Friday, March 14, 2014

The Law of Unintended Consequences: U.S. Drug "War" Destroys Rain Forests


Thomas Riggins

Rain forests around the world are rapidly disappearing due to illegal logging, the growth of palm oil and other plantations, and clearance for cattle raising and other forms of  commercial agriculture. Now scientists warn of another threat to the rain forests of Central America-- especially those in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and some of their neighbors-- this according to a news report in Science Daily for January 30, 2014 ("Drug trafficking leads to deforestation in Central America").

It seems that the drug war in Mexico, fueled by the misguided anti-drug policies of the United States and the Mexican government (relying on military action and violence instead legalization and reform) has driven the drug gangs deep into the remotest areas of the jungles of Central America-- especially into supposedly protected regions where they are destroying large areas of the virgin forests to build airstrips, roads, and storage facilities to facilitate their drug activities.

They are also constructing "agribusinesses" in order to "launder their drug profits." It is almost impossible to believe that all this activity could be going on under the noses of the United States and its allies in the so-call "war on drugs" and is not being protected due to the graft and corruption of all the parties involved. This has been going on for years according Kendra McSweeney, a scientist at Ohio State University whose research, along with others, was the basis of the Science Daily report. "In response to the crackdown in Mexico," she said, "drug traffickers began moving south into Central America around 2007 to find new routes through remote areas to move their drugs from South America and get them into the United States. When the drug traffickers moved in, they brought ecological devastation with them."

The indigenous Amerindian people who live in the forests suffer as a result of the arrival of the drug dealers who strip the forest for their roads and landing areas for planes. Drug money is used to bribe government officials to turn a blind eye to the drig dealers as well as the deforestation activities. Ranchers, illegal loggers, and land speculators, according to the article, up their activities, at the expense of the forest people, stimulated by the influx of drug money and the dealers desire to launder their profits with "legitimate" businesses.  "Drug policies," McSeeney said, "are conservation policies, whether we realize it or not."

Besides the death and destruction to people, innocent and guilty alike, brought about by U.S. policies, the damage and destruction of the rain forests is a major ecological problem.  McSweeny concluded that "U.S. led militarized interdiction, for example, has succeeded mainly in moving traffickers around, driving them to operate in ever-more remote, biodiverse ecosystems. Reforming drug policies could alleviate some of the pressures on Central America's disappearing forests."

For the reasons revealed in this news article it is ever more important that the failed and useless U. S. "war on drugs" , which has become a " war on people and nature", be curtailed and ended and that rational policies be adopted to deal with the problems of addiction and the social conditions responsible for it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ukraine Positions

Ukraine: The risks of supporting the Maidan protesters is the unleashing of fascism (Svoboda, Right Sektor). If the nationalists can avoid witch-hunts, be inclusive, and leave the far right behind, then that would be positive, but I doubt this can happen, since it would mean abandoning what they are and have fought for. Now rightist identity politics is in power (ostensibly) it usually asserts itself in scapegoating ways rather than reconciliation – the start of this may be the focus on revenge and on Yanukovich, the ousted president.

The deaths that have occurred are sad, tragic, as they always are, but if this is a revolution, then the events have in fact been remarkably peaceful (so far, perhaps), especially given the involvement of the far right as the spearhead..

But it is not really a revolution (so far at least), it is more akin to a coup, with outside interference (EU, USA), in a situation where the masses are fairly passive about politics, due to the particular history of the country.

Historically, Russia has more right to 'interfere' in Ukraine than the EU, and this fact has been trampled on, but we can only support the Russian leaders, who are also only interested in exploiting Ukraine, insofar as they act as defenders of self determination for Ukraine and against sectarianism and terror. In this situation Russia is and would be right to assert itself against the elements of neo-Nazism in the coup and the west.

The peculiar and telling aspect is actually its lack of assertion of such rights and the weakness of the ousted leadership it seemed to be backing.

The latter itself points to corruption and the rule of capitalists in both Ukraine and Russia, they are vying for profit and 'reforms', the Russian bourgeoisie vacillate, not too sure that they would not actually benefit from an even more rightist capitalist neoliberal Ukraine. This is the class dimension of the picture. The Ukrainian 'oligarchs' (big capitalists) think the same, some seeing the EU as a source of new openings and new ways to exploit their working class, others will have ties to Russia.

So we have capitalist powers, including Russia, competing for Ukraine's wealth and strategic position. The hypocrisy of the west's rhetoric can be grasped clearly when you look at Bahrain, with its protests, where the USA has a naval base just as Russia has a naval base in Ukraine (on the Black Sea). The USA did not support the protests in Bahrain for democracy, even allowed the sending in of tanks to quell the popular uprising. The USA has of course far less claims with regard to Bahrain than Russia has to Ukraine, although we must remember Russia also interferes in Syria to support the dictator Assad. All of this is cynical imperialist competition.

Sometimes the western 'soft' Left is confused and confusing about these complications, they stick to Russia like a limpet from the Cold War, and so do the rightists, whose identity politics sees the differences as essential to human nature anyway, so a Ruskie is always a Ruskie and a commie. In fact we have here the two great identity politics opposing in a false dialectic (left v right), and this is always the pincer movement of bourgeois ideology that we see in the mainstream press, because the concept of class is disallowed and they must resort to some other interpretation of global political events. It is an ideological strategy that allows in fascism though, and this is its danger in the present conflict for Europe and the EU, which is edging noticeably towards the far right in its ideology.
Mr Lavrov added that "it is in our interest for Ukraine to be part of the broad European family" but against Russia's interest to "allow the radicals and nationalists who are clearly trying to take centre stage to prevail."http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26333587

Some useful links:

Description of far right Svoboda party

http://www.ucsj.org/2013/08/22/svoboda/

Nuland phonecall on Ukraine

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSxaa-67yGM#t=89

Left-Gramscian interpretation wuth local knowledge

http://revolution-news.com/maidan-contradictions-interview-ukrainian-revolutionary-syndicalist/




Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bum Rap for the Rapa Nui


Thomas Riggins

A new report in Science News Magazine (1-25-2014) by Bruce Bower details a reevaluation of the view that the Rapa Nuians, the native inhabitants of Easter Island ( Rapa Nui ), were responsible for the collapse of their population and society due to over exploitation of natural resources and the destruction of the rain forest on their island, a view recently popularized by Jared Diamond in his book Collapse (2005).

As Bower reports, the anthropologist Maria Mulrooney has published the results of her studies of the Rapa Nui culture (Journal of Archeological Science, December 2013) based on new radiocarbon dates from archeological sites on the island. She has concluded that after the clear cutting of the forest in the 1500s, to make room for agricultural production, the population of Rapa Nui remained sufficiently vibrant to carry on food production and continue their cultural development.

Exactly when the Rapa Nui arrived on Easter Island is unknown but it was on or before 1200 A.D. or so. Mulrooney maintains they had a thriving culture which was still going strong even after their "discovery" by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen on Easter Sunday 1722. This would indicate that they had not suffered"collapse" as a result of forest clearance.

Roggeveen reported that the island had about 2000 to 3000 inhabitants he was the first to report on the moai-- the giant statues (erected as religious symbols as part of an ancestor cult) for which the island is famous. They were all in place and standing when he was visiting the island (for less than two weeks). In his short time there he managed to kill a dozen or so natives and so his estimate of the population may be incorrect as many people fled and hid out until after he left.

The Spanish showed up in 1770, claimed the island for King Carlos III, then sailed away. The moai were all standing and the people were still engaged in agriculture. Captain Cook showed up in 1774 and noticed some of the moai had fallen but there was no sign of cultural "collapse."

Bower quotes Mulrooney as saying, "Deforestation did not equal societal failure on Rapi Nui. We should celebrate the remarkable achievements of this island civilization"

Yet the culture did end up almost completely destroyed. After Capitan Cook's visit Europeans visited more regularly in the 19th Century. It has been suggested that Rapa Nui's decline may have been caused by the introduction of European diseases. By the early 1800s most of the moai been toppled and the society had broken up into warring factions.

Peruvian slavers invaded in the 1860s and carried away 1500 of the 2000 or so Rapa Nuians into bondage in the mines of Peru.  By 1878 only 111 natives were still living on the island. 97 per cent of the cultural memory of the people had been lost after contact with the Europeans. The greatest loss may have been that of rongorongo  the native writing system of Rapa Nui and the only writing system created by any Polynesian group. All of those who knew the writing system died in the mines of Peru or from European introduced TB which ravaged the survivors.

Chile annexed the island in 1888. The Rapa Nui were given citizenship in 1966 but they no longer rule on their island. Of the 6000 or so people living on the island today about 3600 are Rapa Nui. The archeologist Carl Lipo is quoted as saying, "The idea of societal collapse on Rapa Nui has long been assumed but there is no scientific basis for it." He is referring to a self induced collapse. Their traditional culture was destroyed, and the people today are trying to reinvigorate it, but it is a bum rap to blame them for the loss of their civilization.

Socialism and Errors

A tentative thesis: 

The Soviet Union towards the end of  WWII made a mistake similar to the one the Paris Communards made who did not raid the Paris central bank (as Marx thought would have been sensible to pay their soldiers, etc), they did not invade Switzerland and confiscate the ill gotten stashes of the European bourgeoisie who evaded the affects of the carnage and continued to play the stock markets. Instead they acted, post war, in an increasingly imperialist fashion, emulating the bourgeois countries, imposing socialism and giving it, therefore, a bad name across Europe. Why leave Switzerland, the bank of the European bourgeoisie and one big bankroller of the Nazis, untouched? It is unfathomable if you are a communist to grasp why any communist would do this. The centre of European capitalism was, and remains, Switzerland. The answer to this question is key.


We are now living, therefore, in the aftermath of a kind of socialist funk, the result of a lack of resolution and theoretical understanding of Marxism. This is why Greece is so fascinating as a case in the crisis. The Cold War policies that made the Allies turn on the local communists who had bravely fought the Nazis meant Greece was facing years of rightist corruption and money lending to support an unpopular capitalism, it led to the reign of the Generals, and then to the joining of the Eurozone and now Greece’s massive debt crisis, all of it still being fuelled by debt.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Democracy and Law

If you have just laws, you have no overwhelming need for elections, the laws and accountability through these laws (i.e. constitutional and general law including employment law) can form the essence of democracy and protect the citizen and provide for an accountable system of government; elections are in contrast something of a lottery, and they can rarely provide a result that really represents the majority interests, although it always holds this promise out to the electors. The law is something that is crafted over time by society to, ostensibly, provide social justice; it is in this sense science at the level of politics. But this science meets with the anti science of current economics, the science that wishes to ignore science and opt for chance; the anarchy of the markets, it sees order and the idea of a 'command economy', an economy guided by humans, to be the enemy. It therefore likes lotteries. Here therefore it has met the rigors of the class struggle. The struggle for just law sits alongside the struggle for more authentic democracy, it is the bedrock of the move to greater accountability.

The fact is that the law in current advanced capitalist societies has failed to represent the majority, and electoral democracy has also failed to defend their interests, and this is the major problem of our times, we have seen protests ranging from Brazil to Egypt via Turkey and Greece. This is a problem that cannot be solved by more and more elections with the same arrangements (as in Egypt is being tried, but at least the recent elections are over a constitution). Certainly, less corruption and more genuine accountability is always to be welcomed if it is at all possible or credible by election, but can this be achieved within most of the present corrupt parliamentary systems in Europe? Specifically Greece, Spain, Italy, the UK, or within the EU state apparatus that sits atop them, there is a democratic deficit.

The law in capitalism supports capitalism, this is obvious, which means it supports a system of wages and exploitation and the anarchy of the markets. Lately this system has bailed out massive corporations and banks, but called for austerity for workers, who are also intended to pay for these bail outs in their taxes. This is patently unjust, but there is no law that can really intervene; at best more obvious fraud may be tackled with ineffective fines and in a very few cases imprisonment of individuals (e.g. Madoff). So the problem of current democracy, even if it was at its best and most representative and accountable, always hits the wall of law which defends capital against its critics. The structures of exploitation are legal, so to abolish them would therefore be illegal, unless the law is changed. Can the law be changed by the elected lawmakers in parliament?


Superficially this is the role of the executive power, but we can readily see that no party or representative is so radical as to suggest the abolition of the employment laws that allow for exploitation, on the contrary, we even, since the onset of the crisis, have witnessed a return to near slavery with the expansion of zero hours contracts in the UK and 'mini-jobs' in Germany. Precarious kinds of labor are rife these days. Electoral democracy has stagnated not because it has the possibility of ever actually functioning perfectly but has merely lately slipped into bad ways, but because we have reached its political limits within the capitalist economy and the laws that maintain it and it maintains. This has been shown to us by the crisis. The crisis has revealed the truth of electoral representative democracy, that it has limits of representation, and so is limited democracy, limited by law and by economics, There will be calls, against this, for a new constitutive power, new law, and new kinds of democracy; we have seen the start of these with the Occupy type movements. But many of these calls avoid looking at the issue of class, and therefore tend to ignore the necessary role of the majority working class in protests, which is likely to lead to fragmentation. Recently more working class protest has broken out in Burgos, Spain, which have so far been successful and have not been shy of this dimension.

Gary Tedman

Friday, December 20, 2013

Waiting for Mangabe or Slavoj Zizek on Mandela's Socialist Failure


Thomas Riggins

This is a reply to Slavoj Zizek's article "Mandela's Socialist Failure" published online in The Stone (a New York Times maintained philosophy blog) on December 6, 2013. In eight pithy paragraphs Zizek endeavors to expose the real legacy of Mandela as opposed to his current "beatification." The Catholic Church used to have someone play the role of Devil's Advocate to denigrate the reputation
of a person nominated to become a saint. Zizek has taken it upon himself to see to it that Mandela's "beatification" does not progress to full fledged "sainthood."

Zizek's mantra is that "Mandela was not Mugabe"-- the "good" as opposed to the "bad" Black African leader. Mandela is seen as "a saintly wise man" and Hollywood even makes movies about him. He was "impersonated" by Morgan Freeman who, Zizek points out also impersonated God! Oh my!-- what are they trying to tell us? Zizek should perhaps be reminded that Morgan Freeman is an outstanding actor (or impersonator if you prefer) and has played many roles-- including a chauffeur. And, Zizek notes, "rock stars and religious leaders, sportsmen and politicians from Bill Clinton to Fidel Castro are all united in his beatification." Somehow I don't see Fidel Castro as a "politician" in quite the same way as the unprincipled pragmatist Bill Clinton. Nor do I think Fidel and Clinton are "united" in their evaluations of Nelson Mandela-- far from it. According to Zizek, Mandela is hailed for leaving behind "a muti-party democracy with free press and a vibrant [!] economy well-integrated into the global market and immune [!] to hasty Socialist experiments."

But what is the truth about this man's legacy? The Devil's Advocate will reveal  "two
key facts"  that are "obliterated" by all the pro-Mandela beatification activities. Fact One: There is still wide spread poverty and social misery in South Africa and an increase in "insecurity, violence, and crime."  The majority of Black  South Africans
are living "broadly,"  Zizek says, "the same as under apartheid." This fact "counterbalances" any "rise of political and civil rights."  What is the "main change" in South Africa since the time of Mandela according to Zizek? It is a "new black elite" has joined the "old white ruling class"-- not a new constitution giving equal rights to all citizens and allowing all South Africans to live and work together.

Zizek's statements are completely ridiculous. There are deepening economic problems in South Africa today as well as class divisions but Black people and all South Africans no longer have to carry passes, all can vote, people can go to the same beaches and hotels, etc. The millions who mourned the death of Mandela are acutely aware of the problems facing their country and also aware that the repressive, dehumanizing regime of official racism and apartheid is dead. To think that reality has been "obliterated" in the consciousness of South African people by a Mandela sainthood cult is an insulting affront to the citizens of the new South Africa and reeks of a colonial European outlook towards African peoples. So much for "Fact One."

Fact Two: Black South Africans are becoming angry because the memory of the aims of the "old" African National Congress (social justice and a "kind of" socialism are being "obliterated from our memory." Far from being "obliterated" the program of the ANC and its allies in the labor unions and the South African Communist Party are constantly debated and discussed by the people of South Africa and the demands for more radical reforms and more progressive policies can be democratically advanced. Zizek overlooks the fact that there is a real living democracy at the root of the New South Africa and that Nelson Mandela played a major role in its creation. The millions mourning his passing are not mindless masses with "obliterated" memories.

According to Zizek South Africa is just another example of the current left paradigm:
the left comes to power promising a "new world" but then confronts the reality of the international neoliberal capitalist consensus . Imperialism can speedily punish countries trying to embark on the socialist road. In South Africa's case political power was ceded to the ANC on condition that the existing economic system was preserved . It was thought that this prevented a civil war of massive proportions.
This Historic Compromise (called by some a Faustian pact with the old regime) is at the root of the current problems of poverty and mass discontent in the country.

Zizek is sympathetic to Mandela's dilemma -- create a "new world"-- risk a civil war-- or "play the game" and abandon the "socialist perspective." [There is too much focus on Mandela here-- these decisions were made collectively by the leaders of all the major forces in the liberation movement.]  Zizek  asks a question that is still hotly debated today. Given the  constellation of forces facing the ANC et al on the assumption of power "was the move towards socialism a real option?" [Compromise was indeed necessary, but did the ANC concede too much?]

Seemingly inspired by Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (a coming of age novel for adolescent libertarians), Zizek looks for "the grain of truth" in the "hymn to money" found in the novel: "Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns or dollars. Take your choice-- there is no other." 

Not only is there no "grain of truth" in this "hymn" but when human beings only deal with each other on the basis of money we get all the horrors of blood, whips and guns that humans employ against each other in order to obtain and control more and more money (slavery, colonialism, imperialism, fraud-- you name it). It is not humans per se, of course, who engage in these horrors, but a special class of humans  (capitalists) created by the dominant economic system of monopoly capitalism. 

Not content with uncovering a grain of truth in Randism, Zizek imputes the same idea to Karl Marx-- a most un-Randian leap of fallaciousness. He asks if Marx's ideas about "the universe of commodities" were not similar to what Rand said in her hymn about money. After all Marx said under capitalism "relations between people assume the guise of relations among things."  This is a perfect example of a non sequitur and  I defy anyone to find the similarity between Marx's statements about the fetishism of commodities and Rand's view "that money is the root of all good."

Zizek's confusions continue. He thinks that the relations between people in the "market economy" can appear "as relations of mutually recognized freedom and equality." Maybe in the days of Adam Smith but I doubt even then. Donald Trump and his chauffeur hardly are equals or exercise the same amount of freedom. Mitt Romney thought 47 per cent of the American people were social parasites and he is an outstanding representative of the freedom and equally offered by the "market economy."  Most working people know exactly their relations to their bosses and it not only appears to be unequal and unfree (who gets the pink slip and loses unemployment insurance) it is unequal and unfree-- and all of Ayn Rand's baloney will never make it otherwise. 

It is obvious to any aware working person, that the blatant inequality and restrictions on human freedom under the "market economy"  lived and felt by millions of Greek workers, Spanish working people, and others in the EU and throughout the world, that  Zizek's view -- under capitalism "domination is no longer directly enacted and visible as such" -- is just nonsense. Such ruminations by a famous philosopher can only give philosophy a bad name.

While Zizek says that Ayn Rand's ideological claim (only the love of money can free people) is ridiculous, he persists in reminding us of the "moment of truth" it contains. The problem, he thinks, is Rand's "underlying premise" which is "that the only choice is between direct and indirect relations of domination and exploitation" and any alternative is "utopian." Ayn Rand has no such premise. She thinks in simple dichotomies. Unfettered dynamic capitalism and the love of money is GOOD and it is in no way, direct or indirect, involved in any relations of domination and exploitation-- it is the root of GOODNESS. On the other hand any efforts by liberals , socialists, misguided Catholic popes, or anybody else that impinges on this system of goodness is EVIL and a direct source domination and exploitation.

Zizek, however, thinks the "moment of truth" in Ayn Rand's theory of money is that it teaches us "the great lesson of state socialism." Despite Zizek's discovery of the Randian "moment of truth," I don't recommend using Atlas Shrugged as a prolegomena to any future socialism. This is the "truth" that Zizek has discovered.
If you abolish private property (God forbid!) and the market without concretely regulating production then you resuscitate "direct relations of servitude and domination." What does this mean? What "state socialist" country or countries can he be referring to that did not or do not have plans that regulate production? So called "state socialism" was famous for having "central planning" and tried to concretely regulate both production and distribution. As it stands Zizek's lesson is pointless.

He expands on his lesson. If we just abolish the market "without replacing it with a proper form of Communist organization of production and exchange, domination returns with a vengeance, and with it direct exploitation." This isn't very helpful. Communism doesn't spring full blown from the brow of Lenin the day after the revolution. What does Zizek think is the "proper form" of Communism. He gives us no clue in this article. I fear there is no lesson at all to be learned from Ayn Rand's "moment of truth." Certainly not Zizek's tautology that socialism fails to create communism if it doesn't create the proper form of communism.

Zizek now propounds a "general rule"-- it is really just his way of saying  the more things change the more they stay the same. It goes like this: when the people rise up against "an oppressive half-democratic regime" [what is a "half-democracy"-- people either have democratic rights or they don't] it's "easy" to get large demonstrations underway [I think that's what rising up means] and crowd pleasing slogans are devised (pro democracy, anti-corruption, etc) but after the "revolt succeeds" the people find themselves still oppressed as they were before except in a "new guise." 

This seems to me to be a strange concept of what a "successful" revolt is. Zizek seems to think it is some sort of spontaneous generation of of all things good and great for the people and if doesn't happen overnight, then the revolt has failed. His case studies are of the revolts "in the Middle East in 2011." He doesn't seem to understand that these are ongoing processes. The French Revolution didn't end with chopping off the King's head. The revolts may have been begun in the Middle East in 2011 but they are ongoing processes with ups and downs, advances and set backs and it much to early to decide which have failed and which have succeeded or even what "failure" or "success" will mean in the longue duree.

Zizek plogs along. The people do not succeed because they are prevented from seeing that their exploitation continues in the new guise after the revolution by the "ruling ideology" which blames them for their failure because they don't understand that they are not yet mature enough for full democracy [ and anyway, as Lady Thatcher  put it, 'there is no alternative" to capitalism (TINA)]. Zizek doesn't make sense here because he maintains both that the people don't realize the same old exploitation is going on and that they do realize it but are themselves blamed for it by the "ruling ideology." I think Zizek will find "the people" a bit more sophisticated and not as simple minded as he portrays them.

Zizek now explains how US foreign policy has developed a strategy that redirects the revolutionary energy of a popular revolt into political forms desired  by US imperialism (not a word used by Zizek in this article). The US did this in South Africa after the end of apartheid. If this is the case then the ANC, Mandela, the SACP, and entire liberation movement were puppets of US imperialist foreign policy. While he is at it, Zizek also says the same was done in the Philippines, post Marcos, in Indonesia, post Suharto, "and elsewhere." 

Now US foreign policy is indeed a formidable enemy of the people's of the world but the explanation for the problems of liberation movements in attaining their stated goals after the assumption of power can't simply be explained by saying they are victims of US foreign policy's elaborate "detailed strategy of how to exert damage control." In fact, as Wikileaks has shown, the people in charge of US foreign policy often don't know what they are doing, set in motion ridiculous plans, and often end making a mess out of whatever they had in mind to accomplish.

US foreign policy is by and large incompetent and its agents, diplomats, Congressmen and women, generals, cabinet members, and intelligence professionals can only foam at the mouth and yell "treason" when a young soldier, performing his duty to the Constitution of the the United States, Chelsea Manning, reveals some "secret" wires showing up the blunders and failures of the "professionals" in the state department and others and how they try to mislead the American people.  In any event,  Zizek says the big problem of the liberation movements is in finding a way to counteract US policies. As he puts it-- "how to move further from Mandela without becoming Mugabe." Perhaps a dialectical synthesis. Is  Zizek is waiting for Mangabe?

Finally, Zizek tells us what to do "to remain faithful to Mandela's legacy"-- a legacy he just told us was a failure and capitulation to imperialism. Zizek is just the philosopher of that kind of legacy. One he himself calls of "unfulfilled promises" and one that didn't "really disturb the global order of power."  We must forget the "celebratory crocodile tears" shed for Mandela and his leadership. I think that the people of South Africa and many of the dignitaries  (but not all) at his memorial and funeral would, and should be, outraged to be accused of faking their feelings for Mandela. We must instead concentrate on his failures. He ended his life as a "bitter old man" realizing his hero status "was the mask of a bitter defeat."  How does Zizek know this? He thinks, this is the type of philosopher he is, that "we can safely surmise" this to be the case because "of his doubtless moral and political greatness." What sense is there in saying there is political greatness in being a bitter old defeated man. Is the true founder of democratic South Africa then president F. W. de Klerk who is neither bitter nor considered a failure? Where is the moral greatness in bitterness?

The truth is that Mandela was a realist who made unavoidable compromises to free his people from apartheid, that he and his comrades in the ANC and SACP and the trade union movements forged a revolutionary struggle that toppled one of the most repressive political regimes in the world-- one backed by the post powerful imperialism in the world and its allies. This was not a failure to attain "socialism." Socialism cannot be imposed from above, it must be struggled for by working and oppressed people themselves and Mandela helped found the preconditions for that struggle.

The fact that the mighty of the world came to his memorial is testimony not that he failed "to disturb the global order of power" but that he profoundly shook it and they are eager to co-op his message and be identified with him because they know that all over the world at this very moment millions of oppressed people in both the centers of capitalist power and in the neocolonial fringes are beginning to rise up and demand their rights and that they have much to learn from the tactics of the South African liberation movement. Slavol Zizek's libels notwithstanding,  Nelson Mandela was a great revolutionary leader who freed his people from oppression and inspires masses  around  the world to fight for a better world-- he was the farthest it was possible to be from a "bitter old man."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Women, Fertility and the Rise of Modern Capitalism: Review



Women, Fertility and the Rise of Modern Capitalism: Review


Thomas Riggins

This is a review of the above named article by Alberto Alesina (Harvard Economics Department) which appeared in Science 25 October 2013. It is an interesting article, not least because it is illustrative of Marx's view that bourgeois economics ceased to be a science after the time of David Ricardo and became merely an exercise in apologetics for capitalism but also because it attempts to answer the question "How did the Black Plague change work and family opportunities for women" as relates to the rise of capitalism.

This is a short summary overview of the article in six sections:

1.  Income per capita (total economic output divided by total population) equals the wealth of a nation. The wealth increases only if the the output increases faster than the population. Historically the relation of output and the population was stable, resulting in social immobility. Two revolutions changed this. First, the "Malthusian" [?] revolution due to the Black Death]-- slowed down population growth. Second, the Industrial Revolution increased output. The first revolution was a precondition for the second because it allowed income to go above subsistence level creating a demand for goods and technology that "pulled away" from agriculture creating the conditions for the birth of modern capitalism. An important consequence of all this was the increase in the number of women in the work force. [This section puts forth the thesis of Alesina's article. Now we must see how he fleshes it out.]

2.  The author now states Malthus [1766-1834] made a great discovery--i.e., "population growth is continuously held in check by the resources available to sustain it"-- and this hinders social progress. Two observations here: 1) this common sense self-evident observation was hardly unique to Malthus and is not what he is famous for (which is the preposterous unscientific observation that food supply increases arithmetically and population geometrically); 2) a stable population does not of necessity prevent social progress. The article next informs us that Europe had  stable living standards until struck by the Black Death (bubonic plague) in 1348-1350 when a third of the population or more died. The result of the die off was a labor shortage and a surplus of land to be worked. This caused wages to go up, especially in agriculture,  and opened opportunities for women to work in the fields, giving them less time for child care, thus leading to a rise in the age of marriage and a lowering of the fertility rate and a slowing of future population growth. I am confused about the "rise of wages" because most agricultural workers in the 14th century were bound serfs not wage workers. Craftsmen did make more money and workers in towns and cities a well but the serfs benefited by being able to demand a greater share of the product rather than by "wages" per se, although in some areas a minority of paid agricultural workers did exist. In fact it was an attempt to suppress gains by the serfs and peasants that lead to the peasant wars which broke out after the plague years.

There is no reason to refer to this phenomenon as a "Malthusian" revolution.  In the first place four hundred years separate Malthus from the Black Death and in the second place Malthus is not really entitled to have anything named after him as he was not an original thinker and plagiarized all his major ideas fro earlier writers and put them in the service of the landowning class as opposed to the up and coming bourgeoisie of his day and the working people. Marx points out (Theories of Surplus Value, Vol.2) that Malthus got his ideas mostly from a little known writer on agriculture and economics, James Anderson (1739-1808). Marx wrote, "Malthus used the Andersonian  theory of rent to give his population law, for the first time, both an economic and a real (natural-historical) basis, while the nonsense about geometrical and arithmetical progression borrowed from earlier writers, was a purely imaginary hypothesis (chapter ix, sec. 1)."  Malthus never credited those authors from whom he copied his ideas. That he is still taken seriously by some modern economists is evidence of the ideological rather than scientific role of the
discipline under capitalism.

3. The article also points out that the need for child labor increased due to the shortage of agricultural labor and this implies an incentive for an increase in fertility-- counteracting the decrease in fertility implied by women working in the fields and thus unavailable for child care. Almost all the sentences used by the author to advance his ideas are qualified and speculative: e.g. higher wages "could have" effected fertility and "might have" increased fertility. These factors "may have played out" in different ways in different parts of Europe. A useful theory cannot be
based on "could have" and "may have" speculations. He now wants to ask "why"
wages and fertility "could have" been different in different parts of Europe-- particularly the difference between North Western and South Eastern Europe.

4. His answer is also speculative as he calls it "one possibility." That is,  the (non-existent) "Malthusian" revolution brought about income growth before the Industrial revolution. This is because after the Black Death  fertility in South Eastern Europe returned to pre-plague levels but increased "substantially" in North Western Europe. "Not surprisingly, this part of Europe led the spectacular rise of modern capitalism." The "Not surprisingly"  is begging the question. Growth in fertility was an important factor in the growth of capitalism. Evidence: there was a growth of fertility in North Western Europe and then there was the rise of capitalism. This is evidence of a correlation not a cause.

5. Regardless, the author thinks that the Black Death and the "Malthusian" revolution were only two factors in the rise of capitalism in North Western Europe. He says "one possibility" for another, and the tipping factor, was the Protestant Revolution.

6.  Regarding the Protestant Revolution-- i.e., the Reformation, the author, who mentions Max Weber, credits Lutheranism with introducing the ideas of an accumulation of human capital. The concept of "human capital" is not worked out. Capital accumulation (money for investment in commerce)  however, based on frugality and hard work by  individuals  which implies that one has been chosen as one of God's elect was a feature of Protestantism.  Actually this so called "Protestant Ethic" as a factor in the rise of capitalism was credited by Weber to the influence of Calvinism not Lutheranism (which he took a dim view of). The author suggests  that perhaps the influence of the Reformation on the development of capitalism was not due to the religious doctrine as such but due to the emphasis on economic growth that Protestantism developed. A strange suggestion since Weber's point was that the economic emphasis was a deduction from Calvinist religious principals. Calvinism was based on a doctrine of predestination and economic success was evidence (but not proof} that one was predestined to be one of the elect (who gets to Heaven)-- the more economically and socially successful one was the better the evidence of future salvation.

I must conclude that this article doesn't provide any evidence whatsoever for any of its major contentions. It doesn't even mention the role of the discovery of the New World and the wealth that flooded Europe as a result of the dispossession of the native populations, nor the enclosure movements by which peasants were dispossessed of the commons or driven off their land which was then developed as private property while the dispossessed were forced to become laborers working for others on the pain of imprisonment or death. The article is highly speculative and inspired by discredited  and unscientific notions of a nonexistent "Malthusian" revolution and leaves us as much in the dark after reading it as before as to the actual influence of women and their fertility on the rise of modern capitalism.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Living Wage or Wage Slavery?



Living Wage or Wage Slavery: de Blasio vs. Lhota on the Dignity of Labor

Thomas Riggins

The election for mayor of New York City is less that a month away and Bill de Blasio's lead in the polls appears insurmountable (about a 50 point lead), Joe Lhota's attempts to curry favor with New Yorkers by red baiting de Blasio's progressive activism has back fired on the Republican as the Democrat's favorable rating has increased since the initial attack.

Lhota has now taken a new tack-- to denounce de Blasio's plan to guarantee a living wage to New Yorkers who work at projects that are subsidized by the city. This proposal has aroused the ire of the business and real estate interests and Lhota has jumped on their bandwagon to denounce the living wage.

Let's be clear on what a living wage is. It is not a minimum wage. The minimum wage is set by law, in the U.S. and New York State it is $7.25 per hour. This is really a subsistence wage level and the basic needs of an individual human being cannot be met at this  level in the U.S. For comparison the minimum wage in Bangladesh is $0.38 per hour. US corporations and the international business community think this quite adequate for Bangladeshi workers to live on, just as Lhota and New York business elites think that $7.25 is good enough  for New Yorkers.

The living wage is supposed to meet the basic needs of a worker. These needs are food, housing, and clothing and should also provide for health care, transportation costs and gas and electric charges (and maybe some recreation)-- these needs vary from culture to culture. In New York City a living wage of $12.75 an hour would supposedly cover these needs according to a recent study by MIT. Actually, a living wage of at least $15.00 an hour is more realistic and is in fact what the fast food workers have been striking for and demanding from the fast food industry and should be a minimum for all workers.

Who is supposed to make up the difference of $7.75 between the legal minimum and the amount needed for the basics? This is what the "safety net" is for-- i.e., food stamps [SNAP], medicare, WIC and other state sponsored programs to keep the working poor from starving to death. The general tax revenues of the state provide the money to the working poor that business would have to provide in higher wages to ensure their workers would survive and be able to show up in the morning. This is about 5% of total federal government spending (individual state funding has been excluded). Contrast this with the almost 7.5% of the federal budget that went as direct subsidies and other forms of welfare to the American business community including some of the largest corporations such as Walmart and Exxon.

If the minimum wage were set at the living wage of $15.00 per hour (as demanded by the fast food workers) businesses would have to pay the difference from $7.25 with the FREE money they already get from the government leaving them with only about 2.5% unearned welfare to pocket as a gift from their admirers in Congress. Republicans should be very happy to vote for this measure as one of their heroes, Adam Smith, would have no doubt supported it since he wrote in, the capitalist Bible, The Wealth of Nations:

"Servants, labourers and workmen of different kinds, make up the far greater part of every great political society. But what improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconvenience to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged" (from Book 1 Chapter 8 "The Wages of Labour").

I don't think there are many who would accuse Adam Smith of being a "socialist."

The US is a member of the United Nations and so subject to Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of HUMAN RIGHTS which says:

"Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests."

So when Bill de Blasio puts forth the idea of a living wage for New York City he is only supporting the basic ideals of the UN regarding human rights based on the " recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family" as put forth in the preamble of the Declaration.

De Blasio is supporting a living wage of $11.75 per hour ( $3.25 lower than the $15.00 currently demanded) and this only for workers employed by those companies getting tax subsidies and/or other forms of welfare from the city. The City Council has already passed a $10.00 per hour fair wage for such workers-- over the veto of billionaire mayor Bloomberg (who won't ever have to worry about a living wage), so de Blasio wants to throw in another $1.75 (should be $5.00 I think).

Joe Lhota, the one per centers candidate, is opposed to any living wage increase for workers but favors big subsidies to private businesses-- such as Fresh Direct the grocery delivery company (as an incentive to stay in New York.) The Wall Street Journal ["Living-Wage Fight Seen With de Blasio"- 10-7-2013] quotes the Republican candidate as saying, about the living wage, "Bill and I really disagree about that. I think jobs are very important. I think we need to get as many people employed as possible. By putting a restriction on that how does anybody possibly win?"

The point of the living wage is, in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to ensure "an existence worthy of human dignity." The question to Joe Lhota and all his Republican and conservative buddies is "By putting a restriction on that how does anybody possibly win?"

If Joe Lhota is New York, New York is in trouble.

Marxism is Real Naturalism


Marxism is Real Naturalism: Galen Strawson and Panpsychism
Thomas Riggins

Sartre once remarked that the attempt to construct a philosophy that goes beyond Marxism simply recreates a pre-Marxist view that is no longer relevant to current understanding. In a recent issue of the London Review of Books (9-26-2013) I believe the philosopher Galen Strawson guilty of just such an attempt in his article "Real Naturalism."

Engels long ago pointed out that there are basically two trends in modern philosophy-- one which leads to idealism and myth making, and one which leads to materialism and the correct scientific approach to understanding the nature of reality. I hope to show in this article that Strawson (hereafter "GS") has taken the idealistic path.

GS states unequivocally the following: "I'm a naturalist, an out-and-out naturalist, a philosophical or metaphysical naturalist about concrete reality. I don't think anything supernatural or otherwise non-natural exists." We shall see. Reality has already been qualified by the adjective "concrete" which leaves open the possibility of some sort of "non-concrete" reality to play the role usually reserved for "spirit" or "mind" in idealistic philosophies. I want to be able to replace the term "naturalism" with the term "materialism" (which I defend) so I am a "materialist about reality" period.

We need to be clear about terms. I think naturalism is the same as materialism but some naturalists disagree. Some think that there are emergent qualities in the material world that lead to the transcendence of mere nature. I think they are mistaken and are dualists or idealists as regards reality and are naturalists in name only. All such emergent qualities are ultimately to be explained by basic constituents of a material nature.

Physicalism is also another name for materialism. This outlook originated with the Logical Positivists with respect to their materialist philosophy of mind. For the sake of clarity I will use the term "materialism" instead of either "naturalism" or "physicalism" (or sometimes "n-materialism" and "p-materialism" to be really clear) in order to avoid the obfuscation introduced into philosophy by the multiplication of useless terms. I hope I have not obfuscated here.

Now GS says that the non-natural can only be known in relation to the natural and everything natural is "anything that exists in space- time." Well, materialism also holds to this view and, since everything that exists does so in space-time, GS should simply say he is a materialist, adopt Marxism-Leninism as the most consistent materialism, and that would be that. Except that he thinks many people who call themselves n-materialists are not-- they are really false n-materialists, they are "noturalists." Which is just what I think GS himself is.

What upsets GS is his view that in the last fifty years or so so-called n-materialists have questioned the existence of conscious experience and nothing could be more self evident than that we have experiences. GS blames this lamentable state of affairs on the influence of Behaviorism which led most n-materialists to think that, since Behaviorism explained all human activity without recourse to concepts of consciousness and experience, it was unscientific to use such concepts. Even when they broke with Behaviorism as such they still denied the existence of "experience" because they did not think the concept compatible with the n-materialist view that everything was "physical."

These "false" n-materialists, in the view of GS, simply deny that matter can be conscious and since they don't believe anything else basically exists except matter it follows that there is no such thing as experience.  Now GS admits that many of them deny that they don't believe that matter can be conscious and so experience can be "physical," but he says they only make these claims by changing the meaning of "consciousness" so that "whatever they mean by it, it excludes what the term actually means."

GS now switches from speaking about n-materialism to p-materialism. There is no problem here because they are the same thing. We cannot reduce everything we hold to be explainable in terms of p-materialism to terms of physics. Physics right now is in flux and no one can state that they know exactly what the ultimate theory of reality will be, or if there will even ever be such a theory. According to GS, outside of certain quantitative structures revealed by mathematics and experimentally tested physics appears unable to "tell us anything about the intrinsic nature of reality."

GS wants us to doubt physics because he wants to create a p-n-materialist theory of the mind which will not be reducible to statements of physics. He exhorts us to think in terms of the views of Locke, Hume and Kant, as well as Eddington and Bertrand Russell to accept the "point that physics can't convey the nature of everything that exists-- even though everything is wholly physical." This appeal to the great thinkers of the past is unnecessary.

 I can't think of any materialist, unless he or she has completely lost his or her way, who would deny that the nature of certain things that exist-- appreciation of a work of art by a person for example-- is to be explained by physics even though the art work, the person's brain and the neural activity within it are  wholly physical. It is enough for materialism to point out that the nature of the appreciation which exists within the person would not exist without the physical (materialistic) prerequisites of the brain.

So I don't see a problem with the existence of "experiences" which GS wants to call his "starting point: outright realism  about experience, conscious experience." A new term has now been introduced: "realism." This too is, I think, just another term for "materialism"-- "r-materialism." I don't want to belabor the point, but while Marxists are content to use just one term, "materialism" tout court, our non-Marxist philosophical colleagues insist on using three different terms and usually eschew using such a crude old fashioned and discredited term as "materialism"-- not all of them but enough so that I need to use these distinctions I have made for purposes of clarification.

I agree with GS about the "terminological wreckage" that one finds in the philosophy of mind and so sympathize with him in wanting to get a clear understanding of what "experience" means. It is just the pre-philosophical notion that every one has, from childhood up, when they feel, hear, taste or see something that they are aware of. He takes the example of the taste of pineapple from Locke-- to taste pineapple is all you have to do to know what tasting a pineapple is like. That is a real experience, the experience of the taste of pineapple. Materialists would be wrong to think "they have any good reason to give an account of experience that is in any way deflationary or reductionist  relative to the ordinary pre-philosophical understanding of experience."

GS is surely right for any ordinary everyday conversations about experience, but a materialist, talking to another philosopher, would not be remiss in pointing out that the taste of a pineapple is a function of some type of brain activity without which there would be no experience of said taste. I think it rather obvious that "physical reality has experiential character only when organised in certain specific ways-- e.g., in the way in which it is organised in brains" [or proto-brains or some functionally equivalent organ or structure.] At this point in his essay this materialist position presented by GS need not, he tells us, be ruled out. But he is going to try to and rule it out later because he wants to defend the possibility of panpsychism! Let us see if he succeeds.

Now I agree with GS that experience really exists the way he says it does-- I have a real experience of the taste of pineapple and I do not question the existence of this conscious experience. But GS says that if that is the case then I must be "fully open to panpsychism." This is the view, according to the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, "that the physical world is pervasively psychical, sentient or conscious (understood as equivalent)."  Well, I am fully open to his argument (if he has one) but I don't think his argument will prove his case.

He begins to make his case by arguing that materialists who argue for the non-existence of experience are wrong, and since we all are aware of experience we have better reason to doubt the existence of non-experiential reality than of experiential reality. He says we know "some physical stuff" is experiential because of brain states and concludes that we have no reason not to conclude that "all physical stuff is in its fundamental nature wholly experiential in all conditions and in all respects all the way down." But not all materialists argue that experience doesn't exist. The fact that we experience external reality does not necessitate  the fundamental nature of external reality is "experiential" in the same sense that we experience it and call our awareness "experiential." This is the fallacy of equivocation.

GS, however, concludes that he has shown that panpsychism is the logical result of p-n-materialism. He calls it "pure" panpsychism " since "it goes beyond the version of panpsychism according to which all physical stuff has experiential being in addition to non-experiential being." He also claims that this version of panpsychism "leaves everything that is true in physics untouched."  Quite a claim since we don't know if everything that we think is true in physics is true.

GS admits he has not really made the case in his article for panpsychism. What he thinks he has done is to show that "there's no reason" to think that the world given to us by physics is fundamentally non-experiential rather than experiential. Since the world as we know it is our experience of it. "There is," he says, "zero observational evidence of any non-experiential concrete reality."

What does this mean? Because all our knowledge of the world is our awareness and experience of it therefore there is no evidence that it has an existence independent of experience. GS denies that this is what his position amounts to. But that is exactly what his position amounts to. He simply enunciates his position and says anyone who doesn't except his view is "not a real naturalist."

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see the problem with panpsychism. Physics is not the only science we have to deal with-- there is biology, geology, and paleontology just to name a few others. Science has pretty much shown that our cognitive abilities including consciousness and awareness and the abilities to experience the world we live in are functions of our nervous system and the evolution of our brains. A rock is not going to be "aware" of anything. There was a time when there was no life on earth and no experiences either. Everyone knows this story. Our observational understanding of the history of the universe makes the materialist (non-panpsychic) view the most compelling logical explanation of all the concrete facts we presently have at our disposal.

I think GS knows his position in both counter-intuitive and unscientific because he ends his essay by saying that he predicts "that no philosopher who disagrees will take any notice" of his "argument."  But a bunch of assertions is not an argument and he has already said that he was "not particularly disposed to make the case for panpsychism" in this article.

He quotes Hobbes to back up his prediction: "Arguments do seldom work on men of wit and learning, when they have once engaged themselves in a contrary opinion." If you don't accept GS position, well then, "You're not a serious, realistic naturalist." Perhaps GS should rather be thinking about Horace's observation "mutato nomine de te fabula narratur."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

John Gray, David Hawkes and the Myth of Progress by Thomas Riggins



John Gray is a British social philosopher who, in the words of David Hawkes, puts forward an "uncompromising challenge to the myth of progress." Hawkes (an English professor at Arizona State) has recently published an essay, "Backwards into the future" in the TLS (8-30-2013) which is a sympathetic presentation of Gray's views and a review of his latest book, "The Silence of Animals: On progress and other modern myths." What is Gray's challenge all about.

Gray's new book is an attack on "meliorism"-- which Hawkes explains as the view "that the moral and material condition of humanity will improve over time" and that its improvement is, in the long run, inevitable. Defined this way "meliorism" will be easy to attack. Conjoining "moral" and "material" conditions with "and" rather than "and/or" and adding "inevitability" suggests that meliorism is some form of utopian dream and indeed a myth.

But not all philosophers use this straw man definition of meliorism. Much more useful is the definition given, for example, in the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Meliorism "is the view that the world is neither completely good nor completely bad, and that incremental progress or regress depend on human actions." This view holds that "By creative intelligence and education we can improve the environment and social conditions."

Meliorism is the possibility that humans can make some progress towards improving the world but regress is also possible at times, and there is no guarantee of success since human actions cannot be predicted with inevitability. Under capitalism, for example, human actions are guided by competition and the profit motive and lead to socially destructive behaviors with respect to the environment and other people who are seen as objects to be manipulated for economic gain. Meliorism in such a system would not seem to have much chance of success in the long run, although in some parts of the world progress in scientific understanding and disease control can be discerned.

The Wikipedia article on "Meliorism" points out that this view is the basis on which the values of liberal democracy, human rights, and liberalism as a political philosophy are founded. I should also add that Marxism and other forms of socialism are likewise indebted to Meliorism but do not think the meliorist project can really get underway, or can get underway only with great difficulty, under capitalism or in under developed parts of the world where meliorist social projects, including socialism, are attempted in the face of capitalist hegemony.

Hawkes praises Gray for his "bold effort" to "exorcize" the "spectre of progress." This "spectre" presents itself in "the guises of Enlightenment rationalism, Romantic individualism, liberal humanism, nationalism, Marxism, and neo-liberal capitalism." Only the kitchen sink seems to be missing.

But I think Hawkes indulges in over kill. He attacks the uses to which science has been put in the last century and gives as negative examples the two world wars, the Holocaust and Hiroshima (all done under the aegis of capitalism). He says science is misused,perhaps, due to a defect in its methods and thinks "we may well ask whether such uses are not in some way inherent in the scientific method that enables them."

I don't know how many science courses English professors are required to take, but Gray's target is not progress in science but the claim that there has been moral progress. In a talk he gave at an RSA conference in Britain he stated that there has been progress in scientific understanding of the world from the time of Copernicus and he is not arguing against that, but he rejects claims of ethical and moral progress-- the United States, for example, has reverted to the use of torture a practice we had thought was extinct in advanced democracies and outlawed by all sorts of international agreements and conventions.

There is nothing "inherent" in scientific method, anymore than in mathematics, that leads to the Holocaust. The failure of morality that led to the Holocaust, or Hiroshima, or the Invasion of Iraq was not a failure of science. Science, as is mathematics, is neutral on moral questions and only seeks to describe how the world works in terms of natural processes. It is similar to the rules of chess: this is how the pieces move, etc. If you play chess poorly it is not the the fault of the rules.

Hawkes admits that Gray "never renounces belief in scientific truth" but still there are serious consequences resulting from an abandonment in belief in moral or ethical progress. The consequences Hawkes reports that Gray thinks follow from his rejection of moral progress are not "profoundly disturbing" as Hawkes maintains because they don't really follow at all. Gray thinks it is worse to lose "faith" in progress than to lose it with respect to "God, reason or even science," Hawkes writes.

We are told without the idea of progress we cannot see "meaning in life." But this is just not true. Humanity makes itself by its choices and gives meaning to life by the commitments it undertakes. Sartre pointed this out before Gray was even born when he said "Whenever a man chooses his purpose and his commitment in all clearness and in all sincerity, whatever that purpose may be, it is impossible for him to prefer another. It is true in the sense that we do not believe in progress. Progress implies amelioration; but man is always the same, facing a situation which is always changing, and choice remains always a choice in the situation. The moral problem has not changed since the time when it was a choice between slavery and anti-slavery." That there is no transcendental meaning to life does not mean there is no meaning tout court.

We also have to abandon the idea that "empirical appearances conceal substantial essences." This is nonsense. Discussions of empirical and substantial essences, or real and nominal essences, of Aristotle's views or Locke's for that matter are quite independent of one's theory about "progress" one way or another.

Nor is it responsible for our having to give up the belief of a "soul" within the body. Materialism is responsible for this view-- it goes back to Epicurus at least and is not dependent on Gray's views about the myth of progress. Ryle's The Concept of Mind, written when Gray was a toddler, deals with "the ghost in the machine" quite apart from notions of progress.

One can also reject the idea of progress independently of being either a neo-pragmatist or a postmodernist-- it does not commit one to rejecting the view that signs refer to external reality.

Finally we are informed, incorrectly, that not having faith in progress means we "view the world as a depthless simulacrum with no underlying significance." Wrong again. Not all cultures have produced philosophies based on the idea of progress. The Ancient Egyptians for one had no concept of progress in our Western sense yet they did not believe the world was a depthless simulacrum without significance.

Again, Sartre would maintain that we are responsible for creating our own significance in terms of the values we choose to live by. The world presented by science is the backdrop for our experiences and choices -- it up to us to provide the significance. None of the above five so called "profoundly disturbing"consequences of rejecting the idea of moral progress are logical consequences of such a rejection.

This very conclusion that I have articulated is the one Hawkes indicates is shared by Gray himself. Hawkes writes that one of the conclusions of The Silence of Animals is: "The world can only have meaning conferred on it, or be deprived of it, by human beings." But this conclusion does NOT logically follow from Gray's thinking. He thinks we have arrived at this conclusion not because the world has changed but because the mind-- i.e., "the twenty-first century mind" has changed. But this conclusion would be consistent with the views of mid twentieth century thinkers such as Sartre, among others so no new and startling "development in human history" is responsible.

Marxists would say that the dominant ideas in a culture are a reflection in the ideological super structure of the social reality that the culture has created around its basic interaction with the natural world it finds itself in and especially with respect to its mode of extracting food and sustenance in order to sustain the living human beings that comprise it.

And while the scientific world view would question the idea of "eternal verities" with respect to the development of ethical and moral systems, if Gray's views are correct about the world's meaning, or lack of it, being dependent on human beings then-- the very idea he rejects-- that it is "not the discovery of an eternal verity about the world" (as Hawkes puts it) is incorrect. The only way it could be true that the "meaning of the world" is put there by the human mind is the fact that the world in and of itself has no transcendent meaning of its own-- it never did and presumably never will-- it is just atoms and the void-- and this is certainly an eternal verity about the world and a necessary condition for Gray's views to even make whatever sense they do make.

Hawkes questions whether Gray is correct in apparently thinking that life, even for people who think it has meaning, is still meaningless. Gray writes, "symbols are useful tools; but humans have an inveterate tendency to think and act as if the world they have made from those symbols actually exists."

Hawkes, however, asks if this is really an "inveterate tendency" rather than [as Marxism suggests] the result of historical conditioning. We might think the word "fire" is a symbol for the speedy exothermic oxidation of combustive substances resulting in heat and light and we would not, I think, be wrong to hold that what the symbol represents "actually exists." However, we might not have the same opinion as the ancient Greeks about "Zeus." It is the job of science, and philosophy, to try and hook up the proper symbolism with the actually existing world.

We can pass over the next section of Hawkes essay where he discusses the problems of symbolism and signs as elaborated by Gray in an earlier work-- FALSE DAWN ( 1998; 2nd edition, 2009). Here the discussion revolves around Gray's use of economic examples to illustrate his theories and Hawkes seems to take Gray seriously when he does so. The problem is that Gray's economic views (and Hawkes remarks about them) appear nonsensical. I base this not only trying to parse this discussion but also on Paul Krugman's review of the second edition of FALSE DAWN. Krugman, who has a Nobel in economics, thinks that Gray's writings on the subject are the "garbled" views of an "ignoramus." Krugman, however, writes that Gray didn't need to show himself "to be an economic ignoramus, when his core argument does not really depend on economics anyway." [ False Dawn : The Delusions of Global Capitalism (book review, New Statesman)] Let us return to the "myth" of progress and the "core argument" and leave the dismal science to Krugman and his confrères.

Hawkes next deals with a contradiction in Gray's position (not necessarily a bad thing.) Progress may be a myth, but "modernization inexorably occurs" [the spectre of progress under another name] Hawkes writes. We may claim not to find any meaning in history but history and change still go on. If the myth of progress is overcome and our understanding of the world is no longer perverted by it-- is this not progress? Hawkes, I fear, may be a victim of dispirited English department post modernism when he writes, "If the Western intelligentsia no longer acknowledges any significance to life, that does not mean that we have discovered a timeless truth that had been hidden from Aristotle, Plato and the prophets of monotheism. It means that we can no longer see meaning where others once did."

Well, I don't think Hawkes speaks for the whole "Western intelligentsia." As far as finding significance in history is concerned the "Western intelligentsia" would do well to ponder the following admonition from Hegel with regard to any scientific study and that is the categories we use to find significance or meaning in the world are the ones we ourselves bring with us and a thinker "sees the phenomena presented to his mental vision exclusively through these media." From which he concludes that to a person "who looks upon the world rationally, the world in its turn , presents a rational aspect."

And what do we find when we look at the world rationally-- i.e., scientifically. We don't find the world according to Plato or Aristotle or the prophets of monotheism. We find a universe about 13.788±037 billion years old, we know life on one planet (so far), Earth, which is about 4.6 billion years old and it seems has had life for the last 3.6 billion years and for the last 200,000 years, anatomically modern humans. Our species resulted non-providentially by a process of evolution by natural selection. So here we are and we have to make the most of it.

Do we see any significance or meaning in the history of our species. Hawkes seems to agree with Gray that it is irrational to believe in (moral and ethical) progress-- he is very unimpressed by the twentieth century-- but, he says, that doesn't mean there is no meaning in history.

Hawkes proposes that the meaning of history is not progress but anti-progress-- i.e., not ascent but decline. "History is not progress but regress, not advance but decline,and it leads to destruction rather than to utopia." Gray would think this just as ridiculous as progress because for him the basic reality is that the animal man is an unchanging essence. In his book Straw Dogs he writes "Humanism can mean many things, but for us it means belief in progress. To believe in progress is to believe that, by using the new powers given us by growing scientific knowledge, humans can free themselves from the limits that frame the lives of other animals. This is the hope of nearly everybody nowadays, but it is groundless. For though human knowledge will very likely continue to grow and with it human power, the human animal will stay the same: a highly inventive species that is also one of the most predatory and destructive."

Hawkes writes that "Belief in historical regression is a far more challenging proposition than Gray's assertion of insignificance." It is challenging because it is ridiculous. What is history regressing from-- Atlantis? Ancient Egypt? the Stone Age? At least Gray's warmed over Schopenhauerian pessimism makes some sense where regress doesn't.

Hawkes also seems to miss the point about the difference between moral progress and scientific progress. A world without polio or smallpox is a great scientific advancement and shows that we can make progress in disease control and understanding nature. If there are areas where polio still breaks out, mostly in the underdeveloped world, it is a moral crisis not a scientific one. If capitalists demand money and profit for medicines it is a moral crisis not a scientific one.

When Hawkes writes, "It is relatively easy to admit that what we have seen as scientific advancement and economic enrichment are meaningless" he is missing the whole point of what science is all about. It is not meaningless to to fight against malaria, yellow fever and other infectious diseases. Pasteur was not engaged in a meaningless exercise when he discovered how to prevent rabies, nor was Koch when he discovered the cause of tuberculosis.

Hawkes ends his essay by remarking that we may soon have to consider the fact that scientific advance and economic enrichment (two inherently different activities indiscriminately lumped together) are "actively evil and destructive." This is like calling cooking evil because some people over eat and get sick. Did cooking make them sick?

I will give the last word to Bertrand Russell who sums up all that anyone will get out Hawkes' essay or Gray's books as far as positive knowledge is concerned. "Change is one thing, progress is another. 'Change' is scientific, 'progress' is ethical; change is indubitable, where as progress is a matter of controversy" (Unpopular Essays, 1951).