Sep 232022
 

Those of us who can still bear to read, watch or listen to the news do so at our own risk. The emotional cost of learning, day after day, that just about everything is going from bad to even worse is high. This morning, I learnt that ten per cent of all Norwegians use sleeping pills. I hasten to add that Norwegians are health freaks (they jog, ski, exercise in gyms, eat sensibly and don’t drink alcoholic beverages on weekdays). The real intake of sleeping pills is probably much higher since many people buy prescription drugs in countries that are less restrictive. Add to that all the people who have several glasses of wine before they go to bed – a new trend in Norway.

“The News”, as we used to call it back in our days of innocence, when grown-ups would gather around the radio to hear what was going on in the world, was implicitly trusted. It was, we were told, fact, not conjecture, hence not biased.

For my part, I make a point of regularly reading/watching/listening to Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera caters to people with business interests, but is not Euro-/US-centric. Also, they run very interesting debates to which they invite people of all ideological shades. Nevertheless, I was very surprised to see, among the list of Al Jazeera headlines on my phone app: “Degrowth is not austerity – it is actually just the opposite”.

Mind you, this turned out to be only an “opinion” piece (which I read jubilantly). Still, it had been given a prominent place, and that was truly good news. Maybe parts of the business world are starting to understand a thing or two.

Now, have you heard about “degrowth”? You probably wouldn’t have if you rely only on mainstream news outlets, where degrowth is considered a four-letter word. To the extent it is uttered, it is perfunctorily slated, because degrowth would mean the end of … – well, a lot of things. It would, however, save the planet and save those of us (including other species) who are still around. Most of us would even fare very much better than we do today, said the opinion piece.

Cheered by finding it in Al Jazeera, I decided to give degrowth another chance. (I had previously dismissed it as being wishful thinking: Those greedy fools who own most of the world would never allow it, I thought.) So I bought a book that has swept me off my feet. I recommend it to you with all my heart. It will make you feel that maybe there is hope after all. Don’t be frightened by the fact that the preface is written by members of Extinction Rebellion. The author is called Jason Hickel – he must be the smartest guy in town – any town. I say no more.

The book is called:

LESS IS MORE 
HOW DEGROWTH WILL SAVE THE WORLD

Enjoy, and have a much better day!

Sep 112022
 

The problem – one of the problems – is that nobody quite knows how to solve this mess. On the one hand the European sanctions against Russia are bringing Europe to its knees. On the other hand, the entire world is completely unprepared for the meteorological disasters that are thrashing country after country in spite of serious warnings over a period of 40 years.

The powers that be – i.e. politicians of all colours, mainstream economists, financiers and major corporations have betrayed the rest of us. Social media and the press – from which public opinion takes its cue – have failed disastrously. The USA wants to pulverise Julian Assange for allegedly damaging US interests; but what about all the individuals and institutions who have effectively fanned global climate collapse?

Now, those of us who can still bear to read the news finally understand, and we want to contribute our bit, but how? By refraining from eating meat? Will that solve anything? Obviously, Liz Truss does not know. Nor does the Labour Party, I’m afraid, in the UK or anywhere else. All the leading political parties have swallowed the neo-liberal bullshit. (I refuse to apologise for using a word that is accurate.)

They have all put their faith in technology, commodification, an unfettered free market and – in the case of Europe, the EU. I will not deny EU achievements, such as a more than welcome rise in living standards in the poorest EU countries. On the other hand, the EU is a technocracy that arguably suffers from a Democratic deficit.

The EU is at war. The EU is fighting for the USA, for NATO, and we will all go down together, as Billy Joel sang with reference to the Vietnam war.

The Democratic deficit has become all the more glaring now that we see that we are headed for a very bad place. Europeans feel like cattle on the way to the slaughterhouse. Voting for somebody else will just get us more “business as usual”.

For example: Yes, we must cease to squander water and electricity, but does that warrant colossal price hikes on water and electricity? Wouldn’t rationing be a preferable option? I’m sure Liz Truss and her ilk can afford the price hikes. But for the majority of Europeans, it would be better to limit water and energy usage to a few hours a day than to turn us into street beggars.

All the other tremendous “climate” questions are elephants on the rampage. There are lots of people with lots and lots of expertise and knowledge, but they are not – it seems – asked, and far less heard. There are even economists who dispute the neo-liberal narrative (e.g. Thomas Piketty). The issues, ideas, suggestions are all there, hanging in the air, but they are not aired, not explained, not properly discussed. In short, we’ve been had. Unless we take matters into our own hands, we will all – Europeans, Africans, Americans and Asians – go down together, victims of cyclones, fires, food shortages, droughts, floods and – not least – poverty.

We look after ourselves and our families, assuming that governments look after society and the planet. It should be clear for all to see, at last, that they do no such thing. Governments look after themselves too. The system, in short, is not working.

Something entirely different is called for.

Jul 312022
 

The title of this post is long, but I shall make up for that with a body text that is commensurately brief.

I put to you that almost all human beings

want:

  • enough to eat three times a day
  • a bed to sleep in (without bedbugs)

do not want:

  • to fear for their children
  • to fear being assaulted when they sleep

I could make both lists very much longer, but I am sticking to the most basic of basics, because even at this most basic of basic levels, we – that is, almost all human beings – are heading in the wrong direction. Those who never had enough to eat, will be eating even less. Those whose only fear for their children was that they might get hooked on drugs or that the girls might get raped will now have far greater worries.

War games may be fun on computers, but they are not fun in real life. Climate change is not even fun on computers, and it is devastating for farmers, for the victims of hurricanes, floods and fires, for domestic and wild animals, even for whales and surfers. Climate change is or will be – in the shorter rather than the long run – hell on earth. You may or may not believe me – or rather, you might as well, because … Climate change is not linear, it is ex-po-nen-tial.

The global Earth Overshoot Day fell on 28 July this year.

What are we doing about it? What are the people to whom we entrusted the responsibility of leading our countries doing about it? They are militarising. Against each other (i.e. not against climate change).

I promised to make this brief, and I intend to keep my promise, because there are people who know far more about militarisation than I do.

I urge you to take a look at this site: https://nocoldwar.org

Jul 112022
 

During the seventies, feminists maintained that if women had power, there would be no wars. Women, feminists claimed, know that food on the table is more important than guns. After all, we can’t eat corpses. Back then, of course, many women spent most of their lives cooking, cleaning and looking after children. But now, with so many women in power – women who never even have to boil a potato and who delegate the care of their children to underpaid strangers – it would seem that women are no better.

Mind you, I’m all for women’s equal rights. Unequivocally so! It’s just that – well, women are no better, that’s all. Look at von der Leyen and Nancy Pelosi, hawks of the first order. Nancy Pelosi, for one, should know that the greatest threats to USA are not the Chinese nor the Russians, but domestic problems. Serious domestic problems. She knows! But she is bluffing, hoping to keep the Democratic Party morale up against all odds.

Domestic problems, yes, and the global climate crisis, which is still just nibbling away at the edges of human existence, not least in the continent we all initially came from, Africa; but it will come roaring over us, all of us, including the Chinese and the Russians unless we get our acts together. We’ve had foretastes in the shape of forest fires, floods, droughts, hurricanes, cyclones, mass migrations, power outages… – but in the end, we’ll know all of the above and more, at once and everywhere. You don’t believe me? Not my problem, really, because I’ll be gone soon, and I’m not religious, so if the human species doesn’t survive, that won’t bother me much. I will point out, however, in case you have forgotten, that even today, long after Freud, denialism is still considered a serious obstacle to rational problem solving.

To be frank, it is my problem, too, because I really hate seeing people suffer. Also in the US, people are suffering and have been suffering for decades. Decades! And your politicians haven’t done a thing about it, too busy defending the neoliberal economic order and, more recently, too obsessed with the idea of recovering the country’s irreversibly lost hegemony. The Biden administration’s proposed fiscal budget for 2023 includes spending USD 813 BILLION on “defence and national security”, but apparently both houses of Congress will demand to spend more (yes, more not less!). USD 813 billion is more than was spent on “defence and national security” during any year of the Korean and Vietnam wars, and more than what is spent by China and Russia and the 7 next top military spenders combined.

More than half of what US Americans paid to the military last year, about $2,000 per taxpayer, according to an analysis by the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies…..will have gone to giant weapons contractors like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, along with thousands of smaller arms-making firms.

People in Europe are also suffering now, and will suffer more because of this stupid war of attrition against Russia. And of course Ukraine is suffering terribly, having been tricked into waging a war it cannot win. Mind you, Russia is not – repeat NOT – suffering. The sanctions on Russian gas and fertilisers and wheat, etc. are bringing Europe (but not Russia) to its knees. That will not – repeat NOT – benefit USA, because who will buy products from the US when Europe’s purchasing power has been reduced to pennies? There will still be Australians, of course.

USA has its holier than the Bible+Talmud+Koran so-called constitutional amendments. The defence of these “amendments” is reminiscent of religious fundamentalists’ vindication of “laws” imposed many centuries ago, laws that might have made sense at the time when they were adopted, but that are completely out-of-time and out-of-place today, in short downright nefarious.

Guns! Good heavens, how ludicrous! How pathetic! Above all, how sick! Frankly I prefer an honest hurricane, which at least reminds survivors that we – women and men – are not omnipotent.

Nov 272021
 

Where were we?
Oh , yes:

   pandemics;
   rising inequality;
   and of course the pending implosion of basically all systems, due to climate change.

Is there any point in writing? Is there any point of signing petitions which governments don’t even bother to read, of joining protest marches that attract little notice unless they are brutally castigated by riot police. Is there any point of even discussing these issues?

Over the past decade, Greta Thunberg, Thomas Piketty, and Yuval Noah Harari have all been saying – each in his or her way – Stop the runaway train! They are no doubt still saying it and many, many others with them. Yet, all we hear from the powers-that-be is, as Greta Thunberg points out: bla-bla-bla.

Many of the passengers on the runaway train are bent over their mobile phones or tablets, some are chatting quietly, some are gazing out the window, a few are reading a book or a printout of a report or academic paper. In one of the wagons where a group of 6 are singing Christmas carols, a man has managed to fall asleep in a corner. Night has fallen outside, and the train careens on.

But not all is lost. Tireless efforts by millions of dedicated scientists all over the world have yielded results. Most of the deleterious processes undermining climate as we know it have been identified. By the same token, researchers have found out how these processes can be halted, even stopped. Yes, it can be done!

There is only one overwhelming obstacle: “the matter of money”.

Not that there isn’t enough “money”. Far from it. Somebody said the other day, “it only takes 2 % of all countries’ national product” – that’s not much, really, not when so much is at stake.

What is so utterly unresolved, however, is “whose money?”

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Skibbereen_by_James_Mahony,_1847.JPG

Alas, there is much callousness about! Take for instance the British authorities’ reluctance to provide relief to its own citizens during the great famine in 1845-52. (One million died, and more than 2 million fled.) Was there an element of ethnic cleansing involved (after all, the victims were Irish, Catholic and poor) or was this disaster only a matter of “who pays?” At any rate, Great Britain was the richest nation on earth, and the authorities knew exactly what was happening.

Spain during the 16th and 17th centuries, when neither the nobility nor the clergy paid any tax, was a different matter. The Spanish crown, nobility and Church desperately needed funds to pay for endless wars and unimaginable profligacy (“noblesse oblige”). For a while, the Crown had access to silver and gold, robbed from Latin America, but over time, Spanish decadence was basically paid for by the peasants, who had the nasty habit of dying of starvation and exhaustion. There was no industry, few if any bustling towns with wealthy, tax-paying burgers, and hardly any agriculture to speak of. Spain was an extremely backward country.

Why? Because of what we would nowadays refer to as an “attitude problem” or, more precisely, because of ideology. Finally, in the 18th century, “the enlightenment” started seeping in, eroding cracks in the pernicious ideology that enveloped Spanish society, and Spain slowly started picking itself up out of the gutter.

Mind you, there was plenty of resistance to the progressive reforms advocated by adherents of “enlightenment”. Neither the clergy, nor the nobility wanted to relinquish privileges and – this is key – the destitute peasants weren’t impressed either; the reforms sounded outlandish and would not immediately benefit them. Spain remained a backward country until after the death of its last dictator, Franco.

Ideological sea-changes tend to be painful. There will be unpleasant discussions between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, teachers and students. Besides, not all so-called “progressive” ideas are good ideas even if rioters are willing to die for them.

In many countries, we see a traditional “right wing”, a traditional “left wing” and a so-called “centre”. And then we have what the press calls “extreme right” and “extreme left”, both of which are condescendingly referred to as “populist”. The majority of voters want to play safe, so they tend to prefer “centrist” parties. In recent years, however, growing income and wealth inequality and anxiety about the future (immigration, crime, and climate change) has driven growing segments of many populations to lose faith in Democracy, to vote for fascist leaders, and to demand “tough action”. (We are now seeing a neo-fascist taking the lead in Chile, after the first round of elections. Interestingly, an Italian newspaper has seen the writing on the wall for Chile and has published an excellent analysis of Antonio Kast’s style.)

Whether a government is headed by traditional parties, fascists or “populists”, most countries are in the throws of ideological, economic and political petrification. There is an unwillingness to acknowledge that a free market has not and will not solve the issues of immigration pressure, crime and climate change. The free market has, inst exacerbated the problem of growing income and wealth inequality, i.e. the divide between rich and poor countries (hence the growing flow of desperate migrants) and between the haves and have-nots in each country (hence crime and civil disorder).

Moreover, no country that I know of has started adapting to a very simple little fact:

Continued economic growth is simply not sustainable. There is absolutely no doubt about this, like it or not. I repeat: Continued economic growth is not and never will be sustainable.

We need to find other ways of doing business. There are lots of ideas out there, alternative economic models, elephants we fail to bring into the runaway train. They are tied up outside the train stations, in the freezing cold. There is no doubt in my mind that something will have to give, sooner or later. We are at a sea change. In comparison, the advent of the Pill and the Personal Computer will have been small change. So bring in the elephants!


		
Aug 112021
 

If Trump said that, it must be wrong, right? Wrong. (Alas, when will we learn that even our enemies may occasionally have a point?)

Even the New York Times, even the Washington Post and even the Guardian and Le Monde need sponsors, sponsors with large purses, very large purses, people like Jeff Bezos. I bet Jeff Bezos is a Washington Post sponsor…

Hold on! The Washington Post is actually OWNED by Jeff Bezos, you know the guy behind Amazon (a company where employees are afraid they’ll get sacked if they have to go to the loo). Put it this way: Jeff Bezos would not be someone I would like to work for. I would not vote for him in any political context. I would not want my children to have anything to do with him or his offspring or his companies. You see, my theory is: Tell me what company you own and/or run, and I will tell you who you are.

So do I trust the Washington Post?

Jeff Bezos took a little ride into space the other day. Good for him. It must have been fun. I don’t like the way he makes his money (by treating employees like machines), but I don’t care how he spends his leisure time. What I do resent, however, is that according to Aljazeera’s Listening Post, the CBS Morning News Show devoted no less than 212 minutes to Jeff Bezos after his space jaunt, “almost as much” as the show had devoted to climate change over the entire past year. (So I certainly don’t trust CBS.)

Now, do I trust Aljazeera? Of course not. Aljazeera, too, is owned by somebody, the King of Qatar, I gather. Working conditions are no better in Qatar than at Amazon (possibly no worse either). My point being: Aljazeera and the Washington Post are both news outlets that pride themselves on delivering top-of-the-shelf, intrepid journalism. They are very important sources.

Sources of their calibre hate peddling outright falsehoods. Deceit, however, takes many forms, as we know, one of them being silence. What is not said is as rhetorically forceful as what is said. In my previous post I wrote of the Israeli Pegasus spy-ware. The Listening Post on Aljazeera, a program I warmly recommend because, as they say, “we don’t cover the news, we cover how the news is covered”, said not a word about how the spy-ware is used in so-called Democratic countries. Not a word.

But they did discuss the role played by the German Springer tabloid “Bild” in German politics. Very interesting, that. Very reminiscent, indeed, of the role played by the Washington Post and Fox News in US politics.

Meanwhile, I find myself wondering whether Jeff Bezos intends to try to run for president. (As you see, my distrust of the man is visceral.) There is something vaguely megalomaniacal about the man’s “visions” for us earthlings in space. Maybe I am reading the wrong text? Maybe the man is merely grieving, as I grieve, about the fate of humans all over the globe, about animals, and plants – species, no less, many of which have been eradicated in the course of just a decade. Is he mad enough to imagine that he will save humanity? Or is he merely planning his own and his friends and family’s escape to another planet?

Let’s forget about whatchamacallit Bezos! We are, after all, marching now, inexorably, towards something that hardly bears thinking about. Let us NOT forget, though, that beauty still exists and will always exist in one form or another no matter what happens to our planet and the species that inhabit it. Listen to Ravel’s Bolero, for instance, to the music’s sore-footed, determined march towards a somewhere “over the rainbow”, which inevitably, again and again, turns out to be way past the horizon for the refugees, say, or the elephants and zebras and squirrels – just a trickle of them at first , then more and more, and more…

Poor consolation, perhaps, but: There will always be music, always be glorious sunsets, always be stories told at dusk. And there will always be acts of generosity and solidarity and simple kindnesses that warm a frightened heart.

For years, even the most excellent sources of top-notch journalism have been evasive about climate change. When will they do their job? Or to put it differently: When will their sponsors allow them to do their job? Will they ever? Or will theys just rely on Jeff Bezos getting them away from a ruined planet to continue their business of getting rich on Mars?

What the rest of us need to know is how to respond to climate change. We don’t just need warnings. We need – let’s face it – a revolution, an inter-disciplinary, knowledged-based revolution.

I envisage the empowering of marine biologists, meteorologists, entomologists, agronomists, epidemiologists, anthropologists and of social scientists of every order, economists, psychologists, etc., etc. in every country in the world and from every economic echelon. Not just them, their students too. At the local level I envisage citizens being invited to discuss, in every municipality: HOW DO WE DEAL WITH THIS?

This would all of course entail a certain amount of chaos, so some rules of engagement would have to be established, and I certainly don’t know what rules, but I want to be asked. I want all of us to be asked! These are times of urgency and urgent measure are needed.

I leave you here. For now. THINK. THINK HARD.

Dec 012020
 

In a phone conversation with a talkative friend the other day, my counterpart’s initial volubility subsided, so that in the end, I was the only one still talking. Afterwards, wondering why his cheeriness had morphed into discouragement, I reached the conclusion that it was my fault.

Over the decades, I have been considered a lefty, and he has been the slightly patronising advocate of what he believes is “the middle ground”. Had I asked him, or for that matter almost anybody else, what is “the middle ground”, he would have given the glib reply “neither right nor left” and I might insolently have retorted, “neither right nor wrong?”

Yes, over the decades, he has patiently countered my impatient allegations about systemic racism, perpetuated social inequality, injustice etc., etc. with kindly smiles, and “sensible” arguments. More often than not, I for my part tended to have forgotten the statistical details informing my views and chaffed at the bit of my own ignorance, unable to prove my point.

The other day, though, the tables had turned. I didn’t remember the details about the tipping point, but I did have a pretty clear understanding of the concept “exponential”.

Likewise, I didn’t remember the details of Piketty’s statistics about rising wealth and income inequality, but since I follow international news pretty closely, the word “exponential” lurked at the corners of my mouth.

As another acquaintance predicted a few days ago: “Before long, we won’t be picking them up out of the Mediterranean, we’ll be shooting them.” He was referring to the not so distant future when most of the African continent will be uninhabitable and when Europe … no, I won’t go into that just now.

I won’t, because that was what I did during the said phone conversation with my friend the other day. I did not have Piketty’s figures at hand, but I certainly was able to outline approximately where Europe is heading, and it’s not somewhere nice. That is unless…. But before I could finish my lecture, my friend had wilted like a plane falling out of the sky. I had halted the trajectory of an optimistic man full of confidence in himself, his country and the future of humankind. I had brought him down. Now that was certainly not my intention.

Mind you, he knew that what I had said about the future of Europe, “unless…”, was correct. So why was he not willing to discuss the terms of the “unless” clause?

As for the tipping point, no reasonably sane, informed person can possibly doubt its reality, yet we just sit around doing exactly what we have been doing since we were born, with regard to the tipping point, that is: NOTHING.

Well, strictly speaking, that is not correct. Somebody is doing something, but that somebody is not me. It probably isn’t you either. I am very very sorry to say that it is not a government in any country, nor any powerful multinational company or mainstream media outlet. Extinction Rebellion is courageous, passionate and truly called for, but – alas – not my style; I’m no better than the rest of us law-abiding, spineless citizens, the gutless “we” I keep referring to.

We have been tranquillised and rendered non-combatant by a lullaby of promises about “climate neutrality by 2050”. Read that again: 2050. Thirty years hence, the planet will be unrecognisable.

Why? Why do we allow doctors to medicate us with tranquillisers and false hopes?

My theory is that we are sincerely frightened. And now that we are social distancing or in quarantine, we’re also not happy. If your day has been miserable, what do you do? Well, I don’t know about you, but most of us put on a brave face and tell ourselves and each other that tomorrow will be better. Yes, tomorrow must always be better, otherwise, we would not endure being alive. If baseless optimism hadn’t been part of our genetic makeup from the start, our species would not have survived locust swarms, bubonic plagues, famines, Hiroshima, the Holocaust, Apartheid, etc., and even Trump.

I put to you that optimism is not a crime. Stupidity, however, is. I assume that mankind will survive the next thirty years, in some form or another. I hope that having learnt from the mistakes we are making now, future civilisations’ penal codes will deem stupidity on the part of “whomsoever has been endowed with normal intelligence and adequate social/economic conditions” a criminal offence.

Today is 1 December. According to the calendar, winter has come to the Northern hemisphere. But according to the trees, spring has come and the buds are opening. Maybe by Christmas the lilacs will bloom and the birds will be singing. Maybe in January, we can go swimming in the sea again. That would be so nice.

Aug 242020
 

You know the feeling, I’m sure, of walking as fast as you can without making any headway at all; you will have done it in dreams – nightmares, perhaps.

That is what it must feel like to be a climate activist. The facts and figures are all there, out in the open for all to see, yet all we talk about now is Covid. Even before Covid, all the media was concerned about was growth and the GDP – as if GDP reflected the welfare of a country.

Remember who owns the media? On issues in which owners have a major financial stake, the media cannot be trusted. Such issues include, you will remember, the sale and smoking of tobacco, arms trade, gun control, oil extraction and trade, national health insurance, unethical practices on the part of the pharmaceutical industry… and climate change. If a major industrial or financial player is aversely affected by media coverage, it will retaliate powerfully, as sure as winter used to follow summer.

Anyway, if you really want to concentrate on viruses, we can now worry about more than Covid. In the province of Seville, for instance, they are now grappling with West Nile Virus, with 32 patients hospitalised so far, one or two already dead.

I just read a piece in the Guardian about Extinction Rebellion (XR) a movement I never took very seriously because the media here portrayed it as extremist; the media would do just that of course (remember who owns the media?). Yes, XR did indeed advocate civil disobedience (peaceful civil disobedience, that is), but I understand now that it had every reason to do so, and rather than explain that, I refer to the article in the Guardian.

It seems, still according to the Guardian, that XR has been weakened and splintered by internal discord on tactical matters, but I suspect and hope they’ll get up on their feet again, and I urge you to listen to a “talk” given in 2019 by one of the XR founders.

We’ve assumed that at some point, sooner or later, when the planet has been battered by yet another hurricane or flood or hellish conflagration, such as the ones we saw recently in Australia, our politicians and their voters would finally come out of their denialist torpor, and say “This has got to stop.” But no, now California is burning, and all our politicians and their voters can manage is an exasperated sigh: “California is burning again.” The keyword here is: again.

Yep, we’ve gotten used to it. We have hurricanes, and floods and conflagrations again and again and again. We’re already expecting more pandemics and are, in short, sliding down an increasingly slippery, increasingly steep slope. Dazed and in a dream-like condition, we bravely and stupidly adapt to the acceleration.

We used to have to deal with outright denialism: the dreamer believes that human activities have little or no part in climate change. Now we have to contend with oblique denialism: the dreamer is a techno-optimist and believes that technology will stop the downward slide.

As a rule, I’m not in favour of civil disobedience in Democratic countries. I prefer using the instruments embedded in the “social contract” (Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique) that underlie Democratic government. However, it has become eminently clear that our governments are failing us in one issue after another.

Whereas major industrial and financial players may have practically unlimited power, whereas they may own 10% of the all the planet’s wealth, we, the rest of us, are the vast majority. Our lives and futures are at stake. I put to you that our lives and futures are vastly more important and valuable than all the shares and financial assets in the world.

We are the majority stakeholders; we just don’t know that, yet, thanks to the media (remember who owns the media).

Apr 122020
 

Once again I turn to the “historian and philosopher of economic thought” (quoting Wikipedia) Philip Mirowski and his eponymous book discussing How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown.

The book seems tailor-made for Covid-19, although it applied to the financial crisis in 2008. Back then, when many of us were worried, or should I say “frantic”, there were powerful people – people we really don’t want to know personally – who abused, and twisted and skewed things, who confounded and befuddled and “discombobulated” (a word Mirowski uses a lot) us for reasons of their own.

You will no doubt have noticed that since the end of this century’s first decade, which culminated in a financial crisis, the top 10% have become even richer and the bottom 50% very much poorer than they were.

In his book, Philip Mirowski demonstrates that there was and is an actively pursued agenda underlying Neoliberalism, and that there have been and are active agents pushing it. It didn’t have to happen. Reagan and Thatcher, taking their cues from Milton Freedman, didn’t have to happen either. There are other approaches to running a country than those propounded by the so-called Chicago School. Mirowski’s more recent article Hell is Truth Seen Too Late is not an easy read, but it gives a general idea of the agenda and its agents.

We have been hoodwinked into treating economic “laws” as holy cows. For example, the wording in the following quote will tend to stymie any climate activist who has doubts about the sustainability of “economic growth” (Source).

Natural economic law refers to the natural rule (mother rule) that three important consumptions drive the cyclic development of economy. It means: consumption – market – demands (increasing consumption needs of desire – recognition – knowledge and inspiration – recognition) – scientific research – production – consumption of higher level. It is a natural economic law of spiral movement.

Mirowski is not the only one to point out that people we don’t want to know personally are happy to exploit a crisis to advance their own ends. Naomi Klein has also written several books about the matter, including The Shock Doctrine. See what she has to say about the potential consequences of Covid-19. Mind you, she is not saying we are powerless. On the contrary, she is saying that we need to be alert. Grieving about the future is useless, particularly now that we actually have a chance of tipping the scales.

Yuval Harari, the author of Sapiens has been very visible in the media lately. I imagine him as a rather reserved sort of character, so his urgent appeals to the general public these past two months strike me as wake-up calls. (Google Harari + Covid). Speaking of Yuval Harari and the sustainability of economic growth, do please read Chapter 16 in Sapiens. In the light of Covid-19, read it again if you’ve forgotten it.

The Irish Times has recently interviewed Thomas Piketti, who echoes the trio. “Times of crisis are times when the existing ideologies are challenged and when national and international trajectories are likely to change.” The Irish Times continue: “Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic he says it would have been impossible to put air travel on hold as a measure to tackle climate change. But with this new reality, which we are at least temporarily confronted with, that perspective is now changing.”

Obviously, from now on, things will be different. To all appearances, there will merely be winners and losers. The telecom industry, obviously, will be winners, online shops and supermarkets that provide home deliveries likewise, and many companies will rapidly be able to redesign themselves. With predicted soaring unemployment, however, very many of us are already defining ourselves as losers.

But not so fast: Yes, businesses will all have to redesign themselves, unless they already have. Whole countries will have to do so too, though. Whole countries, mine and yours. It’s not just a question of the distribution of wealth and income. It’s also a matter of the distribution of power (not least in view of galloping developments within surveillance technology). And finally it’s a matter of the fate of the planet.

If you are the only one in town who is going to lose your job and your health insurance, you will feel very very bad indeed. Let me put it another way: the more of you there are, the more likely it is that your government will have to introduce some very major changes for your benefit.

If you are a telecom employee, you don’t want to wake up in 5 years feeling the way Edward Snowden felt when he realised that with his expertise he had contributed to a Big Brother is Watching You scenario.

So what will it be? Who will have the final say about the world we leave to our children? Trump, Putin, Xi and their likes, religious fundamentalists (Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish) or the rest of us?

Feb 052020
 

There aren’t many encouraging stories these days. Maybe I know of one, though. (Mind you, I make no promises.) My story starts grimly enough, with a headline that began to pop up here and there some time last spring: “Millions of songbirds vacuumed to death every year during Mediterranean olive harvest”. If you google it, you will see for yourself.

Now in the UK there are a lot of bird lovers, and they started singing angrily. A veritable storm of protests rose up from the throats of British bird-loving consumers. Tesco, Sainsbury and Waitrose felt pressured and have apparently promised to take a closer look at what olive products they stock.

That’s nice, isn’t it? An example of ethical market forces, right?

We could leave it there, of course, and it is certainly very moving that the British were up in arms about something that isn’t royalty, and in a Brexit year, no less. So hats off for the British! My neurotically unsentimental compatriots would probably not have lifted a finger; they can’t tell the difference between a bird and a drone. (In fact, this wasn’t even news in my country, where we guzzle olive oil by the litre.)

But there is a shadow story here, and it is not as nice. For one thing, few supermarket chains will refuse to sell ecologically harmful products, as that would be suicide for the chains in question. The proportion of poor people in Britain, as elsewhere, is growing. Given the choice of hand-picked expensive olives and vacuumed cheap olives, which will they choose? If all poor people knew that every bottle of the cheap oil they use is likely to have cost the life of perhaps five birds, many of them might consider giving up olive oil altogether. But they don’t know, and even if they do, there are so many other horrible things going on that – well, what can you do? There are innumerable children being killed in wars and hot spots, wombats being killed in Australia – even after the fires – coral reefs dying… Locust swarms are consuming parts of Africa, miners are being shot, populations are fleeing from sinking islands, tens of thousands of refugees are being held in consentration camps in Greece and Libya, etc. etc. etc.

We shall of course soon see the emergence of eco-friendly supermarkets, shops where all products are tested. They will be exorbitantly expensive, though. So “the market” will not solve the climate crisis or any other serious ecological challenge. It will just be an opportunity for the rich to pay indulgence, as it were.

Still, my verdict is that this was a beautiful story because it tells us that sometimes, people – even masses of people – will be happy to serve an honestly good and peaceful cause. A tiny Robin with its scarlet breast can move the sternest of us to tears. I know, because I held one in my hand a year ago, when it had died after crashing into my window. Small creatures whose lovely songs ring through the woods in late afternoons are such a stunning contrast to war games, Netflix series and the increasingly ghastly news we cannot help but hear even though we try not to.

As an afterthought to the above, I would like to point out that nation states can actually impose laws, can actually prohibit certain things, and can, also, encourage other things. I would like to direct your attention to the Nordic Swan Label. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nordic_swan

I say no more for now.