wares must be traded on the free market.

Then what went wrong? According to what I have written until now, everything couldn’t be better.  A considerable number of us do live under the rule of law, the markets are reasonably free in a considerable number of states… then why is so much unhappiness oozing from almost everywhere?
And how long are we going to remain steeped in it? To what consequences?

To be continued.

trump-epa-er-170328_31x13_1600

“”The president’s been very clear, he’s not going to pursue climate or environmental policies that put the American economy at risk,” said a senior Trump administration official Monday evening. Asked whether climate change poses its own long-term threat to the economy, the official said he was not familiar with research drawing such a conclusion.” (President Trump signs executive order rescinding Obama’s clean energy plans. abcNEWS, March 28, 2017)

“Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas parted ways with his Republican colleagues on the issue. He said the privacy protections were “commonsense measures” that would have ensured internet users continue to have control over their personal information.

“We don’t want the government having access to our information without our consent, and the same goes for private business,” Yoder said”.

“The American Civil Liberties Union urged Trump to veto the resolution, appealing to his populist side.

“President Trump now has the opportunity to veto this resolution and show he is not just a president for CEOs but for all Americans,” said the ACLU’s Neema Singh Guliani.”

“”Lawmakers who voted in favor of this bill just sold out the American people to special interests,” said Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.” (House votes to block Obama-era online privacy rule, abcNEWS, March 28, 2017.)

“Supporters of the proposed constitutional changes say handing Erdogan sweeping new authority is the only way to achieve the stability that society craves and businesses need to thrive. But opponents say approving the referendum is an invitation to dictatorship, particularly since Erdogan, already the most dominant leader in eight decades, jailed or fired more than 100,000 perceived enemies after rogue army officers attempted a coup in July.

“Everybody on the street tracks the exchange rate on a daily basis and Erdogan wins support as long as Turkey can keep the lira stable,” said Wolfango Piccoli, the London-based co-president of Teneo Intelligence, a political risk advisory firm. “But the challenge here is the external backdrop. They can’t really predict what’s coming.” “ (Erdogan Races against the Dollar in Campaign for Unrivaled Power, Bloomberg.com, March 28, 2017.)

“So we now know that Khalid Masood, the 52-year-old Briton who carried out the Westminster attack in London, had a string of criminal convictions. His first was in 1983 for criminal damage and his last was in 2003 for a stabbing. He was also a convert to Islam. Neither fact should come as a surprise.

Attackers apparently inspired by Islamic extremist ideologies are, for all their righteous rage at others, rarely particularly puritanical in their personal lives. A man who earlier this month seized an automatic weapon from a police officer at Orly airport in Paris had traces of cocaine in his blood and a long criminal record, while the attacker who killed 86 in Nice last July had a history of heavy drinking, cannabis use and casual sex. Several key members of the network which killed 140 in Paris in November 2015 had been involved in drug and arms sales. Almost every high profile attack in Europe – and many in the UK – in recent years has involved someone convicted for petty or serious crime.

There has long been a link between criminality and Islamic radicalism. One of the men who killed the off-duty soldier Lee Rigby in 2013 in south-east London had served time as a young offender for his role in a crack ring. Richard Reid, who tried to detonate a bomb in his shoe on a transatlantic flight in 2001, was a juvenile delinquent.

The proportion of Islamic militants with criminal backgrounds has been rising over recent years. One reason is that Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), which established its new caliphate in 2014, offers adventure, camaraderie, violence, excitement, relative comfort, cash rewards and even sexual opportunity in a way which contrasts dramatically with the asceticism of previous militant groups like al-Qaeda.

A young man from Dortmund or Lyon or Sheffield could thus expect much that a gang back home offered but repackaged. Violence was no longer wrongdoing but resistance, and even redemption. The extremist’s selective teaching of religious texts encouraged former criminals to see themselves as washed of former sins by their commitment to jihad.

The one surprising fact about the London attacker is that most recruits were between 23 and 28 years old. Some were teenagers. There is no evidence that Masood, so much older, has been involved in criminal activity in recent years. Indeed, reports of his unstable, punchy, pub-going persona a decade or so ago are in stark contrast with neighbours’ description of his “devout” and “quiet” lifestyle recently.”  (Khalid Masood was a convert with a criminal past. So far, so familiar. The Guardian, March 25, 2017.)

“According to general data, the suicide wave began in 2015 in Russia, where local media reported about secret communities for teens that invited them to participate in a dangerous game. In each case, the players must complete 50 tasks, beginning with cutting a vein and using a blade to draw an image of a blue whale on their hand. Suicide is the last mandatory task and if not completed, the game creators threaten to “deal” with the player’s family.

One social media user shared the results after he courageously took part in a game.

“I became curious about how this works and why people commit suicide after 50 days. My friend and me created two fake accounts on VKontakte and were both reached by a person for each one of us. Different people were giving tasks every day. The first one was to ‘scribble’ a blue whale on our hand,” which the user said they did with the help of Photoshop, reported Tengrinews.kz.

“We had to choose either ‘to hang ourselves’ or ‘to jump’ on the 50th day. Death is the end of the game. I then replied that I was scared and received a link. The ‘404 not found’ message appeared after I followed the link. After 10 minutes he wrote ‘If you don’t end your life, I will kill your loved ones’ to me, wrote my address and apartment number and I realised how they do it,” he continued in his message.

He called upon others to spread the post in the hope of preventing possible tragedies. He is confident while many might have refused the final offer, the gamers know where the child lives once the link has been followed.” (Suicide games raising concerns in Kazahstan, The Astana Times, February 15. 2017.)

“Police today warned Devon parents to be on their guard against a sick social media challenge which encourages youngsters to cut themselves. At its most extreme, the so-called ‘Blue Whale’ challenge encourages teenage suicide.” (Devon police issue warning over new ‘suicide challenge’ being spread on social media. Devon live.com, March 13, 2017)

What we have here is piled up evidence that we, as a species, have been focusing too much, for already too long,  on short term goals. While setting aside, or simply ignoring, any possible consequences of our ‘binging’ habits.

We elect our leaders based on their promises that they will ‘fix’ everything. As if any of them ever did. Go back to the history book and show me a single authoritarian leader who didn’t disappoint his followers. And yet we still ‘invite’ them to lead us.

Furthermore, we allow them to convince us that our present actions cannot possibly harm us, or our children, in the future.
Madagascar, one of the poorest nations on Earth, is taking steps to ‘clean up their act’ (“eliminate defecation in the open air; a practice still rooted in the culture and in the Malagasy society“) while the President of the US believes that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” And acts according to his convictions.
Why?
Simple. People living in Madagascar have finally figured out, like many other people before them, that careful management of ‘human waste’ drastically reduces the incidence of diarrhea – which mainly affects the children.
What must happen for the American public to understand that we cannot burn, in two short centuries, the carbon accumulated in hundreds of millions of years without having to face any consequences?

During most of our history, most people have been mainly preoccupied with the welfare of their children. For a very reasonable motive. Having children at your bedside is the most efficient manner to ‘enjoy’ a decent death.

No more. Nowadays we buy life insurance to supplement our pensions and plan to hire ‘outside help’ to wipe our arses,  if and when the ‘time will come’.
And in order to get ‘enough’ money we, or at least some of us. are willing to transform even personal data into ‘merchandise’.

This very obsession with money is the reason for which we care more about the promised stability of the exchange rate than about the character, and past actions, of the person who makes the promise.

This is why we no longer keep in touch with our children. Not even with the under-aged ones who continue to live with us.
This is why some of them become ensnared in ‘challenges’ which ‘inspire’ them to commit suicide.
This is why some of them fall prey to fundamentalist preachers. Islamic, White Supremacist, you name it. Yet another ‘reason’ to commit suicide…

Now, after too many wretched souls have become ‘radicalized’ – some of them even without any outside intervention, and after so much innocent pain has been inflicted, time has come to ask ourselves ‘why is this “blue whale” lurking around in the room?’.
And ‘why haven’t we noticed it before?’.

blue whale

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