Tag: Edmund Burke

The struggle between the forces of light and dark.

At least dogs can go off and find new homes!

Let’s start with the Ebola outbreak with the latest news from the BBC suggesting:

The death toll from the Ebola virus outbreak has risen to 4,447, with the large majority of victims in West Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

WHO assistant director-general Bruce Aylward also said there could be up to 10,000 new cases a week within two months if efforts were not stepped up,

But the rate of new infections in some areas has slowed down, he added.

Next up.

I’ve been musing as to whether or not I was going to republish a recent essay from George Monbiot.  The one in question being The Kink in the Human Brain.  It opens, thus:

Pointless, joyless consumption is destroying our world of wonders.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 2nd October 2014

This is a moment at which anyone with the capacity for reflection should stop and wonder what we are doing.

If the news that in the past 40 years the world has lost over 50% of its vertebrate wildlife (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish) fails to tell us that there is something wrong with the way we live, it’s hard to imagine what could. Who believes that a social and economic system which has this effect is a healthy one? Who, contemplating this loss, could call it progress?

In fairness to the modern era, this is an extension of a trend that has lasted some two million years. The loss of much of the African megafauna – sabretooths and false sabretooths, giant hyaenas and amphicyonids (bear dogs), several species of elephant – coincided with the switch towards meat eating by hominims (ancestral humans). It’s hard to see what else could have been responsible for the peculiar pattern of extinction then.

My spirits continued downward, especially when I clicked on that first link and read this from the Guardian website:

Rubbish dumped on the tundra outside llulissat in Greenland stand in stark contrast to icebergs behind from the Sermeq Kujullaq or llulissat Ice fjord – a Unesco world heritage site. Photograph: Global Warming Images/WWF-Canon
Rubbish dumped on the tundra outside llulissat in Greenland stand in stark contrast to icebergs behind from the Sermeq Kujullaq or llulissat Ice fjord – a Unesco world heritage site. Photograph: Global Warming Images/WWF-Canon

The number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, according to a new analysis. Creatures across land, rivers and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats, the research by scientists at WWF and the Zoological Society of London found.

“If half the animals died in London zoo next week it would be front page news,” said Professor Ken Norris, ZSL’s director of science. “But that is happening in the great outdoors. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.” He said nature, which provides food and clean water and air, was essential for human wellbeing.

“We have lost one half of the animal population and knowing this is driven by human consumption, this is clearly a call to arms and we must act now,” said Mike Barratt, director of science and policy at WWF. He said more of the Earth must be protected from development and deforestation, while food and energy had to be produced sustainably.

Then a few days ago, one of our neighbours sent me an email with his latest news about ISIS.  This is what he sent:

Got this from one of my closest friends today, it came from his brother so I’m pretty confident that it’s true. There is some really bad stuff on the horizon and it’s probably gonna come this way like a runaway train!! Everybody better start thinking about where they want to stand when push comes to shove!

With “this’ being in part:

Missionaries who are in the areas that are being attacked by ISIS. ISIS has taken over the town they are in today. He said ISIS is systematically going house to house to all the Christians and asking the children to denounce Jesus. He said so far not one child has. And so far all have consequently been killed. But not the parents. The UN has withdrawn and the missionaries are on their own. They are determined to stick it out for the sake of the families – even if it means their own deaths. They are very afraid, have no idea how to even begin ministering to these families who have had seen their children martyred. Yet he says he knows God has called them for some reason to be His voice and hands at this place at this time. Even so, they are begging for prayers for courage to live out their vocation in such dire circumstances. And like the children, accept martyrdom if they are called to do so. These brave parents instilled such a fervent faith in their children that they chose martyrdom. Please surround them in their loss with your prayers for hope and perseverance.

One missionary was able to talk to her brother briefly by phone. She didn’t say it, but I believe she believes it will be their last conversation. Pray for her too. She said he just kept asking her to help him know what to do and do it. She told him to tell the families we ARE praying for them and they are not alone or forgotten — no matter what. Please keep them all in your prayers.

I didn’t and still don’t know how to reply.  That is until Maria Matthews left a comment to yesterday’s post.

Love the poem/verse Illusion. The lines, Following the herd, bleating like sheep, Held captive, half asleep. hit a strong note with me.

As we often wonder why people can’t think for themselves outside the box but then again maybe that is part of being human. Life is a mystery isn’t it? Enjoyed the post,

Maria’s comment about life being a mystery was interpreted by me as humans being a mystery and the realisation that it has ever been so. For it resonated with a recent programme over on the BBC that included information on the ancient Teotihuacan people who ruled in what is present-day Mexico some 2,000 years ago.  From Wikipedia:

View of the Avenue of the Dead and the Pyramid of the Sun, from Pyramid of the Moon (Pyramide de la Luna).
View of the Avenue of the Dead and the Pyramid of the Sun, from Pyramid of the Moon (Pyramide de la Luna).

Teotihuacan /teɪˌoʊtiːwəˈkɑːn/, also written Teotihuacán (Spanish About this sound teotiwa’kan (help·info)), was a pre-Columbian Mesoamerican city located in the Valley of Mexico, 30 miles (48 km) northeast of modern-day Mexico City, known today as the site of many of the most architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramids built in the pre-Columbian Americas. Apart from the pyramids, Teotihuacan is also anthropologically significant for its complex, multi-family residential compounds, the Avenue of the Dead, and the small portion of its vibrant murals that have been exceptionally well-preserved. Additionally, Teotihuacan exported a so-called “Thin Orange” pottery style and fine obsidian tools that garnered high prestige and widespread utilization throughout Mesoamerica.

The city is thought to have been established around 100 BC, with major monuments continuously under construction until about AD 250. The city may have lasted until sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries AD, but its major monuments were sacked and systematically burned around 550 AD. At its zenith, perhaps in the first half of the 1st millennium AD, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas, with a population estimated at 125,000 or more, making it at minimum the sixth largest city in the world during its epoch. Teotihuacan began as a new religious center in the Mexican Highland around the first century AD. This city came to be the largest and most populated center in the New World. Teotihuacan was even home to multi-floor apartment compounds built to accommodate this large population. The civilization and cultural complex associated with the site is also referred to as Teotihuacan or Teotihuacano.

That BBC programme also included the fact that almost on a daily basis the Teotihuacan authorities viewed the assassinations of often hundreds of lower class people as perfectly normal.

In other words, despicable cruelty of man upon man, not to mention an utter disregard for the natural world, has been going on for thousands of years!

Thus it underlined to me, in spades, that what ‘other people’ get up to is, to a very great extent, irrelevant.  Because whatever the circumstances we have a choice: we always have a choice.  Or if you will forgive me for repeating my closing sentences in yesterday’s post:

Whatever is going on in the world, whatever has the power to create fear in our minds, in the end it comes down to another power, the power of thought, and our choice of the behaviors that we offer the world.

That is why dogs are so important. Because they almost predominantly love sharing and living their lives in the company of humans.

 

evil

Trust, truth and community, Pt. Two.

Musings on truth and the corrosive nature of fear.

Yesterday, in Part One, I explored how easy it is to signal to the public that they are not to be trusted.  I used the case of PayPal’s changes to their ‘privacy’ policy which, as Wolf Richter wrote, only partially tongue-in-cheek perhaps, made “the NSA, which runs the most expansive spying dragnet in history, is by comparison a group of choirboys.

Truth

Again, back to Roget’s Thesaurus.

truth noun

1. Correspondence with fact or truth: accuracy, correctness, exactitude, exactness, fidelity, veraciousness, veracity

2. Freedom from deceit or falseness: truthfulness, veracity

So that’s all clear then!

If only it was that easy.  So many aspects of our modern lives are exposed to complex issues.  None more complex than, of course, the issue of humans having a damaging effect on the planet’s climate.  Or if one wants something more esoteric then try the origins of the universe. (So far as the former is concerned, then my personal belief is that mankind is damaging the global climate.  But do I have the scientific background to support that belief? No Sir!)

However, one thing that our complex society does offer is the opportunity to spread fear. Indeed, fear pervades popular culture and the media.  I picked up that theme from an essay published by David L. Altheide and R. Sam Michalowski of Arizona State University.

Just a random example of the spread of fear.

The link to that essay is here. It opens, thus:

Fear pervades popular culture and the news media. Whether used as a noun, verb, adverb, or adjective, an ongoing study finds that the word “fear” pervades news reports across all sections of newspapers, and is shown to move or “travel” from one topic to another. The use of fear and the thematic emphases spawned by entertainment formats are consistent with a “discourse of fear,” or the pervasive communication, symbolic awareness and expectation that danger and risk are a central feature of the effective environment. A qualitative content analysis of a decade of news coverage in The Arizona Republic and several other major American news media (e.g., the Los Angeles Times, and ABC News) reveals that the word “fear” appears more often than it did several years ago, particularly in headlines, where its use has more than doubled. Comparative materials obtained through the Lexis/Nexis information base also reveals that certain themes are associated with a shifting focus of fear over the years (e.g., violence, drugs, AIDS), with the most recent increases associated with reports about children. Analysis suggests that this use of fear is consistent with popular culture oriented to pursuing a “problem frame” and entertainment formats, which also have social implications for social policy and reliance on formal agents of social control.

No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. [my italics]

That last sentence offers the words of Edmund Burke, the Irish statesman and author from over 200 years ago. So, perhaps, nothing changes in this regard!

In my old country, the British press love to sell their newspapers on the back of fear.  Here are some examples of lurid front pages.

horse meat

oooo

meltdown

oooo

autism

However, it doesn’t end there. Fear of the unknown, of forces beyond our control, are behind the incredible number of conspiracy theories, many of them quite famous.  WikiPedia lists dozens of them. One that was voiced by friends of ours concerned HAARP, which is an acronym for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program.  It was a perfectly legitimate research programme, one that was unclassified, albeit a program that was shut down in July, 2013.

But that didn’t stop it being regarded by many as deeply suspicious, “Many conspiracy theories surround HAARP. Some theorists believe that it is being used as a weather-controlling device that can trigger catastrophic events, such as floods, hurricanes, etc. Others believe that the government uses HAARP to send mind-controlling radio waves to humans.”  Taken from here.

As it happens, this was a programme that I was acquainted with back in my UK days.

OK, time to round this off.

This new, digital world allows the sharing and spreading of information in a manner unimaginable from, say, 25 years ago.  It has many positive attributes, as I will touch upon in tomorrow’s post.  But it also has the power to spread fear and misinformation.  In a world that is becoming more complex and more uncertain year by year, it takes effort by every one of us to stop, think and check on anything that has the potential to upset one.

It takes the power of community to keep us rooted in the stuff of our daily lives, to live calmly and stay in touch with the truth.  More on the power of community tomorrow.

Different ways of looking at life.

A fascinating essay by Corey Robin

Like me, I suspect you haven’t come across this author before.  The connection for me was made by a link in Thursdays selection of Links from Naked Capitalism. It was “Socialism: Converting Hysterical Misery into Ordinary Unhappiness for a Hundred Years Corey Robin (martha r). Today’s must read.”

I was intrigued and went across to Corey Robin’s website to read the article. On the website I learnt a little more:

Corey Robin
Corey Robin – Photo by Sasha Maslov

I teach political science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. I’m the author of The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin and Fear: The History of a Political Idea. My articles have appeared in the New York TimesHarper’s, the London Review of Books, and elsewhere. I also blog at Crooked Timber and Jacobin. I am currently working on a book about the political theory of the free market.

I live in Brooklyn with my wife, daughter, and too many cats.

So to the essay.

oooOOOooo

Socialism: Converting Hysterical Misery into Ordinary Unhappiness for a Hundred Years

In yesterday’s New York Times, Robert Pear reports on a little known fact about Obamacare: the insurance packages available on the federal exchange have very high deductibles. Enticed by the low premiums, people find out that they’re screwed on the deductibles, and the co-pays, the out-of-network charges, and all the different words and ways the insurance companies have come up with to hide the fact that you’re paying through the nose.

For policies offered in the federal exchange, as in many states, the annual deductible often tops $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a couple.

Insurers devised the new policies on the assumption that consumers would pick a plan based mainly on price, as reflected in the premium. But insurance plans with lower premiums generally have higher deductibles.

In El Paso, Tex., for example, for a husband and wife both age 35, one of the cheapest plans on the federal exchange, offered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield, has a premium less than $300 a month, but the annual deductible is more than $12,000. For a 45-year-old couple seeking insurance on the federal exchange in Saginaw, Mich., a policy with a premium of $515 a month has a deductible of $10,000.

In Santa Cruz, Calif., where the exchange is run by the state, Robert Aaron, a self-employed 56-year-old engineer, said he was looking for a low-cost plan. The best one he could find had a premium of $488 a month. But the annual deductible was $5,000, and that, he said, “sounds really high.”

By contrast, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average deductible in employer-sponsored health plans is $1,135.

It’s true that if you’re a family of three, making up to $48,825 (or, if you’re an individual, making up to $28,725), you’ll be eligible for the subsidies. Those can be quite substantive at the lower ends of the income ladder. But as you start nearing those upper limits (which really aren’t that high; below the median family income, in fact), the subsidies start dwindling. Leaving individuals and families with quite a bill, as even this post, which is generally bullish on Obamacare, acknowledges.

Aside from the numbers, what I’m always struck by in these discussions is just how complicated Obamacare is. Even if we accept all the premises of its defenders, the number of steps, details, caveats, and qualifications that are required to defend it, is in itself a massive political problem. As we’re now seeing.

More important than the politics, that byzantine complexity is a symptom of what the ordinary citizen has to confront when she tries to get health insurance for herself or her family. As anyone who has even good insurance knows, navigating that world of numbers and forms and phone calls can be a daunting proposition. It requires inordinate time, doggedness, savvy, intelligence, and manipulative charm (lest you find yourself on the wrong end of a disgruntled telephone operator). Obamacare fits right in with that world and multiplies it.

I’m not interested in arguing here over what was possible with health care reform and what wasn’t; we’ve had that debate a thousand times. But I thought it might be useful to re-up part of this post I did, when I first started blogging, on how much time and energy our capitalist world requires us to waste, and what a left approach to the economy might have to say about all that. It is this world of everyday experience—what it’s like to try and get basic goods for yourself and/or your family—that I wish the left (both liberals and leftists) was more in touch with.

The post is in keeping with an idea I’ve had about socialism and the welfare state for several years now. Cribbing from Freud, and drawing from my own anti-utopian utopianism, I think the point of socialism is to convert hysterical misery into ordinary unhappiness. God, that would be so great.

• • • • • •

There is a deeper, more substantive, case to be made for a left approach to the economy. In the neoliberal utopia, all of us are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time keeping track of each and every facet of our economic lives. That, in fact, is the openly declared goal: once we are made more cognizant of our money, where it comes from and where it goes, neoliberals believe we’ll be more responsible in spending and investing it. Of course, rich people have accountants, lawyers, personal assistants, and others to do this for them, so the argument doesn’t apply to them, but that’s another story for another day.

The dream is that we’d all have our gazillion individual accounts—one for retirement, one for sickness, one for unemployment, one for the kids, and so on, each connected to our employment, so that we understand that everything good in life depends upon our boss (and not the government)—and every day we’d check in to see how they’re doing, what needs attending to, what can be better invested elsewhere. It’s as if, in the neoliberal dream, we’re all retirees in Boca, with nothing better to do than to check in with our broker, except of course that we’re not. Indeed, if Republicans (and some Democrats) had their way, we’d never retire at all.

In real (or at least our preferred) life, we do have other, better things to do. We have books to read, children to raise, friends to meet, loved ones to care for, amusements to enjoy, drinks to drink, walks to take, webs to surf, couches to lie on, games to play, movies to see, protests to make, movements to build, marches to march, and more. Most days, we don’t have time to do any of that. We’re working way too many hours for too little pay, and in the remaining few hours (minutes) we have, after the kids are asleep, the dishes are washed, and the laundry is done, we have to haggle with insurance companies about doctor’s bills, deal with school officials needing forms signed, and more.

What’s so astounding about Romney’s proposal—and the neoliberal worldview more generally—is that it would just add to this immense, and incredibly shitty, hassle of everyday life. One more account to keep track of, one more bell to answer. Why would anyone want to live like that? I sure as hell don’t know, but I think that’s the goal of the neoliberals: not just so that we’re more responsible with our money, but also so that we’re more consumed by it: so that we don’t have time for anything else. Especially anything, like politics, that would upset the social order as it is.

…We saw a version of it during the debate on Obama’s healthcare plan. I distinctly remember, though now I can’t find it, one of those healthcare whiz kids—maybe it was Ezra Klein—tittering on about the nifty economics and cool visuals of Obama’s plan: how you could go to the web, check out the exchange, compare this little interstice of one plan with that little interstice of another, and how great it all was because it was just so fucking complicated.

I thought to myself: you’re either very young or an academic. And since I’m an academic, and could only experience vertigo upon looking at all those blasted graphs and charts, I decided whoever it was, was very young. Only someone in their 20s—whipsmart enough to master an inordinately complicated law without having to make real use of it—could look up at that Everest of words and numbers and say: Yes! There’s freedom!

That’s what the neoliberal view reduces us to: men and women so confronted by the hassle of everyday life that we’re either forced to master it, like the wunderkinder of the blogosphere, or become its slaves. We’re either athletes of the market or the support staff who tend to the race.

That’s not what the left wants. We want to give people the chance to do something else with their lives, something besides merely tending to it, without having to take a 30-year detour on Wall Street to get there. The way to do that is not to immerse people even more in the ways and means of the market, but to give them time and space to get out of it. That’s what a good welfare state, real social democracy, does: rather than being consumed by life, it allows you to make your life. Freely. One less bell to answer, not one more.

oooOOOooo

The Keystone XL pipeline

“Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth.  Do the right thing because it is right.  These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.”

The above is attributed to W. Clement Stone, a businessman, philanthropist and author who died in 2002, aged 100.  It seemed an appropriate quotation with which to introduce a recent article by Bill McKibben, on the Grist blog, about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Bill McKibben

Keystone pipeline’s last defense: Cold, hard cash

What do you do if you’ve lost an argument?

Say you really really want to build a big pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta so that you can sell your bitumen to the world

But 20 of the nation’s top scientists have written to the president to say it’s a terrible idea — and the planet’s leading climatologist says burning the tar sands would be “game over for the climate.” And nine recent winners of the Nobel Peace Prize have condemned the plan. And Robert Redford has just made a video explaining why the plan is an attack on the nation’s heartland. Then, if you’re a poor forlorn oil industry feeling unloved and under assault, what do you do?

There’s really only one answer: Flash your wad.

As we get to the final chapters of the Keystone pipeline saga (the president has said he’ll make his decision by year’s end), money’s the only argument these guys have left.

They managed to buy a favorable environmental review from the U.S. State Department, which helpfully outsourced the job to a company that was a “major client” of TransCanada, the pipeline builder.

And yesterday, they proposed a $100 million “performance bond” to the state of Nebraska, whose Republican governor and senator have come out against the pipeline. The money is apparently designed to pay for damage to the Ogallala Aquifer if the pipeline starts to leak.

Meanwhile, when 33 Democratic representatives sent a letter to the White House demanding a rejection of the plan, lobbyists for TransCanada rounded up their own list of lawmakers from the president’s party to issue a rejoinder. But they only found 22. And what do you know — they included nine of the top 10 Democratic recipients of oil money in the House. On average the signatories received over 4.25 times more oil money than the average House Democrat in the 112th Congress. That would be 325 percent more. That would be how the game is played.

The other side — that is, scientists, Nobelists, and the kind of average people who went to jail in record numbers this summer to block the plan — doesn’t have that kind of money. We’ve had to figure out other currencies to work in: spirit, passion, creativity. We’ve spent our bodies, putting them on the line. The odds are still against us, but the odds are changing; we’re on a roll as we head toward Nov. 6, when we’ll ring the White House with people, exactly one year before the election. (You can sign up here.)

But every once in a while we get to play the money game too! While TransCanada was out there setting the $100 million price on the Ogallala Aquifer, this news story rolled across my screen. It described a big Democratic giver, Barbarina Heyerdahl. She gave 120 grand to Obama and the Democratic National Committee over the last three years, not to mention knocking on doors for the 2008 campaign. But she said Keystone is a bridge too far, that “she won’t be writing any more checks to Obama if he approves the carbon conduit that’s become the focus of the climate-change movement. ‘It’s a baseline issue,’ she says.”

I have no doubt that, even with Heyerdahl and other donors accounted for, the oil industry has all the money they need to win this fight. The Koch brothers are the third and fourth richest men in America, and they filed papers in Canada declaring their “direct and substantial” interest in the project. If money’s the only thing that matters, they’ll carry the day.

But if money’s the only thing that matters, we’re done for anyway. So we’ll keep using science and art and courage. And we’ll hope that Barack Obama hasn’t sold his soul. We’re going to find out in the next few weeks.

Bill McKibben is founder of 350.org and Schumann Distinguished Professor at Middlebury College in Vermont. He also serves on Grist’s Board of Directors.

Bill’s website may be found here.  Also, please PLEASE watch the video made by Robert Redford.  Only 3 mins 25 seconds long, the ink to the video is here.

Finally, a YouTube video from Tars and Action.

All that’s necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke