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Topic: Social IdeasThe new items published under this topic are as follows.
Friday, May 17, 2013
USA: A democracy of the wealthy or "Billionaires Unchained"
Below: Andy Kroll covers money in politics for Mother Jones magazine, and is an associate editor at TomDispatch, which he writes for regularly. He lives in Washington, D.C., the only place in America where people freely discuss campaign financing at happy hour.Posted at: Friday, May 17, 2013 - 04:37 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Andy Kroll, A Democracy of the Wealthy
Tom Englehardt and Andy Kroll TomDispatch USA May 16, 2013
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Once upon a time, the election season began with the New Hampshire primary in early March and never really gained momentum (or much attention) until the candidates were chosen and the fall campaign revved up. Now, the New Hampshire primary is in early January, and by then, the campaign season has already been underway for a couple of years.
Consider campaign 2016, the next 1% presidential election of the twenty-first century. It’s more than underway with congressional hearings that are visibly organized to skewer possible Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and that special table-setter, the first Karl Rove super PAC attack video/ad, also lighting out after the former secretary of state. Looked at another way, like recent presidential campaigns, the 2016 version actually began before the last election ended. The initial media handicapping of future candidates by reporters and pundits, for instance, hit the news well before the first voter emerged from a polling booth in 2012 -- and it’s never stopped. Similarly, the first Iowa poll for the next campaign season made it on the scene within days of the 2012 vote count (Hillary was ahead), and the first attack ads in early primary states are already appearing. With thousands or perhaps tens of thousands of polls to follow, Americans will repeatedly “vote” in contests set up by companies, often hired by political parties or politicians to take the pulse of the public in the unending serial ballots that now precede the actual election.
And don’t forget the single most obvious characteristic of supersizing American democracy: money that will flood the zone. Billions of dollars will go to “political consultants” (in 2012, an estimated $3 billion) and billions of dollars in ads will inundate TV, radio, and almost any other medium around ($6 billion in 2012 and expected to climb in 2016). Billions of words of punditry and commentary about the election (always) “of the century” will flow from well-funded TV news outfits stoked by all those ad dollars. Above all, there will be the money pouring into super PACs and the dark side, which will inundate everything else, shaping the new landscape in which U.S. elections now take place. The sums are staggering, and the limits on how much a wealthy person can “contribute” are rapidly falling away.
As a result, “earlier” and “more” are likely to be the operative political words for 2016, which means that, in a sense, American “democracy” couldn’t be more vigorous. Unfortunately, it's the vigor of the wealthy, as TomDispatch Associate Editor Andy Kroll makes clear. Increasingly, it's their system, politically speaking and in every other way, and welcome to it. Tom
The New Pay-As-You-Go Landscape of American “Democracy”
By Andy Kroll
Billionaires with an axe to grind, now is your time. Not since the days before a bumbling crew of would-be break-in artists set into motion the fabled Watergate scandal, leading to the first far-reaching restrictions on money in American politics, have you been so free to meddle. There is no limit to the amount of money you can give to elect your friends and allies to political office, to defeat those with whom you disagree, to shape or stunt or kill policy, and above all to influence the tone and content of political discussion in this country. ...
But simply tallying Adelson's wins and losses -- or the Koch brothers', or George Soros's, or any other mega-donors' -- misses the bigger point. What matters is that these wealthy funders were able to give so much money in the first place.
With the advent of super PACs and a growing reliance on secretly funded nonprofits, the very wealthy can pour their money into the political system with an ease that didn't exist as recently as this moment in Barack Obama's first term in office. For now at least, Sheldon Adelson is an extreme example, but he portends a future in which 1-percenters can flood the system with money in ways beyond the dreams of ordinary Americans. In the meantime, the traditional political parties, barred from taking all that limitless cash, seem to be sliding toward irrelevance. They are losing their grip on the political process, political observers say, leaving motivated millionaires and billionaires to handpick the candidates and the issues. "It'll be wealthy people getting together and picking horses and riding those horses through a primary process and maybe upending the consensus of the party," a Democratic strategist recently told me. "We're in a whole new world." ...
Can there be any question that this democracy of ours is nearing dangerous territory, if we're not already there? Picture the 2016 or 2020 election campaigns and, barring a new wave of campaign reforms, it’s not hard to see a tiny minority of people exerting a massive influence on our politics simply by virtue of bank accounts. There is nothing small-d democratic about that. It flies in the face of one of the central premises of this country of ours, equality, including political equality -- the concept that all citizens stand on an equal footing with one another when it comes to having their say on who represents them and how government should work.
Increasingly, it looks like before the rest of us even have our say, before you enter the voting booth, issues, politics, and the politicians will have been winnowed, vetted, and predetermined by the wealthiest Americans. Think of it as a new definition of politics: the democracy of the wealthy, who can fight it out with each other inside and outside the political parties with little reference to you.
In the meantime, the more those of modest means feel drowned out by the money of a tiny minority, the less connected they will feel to the work of government, and the less they will trust elected officials and government as an institution. It’s a formula for tuning out, staying home, and starving whatever’s left of our democracy.
I caught a glimpse of this last November, when I spoke to a class of students at Radford University in Virginia, a state blanketed with super PAC attack ads and dark money in 2012. Over and over, students told me how disgusted they were by all the vitriol they heard when they turned on the TV or the radio. Most said that they ended up ignoring the campaigns; a few were so put off they didn't bother to vote. "They're all bought and sold anyway," one student told me in front of the entire class. "Why would my vote make any difference?"
The first presidential election since Citizens United lived up to its hype, with unprecedented outside spending from new sources making headlines.
- From the first two paragraphs in the Executive Summary of "Billion-Dollar Democracy: The Unprecedented Role of Money in the 2012 Elections" (PDF). The analysis by the liberal think tank Dēmos found that out of every $10 raised by super PACs in 2012, $9 came from just 3,318 people giving $10,000 or more. That small club of donors is equivalent to 0.0011% of the U.S. population.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
I still love Kierkegaard. He provides the link between imagination and rationality
In a pluralist world, there is no hope of understanding people who live according to different values if we only judge them from the outside, from what we imagine to be an objective point of view but is really one infused with our own subjectivity. - Julian Baggini, a writer and founding editor of The Philosopher’s Magazine. His latest book is The Shrink and the Sage, co-authored with Antonia Macaro.Posted at: Sunday, May 12, 2013 - 01:27 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Jim comment: Postmodern before postmodernism, existentialist before Sartre, ironic before irony was debased: Kierkegaard, rejected in his time, is a man for our time. Just as Julian Baggini, "I fell for Søren Kierkegaard as a teenager, and he has accompanied me on my intellectual travels ever since, not so much side by side as always a few steps ahead or lurking out of sight just behind me." How apt Baggini's words are for me! Before my fire, Kierkegaard had a shelf on my mentor's bookcase. I owned English translations of all his books and read and reread them many times over the decades. As much as any thinker, Søren Kierkegaard guided me as I tried to make sense of myself and of the world.
I still love Kierkegaard
Julian Baggini Aeon Magazine UK May 6, 2013
I fell for Søren Kierkegaard as a teenager, and he has accompanied me on my intellectual travels ever since, not so much side by side as always a few steps ahead or lurking out of sight just behind me. Perhaps that’s because he does not mix well with the other companions I’ve kept. I studied in the Anglo-American analytic tradition of philosophy, where the literary flourishes and wilful paradoxes of continental existentialists are viewed with anything from suspicion to outright disdain. In Paris, Roland Barthes might have proclaimed the death of the author, but in London the philosopher had been lifeless for years, as anonymous as possible so that the arguments could speak for themselves.
Discovering that your childhood idols are now virtually ancient is usually a disturbing reminder of your own mortality. But for me, realising that 5th May 2013 marks the 200th anniversary of Søren Kierkegaard's birth was more of a reminder of his immortality. It's a strange word to use for a thinker who lived with a presentiment of his own death and didn't reach his 43rd birthday. Kierkegaard was the master of irony and paradox before both became debased by careless overuse. He was an existentialist a century before Jean-Paul Sarte, more rigorously post-modern than postmodernism, and a theist whose attacks on religion bit far deeper than many of those of today’s new atheists. Kierkegaard is not so much a thinker for our time but a timeless thinker, whose work is pertinent for all ages yet destined to be fully attuned to none. ...
A detached reason that cannot enter into the viewpoints of others cannot be fully objective because it cannot access whole areas of the real world of human experience. Kierkegaard taught me the importance of attending to the internal logic of positions, not just how they stand up to outside scrutiny.
This is arguably even more vital today than it was in Kierkegaard’s time. In a pluralist world, there is no hope of understanding people who live according to different values if we only judge them from the outside, from what we imagine to be an objective point of view but is really one infused with our own subjectivity. Atheists need to know what it really means to be religious, not simply to run through arguments against the existence of God that are not the bedrock of belief anyway. No one can hope to understand emerging nations such as China, India or Brazil unless they try to see how the world looks from inside those countries.
But perhaps Kierkegaard’s most provocative message is that both work on the self and on understanding the world requires your whole being and cannot be just a compartmentalised, academic pursuit. His life and work both have a deep ethical seriousness, as well as plenty of playful, ironic elements. This has been lost today, where it seems we are afraid of taking ourselves too seriously. For Kierkegaard, irony was the means by which we could engage in serious self-examination without hubris or arrogance: ‘what doubt is to science, irony is to personal life’. ...
In these times: Sex, economics, and austerity
Sex and economics. John Maynard Keynes – all mustache and bedroom eyes – had many lovers. Is there any connection between the people he slept with and the ideas he espoused? Jeet Heer takes on the real meaning of Niall Ferguson’s John Maynard Keynes-was-gay jibe—and why Keynes is so threatening to austerity economists and puritan moralists alike. As Heer writes, "Keynes was able to see through the fallacy of austerity because he didn’t think traditional moral strictures should be uncritically accepted."Posted at: Sunday, May 12, 2013 - 01:13 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Sex, economics, and austerity
Jeet Heer The American Prospect USA May 7, 2013
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John Maynard Keynes was the sexiest economist who ever lived. This might seem like half-hearted praise since in our mind’s eye the typical economist appears as a dowdy and almost always balding man, full of prudential advice about thrift and the miracle of compound interest. Keynes, with his caterpillar moustache and mesmerizing bedroom eyes, cut a more dashing figure.
He had many lovers of both genders, and was married to one of the great beauties of the age, the ballerina Lydia Lopokova. His genius at playing the stock market allowed him to enjoy the life of bon vivant, socializing with the writers and artists of the Bloomsbury group such as Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster rather than dull number crunchers he knew at Cambridge and in the British Treasury. While other economists focused on maximizing economic growth, Keynes wanted to go further and maximize the pleasures of life.
Given all this, it’s perhaps not surprising that a much-publicized recent attack on the Keynesian policy of using government deficits to overcome economic recession resorted to homophobia to discredit it. Last Friday, in a question and answer session following his lecture, Harvard historian Niall Ferguson startled his audience at the Altegris Strategic Investment Conference in California by calling Keynes a childless gay man who couldn’t give his wife conjugal satisfaction and had no concern for the impact of deficits on posterity.
A storm of criticism followed, and in an effort to salvage his reputation, Ferguson—a vocal critic of both President Obama’s mild stimulus policies and the more ambitious Keynesianism of economists like Paul Krugman—quickly and comprehensively apologized, saying his original remarks were “stupid as they were insensitive” and “disagreements with Keynes’s economic philosophy have never had anything to do with his sexual orientation.” Ferguson’s gaffe came in the wake of the recent news that an influential 2010 study by his Harvard colleagues Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, which had seemed to show a hard threshold beyond which deficits hampered economic growth, turned out to depend heavily on an Excel spread sheet error as well as other elementary methodological flaws. While austerity’s advocates have enjoyed an inexplicable ascendancy in the political world since the beginning of the current great recession, the scrutiny of Ferguson as well as Reinhart and Rogoff has put deficit hawks on the intellectual defensive.
Ferguson’s repudiation of his original homophobic comments should be commended. But Ferguson has a history of making jibes about Keynes’s sexuality. University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers called attention to the fact that in Ferguson’s 1999 book The Pity of War, Keynes is described as being depressed by World War I, in part, because “the boys he liked to pick up in London all joined up.” Later in the same book, Ferguson toys with the idea that Keynes may have been influenced to become a harsh critic of the Treaty of Versailles by an attraction to the German negotiator Carl Melchior. (Its embarrassing to have to refute arrant nonsense with facts and logic, but Keynes was likely depressed by the war because he didn’t like pointless mass slaughter, while his Treaty of Versailles critique was vindicated by the post-war political and economic chaos he predicted).
But there is something deeper and weirder going on here. Homophobic slurs against Keynes, it turns out, have a long pedigree. As both Berkeley economist Brad DeLong and the Washington Monthly’s Kathleen Geier have documented, the attempt to dismiss Keynes as someone heedless about the future because he was a childless gay man has been a staple of conservative thought for nearly seven decades. ...
Sunday, May 5, 2013
The singularity of fools: A special report from the utopian future
We’re awash in techno-utopian visions of endless progress. It’s long been thus. The problem isn’t optimism, says David Rieff. The problem is foolish optimism. Rieff concludes his argument below, "Just as ... August Bebel called anti-Semitism 'the socialism of fools', today's headlong rush to believe in technology, utopian or otherwise, seems like nothing so much as the optimism of fools."Posted at: Sunday, May 05, 2013 - 02:32 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
The singularity of fools
David Rieff Foreign Policy USA May/June 2013
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Good books transcend their times; bad books reflect them. One reads Madame Bovary for its sublime writing and exploration of the human condition in all its tortuous complexity. But if you really want to understand 19th-century bourgeois France, you would be far better served by plowing through the literarily mediocre but historically informative novels of Gustave Flaubert's journeyman contemporary, Eugène Sue. What has always been true of literature is even more so with regard to nonfiction, especially by authors who claim to know what the future holds in store for us. The history of financial predictions made at the height of stock market booms is a well-known illustration, whether it was the great economist Irving Fisher insisting shortly before the crash of 1929 that stock prices had reached "a permanently high plateau" or the not-so-great economist Kevin A. Hassett heralding Dow 36,000 -- the 1999 book he wrote with James K. Glassman -- a little more than a year before the dot-com bubble burst.
But financial manias pale (at least for those who have not bet their 401(k)s on such fanatically rosy assumptions) when compared with the techno-utopias that, at least since the middle of the 19th century, have periodically captured the collective imagination of the general public in the West -- and today litter bookstores with their rah-rah optimism. Too bad few remember Cicero's tart observation that he did not understand why, when two soothsayers met in the street, both did not burst out laughing. But if the history of utopian fantasies has taught us anything, it is that people find it hard to accept the fact of their unreality, preferring instead to hew to their hopes, whether profound, as with Marxism, or preposterous (and commercially self-interested), as with the vision of the carefully ordered futuristic cities famously laid out for a receptive public at the General Motors pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair -- just as Adolf Hitler was about to blitzkrieg Poland.
If utopia has always been a kind of escape clause from the human condition, contemporary techno-utopianism represents a radical upping of the ante. For entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, creator of the X Prize to spur the development of passenger-carrying private spaceships and other innovations, not only will technology make it so that "during our lifetime … we're moving off this planet," but it will solve even the gravest problems that confront humanity -- climate change, species extinction, water and energy shortages. For futurist Ray Kurzweil, "nonbiological intelligence will match the range and subtlety of human intelligence" by 2030, making it possible to "go beyond the limits of biology, and replace [an individual's] current 'human body version 1.0' with a dramatically upgraded version 2.0, providing radical life extension."
Even comparative moderates in the futurological sweepstakes tend to swoon when the subject is the pace of technology-led change. Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT's Center for Civic Media, argues in his new book, Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection, that it is an entirely realistic goal for humans to "take control of our technologies and use them to build the world we want rather than the world we fear." The present moment, Zuckerman asserts in his book's concluding sentence, offers "an opportunity to start the process of rewiring the world."
In his own new book, To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, cyber-utopianism's severest and most eloquent critic, Evgeny Morozov, has dubbed such grand assertions about the mastery that we, with or without the help of intelligent machines, can exert over the future of the species the "Superhuman Condition." (Full disclosure: I blurbed Morozov's book.)
Roger Berkowitz, director of the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, has described this mindset somewhat more understandingly, analyzing people's "growing desire to have technology oversee what once belonged exclusively to the province of the individual mind: man's capacity to judge."
To me, though, what is most striking about the claims made by techno-utopians (though most, including Kurzweil and Zuckerman, reject the label) is the way assertions about the inevitability of unstoppable, exponential technological progress are combined with claims that human beings can, for the first time in history, take their fate into their own hands -- or even defy mortality itself. As Morozov remarks tartly, "Silicon Valley is guilty of many sins, but lack of ambition is not one of them."
A glance at some of the titles in the growing techno-utopian canon suggests that, if anything, he understates the case. ...
Monday, April 29, 2013
Capitalism and inequality: Jerry Muller on what the 'Right' and the 'Left' get wrong ... and a rebuttle
First: We believe 'Right' and 'Left' needn’t bear any relation to right and wrong. Below: In the interest of presenting all sides of a debate, we offer the following.Posted at: Monday, April 29, 2013 - 07:05 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Audio: Capitalism and inequality: Jerry Muller on what the Right and the Left get wrong
"Sunday Edition" CBC Radio One Canada April28, 2013
You can listen to the inerview (23:22) from a pop-up link on this page.
In the battle between capitalism and socialism, we can safely say capitalism won. Even the membership of the federal NDP voted overwhelmingly to remove references to socialism from the party's constitution two weeks ago.
Not to mention the fact that the ostensibly communist redoubt of China has loosed the reins on a particularly energetic form of capitalism.
But while few would argue anymore that capitalism is not the best way to build prosperity, the steadily worsening side effect of capitalism unbound is economic inequality. The gap between the rich and everyone else has gaped ever wider over the past three decades.
The effect is perhaps most pronounced in the US, where capitalism is an article of faith of the republic.
The Pew Research Center in Washington reported last Tuesday that between 2009 and 2011, the top seven percent of Americans had their net worth increase by 28 percent. Meanwhile, the other 93 percent saw their wealth actually go down.
It's happening in Canada, too. Over the past 30 years, according to Conference Board of Canada, the top 10 percent of Canadians have enjoyed a 34 percent increase in average income, compared to a meagre 11 percent rise for the bottom 10 percent.
Economists like the Nobel Prize-winning Joseph Stiglitz and global bodies like the World Bank warn of the dangers of inequality to social and economic stability.
The left responds to the widening chasm between the rich and the poor with outrage. Elements of the right respond with something more akin to a shrug.
But Michael's guest, Jerry Muller suggests that neither the right nor the left really know how to respond effectively to inequality.
Jerry Muller is a Professor of History at the Catholic University of America in Washington, and his books include The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought and the author of the lead essay in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, "Capitalism and Inequality: What the Right and the Left Get Wrong".
Jim comment: Foreign Affairs is published by the notorious (in my mind) Council on Foreign Relations. Founded in 1921, the CFR is considered to be the USA's "most influential foreign-policy think tank". Jerry Muller's essay is here but it is behind a pay wall. You can read an artcle summary and a potted bio of Muller from the link. Muller's thesis is:
Inequality is rising across the post-industrial capitalist world. The problem is not caused by politics and politics will never be able to eliminate it. But simply ignoring it could generate a populist backlash. Governments must accept that today as ever, inequality and insecurity are the inevitable results of market operations. Their challenge is to find ways of shielding citizens from capitalism's adverse consequences -- even as they preserve the dynamism that produces capitalism's vast economic and cultural benefits in the first place.
Here's a rebuttle to Jerry Muller. Righteously angry Andrew Smolski seems to agree with me when he says, "Foreign Affairs never ceases to amaze".
Getting capitalism and inequality dead wrong
Andrew Smolski CounterPunch USA April 18, 2013
Recently I was at the book store with my wife and I politely asked her if she would buy me an issue of Foreign Affairs (March/April 2013). After some slight prodding she gave in and purchased me the journal. See, I was intrigued by the article “Capitalism and Inequality: What the Right and Left Get Wrong” by Jerry Z. Mueller, a historian and professor. As an establishment rag, you know the Council on Foreign Affairs imperialist propagating machine, I could bet on power and oppression being left behind, a side note if at all considered. And of course there it was ad nauseam, the simplistic discourse justifying the grotesque horrors of a system as our destiny.
As I sat down to read the article I began a slow, excruciating process of regret as each page laid claims easily dismantled with a brief look at the evidence. The realization soon dawned on me that I had naively assumed an establishment publication would have anything other than a cruel dystopian calculus of TINA proportions. Reading Foreign Affairs should be considered equivalent to inhaling paint in order to reach enlightenment. I would like to utilize the text by Jerry to demonstrate a lack of understanding inherent to those who so long ago were labeled the New Mandarins. ...
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Considering the separation of politics from morality: Dressing the stage for our society's long-running morality play
Intro: The metaphases that Justice undergoes during the sixteenth century in English morality plays, from “Justice” to “Equity” further illustrates the evolution of Justice; not only did Justice change from a “theological abstraction to a civil servant” (J. Wilson McCutchan, "Justice and Equity in the English Morality Play." Journal of the History of Ideas 19.3, 1958, p 409), but he experienced a corporeal change as well.Posted at: Sunday, April 28, 2013 - 02:01 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Jim comment: In 2003, veteran set dresser Helen Rasmussen wrote a piece for NewEnglandFilm.com, a the premier online resource and magazine for film and video professionals, offering advice for those starting out in her trade. Within that instructional essay, Rasmussen wrote: "Set dressers take on a most important role, not only in film and television, but in theatre as well. The set dresser is in charge of making a set look as realistic as possible through decoration. The dresser works in accordance with the style of the script and the instructions of the production designer, set decorator, and the art director. A dresser’s job requires multitasking, organization, and the preparedness to make changes at a moment’s notice."
It taught me, at an early age, the lesson that it can be dangerous to be wrong, but, to be right, when society regards the majority’s falsehood as truth, could be fatal. This principle is especially true with respect to false truths that form an important part of an entire society’s belief system. In the past, such basic false truths were religious in nature. In the modern world, they are medical and political in nature. - Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, author of The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct (1961). Szasz is referring to the fate of Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian obstetrician who found posthumous fame as a 19th-century martyr of science. The comment was published in 2004 as part of the collection Szasz Under Fire: The Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces his Critics, edited by Jeffrey Schaler. The "Therapeutic State" is a phrase coined by Szasz in 1963. The collaboration between psychiatry and government leads to what Szasz calls the "therapeutic state", a system in which disapproved actions, thoughts, and emotions are repressed ("cured") through pseudomedical interventions.
Item: Thomas Szasz thought it dangerous to be wrong, but fatal to be right when everyone says you’re wrong. His belief was both self-flattery and hard-earned insight. Holly Case, associate professor of history at Cornell University, elaborates.
Mad, or bad?
Holly Case Aeon Magazine UK April 15, 2013
His fellow psychoanalysts, with their ‘left-liberal “progressive” prejudices’, fanatically denounced Republicans as ‘either fascists or sick or both’. As a practising psychoanalyst, an academic psychiatrist (with tenure) and a staunch Republican, Szasz felt he belonged to an embattled minority, an elect of a different sort. It was the ideal position from which to deliver his dissident strike.
It came in 1961 with the publication of The Myth of Mental Illness, wherein Szasz asserted that psychiatry, unlike medicine, could demonstrate no physical basis for the ‘diseases’ it identified and ‘treated’.
‘To speak of elevated blood pressure and hypertension,’ he wrote, ‘of sugar in the urine and diabetes, all as “organic symptoms”, and to place them in the same category as hysterical pains and paralyses is a misuse of language; it is nonsensical.’ Masquerading as scientists, psychiatrists abused scientific concepts and deluded their patients.
Worse still, they acted as henchmen for society and state. ‘[T]herapeutic interventions have two faces,’ Szasz wrote; ‘one is to heal the sick, the other is to control the wicked’. Yet the standard for wickedness is always subjective and variable, and so the psychiatrist inherited from the Inquisition the task of quarantining society’s dangerous elements. It was not a coincidence that, even decades after the word ‘psychiatrist’ entered English in 1890, practitioners were often called ‘alienists’, derived from the French aliéné, meaning both ‘alienated’ and ‘insane’. First, Szasz wrote, it was ‘God and the priests’ who kept the unruly in check. Then came ‘the totalitarian leader and his apologists’, along with ‘Freud and the psychoanalysts’.
The most enthusiastic readers of The Myth of Mental Illness did not share — or even know about — Szasz’s Republican leanings, which are not evident in the book. As one critic, R E Kendell, the late president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has pointed out, his early devotees were often left-wing students eager to overthrow established dogma across the board. Another of Szasz’s critics, the Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Thomas Gutheil, called him ‘a ’60s kind of guy’ and ‘an anti-establishment rebel’.
Szasz certainly wasn’t alone in seeing a sinister force behind diagnoses of insanity. There seems to have been something in the air in 1961: a few months after his book came out, Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) introduced the popular imagination to the iconic nightmare of Nurse Ratched, a character whose narcotic soft power could transform the socially marginal into the terminally insane and literally lobotomise dissent. ‘Total institutions’ are the theme of the Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman’s autobiographical collection, Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates (1961). In Goffman’s analysis, mental hospitals were places in which incarcerated individuals were ‘systematically, if often unintentionally mortified’, generally becoming ‘cooperators’; ‘normal’, ‘programmed’, or ‘built-in’ members. It was in 1961 that the French historian Michel Foucault published Madness and Civilization. Foucault, coming from the left, concluded in eerie harmony with Szasz that language was behind the partition of the ‘sane’ from the ‘insane’. ‘[T]he language of psychiatry … is a monologue of reason about madness.’ Also in 1961, Frantz Fanon, a psychiatrist working in Algeria during the Franco-Algerian War, wrote The Wretched of the Earth, condemning the psychiatric profession for using the language of medicine to label African resistance to colonialism as a kind of mental illness.
Within this 1961 consensus, Szasz was conspicuously alone in mounting the barricades from the right. But he and his new allies were soon to part ways.
In 1962, Major General Edwin Walker was charged with ‘inciting, assisting, and engaging in an insurrection against the authority of the United States’ for calling on residents of Mississippi to rise up and oppose the admission of a black student into an all-white college. Walker believed, among other things, that communists had infiltrated the US military (if this sounds familiar, it might be because Walker was a model for General Jack D Ripper in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film, Dr Strangelove). Instead of facing a military hearing, Walker was flown for examination to the US Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Missouri. A government psychiatrist concluded, based on reports of Walker’s behaviour, that he was probably mentally disturbed. Szasz protested the decision, and Walker was allowed to go free.
Writing about the Walker case in 2009, Szasz contended that the state’s attempt to pathologise the major general as a ‘racist’ bore comparison with the pathologisation of escaped slaves in the 19th century:
Before the Civil War, proslavery physicians in the South diagnosed black slaves who tried to escape to the North as mentally ill, ‘suffering from drapetomania’. In the Walker case, pro-integration psychiatrists in the North diagnosed white segregationists as mentally ill, ‘suffering from racism’.
After Walker, Szasz took up the cause of another, more high-profile Republican. In the run-up to the 1964 presidential elections, Fact magazine published ‘The Unconscious of a Conservative: A Special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater’, which contained the results of an informal survey of psychiatrists on the mental competence of the Republican candidate. More than 1,000 respondents declared him ‘psychologically unfit to be president of the United States’, and several offered a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.
Szasz was not among them. In the psychological marginalisation of Walker and Goldwater, he saw a trend towards the pathologisation of the right in general. The following year he declared that ‘psychiatry is a threat to civil liberties, especially to the liberties of individuals stigmatised as “right-wingers”.’ If those on the left focused on how the diagnosis of insanity was being used to marginalise unpopular voices, Szasz insisted the most unpopular voices were to be found, not in the slums or the colonies, but among US conservatives.
And yet, when Szasz chronicled the history of ideological quarantine, his own earliest examples tended to feature conservative henchmen. There was the German physician Carl Theodor Groddeck, who in 1849 wrote and published an MD thesis titled De morbo democratico, nova insaniae forma (On the Democratic Disease, A New Form of Insanity). Groddeck’s thesis warned of a democratic epidemic that might destroy all ‘individual self-consciousness’. Szasz also praised the American socialist writer Jack London, whose 1908 novel The Iron Heel raged against the ‘social role of institutional psychiatry’ in segregating and neutralising leftist opposition. To Szasz, the book was ‘at once perceptive and prophetic’. But it prophesied not the later persecution of the left so much as ‘the tyrannies that were yet to come — in Russia and Germany’:
When such bureaucratic and totalitarian principles and methods are applied to mental health planning and organisation — as indeed they are both in England and the United States — the psychiatric physician emerges as a political evangelist, social activist, and medical despot. His role is to protect the state from the troublesome citizen. All means necessary to achieve this are justified by the loftiness of this aim. The situation in Germany under Hitler offers us a picture — horrible or idyllic depending on our values — of the ensuing political tyranny concealed behind an imagery of illness, and justified by a rhetoric of therapy.
Such was the bridge Szasz constructed between Jack London’s socialism and his own thinking. Both men occupied an unpopular and embattled opposition, both spoke for the marginalised, and both pointed to a truth concealed by institutional authority. Szasz had no use for the gulf between London’s politics and his own, so he ignored it. Right and left needn’t bear any relation to right and wrong.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Biblical blame shift: Is the Egyptologist Jan Assmann fueling anti-Semitism?
Jan Assmann wants to solve the riddle of anti-Semitism. But the celebrated Egyptologist’s effort to understand the problem has succeeded only in exacerbating it argues Richard Wolin. Wolin teaches history and political science at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.Posted at: Sunday, April 21, 2013 - 03:59 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Biblical blame shift
Richard Wolin The Chronicle Review USA April 15, 2013
Jan Assmann has been described as the world's leading Egyptologist—a characterization that few these days would dare to dispute. A 74-year-old emeritus professor at the University of Heidelberg and honorary professor at the University of Konstanz, Assmann has held guest professorships at Yale, the University of Chicago, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, in Paris.
In addition to his specialized work as an Egyptologist, Assmann has staked a more general claim to distinction as a leading theorist of cultural history as a result of his pathbreaking work on "mnemohistory"—a concept he has developed over the past three decades with his wife, Aleida Assmann, and other researchers.
In his recent volume, Cultural Memory and Early Civilization: Writing, Remembrance, and Political Imagination (Cambridge University Press, 2011), Assmann recapitulates a number of his most important findings. Building on the work of previous theorists of cultural memory as an approach to historical understanding (such as the French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs), Assmann's notion of mnemohistory suggests that, from a cultural point of view, the way history is remembered is more important than—to quote the German historian Leopold von Ranke—"the way it really was."
This insight is particularly valid in the case of ancient history. Here, whereas reliable archaeological or textual evidence is often sketchy, imaginative commentaries abound, in many cases composed several centuries after the fact. It is generally accepted that, after a period of 40 years, generational memory begins to fade. At this point, "collective memory" cedes to "cultural memory" as a type of imaginative reinvention of tradition.
As Assmann explains his methodology in Cultural Memory and Early Civilization: "Even if sometimes the debate over history, memory, and mnemotechnics may appear abstract and academic, it seems to me to nevertheless lie at the very heart of current discourse. Everything points to the fact that the concept of memory constitutes the basis for a new paradigm of cultural studies that will shed light on all the interconnected fields of art and literature, politics and sociology, religion and law."
Assmann points out that questions of historical remembrance are frequently the object of contentious cultural negotiations and disputes. Often, such struggles go far toward determining the cultural self-understanding of a given society or social group. To take one example that resurfaces often in Assmann's work: At various points in European cultural history, the memory of ancient Egypt, as the "other" of the West, has assumed a pivotal function. Thus in both the Old Testament and early Christianity, Egypt was hyperbolically constructed as a "negative totem." For the ancient Jews, it became the symbol of worldly corruption ("the fleshpots of Egypt") and soulless idolatry. Among Christians, it became one of the essential sites of paganism—a past from which believers needed to free themselves in order to accede to the promised land of salvation.
Conversely, Assmann shows in Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism (Harvard University Press, 1997) that during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment—two highly secularizing eras, in which emancipation from ecclesiastical dogma became a major rallying cry—ancient Egypt's historical value was positively reconfigured, both as the ultimate fount of biblical monotheism and as providing an evidentiary historical basis for Spinoza's heretical pantheism. (As Spinoza famously claimed, Deus sive natura: God and nature are the same.) This historiographical reassessment represented a conscious attempt to ruin the sacred truths by demonstrating that Western monotheism had its origins in pagan practices and rituals. It was an image that was constructed in contrast with Christendom, where, with the Inquisition and the religious wars, religious dogma had culminated in intolerance, persecution, and armed conflagrations of biblical proportion. (It is estimated that during the Thirty Years' War, one-third of the population of Europe either died or was displaced.) Thus, by degrees, biblical Egyptophobia ultimately gave way to Egyptophilia—a tendency that crested with Napoleon's Egyptian expedition (1798-1801) and the French Orientalist Jean-François Champollion's (1790-1832) decipherment of hieroglyphics, which became the basis for modern Egyptology.
Assmann shows that, in the work of the 17th-century English Hebraist John Spencer, the 18th-century English polemicist and freethinker John Toland, and the 18th-century English cleric and critic William Warburton, the figure of Moses played a pivotal role in the early Enlightenment's secularizing discourse on Egypt. It was during this period that the enduring cultural trope of "Moses the Egyptian" was born. To reconceive Moses as an Egyptian was a way of deflating the theological pretensions of biblical monotheism. The hope was that, by demonstrating that Western monotheism had its origins in the nature-centered religion of ancient Egypt, one might be able to defuse Christianity's eschatological, sectarian zealotry—which, in the eyes of its critics, had had such catastrophic historical and political consequences.
Not only does the idea of "Moses the Egyptian" furnish the title of Assmann's 1997 monograph. It also alludes to the title of a highly contentious essay by Freud ("If Moses was an Egyptian ...") that was published a few months before Freud's death, in 1939, as part of Moses and Monotheism. Freud claimed, on the basis of some rather threadbare textual and historical evidence, that the historical Moses was in fact a disaffected Egyptian priest who imposed monotheism on the Jews once it had been banned in ancient Egypt following the reign of Akhenaten. Unsurprisingly, Freud's iconoclastic study—which, to the dismay of fellow Jews, appeared as the tide of European anti-Semitism reached its zenith—plays a pivotal role in Assmann's investigations of Western mnemohistorical discourse on Egypt. ...
In Moses the Egyptian, Assmann clarifies the biographical motivations subtending his investigations by informing us, "It is in a rather personal attempt to 'come to terms with'" the German past "that I embark on the writing of this study about Moses the Egyptian." He continues: "The present text reflects my situation as a German Egyptologist writing 50 years after the catastrophe which Freud saw approaching, knowing the full extent of the genocide which was still unthinkable in Freud's time."
Here, one might plausibly inquire: What contribution might an Egyptologist be able to make toward understanding the Holocaust, an event that postdates Assmann's area of scholarly expertise by some 3,500 years? We find the answer to this question a few lines later, when Assmann grandiosely informs us that, by re-examining the cultural "confrontation of [ancient] Egypt and Israel," he seeks to furnish "a historical analysis of anti-Semitism."
But the term anti-Semitism is a relatively recent coinage. It first appeared in Wilhelm Marr's prejudice-laden 1879 study, The Victory of Judaism Over Germany. Among historians, the term has been conceptually serviceable for distinguishing the ideology of modern racial anti-Judaism from anti-Judaism's more traditional, religious strains. To restate these facts is merely to underline what should be obvious: The analytical and historical value of seeking to account for modern anti-Semitism via recourse to the biblical antagonism between Israel and Egypt is manifestly limited. It is at this point, moreover, that one runs up against the analytical and conceptual limits of "mnemohistory" as a method of historical explanation.
But there is another essential component of Assmann's highly speculative theological "blowback" thesis that falls beneath the threshold of sense. The Holocaust cannot be conceived as a modern instance of "religious exclusivity"—this time, perpetrated against the Jews rather than by them—since, as is well known, the Nazis openly disavowed monotheism (Christianity as well as Judaism) in favor of neo-paganism. The ideology of the master race was predicated on the doctrine of Aryan racial superiority, which provided the Nazis with their right to dominate supposedly inferior racial groupings. Thus, in point of fact, Europe's Jews were victimized by the recrudescence of the herem ban as practiced by ancient pagans, for which we now have corroborating archaeological evidence. If this insight holds, it stands Assmann's argument on its head: It was paganism's return, rather than its eclipse at the hands of biblical monotheism, that helps to explain the destruction of European Jewry at the hands of the swastika-bearing Nazis. In this case, too, Assmann seems to be scratching where it doesn't itch.
Under the cover of solving the historical riddle of anti-Semitism by tracing it back to the "Mosaic distinction"—and thus insinuating that European Jewry was ultimately the victim of a brand of theological intolerance that the ancient Hebrews had themselves introduced—Assmann has merely added fuel to the flames.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Religion is too important, too interesting, too useful to be left to the religious
After atheism. Religion is too important, too interesting, too useful to be left to the religious, says a new crop of nonbelievers. Below: Five different writers address the issue.Posted at: Sunday, April 07, 2013 - 03:44 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
After God: What can atheists learn from believers?
New Statesman UK March 27, 2013
Jonathan Derbyshire writes: Jeremy Bentham, his disciple John Stuart Mill once wrote, would always ask of a proposition or belief, “Is it true?” By contrast, Bentham’s contemporary Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Mill observed, thought “What is the meaning of it?” was a much more interesting question.
Today’s New Atheists –Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens principal among them – are the heirs of Bentham, rather than Coleridge. For them, religion – or the great monotheistic faiths, at any rate – are bundles of beliefs (about the existence of a supernatural being, the origins of the universe and so on) whose claims to truth don’t stand up to rational scrutiny. And once the falsity of those beliefs has been established, they imply, there is nothing much left to say.
The New Atheists remind one of Edward Gibbon, who said of a visit to the cathedral at Chartres: “I paused only to dart a look at the stately pile of superstition and passed on.” They glance at the stately pile of story and myth bequeathed to humanity by religion and quickly move on, pausing only to ask of the benighted millions who continue to profess one faith or another that they keep their beliefs to themselves and don’t demand that they be heard in the public square.
Lately, however, we have begun to hear from atheists or non-believers who strike a rather different, less belligerent tone. These “New, New Atheists”, to borrow the physicist Jim Al-Khalili’s phrase, are the inheritors of Coleridge. They separate their atheism from their secularism and argue that a secular state need not demand of the religious that they put their most cherished beliefs to one side when they enter public debate; only that they shouldn’t expect those beliefs to be accepted without scepticism.
They treat religious stories differently, too – as a treasure trove to be plundered, in the case of Alain de Botton, or, in the case of the self-described “after-religionist” Richard Holloway, as myths that continue to speak to the human condition.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
On the labor beat in Canada
Unions are about fairness: workplace fairness; economic fairness; opportunity fairness; political fairness; and democratic fairness. Unions promote fairness, not just for their members, but for all Canadians. - James Clancy, NUPGE President. NUPGE's "mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good."Posted at: Tuesday, April 02, 2013 - 04:28 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Enthusiastic speakers and participation at labour rights conference
Media release National Union of Public and General Employees Canada March 28, 2013
Toronto (28 March 2013) – An international conference on labour rights issues has come to a successful conclusion. It succeeded in providing a solid base of knowledge about the critical role that labour and unions play in reducing income inequality, advancing democracy, and promoting the well-being of all Canadians.
The conference, "Labour Rights and Their Impact on Democracy, Economic Equality and Social Justice", was organized by the Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights (CFLR) and sponsored by the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW Canada) and the Canadian Teachers' Federation (CTF).
Participants heard from a number of enthusiastic speakers on the final day and left the conference feeling energized and committed to building a broad-based progressive coalition in support of the shared values of Canadians and the labour movement. ...
CUPE, CLC launch united response to defend union security
Media release Canadian Union of Public Employess Canada March 26, 2013
You can download a PDF of the full resolution from a link on this page.
Conservative attacks on free trade unions are growing. CUPE and the Canadian Labour Congress are standing up to take action.
Bill C-377 represents an unprecedented intrusion into the independent affairs of all unions.
Cuts to Employment Insurance, Old Age Security and other services within the context of fiscal austerity, the elimination of the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act, along with regressive changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program all represent an ongoing attack on ordinary working Canadians by the Harper Conservative government aimed primarily at driving down wages and weakening organized labour.
And on the horizon is a legislative attack on union security, which will seek to introduce regressive U.S.-style anti-labour legislation in Canada for the first time.
The scale of attacks requires a united response. A resolution passed at the Canadian Labour Congress outlines a plan of action to reach out to all 3.3 million members of the CLC with a comprehensive campaign to reinforce the value of union membership and unions, to build union pride and to create the necessary conditions for members to head off and resist any and all legislative attacks on union security and the independence and autonomy of Canadian trade unions.
The Canadian Labour Congress is the largest democratic and popular organization in Canada with 3.3 million members. The Canadian Labour Congress brings together Canada's national and international unions, the provincial and territorial federations of labour and 130 district labour councils.
Monday, April 1, 2013
The financial front: The global elite are fundamentally changing the game
Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister is in the Middle East right now doing his bit for the Western Axis war as best the Harperites are able. We'll ignore most of that for now. But we do note that he will be in Cyprus, currently gripped in a financial crisis, to meet with Cypriot government officials and to sign an arrangement on “consular contingencies.”Posted at: Monday, April 01, 2013 - 07:29 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
The confiscation of savings in Canada? Cyprus-style “bail-Ins” proposed by Ottawa government
Global Research Canada March 31, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
The politicians of the western world are coming after your bank accounts. In fact, Cyprus-style “bail-ins” are actually proposed in the new Canadian government budget. When I first heard about this I was quite skeptical, so I went and looked it up for myself. And guess what? It is right there in black and white on pages 144 and 145 of “Economic Action Plan 2013″ which the Harper government has already submitted to the House of Commons.
This new budget actually proposes “to implement a ‘bail-in’ regime for systemically important banks” in Canada. “Economic Action Plan 2013″ was submitted on March 21st, which means that this “bail-in regime” was likely being planned long before the crisis in Cyprus ever erupted. So exactly what in the world is going on here? In addition, as you will see below, it is being reported that the European Parliament will soon be voting on a law which would require that large banks be “bailed in” when they fail. In other words, that new law would make Cyprus-style bank account confiscation the law of the land for the entire EU.
I can’t even begin to describe how serious all of this is. From now on, when major banks fail they are going to bail them out by grabbing the money that is in your bank accounts. This is going to absolutely shatter faith in the banking system and it is actually going to make it far more likely that we will see major bank failures all over the western world.
What you are about to see absolutely amazed me when I first saw it. The Canadian government is actually proposing that what just happened in Cyprus should be used as a blueprint for future bank failures up in Canada.
The following comes from pages 144 and 145 of “Economic Action Plan 2013″ which you can find right here. Apparently the goal is to find a way to rescue “systemically important banks” without the use of taxpayer funds. ...
This is going to create an atmosphere of fear and panic, and no financial system can operate normally when you destroy the confidence that people have in it.
Confidence is a funny thing – it can take decades to build, but it can be destroyed in a single moment.
None of us will ever be able to have confidence in our bank accounts again....
This is what it feels like to have your life savings confiscated by the global elite
The Economic Collapse Blog USA March 29, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
What would you do if you woke up one day and discovered that the banksters had "legally" stolen about 80 percent of your life savings? Most people seem to assume that most of the depositors that are getting ripped off in Cyprus are "Russian oligarchs" or "wealthy European tycoons", but the truth is that they are only just part of the story. As you will see below, there are small businesses and aging retirees that have been absolutely devastated by the wealth confiscation that has taken place in Cyprus. Many businesses can no longer meet their payrolls or pay their bills because their funds have been frozen, and many retirees have seen retirement plans that they have been working toward for decades absolutely destroyed in a matter of days. Sometimes it can be hard to identify with events that are happening on the other side of the globe, but I want you to try to put yourself into their shoes for a few minutes. How would you feel if something like this happened to you? ...
Related: Why is the world economy doomed? The global financial pyramid scheme by the numbers
The Economic Collapse Blog USA March 20, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
Why is the global economy in so much trouble? How can so many people be so absolutely certain that the world financial system is going to crash? Well, the truth is that when you take a look at the cold, hard numbers it is not difficult to see why the global financial pyramid scheme is destined to fail. In the United States today, there is approximately 56 trillion dollars of total debt in our financial system, but there is only about 9 trillion dollars in our bank accounts. So you could take every single penny out of the banks, multiply it by six, and you still would not have enough money to pay off all of our debts. Overall, there is about 190 trillion dollars of total debt on the planet. But global GDP is only about 70 trillion dollars. And the total notional value of all derivatives around the globe is somewhere between 600 trillion and 1500 trillion dollars. So we have a gigantic problem on our hands. The global financial system is a very shaky house of cards that has been constructed on a foundation of debt, leverage and incredibly risky derivatives. We are living in the greatest financial bubble in world history, and it isn't going to take much to topple the entire thing. And when it falls, it is going to be the largest financial disaster in the history of the planet.
The global financial system is more interconnected today than ever before, and a crisis at one major bank or in one area of the world can spread at lightning speed. ...
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
"Turnaround": What needs to be overcome if the world economy is to return to the path of growth and stability? The outcome hinges critically on whether advanced nations muster the humility required to absorb and embrace the Third World’s lessons
Turnaround: Third World Lessons for First World GrowthPosted at: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 07:21 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
By Peter Blair Henry. Published by Basic Books, March 2013
A child of the Third World risen to First World academic prominence, Peter Henry effectively bridges both worlds, offering a vision of what leaders can achieve if they take the long road, implementing sensible economic policies with accountability, integrity, and persistence. - Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance of Nigeria. Peter Blair Henry is the Dean of the Stern School of Business at New York University.
Turnaround: Third World Lessons for First World Growth
Peter Blair Henry NYU Stern School of Business USA March 12, 2013
Thirty years ago, China seemed hopelessly mired in poverty, Mexico triggered the Third World Debt Crisis, and Brazil suffered under hyperinflation. Since then, these and other developing countries have turned themselves around, while First World nations, battered by crises, depend more than ever on sustained growth in emerging markets.
In Turnaround, economist Peter Blair Henry argues that the secret to emerging countries’ success (and ours) is discipline—sustained commitment to a pragmatic growth strategy. With the global economy teetering on the brink, the stakes are higher than ever. And because stakes are so high for all nations, we need less polarization and more focus on facts to answer the fundamental question: which policy reforms, implemented under what circumstances, actually increase economic efficiency? Pushing past the tired debates, Henry shows that the stock market’s forecasts of policy impact provide an important complement to traditional measures.
Through examples ranging from the drastic income disparity between Barbados and his native Jamaica to the “catch up” economics of China and the taming of inflation in Latin America, Henry shows that in much of the emerging world the policy pendulum now swings toward prudence and self-control. ...
An excerpt from Peter Blair Henry’s Third World Lessons for First World Growth
"Morning Joe" MSNBC USA March 12, 2013
Times have changed. China now has the second-largest economy in the world. Mexico, following almost twenty years of economic stability, now boasts 1.9 million manufacturing jobs, thriving innovation centers, and a burgeoning high-tech industry. Between 2001 and 2011, Brazil lifted 20 million people out of poverty and into its growing middle class, and in the last quarter of the twentieth century Botswana’s gross domestic product per capita grew faster than that of any other country on the planet. The once-labeled “Third World” is edging its way into the “First World.” Add to these observations the recent debt and financial crises that have battered the United States and Europe, and it becomes clear that the future prosperity of the global economy depends as never before on sustained growth in emerging markets as well as on the stabilization of our own shaky ground. Interdependence is paramount. In the years ahead, everyone will win or everyone will lose, and the outcome hinges critically on whether advanced nations muster the humility required to absorb and embrace the Third World’s lessons for First World growth. ...
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Man and beast: Animal consciousness
Right: Fresco by Pietro Lorenzetti, Assisi BasilicaPosted at: Sunday, March 24, 2013 - 03:09 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. - John 1:29 (KJV)
... I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? ... - Judas, speaking to the chief priests and elders. Matthew 27:4 (KJV)
Animals, said Descartes, “eat without pleasure, cry without pain, grow without knowing it; they desire nothing, fear nothing, know nothing.” Centuries of prehistory and a century of science say otherwise. John Jeremiah Sullivan is the author of Blood Horses and, most recently, Pulphead. He is the recipient of two National Magazine Awards. He coincludes his examination of the question, "This is what the study of animal consciousness can teach us, finally—that we possess an animal consciousness."
One of us
John Jeremiah Sullivan Lapham's Quarterly USA Spring 2013
Image: Anguish (1880), by August Friedrich Schenck
These are stimulating times for anyone interested in questions of animal consciousness. On what seems like a monthly basis, scientific teams announce the results of new experiments, adding to a preponderance of evidence that we’ve been underestimating animal minds, even those of us who have rated them fairly highly. New animal behaviors and capacities are observed in the wild, often involving tool use—or at least object manipulation—the very kinds of activity that led the distinguished zoologist Donald R. Griffin to found the field of cognitive ethology (animal thinking) in 1978: octopuses piling stones in front of their hideyholes, to name one recent example; or dolphins fitting marine sponges to their beaks in order to dig for food on the seabed; or wasps using small stones to smooth the sand around their egg chambers, concealing them from predators. At the same time neurobiologists have been finding that the physical structures in our own brains most commonly held responsible for consciousness are not as rare in the animal kingdom as had been assumed. Indeed they are common. All of this work and discovery appeared to reach a kind of crescendo last summer, when an international group of prominent neuroscientists meeting at the University of Cambridge issued “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Non-Human Animals,” a document stating that “humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness.” It goes further to conclude that numerous documented animal behaviors must be considered “consistent with experienced feeling states.”
That is technical language, but it speaks to a riddle age-old and instinctive. These thoughts begin, for most of us, typically, in childhood, when we are making eye contact with a pet or wild animal. I go back to our first family dog, a preternaturally intelligent-seeming Labrador mix, the kind of dog who herds playing children away from the street at birthday parties, an animal who could sense if you were down and would nuzzle against you for hours, as if actually sharing your pain. I can still hear people, guests and relatives, talking about how smart she was. “Smarter than some people I know!” But when you looked into her eyes—mahogany discs set back in the grizzled black of her face—what was there? I remember the question forming in my mind: can she think? The way my own brain felt to me, the sensation of existing inside a consciousness, was it like that in there?
For most of the history of our species, we seem to have assumed it was. Trying to recapture the thought life of prehistoric peoples is a game wise heads tend to leave alone, but if there’s a consistent motif in the artwork made between four thousand and forty thousand years ago, it’s animal-human hybrids, drawings and carvings and statuettes showing part man or woman and part something else—lion or bird or bear. Animals knew things, possessed their forms of wisdom. They were beings in a world of countless beings. Taking their lives was a meaningful act, to be prayed for beforehand and atoned for afterward, suggesting that beasts were allowed some kind of right. We used our power over them constantly and violently, but stopped short of telling ourselves that creatures of alien biology could not be sentient or that they were incapable of true suffering and pleasure. Needing their bodies, we killed them in spite of those things.
Only with the Greeks does there enter the notion of a formal divide between our species, our animal, and every other on earth. ...
'Agassiz was great in the abstract but not in the concrete.’ On a flawed man’s mission: Louis Agassiz's consistent and untiring effort was to make science, and the love of science, and the understanding of science, a part of our everyday iife
The Swiss paleontologist, glaciologist, geologist and prominent innovator in the study of the Earth's natural history, Louis Agassiz (May 28, 1807 – December 14, 1873), was a charismatic lecturer, craven racist, staunch anti-Darwinist. He was also brilliant. Harvard didn’t give him a job; it built him a school. Brenda Wineapple is the author, most recently, of White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Her new book, Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877, is forthcoming from Harper.Posted at: Sunday, March 24, 2013 - 03:06 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Jellyfish or fossil? On Louis Agassiz
Brenda Wineapple The Nation USA Webposted March 6, 2013
During the 1906 earthquake in California, a statue of the scientist Louis Agassiz fell from its perch, plunging the marble head of the Swiss-born naturalist straight into the ground and leaving his feet sticking up in the air. That seems to be where Agassiz still rests: head in the sand, feet in the air, something of a laughingstock. And as Christoph Irmscher points out in his new biography, Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science, most people today don’t know who Agassiz is—or if they do, they “tend to think of [him] as a misguided, opportunistic bigot.” Irmscher, a professor of English at Indiana University, is the author of an excellent study of American science writing, The Poetics of Natural History: From John Bartram to William James. That book includes a fine chapter on Agassiz, which the author has now expanded into a readable, well-informed and occasionally irritating biography.
Irmscher emphasizes early on that he’s not about to tidy up Agassiz’s image, although the celebrated scientist once wowed antebellum audiences in the United States, taught brilliant young scientists at Harvard, established the university’s Museum of Comparative Zoology and became the “Johnny Appleseed of science” (or so the cultural critic Van Wyck Brooks once called him). Wielding his considerable influence, Agassiz also tried to prevent Darwin’s theories from being accepted in the United States and was a “craven racist” (Irmscher’s words) who emphatically pronounced black men and women, as well as Native Americans and Asians, decidedly inferior to Caucasians.
All this leaves Irmscher with what he calls “a challenging [tale] to tell.” Of course, such challenges are the bane or the blessing (largely both) of anyone who writes about a pockmarked character (most are), or about a subject whose life and work don’t fit in with the current moral zeitgeist. ...
Related anecdotes: Below: "You are invited to take a 2-3 hour self-guided walking tour of the Stanford campus. Informational posters are mounted at 11 different stops around campus, with each poster giving a broad overview of what happened on April 18, 1906 and how the university continues to evolve in response to the ever-present risk of earthquakes. ..."
Stanford University and the 1906 earthquake. Walking Tour 3: Memorial Arch and Agassiz Statue
Centennial Commemoration Stanford University California, USA 2006
Beyond property damage, loss of prestige is a serious issue that the University faces in the aftermath of an earthquake. Paired with alarming reports of destruction, images such as the broken Memorial Arch, Agassiz’ feet poking out of the concrete in front of the Quad, and the collapsed entry gates significantly altered Stanford’s national reputation for at least a decade after the 1906 earthquake. ...
Agassiz in the Concrete
Figure 4: Agassiz in the concrete, the most famous image associated with Stanford's earthquake history.
The Agassiz statue is the most famous of all images related to Stanford’s earthquake history (Figure 4). During the 1906 temblor, the stone shelf supporting a marble statue of Swiss naturalist and geologist Louis Agassiz on the second story of the north wall of the Zoology building (now Building 420) failed, causing the statue to plunge into the ground below. There are several accounts of the outcome. One student wrote, “A big marble statue of Agassiz was toppled off his perch on the outside of the quad and fell foremost into the ground (right through a cement walk) up to his shoulders, and still sticks there, legs in the air and his hand held out gracefully. People came running from the quad with such sober faces, but when they saw him they couldn’t help laughing, and one fellow went up and shook hands with him.”
“Agassiz in the concrete” remained a legend associated with the earthquake period. According to one account, “Many stories were told about Agassiz’s natural instinct that when the earthquake came he decided to stick his head underground to find out what was going on in the earth below and with his finger pointing saying, ‘Hark! Listen!’ […] ...
President David Starr Jordan wrote, “Somebody—Dr. Angell, perhaps—remarked that ‘Agassiz was great in the abstract but not in the concrete.’” What was most extraordinary about the incident was that the statue was imbedded into the ground below nearly to the hips but only broke at the nose. The nose was refastened and the statue was returned to its original place, this time better secured. As amusing as this image of Agassiz was to the Stanford community, it suggested to the public that Stanford was in chaos. ...
Below: "The Parable of the Sunfish".
ABC of Reading by Ezra Pound. first published in 1934
Parable of the Sunfish
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"The Parable of the Sunfish" is an anecdote with which Ezra Pound opens ABC of Reading, a 1934 work of literary criticism. Pound uses this anecdote to emphasize an empirical approach for learning about art, in contrast to relying on commentary rooted in abstraction. While the parable is based on students' recollections of Louis Agassiz's teaching style, Pound's retelling diverges from these sources in several respects. The parable has been used to illustrate the benefits of scientific thinking, but more recent literary criticism has split on whether the parable accurately reflects the scientific process versus calling into question Pound's empirical approach to literature.
Pound opens ABC of Reading with the following pronouncement:
The proper METHOD for studying poetry and good letters is the method of contemporary biologists, that is careful first-hand examination of the matter, and continual COMPARISON of one 'slide' or specimen with another. No man is equipped for modern thinking until he has understood the anecdote of Agassiz and the sunfish.:17, emphasis in original
In the parable, a graduate student is sent to noted biologist Louis Agassiz to complete his education, and Agassiz asks the student three times to describe a sunfish specimen. The student replies with, in turn, the common name of the fish, a brief summary of the species, and a four-page essay on the species. Agassiz finally tells the student to "look at the fish" and "[a]t the end of three weeks the fish was in an advanced state of decomposition, but the student knew something about it.":18 The text of the parable itself spans 131 words over sixteen lines and is often reproduced in full when cited.
Pound contrasts this empiricism against knowledge gained through increasingly abstract definitions. ...
Pound subsequently refers to the parable in two essays: "The Teacher's Mission" and "Mr Housman at Little Bethel". Both were republished in The Literary Essays of Ezra Pound and reference Agassiz without including details of the parable. "The Teacher's Mission" in particular provides a straightforward explanation of how Pound wished the parable to be interpreted.
Debating knowledge: What is the compatibility of science and religion? Should philosophers dare to question scientists?
Philosophers used to have the confidence to question scientists. Today it's a rare trait. Thomas Nagel is the exception, and he’s ostracized for it. Immediately below, Andrew Ferguson asks who is Thomas Nagel and why are so many of his fellow academics condemning him?. Ferguson is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard Then in the related book review following, Thomas Nagel himself writes: "[The analytic philosopher Alvin] Plantinga holds that miracles are not incompatible with the laws of physics, because those laws determine only what happens in closed systems, without external intervention, and the proposition that the physical universe is a closed system is not itself a law of physics, but a naturalist assumption. Newton did not believe it: he even believed that God intervened to keep the planets in their orbits. ... Plantinga writes clearly and accessibly, and sometimes acidly—in response to aggressive critics of religion like Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. His comprehensive stand is a valuable contribution to this debate. I say this as someone who cannot imagine believing what he believes. ..."Posted at: Sunday, March 24, 2013 - 03:02 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Andrew Ferguson The Weekly Standard USA March 25, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 2
Last fall, a few days before Halloween and about a month after the publication of Mind and Cosmos, the controversial new book by the philosopher Thomas Nagel, several of the world’s leading philosophers gathered with a group of cutting-edge scientists in the conference room of a charming inn in the Berkshires. They faced one another around a big table set with pitchers of iced water and trays of hard candies wrapped in cellophane and talked and talked, as public intellectuals do. PowerPoint was often brought into play.
The title of the “interdisciplinary workshop” was “Moving Naturalism Forward.” For those of us who like to kill time sitting around pondering the nature of reality—personhood, God, moral judgment, free will, what have you—this was the Concert for Bangladesh. The biologist Richard Dawkins was there, author of The Blind Watchmaker, The Selfish Gene, and other bestselling books of popular science, and so was Daniel Dennett, a philosopher at Tufts and author of Consciousness Explained and Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. So were the authors of Why Evolution is True, The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World, Everything Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized, and The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions—all of them books that to one degree or another bring to a larger audience the world as scientists have discovered it to be.
Contemporary philosophers have a name for the way you and I see the world, a world filled with other people, with colors and sounds, sights and sensations, things that are good and things that are bad and things that are very good indeed: ourselves, who are able, more or less, to make our own way through life, by our own lights. Philosophers call this common view the “manifest image.” Daniel Dennett pointed out at the conference that modern science, at least since the revelations of Darwin, has been piling up proof that the manifest image is not really accurate in any scientific sense. Rather science—this vast interlocking combine of genetics, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, particle physics—tells us that the components of the manifest image are illusory.
Color, for instance: That azalea outside the window may look red to you, but in reality it has no color at all. The red comes from certain properties of the azalea that absorb some kinds of light and reflect other kinds of light, which are then received by the eye and transformed in our brains into a subjective experience of red. And sounds, too: Complex vibrations in the air are soundless in reality, but our ears are able to turn the vibrations into a car alarm or a cat’s meow or, worse, the voice of Mariah Carey. These capacities of the human organism are evolutionary adaptations. Everything about human beings, by definition, is an evolutionary adaptation. Our sense that the colors and sounds exist “out there” and not merely in our brain is a convenient illusion that long ago increased the survival chances of our species. Powered by Darwin, modern science proceeds, in Dennett’s phrase, as a “universal corrosive,” destroying illusions all the way up and all the way down, dismantling our feelings of freedom and separate selfhood, our morals and beliefs, a mother’s love and a patient’s prayer: All in reality are just “molecules in motion.”
The most famous, most succinct, and most pitiless summary of the manifest image’s fraudulence was written nearly 20 years ago by the geneticist Francis Crick: “ ‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.”
This view is the “naturalism” that the workshoppers in the Berkshires were trying to move forward. Naturalism is also called “materialism,” the view that only matter exists; or “reductionism,” the view that all life, from tables to daydreams, is ultimately reducible to pure physics; or “determinism,” the view that every phenomenon, including our own actions, is determined by a preexisting cause, which was itself determined by another cause, and so on back to the Big Bang. ...
Related: Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism
by Alvin Plantinga. Oxford University Press, USA (December 9, 2011) 376 pages
This book is a long-awaited major statement by a pre-eminent analytic philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, on one of our biggest debates -- the compatibility of science and religion. The last twenty years has seen a cottage industry of books on this divide, but with little consensus emerging. Plantinga, as a top philosopher but also a proponent of the rationality of religious belief, has a unique contribution to make. His theme in this short book is that the conflict between science and theistic religion is actually superficial, and that at a deeper level they are in concord.
Plantinga examines where this conflict is supposed to exist -- evolution, evolutionary psychology, analysis of scripture, scientific study of religion -- as well as claims by Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Philip Kitcher that evolution and theistic belief cannot co-exist. Plantinga makes a case that their arguments are not only inconclusive but that the supposed conflicts themselves are superficial, due to the methodological naturalism used by science. On the other hand, science can actually offer support to theistic doctrines, and Plantinga uses the notion of biological and cosmological "fine-tuning" in support of this idea. Plantinga argues that we might think about arguments in science and religion in a new way -- as different forms of discourse that try to persuade people to look at questions from a perspective such that they can see that something is true. In this way, there is a deep and massive consonance between theism and the scientific enterprise.
Below: Thomas Nagal reviews the book.
A philosopher defends religion
Thomas Nagel The New York Review of Books USA September 27, 2012
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Alvin Plantinga, Utrecht, the Netherlands, 1995. Photo: Sijmen Hendriks
The gulf in outlook between atheists and adherents of the monotheistic religions is profound. We are fortunate to live under a constitutional system and a code of manners that by and large keep it from disturbing the social peace; usually the parties ignore each other. But sometimes the conflict surfaces and heats up into a public debate. The present is such a time.
One of the things atheists tend to believe is that modern science is on their side, whereas theism is in conflict with science: that, for example, belief in miracles is inconsistent with the scientific conception of natural law; faith as a basis of belief is inconsistent with the scientific conception of knowledge; belief that God created man in his own image is inconsistent with scientific explanations provided by the theory of evolution. In his absorbing new book, Where the Conflict Really Lies, Alvin Plantinga, a distinguished analytic philosopher known for his contributions to metaphysics and theory of knowledge as well as to the philosophy of religion, turns this alleged opposition on its head. His overall claim is that “there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism.” By naturalism he means the view that the world describable by the natural sciences is all that exists, and that there is no such person as God, or anything like God.
Plantinga’s religion is the real thing, not just an intellectual deism that gives God nothing to do in the world. He himself is an evangelical Protestant, but he conducts his argument with respect to a version of Christianity that is the “rough intersection of the great Christian creeds”—ranging from the Apostle’s Creed to the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles—according to which God is a person who not only created and maintains the universe and its laws, but also intervenes specially in the world, with the miracles related in the Bible and in other ways. It is of great interest to be presented with a lucid and sophisticated account of how someone who holds these beliefs understands them to harmonize with and indeed to provide crucial support for the methods and results of the natural sciences. ...
But even those who cannot accept the theist alternative should admit that Plantinga’s criticisms of naturalism are directed at the deepest problem with that view—how it can account for the appearance, through the operation of the laws of physics and chemistry, of conscious beings like ourselves, capable of discovering those laws and understanding the universe that they govern. Defenders of naturalism have not ignored this problem, but I believe that so far, even with the aid of evolutionary theory, they have not proposed a credible solution. ...
'Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord' & The 'Field of Blood'
The Passion is the Christian theological term used for the events and suffering – physical, spiritual, and mental – of Jesus in the hours before and including his trial and execution by crucifixion.Posted at: Sunday, March 24, 2013 - 02:57 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Entry into Jerusalem. Fresco by Pietro Lorenzetti (active between approximately 1306 and 1345), Assisi, Lower Basilica, San Francesco, southern transept. This is a part of Lorenzetti's masterwork, a fresco decoration of the lower church of Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi, where he painted a series of large scenes depicting Crucifixion, Deposition from the Cross, and Entombment. Together with his younger brother, the painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Pietro Lorenzetti helped introduce naturalism into Sienese art. In their artistry and experiments with three-dimensional and spatial arrangements, the two brothers foreshadowed the art of the Renaissance.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. - Zechariah 9:9 (KJV)
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. - Zechariah 9:9 (NIV)
When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death:
And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor.
Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,
Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.
And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.
And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in.
Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day. - Matthew 27:1-8 (KJV)
Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.
When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. - Matthew 27:1-8 (NIV)
Friday, March 15, 2013
Default on the public debt, nationalization of the banks, and a citizen dividend could actually save the Italian economy
Beppe Grillo, comedian and kingmaker in Italy's hung parliament, has exit from the euro, bank nationalization and a guaranteed basic income among his party's goals. They sound a joke, but his proposals have a solid history of success elsewhere. "Quantitative easing" funds do not have to go to bankers says Ellen Brown. Default on the public debt has been pulled off quite successfully in Iceland, Argentina, Ecuador, and Russia, among other countries.Posted at: Friday, March 15, 2013 - 01:46 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Money for the people: Grillo’s populist plan for Italy
Ellen Brown Web of Debt Blog USA March 7, 2013
Comedian Beppe Grillo was surprised himself when his Five Star Movement got 8.7 million votes in the Italian general election of February 24-25th. His movement is now the biggest single party in the chamber of deputies, says The Guardian, which makes him “a kingmaker in a hung parliament.”
Grillo’s is the party of “no.” In a candidacy based on satire, he organized an annual “V Day Celebration,” the “V” standing for vaffanculo (“f—k off”). He rejects the status quo—all the existing parties and their monopoly control of politics, jobs, and financing—and seeks a referendum on all international treaties, including NATO membership, free trade agreements and the Euro.
“If we get into parliament,” says Grillo, “we would bring the old system down, not because we would enjoy doing so but because the system is rotten.” Critics fear, and supporters hope, that if his party succeeds, it could break the Euro system.
But being against everything, says Mike Whitney in Counterpunch, is not a platform:
To govern, one needs ideas and a strategy for implementing those ideas. Grillo’s team has neither. They are defined more in terms of the things they are against than things they are for. It’s fine to want to “throw the bums out”, but that won’t put people back to work or boost growth or end the slump. Without a coherent plan to govern, M5S could end up in the political trash heap, along with their right-wing predecessors, the Tea Party.
Steve Colatrella, who lives in Italy and also has an article in Counterpunch on the Grillo phenomenon, has a different take on the surprise win. He says Grillo does have a platform of positive proposals. Besides rejecting all the existing parties and treaties, Grillo’s program includes the following:
It is a platform that could actually work. Austerity has been tested for a decade in the Eurozone and has failed, while the proposals in Grillo’s plan have been tested in other countries and have succeeded. ...
Related: Take these clowns seriously
Rick Salutin Toronto Star Ontario Canada March 15, 2013
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I miss hearing from those clowns in Italy: not the ones at the papal conclave, the ones in the election a few weeks ago. They were serious clowns.
Especially Beppe Grillo, the comic who heads the party that got the most votes. He wants a referendum to take Italy out of the euro because it’s like a shovel with which you keep digging the hole you’re in deeper. It may have sounded good in theory but in practice it’s been used by bondholders in the north to torture populations in the south. Lots of people think that but he says it.
Grillo says Italy’s next president should be actor/playwright Dario Fo, who has a Nobel Prize for literature. He works in the Commedia dell’Arte tradition. He wrote We Can’t Pay, We Won’t Pay 40 years ago. It’s the basis for the European We Won’t Pay campaign that identifies debt manipulation by financial elites as the root of the economic hell people are living through — versus bogus claims that it’s all due to wasteful government overspending on social programs.
They’re both clearly left wing in the broad sense, left populist you could say. But they’re also astute critics of customary left-wing politics within the conventional framework. Grillo says he’s neither left nor right, which doesn’t mean he’s in the middle of the spectrum, it means the spectrum itself kills.
As for Fo, he came to Toronto in 1984 when the Reagan government barred him from a U.S. conference in the name of national security and the red menace. So he spoke via closed circuit TV, a technological marvel at the time. ...
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Just don't call it luck. Politics, secrecy, heredity, signs and omens, and choosing lots play role in selection of religious leaders around world
As Roman Catholic cardinals set about electing a pope in a secret conclave, the Toronto Star looks at how other religions choose their leaders.Posted at: Sunday, March 03, 2013 - 07:46 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Politics, secrecy play role in selection of religious leaders around world
Leslie Scrivener Toronto Star Ontario Canada March 3, 2013
Roman Catholic cardinals will soon gather beneath Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope to succeed Benedict XVI, who retired in February.
Before entering the conclave, the cardinals will have taken a vow of “inviolable secrecy” to never discuss the election. They will wear scarlet satin, symbolic of their willingness to die for the faith, and remain sequestered until they reach a two-thirds-plus-one majority. Ballots are burned after each vote. White smoke from a Vatican chimney indicates they’ve made their choice and the newly elected pope retires to the Room of Tears to don the white silk vestments symbolic of his new rank.
It may have the highest profile, but the conclave is far from the only leadership selection rich in tradition and symbolism. A sampling of the ancient and modern: ...
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
A U.S.-EU free trade deal: The good little Canadian serf ploughed the ground; now the neoliberal landowner declares the field safe for working. 'New World Order' corporatists take aim on health, environmental and food safety standards
[Osgoode professor Gus Van Harten] believes it’s vital Canadians understand that dispute settlement in trade disputes “trumps Canadian legislatures and courts and are all-powerful . . . It’s been my experience their interests lay on the side of the investor.” This is particularly worrisome, he says, because Canada doesn’t have the best reputation for fighting back when challenged by big companies. - Linda Diebel reportingPosted at: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - 08:08 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Harper’s Canada-EU trade deal could cost Canada more now that U.S. is in mix
Thomas Walkom Toronto Star Ontario Canada February 13, 2013
For Canada, the most important element of Barack Obama’s Tuesday night State of the Union address was buried deep inside the U.S. president’s hour-long speech.
It was just one line and few in the audience paid it much heed. But Obama’s announcement that Washington is starting free trade talks with the European Union has put new pressure on Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Harper, it will be remembered, has been negotiating with the Europeans since 2009 for a Canada-EU free trade pact.
The prime minister is an ardent free-trader and the EU deal was supposed to be the crowning jewel in an array of trade treaties with countries ranging from Japan to Vietnam to Colombia.
But negotiations with the EU have gone on long past the original 2011 deadline. Press leaks from the secret talks indicate that the two sides are hung up on agriculture in particular.
Ottawa wants full access to the 27-member EU for Canadian agricultural products like pork.
The EU, in return, wants Canada to eliminate or weaken its supply management system, which protects domestic milk, cheese and chicken farmers.
Some provinces are also alarmed at the prospect of Canada signing on to European drug patent rules that would discriminate against cheaper generic pharmaceuticals. A leaked federal report estimates the deal would cost Canadians — and particularly provincial drug plans — up to $2 billion a year more.
As well, according to the Council of Canadians, 46 municipalities (including Toronto) have come out against a proposed element of the deal that would prevent them from favouring local suppliers. ...
Canada-Europe trade deal prohibits provinces, municipalities from favouring local bidders on contracts
Linda Diebel Toronto Star Ontario Canada February 24, 2013
An impending trade deal with Europe is ringing alarm bells across the country.
Under the deal, Canada has agreed to European demands to prohibit municipalities and provinces from offering incentives or otherwise favouring local bidders on procurement contracts.
The effects on Toronto could be serious:
Could the TTC still impose Canadian content rules for its vehicles if faced with a European trade challenge? Could the city continue to ensure certain construction projects hire youths from priority neighbourhoods? Could the city still award food procurement contracts to support local farmers?
A special report by city manager Joseph Pennachetti and obtained by the Star raises red flags about its consequences.
And last week, Toronto’s executive committee, armed with the report, asked Ontario to ensure municipal procurement needs are preserved under the trade deal. It thereby joined 34 towns and cities across Canada that filed similar protests — some seeking outright exemptions.
“We are alarmed,” said city councillor Michael Thompson, an executive committee member. ...
U.S.-EU trade deal is the foundation for a new global economic order
Dana Gabriel Be Your Own Leader Canada February 25, 2013
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The U.S. and EU have agreed to launch negotiations on what would be the world's largest free trade deal. Such an agreement would be the basis for the creation of an economic NATO and would include trade in goods, services and investment, as well as cover intellectual property rights. There are concerns that the U.S. could use these talks to push the EU to loosen its restrictions on genetically modified crops and foods. In addition, the deal might serve as a backdoor means to implement ACTA which was rejected by the European Parliament last year. A U.S.-EU Transatlantic trade agreement is seen as a way of countering China’s growing power and is the foundation for a new global economic order.
In his recent State of the Union address, President Barack Obama officially announced that the U.S. would launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union (EU). A joint statement issued by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and U.S. President Obama explained that, “Through this negotiation, the United States and the European Union will have the opportunity not only to expand trade and investment across the Atlantic, but also to contribute to the development of global rules that can strengthen the multilateral trading system.” In a separate speech, European Commission President Barroso also emphasized that, “A future deal between the world's two most important economic powers will be a game-changer. Together, we will form the largest free trade zone in the world. So this negotiation will set the standard – not only for our future bilateral trade and investment, including regulatory issues, but also for the development of global trade rules.” ...
Overshadowed by the proposed U.S.-EU trade deal is ongoing Canada-EU negotiations on a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Despite talks being in their final stages, both sides still have some important gaps to be bridged before a deal can be reached. Thomas Walkom of the Toronto Star acknowledged that, “Europe’s real interest in negotiating a trade deal with Ottawa was to demonstrate to the Americans that a trans-Atlantic free trade pact was possible.” He noted, “EU negotiators will be even more reluctant to make concessions to Canada for fear of weakening their bargaining hand with the Americans.” Walkom argued that, “Canada is under more pressure to make a deal while Europe is under less.” He concluded that. “A Canada-EU deal seems inevitable. But now, with America in the mix, the terms for Canada may be even less favorable than expected.” The Globe and Mail recently reported that the EU is demanding additional concessions from Canada before any agreement can be signed. In order to wrap things up, a desperate Canada may be willing to give up even more. This was a bad deal from the start and it would be in their best interest to just walk away from CETA.
In the coming months, you can expect the anti-corporate globalization movement on both sides of the Atlantic to mobilize against the U.S.-EU trade agreement. It is big business and financial institutions who are pushing this deregulation agenda which threatens health, environmental and food safety standards. Just like NAFTA, the proposed U.S.-EU trade deal is also likely to include an investor-state dispute process which would give corporations the right to challenge government policies that restrict their profits. A trade agreement between the U.S. and EU is the building blocks for a new global trading system. If you combine NAFTA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a U.S,-EU Transatlantic trade deal, you have the makings for a global free trade area.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, welcomes United States Secretary of State John Kerry, left, for a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. Berlin is the second stop in Kerry’s first trip overseas as Secretary of State. Photo: Markus Schreiber/Associated Press
Transatlantic free trade deal good for U.S., Europe: John Kerry
Xinhua China Dateline February 27, 2013
BERLIN, Feb. 26 (Xinhua) -- Visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that a U.S.-EU free trade deal would be a boon to both the United States and Europe as it will strengthen economic growth and job creation at both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Kerry emphasized the importance of the trade deal as he held talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, as such a deal could raise living standards on both sides and create one of the "largest allied markets in the world."
"It will help raise standards, it will help break down barriers, and we believe it is good for all of us," Kerry said alongside Merkel, adding that it is a priority in the second term of President Barack Obama, who saw it as a "unique opportunity". ...
"We are in full agreement that a transatlantic free trade deal needs to come. We are both serious about this," Westerwelle said at a joint news conference with Kerry, adding that negotiations would begin in the summer if preparation goes on well.
Westerwelle added that the deal would create economic growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic without having to make new debt. Germany is current the Washington's largest trade partner in Europe and one of the leading importers of U.S. goods.
The two sides also reaffirmed their special political ties, with Merkel saying that the transatlantic partners share common values and common tasks and Westerwelle praising Kerry's German visit shortly after taking office as "a clear commitment to the transatlantic partnership."
For his part, Kerry called the relationship with Germany as one of his country's strongest and most dynamic alliances in the world, and praised Berlin for its leadership in political and economic issues. ...
Kerry pushes trans-Atlantic free trade in Germany
David Rising Associated Press USA February 26, 2013
BERLIN (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pushed Tuesday for a free-trade agreement between the United States and Europe, saying it is a priority for President Barack Obama's second term that would help create jobs and growth on both sides of the Atlantic.
The proposal has been garnering support on both continents, with Obama saying earlier this month that the U.S. believes "trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs."
Speaking after talks Tuesday with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, Kerry said such an agreement would be a boon to the U.S. and Europe.
"We think this is something that can help lift the economy of Europe, strengthen our economy, create jobs for Americans, for Germans for all Europeans, and create one of the largest allied markets in the world," he told reporters alongside Merkel. "It will help raise standards, it will help break down barriers, and we believe it is good for all of us."
Germany, Europe's largest economy, has strongly supported the idea and Westerwelle said that he hoped the groundwork could be done quicikly to begin negotiations with the U.S. on the agreement by the summer.
"We see here a window of opportunity," Westerwelle said after his one-on-one meeting with Kerry. "It's a window of opportunity that we need to seize in the interest of growth, and jobs for Germany, the United States and Europe." ...
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Academic freedom; intellectual freedom; religious freedom: Contentious political issues
There was a time when college presidents did more than raise funds. They expressed views – resolute, edgy – about contentious issues. Academia has become a servant of the status quo. Universities and advanced capitalism are fundamentally incompatible.Posted at: Sunday, February 24, 2013 - 06:51 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
... When they first emerged in their present shape around the turn of the 18th century, the so-called humane disciplines had a crucial social role. It was to foster and protect the kind of values for which a philistine social order had precious little time. The modern humanities and industrial capitalism were more or less twinned at birth. To preserve a set of values and ideas under siege, you needed among other things institutions known as universities set somewhat apart from everyday social life. This remoteness meant that humane study could be lamentably ineffectual. But it also allowed the humanities to launch a critique of conventional wisdom. ... - Terry Eagleton, The death of universities, UK, December 17, 2010
Death of the university as we know it
David Robinson newmatilda.com Australia February 16, 2012
At the time of writing, David Robinson was head of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.
The crisis in higher education is a global one. Restructuring the sector to cut costs and boost 'excellence' is bad for teachers and for students, writes Canadian educator David Robinson
Despite the fact that politicians of every political stripe regularly espouse the economic and social virtues of higher education, it is the case today that in most of the world professors and staff are facing unprecedented pressures. ...
Meanwhile, when it comes to academic research the funding emphasis and accountability requirements are increasingly focused on areas of predicted commercial potential. True, the economic benefits of investments in university-based research are well documented. However, these benefits can be fully realised only if policymakers recognise that good research doesn’t emerge from political diktats. As the Canadian experience reveals, dangers arise when government ignores the warnings of the scientific community and binds research too closely to economic needs.
Compared with the US, more than twice the percentage of Canada’s university research is funded by industry. This has accelerated in recent years as the government has tied more research funding to the ability of researchers to leverage private sector matching funding.
The result has been a drastic reorientation of large swaths of scientific research. The obsession with commercialisation has narrowed the research agenda and undermined the integrity and independence of the academy. And it ignores a basic truth: that the world’s most important scientific discoveries typically have come from basic research.
Commercialisation has distorted research priorities in ways that do not serve the public interest. ...
Almost everywhere today politicians, policymakers and institutional leaders think of the major challenge facing universities and colleges primarily or even solely as one of physical infrastructure — of ensuring there are classrooms, labs and buildings. Faculty and staff — the intellectual infrastructure — is either neglected or, worse yet, blamed for the failings of higher education. In truth, it is exactly the opposite. If higher education is to achieve what we expect of it, we must turn attention to restoring and reinvigorating the academic profession.
University presidents—speak out!
Scott Sherman The Nation USA Webposted February 20, 2013
In May 1943, James B. Conant, the president of Harvard University, published an essay in The Atlantic Monthly titled “Wanted: American Radicals.” Conant was on the lookout for “a group of modern radicals in the American tradition,” whose ideas would encompass Thoreau and Whitman, Emerson and Marx, and who would be “lusty in wielding the axe against the root of inherited privilege” so as to prevent the growth of “a caste system.” His proposal? The imposition of “really effective inheritance and gift taxes and the breaking up of trust funds and estates.” Conant, whose essay infuriated Harvard’s well-heeled trustees, was hardly a radical himself; he was, and would always remain, a man of the establishment. But in those days, college and university presidents did not limit their activities to fundraising, shmoozing, paper-pushing and administration. They had access to bully pulpits, and they occupied them.
Think about it: When was the last time a college or university president produced an edgy piece of commentary, or took a daring stand on a contentious matter? ...
Given the nature of the job, one would think it’s a position few would aspire to. “The university president in the United States,” former University of California president Kerr wrote in The Uses of the University, “is expected to be a friend of the students, a colleague of the faculty, a good fellow with the alumni, a sound administrator with the trustees…a devotee of opera and football equally, a decent human being, a good husband and father, an active member of a church.”
But the job has changed radically in recent decades, and these days we have a generation of presidents who tiptoe around public controversy. “We now think of the president as the CEO of a very large corporation,” says Stanley Katz, a higher education expert at Princeton. “That’s how we justify paying these people so much. Top-earning university presidents make up to $3 million,” which, he says, “would have been inconceivable to James B. Conant. He wouldn’t have wanted it.” Structural changes in universities have irrevocably altered the job. “We have created money-eating machines,” says Katz. “They consume finances so fast that it’s virtually a full-time job of a university president to raise money. That simply wasn’t the case in Conant’s era.” ...
Canada's current Governor General was a University president at the time of his appointment. David Lloyd Johnston has had a long academic career, during which he came to specialize in securities regulation, corporation law, public policy and information technology law. After 1966, he worked for two years as an assistant professor at the Queen's University Faculty of Law and then joined the University of Toronto's law faculty, where he taught until 1974, eventually being promoted to the rank of full professor. Johnston was then appointed as dean of the University of Western Ontario Law School, serving between 1974 and 1979, at which time he was elevated to become the fourteenth Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University. Johnston stepped down in 1994 as principal of McGill to remain at the university only as a law professor until he was in 1999 installed as the fifth President of the University of Waterloo.
Harper G-G appointment seems carefully calculated to further Harper's seditious agenda
Salt Spring News British Columbia Canada July 11, 2010
Twelve links. We introduced them thus:
The Canadian people share a Métis temperament. Overwhelmingly, Canadians wanted the Creole Governor General, Michelle Jean, appointed to another five year term. Stephen Harper, a morally compromised PM who wants nothing more than to be able to rule Canada as though he were President of a Banana Republic, appoints a merchant's son, North Ontario born, American Ivy-League educated, Canadian establishment good ol'boy (trained in securities regulation and corporate law) who represents back room deals, corporatism and legal obfuscation. Johnston covered Harper's political ass in the Brian Mulroney/Karlheinz Schreiber affair (“whatever we paid him for this, it wasn't enough”) and, we suspect, as Governor-General, Johnston will further Harper's political goal of castrating Parliament. As Harper himself said in his formal announcement of the appointment: [Johnston has] "a comprehensive understanding of government and a deep appreciation of the duties and tasks now before him."
Related audio: Is Marxism facing a rebirth?
"Sunday Edition" CBC Radio One Canada February 24, 2013
You can listen to this segment of the program from a pop-up link on the page.
If you thought that the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of raging capitalism in China, and the slow crumble of Castro's revolution meant the death of Marxism, you thought wrong. Reports of its demise are wildly premature. In fact, its vital signs are stronger than ever, following the financial system's cataclysm of 2008.
Karl Marx's tool kit is newly in vogue: copies of his Das Kapital are reportedly flying off the shelves in Germany. A Japanese cartoon version was a publishing sensation. And a song and dance musical rendition wowed them in Shanghai. Even Pope Benedict had good words for the "intellect and analytical skillls" of the godless Marx, while condemning the world he helped usher in. Just this week, disciples blew out 165 birthday candles for The Communist Manifesto.
The resurging interest in Marxism is hard to gauge, and there are serious limits to nostalgia for old-style communist regimes. But Marxists are feeling vindicated by Karl's long view.
Leo Panitch teaches at York University. He has long believed that Marxism had much more to offer us than the bleak stereotypes that flowed out of the Eastern Bloc. He makes his case in a new book co-authored with Sam Gindin, The Making of Global Capitalism.
And if this is an argument that Professor Panitch has been making for decades, it is a relatively new one for Bhaskar Sunkara, the founding editor of Jacobin magazine, one of the freshest voices of Marxism to appear in a long time. Jacobin was launched in 2010 when Mr. Sunkara was all of 21 years old.
Ursula Huws is professor of labour and global issues at the University of Hertfordshire in England - where The Communist Manifesto was first published. And she is the author of The Making of a Cybertariat: Virtual Work in a Real World.
Ambassador of Religious Freedoms
"Sunday Edition" CBC Radio One Canada February 24, 2013
You can listen to this segment of the program from a pop-up link on the page.
Most of us can agree that freedom of religion is fundamental to democracies. And the persecution of people because of their religion is a hallmark of repressive regimes or intolerant societies. So to demonstrate Canada's commitment to human rights, Stephen Harper's Conservatives promised a Canadian Office of Religious Freedom during the 2011 federal election campaign.
It would be modeled after the U.S. Office of International Religious Freedom established in 1999. People have been expecting a formal announcement of that office, and an ambassador for religious freedom to run it, for months. Apparently, it's not the easiest post to fill. But finally, the prime minister made an announcement on Tuesday at a mosque north of Toronto.
Prime Minster Stephen Harper appointed Andrew Bennett as Canada's first Ambassador of Religious Freedom. Dr. Bennett is a Ukrainian Catholic and by all accounts a little known, but likeable and highly competent academic and former bureaucrat.
And now he's charged with the mission of "promoting freedom of religion or belief as a Canadian foreign policy priority." That includes advocating for, and promoting, religious minorities under threat of persecution ... and opposing religious intolerance.
Critics of the government's plans say the office is really intended to appease conservative Christian supporters ... or to court immigrant voters for whom religion is important. But others wonder about the very premise of promoting religious freedom abroad.
Winnifred Fallers Sullivan is the Chair of Religious Studies and professor of law at the University of Indiana. She's also the author of The Impossibility of Religious Freedom and she's part of a team funded by the Henry Luce Foundation to study the politics of religious freedom.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
‘Like a virgin consecrated to God’: The argument around teleology & The ‘knock-kneed’ Lolitas of the original Rite of Spring: There's nothing so old as a musical revolution
According to him [Thomas Nagel, author of Mind and Cosmos], teleology might be necessary to explain the remarkable capacity of our reason to apprehend not just mathematical but also moral truths. Nagel is a ‘value realist’, so he thinks values (good, bad) are not just expressions of subjective approval or distaste but are embedded in reality once creatures appear for whom things can go well or otherwise. - Steven PoolePosted at: Sunday, February 17, 2013 - 01:12 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Jim comment: For me, the transition from one season to another is filled with wonder. Here on Salt Spring Island, we have entered the annual period of lingering dusk, a time that is radiant with the light of two seasons. In this season—as winter struggles to survive and spring strives to be born again—I find myself stimulated in every way and prone to philosophical musings. At the other end of the day, the morning light oft paints a glowing picture. Suffused through mist, the early light from the strengthening sun can dazzle with subtle flashes of color. And all around, the power of creation is evident. Evident in weather events, in the frogs awakening to launch their lusty choral, in the birds return which bears the gift of song and in the seeds starting to fulfill their purpose. At this moment of writing, the late winter flower blossoms please my eye; the lettuce now surging in the cold frame feeds my hope for continuing physical sustenance. The testimony of all is an inherent teleological delight. The idea that life has a purpose, a destination, has for 400 years been denounced as antirational nonsense. Yet it endures. Some ask why? I don't.
Your point is?
Steven Poole Aeon UK February 11, 2013
It was an idea long consigned to the dustbin of scientific history. ‘Like a virgin consecrated to God,’ Francis Bacon declared nearly 400 years ago, it ‘produces nothing’. It was anti-rational nonsense, the last resort of unfashionable idealists and religious agitators. And then, late last year, one of the world’s most renowned philosophers published a book arguing that we should take it seriously after all. Biologists and philosophers lined up to give the malefactor a kicking. His ideas were ‘outdated’, complained some. Another wrote: ‘I regret the appearance of this book.’ Steven Pinker sneered at ‘the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker’. The Guardian called it ‘the most despised science book of 2012’. So what made everyone so angry?
The thinker was Thomas Nagel, the book was Mind and Cosmos, and the idea was teleology. In ancient science (or, as it used to be called, natural philosophy), teleology held that things — in particular, living things — had a natural end, or telos, at which they aimed. The acorn, Aristotle said, sprouted and grew into a seedling because its purpose was to become a mighty oak. Sometimes, teleology seemed to imply an intention to pursue such an end, if not in the organism then in the mind of a creator. It could also be taken to imply an uncomfortable idea of reverse causation, with the telos — or ‘final cause’ — acting backwards in time to affect earlier events. For such reasons, teleology was ceremonially disowned at the birth of modern experimental science.
The extraordinary success since then of non-teleological scientific thinking and its commitment to forwards-only ‘mechanistic causation’ would seem to support Bacon’s denunciation of teleology. But it continued to bubble under the surface as a live problem for some, particularly regarding descriptions of life. Immanuel Kant wrote that, when observing a living being, we couldn’t help thinking in teleological terms, and to do so was justified for its scientific usefulness. Even so, he concluded, an ultimately teleological explanation was unauthorised, since we could never know whether it was true or not. Friedrich Engels hailed the publication in 1859 of Darwin’s Origin of Species as the final nail in the coffin for teleology; yet one of Darwin’s admirers felt able to read it nonetheless as confirming a teleological view of life’s development, a position that Darwin himself (mostly) rejected.
The idea that living things had purpose would not go away, and it sparked developments in fields beyond biology itself. ...
Related: The paradox of the primitivism in The Rite is that it can be heard as both a horrifying vision of the pitilessness of nature – and as an expression of the inhumanity of the machine age. The fate of the "chosen one" in the Sacrificial Dance is particularly chilling. - Tom Service
The most influential piece of 20th-century music is, perhaps, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. It is one of the great works of the 20th century, a ballet so revolutionary it is said to have caused a riot at its premiere. But is Stravinsky's Rite of Spring all it was claimed to be? As the work's centenary is celebrated, Tom Service separates fact from fiction.
The Rite of Spring: 'The work of a madman'
Tom Service Guardian UK February 12, 2013
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Mild protests against the music," wrote Stravinsky, "could be heard from the beginning." The composer was remembering the night of 29 May 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. The event was the premiere of a new ballet called The Rite of Spring – and, if you believe all the stories about what happened that celebrated evening, not least the one about the riot that ensued, it's as if the 20th century only really got going when the audience in that gilded art-nouveau auditorium started kicking off.
If you know how Stravinsky's music begins, you may not be too surprised by the audience's reaction to The Rite, which was choreographed by the young dancer Vaslav Nijinsky and performed by Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. After the strangest, highest and most terrifyingly exposed bassoon solo ever to open an orchestral work, the music becomes a sinewy braid of teeming, complex woodwind lines. "Then," Stravinsky told his biographer, "when the curtain opened on the group of knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down, the storm broke."
That was Nijinsky's choreography for the Dance of the Adolescents section, the music's first and still-shocking moment of crunching dissonance and skewed rhythm. Stravinsky said that at this point, "Cries of 'Ta gueule' [shut up] came from behind me. I left the hall in a rage. I have never again been that angry." Stravinsky spent the rest of the performance in the wings, holding on to Nijinksy's tails as the choreographer shouted out cues to his dancers over the din.
What really happened on that night of nights? Was this a genuine riot, as it is so often described – a shocked response to Stravinsky's simultaneously primitivist and modernist depiction of an ancient Russian ritual devoted to the seasons? Or was it simply a publicity stunt, a wilfully orchestrated succès de scandale that has, in the years and the retelling, grown into a great musical myth? And was The Rite really such a revolution in music, a gigantic leap of faith into a terra incognita that would inspire every subsequent composer? ...
It was, it seems, the wilful ugliness and lumpenness of Nijinsky's evocation of Russian prehistory that was really shocking to audiences – the "knock-kneed Lolitas" Stravinsky wrote of. The dance offended their sense of beauty and their vision of what a ballet should be, as much as if not more than the music. Anyway, at the premiere, the radicalism of Stravinsky's score could hardly be heard for cat-calls, although some reports suggest the boos had calmed down before the climax. Stravinsky had great praise for Monteux's cool head, calling the conductor as "impervious and as nerveless as a crocodile". He added: "It is still almost incredible to me that he actually brought the orchestra through to the end."
The paradox of the primitivism in The Rite is that it can be heard as both a horrifying vision of the pitilessness of nature – and as an expression of the inhumanity of the machine age. The fate of the "chosen one" in the Sacrificial Dance is particularly chilling. She is caught in an unstoppable rhythmic vortex from which there is only one way out: through the terrible dissonance that ends the piece, and the single chord that kills her. This is music that manages to sound both mechanistic and elemental, making The Rite as radical in 2013 as it was 100 years ago.
Still, for all its modernity, for all Stravinsky's insistence that the whole thing came from "what I heard" (and for all that Puccini would later call it "the work of a madman"), The Rite is rooted in musical traditions. As Bela Bartók intuited, and as musicologist Richard Taruskin has shown, many of The Rite's melodies come from folk tunes – including that opening bassoon solo, which is actually a Lithuanian wedding song. Scholars have identified more than a dozen folk references so far, but there's an even more significant tradition behind The Rite. ...