Archives for category: Social justice

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

Theoretically it means “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”.

Practically it looks like this.

famine-in-ucraine

In fact real life communism still is, and always was, about a whole country kow-towing to a dictator who pretends to care for nothing else but for the welfare of the people. His people!

The point being that each resource allocation game needs a referee. Otherwise all rational people would take as much as they could carry from the communal reserve – because it is free – and bring back as little as possible, hence nothing if not coerced to – because it implies some effort.

OK, any reasonable five years old would tell you that the communal reserve would very soon become empty if things would go like this – hence that presumably ‘rational’ behavior would be anything but – only it would be very rational to at least try, wouldn’t it? For how long it would work, no matter how short that interval…

And something else.
You are most likely familiar with ‘bad money drives out good’. There have been a lot of examples to prove this, one of them being Christ driving the money changers out of the Temple.
Some of you might not be familiar with how money worked in those days so here is it.
A coin was a simple ‘slab’ of precious metal, of somewhat constant weight, approximately round, which had been ‘stamped’ with the face of the local ruler. At first, in the minting shop, all coins belonging to the same edition were more or less of the same weight. But, since the edges of the coins were not ridged, ‘smart’ people started to ‘shave’ the coins.
And, after the first guy had started to shave them, each individual who got a coin would have been foolish not to shave it, just a little bit. Maybe the next guy would be foolish enough to accept it, after being shaved. To contest it the recipient would have had to go to the money changers and pay for their expertise. And this is how the coins became smaller and smaller…
Only the priests at the temple didn’t want to be fooled. So they hired some money-changers to vet the coins the believers brought to the Temple. The very money-changers that Christ had driven away. “God doesn’t need this kind of guardians. If we keep them here it would mean that we expect people to cheat. Even here, at the Temple. And if we expect them to cheat, they will surely do so!”

Only some people do cheat. And since some cheat, the rest will have to do something about it. Either make cheating the rule, which would lead nowhere, or make it so hard to cheat as to become impractical. Hence the ridges at the edges of the modern coins. Which can no longer be shaved because the ridges would make it obvious.

Coming back to our ‘communal reserve’ you would have to employ a guardian to make it sure that no one would take any more than they really need and that everyone periodically brings back stuff according to their abilities.
But how would that guardian determine what are the real needs and the real abilities of each of those individual members of the community?
And, even more importantly, what would stop the guardian from taking the whole ‘communal’ reserve into his private possession? As in acting like a communist dictator? Simply because ‘he needs it’?

The only alternative that worked was the free market. That where you sold your abilities and where you could buy things to fulfill your needs. Where prices were set at the meeting point between ask and demand.
But the same principle, bad money drive out the good, acts even here.
‘Smart’ people try to organize ‘monopolies’. Which, basically, is the same thing as they attempting to become the owners of the ‘communal reserve’.

This whole thing looks like an intractable vicious circle?
Take heart, that’s what ‘reeds’ are for.
We invented those, when we realized that we needed them, didn’t we?

reeded-coins

You still wondering what to use in order to transform that vicious circle into a virtuous one?
How about individual freedom coupled with a healthy dose of mutual respect?

taxation-is-theft

Americans voting in the last elections had four options.

Two authoritarians, one libertarian and a “greenhorn”.

I really like Dr. Stein but her lack of ‘high level’ political or business experience made her an unlikely choice.

The authoritarians have generated much hype but so little real enthusiasm that many voters have chosen to stay home.

voter-turnout

In this situation, with so many voters – who had shown up in 2004 and 2008 – dissatisfied with the mainstream parties, how come the libertarian candidate – who had both a solid experience, as a two term Governor, and a reasonable electoral platform did not manage a better score?
He did ‘rake in’ a little over 4 million votes – more than trebling his 2012 result – but he is still shy of the 5 % needed to qualify the Libertarian Party for federal funding in the next campaign.

Could it be that the libertarians need to ‘clean up their act’?

Judging by the antics performed by the current winner some ‘pundits’ might counsel them to ‘increase the pressure’ but I don’t think that that would be a wise thing to do.
Yes, today’s 2016 President-elect did display a rather unusual behavior for a presidential candidate, and ‘won’, but I’m afraid this was due to a certain set of ‘co-incidents’ rather than the American political scene undergoing a massive upheaval.
Trump is, we must admit that, a great ‘comedian’.
He does have a huge fortune – and presently enough  Americans are sufficiently obsessed with ‘financial success’ to forgive his rather unorthodox ways of amassing that fortune.
And we must not forget that there is a sizable number of Republicans so eager to regain power that they did tolerate his antics – precisely because they have perceived him as a ‘winner’ AND because he has successfully led them to believe that he will uphold their values.
Therefore I’m afraid that Trump’s performance would not be that easy to reproduce nor do I think that America should really go down this path.

Coming back to the Libertarians, they present to the general public such a wide spectrum of ideas that the ordinary American voter is actually bewildered.
For instance, everybody hates paying taxes but give them up altogether?

The business tycoons – those who successfully avoid paying taxes, as private individuals  or through their corporations – won’t give up this system simply because being able to avoid paying taxes constitutes a huge competitive advantage. Actually it would be rational for them to try to increase the ‘fiscal burden’ that weighs down everybody else but them.
The ‘man in the street’, the one who pays little to none income tax but who contributes hugely to the GDP formation simply because he buys the stuff sold by the business tycoons, won’t give them up because he knows that taxes pay for the roads he uses to go to work, for whatever emergency health care he gets, for his children’s schooling, for his meager pension, etc., etc….
It so happens that only the middle class would have any direct, even if highly debatable, benefit if the state would give up collecting taxes. They have private medical insurance, they send their children to private schools, they don’t rely on public pensions in order to have a decent retirement, and they think they have enough money to pay the tolls whenever they’d need to use the roads.

I’m not going to discuss here the practicality of the arrangements proposed by the ‘anarchists’ – private fire-fighters and private police, among others.

What grabbed my attention was the concept of ‘voluntary taxes’.

I work with the Catholic Church (on a consulting basis) and all payments are voluntary. If people don’t like what the church is doing, they either stop participating or stop donating. Similar idea for the government. If it performs a useful function at a friendly cost, people would support it.

This makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

OK, I won’t bother reminding you what would have happened up to two or three centuries ago to the brave enough guy who decided to stop paying the tithe.

But I will mention the fact that there still are countries in Europe who continue to collect taxes in the name of the church.

And, because of that – where possible, many people leave their churches.

Which reminds us that in modern days belonging to a church is optional.
People who actively engage in church life constitute a subset of the entire population, a subset of people who have selected themselves into this (mental)state.

Living (somewhere) is (not yet) fully optional.
Really?!?
No matter how hard someone tries it is possible that they will never get to live where they wish. Sometimes the natives don’t accept them or they die trying to get there.
On the other hand there are ‘places’ that don’t allow their inhabitants to leave – North Korea and Eritrea are the first two examples that cross my mind. Romania also used to be such a place.
In this sense taxes somewhat resemble Schrodinger’s cat. They are optional – for those who choose to join a certain group, to remain in a certain country or to join one – and are forcefully levied from those who cannot, no matter how hard they try, to leave the place where they have to live.
To compound the situation usually the countries who allow their citizens to leave also determine in a rather democratic manner the amount of taxes that have to be paid by those who choose to remain while in those who act as a prison for their inhabitants it is the local ruler who imposes the fiscal burden unto his subjects.
Now, isn’t it rather strange that this idea, “taxation is theft”, is making furors in the freest country on Earth?
One can leave America at will and most Americans have enough money to live like ‘princes’ almost anywhere on Earth. Not as safely nor enjoying the same degree of civilization… no wonder that very few of them actually leave while so many ‘aliens’ try to get in there…
But why don’t they reform the tax system AND the (wasteful?) way the taxes are being spent, instead of dreaming of a tax-less world?
And how come they don’t realize that in a ‘voluntary’ situation the ‘rational’ think to do would be to save your money, leave the other to pay whatever they want to and benefit from whatever spoils are there to be enjoyed ‘for free’?
After all this is already happening with vaccines.
Many diseases have all but disappeared from the ‘civilized’ world. So much so that ‘rational’ people have begun to stop vaccinating their children.
‘What’s the use to submit my children to a risk, however small, if all the other children are being vaccinated?’
For how long do you think this ‘rationale’ is going to work?
measlesincrease2
You will tell me that people have grown doubtful about vaccines only after a scientific study was published in a peer reviewed magazine…
Well, people believe what they want to believe.
Even the defenders of Dr. Wakefield do not pretend that he is against vaccination as a principle but only that he still is, to this day, preoccupied with the safety of the ‘triple vaccine’ (MMR) involved in the initial paper.
He did not advise his patients to stop vaccinating, but instead to vaccinate for these three diseases with single vaccines, rather than the combo.
See what I mean?
Far from being rational – people are seldom rational beyond their field of expertise and sometimes fail to be so even in that realm – we are nevertheless convinced that we consistently behave in a reasonable manner.
And this conviction of ours makes us easy prey for the spin doctors who constantly stalk us.
We need to admit that our rationality is bounded before the reasonable libertarians, like Gary Johnson, will have a real chance of stepping into the lime light.
Until then the authoritarians will divide the spoils amongst them.
Not before staging a heated, but fake, fight for our benefit.

Apparently these two have nothing in common.

The first appears to be a pleonasm while the second sounds like an oxymoron.
The first was a window dressing for a kind of dictatorship that managed to survive for sometime while the second, if ever attempted, would be so volatile that it would ‘evolve’ almost instantly into a ‘dog eats dog’ situation soon to be followed by the most horrid authoritarianism ever known to man.

But there is something that binds them together.

Both had first appeared in the minds of well intended people who were fed up with and trying to do something about what was going around them.

Socialism, the predecessor of ‘popular democracy’ (a.k.a. communism) had grown as a consequence of the excesses committed by some of the ‘savage capitalists’ during the late XIIIV-th and early XIX-th centuries while libertarianism, the reasonable predecessor of libertarian anarchism, as a reaction to the prevailing statism of the late XX-th and early XXI-st ones.

Let me first explain, briefly, why the concept of ‘popular democracy’ is only apparently pleonastic while in reality this wording covers a sheer impossibility. Then I’ll try to extend my practical experience of living under such a regime into a prediction about what would happen if a group of people would ever have to face a truly anarchic situation.

First things first. Democracy means a situation where everybody can voice their concerns about what is going on and where decisions are made in a collective manner, after anyone who cared to had access to all information pertinent to the decisions that had to be made.
In this, theoretic, context ‘popular’ adds absolutely nothing.
In reality ‘popular’ was a window dressing for ‘the population doesn’t know what’s good for it so we, the communists, have to guide it’. Exactly as Marx had explained in the Communist Manifesto. “The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.”

Secondly, but not a iota less important, liberty and anarchy are antithetic terms.
Anarchy is absolutely natural. As natural as water boiling in a kettle. It is impossible to say which drop would ‘burst’ first in a bubble and which would be the last to transition from liquid to gas. OK, if you have a mixture of water and alcohol the latter will boil first and the water later but this would happen only if the sill is heated gradually. If the heat source is too strong, a.k.a. ‘uncontrolled’, the process of distillation becomes ‘anarchic’ and the result is lousy – to say the least. In ‘human terms’ this would translate into a ‘dog eats dog’ situation where things become very quickly aligned along a uni-dimensional criterion – usually ‘brute’ force used in a most callous way.
By the way, this is a second ‘connection’ between these two concepts.
‘Popular democracies’, and dictatorships in general, are eroded by the same dissolving force that would cause any anarchic situation to implode – the most callous and less principled members of the group eventually gain absolute control over the rest, only the process takes longer in a dictatorship.

My point being that dictators are constantly being challenged. Both from within and from outside. It is seldom that a dictatorship passes through all its fazes – like Romania’s communist regime did, or Cambodia’s. Usually at some point a group of people understands what’s going on and try to do something about it. For instance what happened in Russia during Perestroika.
Yes, that could have had better results but just imagine Russia going down to the same depths Romania has probed almost 30 years ago. When most (actually non)public offices were held by incompetent nincompoops whose only goal was to prolong their survival by serving their demented master. Could you have slept at night knowing that Russia’s nuclear arsenal was being managed by such idiots?

Most dictatorships are being ‘weighted down’ by tradition and cultural norms. A dictator needs some time before they can do what they want and they can almost never accomplish all that they would like to. Good or bad.

On the contrary, in a truly anarchic situation – when no rules are observed anymore, except for ‘he who has the biggest fist prevails’, of course – things degenerate very fast. And need a lot more time to get back on track.
Like what happened during the French Revolution. When “the Revolutionary government (the ‘big fisted’ guys of the moment) decided to make “Terror” the order of the day (September 5 decree) and to take harsh measures against those suspected of being enemies of the Revolution (nobles, priests, hoarders). In Paris a wave of executions followed. In the provinces, representatives on mission and surveillance committees instituted local terrors. The Terror had an economic side embodied in the Maximum, a price-control measure demanded by the lower classes of Paris, and a religious side that was embodied in the program of de-Christianization pursued by the followers of Jacques Hébert.”

You might be wondering how come that such a generous concept like ‘let’s treat the workers fairly’ was high jacked into the horrors of communism and whether the same rationale could be extended to predict what a libertarian-anarchist society might (d)evolve into.
The way I see it people’s imagination is huge. A lot of things that might seem bland to ordinary eyes are perceived as resources by ‘crafty’ people and a lot of situations that seem helpless, or even desperate, to normal human beings are seen as very good opportunities by those adept at fishing in troubled waters.

It’s exactly the individuals where this kind of ‘craftsmanship’ is associated with ‘moral lassitude’ who would spare no effort in their attempt to make the’ best’ of the opportunities present in a country being run in an authoritarian manner or during an anarchic situation.

For this kind of guys it doesn’t matter whether the ancient regime was toppled by some socialist utopian (for instance Kerensky in Russia or Dr. Sun Yat-sen in China) or by a bona fide dictator (like, for example, Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina under whose regime some 10 000 to 30 000 people have been ‘disappeared’ by the authorities). Or whether the anarchic situation has been a consequence of regimes imploding from within (pre-revolutionary France, communist Russia, yesterday day Libya) or being unsettled by  sloppy outside interventions  (Afghanistan and Iraq)

All these situations, and many others, are the perfect breeding and hunting ground for  ‘political hyenas’, callous ‘operatives who would eventually ‘denature ‘even the most well intended dictatorship or ‘well organized’ libertarian anarchy.

I’ve already experienced one of this situation.

I really don’t want to experience the other. No matter how appealing it might seem to the libertarian ‘fundamentalists’.

socialism-for-dummies-explained

What’s going on here has nothing to do with what the bona-fide socialists were about (long time ago they tried to reduce the imbalances produced by the ‘savage capitalism’ that was roaming freely in those days) and a lot to do with what’s currently going on in so many contemporary societies.

What’s left for us to do is to find out who is the ‘socialist’ here.

Those two bone headed morons who are fighting over who to be in control of that ladder?
And who are crying now because both halves have become useless?

Yes, that was what they were fighting for!
If all they wanted was to leave the pit it wouldn’t have mattered who did it first…

Or, maybe, the ‘serpent’ who offered to help those two divide the ladder amongst them?

And who, by doing precisely that, made sure that his control, over his ladder – which was not shown, remained unchallenged?

But what has any of this anything to do with socialism? At all?

Did anybody whisper ‘monopoly’?
Back there?

Anyone?

 

quote-the-philosophers-have-only-interpreted-the-world-in-various-ways-the-point-however-is-to-change-karl-marx-250986

Change it into what? And on what grounds?

I had spent the first 30 years of my life under communist rule and I’ve witnessed, first hand, the debacle produced by a bunch of people trying to transform the world according to their own liking. And it’s not only that they had brought a lot of misery to an awful lot of people but they also brought it upon their own heads. They, and their families, have been indeed living a lot better than the rest of the people but a lot worse than the ordinary people living in the free world. Not to mention the fact that many of them ended up really bad, some of them at the hands of their own insatiable, Minotaur-like, leaders and some others during and immediately after the regime change.

I’m writing this post after watching Jon Haidt’s excellent lecture “Two incompatible sacred values in American universities“, delivered at Duke’s Departement of Political Science on October 6, 2016.

The point of Haidt’s conference being that each university should clearly declare its ‘telos’ as belonging to one of these two clear cut options:

the-point-of-a-university_dxo

Don’t bother to search the quote attributed to John Stuart Mill.

It is only an interpretation belonging to Haidt himself, who had inferred it from one of Mill’s famous quotes excerpted from  “On Liberty”:

quote-he-who-knows-only-his-own-side-of-the-case-argument-knows-little-of-that-his-reasons-john-stuart-mill-125-0-0981

So, what should it be?

Change or Truth?

Before proceeding any further I strongly suggest that you take some time and listen to Haidt’s excellent arguments.

Now I’d like to discuss a little about ‘Change’ and ‘Truth’.

What both Marx and Haidt have in mind when they speak about ‘change’ is both ‘purposeful’ and ‘centralized’.
When they say ‘change’ they mean an ‘effort towards increased social justice’, effort whose parameters would be determined by the wise men (and women) delving in the depths of the University’s libraries and which would be implemented without fail, preferably with a sanction from the higher authority.

I had already mentioned, at the beginning of my post, where such ‘change’ would lead anyone  attempting to put it into practice.
And Haidt gives us an excellent explanation for why anybody who will ever attempt such a thing would eventually fail. (I told you to watch his conference…It may be long but every minute of it is packed with very interesting things!)

So why is Haidt challenging us to make this choice instead of giving us a clearer piece of advice?

Well… maybe you should ask him that… I’d hate to believe that he, in his own words, ‘has become afraid of that too many of his students might feel that he is so distanced from what is generally accepted that too few of them would follow him’.

So what should we do?
Some of us should embark on a ‘sterile’ search for the (absolute) truth and then, after eventually finding it, nurse it quietly in our lap but refrain from an even minutely more drastic action while others should attempt to implement change based on already ‘over the hill’ principles?

I’m afraid that would be a dangerous road to follow.

There is no such thing as an ‘absolute’ truth that might be nursed in our lap and even if there was such a thing we are not able to find it – individually or even as a group. There’s plenty evidence about that in Haidt’s discourse.
And then what would be the use of the whole enterprise if we are not planning to use the results of our quest, whatever those might be?

And here lies the crux of the matter.

I’m sure Haidt knows what I’m going to tell you now and I’m very sorry that most of your teachers have never mentioned at class this very interesting story.

Marx was not the first revolutionary thinker of his time.
OK, you already know that. There were a certain number of French intellectuals whose writings have set the stage for the 1789 Revolution.
What is less known is that John Stuart Mill himself had been groomed by his father “as the future leader of this radical movement”, whose aim was supposed to be “social reform based on utilitarianism” with the goal of attaining “the greatest happiness of the greatest number“.

The only difference between James Mill (the father) and Karl Marx being that Mill didn’t advocate the the forceful confiscation of the ‘means of production’.
Otherwise both were faithfully following Plato’s dictum:
Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils, –nor the human race, as I believe, –and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day. Such was the thought, my dear Glaucon, which I would fain have uttered if it had not seemed too extravagant; for to be convinced that in no other State can there be happiness private or public is indeed a hard thing“.

Well, the problem with this line of thought is that it doesn’t work.
Again, Haidt has already presented a solid case about this and I’m not going to re-count his arguments.

So, since there is no such thing as an absolute truth to be discovered, one way or another, and no priest-kings on any white stallions that might come to our rescue, what shall we do?

Simple.
Follow Haidt’s, and John Stuart Mill’s, advice and take it one small step further.

The point of a university is to understand the world because only if you commit to truth, I believe, can you actually achieve justice.

We need to understand, and accept, two things:
Change has to be allowed to come naturally, not pushed forward simply because we are momentarily convinced that ‘The Truth’ had downed on us,
And that (social)justice is a process which has to be implemented on an ‘as needed’ basis, not an independent goal?

In fact Mill’s personal destiny is eloquent enough for what happens when somebody tries to breed a ‘perfect’ Priest-King.
“But in 1826, Mill began to suffer from a severe depression, which he attributed to his excessive analytical training and the resulting impairment of his emotional capacities. Reading the romantic poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge helped Mill to overcome this mental crisis. It also inspired him to form a more complex view on human flourishing than the Benthamite utilitarianism of his father’s generation, with its dogmatic rationalism and unidimensional concept of pleasure.”

And this is why Haidt is absolutely right when he tells us that we need to expose ourselves to a lot more than what we are already familiar, and comfortable, with.
And this is why Heidegger kept warning us that truth as conformity between our words, or even our understanding, and the reality of the fact that we try to understand, and describe to others, is a Fata Morgana which consistently eludes us and that the only way to get any closer to her is ‘unhidennes’.

In this sense there is nothing better than an open mind, both towards our innermost thoughts and to the people living, and thinking, around us.

A mind open enough as to be able to simultaneously attempt to implement whatever changes become necessary in the light of the newly discovered truths AND accept the possibility that those ‘newly discovered truths’ might be incomplete or even altogether false.

Does all this seem rather schizophrenic?

Then let me rephrase the question I started with.

What’s the use of ever trying to understand anything if we’re not going, ever, to change our behavior as a consequence of anything we might come to figure out and on what basis is anyone to attempt any change if he never tried to understand anything above what he already knew long before he even started to think about any change?

As I was ready to close this post I stumbled upon the thought that maybe Haidt meant to apply in the academic world a principle that has been proved invaluable in the political life.

‘Separation of powers’.

Some universities would busy themselves with finding ‘the truth’ while others would attempt to find ways to put ‘it’ into practice.

Leaving aside the fact that this would smack too much of Marxism for my taste I’ll have to remind you that the separation of powers has become necessary in the political realm only because the government has an effective monopoly on power and we need to make it so that it cannot abuse this situation.

No university has any monopoly on truth and/or change.
Furthermore, not even the Academia, as a system, has been able to implement such a monopoly. Not for lack of trying, but that’s another subject.

So, instead of acquiescing to such efforts – by accepting certain universities as official ‘truth seekers’ and others as ‘path finders’/’change implementers’, we’d better ask each and all of them to clean up their acts.

And open up their collective minds.

 

OK, then please someone explain to me what the heck is going on here.

“Other researchers have pointed out the correlation between education rates and declining female health outcomes. The most shocking study, published in August 2012 by the journal Health Affairs, found that life expectancy for white female high-school dropouts has fallen dramatically over the past 18 years. These women are now expected to die five years earlier than the generation before them—a radical decline that is virtually unheard of in the world of modern medicine.”

femalemortalityratesmaplg

(Health Affairs/The Population Institute, University of Wisconsin)

“…women in parts of the country have been left behind, and in some cases, they are dying younger than they were a generation before.”

swing-states-20161

 

This map shows the probable number of votes each parties candidate would win in the Electoral College if the meeting of the College were held today.  If you live in a red state on the map above you probably do not have to vote for anyone for the office of POTUS but you should vote for a candidate for all  the other offices on the ballot.  – Abyssum

Specially after more of his antics have came to light…

I couldn’t find any current data so I’ll have to make do with what the Atlantic had published a month ago.

trumps-base

So, a little over 12% of his votes come from college, or higher, educated women while the total is no less than 48%.

Now, would you care to guess which of these women will continue to disregard his being ‘automatically attracted to beautiful’ and keep rooting for him?

Would you even consider Hillary Clinton as a likely candidate?

“Even though she found the job distasteful, Rodham mounted what she felt was her strongest possible defense of Taylor. As Newsday reporter Thrush wrote in 2008, “Her approach, then and now, was to immerse herself in even unpleasant tasks with a will to win.””

At that time Clinton had been ordered by a judge to defend a rapist – which all practicing lawyers can expect to be asked to do.
“Once she no longer had a choice in the matter, Clinton said in a 2014 interview that she had a professional obligation to give Taylor the strongest possible defense.

“I had a professional duty to represent my client to the best of my ability, which I did,” she said.

Gibson (the prosecutor who tried the case)  recalled that the young lawyer worked overtime on the case in hopes of impressing the court, which might them help establish the reputation of her new legal aid clinc.”

Further more:
“Despite her discomfort with the case, Clinton aggressively defended her client. In an affidavit to the court, she said a child psychologist had told her that children “from disorganized families,” such as the victim, “tend to exaggerate or romanticize sexual experiences.” “

In this sense is it possible that even a college educated woman, like Hillary Rodham Clinton, might vote for somebody like Trump, simply because she might consider other things to be more important than his bragging about ‘grabbing beautiful women, who allow him to do it because he is a “star”, by their pussies’?

OK, you’ll tell me that in the voting booth each of us should behave in a ‘personal’ rather than a ‘professional’ manner.

I’ll up the ante and ask you what kind of person is able to efface his/her personal self so efficiently, simply in order to ‘help establish his/her professional reputation’?

Or accept a gleeful ‘pussy grabber’ as the most powerful person on Earth?

Abraham Maslow, the initiator of ‘humanistic psychology’, has been described as being “concerned with questions such as, “Why don’t more people self-actualize if their basic needs are met?” and basically why don’t people try to reach their full potential.”

“To over simplify the matter somewhat it is as if Freud supplied to us the sick half of psychology and we must now fill it out with the healthy half. Perhaps this health psychology will give us more possibility for controlling and improving our lives and for making ourselves better people. Perhaps this will be more fruitful than asking “how to get unsick”. (A. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being,)

In a sense Maslow follows in the footsteps of J.J. Rousseau.

“Although, in this state [civil society], he deprives himself of some advantages which he got from nature, he gains in return others so great, his faculties are so stimulated and developed, his ideas so extended, his feelings so ennobled, and his whole soul so uplifted, that, did not the abuses of this new condition often degrade him below that which he left, he would be bound to bless continually the happy moment which took him from it for ever, and, instead of a stupid and unimaginative animal, made him an intelligent being and a man” (J.J. Rousseau, The Social Contract)

In more than one sense.

Both consider that society presents its members with almost endless opportunities for self em-betterment, both wonder how come so few make good use of those opportunities and both have been accused of things they have never done.

Rousseau has been falsely accused of being the father of the ‘Noble Sauvage’ – and the quote above proves his complete innocence, ‘stupid and unimaginative animals’ can be mistaken for ‘noble savages’ only by those ‘abused’ by their ‘new condition’ – while Maslow’s detractors – who have failed to scientifically validate all aspects of ‘the hierarchy of needs’ – are questioning the scientific nature of Maslow’s ideas instead of reconsidering their own positions. (The truth being that Maslow had stated upfront that “I yield to the temptation to present it (his notion of a ‘Psychology of Health’, which includes the concept of ‘self-actualization’) publicly even before it is checked and confirmed, and before it can be called reliable scientific knowledge“)

Unfortunately it is rather obvious that while Maslow has successfully detailed what it takes for an individual to ‘ripen’ into the situation of being able to ‘reconsider its own self’, he failed to reach as far as Rousseau was able to. While the latter deplored the fact that ‘the abuses of his new condition often degrade him below that which he left’ the first blindly entertained the notion that self-actualization is necessarily a positive process.

I’ll use only two examples to illustrate my theory, even if by doing so I’m presenting myself as a target for the ‘science-nazi’.
First take a glance at those who founded/were involved in running LTCM. All of them had very respectable careers behind them at that moment. Why did they feel the need to get involved in such a risky business? For those of you unfamiliar with the financial world LTCM was a hedge fund which had to be bailed out in 1998 after losing $4.6 billion, a huge amount of money for those times.
Then tell me what drove Bernard Madoff, an already very successful ‘operator’ in the financial market  to transform the wealth management branch of his company into a huge Ponzi scheme that eventually lost some $18 billion of actual money ($65  billion if the fabricated gains are added to the total)? Not to mention the fact that he involved his family into the daily operation of his company, leading to his brother being sentenced to 10 years in prison and one of his sons committing suicide… – the other one died of lymphoma a few years after Madoff had been incarcerated.

Could it be that this ‘self-actualization’ business depends on two things, the character of the individual involved and the kind of interaction that exists between him and the community of which he is a member? Meaning that if the ties are weak the character of the individual becomes the dominant factor?

And since nobody’s perfect…

“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” (Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom from Fear)

But also

All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible.” Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune

I’ll end up saying that it’s not the governments that have a ‘recurring problem’ but the peoples themselves. By definition governments come and go, it’s the peoples that stay behind and must suffer the consequences of ‘self-actualizations’ went wrong.

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