Sep 062020
 

My dog’s health is declining. I won’t go into detail, but the latest development is that she has started to limp, on alternating paws. One of these days, I shall have to take her to the vet’s for the final solution. She has had 12 good years and will have a painless death. I will be heartbroken.

Not everybody dies painlessly. People in concentration camps, for instance… In Finland there was a terrible civil war in 1918. All I knew about it, until I read Kjell Westö’s novel The Wednesday Club, was that the “Whites” beat the “Reds” and saved the country (for the Germans, except that the Germans lost everything after WWI). Frankly, my ignorance was more due to lack of interest than to anything else. I mean, who cares about Finland? (Until I read the Wednesday Club, that is.)

But before I continue about the Wednesday Club, I would like to draw your attention once again to Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Don’t read about the book, just go get it. I mean, what are pandemics for if not for enlightenment?

In Finland, after the 1918 civil war, there appear to have been concentration camps in which thousands of people died, not from wounds but from maltreatment.

Kjell Westö’s novel is not about the concentration camps as such, but about how the winners of the war told their story. He describes the crippling shame felt, still in 1938, by women who had been raped in concentration camps in 1919. The author seems to be suggesting that since, in 1938, Finnish society had not yet started to understand what crimes had been committed by the winners in 1918, they were already busy excusing Nazi crimes, endorsing fascism and overlooking the ghastly moral consequences of easy fixes. I find the narrative very compelling, because I recognise it. I recognise the pattern.

My personal history links me to South America and to Palestine, where so much injustice has been inflicted and endured that I am almost in favour of endorsing euthanasia for entire populations to spare the victims more misery. After all, to quote Jane Fonda, “they shoot horses, don’t they?”

Your personal history might link you to Algeria or Egypt; or Iran; or India. At the moment, everything seems to indicate that in Russia, murdering Putin’s political opponents is just a cup of tea. Navalnyj, whatever else he might be, is nothing if not astoundingly brave, a hero and a martyr. In the West, we also have martyrs, Julian Assange, for instance.

But what about the rest of us? How did our governments react to Operation Condor and the vicious and systematic slaughter of anyone vaguely “leftist” in most of Latin America (not least in Central America). How did we react here, for that matter, to the emergence of Nazi Germany in the 1930-s and the pogroms and subsequent extermination of Jews? How did our governments react to the Vietnam war? In retrospect, have Bush Jr. or Tony Blair or José Aznar expressed any shame about the war on Iraq and its aftermath? On the contrary, it would seem that the US and the UK are hell-bent on preventing crimes committed by the state from being exposed, cf. the Julian Assange case, which in reality is about defence of a free press. I quote the N.Y. Times:

From the start, the charges against Mr. Assange have raised profound First Amendment issues because his actions are difficult to distinguish in a legally meaningful way from those of traditional news organizations. It would be unprecedented in American law for such activity to result in criminal convictions, so press freedom advocates have denounced the charges against him and have been watching the case closely.

The winner is always the one to tell the story. But even after a winner has had to leave the scene, he or she will rarely express shame. Shame is felt primarily by a perpretrator’s victims, who have often had to do things they, the victims, feel are indefensible.

The Latin American dictators and their henchmen (and their far from innocent wives) have shown no regret, no shame when questioned by the press or by judges. Not a jot of it. On the other hand, those who survived torture and many years’ imprisonment …, well, you can imagine.

On this cheerful note, I can recommend a whole stack of very good novels. Tonight I particularly wish to direct your attention to José Saramago. Any of his novels will probably astound you. I love his elegant irony and humour, as well as his penetrating insight. I believe the man must have been extraordinarily intelligent. His most important work may have been Blindness (Ensaio sobre a Cegueira). I would also recommend, for the sake of the reader’s sanity, the somewhat more cheerful follow-up Seeing (Ensaio sobre a Lucidez). If you cannot read them in Portuguese, read them in Spanish, if you can, because most of them were beautifully translated by his Spanish wife.

Jun 162019
 

Let me admit at once that my news source is not normally The Intercept. I prefer a rather more chatty paper, one that is not too angry, one that helps me feel that I am a member of society, not a besieged and defenceless island.

The problem is that most such papers need sponsors and sponsors tend to have money, and those who have money are usually not all that keen on promoting equitable distribution of wealth (with, say, progressive taxes, and free health care and university education), not to put too fine a point on it.

We hear about “the wealthy” in all sorts of contexts, not least in statements about “the top ten percent” versus the remaining 90 percent. We know statistically who they vote for, how much they spend on lobbying activities and what media outlets they own. We also know that many rich people are “very nice”, love their children and spend vast sums on charity. But there is no doubt about it: disparities in almost all our countries are growing. They are growing sharply.

Nevertheless, we continue reading papers owned by members of “the top ten percent” and we hope all the bad things will just sort of disappear, just as we avoid reminders of the fact that we, yes, you and I, will die some day, maybe even someday soon, that climate change will deprive our grandchildren, maybe even our children, of most of the good things in life. It hurts to think about it, so we don’t; we don’t think.

Thus, our pusillanimity helps us make unsound choices, choices that will harm us and our children.

Sometimes the unsound choices we make can be downright dangerous. One such choice was made by the majority of the voting electorate in Brazil, when they raised the fascist-minded Jair Bolsonaro to the presidential throne. Now Brazil is already sometimes referred to as a “fascistoid” state. That spells d-a-n-g-e-r for a lot of innocent people.

Before he was elected, Bolsonaro was not the favourite candidate of the “wealthy”, but he was the only candidate on the right who had sufficient charisma to attract voters. So the press supported him and denigrated the left, as usual.

Now Brazil is a country of extreme inequality – and the overwhelmingly numerous poor would probably have voted for Lula da Silva if Lula hadn’t happened to be in jail. Why was Lula in jail?

Well, that is really the magician’s trick, you see. This is where The Intercept comes in.

The Intercept — the Political Earthquake in Brazil

I’m not here to tell you The Intercept’s story. You should read it yourself.

What I do want to point out, however, is that somebody provided The Intercept with the evidence. I would not like to be that somebody. Whoever it is, is a hero, but if the Brazilian or US authorities ever get their hands on him or her, … I say no more.

And as for my country, your country, the UK, Equador, and Sweden and all the countries that are kowtowing to the US in the Julian Assange case and who refused to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, they are accessories before and after the fact to the crimes Assange and Snowden exposed.

Whatever the identity of the hero who provided The Intercept with the evidence, you and I had better be prepared to demand that not a hair be touched on his or her head, and that no legal or other steps be taken against The Intercept.

Nov 292015
 

The other day a colleague who is familiar with my slightly subversive views maliciously presented me with a philosophical challenge:

– How come you who so fervently believe in the rule of law defend people like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange?
It is true that I passionately believe in the rule of law, defined by the UN as follows:

“… a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.”

(You will find other definitions of the “rule of law”, definitions from which the last clause – “and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards” is absent.)

Back to my malicious colleague: I took the moral highground: Edward Snowden and Julian Assange did not have the right to violate certain legal provisions; they had a duty to do so.

– Ah, said my colleague with a sly smile, so when you face the enemy, the rule of law no longer applies?

I must admit that my mumbled reply was not very impressive. I saw where he was going, and I am a terrible chess player. He would make sure I’d soon be writhing in a corner (figuratively that is) admitting that to defend my values, we must do whatever it takes, whereas to defend your values – if they differ from mine – we must play by the rules.

Now I am an extremely law-abiding citizen. I don’t even cheat on my taxes, and wouldn’t do so even if I had the chance, for the simple reason that I’m proud of paying my share of the upkeep of this country. Nevertheless, my sympathy for rule breakers does not stop at Snowden and Assange. I also have full sympathy with hackers “Anonymous” when they claim to be taking down the “enemy’s” Twitter accounts (again, on the assumption that their enemy is my enemy, and ISIS certainly is a shared enemy.) Taking down a Twitter account is, however, a far, far cry from “Guantanamo Bay” and universal telecom surveillance.

The self-styled “Islamic State” and Boko Haram are not the only monsters lurking in the shadows. There are other agents of rape and mutilation out there. And some of them are friends of our friends. Take the Uzbek government, for instance – just about as bad as they come, yet several European governments including my own, have invested heavily in Uzbekistan. A recent scandal rocked the press in my country for a couple of days, but all is surprisingly silent now. Was it too close to home for the powers that be?

I quote the Norwegian Helsinki Committee:

It is widely known that authoritarian regimes put as a condition for providing licenses to mobile telephone and internet providers that they get full access to content and meta ‐ data of communications on the systems. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee has inter alia criticized the Swedish company Telia Sonera and the Russian company Vimpelcom (partly owned by the Norwegian company Telenor) for providing authorities in Uzbekistan and Belarus full access to their systems.

Meanwhile, in Sweden (source: the Guardian), the prosecuting authority is taking an Uzbek hit-man to court. He is suspected of having been acting at the orders of the Uzbek government when he shot an Uzbek opposition politician in the head. He did it in Malmö. That’s in Sweden. The impudence!! Yet, Sweden has also been investing heavily in Uzbekistan.

If our own governments don’t play by the rules, how can they expect us, to whom they are accountable, to do so? If our governments practise realpolitik  why should not we also do so, at least in self-defence. The question is: Should hackers in one country, mine for instance, defend violently suppressed people in another, eg, the “ganster state” Uzbekistan?

That, I think, is the real philosophical challenge. Would the consequences be all-bad, as have those of the military intervientions in Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya?

Finally, should it occur to you to you to ask me, let me be clear: Any hacker who, for personal gain, abuses his/her skills (e.g. online bank fraud, industrial espionage, etc.) will find no more sympathy at my door than a medical doctor who kills his/her patients. There are certain things one just doesn’t do!