May 192019
 

You might be wondering how come a person who pretends to care passionately about human rights (in every which interpretation) hardly ever refers to the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya from Myanmar.

Very simple: I have no first-hand knowledge of the past and ongoing crimes apparently committed not only by the army and government but even by the majority population in Myanmar. I only know about it through the media.

Now the US emperor appears to hold a grudge against “the media”. However there are others, too, who distrust the media, and with good reason, if I may say so. Many of us also distrust the pharmaceutical industry, politicians, doctors, wolves, etc., again with good reason. The media and the pharmaceutical industry will engage in pretty shady practices to boost profits and satisfy share holders, and more often than not, their ruses will not be exposed. Of course, if a pharmaceutical company fails to alleviate or cure medical ills, as evidenced by statistical breakdowns, it will loose its share holders anyway. Doctors are not always as conscientious or skilled as they should be and, finally, wolves occasionally manage to kill a dog or four or even a human every few hundred years. I’ll get back to the politicians later.

But first, I would like to make a few points:

  • Without the media, we would not only have been confused, but blind kittens awash in a sea of conflicting events.
  • The pharmaceutical industry and doctors have contributed to a dramatic lengthening of our life expectancy.
  • Wolves keep the deer population within reasonable limits (just as foxes limit the rabbit population) and deer, whereas pretty to look at, nourish the ticks that infect thousands and thousands of people every year with Lyme and other serious diseases.

Yes, we are often misinformed. Yes, some media are so self-serving that they can destabilise nations, not least if their audiences lack certain necessary tools – the kind of tools delivered by decent educational systems – to assess information. There are, moreover, tens of thousands of hard-working journalists dedicated to learning and presenting what is truthful and exact. Many of them are up against serious obstacles, even oppression. Some even risk or even lose their lives. We need them! We need to defend them!

Normally, what little I write here, is about matters of which I have first-hand knowledge. First-hand knowledge may stem from various sources. Once in my youth, when I was to go on in-house duty for three consecutive weeks, I first went to the library and borrowed a large stack of books about Armenian history. I read them all, taking meticulous notes. The other day, I found the old notes and was touched by my devotion to the topic. This I did, not for school nor for work, but because I was truly interested. I cannot remember why. What I remember is only my keen interest in the topic. There are countless other people out there who want to understand and who desperately want to learn.

I do have first-hand knowledge about Palestine, for reasons I will not go into. Likewise I have first-hand knowledge about dictatorships in Latin America and in Spain. I have lived in several countries and have seen more than has been good for me. But I have not lived in Asia or Oceaniea, and I need the media. I desperately need the media. I often check what I read against other outlets, and of course, like others, I distrust some more than others, depending, of course on the issue.

One source I have been particularly fond of is “The Listening Post” on Al Jazeera . It discusses various news outlets’ take on hot topics. Take Narendra Modi’s BJP in the recent Indian elections:

Now that is a text-book example of a successful marriage between self-serving media and dishonest politicians. I know very little about India, but listening to the podcast from the Listening Post, I get the impression that in the so-called Western countries, we would do well to study the nuts and bolts of what is often referred to as the world’s largest democracy. We might learn something about ourselves.

By the way, Merriam Webster’s definition of “democracy” does not mention the role of the market, of media outlets owned by oligarchs, of powerful investor interests, of phenomena such as Breitbart and Fox News. What is Democracy, I ask you?

Mar 292018
 

After two world wars, Europeans had had enough of wars, and so we saw the slow but inexorable development of the EC, which has evolved into the EU.

Now, it is true that many considered this multinational organisation a bureaucratic and undemocratic mastodon, and for many years the Scandinavian countries, for instance, refused to join, with good reason, you might say. There are certainly grounds for maintaining that joining the EU weakens national sovereignty, and there is undoubtedly the matter of the “democratic deficit”.

On the other hand, where is there no “democratic deficit”? Personally, I’m not really sure what “democracy” means, in spite of all we can read about the topic in various sources. Forget about the ancient Greeks, for a moment, though the concept is said to stem from them; in Athens only a small proportion of males, i.e. landowners, were “eligible” to vote, as it were. So Athens doesn’t really count as a model.

In modern-day western societies, we see more or less fascist movements gaining ground through fair elections. We also see elections that are not blatantly unfair but dubious. I won’t detail what I mean by dubious – each country has its own turgid electoral issues with or without the involvement of the Russians, fake-news factories, abused Facebook data etc. Be all that as it may, we are left with a lot of question marks regarding even so called “fair elections”.

Regardless of our doubts, however, most of us in the west still agree that we value certain standards of law. We need to trust that our courts and law enforcement are politically, financially and personally impartial and just. Most of us also firmly adhere to the importance of civil liberties.

So where does that leave us?

I knew a man who used to say, “nowhere in the Bible have I found any statement to the effect that parents must love their children”. I believe him. He had actually read the Bible many times. The Bible only commands us to love and obey our parents, and that’s it.

I find a parallel in our faith in “democracy”: We believe in it as though it were the Bible, but nobody requires us to vote for what is best for the country, for society or for humankind. All a voter needs to do is to vote for whoever will best serve his or her personal interests. Now.

Right. And now we have a situation of impeding serious climate change. Left to choose between a policy that will impose inter alia serious restrictions on personal travel and make a dent on our personal finances, or, on the other hand, business as usual, what do you and I choose?

And we have a situation in which parts of the world population are destitute, desperate and/or even angry. Do we choose to leave them to their own devices, put them into concentration camps, or even exterminate them? Or do we consider a different order?

Finally, we have a situation in most western countries where a growing proportion are growing poorer by the year, where the welfare state is crumbling and where young women are increasingly reluctant to bear children for fear of what the future may bring. It is very tempting to blame “the others”, i.e. China, Russia, the immigrants, and all the oddballs that make a society colourful. Are there any other sources of concern?

The EU may be a bureaucratic mastodon, but from my perspective, the EU is a relatively civilising force in Europe at the moment. Not that I trust the EU. The EU was from its inception, and still is, a fundamentally capitalist animal. But so far, no successful alternative to capitalism has been devised. (Russia and China are, after all, as capitalist as the rest of us.) The EU aims, at least, to resist individual countries’ and companies’ attempts to undermine the rule of law, and to defend civil liberties. The EU even defends, to a certain extent, its members’ welfare state. And the EU realises, unlike most of us, that in the end, we will all be the losers of climate change.

There is no punch line here, except that if you are itching for a new war, you may not be disappointed. I only hope that the majority of Europeans take to their senses. Soon.

 

Jul 052013
 

Of course I cannot be silent about an issue that seems to have jolted the planet. I will not be silent even though the matter has had its fair share of press coverage – and thank goodness for that! I want to join the chorus of angrily clamouring voices from all over the globe, although I must add that Snowden’s revelations came as no surprise to me. Not that I accept what Obama would have us believe: that everybody does it.

If you lived right across the street from a couple who make heady love every night without drawing their curtains, would you watch? Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn’t. I am prepared to concede that many people would indeed watch, but they would not like others to know they were doing so. They would draw their own curtains, so that nobody could see them peeping. On the other hand, if you happened to know that the couple across the street were making heady love behind thick, drawn curtains, and you happened to know that they had a laptop in that same room, would you use a computer program you knew about that could turn on the webcam of that laptop?

There are applications that can do that, and there are people who use them. We call such programs malware, and we call the people who use them criminals. Most of us are not criminals.

I was not surprised because in my mind, USA has had an inglorious history since WWII, a history that would have been impossible unless the powers that be were prepared to break every rule in the book. I won’t go into that, since it would require the writing of a very long text, and such texts already exist, many of them admittedly published in the United States, which means that opposition has not yet altogether been silenced even in that country. Thank goodness for that, too. There is still a long way from USA to North Korea! But a lot of legislation has been put in place since 9/11 that demands considerable courage from citizens who want to speak up.

Fear appears to be woven into the fabric of the US constitution, if the firearms debate is anything to go by.

Many commentators maintain that fear is what has persuaded the nation’s population to allow its democratically elected governments to systematically commit crimes against humanity, to disregard international treaties, and to dismantle transparency.

They must have been afraid from the very outset. Afraid of the “reds”, of course, whose human rights the entire “white” world was not at the time ready to embrace. The US had every reason to be afraid of the colonial power that continued to bully them even after the country had won its independence (War of 1812). Many of the settlers were Calvinists fleeing from religious persecution and thus doubly afraid: born and bred to be afraid of God and the powers that be. There were and there are, still, a lot of preachers. To this day, politicians speak like preachers, oratorically.

They were afraid not so much of Sin as of God’s wrath that punishes not only he/she who sins but the entire community that allows Sin to persist (Sodom and Gomorrah). In this fear, Calvinists were joined by Catholics and Jews. Needless to say, everybody dreaded poverty even more than the Black Death. Nowadays, they are terrified of crime, of hurricanes, of genetically modified foodstuffs, of serial killers, insanity, communists, immigrants, terrorists, Sin and the State, and this is just the top of the list.

Fear is not encoded in their genetic make-up, but the rhetoric of fear has been adroitly nurtured decade after decade, war after war, crisis after crisis, by the people they elected.

Today, the embattled country has every reason to be afraid. Having alienated their allies by supporting ruthless dictators, by refusing to endorse (referring to their right to defend their interests) inter alia the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol, by demanding support for wars most of their allies found nearly impossible to justify to their own populations, they now face a far more formidable foe than they have ever known. “Terrorism” is the elastic term they have coined for this foe. Their definition of the word seems to encompass quite a range of activities, depending on the stakes, just as their definition of “communist”, a word that was used to justify so much injustice a few decades back, was adroitly adapted to fit every context. To this day, many frightened US nationals refer to my peaceful and eminently democratic country as “communist”.

Few of the articles I have read about Edward Snowden vs USA dispute that USA has a case against Snowden. However, most grant Snowden the moral high ground, to say the very least. To quote El País of 7 July  (my translation):

The general public and politicians in the UK and USA may never be willing to comprehend fully the magnitude of the torrent of revelations about the intervention of communication all over the world from the fugitive former spy Edward Snowden. For the rest of the world, however, especially for Europe, this is a transcendental moment….Political leaders in Europe will need to ask themselves a whole series of questions. Since when are human rights no longer universal?

Of all the presidents of USA we have known since Kennedy, Obama appears to be the most intelligent. He may yet be able to convince us all that “everybody does it”, not least as it now appears to have been established that the UK is no better. If so, we will all be much the worse off. We will all lose faith in our governments, in “democracy”, in transparency and in everything else that we have believed in and hoped for these past 150 years. I can only hope that the loser of this international moral battle will be USA, and that the rest of us will regain some faith in democracy. In the very long run, this would benefit also USA.

Allow me to add as my purely personal opinion: USA has clearly demonstrated that its agenda is not, repeat not, peace, justice and the welfare of the greatest possible number of its inhabitants. BUT is there any great power that honestly pursues such lofty objectives? I put it to you that we all have a long way to go to attain real democracy.