Friday, May 27, 2011

Late Great Anthropologist Ruth Benedict on Nationalism

Anthropology, Barack Obama, Osama bin Laden: "Modern existence has thrown many civilizations into close contact, and at the moment the overwhelming response to this situation is nationalism and racial snobbery. There has never been a time when civilization stood more in need of individuals who are genuinely culture-conscious, who can see objectively the socially conditioned behaviour of other peoples without fear and recrimination. (Patterns of Culture, pp.10-11)."

Exhibit One on Why "Evolutionary Psychology" is Bullshit

You probably already heard about this, whoever you are..
Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women? | Psychology Today
It is very interesting to note that, even though black women are objectively less physically attractive than other women, black women (and men)subjectively consider themselves to be far more physically attractive than others.
Can you believe that? This clown, Satoshi Kanazawa, who has a Ph.D. in something, gets research grants, and writes books and articles as a "scientist", actually takes himself seriously with this bullshit "black women are objectively (OBJECTIVELY!!!???) less physically attractive than other women...".  REALLY?

Really?  Well I got news for you pal, Mr. Kanazawa (sorry, no "Dr." for you).  This white boy has seen some hot looking beautiful black women in my time. At first I didn't notice.  When I was a young boy I was gazing at the hottie blond white girls on television and the serendipitously obtained and absconded Playboy mags, and then I started chasing after girls that resembled that standard of beauty.  Mainly because that is who I came in contact with in my social environment, because I am "white".  And that is who the dominant culture, the white controlled mass media, white-boy peers, and the socio-cultural milieu of which I was immersed told me was physically attractive.  

Gosh, do you think that maybe there is some socio-cultural construction of what is considered physically attractive? Do ya think, Mr. Scientist?

In fact, I have noticed that as I have interacted with more and more peoples of phenotypic variability in this world, and attempted to purge myself of the racist brainwashing that we are all subjected to in this society, that suddenly I became more and more aware that physical attractiveness is evident across that phenotypic variation (that's real scientist talk for so-called "races").

Anywhooo, for my dear readers who who like to read a more serious and scientific debunking of this bullshit, which has information on Kanazawa's faulty research methods and premises, you can start herehere, and here, at It's Only a Theory.  And I am sure there is more out there, post in the comment to clue me in.

Oh yeah, one more thing, I hear there is some data and studies out there that concludes Japanese men are much less physically attractive.....

Mining Minerals in Space, Business Innovation Can Get Us There?

So some smarty-pants mediocre-tech billionaire, Peter Thiel, thinks that college is "over valued" a waste of money in proportion to what a kid can do by just going out there and starting a big billion dollar  business like he did himself.  Which leads to Market Place reporters discussing the case of one John Burhnam:
Students get big payday for skipping school | Marketplace From American Public Media: "STEVE HENN: Most of the fellows are pretty excited about this. I talked to John Burhnam. He's 18 and he's skipping his own high school graduation to get started. This summer, he's interning at MoonEx, which is a private space exploration company.
JOHN BURHNAM: There's an incredible amount for me to learn, and I'm swimming in an ocean of information. I feel like a kid in a candy store.
Burnham's sketching out a business plan to mine rare minerals from asteroids and the moon --
AMY SCOTT: Wait, what?
HENN: And then fly them back to earth.
SCOTT: Steve, this sounds a little crazy. This guy wants to drop out of college to mine the moon?
HENN: Basically, yeah. And you know, it might not work. But I think Thiel just wants to show that bright, motivated kids don't have to go to college. They can innovate or learn in other ways.
SCOTT: Sure, if someone pays you $100,000 not to go to college. But what happens to Space Boy when the money runs out and he's left without a college degree?"
Well I can't say I blame the kid for taking $100,000 dollars to not go to college for a couple of years.  Lucky fucking bastard, I wish I had been offered a deal like that. But isn't this the worst case study to discuss?  The kid wants to mine minerals from outer space for crying out loud!  Jeez, you think that maybe a few courses or even degrees in engineering, geology and physics might come in handy in this epic quest? Ya think?

My bets are that "Spaceboy" John Burhnam has actually already figured this out and is taking the cash and the internship and planning on a few of those physics and geology degrees afterwards.  Kid may actually end up contributing to the mining of heavenly bodies.  Who knows?  And it's not going to be business that gets him there, but science, and most great scientists are nurtured in universities. So stick it where the sun don't shine Mr. Peter Theil!

Of course the premise under which Peter Theil operates under is that the most important pursuit in life is MONEY.  Yeah, apparently he yammers on about "innovation", and his is Pay Pal.  Big fucking deal, yeah he got super rich with that, but it isn't like a some actual contribution to humanity. Never mind the fact that the actual value of higher education is increased knowledge and hopefully some critical thinking skills.  Yeah, it is too bad that so many of us have to go into the poor house to gain access to this higher education, but that doesn't eradicate the value of higher education in of and for itself. 

And another thing, the Market Place reporters, Scott and Henn don't seem to be all that bright in their mocking commentary, and annoy the hell out of me!  Just thought I would get that off of my chest.  Thank you.

It's Ok, Blog Means: Web Log

So I try to keep telling myself, a blog can simply be a web-log, with which I just post links and excerpts of stuff I find interesting on the web.  I don't have to write long original well thought out essays or responses to the world wide web out there if I don't have the time.  Because I don't have the time.  I do admire those who do these types of things on their blog, and attempt to do so myself.  In fact I have 5-6 of these well thought out original essay posts (that are now lost on my old dead hard-drive) that I never feel quite ready to post.   And then there are other bloggers that feel free to just link and excerpt, and not even comment, like I Cite written by a real live published academic, Jodi Dean, who feels free to copy, paste and link often without comment.  So why not me? Aw hell, I can even muster a shoot from the hip sentence or two.  It's OK I tell myself, you don't have to be all that brilliant, because you're not, just don't be too fucking stupid!  So here I go......whoopeee..! 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Deng Xiaoping's Capitalism

Very interesting historical analysis on Deng Xiaoping's bringing of capitalism to China and its consequences by Mark Sumner, the quote below is from the end of the article:
"Daily Kos: Owners of the world, unite:  It's become popular to view American workers in the decades after World War II as "highly paid." The truth is they were "rightly paid," with incomes that tracked well against the value of the products they produced. This was only possible because of the tight alignment between workers salaries and the price of goods.    
"Rather than organize an international revolt of workers, Deng generated a conspiracy of business leaders willing to devalue their work force. He showed CEOs that they could become fabulously wealthy if they only reduced their companies to nothing more than nameplates and outlets – brand names for China Inc. He showed them that they could profit from the destruction of their own system. What we took as economic victory was really an invitation to economic suicide, and corporations lined up to jump. 
Deng and the leaders who followed him rightly judged that we would overlook any abuses for money. That we would not severe relationships no matter how radical their actions. That we would mouth platitudes about the connection between capitalism and democracy, long after we were fully aware that no such relationship existed."
I only disagree slightly with a minor point mentioned here.  American workers may have been better paid in the decades after WWII, but they still produced surplus value and were still exploited.  They, CEOs, are profiting as normal from "their system" and not necessarily destroying it.  Like most establishment liberals, Sumner still takes capitalism as a system for granted.   

Saturday, May 21, 2011

We Are the Radical Media! So Fuck Off!

From the Red Pepper, UK:

On 8 and 9 October, Red Pepper will be part of a collective of radical media organisations hosting a conference featuring speakers including Michael Albert and John Pilger. We were going to call it the 'Radical Media Conference', but then we got a 'cease and desist' letter from the lawyers of a US advertising agency...

How Rich Are The Super Rich? Really Fucking Rich!

Absurdly so, and it should piss you off!
Many people don’t understand our country’s problem of concentration of income and wealth because they don’t see it. People just don't understand how much wealth there is at the top now. The wealth at the top is so extreme that it is beyond most people’s ability to comprehend. 

If people understood just how concentrated wealth has become in our country and the effect is has on our politics, our democracy and our people, they would demand our politicians do something about it. 
How Much Is A Billion? Some Wall Street types (and others) make over a billion dollars a year – each year. How much is a billion dollars? How can you visualize an amount of money so high? Here is one way to think about it: The median income in the US is around $29,000, meaning half of us make less and half make more. If you make $29,000 a year, and don’t spend a single penny of it, it will take you 34,482 years to save a billion dollars. . . . (Please come back and read the rest of this after you have recovered.)

Recommended Web Read, Review of "Why Marx Was Right" and "Lenin"

As it turns out Owen Hatherley writing in the Guardian agrees and disagrees with my first part review of Eagleton's Why Marx Was Right. On whether the objections to Marx's thought in the opening of the chapter are straw-man objections, I think they are, but he doesn't.  I concede that not all these objections are total straw-men.  Marx was a complex thinker, and so these points are debatable.  On the other hand he does point out the truth that it is absurd to think that Marx was a proponent of authoritarianism and against democracy.  Finally, he also notes the same primary weakness of Eagleton's book, that is the lack of explication and defense of Marxist economics:
One virtue of this book is how believable, and in a sense how serious, these opening denunciations are. These are not the arguments of straw men, but substantial intellectual and political objections: Marxism imposes limits on human freedom; it is violent and undemocratic; it is obsessed with an obsolete notion of class; it is "totalising" and conceited in its sense of historical inevitability; and, when tested politically, it resulted in one of the greatest tyrannies in history. Eagleton deflects these through excursions into philosophy, political practice and literary analogy. 
He owns up to the accusation of Marx's belief in historical inevitability, but points out that few Marxists now subscribe to it. With reference to theEconomic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, the idea of Marx as an opponent of liberty is easily dismantled; and an account of his political practice and advocacy of the ultra-democratic Paris Commune makes nonsense of the common misreading of the phrase "dictatorship of the proletariat". In the most polemically charged and enjoyable sections of the book, Eagleton points out that the "working class" – both in the sense of those without property, who are forced to sell their labour, and in the sense of those working in factories mass-producing goods – is far larger than it was in Marx's time, and is growing worldwide; he also soundly ridicules the contemporary cliché of class as a sort of ethnicity (as in the pernicious phrase "white working class"). 
Yet economics is largely absent. Most posers of the question "Was Marx right?" have focused on his claim that capitalism is inherently prone to crisis, and guiltily replied: "Yes." Yet Eagleton largely avoids the critique of political economy, assuming that he already has the reader's agreement.
Owen Hatherley also reviews another book by Lars T Lih, "Lenin" a biography and defense of Lenin that also debunk some of the received wisdom from even some misguided Marxist sympathizers who wish to lay the blame for the failures of the Soviet Union and also the boorish sectarian behavior of Western Marxist-Leninist  parties at the feet of Lenin himself.
His Lenin is not the secular saint that old-school communists and sentimental Trots take him to be, nor the bloodthirsty monster of the liberal, anarchist and conservative imagination. In fact, Lih gives practically all recent accounts of the man's life and work extremely short shrift. His account denies that Lenin's thought and practice entailed "a worry about workers", encapsulated in his alleged conception of an elite, centralised party raised above the masses. He argues, with an assured command of his sources, that Lenin was an incorrigible optimist about working-class organisation: his overarching aim was to encourage it through education, agitation and exemplary, heroic action, rather than acting on the workers' behalf. So in 1917, the socialist revolution was justified not so much by the teleology of history as by the – fairly indisputable – fact that the workers of St Petersburg and Moscow wanted it. That the Russian workers' "heroic" (a word often used by Lih's Lenin) act didn't inspire a successful Europe-wide revolution left Lenin and the Bolshevik regime looking "like a cartoon character who keeps walking in mid-air even though he has left the cliff behind". 
This view is also in agreement with the views of Moshe Lewin's the Soviet Century which I am presently reading. Lih's book sounds well worth reading as well. It also appears that like Eagleton, Lih doesn't ideologically shirk from the negatives of Lenin, but attempts to lead the reader to appreciate the historical context of Lenin's policies.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Folly of the Individual Choice Model of Social Change

NPR today has a feature on well meaining folk who motivated by the Deep Horizon oil spill, have decided to attempt to give up oil.

"As many Americans struggle with higher gas prices, others look for ways to live using fewer fossil fuels. They pursue a personal form of energy independence — and they are finding that it's no easy feat.
About a year ago, following the Deepwater Horizon oil rig catastrophe that released millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, Mary Richert decided that she wanted to live a life free of oil. "I quit," she told American Public Media's radio program Marketplace. "I just want to stop using oil completely. I just don't want to ever see it or think about it again."
So she set out on a journey to give up gasoline. Every day, Richert, 28, a project manager for a small tech firm, tried to eliminate one thing in her life that was made with, or dependent on the production of, petroleum. She quit buying plastic ware for her kitchen. She shopped for local produce. She chronicled her quest on her blog, Not an Activist."
Certainly there is nothing wrong with attempting to reduce or even eliminate one's use of fossil fuels.  Relying on your bicycle, gardening, and reducing consumption in general is a positive thing.  No criticism of that, necessarily.  However, let's get real.  If we really want to do something about the problems of fossil fuels, then what is needed is a mass collective to drive policy making elites to effect bold new policies changing our energy infrastructure.  This is just absurd to think a person can do anything by trying to do what these well intentioned individuals are doing.  And how telling the name of her blog "Not an Activist".  

Possible Last Post Before the End

Before the end begins tommorow, May 21st 2011.  I just want to say what a fool I have been.

And in case the end doesn't come in the next five months, I should credit the New York Times for this photo.  Please don't sue me.  I have nothing.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Imperialism? What Imperialism?

Amazingly enough, the idea that the United States is an imperialist country is mocked and ridiculed by mainstream liberals and "conservatives" as being simply absurd.  This of course is pure ideological obfuscation.  There is plenty of historical and contemporary empirical evidence, and theoretical argument to demonstrate that indeed the United States of America is imperialist.  But every now and then there pops up a story to demonstrate the obvious truth.
To Hannam, chairman of J.P. Morgan Capital Markets, Afghanistan represents a gigantic, untapped opportunity -- one of the last great natural-resource frontiers. Landlocked and pinioned by imperial invaders, Afghanistan has been cursed by its geography for thousands of years. Now, for the first time, Hannam believes, that geography could be an asset. The two most resource-starved nations on the planet, China and India, sit next door to Afghanistan, where, according to Pentagon estimates, minerals worth nearly $1 trillion lie buried. True, there is a war under way. And it's unclear how the death of Osama bin Laden will impact the country's political and economic environment. But Hannam is not your usual investment banker: A former soldier, he has done business in plenty of strife-torn countries. So have all the members of his team, two of them former special forces soldiers who have fought here.
(Hat tip to David Ruccio)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Conservatives (Righties) Are so Full of Shit!

Conservatives (Righties) are so full of shit.  First, thats why I call them Righties, because they don't really believe in conserving anything except the worst and most regressive aspects of society.

Hat tip to Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Item 1: In a study conducted by a public policy professor and his students, they rated the predictions of pundits published in major newspapers or who were guests on the Sunday morning political talk programs.  Krugman came out on top.  But more interestingly it was the righties Cal Thomas and George Will among others who gained an "ugly" designation for getting a negative score and absolutely nothing correct.

Item 2: Religious right Perkins, and this needs no explanation.

Review of and Ruminations on "Why Marx was Right" by Terry Eagleton Part I

It’s about time somebody wrote a popularly accessible book, "Why Marx Was Right" refuting all the bullshit straw man slander against Marx and the school of thought that he founded.  My first inclination is to wish it wasn't Terry Eagleton, the dean of Marxist literary criticism.  Why? Mainly because I don’t read much fictional literature, I don’t know much about literary criticism, Marxist or otherwise.  Perhaps this was a task for a Marxist social scientist or economist?  Of the many things that Marx got right, what needs to be emphasized and exposed is the nature of capitalist economic production; who does it, and who walks off with the surplus value like it was they who allegedly “earned” it.   Thus, the contemporary grand explainer of Marx’s magnum opus, Capital, David Harvey, or radical economist Michael Perelman, if they had written this book, might have approached the defense of Marx primarily from that angle.  But Eagleton does do a good job in defending Marx by showing not only why Marx was right, but why so many slanderers of Marx really don’t know what they are talking about.  Yet, Eagleton also makes clear that there is plenty to be found in Marx’s work that is open to criticism, revision, and qualification.

Eagleton takes aim at the most common misunderstandings, misrepresentations, ignorance and lies about Marx’s thought.  Each chapter begins with an extensive quote that characterizes these misrepresentations:  “Marxism is finished….” (it has lost its relevancy in the modern world), “Marxism may be all very well in theory…” (but when put in practice leads to tyranny and terror), “Marxism is a form of determinism.., Marxism is a dream of utopia…, Marxism reduces everything to economics…, Marx was a materialist, he believed nothing exists but matter.., Nothing is more outdated about Marxism’s tedious obsession with class…,  Marxist are advocates of violent political action…, Marxism believes in an all-powerful state...”  Many of these are cliches and oversimplifications commonly repeated without substantiation in the actual writings of Marx; or they are willful ignorance of the conditions of modern capitalism.   Unfortunately, Eagleton doesn’t cite the source of these quotes, potentially opening himself up the charge of constructing straw men to knock down.   I myself have heard much of the same boilerplate platitudes, and can bear witness that these quotes indeed represent common slanders of Marx.

From the outset of chapter 1, in response to the claim that Marx(ism) is irrelevant, Eagleton clarifies that Marxism is a critique of capitalism, “the most searching, rigorous, comprehensive, critique of its kind ever to be launched,” therefore as long as there is capitalism there is something to be found in the thought of Marx.  Of course apologist for capitalism, wishing that Marx(ism) would go away make the counter claim that capitalism has changed from “the dark satanic mills” of the mid 1800s, and reformed itself into something much more humane and tolerable.  In the case of the developed world of the United States and Western Europe, Marxists would concede that conditions for the working class have much improved from the mid-1800s.  Eagleton neglects to mention the necessary fact that in part these improved conditions were due to working class struggles.  Eagleton does argue that the capitalist system since the 1970s has gone through dramatic changes which has included deregulated markets and a renewed assault on the working class’ wages, conditions, and abilities to organize and defend itself.  There has been an increased globalization of the capitalist system resulting in the moving of manufacturing industries to countries where capital can employ labor at a lower wages and weaker environmental and safety regulation.  Eagleton argues that Marxism might seem discredited because so many of these changes served to disillusion leftist radicals, but not because everything is peachy for the working class under capitalism, but because the capitalist system seems un-defeatable.    It is truly ironic that just at a time when the capitalist system launches into an era of increased globalization, a process analyzed and predicted by Marx, and an era of increased inequality and greater insecurity and immiseration for working people, also predicted by Marx, that Marx’s thought would be considered “irrelevant.”  Au contraire, Eagleton 1, anti-Marxist critics’ 0.

Of course another factor that would seem to discredit Marx(ism) is the tyrannical history of so-called “Marxist regimes” like the Soviet Union and Maoist China.  In my reading of chapter 2, Eagleton makes no attempt to be an apologist for this history of tyranny.
“Taken overall, Maoism and Stalinism were botched, bloody experiments which made the very idea of socialism stink in the nostrils of many of those elsewhere in the world who had the most to benefit from it.”
However, he does make note of the hypocrisy of those who ideologically denounce this history of tyranny while ignoring the fact that:
“Modern capitalist nations are the fruit of a history of slavery, genocide, violence, and exploitation every bit as abhorrent as Mao’s China or Stalin’s Soviet Union.  Capitalism, too, was forged in blood and tears; it is just that it has survived long enough to forget about much of this horror, which is not the case with Stalinism and Maoism.”
This should be self-evident for those who are fair minded and have the relevant historical knowledge.  However, it’s hard to find apologists for capitalism that acknowledge these ugly facts.  On the other hand, those familiar with the history of socialist and communist movements, and the Marxist tradition know that there have always been internal critics of socialism's errors, from Rosa Luxembourg’s criticism of Lenin’s heavy handed state policies, to the critics of Stalinism by Trotskyists and others.   Furthermore, anybody actually familiar with Marx’s writings will know that it is impossible to connect the dots from Marx’s actual thought to the actual deeds of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.  Marx was a staunch anti-authoritarian and advocate of freedom.  But apologists for capitalism and slanderers of Marx are not interested in the truth of these matters.

In countering the charges that Marxism and attempts to build socialism are inevitably tied to tyrannical dictatorships and massacres, there are other facts I wished Eagleton had mentioned.  That is that the repression and overthrow of leftist and socialist movements and governments has also resulted in dictatorships and massacres.  The historical examples are ubiquitous; in 1973 the Chilean military, supported by the U.S., overthrew socialist president Allende’s Popular Unity government which lead to thousands being murdered and a fifteen year dictatorship; U.S. supported Indonesian dictator Suharto murdered millions of members and supporters of the Indonesian Communist Party; the  U.S. has supported the domestic bourgeoisies, dictatorships, and military and paramilitary forces in countries too numerous to name in an effort to repress popular efforts at reforms of capitalism's worst abuses.
Eagleton fair mindedly calls attention to the fact that both the history of capitalism and the efforts to build socialism have common histories of benefits and costs.  Capitalism in its association with the European Enlightenment and bourgeois revolution was progressive in establishing a heritage of individual liberty, liberal democracy, civil rights, and scientific progress.  But also savage economic depressions, child labor in sweatshops, fascism, and imperial wars and environmental degradation.  So to, the Soviet and Chinese revolutions embarked on a path of breaking out of economic backwardness and industrial development; also at a tremendous human and environmental cost.  He claims the Soviet Union and it's eastern bloc did many things to advance the social welfare of its citizens, advanced and supported the arts and sciences, but doesn’t run away from the fact that individual liberty was significantly repressed.  The coming of capitalism to Eastern Europe also did not result in some capitalist utopia either, with dramatic increases in poverty, unemployment and general social despair, while legalized robbery occurred in the form of privatization, with many of the beneficiaries being the former state elite of the so-called socialist bloc.

Those who claim that the failure of so-called socialism in the former Soviet Union and other places is the failure of Marx(ist) theory are willfully ignorant of Marx’s theory of socialist revolution.  Eagleton does a fair but incomplete job of explaining that Marx hypothesized that a socialist revolution would have the greatest chance of success in a well-developed capitalist country with a self-aware and assertive working class.  Early twentieth century Russia was a comparatively under-developed, mostly peasant country, with a relatively small working class.  The same could be said of China and the many other Third World countries that have had revolutions lead by socialists and Marxists.  Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks were well aware that they were not operating under good conditions for building socialism, and they hoped that other parallel socialist revolutions would occur in Germany and elsewhere in Europe in the wake of devastation of World War I.  Instead, these revolutions never occurred and the Soviet Union was isolated and attacked by domestic counter-revolutionaries and hostile western powers.  Eagleton argues that this set the stage for Stalinism, and rather than discrediting Marx, validates his ideas on what conditions are necessary to establish and sustain a socialist society.

In the latter part of Chapter 2 Eagleton address the claim that socialism is unworkable based on the idea that a complex modern economy requires markets.  From there he launches into a discussion of “market socialism” in refuting the idea that socialism and markets are necessarily incompatible; then he discusses alternative visions of socialism such as “Parecon” from non-market socialists.  This latter part of the chapter is all a valuable discussion but would have been better treated in a chapter of its own.  It does fit in with the overall theme of the chapter in arguing that just because the Soviet style state-socialism is a historical failure, it is not necessarily true that socialism must always fail.  But it is discontinuous from the primary emphasis of the first part of the chapter that focuses on refuting the alleged intrinsic connection between Marxism, socialism, and tyranny.

Overall, the first two chapters Eagleton’s book does a fine job in tackling two primary misconceptions and slanders of Marx.  In subsequent posts I will review and discuss other chapters of Eagleton’s Why Marx Was Right.   

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Recommended Web Reads This Week May 1-7

Article on the relevancy of Rosa Luxemburg:

The spontaneous mass revolts in north Africa and the Middle East, especially in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, underline the importance of Luxemburg’s contribution. She understood better than any Marxist of her time (and better than most after it) that revolution is never ‘made’ by some enlightened party or individuals, but rather emerges spontaneously from the response of masses of people to social conditions. She was always looking for the unexpected to come from the masses, and her work helps train our eyes in precisely that direction. 
Equally important is her understanding of what happens after the revolution. She held that there is no socialism without democracy, just as there is no democracy without socialism. She gave grief to anyone, whether friend or foe, who fell short of envisioning social change as a liberation and freeing of humanity’s innate and acquired talents and abilities. In this sense she was part of an idealist strain within Marxism that has been neglected for far too long. Let’s not forget that in 1844 Marx defined his philosophy as humanism that consists of the unity of idealism and materialism. We need that unity now more than ever.

I moved to the US a year before 9/11. The day after the attack, a drunk tried to set the local mosque on fire. I first visited Ground Zero in July 2002 and could only cry and pray. "Good riddance, Bin Laden," I wanted to shout on Monday; but this new American instead quietly recited Al Fatiha, the opening chapter of the Qur'an, with "USA, USA USA" as my backdrop. I recited it for the innocent lives taken in NYC, Washington DC, Shanksville in Pennsylvania, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan – wherever the war on terror left its stains.

This name-calling is a form of misdirection, an attempt to evade a serious debate about U.S. agricultural policies. And it gets the elitism charge precisely backward. America’s current system of food production — overly centralized and industrialized, overly controlled by a handful of companies, overly reliant on monocultures, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, chemical additives, genetically modified organisms, factory farms, government subsidies and fossil fuels — is profoundly undemocratic. It is one more sign of how the few now rule the many. And it’s inflicting tremendous harm on American farmers, workers and consumers.

Bush and Co. Wanted a War That Could Have Been Avoided

Ten years of war in Afghanistan could have been avoided, and Bin Laden arrested in the Fall of 2001.  But the governmental and corporate elites wanted war.  Gareth Porter's article linked here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

God's Miscommunication with Christians

Dear Reader,
On Easter Sunday of 2011 I suddenly felt inspired write this blog post based  on ideas floating around in my head for some time.

Generally speaking all Christian sects, whether they are Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs), traditional mainstream, fundamentalist, and evangelical Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Mormons or any other Christian sect, believe in a few basic things.  First they believe that God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to earth to die on a cross (or stake in the case of JWs), so that this sacrifice would atone for the sins of man.  Nearly all Christians seem to believe that God considers it important that humans believe in him, have faith in him, obey him, and live according to his will, and repent of their sins.  All these varieties of Christianity believe this, and most also strongly advocate that people should belong to their particular church, believe in that church’s particular doctrine, and that people accept their particular church as God's true and exclusive representative organization on earth.1

So we might ask, if God is a perfect being, and he wills that people hold correct religious beliefs, practice correct religious rituals, and belong to the correct church that propagates those correct church teachings, why has he not communicated more clearly exactly which church is his true organizational representative? Exactly what religion is the sincere truth seeking Christian supposed to belong to? 

The pastor of any of the above mentioned churches would surely answer that by reading the Bible, it is clear that the Bible and God clearly favors his church   Most any JW, Mormon, Evangelical Christian, Catholic, or other Christian sect can offer support from some translation of the Bible that their Church holds the correct doctrine according to the Bible.  Mormon’s may be slightly different in this regard as they believe that their organization has been blessed with a second book of God’s revealed truth, The Book of Mormon.  Various churches of Evangelical and Protestant Christianity regard the doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and often the Catholic Church as false Christianity, frauds, that mislead people away from God’s true church.  JWs also regard all the other Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox churches as false prophets that mislead people away from God’s true will, and insist that salvation is only found in their organization.  The Catholic Church regards itself as Jesus’ and the apostle Paul’s original and true Christian Church, and regards all later Christian churches as apostates.             

For the sincere truth seeking would-be Christian and potential church member who desires to make the right choice, this seems to be an intractable dilemma.  This would be Christian can accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior, repent of his sins, practice the appropriate rituals, show love to his neighbor, live a moral life according to the strictures of the Bible and church he chooses to join, attempt to convert others, and study his Bible.  And still he could make the wrong choice of churches hypothetically speaking.  

I can imagine that it could be quite perplexing in attempting to choose the correct church by reading the Bible and attempting to match sacred scripture with the appropriate church doctrine.  Might the truth seeking Christian see strong points in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ interpretation of the Bible on one question, while seeing other strong points in the Baptist’s interpretation of the Bible on another question?  Or worse, might the truth-seeker find compelling reasons to agree with two different interpretations of the Bible regarding the same question?  To resolve these problems the recruiting Christian witness will undoubtedly implore the truth seeker to open his heart to the Holy Spirit in prayer asking for guidance in choosing with which church to affiliate with; confident of course that the aforementioned Holy Spirit will guide the truth seeker to his church. 

If the Holy Spirit doesn’t lead the truth seeker to the recruiter’s church, but chooses another, then from the recruiter’s perspective the truth-seeker must have made some error, not the Holy Spirit.  Nor do I think it happens very often that the Christian recruiter entertains the possibility that he might have chosen the wrong church.  Regardless, it seems that if any of the Christian religions are true, then somebody is going to hell, despite their best efforts to be a good Christian in what they think is God’s chosen church.2 

So it seems that there is a strong possibility that this want-to-be sincere Christian can make the wrong choice.  Even after Bible study, prayer, and opening oneself up to the Holy Spirit.  According to the doctrine of most of the religious organizations I mention above, being in the right church, THEIRS, is part of being the right kind of Christian and gaining that reward of afterlife in heaven (or on earth, as JWs believe).  Christian sects basically compete for market share for the available souls in need of saving.  To do this they must persuade Christian believers that they must be a Baptist, or a Pentecostal, or a Catholic, and not another sect, if they hope to acquire the after-life reward in heaven, or be resurrected, or live forever in some fashion.   

So we must ask ourselves a few questions.  If the Christian God is real and demands that we believe the correct religious doctrines and belong to the right Christian church, why then has he not communicated much more clearly to his disciples regarding his desires and correct doctrines?    All of them at least share some common interpretations of the Bible, yet their divergent interpretations they regard as serious enough to split into a number of different religious organizations.  Shouldn’t a perfect God communicate much more clearly as to what his specific will is? Given this, it seems nearly certain that the Bible is not the inspired word of a real God, or that any version of Christianity is true. 

1--There are some more liberal Protestant Churches who don’t necessarily insist on loyalty to their own church and are less dogmatic in this regard.  Regardless, for the sake of this argument, let’s put them aside.

2—I should also note that JWs and some other liberal Christians do not believe in hell.  JWs believe the unrepentant sinner simply dies without the reward of life ever after. 

Response to Nils Jansma's Continued Mis-Representations and Evasions

The following is a response to Nils Jansma who responded to my critique of  a blog post of his comparing Atheists and Jehovah's Witnesses as "judgmental".  Follow the links back for context.

Nils, Thank you for your response,
With all due respect Nils, you seem to make your best effort to avoid even acknowledging the arguments I had written, let alone addressing them.  I won't go into too much detail, because quite frankly arguing about these topics doesn't interest me much anymore. 

First, I have no necessary problem with the dictionary definition of atheism, and in fact my position would fall under it, I do not think there is a God, therefore I do not believe that a god(s) exist.  I would lean towards the stronger atheist position.  So no, I am perfectly comfortable with the term atheism and applying it to myself.  I still maintain that agnostics are a weak form of atheism as they lack an affirmative belief in god (and weak doesn't have any pejorative meaning in this context).  Dictionary definitions are fine to an extent, but as surely you know words can have multiple meanings, and people regularly clarify the definitions they are operating under.    

You insist that disbelief in God is a position that requires "faith".  Then you should define faith.  Define faith.  I think this is a misapplication of the term "faith."  To doubt that there is a god does not require faith, but is exactly the opposite, it is a lack of faith that a god exists.  One can come to the tentative conclusion that there probably is no god based on philosophical arguments. REASON.  And quite frankly, this effort to classify either naturalistic science or atheism as a religion is tortured logic.

I thought I also made it quite clear that I don't agree with Dawkins' style of atheism, so why do you press me to defend what he says?  For the record, I don't think people who believe in God are mentally ill, just wrong.  If Dawkins has said or has implied such, then I think he is dead wrong.  Dawkins is not our high priest, nor does he speak for all atheists.

My academic background is in anthropology, and from these studies I know that religious belief is a universal feature of human societies, and a normal aspect of human psychology.  Interestingly enough, coming from this appreciation for the vast cultural and religious diversity of the human species leads me to doubt not only the religious beliefs of some tribe in Papua New Guinea, or the ancient Greeks, but also the religious beliefs of my own society.  As soon as you come to an understanding of why you don't believe in the many other gods of other cultures, then perhaps you will understand why I don't believe in yours. 

And why do you insist on stereotyping me as the "angry atheist", and charging that I am projecting it on to you?  I left the JW's a long time ago, and I am over it.  I was simply annoyed at your misrepresentations and over generalizing comparison of JWs and atheists as equally judgemental.  My flippant remark of "so what", was in the context of noting you could say that about any group. An observation like "flowers are red".  I directly addressed why this is simply a sloppy comparison, which you simply ignore.  It would be more accurate to say that JWs, Evangelical Christians, Catholics, and Muslims are judgemental, as we can take a large set of people and organizations within these parameters and see how they are judgemental of people who don't share their religious dogmas.  Furthermore, they attempt to enforce behavioral conformity not only within their organizations, but within society at large.  There is no comparable "judgmental" efforts made by atheists.  While I don't doubt that there are some atheists who are "judgemental," and there may be some religious believers who are not, it seems silly to focus on atheists as judgemental in light of the history of most of monotheistic religion.

You may know of an anecdotal account that some scientist and professor, who happens to be an atheist abused his power in enforcing atheism on his students.  Yet, there is no reason to believe that this happens with any regularity.  99% of science can be done without having to even consider the question of god.  Of course this is exactly what bothers the religious believer.  They presuppose that God must be an agent in there somewhere, looking for some gap with which to fill up with God, and it bothers them that scientists proceed without god(s).

"Most, if not all, of the “facts” I have been exposed to, support my belief in God more often than not.  Fortunately, we are living at a time when science is learning more and more about the complexity of the universe and life, resulting in a continuous list of surprises as more and more is learned, causing Hugh Ross to exclaim something like, “if you don’t believe in God, wait a week and maybe then you will.”  Nevertheless, there are still many issues I have yet to resolve but I am confident that the outcome will be likewise supportive.  So “what if” God doesn’t exist, what have I lost? nothing--  it is like Pasqual’s wager, better to be safe than sorry.  In saying this, I don’t want to imply that my belief in God is nothing more than a life insurance policy because I actually do believe He exists."

You claim that the continual advances of science in understanding the complexity of life and the universe supports your belief in God.  If that is your interpretation, that is fine with me.  (Again you want to have it both ways, science supports God, can't disprove God).  And that is the second time you have quoted Hugh Ross saying the same things, as if the quote stands on its own.  I asked you for specifics, you gave none. However, I do find it curious that all of this scientific discovery advances without appeal to God's alleged agency.  It is only post-hoc reasoning that the scientific facts support your belief in God.  
"So, the bottom line is, if you can show me a better way of life that maintains good mental health with a character building philosophy that I can teach my children to pursue, I will change.  However, I have to say, I have covered a lot of ground since leaving the Witnesses and sincerely doubt there is anything that can take the place of God in my life and still allow me to maintain my sanity, especially now with the future looking so bleak."  
I note that you claim that belief in God supports you psychologically, emotionally, and morally in coping with life.  I will be completely non-judgemental in stating that there is nothing necessarily wrong with that.  That doesn't mean God exists, but If it works for you, then go with it.  However, I do recommend that you should also acknowledge that others have come up with alternative solutions to the problems that religion solves for you.  Secularists are perfectly capable of living sane and moral lives without belief in God.  I am perfectly capable of teaching my son the difference between right and wrong, to be honest, compassionate, and to do the right thing, without God, and the promise of a reward of eternal life of some variety.  It does seem to me that my lack of belief in God is seen as a threat by you as a believer. 

So in conclusion, if a person chooses to believe in God I don't have any problem with that.  There are problems with Religion as an oppressive institution (somewhat distinct from the issue of god-belief)  that I wish to address in another post.  

Nils, if you do wish to continue our dialogue, I ask you to address the following questions.  Now that you are not a Jehovah's Witness, what do you believe?  Do you believe in hell? An afterlife? Do people need to accept Jesus Christ as their savior for what reward?  How accepting are you of other lifestyle choices (homosexuality, intimate relations outside of wedlock etc.)?  Also, what are your opinions of mainstream American Christianity and its collusion with right-wing politics?        

Sunday, May 1, 2011

International Worker's Day, Nice day for a revolution: Why May Day......David Harvey

Update: Ooops, should have given a hat tip to one of my favorite blogs, Pink Scare!

Nice day for a revolution: Why May Day should be a date to stand up and change the system - World Politics, World - The Independent

May Day is the occasion we celebrate the grand achievements of the workers of the world in making our world a far, far better place to live in. There is, unfortunately, not too much to celebrate these days. The past 30 years are littered with battles and skirmishes that have resulted in defeat after defeat for organised labour.
A capitalist class gone rampant has now consolidated its power to command or corrupt almost all the major institutions that regulate the body politic – the political parties (of both left and right), the media, the universities, the law, to say nothing of the repressive state apparatus and international institutions. The democracy of money power now rules. A global plutocracy exerts its will almost everywhere unchallenged.
So what is there to celebrate? We would not, of course, have what we still have now (from pensions to the remnants of reasonable health care and public education) had it not been for the labour movement. But waxing nostalgic over the undoubted achievements and heroism of the past will get us nowhere.
May Day should therefore be about relaunching a revolutionary movement to change the world. The very thought of doing that – even just saying it and writing it down – is as exhilarating as it is astonishing.
Continues at link above.