Thursday, May 21, 2015

Turn down the hype

Guest post by Arthur Dent:

According to the World Bank:
“By acting now, acting together and acting differently, we will be able to transition to a low emissions, climate resilient development path and hold warming below 2°C.”(1)
To help achieve this, a MOOC sponsored by the World Bank (Turn Down the Heat) requires students to produce “digital artefacts” with the aim “create a sense of urgency and a call to action for individuals, companies or countries to change behaviors associated with a warming planet”.

My call is for the World Bank to change its behaviour and “turn down the hype”.

It should be obvious that none of the measures advocated by the World Bank have had much impact on the planet warming, and there is no reason to expect that creating a sense of urgency in support of more of the same will have a better result.

The IPCC's authoritative report on Mitigation of Climate Change(2) shows clearly that there is no realistic prospect of holding warming below 2°C.

The simple reality is that most emissions will result from the rapid industrialization of developing countries like India and China who cannot and will not switch from the cheapest energy sources available while they remain poor. No amount of hype will change that reality.

If the problem was as grave and urgent as claimed there would be no alternative but for developed nations who can afford the cost to switch from cheaper fossil fuels to more expensive nuclear power and also pay the costs of the entire world doing the same. But the World Bank does not advocate that, so it is difficult to believe it takes its own hype seriously.

Wind and solar power cannot solve the problem because they are intermittant. Power is also needed when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. There is no technology on the horizon that could store energy cheaply enough to compete with the dispatchable power from fossil fuels, even if wind and solar power was free. Instead of pretending that wind and solar could do the job it is clearly necessary to act differently. Since there is no viable replacement for fossil fuels on the horizon that developing countries could afford, it is necessary to do something very different from what the World Bank advocates.

We will need some breakthroughs in fundamental technology. Neither the regulatory nor the market pricing mechanisms advocated by the World Bank can achieve that. Massive investments in research and development and fundamental science are required. Contrary to the hype there is no “return” on that investment. As with all fundamental science, the results have to be made freely available to the countries that are too poor to pay for it. So the “free rider” problem ensures that no carbon pricing mechanism could motivate such investment. At present each developed country is hoping that somebody else will pay to develop the necessary technology. There is no “national” benefit in doing so. It is a global, not a national problem. The most ambitious national targets for R&D are about 3% of GDP for all purposes. These targets are not being met, despite the fact that new technology is the driving force for economic growth.

A global levy on developed countries that can afford it is required, to pay for the costs of a massive global R&D program that is not expected to produce any “return” on the investment, other than “merely” solving the problem of global warming.

That may require a significant expansion in the total scientific workforce and consequently a long lead time for education.

If it is not successful, then we will have to resort to some combination of geo-engineering, adaptation strategies and subsidizing nuclear power in all countries, at potentially vastly greater costs. But even if a massive global R&D program failed to produce clean energy competitive with fossil fuels, it would at least accelerate economic growth generally and enable the whole world to afford more expensive energy than fossil fuels more quickly.
“Modernization has liberated ever more people from lives of poverty and hard agricultural labor, women from chattel status, children and ethnic minorities from oppression, and societies from capricious and arbitrary governance. Greater resource productivity associated with modern socio-technological systems has allowed human societies to meet human needs with fewer resource inputs and less impact on the environment. More-productive economies are wealthier economies, capable of better meeting human needs while committing more of their economic surplus to non-economic amenities, including better human health, greater human freedom and opportunity, arts, culture, and the conservation of nature.”(3)
We need more modern technology, not medieval windmills.

(1) WDR 2010: Development and Climate Change
(2) Working Group 3
(3) An Ecomodernist Manifesto

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

remote hopelessness

I watched Remote Hope on 4 Corners. In some respects it was quite a good expose about how bad things have become but it still didn't drill down deep enough into the fundamental basis of the problem or interview those who have thought deeply about it and grappled with a solution.

Tony Abbott ("lifestyle choices") and Colin Barnett ("put yourself in my shoes") have both shot themselves in the foot and are easy targets. But what is needed is not a free kick of unpopular politicians but an honest description of the problem and some deep thought about a solution.

Some good people have thought deeply about the issue of remote indigenous community dysfunction: Peter Sutton, Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton, Bess Price and Stephanie Jarret, to name a few. They are the whistle blowers and they blew the whistle a long time ago. Noel Pearson's essay Our Right to Take Responsibility was delivered in 2000. Why didn't the ABC interview these people?

I thought some of the people interviewed were very good in describing the problem:
  • the Broome mayor, Graeme Campbell 
  • John Hammond, the Perth Lawyer, who supported some shut downs of dysfunctional communities 
  • Anthony Watson who plans to camp on Cable Beach, inconveniencing tourists, and bringing a real problem to the attention of Australians 
  • Karl O'Callaghan, the WA police commissioner, was good, pointing out facts (sex abuse 10 times higher than anywhere else), supporting closures of dysfunctional communities and even providing an emotional response, that he couldn't sleep at night, whether rhetorical or not, it was correct 
  • Susan Murphy right at the end, we can't keep giving handouts 
I thought Tammy Solonec of Amnesty International was terrible, talking about human rights in the abstract, not based on any analysis of reality.

The best attempt at a solution so far is that proposed by Noel Pearson and his Family Responsibility Commission. See the article by Catherine Ford about that, Great Expectations: Inside Noel Pearson's social experiment.

Admittedly nothing about this issue is going to easy. But the problem came about due to bad policy that superficially looked like humane policy. Equal wages led to indigenous unemployment. Welfare led to alcohol and drug abuse and child abuse. The bad policy has dragged on for many years after it was pointed out. Nevertheless, bad policy can be corrected. Of course, it is too late for many but correction of bad policy offers real hope which can grow over time for some.

Kerry O'Brien said right at the end that there was no easy solution but still the puzzle is why they didn't put Noel Pearson on who has come up with a hard solution. I think the ABC is more interested in easy hits on Abbott and Barnett than proposing a real solution. See my earlier article, The closure of remote indigenous communities, for links to the ideas of Marcia Langton and Stephanie Jarret on this issue.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

the closure of remote indigenous communities

Last Friday about 5000 gather at Flinders St Station following a CBD march against closure of Aboriginal communities
I wonder how many of those protesters have informed themselves of what really happens in those remote communities --> murder, violence, abuse of women and children, under age marriage etc. in far greater proportions than any where else in Australia.

I've put together some resources and links which provide background information and documents my above assertion:

The organising group has called itself Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR). Their manifesto is separatist and calls for restoration of tribal sovereignty and customary law. This would perpetuate what is already unacceptable to our post Enlightenment moral values.

Abbott's choice of words is not the issue here by Anthony Dillon
Critics of the Prime Minister's choice of words are ignoring the bigger picture. If people are living in conditions that compromise health and well-being, and their communities cannot be made viable, then a sensible exit strategy is needed

Some graphic descriptions of black on black violence here: Our black mark of shame (1998) by Tony Koch
(This) plea is on behalf of the women and children who live on the remote Aboriginal communities in this state, those people who spend their every day expecting to be bashed, abused, raped or killed by drunken men

Saving the children by Steve Etherington
But then I visit one of our ‘dry’ communities, with its own language, on its own land, as I did last week, and I see girls the same age as my granddaughter, ten or eleven, with dirty matted hair, sitting with drunken adults in card games hoping to cadge food money, or furtively darting out of a house where the porn videos can be heard, shamefaced, frightened. When I talk to them and find them already hardened and wary about life, when I informally assess them, sparing them any humiliation, and confirm that their literacy skills, their numeracy and their general knowledge are below mainstream infants school standard, when I watch their terribly limited capacity to attempt new relationships, I find it hard to thank God

The source for the above two links was a Stephanie Jarrett interview
I am committed to the liberal-democratic principles of universal individual human rights and non-relativism regarding violence. My left-leaning feminism increases my outrage against the oppressions endured by remote Aboriginal women. Through my research, I came to understand that Aboriginal self-determination is a key causal factor in the persistent, high levels of violence against Aboriginal women

Stephanie Jarret's book length treatment of the issue: Liberating Aboriginal People from Violence

Gary Clark has written a reply to a criticism of Stephanie Jarret's book, Speaking Out on Aboriginal Violence in the Quadrant, September 2014. Gary's articles can be accessed through academia, here. You will need to logon there.

Finally, a realistic article by Marcia Langton about what could be done to improve the situation, Health and welfare: Restricted welfare payments may help in many indigenous communities

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

why migration is a fundamental human right

why migration is a fundamental human right

A short extract from the conclusion of an eloquent argument in favour of migration by Mohsin Hamid:
It is we, those who stop migration, who are the criminals, not those who are migrants. And slowly, at a pace that does not terrify us, but whose direction is clear, we must gradually let go, and allow things to change. Only in doing so can we hope to build a world in accordance with the values we claim to believe in – liberty, equality, democracy – and wash clean the taste of hypocrisy that burns so bitter in so many of our mouths.

I imagine that centuries hence, when people are finally free to move as they please around the planet Earth, they will look back at this moment and wonder, just as we wonder about those who kept slaves, how people who seemed so modern could do such things to their fellow human beings, caging them like animals – merely for wanting to wander, as our species always has and always will.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

thoughts about Janis Joplin's line "freedom is just another word for nothin' left to lose"

Freedom might mean:
  • free to rebel against your parents
  • turn on, tune in, drop out (Timothy O'Leary)
  • free love
  • freedom to dump your lover
  • freedom without love (pain)
  • freedom to marry, have kids, buy a house and work hard to pay off the mortage
  • freedom to curse Kim Jong-un before being executed
  • freedom to take responsibility ... our right to self determination is ultimately the right to take responsibility (Noel Pearson)
  • freedom as the recognition of necessity (Engels,in Anti-Duhring, states that Hegel was the first to discover this principle but my googling indicates that Spinoza (1632-1677) may have said something like it before Hegel (1770-1831), see here and here)
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing don’t mean nothing honey if it ain’t free, now now.

Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing, that’s all that bobby left me, yeah,

Here are some extracts from an interesting discussion about the line from a message board (link):

Sam Stone: When you've got nothing to lose, you can do whatever you damned well please. When I was young, single, and had no career to speak of, I could pack up and move to another city, or go backpacking on a whim, or really whatever I wanted.

Now I have a mortgage, a kid, a career, and I'm not free at all. I get up every morning, go to work, do what the boss says, pick the kid up from school, etc. And if I decide to chuck the job, I'd lose the house, maybe the marriage, family... So I'm trapped.

Not that I'd trade it away, but the fact is we give up a lot of freedom when we take on the responsibility of a middle class life. We become slaves to our commitments and to the cost of losing what we've taken years to build up.

Incantatrix: I always thought that the person telling the story, thought that Bobby and she were free because they were roaming around the countryside and exploring and loving each other, and she thought, having a good time.

But then Bobby slips away and she says

Looking for that home, and I hope he finds it

And she realised that they weren't free at all - that Bobby had always been looking for something and it was something that she as much as she wanted couldn't provide. And now she's trapped. Because she knows what she wants but she can't have it.

So in essence, she is free, but she has nothing.

Ahh unrequited love, the saddest love of all .....

Kris Kristofferson (the original author of the lyrics) said: I think when I wrote that, I was trying to show that freedom is a double-edged sword and that you may be free, but it can be painful to be that free...

Elendil's Heir: I always hated that line. Nobody who ever actually lived in tyranny - in Germany under Hitler, Russia under Stalin, Iraq under Saddam Hussein - would ever say anything so fatuous.

Rube E. Tewesday, in reply to Elendil's Heir: I'm not so sure about that. I once read a piece about North Korea, where a refugee mentioned that the only people he ever heard curse Kim Il Sung were being led to execution. It seems to me that having nothing left to lose, they were finally free.

chappachula: The first line ("freedom = nothing left to lose"): means that being free isn't the most important thing in the world. In the exciting atmosphere of new found freedom during the hippy 60's, that was an unusual statement. Being free was the ultimate goal, to defy the conformity of your parents and the 1950's . Wear jeans and a long hair, not penny loafers and brylcream. Posters proclaiming "do your own thing", " free love" were ,like, man, really deep. Very few young people then would dare to say that freedom ain't so great.

The second line ("nothing aint worth nothin' , but its free") is a great double entendre. It reminds you that, in your freedom, you only have a whole lot of nothing. But, you can still try to convince yourself that you've got something--'cause you've got your freedom. Sour grapes!--sure, you're lonely and lost without a girlfriend or boyfriend to love. But you can still love your freedom--for whatever it's worth

Thursday, April 23, 2015

a report from Turkey about Syrian refugees

From a list-serv I am on:
"We have, in Istanbul/Turkey, millions of Syrian families now, approximately 2 million, in metros, in metro stations, in streets, usually couples with 2 children in complete incapacity about what to do, how to survive. No shelter, no food, absolutely nothing.

In newspapers, it reads that Syrian girls or women are bought at 5000 turkish liras (2500 usd) as second or third wives..."
Possibly, in Australia, the mainstream media doesn't report the real news because we would die of shame for not doing more to help the wretched of the earth.

Monday, April 20, 2015

the ecomodernist manifesto

ecomodernist manifesto

I'm trying to work out why ideas like this have so little traction in any significant political party. Liberals, Labour and Green are all hopeless. I've summarised some of the key points below but it would be better to read the whole thing.

1) We live in the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans

2) There are no good reasons for pessimism.

3)... we affirm one long-standing environmental ideal, that humanity must shrink its impacts on the environment to make more room for nature, while we reject another, that human societies must harmonize with nature to avoid economic and ecological collapse

4) There is an answer to environment concerns that are heard every day. The answer is to decouple intensive human development from environmental issues.

5) in contradiction to the often-expressed fear of infinite growth colliding with a finite planet, demand for many material goods may be saturating as societies grow wealthier. Meat consumption, for instance, has peaked in many wealthy nations and has shifted away from beef toward protein sources that are less land intensive (other issues of concern outlined too)

6) Ecosystems around the world are threatened today because people over-rely on them ... Conversely, modern technologies, by using natural ecosystem flows and services more efficiently, offer a real chance of reducing the totality of human impacts on the biosphere

7) Plentiful access to modern energy is an essential prerequisite for human development

8) The energy sources we need are cheap, clean, dense, and abundant. Candidates include next-generation solar, advanced nuclear fission, and nuclear fusion

9) Our Environmental future is a human spiritual or aesthetic choice more than a material or utilitarian choice ... the decoupling makes this choice possible

10) Don't confuse modernity (good) with capitalism (questionable)
"Too often, modernization is conflated, both by its defenders and critics, with capitalism, corporate power, and laissez-faire economic policies. We reject such reductions. What we refer to when we speak of modernization is the long-term evolution of social, economic, political, and technological arrangements in human societies toward vastly improved material well-being, public health, resource productivity, economic integration, shared infrastructure, and personal freedom.

Modernization has liberated ever more people from lives of poverty and hard agricultural labor, women from chattel status, children and ethnic minorities from oppression, and societies from capricious and arbitrary governance. Greater resource productivity associated with modern socio-technological systems has allowed human societies to meet human needs with fewer resource inputs and less impact on the environment. More-productive economies are wealthier economies, capable of better meeting human needs while committing more of their economic surplus to non-economic amenities, including better human health, greater human freedom and opportunity, arts, culture, and the conservation of nature.

Modernizing processes are far from complete, even in advanced developed economies ..."
the authors

the responses (great to see that they are publishing critical responses on their site)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Judith Curry's evaluation of the climate change debate

Judith Curry's testimony to The House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology Full Committee Hearing about The President’s UN Climate Pledge: Scientifically Justified or a New Tax on Americans?

Here is the [link] for the hearing, which includes link to all of the testimonies and also the webcast

Judith Curry (blog):
The central issue in the scientific debate on climate change is the extent to which the recent (and future) warming is caused by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions versus natural climate variability that are caused by variations from the sun, volcanic eruptions, and large-scale ocean circulations.

Recent data and research supports the importance of natural climate variability and calls into question the conclusion that humans are the dominant cause of recent climate change. This includes:
  • The slow down in global warming since 1998 
  • Reduced estimates of the sensitivity of climate to carbon dioxide 
  • Climate models that are predicting much more warming than has been observed so far in the 21st century
While there are substantial uncertainties in our understanding of climate change, it is clear that humans are influencing climate in the direction of warming. However this simple truth is essentially meaningless in itself in terms of alarm, and does not mandate a particular policy response.

We have made some questionable choices in defining the problem of climate change and its solution:
  • The definition of ‘dangerous’ climate change is ambiguous, and hypothesized catastrophic tipping points are regarded as very or extremely unlikely in the 21st century
  • Efforts to link dangerous impacts of extreme weather events to human-caused warming are misleading and unsupported by evidence.
  • Climate change is a ‘wicked problem’ and ill-suited to a ‘command and control’ solution
  • It has been estimated that the U.S. national commitments to the UN to reduce emissions by 28% will prevent three hundredths of a degree centigrade in warming by 2100.
The inadequacies of current policies based on emissions reduction are leaving the real societal consequences of climate change and extreme weather events largely unaddressed, whether caused by humans or natural variability.

The wickedness of the climate change problem provides much scope for disagreement among reasonable and intelligent people. Effectively responding to the possible threats from a warmer climate is made very difficult by the deep uncertainties surrounding the risks both from the problem and the proposed solutions.

The articulation of a preferred policy option in the early 1990’s by the United Nations has marginalized research on broader issues surrounding climate variability and change and has stifled the development of a broader range of policy options.

We need to push the reset button in our deliberations about how we should respond to climate change:
  • We should expand the frameworks for thinking about climate policy and provide a wider choice of options in addressing the risks from climate change. 
  • As an example of alternative options, pragmatic solutions have been proposed based on efforts to accelerate energy innovation, build resilience to extreme weather, and pursue no regrets pollution reduction 
  • Each of these measures has justifications independent of their benefits for climate mitigation and adaptation. 
  • Robust policy options that can be justified by associated policy reasons whether or not human caused climate change is dangerous avoids the hubris of pretending to know what will happen with the 21st century climate.
This concludes my testimony.
Judith also recommends reading the testimonies of Harbert and Thorning

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Capital is a social relation, not a static thing

This is intended as an introduction to the philosophy of internal relations as developed by Bertell Ollman, 1935 -

Capital is not just a thing but a dynamic, living social relationship. My essay on Social Forms is deficient in this respect. It does identify Capital etc. as arising from social relations but it still, implicitly, treats Capital as a passive thing, not a dynamic living thing which depends on its ongoing social relationships for its existence and nature.

Ricardo made a similar mistake. He regarded Capital as “accumulated labour”, as something purely material, a mere element in the labour process. (Marx, Theory of Surplus Value). Ricardo was defining Capital in a narrow, clear cut sense and then linking it externally to other elements such as labour.

Marx, by contrast, describes Capital as an extensive network of internal relations. It is “that kind of property which exploits wage-labour, and which cannot increase except on condition of getting a new supply of wage-labour for fresh exploitation.”(The Communist Manifesto, Ch 2). The relation between capital and labour is treated as a function of capital itself, and part of the meaning of “capital”. Marx goes onto refer to the worker as “variable capital” (Capital vol 1). In other places Marx refers to money and commodities as capital. In Marx's view Capital is not a clearly defined thing but a dynamic, living, evolving, changing thing.

When social relations become subject matter then we have to think differently. What we normally regard as nouns (Capital, wage labour, Value) are transforming into verbs. But our ingrained habit is to think of nouns as static and verbs as active. This is one reason why Marx's Capital is hard to understand.

This relationship view of concepts, staying with Marx's examples of Capital, labour, Value, the commodity for now, views each of these concepts as an internally linked network.

Contrast this with our traditional conventional “scientific” or common sense view that each concept can be defined independently of the other concepts and then linked externally to the other concepts.

In the common sense view Capital is “accumulated labour” which can then be invested in a new project which requires wage labour to succeed. But in Marx's view if wage labour disappeared then there would no longer be any Capital (Communist Manifesto). Max Hirsch (Democracy versus Socialism, 1901) criticised Marx for the alleged imprecision of tying capital to exploitation of the labourer. This meant that a machine used by a farmer who owned it would not be capital, but it would be capital if he hired a man to operate it. The machine in itself is not Capital but when it is connected to wage labour it becomes Capital. However, rather than a valid criticism, this shifting sand arises from the view that Capital is not a clearly definable thing but a social relation in motion.

If we accept Ollman's interpretation of Marx, that social relations become subject matter, that things we regard as clearly defined nouns like Capital are in reality more like verbs, continually in motion, then this in turn impacts on our conception of causation. Once the extensive internal relations of a concept are used to identify it then change becomes more a matter of a shift in those internal relations rather than a traditional scientific cause and effect model.

eg. some have read Marx as an economic determinist because his major work has the words “political economy” in the subtitle. But since the concepts of Marx, such as Capital, have extensive internal relations to wage labour, work, commodity fetishism, estrangement etc. then his analysis is intended as an extensive social critique of the capitalist system as a whole, rather than a narrow economic only critique.

The social system of capitalism is conceived as a living, organic body with extensive, ever changing inner connections. In such a model causes and conditions tend to merge together, unlike a tradition scientific cause and effect model.

At some stage some particular inner connections may become more significant than others and so they might appear to be a major cause of change. But it is more helpful to see this as a principal contradiction (to use Mao's terminology in On Contradiction) determining change than some sort of linear cause and effect model.

Ollman, Bertell. Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society (1971), pp. 14-17

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The picture writes the concepts which are then used to describe the picture

The picture writes the concepts which are then used to describe the picture. The categories used to describe society are a dynamic part of a concrete, organic, living whole.

The categories (forms, manifestations, aspects) of bourgeois society are not neutral definitions but are determined by that society dynamically. The story (big picture) dynamically informs the concepts that make up the narrative.

Start with society. That is given from a materialist perspective. The society determines the categories. But society is enormously complex so with which aspects of society do we start? The dictionary gives us words and meanings but doesn't give us a starting point.

Human minds have struggled over the years to formulate categories which describe society. This requires research, study, practice.

We then use those categories to perceive society and describe it to ourselves and others. Perception is not neutral, we perceive through our categories which influence or condition our senses, we see what our minds tell us to see. Inevitably those categories, despite our best intentions, are one sided, incomplete. We are brainwashed by our environment, our upbringing, our parents, our media etc. as to what we perceive, what is important and what is less important.

Society is more complicated and nuanced than our ability to describe it. The best we can do is approach a comprehensive description from our particular point of view. The way a modern atheist perceives society is vastly different from a religious person from the Middle Ages who believed that the Earth was the centre of the universe and those who challenged that view ought to be burnt at the stake.

It would be a mistake to think we have finished this process. Furthermore, society keeps changing so the categories have to be modified as we go along. We have to change too in order to catch up and keep up with social change. The whole process of formulating categories and using them to perceive and describe society is dynamic, changing, not static.

Different humans come to widely different understandings of our society and how it should function and develop: libertarians, social contract, dictatorship, liberal democracy, socialists, communists, Islamic State, Green politics. These labels demonstrate a variety of possible trajectories of different human understandings.

Hence, I am very interested in Marx's method since from my current perspective his method did result in an insightful understanding of the internal dynamics of capitalism, how it works, its problems and its limited future.

Current reading:
Marx, Karl. The Method of Political Economy

Ollman, Bertell. Dance of the Dialectic: Steps in Marx's Method (2003)

Ollman, Bertell. Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society (1971)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

why chess?

I'm currently working as a chess coach with Chess Ideas. Here is my argument for the value of chess:
Iris Murdoch, novelist and philosopher, wrote that great art requires paying close attention to reality (The Sovereignty of Good). She was comparing great art with the more common fantasy art or a capitulation to wishful thinking.

In chess, as well, you have to focus attentively on the position in front of you and not be swayed by wish fulfilment or a sudden mood swing. Chess poses many problems to solve both in quantity and variety; possibly more so than in other domains. There are a wide variety of tactical themes as well as different schools of thought about strategic play. Furthermore, openings, middle game and end game all have their own particular challenges. To succeed in chess you need to prepare intelligently, think rationally, concentrate deeply, control your emotions and not yield to whim or fancy. From this it follows that many chess players become independent thinkers in other domains.

Choice and activity are important parts of chess. This fits nicely with learning theories which stress the importance of active learning, in contrast to the passive reception of received wisdom. Playing chess expertly against an opponent means committing to making complex decisions at nearly every move. This also involves time management because competitive games are played using a timer. This is good preparation for decision making in some aspects of life.

Chess teaches a discipline. This requires looking deeply into a difficult subject, to strive for depth and something approaching objectivity. At the same time it is a game and like all games is fun. This particular sort of fun emerges from a deep mental workout. Chess can be a motivator to immerse yourself deeply in logical, rational thinking.

Young people can be highly successful at chess. Unlike other areas in life sheer ability nearly always comes out on top, irrespective of age. The current world champion, Norwegian, Magnus Carlsen, is 23 years old.
One of Australia's most promising players, Anton Smirnov, is only 13 years old, amongst the best players of his age in the world! The young can tackle this complex cognitive task and shine against adults, which is wonderful for their self confidence.

Chess is competitive. Competition is a double edged sword, for sure, but it does have a good side. It promotes interest, alertness and elicits high achievement. The rapid feedback acts as a huge spur to solve the problems optimally. Losing at competitive chess can be painful. If the player accepts this challenge long term then it is character building, promoting mental toughness, resilience, will power, determination and persistence.

Chess promotes analytical skills. An important part of chess training is to record and then revisit your games to evaluate and in some cases to annotate in detail. Good players also study chess books out of the necessity to improve. This process develops expert reading, study and analytical writing skills.

As former world champion, Gary Kasparov, points out if you can apply what you have learnt through chess to yourself then chess can be very valuable indeed:
"My argument has always been that what you learn from using the skills you have—analyzing your strengths and weaknesses—is far more important. If you can program yourself to learn from your experiences by assiduously reviewing what worked and what did not, and why, success in chess can be very valuable indeed. In this way, the game has taught me a great deal about my own decision-making processes that is applicable in other areas, but that effort has little to do with natural gifts."
- source

Thursday, March 26, 2015

social forms and the individual

Unknown unknowns: All the things you don't know you don't know

I thought I had understood capitalism, that the bosses owned the means of production and the workers had no option but to sell their labour to the boss. There were rich people, poor people and class struggle.

But I didn't know about Value as a social form and so my real understanding of capitalism was deficient.

Despite my involvement in radical anti-imperialist / communist politics going back to the late 1960s I totally missed that a variety of social forms (formations) that we swim in daily have evolved and materialised from non material things, namely social relations. For example, some people worship money and virtually everyone can't help but adopt a strong interest in money, since it is essential to both survival and a good life. But most people haven't thought through that money originates in a social relation, that is, the need to standardise commodity exchange.

Such social forms are historically contingent, not an inevitable aspects of society. In the late 60s I had looked below the surface of capitalism and understood some of its workings but had missed that there was a lot more happening down there than I had imagined. Sadly, I now realise, my ignorance was and is shared by most other 60s radicals. This ignorance originated in a failure to understand Marx's most important work, “Capital”.


Social forms are things that emerge (materialise) as social artefacts as society evolves. Their origin is social not material. They become part of that society and are often perceived as part of the air we breathe. But it is social function that has brought them about and not the form which has created the social function. They don’t have any necessary permanence beyond that. Social forms in capitalist society include things of major importance such as value, money, capital, the commodity, commodity exchange, the market, rent and interest. These things emerge from a social process and are not set in stone for all time.

What Marx meant by Value as a social form was the capacity of a commodity to be exchanged as an equal. In terms of social or class consciousness some people have a strong sense of boss – worker relations as a social construct, something that can change, but usually do not have the same sense that Value has arisen socially and will not be around forever. You can imagine a society (socialism, communism) where things are produced for people's needs or wants, that people will receive food, medicine and white goods irrespective of their financial status. In such a society Value as a measure of commodities to be exchanged would whither away.

I am taking a lot of short cuts here. I can explain Value in more detail in another post. Marx argues that money (he refers to gold or silver as money) evolves from the commodity. Money eventually evolves as a universal equivalent. Gold has the ideal properties required for money (divisibility, durability etc.)

Hence Value arises through the social process of commodity exchange. Its origin and evolution is through this social process and has nothing to do with any identifiable physical or material properties of commodities. Although value eventually takes a physical form in the shape of money its origin is social.
“No scientist to date has yet discovered what natural qualities make definite proportions of snuff, tobacco and paintings 'equivalents' of one another” (Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Part 3, p. 130, link)
In time the social forms become more than the expression but the bearers, the motivators, the dominant consideration in the decisions people make in their lives. This is fairly obvious, in the case of money, for instance.


My friend Peter, is trying to develop a theory of ethical and moral value, based on Marx. One of his ideas here is to include the concept of the individual as a social form. In his words:
“I want to isolate, and show the epistemological weaknesses in notions (widespread in both philosophy and psychology, both in the past and today) of the separate, atomistic, private, individual self, as if it is, as if it could be, the basis of value and meaning in society today.

Such a self, I hope to demonstrate, is a by-product of, an abstraction, from material, universal human interaction. And that that self arises, historically, along with money – as a result, initially, of exchange relations, but only becomes individual autonomy (a very abstract and alienated idea of individual freedom and equality, as described by Marx in Capital) with the rise of wage labour as an important part of exchange in capitalism.

The abstraction that is the separate, atomistic, private individual self today sits over, and obscures (what is regarded as ‘outside’ - both behind the backs, but also in front of the noses, of every individual) – the material, social and universal aspect of everyday human interaction. The creative potential of all our human interactions is depleted in the ubiquitous ‘breaking up’ of those interactions into well intentioned, but very separate, atomistic, private, individual selves (deemed to be both real and ‘universal’).

Life is about, we are told, each of us, giving and taking what we need and we want. And that, the give and take, is a natural and ahistorical fact of life - there is no value greater, there is nothing more real, than the good self who strives to live by what is given to us all, according to what we all have inherited, as good, right and true.

I hope to demonstrate that the religious, superstitious and fetishistic abstraction, that is the autonomous individual, works every day, to erode, deplete and render sterile the creative and social opportunities that arise every day in human interaction. Such individualism, insinuated between every one of us, and between our actions, makes us strangers to the immanent nature of universal social need and injustice. The solitary self is a stumbling block that continues, is actively used, to crush real human creativity."
I have some issues with this interpretation of the individual. I will write about those later. What I wanted to do in this post was to explain the meaning of social forms and at least outline the case, from Peter, that such an interpretation of the individual is at least plausible.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: the future of Islam

But this is not a work of theology. It is more in the nature of a public intervention in the debate about the future of Islam. The biggest obstacle to change within the Muslim world is precisely its suppression of the sort of critical thinking I am attempting here. If my proposal for reform helps to spark a serious discussion of these issues among Muslims themselves, I will consider it a success
“ISLAM’S borders are bloody,” wrote the late US political scientist Samuel Huntington in 1996, “and so are its innards.”

Nearly 20 years later, Huntington looks more right than ever before.

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, at least 70 per cent of all the fatalities in armed conflicts around the world last year were in wars involving Muslims.

In 2013, there were nearly 12,000 terrorist attacks worldwide. The lion’s share were in Muslim-majority countries, and many of the others were carried out by Muslims.

By far the most numerous victims of Muslim violence — including executions and lynchings not captured in these statistics — are Muslims themselves.

Not all of this violence is explicitly motivated by religion, but a great deal of it is. I believe that it is foolish to insist, as Western leaders habitually do, that the violent acts committed in the name of Islam can somehow be divorced from the religion itself.

For more than a decade, my message has been simple: Islam is not a religion of peace.

When I assert this, I do not mean that Islamic belief makes all Muslims violent. This is manifestly not the case: There are many millions of peaceful Muslims in the world.

What I do say is that the call to violence and the justification for it are explicitly stated in the sacred texts of Islam.

Moreover, this theologically sanctioned violence is there to be activated by any number of offences, including but not limited to apostasy, adultery, blasphemy and even something as vague as threats to family honour or to the honour of Islam itself.

It is not just al-Qa’ida and Islamic State that show the violent face of Islamic faith and practice.

It is Pakistan, where any statement critical of the Prophet or Islam is labelled as blasphemy and punishable by death.

It is Saudi Arabia, where churches and synagogues are outlawed and where beheadings are a legitimate form of punishment. It is Iran, where stoning is an acceptable punishment and homosexuals are hanged for their “crime”.

As I see it, the fundamental problem is that the majority of otherwise peaceful and law-abiding Muslims are unwilling to acknowledge, much less to repudiate, the theological warrant for intolerance and violence embedded in their own religious texts.

It simply will not do for Muslims to claim that their religion has been “hijacked” by extremists. The killers of Islamic State and Nigeria’s Boko Haram cite the same religious texts that every other Muslim in the world considers sacrosanct.

Instead of letting Islam off the hook with bland cliches about the religion of peace, we in the West need to challenge and debate the very substance of Islamic thought and practice.

We need to hold Islam accountable for the acts of its most violent adherents and to demand that it reform or disavow the key beliefs that are used to justify those acts.

As it turns out, the West has some experience with this sort of reformist project. It is precisely what took place in Judaism and Christianity over the centuries, as both traditions gradually consigned the violent passages of their own sacred texts to the past.

Many parts of the Bible and the Talmud reflect patriarchal norms, and both also contain many stories of harsh human and divine retribution. As President Barack Obama said in remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast last month, “Remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

Yet today, because their faiths went through a long, meaningful process of Reformation and Enlightenment, the vast majority of Jews and Christians have come to dismiss religious scripture that urges intolerance or violence.

There are literalist fringes in both religions, but they are true fringes. Regrettably, in Islam, it is the other way around: It is those seeking religious reform who are the fringe element.

Any serious discussion of Islam must begin with its core creed, which is based on the Koran (the words said to have been revealed by the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Mohammed) and the hadith (the accompanying works that detail Mohammed’s life and words).

Despite some sectarian differences, this creed unites all Muslims. All, without exception, know by heart these words: “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah; and Mohammed is His messenger.” This is the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith.

The Shahada might seem to be a declaration of belief no different from any other. But the reality is that the Shahada is both a religious and a political symbol.

In the early days of Islam, when Mohammed was going from door to door in Mecca trying to persuade the polytheists to abandon their idols of worship, he was inviting them to accept that there was no god but Allah and that he was Allah’s messenger.

After 10 years of trying this kind of persuasion, however, he and his small band of believers went to Medina, and from that moment, Mohammed’s mission took on a political dimension.

Unbelievers were still invited to submit to Allah, but after Medina, they were attacked if they refused. If defeated, they were given the option to convert or to die. (Jews and Christians could retain their faith if they submitted to paying a special tax.)

No symbol represents the soul of Islam more than the Shahada. But today there is a contest within Islam for the ownership of that symbol. Who owns the Shahada? Is it those Muslims who want to emphasise Mohammed’s years in Mecca or those who are inspired by his conquests after Medina? On this basis, I believe that we can distinguish three different groups of Muslims.

The first group is the most problematic. These are the fundamentalists who, when they say the Shahada, mean: “We must live by the strict letter of our creed.”

They envision a regimen based on Shariah, Islamic religious law. They argue for an Islam largely or completely unchanged from its original seventh-century version. What is more, they take it as a requirement of their faith that they impose it on everyone else.

I shall call them Medina Muslims, in that they see the forcible imposition of Shariah as their religious duty. They aim not just to obey Mohammed’s teaching but also to emulate his warlike conduct after his move to Medina. Even if they do not themselves engage in violence, they do not hesitate to condone it.

It is Medina Muslims who call Jews and Christians “pigs and monkeys”. It is Medina Muslims who prescribe death for the crime of apostasy, death by stoning for adultery and hanging for homosexuality. It is Medina Muslims who put women in burqas and beat them if they leave their homes alone or if they are improperly veiled.

The second group — and the clear majority throughout the Muslim world — consists of Muslims who are loyal to the core creed and worship devoutly but are not inclined to practice violence.

I call them Mecca Muslims. Like devout Christians or Jews who attend religious services every day and abide by religious rules in what they eat and wear, Mecca Muslims focus on religious observance. I was born in Somalia and raised as a Mecca Muslim. So were the majority of Muslims from Casablanca to Jakarta.

Yet the Mecca Muslims have a problem: Their religious beliefs exist in an uneasy tension with modernity — the complex of economic, cultural and political innovations that not only reshaped the Western world but also dramatically transformed the developing world as the West exported it.

The rational, secular and individualistic values of modernity are fundamentally corrosive of traditional societies, especially hierarchies based on gender, age and inherited status.

Trapped between two worlds of belief and experience, these Muslims are engaged in a daily struggle to adhere to Islam in the context of a society that challenges their values and beliefs at every turn.

Many are able to resolve this tension only by withdrawing into self-enclosed (and increasingly self-governing) enclaves. This is called cocooning, a practice whereby Muslim immigrants attempt to wall off outside influences, permitting only an Islamic education for their children and disengaging from the wider non-Muslim community.

It is my hope to engage this second group of Muslims — those closer to Mecca than to Medina — in a dialogue about the meaning and practice of their faith.

I recognise that these Muslims are not likely to heed a call for doctrinal reformation from someone they regard as an apostate and infidel.

But they may reconsider if I can persuade them to think of me not as an apostate but as a heretic: one of a growing number of people born into Islam who have sought to think critically about the faith we were raised in. It is with this third group — only a few of whom have left Islam altogether — that I would now identify myself.

These are the Muslim dissidents. A few of us have been forced by experience to conclude that we could not continue to be believers; yet we remain deeply engaged in the debate about Islam’s future. The majority of dissidents are reforming believers — among them clerics who have come to realise that their religion must change if its followers are not to be condemned to an interminable cycle of political violence.

How many Muslims belong to each group? Ed Husain of the US Council on Foreign Relations estimates that only 3 per cent of the world’s Muslims understand Islam in the militant terms I associate with Mohammed’s time in Medina.

But out of well over 1.6 billion believers, or 23 per cent of the globe’s population, that 48 million seems to be more than enough. (I would put the number significantly higher, based on survey data on attitudes toward Shariah in Muslim countries.)

In any case, regardless of the numbers, it is the Medina Muslims who have captured the world’s attention on the airwaves, over social media, in far too many mosques and, of course, on the battlefield.

The Medina Muslims pose a threat not just to non-Muslims. They also undermine the position of those Mecca Muslims attempting to lead a quiet life in their cultural cocoons throughout the Western world. But those under the greatest threat are the dissidents and reformers within Islam, who face ostracism and rejection, who must brave all manner of insults, who must deal with the death threats — or face death itself.

For the world at large, the only viable strategy for containing the threat posed by the Medina Muslims is to side with the dissidents and reformers and to help them to do two things: first, identify and repudiate those parts of Mohammed’s legacy that summon Muslims to intolerance and war, and second, persuade the great majority of believers — the Mecca Muslims — to accept this change.

Islam is at a crossroads. Muslims need to make a conscious decision to confront, debate and ultimately reject the violent elements within their religion.

To some extent — not least because of widespread revulsion at the atrocities of Islamic State, al-Qa’ida and the rest — this process has already begun. But it needs leadership from the dissidents, and they in turn stand no chance without support from the West.

What needs to happen for us to defeat the extremists for good? Economic, political, judicial and military tools have been proposed and some of them deployed. But I believe that these will have little effect unless Islam itself is reformed.

Such a reformation has been called for repeatedly at least since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent abolition of the caliphate. But I would like to specify precisely what needs to be reformed.

I have identified five precepts central to Islam that have made it resistant to historical change and adaptation. Only when the harmfulness of these ideas are recognised and they are repudiated will a true Muslim Reformation have been achieved.

Here are the five areas that require amendment:

1. Mohammed’s semi-divine status, along with the literalist reading of the Koran.

Mohammed should not be seen as infallible, let alone as a source of divine writ. He should be seen as a historical figure who united the Arab tribes in a premodern context that cannot be replicated in the 21st century. And although Islam maintains that the Koran is the literal word of Allah, it is, in historical reality, a book that was shaped by human hands. Large parts of the Koran simply reflect the tribal values of the 7th-century Arabian context from which it emerged. The Koran’s eternal spiritual values must be separated from the cultural accidents of the place and time of its birth.

2. The supremacy of life after death.

The appeal of martyrdom will fade only when Muslims assign a greater value to the rewards of this life than to those promised in the hereafter.

3. Sharia, the vast body of religious legislation.

Muslims should learn to put the dynamic, evolving laws made by human beings above those aspects of Shariah that are violent, intolerant or anachronistic.

4. The right of individual Muslims to enforce Islamic law.

There is no room in the modern world for religious police, vigilantes and politically empowered clerics.

5. The imperative to wage jihad, or holy war.

Islam must become a true religion of peace, which means rejecting the imposition of religion by the sword.

I know that this argument will make many Muslims uncomfortable. Some are bound to be offended by my proposed amendments. Others will contend that I am not qualified to discuss these complex issues of theology and law. I am also afraid — genuinely afraid — that it will make a few Muslims even more eager to silence me.

But this is not a work of theology. It is more in the nature of a public intervention in the debate about the future of Islam. The biggest obstacle to change within the Muslim world is precisely its suppression of the sort of critical thinking I am attempting here. If my proposal for reform helps to spark a serious discussion of these issues among Muslims themselves, I will consider it a success.

Let me make two things clear. I do not seek to inspire another war on terror or extremism — violence in the name of Islam cannot be ended by military means alone. Nor am I any sort of “Islamophobe”.

At various times, I myself have been all three kinds of Muslim: a fundamentalist, a cocooned believer and a dissident. My journey has gone from Mecca to Medina to Manhattan.

For me, there seemed no way to reconcile my faith with the freedoms I came to the West to embrace. I left the faith, despite the threat of the death penalty prescribed by Shariah for apostates.

Future generations of Muslims deserve better, safer options. Muslims should be able to welcome modernity, not be forced to wall themselves off, or live in a state of cognitive dissonance, or lash out in violent rejection.

But it is not only Muslims who would benefit from a reformation of Islam. We in the West have an enormous stake in how the struggle over Islam plays out. We cannot remain on the sidelines, as though the outcome has nothing to do with us.

For if the Medina Muslims win and the hope for a Muslim Reformation dies, the rest of the world too will pay an enormous price — not only in blood spilled but also in freedom lost.

This essay is adapted from Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s new book Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now. From the Wall Street Journal, here

a new inconvenient truth

President Obama is wrong when he links climate change to extreme weather events.

Roger Pielke jnr gave expert testimony to the US Senate that hurricanes have declined by 20% since 1900

In response a Democrat senator, Raul Grijalva, has launched an investigation into him as a paid dupe of the oil and gas companies.

Pielke's new book, The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change documents the evidence.

The witch hunt against Pielke jnr is documented here

Pielke points out that Democrats are just as irrational as Republicans, that the narrative that Republicans are the main source of nutty ideas is exposed

Extract from a review of Piele jnrs new book:
... Pielke published a piece about climate change and natural disasters on the then-new website of statistician Nate Silver. The gist of the piece was that the rising cost of natural disasters (such as hurricanes) was the result not of an increase in the severity of those events, but of an increase in wealth: “We’re seeing ever-larger losses simply because we have more to lose—when an earthquake or flood occurs, more stuff gets damaged.” Based on that mild-mannered thesis, Slate branded Pielke a “climate-change denialist,” Daily Kos characterized him as a “climate disinformer,” and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called him a “known irresponsible skeptic.”

In making his point about politicians telling stretchers about the weather, Pielke points to a 2013 speech by Obama in which the president said, “In a world that’s getting warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by it—more extreme droughts, floods, wildfires, and hurricanes.”

Saturday, March 14, 2015

What Marx said about the individual in "The German Ideology"

I've been discussing, mainly with Peter, and thinking about the concept of the individual. What is an individual? One avenue has been to clarify what Marx said about this. What follows is a summary of part of his writings. There will be other posts about Marx and other authors to follow, on this topic.

The German Ideology was written in 1845-6, when Marx was 27 or 28 yo. I mention this because some argue there are significant differences between the young Marx and the older Marx.

Part of the Feuerbach section of The German Ideology
Individuals, Class and Community

Here is my summary:

The context is a discussion of the rise of the trading or mercantile class (burghers) in antagonism to the feudal class. Over time the trading class develops into the bourgeoisie or propertied class. Traders and bourgeois compete intensely with each other but are also compelled to unite with each other in their struggle to overthrow the feudal class.

Marx says clearly that individuals arise historically before classes. In footnote 2 Marx specifically rejects the formulations that "each is all", "that bourgeois is only a specimen of the bourgeois species" and "that the class of bourgeois existed before the individuals constituting it".

Individuals act as individuals, including competing with each other, but as classes develop they discover they are members of a class.
"The separate individuals form a class only insofar as they have to carry on a common battle against another class; otherwise they are on hostile terms with each other as competitors. On the other hand, the class in its turn achieves an independent existence over against the individuals, so that the latter find their conditions of existence predestined, and hence have their position in life and their personal development assigned to them by their class, become subsumed under it."
As class society develops individuals become "subsumed" to their class. Subsume means to be incorporated into something more comprehensive. Social classes are more comprehensive than individuals. This process includes being subjected to all sorts of (bad) ideas. Marx's words here are, "We have already indicated several times how this subsuming of individuals under the class brings with it their subjection to all kinds of ideas, etc."

Marx is clear about the sort of society (communism, a society without a ruling class) we would need for this process of individuals being subsumed to classes to come to an end:
"This subsuming of individuals under definite classes cannot be abolished until a class has taken shape, which has no longer any particular class interest to assert against the ruling class"
As capitalism develops one of the main things denying individual freedom is the division of labour which develops as part of the capitalist system

To abolish division of labour and to make personal freedom possible requires a true community where an individual has the means of cultivating his gifts in all direction through free association with others in the community.

But community under capitalism is illusory except for the privileged. For the majority it becomes a new fetter because of capitalist social relations, which includes barriers arising from wealth disparity and the above mentioned division of labour.

Consequently, under capitalism within individual life there appears a division between the personal, on the one hand, and that which is determined by the division of labour, arising from the needs of the capitalist system, on the other hand. Persons are still persons but their personality is largely determined by their position in class society.

Under capitalism where individuals end up is largely "accidental" (random). You don't develop as a fully free individual because to survive under capitalism means you have to slot yourself somewhere into the capitalist inspired division of labour.

Individuals might think they are free because where they end up is accidental but in reality they are less free (than under earlier social systems) because they are subject to "the violence of things". Perhaps this anticipates Marx's later analysis of commodity relations, which describes the replacement of human relationships with the relationship between things.

Proletarians have no control over their social destiny, they are sacrificed from youth and their condition of life is forced upon them

Only revolutionary proletarians are free individuals since they understand the need to overthrow capitalism

What is called personal freedom is controlled by the existing productive forces and forms of intercourse at any particular time

My comment on this summary:

Today, in a relatively wealthy society such as Australia, people who fit the Marxist description of "proletarians", eg. teachers who don't own the means of production, have all sorts of freedoms that were not present when this was written, 170 years ago. People can work hard in a profession they choose, pay off the mortage (20+ years), have a family, send their kids to elite Private schools if they can afford it, choose their entertainment, donate to charities or volunteer to help the poor, travel the world and retire at 60 or younger to relax in their declining years. Such a life is lived by many. It is the best that capitalism can offer the proletarians of today.

People usually feel that they choose their profession as free individuals. However, I feel that Marx is right and that this feeling is at best only partly true. People find a niche, a "good job" (engineer, maths professor, social worker) within the capitalist system that meets their needs for money (can't live without it), social status / satisfaction. But this division of labour is largely determined by social and educational background. Not many lawyers come out of government schools. Once they are in a good job then people rationalise their position. "My job is socially useful and of benefit to others". Alternatively, "I have worked hard all my life and will enjoy the benefits of my hard work". In the meantime the capitalists do what they do best, find ways to invest and accumulate more capital (James Packer casinos, Twiggy Forest mining, Bill Gates computing etc.). They live in a totally different world. The class division is very real but over time most of us just come to accept it, that is the way things are, get on with your life. But why should we accept it? A better society can be imagined and was imagined by Marx, even though there have been all sorts of problems when revolutions try to go there.

So, we don't have the true community that Marx envisaged. James Packer isn't going to invite me over to his mansion for a cuppa tea and give me advice about how to earn my next million so I can retire early too. I don't have the same sort of freedom that he has to choose my developmental path. This did come about accidentally. He was Frank Packer's son and I wasn't. There was something more involved here than a free choice to become filthy rich. The ability of people to do their own creative and rewarding thing, whatever it is, is severely constrained by their income.

However, it appears to be exaggerated rhetoric to claim that community under capitalism is illusory. People join various clubs (footy, book, chess, Facebook etc.) and enjoy themselves with friends. This is not an illusion. I think Marx is suggesting we can do better, much better, that we need to open our eyes wider and see the injustice and exploitation in society as a whole and get to the root of that.

In capitalist society, we all have to live parallel lives as Marx suggests, one personal (private family, friendship circle, personal introspection) and one public (our life at work where we earn the money to continue or standing in a queue at Centre Link)

One common criticism of Marx centres around his alleged lack of recognition of the individual, the lack of individual freedom in the Soviet Union during the Stalin years, for example.

What I notice here about the text is that Marx does provide quite a bit of wriggle room for the bourgeoisie to be individuals both through competition (which can't be avoided within capitalism) and choice. He specifically rejects the formulation "that bourgeois is only a specimen of the bourgeois species".

It is true, however, that proletarians, in relatively wealthy Australia, have more wriggle room and some, although limited, freedom of choice, than is suggested in Marx's writing of 170 years ago.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Hurry, more democracy everywhere against barbarism

Demonstrators hold a sign reading 'Hurry, more democracy everywhere against barbarism' as they gather at Place de la Nation during the unity rally 'Marche Republicaine' on January 11, 2015 in Paris in tribute to the 17 victims of a three-day killing spree by homegrown Islamists.

This is a far better slogan than "Je suis Charlie".

Friday, January 16, 2015

Charlie quotes and links

Assholes deserve to be shunned, not murdered with cruel delight. But being murdered doesn't make their behaviour any more reasonable. It doesn't make them heroes to emulate
- Je ne suis pas Charlie Hebdo: Assholes can't be heroes
Maurice Sinet, 80, who works under the pen name Sine, faces charges of "inciting racial hatred" for a column he wrote last July in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. ...

"L'affaire Sine" followed the engagement of Mr Sarkozy, 22, to Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, the Jewish heiress of an electronic goods chain. Commenting on an unfounded rumour that the president's son planned to convert to Judaism, Sine quipped: "He'll go a long way in life, that little lad."

A high-profile political commentator slammed the column as linking prejudice about Jews and social success. Charlie Hebdo's editor, Philippe Val, asked Sinet to apologise but he refused, exclaiming: "I'd rather cut my balls off."

Mr Val's decision to fire Sine was backed by a group of eminent intellectuals, including the philosopher Bernard-Henry Lévy, but parts of the libertarian Left defended him, citing the right to free speech
- French cartoonist Sine on trial on charges of anti-Semitism over Sarkozy jibe (Jan 2009)
And why have you been so silent on the glaring double standards? Did you not know that Charlie Hebdo sacked the veteran French cartoonist Maurice Sinet in 2008 for making an allegedly anti-Semitic remark?
- As a Muslim, I’m fed up with the hypocrisy of the free speech fundamentalists
Olivier Cyran, who worked for Charlie from 1992 to 2001:
Doubtless I had neither the patience nor the strength of heart to follow week after week the heartbreaking change that has occurred in your team after the turn of September 11, 2001. I did not part with Charlie Hebdo when suicide planes hit your editorial, but the Islamophobic neurosis that has gradually taken hold of your pages from that day has affected me personally because I remember the good times I had spent in this newspaper during the 1990s. The devastating laugh "Charlie" I had loved now sounded in my ears like the laughter of the fool or a pig who wallows in his shit . So far I have not criticised your racist newspaper. But since today you proclaim loudly your pure anti racism and without reproach, the time has perhaps come to seriously consider the matter
- "Charlie Hebdo " not racist ? If you say so ... (Dec., 2013

My comment: Evelyn Beatrice Hall (misattributed to Voltaire) ("I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it") said it better than George Brandis ("People have the right to be bigots in a free country") but both were right.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Charlie, limited

The focus has been on free speech, which is, of course, very relevant. But like the author below I think there should be more focus on our relative indifference to the massacres in the "less developed" world. eg. Egypt (military overthrow of the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood, followed by fresh massacres), Syria (200,000 + dead, 3.5 million refugees). In particular Obama's hands off policies in Syria have led to the creation of a monster (Daesh aka IS or ISIL) within a monster (Assad's Syria). Evil forces, also including Putin, have moved in to fill the vacuum left by the retreat of the USA. Daesh / Islamism can only be defeated at its source. See my earlier blog, Weep for Charlie ... but also pay more attention to Syrian cartoonist, Raed Fares
I do not forget the front cover of Charlie Hebdo issue N°1099, in which it trivialized the massacre of more than a thousand Egyptians by a brutal military dictatorship which has the approval of the USA and of France, carrying a cartoon with a text declaring “Slaughter in Egypt. The Koran is shit: it doesn't stop bullets.” The cartoon showed a Muslim man riddled with bullets that had passed through a copy of the Koran, with which he had been trying to protect himself. Perhaps some find this funny. In their time too, the English colonists in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, thought it funny to have photographs of themselves taken, with wide smiles and rifle in hand, a foot on the corpses of the still-warm and bleeding bodies of the native people they had hunted.

Rather than funny, that cartoon to me seems violent and colonialist, an abuse of the fictitious and manipulated western freedom of the press. How would people react if I were to design a magazine cover bearing the following text: “Slaughter in Paris. Charlie Hebdo is shit: it doesn’t stop bullets” and made a cartoon of the deceased and gunned-down Jean Cabut holding a copy of the magazine in his hands? Clearly that would be outrageous: the life of a Frenchman is sacred. The life of an Egyptian (or Palestinian, Iraqi, a Syrian, etc.) is “humoristic” material. For that reason I am not Charlie, because for me, the life of each one of those Egyptians massacred is as sacred as is any of those caricaturists assassinated today.
- José Antonio Gutiérrez D.
7 January, 2015
Full article here

Monday, January 12, 2015

Weep for Charlie ... but also pay more attention to Syrian cartoonist, Raed Fares

I can certainly identify with the grief, anger and further preparation against home grown terrorist attacks in the "civilised" west. But I also think this needs to be compared with the so little understanding and commitment of what needs to be done in Syria. The problem of fundamentalist inspired terrorism can only be solved at its source. It's the old story of do we fish the babies out of the water or make the effort to stop those who are throwing the babies in further upstream (from The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist)

The Daesh (aka ISIS, ISIL) is the monster created within the monster of Assad's Syria.
The Syrian cartoonist, Raed Fares, survived a Daesh assassination attempt in January 2014... the would-be assassins fired at Fares 46 times. Twenty-seven bullets struck the wall behind him; 17 hit his car. Only two struck him. They shattered seven bones in his shoulder and ribs and punctured his right lung.

Assad's brutality in the face of the Arab Spring inspired Syrian revolution has created 200,000 plus deaths and 3.5 million refugees. Today we witness so much grief and preparation for terrorism at "home". By contrast there is little understanding and commitment of what needs to be done in Syria.

"Obama's Rwanda" (Raed Fares)

This NYT article about Raed Fares, Radio-Free Syria, is very good. It includes one section about Obama's failure in Syria:
“Three years ago, America could have saved thousands of lives,” Bayyoush went on. To them, what they needed seemed simple in hindsight: antiaircraft missiles, airstrikes against Assad, a no-fly zone. All of these options would have offered potential solutions. Their model for U.S. intervention was Libya, where airstrikes in support of the opposition helped to depose Qaddafi. Later the country descended into civil war. Fares acknowledged that Libya was hardly a success story, yet at least, he said, the United States had intervened to protect the Libyan people. In Syria, Assad was free to systematically imprison and kill the moderate leaders the United States was now looking for. “One by one, they were disappeared,” he said.

“Can I speak?” said Hamada, who is with the Fifth Regiment of the Free Syrian Army. “I told the Americans I met in Jordan: ‘If you help us, there will be no extremism in Syria at all. If you’re too late, there will be a time when neither you nor we will have any control.' ” According to a senior retired U.S. military leader, who asked not to be named because he is no longer in the service, the delay in backing the Free Syrian Army led to the death of moderate military leaders. “If we had helped those people earlier, it could’ve gone differently,” he said. “A lot of the good leaders are dead now. They’ve been caught between rocks and hard places and ground into dust.”

The recent strikes against ISIS in Syria frustrated the Free Syrian Army commanders on two counts. First, unlike that of the United States, the F.S.A.'s primary foe was the regime. “The regime has launched chemical attacks and many more massacres than ISIS has,” Bayyoush said. Second, they had been warning the United States against the growth of ISIS for more than a year. “A year and a half ago, ISIS started activating cells,” Hamada said. “If America had helped us in the beginning, there would be no ISIS.” But the growth of ISIS wasn’t simply America’s fault. The Free Syrian Army bore its own responsibility. “These extremist groups formed because we were weak within the Free Syrian Army,” he said
Some more Raed Fares cartoons, they are all located in one place here, Liberated Kafranbel:

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: How to Answer the Paris Terror Attack

Recent interview on ABC with Hirsi Ali here

How to Answer the Paris Terror Attack
The West must stand up for freedom—and acknowledge the link between Islamists’ political ideology and their religious beliefs

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali

After the horrific massacre Wednesday at the French weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, perhaps the West will finally put away its legion of useless tropes trying to deny the relationship between violence and radical Islam.

This was not an attack by a mentally deranged, lone-wolf gunman. This was not an “un-Islamic” attack by a bunch of thugs—the perpetrators could be heard shouting that they were avenging the Prophet Muhammad. Nor was it spontaneous. It was planned to inflict maximum damage, during a staff meeting, with automatic weapons and a getaway plan. It was designed to sow terror, and in that it has worked.

The West is duly terrified. But it should not be surprised.

If there is a lesson to be drawn from such a grisly episode, it is that what we believe about Islam truly doesn’t matter. This type of violence, jihad, is what they, the Islamists, believe.

There are numerous calls to violent jihad in the Quran. But the Quran is hardly alone. In too much of Islam, jihad is a thoroughly modern concept. The 20th-century jihad “bible,” and an animating work for many Islamist groups today, is “The Quranic Concept of War,” a book written in the mid-1970s by Pakistani Gen. S.K. Malik. He argues that because God, Allah, himself authored every word of the Quran, the rules of war contained in the Quran are of a higher caliber than the rules developed by mere mortals.

In Malik’s analysis of Quranic strategy, the human soul—and not any physical battlefield—is the center of conflict. The key to victory, taught by Allah through the military campaigns of the Prophet Muhammad, is to strike at the soul of your enemy. And the best way to strike at your enemy’s soul is through terror. Terror, Malik writes, is “the point where the means and the end meet.” Terror, he adds, “is not a means of imposing decision upon the enemy; it is the decision we wish to impose.”

Those responsible for the slaughter in Paris, just like the man who killed the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004, are seeking to impose terror. And every time we give in to their vision of justified religious violence, we are giving them exactly what they want.

In Islam, it is a grave sin to visually depict or in any way slander the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims are free to believe this, but why should such a prohibition be forced on nonbelievers? In the U.S., Mormons didn’t seek to impose the death penalty on those who wrote and produced “The Book of Mormon,” a satirical Broadway sendup of their faith. Islam, with 1,400 years of history and some 1.6 billion adherents, should be able to withstand a few cartoons by a French satirical magazine. But of course deadly responses to cartoons depicting Muhammad are nothing new in the age of jihad.

Moreover, despite what the Quran may teach, not all sins can be considered equal. The West must insist that Muslims, particularly members of the Muslim diaspora, answer this question: What is more offensive to a believer—the murder, torture, enslavement and acts of war and terrorism being committed today in the name of Muhammad, or the production of drawings and films and books designed to mock the extremists and their vision of what Muhammad represents?

To answer the late Gen. Malik, our soul in the West lies in our belief in freedom of conscience and freedom of expression. The freedom to express our concerns, the freedom to worship who we want, or not to worship at all—such freedoms are the soul of our civilization. And that is precisely where the Islamists have attacked us. Again.

How we respond to this attack is of great consequence. If we take the position that we are dealing with a handful of murderous thugs with no connection to what they so vocally claim, then we are not answering them. We have to acknowledge that today’s Islamists are driven by a political ideology, an ideology embedded in the foundational texts of Islam. We can no longer pretend that it is possible to divorce actions from the ideals that inspire them.

This would be a departure for the West, which too often has responded to jihadist violence with appeasement. We appease the Muslim heads of government who lobby us to censor our press, our universities, our history books, our school curricula. They appeal and we oblige. We appease leaders of Muslim organizations in our societies. They ask us not to link acts of violence to the religion of Islam because they tell us that theirs is a religion of peace, and we oblige.

What do we get in return? Kalashnikovs in the heart of Paris. The more we oblige, the more we self-censor, the more we appease, the bolder the enemy gets.

There can only be one answer to this hideous act of jihad against the staff of Charlie Hebdo. It is the obligation of the Western media and Western leaders, religious and lay, to protect the most basic rights of freedom of expression, whether in satire on any other form. The West must not appease, it must not be silenced. We must send a united message to the terrorists: Your violence cannot destroy our soul.

Ms. Hirsi Ali, a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, is the author of “Infidel” (2007). Her latest book, “Heretic: The Case for a Muslim Reformation,” will be published in April by HarperCollins

Thursday, January 08, 2015

response to Charlie Hebdo attack

Holding up pencils in a free speech demonstration in Barcelona

Charlie Hebdo is a satirical magazine, published every Wednesday, that was founded in 1969 though it stopped publishing between 1981 and 1992. Known best for its illustrations and provocative imagery, the magazine aims to mock all forms of authority, from politicians to religion to the military. Its ideological roots are left-wing and atheist — with religion in all its forms a constant target.

In 2006, the paper reprinted images of the Prophet Mohamed that had appeared in a Danish magazine a year before. The next year, it published a picture of Mohamed crying, with the tagline “It’s hard to be loved by idiots.” The Grand Mosque of Paris and the Union of Islamic Organizations of France, among other similar religious bodies, filed slander charges at the time, but a French court cleared the paper.

The magazine’s offices were set on fire by a molotov cocktail in November 2011 after it published a cartoon of the Prophet Mohamed saying “100 lashes of the whip if you don’t die laughing.” The firebomb forced the publication to relocate to their current offices in the 11th borough of Paris. Editorial staff were often threatened: The magazine’s director, Stephane Charbonnier (better known to readers under his illustration pen name of Charb), had a personal bodyguard. A French man was arrested in 2012 after he called on a jihadist site to have Mr. Charbonnier decapitated. Mr. Charbonnier was among those killed Wednesday.
Stephane Charbonnier after the 2011 bombing. “It is perhaps a bit pompous to say so but I prefer to die on my feet than live on my knees.”