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Dissident Voice

Dissident Voice
29 Sep 2022 | 9:13 am

I’ll Never Know What it is to be a Bat: I’m batty for bat week!


Lately, I've been thinking about bats. A few dozen have been flying around our Waldport, Oregon, Cyprus tree: California Myotis, Fringed Myotis, and the Big Brown Bat. Near White Salmon, WA, I have seen dozens of  Silver-Haired Bats, flying low to the ground on 20 acres we own.

Fringed myotis bat

This creature accounts for almost a third of all mammal species (more than 1,400). Bats are both talisman and a bright memory in these dark times.

Recall: Bats and the SARS-CoV2 used to be the talk of the town, beginning March 2020. More than 90 coronas have been found in bats. (The origins of SARS-CoV2 is even speculated recently by writer and thinker, Jeffrey Sachs as a lab origin virus.)

Background: I was in Vietnam years ago to help survey forest and jungle.

However, I've had bats in my life since age six months. In the Azores, there is one native bat. My sister and I lived with parents who worked at the Air Force base.  We were on the island for five years.

Bats roosted in the rafters of the garage where my father stored our 1957 Chevy.

I watched bats at dusk from my bedroom window.

Memoires listed: earthquakes, fish, amazing bread, melodic Portuguese language, mold, and bats.

Our nanny had a bent-over fisherman uncle  who let us play on his potato farm. In the evening, with the rice, tuna, warm bread and big glasses of Sangria for the adults and blood-red grape juice for the kids, we'd sit outside and watch a thousand bats echolocate above the forest.

One day Gloria's tio showed us a big green glass jar with a tin lid.

I saw a creature flapping around.  He showed me my first bat up close. I was three. I learned later, when I really got into bats, that species  Azores noctule (Nyctalus azoreum), the only endemic mammal on the island.

Another bat lives on the islands —  the greater mouse-eared bat (Myotis myotis) – but this species is not native, first arriving as a stowaway on cargo ships.

The Azores islands should be on your list for a winter getaway – SheKnows

For more than six decades, I've been fascinated with this species, Chiroptera, which means "hand-wing." Imagine the bones in a bat's wing working like those of the human arm and hand, but bat finger bones are super elongated and connected by a double membrane of skin to form "the wing."

Vietnam Cities

In the 1990s, I lived in bat caves with  British and Vietnamese scientists working on biological surveys, called transects.

We climbed limestone mountains, looking for caves. We worked near Laos.

The 23-year-old Scotsman who led the bat survey was dubbed  "wild man." I was 36 years old, and the rest of the team was much younger.

Except for Hanoi biologist, Dr. Viet (37).

I was in Vietnam the same age my cryptographer father was there as a Big Red One CW4. He was shot when the helicopter he was in came under fire. The pilot took one between the eyes. My old man's bullet ended up two inches from his heart.

He never liked talking about Vietnam. By the time I made it to Vietnam, he had been buried, the victim of a heart attack.

Collection of short fiction relives memories of Vietnam and its American war | Street Roots

I know he would have been blown away that his son was traveling in Vietnam with scientists. He listened to my stories of scuba diving in Mexico, Baja and Central America with a kind of awe.

He liked my yarns.

Fundraiser by Paul Haeder : New Short Story Collection

I ended up in places in Vietnam he never explored.  I hiked, rode in buses and boats, and then did the entire length of the country on a motorcycle. Dr. Viet was a guide for me, navigating me through the hundred plus Vietnamese words I knew.

Today, I am wrestling with fundamental questions as a writer and teacher. Working with words, concepts, spirituality, philosophy and aging, I know why people are seeking solitude and a reimagining of where they are going the rest of their lives.

Bats also bring me to philosophical reflection. I just finished a 1974 essay, "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" by Thomas Nagel. He's looking at perception, and how as a species, sight-abled humans have a lack of words and mental constructs getting a blind person to understand the color red.

The same goes for scientists attempting to know what it is "to be" and "to experience" like a bat.

If you have been with bats in caves like I have, you know they are alien forms.

Nagel: "But bat sonar, though clearly a form of perception, is not similar in its operation to any sense that we possess, and there is no reason to suppose that it is subjectively like anything we can experience or imagine. This appears to create difficulties for the notion of what it is like to be a bat."

The same could be said about people.  How impossible it is for me to know what it is to be a woman and to experience pregnancy and childbirth.  Conscious experience is "a widespread phenomenon."

Here I am, in a time of corona, lockdowns, mandates, vaccinations, thinking about bats. And the conscious experience. Yet I can't really be in the bat's world, or experience it. We can't know what it's like to be a 1,000 year old bristlecone pine. Or to be a European bee in a hive.

I'm reminding myself daily to follow this admonition:  "Before I judge a man, I need to walk a mile in his shoes." Or, before calling a bat "vermin," people need to image what it's like to fly using sonar flapping with hand-wings.

Fringed Myotis (Myotis thysanodes) | Encyclopedia of Puget Sound

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Aside Note:  Oct. 24-31 is Bat Week, an annual, international celebration of the role of bats in nature! If your thing isn't bats, many groups and organizations also recognize these for the month:  Adopt A Shelter Dog; Antidepressant Death; Breast Cancer Awareness; Celebrating The Bilingual Child; Down Syndrome; Dyslexia; Eat Better, Eat Together; Emotional Intelligence;  Global Diversity; Head Start Awareness; Health Literacy; Long-Term Care Planning!

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In Oregon, there are 15 bat species,  and eight of those are Oregon Conservation Strategy Species. Strategy Species are those having small or declining populations, are at-risk, and/or of management concern.

In sister state south, California, count that as 25 species of bats. Additionally, there are 45 species of bats in the United States and Canada. Of those California Dreaming animals, bats 24 of these are in Southern California, which has the largest and smallest known bats found in the United States.

Bats can can eat their weight in insects nightly. They are incredible pollinators. No, the cheetah isn't the fastest mammal. The Brazilian free-tailed bat can reach speeds up to 100 mph, making it by far the fastest mammal on Earth.

That flying fox (genus Pteropus) also called a fox bat, includes about 65 species mostly found on tropical islands from Madagascar to Australia and Indonesia and in mainland Asia. Most species are primarily nocturnal. Flying foxes are the largest bats, some attaining a wingspan of 1.5 metres (5 feet) with a head and body length of about 40 cm (16 inches).

I was under a papaya tree in Vietnam. It was dusk. I was in shorts and barefooted. I had just come down from an alpine forest area with our crew. Lots of cobras on the path heading back to camp. I had a huge bowl of super strong tea, sipping it while listening to the forest churn out amazing nighttime symphonies.

Civets, amphibians, gibbons, odd barking from the deer endemic to Vietnam. Insects. And the guys and gals around a smokey fire talking, and some zither music from a radio. I was the snake guy, and assisted with the bat studies. I had just caught a green viper and photographed it twenty different ways. The Vietnamese scientists wondered what sort of wild man I was as I jumped up and down limbs to wrestle these snakes, towel wrapped around wrist, another around my neck, ready to pin head down with my special short stick.

It was a long half a year, with lots of rain, mud, many river crossings (I was also one of the logistics guys, taking one of our three motorcycles into 26 river crossings to a village 10 miles down the mountain for tuna, cigs, beer and ramen, eggs, rice).

The tree seemed pretty shadowy, and when I leaned into it, as I was looking up for stars or a moon, there, those leaves just started trembling, and, poof, about 40 fruit bats lifted up, like something out of Hollywood, to make it simple. All over the space above my head. Scattered like frenzied folks.

One of those hundred moments in my life where my young verbiage, kick ass and bitchin', came back calling.

Brisbane braces for BAT SWARM as 250,000 flying foxes to converge on city | Daily Mail Online

I've written a lot about Vietnam, about the work, the ideas, about wounds of my father and friends and countrymen seemingly huge, but compared to the Vietnamese suffering, our are scratches. Trauma. Homeless veterans. Science and biology. Ecology. Travel. Photography. Deep trawling of people in Vietnam. Friendships. And, a short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam.

Here, Part 1, "Bat Caves and Vietnam – More than Just a War Log" 

& Part 2, "Deep Country, Bats, the Riot of Life in Viet Nam's Cities"

I want you to guard against those who demand that you die just to prove something. It is not that I advise you to respect your life more than anything else, but not to die uselessly for the need of others… for you still have many years ahead of you. Many years of joy and happiness to experience. Who else but you can experience your life?

― Bao Ninh, author of Sorrow of War

Bat Caves and Vietnam

It's a different world, now, and it was different leading up to the pre-Planned Pandemic, pre-Trump/Biden Lunacy, pre-cancelling everything contrary to dead-end narrative, pre-end of real journalism. Now, I find few who want to know about other people, about lives lived, about philosophies gained through reading, schooling, schools of hard knocks, and people hate nuance, and forget about engaging them in deep discussion about animals, really, species like bats, man, scary in the minds of clueless folk.

Things have changed since the infection of Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden . . . . The United $tates of America is the Empire of Lies, Empire of Chaos, Empire of Murder, hands down, and we don't need Pepe Escobar or John Pilger or others to tell us that. But the seed of this evil runs deep infecting everyday conversation.

I was with a guy who is helping me on house construction, and he has true Trump Derangement Syndrome, and alas, talking about DeSantis in derogatory ways, I told him I have Zero love of Pelosi or Desantis, et al. I let him know that I am hard left socialist, and definitely leaning toward communism. Ukraine, and, no, Biden is not a great guy or president. I told him that both parties are equally corrupt, and alas, this is a country of casino, predatory, shock doctrine, disaster, parasitic capitalism, with a big "C" for corrupt-criminal, abided by and promoted by both Republicans and Democrats. He told me that if I am communist, and love that so much, then I should move to Russia. Wow.

There's a 69 year old Democrat for you.

And again, in rural, Pacific beach Oregon, few want to know about anything other than their little world of self-imposed trauma, confirmation bias, and the black-white world of triple downing on the dumb-down Kool Aid mix.

Obama Derangement Syndrome and Trump Derangement Syndrome. Whew.

William Blum, U.S. Policy Critic Cited by bin Laden, Dies at 85 - The New York Times

I'm thinking about Rogue State, Blum's work, and how the U$A deems what or who is human, and now, in this up is down, war is peace, lies are truth world of the Mainstream Presstitutes, the lockstep of journalism almost everywhere never digging, or looking astray, and the deplatforming, gaslighting and criminalization of independent thinking. Sort of determining who shall live, and who shall  be exterminated.

The protagonist-narrator of Viet Thanh Nguyen's 2015 novel The Sympathizer has a thing for squid. (Think less calamari, more American Pie.) The bastard son of a Vietnamese maid and a French priest, he discovers at the age of thirteen that he has a peculiar fetish for masturbating into gutted squid, lovingly—albeit unwittingly—prepared by his mother for the night's meal. Unfortunately for him, squid are in short supply in working-class Saigon in the late nineteen-fifties, and so he is forced to wash the abused squid and return them to the kitchen to cover up his crime. Sitting down to dinner with his mother late one night, he tucks into one of those very same squid, stuffed and served with a side of ginger-lime sauce. "Some will undoubtedly find this episode obscene," he concedes. "Not I!" he declares. "Massacre is obscene. Torture is obscene. Three million dead is obscene. Masturbation, even with an admittedly nonconsensual squid? Not so much." He should know. By the time he is narrating the novel, he has lived through the Vietnam War as an undercover communist agent in South Vietnam, has sought asylum in America, and is now living as a refugee-cum-spy in Los Angeles.

The Sympathizer was published in 2015—three years after Kill Anything that Moves—but it could just as easily have been written as a prompt for historian turned investigative journalist Nick Turse. Indeed, Turse's central aim in Kill Anything that Moves is to expose the unparalleled obscenity of the Vietnam War: unparalleled both in terms of the devastating scale and variety of harm done and the diabolical levels of premeditation on the part of the U.S. military. Historians of the Vietnam War, as much as the American public, have traditionally remembered the massacre at Mỹ Lai—in which upwards of five hundred unarmed Vietnamese civilians were hacked, mowed down, and violated by the American military—as an outlier in an otherwise largely acceptable war (at least in terms of American actions). But as Vietnam veteran and whistleblower Ron Ridenhour explains, and Turse quotes approvingly, Mỹ Lai "was an operation, not an aberration." (source)

Bats as vermin, pests. Entire bat roosts murdered with one dynamite stick thrown into a cave. Double and triple taps. Splats. Bats emblematic of peoples the U$A deems as vermin, less than. Many of those splats are in the Global South, BIPOC!

Bioindicators. Bats. Truly:

The earth is now subject to climate change and habitat deterioration on unprecedented scales. Monitoring climate change and habitat loss alone is insufficient if we are to understand the effects of these factors on complex biological communities. It is therefore important to identify bioindicator taxa that show measurable responses to climate change and habitat loss and that reflect wider-scale impacts on the biota of interest. We argue that bats have enormous potential as bioindicators: they show taxonomic stability, trends in their populations can be monitored, short- and longterm effects on populations can be measured and they are distributed widely around the globe. Because insectivorous bats occupy high trophic levels, they are sensitive to accumulations of pesticides and other toxins, and changes in their abundance may reflect changes in populations of arthropod prey species. Bats provide several ecosystem services, and hence reflect the status of the plant populations on which they feed and pollinate as well as the productivity of insect communities. Bat populations are affected by a wide range of stressors that affect many other taxa. In particular, changes in bat numbers or activity can be related to climate change (including extremes of drought, heat, cold and precipitation, cyclones and sea level rise), deterioration of water quality, agricultural intensification, loss and fragmentation of forests, fatalities at wind turbines, disease, pesticide use and overhunting. There is an urgent need to implement a global network for monitoring bat populations so their role as bioindicators can be used to its full potential. (source)

And yet, most people are not batty about bats. Most people have their preconceptions, their biases, their outright misinformation about bats, and all those prejudices about bats vis-a-vis Hollydirt, Hollywood, sorry, and literature, and myth.

Can Copyright Infringement Kill a Vampire? | Britannica

Truly, we, the common socialists, the ones pushing for community-directed governance, who know k12 needs to be facilitated in the out of doors, with hands on earth, and deep learning with languages, music, poetry, biology/ecology, we are the solutions. All things can be solved with clean food, water, true art, loving hearth and home, and deep thinking. With intergenerational cohesion. I am just a guy who has studied agrarian-centered cultures, who has traveled far and wide, and who was immersed in six languages other than my primary language, English. Immersed in dozens of different cultures and perspectives. But we common socialists, us International Workers of World wobbly types, we are the bats, the indicator species, the splat. Not worthy of life.

American Socialist : Throughline : NPR

Debs, another leading person, who is considered splat, collateral damage. (source)

Expendable, sacrificial lambs. Bats.

Yet bats have defined me, as has all those dives around the world. As well as ground truthing in Guatemala or working as a newspaperman in Bisbee. All those thousands of college students I have worked with over five states. The work in prisons. A thousand published pieces, from newspapers, to magazines, journals, essay collections,  and more. My radio show: Tipping Points: Voices from the Edge.

And more, but I want to think like a bat, be a bat just for one night along the Laos border, skimming the sky for mosquitos, moths and flying walking sticks.

That would be a true transmogrification.

The post I'll Never Know What it is to be a Bat: I'm batty for bat week! first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Dissident Voice
29 Sep 2022 | 3:32 am

From Nabulsi to Shtayyeh: Which Side is the PA On?


The arrest of a prominent Palestinian activist, Musab Shtayyeh, and another Palestinian activist, by Palestinian Authority police on September 20 was not the first time that the notorious PA's Preventive Security Service (PSS) has arrested a Palestinian who is wanted by Israel.

PSS is largely linked to the routine arrests and torture of anti-Israeli occupation activists. Several Palestinians have died in the past as a result of PSS violence, the latest being Nizar Banat who was tortured to death on June 24, 2021. The killing of Banat ignited a popular revolt against the PA throughout Palestine.

For years, various Palestinian and international human rights groups have criticized the PA's violent practices against dissenting Palestinian voices, quite often within the same human rights reports critical of the Israeli military occupation of Palestine. The Hamas government in Gaza, too, has its fair share of blame.

In its January 2022 World Report, Human Rights Watch said that "the Palestinian Authority (PA) manages affairs in parts of the West Bank, where it systematically arrests arbitrarily and tortures dissidents." This was neither the first nor the last time that a human rights group made such an accusation.

The link between Israeli and Palestinian violence targeting political dissidents and activists is equally clear to most Palestinians.

Some Palestinians may have believed, at one point, that the PA's role is to serve as a transition between their national liberation project and full independence and sovereignty on the ground. Nearly thirty years after the formation of the PA, such a notion has proved to be wishful thinking. Not only did the PA fail at achieving the coveted Palestinian State, but it has morphed into a massively corrupt apparatus whose existence largely serves a small class of Palestinian politicians and business people – and, in the case of Palestine, it is always the same group.

PA corruption and subsequent violence aside, what continues to irk most Palestinians is that the PA, with time, became another manifestation of the Israeli occupation, curtailing Palestinian freedom of expression and carrying out arrests on behalf of the Israeli army. Sadly, many of those arrested by the Israeli military in the West Bank have experienced arrest by PA goons, too.

Scenes of violent riots in the city of Nablus following Shtayyeh's arrest were reminiscent of the riots against Israeli occupation forces in the northern West Bank city or elsewhere in occupied Palestine. Unlike previous confrontations between Palestinians and PA police – for example, following the killing of Banat – this time, the violence was widespread, and involved protesters from all Palestinian political groups, including the ruling Fatah faction.

Perhaps unaware of the massive collective psychological shift that took place in Palestine in recent years, the PA government was desperate to contain the violence.

Subsequently, a committee that represents united Palestinian factions in Nablus declared on September 21 that it has reached a 'truce' with PA security forces in the city. The committee, which includes prominent Palestinian figures, told the Associated Press and other media that the agreement restricts any future arrests of Palestinians in Nablus to the condition that the individual must be implicated in breaking Palestinian, not Israeli, law. That provision alone implies a tacit admission by the PA that the arrest of Shtayyeh and Ameed Tbaileh was motivated by an Israeli, not a Palestinian agenda.

But why would the PA quickly concede to pressure coming from the Palestinian street?

The answer lies in the changing political mood in Palestine.

First, it must be stated that resentment of the PA has been brewing for years. One opinion poll after another has indicated the low regard that most Palestinians have of their leadership, of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and particularly of the 'security coordination' with Israel.

Second, the torture and death of political dissident Banat, last year, has erased whatever patience Palestinians had towards their leadership, demonstrating to them that the PA is not an ally but a threat.

Third, the Unity Intifada of May 2021 has emboldened many segments of Palestinian society throughout occupied Palestine. For the first time in years, Palestinians have felt united around a single slogan and are no longer hostage to the geography of politics and factions. A new generation of young Palestinians has advanced the conversation beyond Abbas, the PA and their endless and ineffectual political rhetoric.

Fourth, armed struggle in the West Bank has been growing so rapidly that the Israeli army Chief of Staff, Aviv Kochavi, claimed on September 6 that, since March, around 1,500 Palestinians have been arrested in the West Bank and that, allegedly, hundreds of attacks against the Israeli military have been thwarted.

In fact, evidence of an armed Intifada is growing in the Jenin and Nablus regions. What is particularly interesting, and alarming, from the Israeli and PA viewpoint, about the nature of the budding armed struggle phenomenon, is that it is largely led by the military wing of the ruling Fatah party, in direct cooperation with Hamas and other Islamic and national military wings.

For example, on August 9, the Israeli army assassinated Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, a prominent Fatah military commander, along with two others. Not only, did the PA do little to stop the Israeli military machine from conducting more such assassinations, six weeks later, it arrested Shtayyeh, a close comrade of Nabulsi.

Interestingly, Shtayyeh is not a member of Fatah, but a commander within the Hamas military wing, Al-Qassam. Though Fatah and Hamas are meant to be intense political rivals, their political tussle seems to be of no relevance to military groups in the West Bank.

Unfortunately, more violence is likely to follow, for several reasons: Israel's determination to crush any armed Intifada in the West Bank before it is widespread across the occupied territories, the looming leadership transition within the PA due to Abbas's old age, and the growing unity among Palestinians around the issue of resistance.

While the Israeli response to all of this can easily be gleaned from its legacy of violence, the PA's future course of action will likely determine its relationship with Israel and its western supporters, on the one hand, and with the Palestinian people, on the other. Which side will the PA choose?

The post From Nabulsi to Shtayyeh: Which Side is the PA On? first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Dissident Voice
29 Sep 2022 | 3:04 am

Gautam Adani: Ecological Crossdresser


Imagine the tobacco producer who invests in smoke limitation programs, or the arms manufacturer who attends a conference proposing to ban weapons and seek a better future.  Gautam Adani, one of India's most ruthlessly adept billionaires, has added his name to the growing list of corporate transvestism, using ecological credentials as his camouflage for fossil fuel predation.

The central feature of Adani is having a nose for getting on the bandwagon and pushing to its front.  Everyone is doing it, at least when it comes to renewable energy sources.  Recently, the Adani Group, an entity specialising in power generation, real estate, commodities, and port infrastructure, promised it would invest $US70 billion in the green energy transition and associated infrastructure in what it calls "an integrated Hydrogen-based value chain".

In terms of solar energy, the company has jostled its way up the ranks through Adani Green Energy, creating sprawling "solar parks" comprising thousands of hectares in Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.  The acquisition of such land has come at considerable cost to local farmers, many of whom have protested such alienation and loss of fertile land.

Adani's program is relentlessly expansive, part of a suite of approaches that seems to be winning investment from such companies as the French multinational TotalEnergies, which poured in money to acquire 25% of a stake in Adani New Industries.  In this, the Indian billionaire is simply pursuing what his other colleagues in the fossil fuel line are doing: pretend to go green and hope that no one notices the off-colour joke.  In this enterprise, Adani hopes to make his company the world's largest renewable energy producer by 2030 (surely the joke), which might encourage some laughter but for its seriousness.

At the Forbes Global CEO conference held in Singapore, Adani was preeningly confident, exhibiting the cocksure awareness of a crossdressing trickster. "We are already the world's largest solar player, and we intend to do far more.  Adani New Industries is the manifestation of the bet we are making in the energy transition space."  He also told his audience that the new business, additionally "to our existing 20 GW renewables portfolio" would "be augmented by another 45 GW of hybrid renewable power generation spread over 100,000 hectares".  Boastfully, he reminded those caring to listen that this was "an area 1.4 times that of Singapore."

In April this year, he told the India Economic Conclave that his country was "on the cusp of decades of growth that the world will want to tap into.  Therefore, there can be no better defence of our interests at this time than atmanirbhar."  The Hindi word in the statement, denoting self-reliance, is instructive enough, a feature of the Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi's nationalist drive.

As with most billionaires in history, success is a convenient wedding of self-aggrandisement and patriotic purpose, a case of making money and wrapping oneself in the flag.  More to the point, it is a shamelessly calculating push to combine interests of another sort, notably of the environmentally appealing nature.  "For India," Adani told the audience at the IEC, "the combination of solar and wind power coupled with green hydrogen opens up unprecedented possibilities."

Making greenwashing an essential part of its public relations, the Adani Group is globally engaged in promoting souped up ecological crossdressing.  In October 2021, the London Science Museum announced a sponsorship deal with Adani at the Global Investment Summit, a lead-up event to the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow.  The agreement involves the development of an exhibition space titled, "Energy Revolution: The Adani Green Energy Gallery".

Dame Mary Archer, chair of the Science Museum Group, explained that the gallery would "take a truly global perspective on the world's most urgent challenge.  We face a grave threat, but the future is not predestined".  Critics were less than impressed by the Museum's breezy refusal to consider Adani's blotchy human rights record and treatment of indigenous communities both in India and Australia.  Protests were organised at the entrance to the museum.  Two trustees resigned.

Nothing, however, gets away from the core business of the Adani Group, which has close ties with the Modi government, ever keen to fashion it as a spear of influence.  The renewables canard cannot hide the practical, solid elements that keep Adani big in coal mining, gas distribution and transportation.

The latter has been particularly striking, with the company winning government tenders to operate a number of airport facilities despite lacking any experience in aviation.  This was a source of consternation for Kerala's Finance Minister Thomas Isaac, whose state government was ignored in the bid for Thiruvananthapuram airport.  "People of Kerala will not accept this act of brazen cronyism," he declared in 2020.

Whether its brazen cronyism or thick-as-thieves solidarity, no one, in terms of scale and influence, has as much influence with New Delhi as Adani does.  As Tim Buckley of Climate Energy Finance, a Sydney-based think tank explains, "His political power, his ability to understand the lay of the land in India, is second to none."

The Adani Group also remains controversially, and deeply embedded in such controversial projects as the Carmichael Mine in Queensland, Australia, where it is looking, increasingly, like a relic, an echo of habitual ecological vandalism best shelved.  The company made a concerted effort to suppress the findings of a university report into its lack of consultation in mining operations with Traditional Owners, who had not "given their free, prior and informed consent" to the operations.  The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination also expressed its concerns in 2019 that Adani's consultations regarding the Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) "might not have been conducted in good faith".

All this paints a picture of a company keen to cut corners and stomp on toes with ruthless disdain.  For his efforts, Gautam Adani finds himself at a peg below the summit of wealth, being the second wealthiest man on the planet.  Only the extra-terrestrially minded Elon Musk bars his route on the rich list's chart.  Ecological crossdressing, it would seem, pays.

The post Gautam Adani: Ecological Crossdresser first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Dissident Voice
29 Sep 2022 | 1:51 am

Edward Curtin on “At the Lost and Found”


Jesse Zurawell interviews Edward Curtin on his article "At the Lost and Found."

The post Edward Curtin on "At the Lost and Found" first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Dissident Voice
28 Sep 2022 | 5:48 pm

To Question or Not


The post To Question or Not first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Dissident Voice
28 Sep 2022 | 5:06 pm

The Radical Enlightenment: The Role of Science in the Battle Between Christianity and Pantheism


The French Academy of Sciences was established in 1666.

Lest we forget, the birth of modern physics and cosmology was achieved by Galileo, Kepler and Newton breaking free not from the close confining prison of faith (all three were believing Christians, of one sort or another) but from the enormous burden of the millennial authority of Aristotelian science. The scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was not a revival of Hellenistic science but its final defeat.
— David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, 23 February, 2010.

Introduction

We are all familiar with the Enlightenment (late 1600s to early 1800s), not least because we studied it in our history books in school. We also learned that before the Enlightenment – which brought about the gradual re-introduction of science into society – there were the medieval universities of philosophy, known as Scholasticism, that dominated education in Europe from about 1100 to 1700. What we don't hear much about is the transition between the two, how science came to dominate thinking, who was involved, and what was there before. The study of early science texts in the monastic schools contrasted with the superstitious and pantheistic thinking of ordinary people in the form of religious and political dissidents who also advocated early forms of communitarian ideology.

The Scientific Revolution (1543-1687), carried out by people such as Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543), Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), Francis Bacon (1561–1626), René Descartes (1596–1650), Isaac Newton (1642–1727), etc., changed the way people thought about nature and created a profound crisis for the church, and the scientists themselves who had to figure out the role of god in this new way thinking, as well as deal with the dissidents who saw in the new science the basis for a democratic and socialist organisation of society itself. The legacy of the Enlightenment today, then, is the two traditions of liberal christianity and science on the one hand, and materialist pantheism, republicanism and socialism on the other. Both sides incorporated science as part of their ideology, but used it for very different ends.

The only known image of Toland

He was an assertor of Liberty
A lover of all sorts of Learning
A speaker of Truth
But no man's follower, or dependant
— John Toland's self-composed epitaph emphasised his lifelong devotion to freedom, knowledge, and individualism; a distinctly humanist approach to living.

Scholasticism

From earliest times monasticism employed scientific learning to further the life of the monks and their understanding of the bible. Science was important for time-keeping and seasonal rites. Astronomy was particularly important for Christmas and the calculation of Easter dates each year. With the emergence of medieval universities in the 12th century much emphasis was laid on the rediscovered Aristotle and other scientific Greek thinkers. The monks even used the dialectical method in their discussions, a Greek method for establishing the truth through reasoned argumentation.

Dialectics were later on to become an important part of Marxist analysis of history in place of the determinism of the bible, whereby different opposing forces produced a revolutionary change after a long period of evolution, as opposed to the fixed aspect of god's creation since the beginning of time, as described in the book of Genesis, for example. However, the dialectic was used in Scholasticism to reconcile Christian theology with scientific philosophy, not to further the ends of science itself.

In a way it could be argued that the church was endeavouring to combat the rising new interest in science as it posed a threat to the basics of church thinking and teaching. The rise of Aristotelian ideas and their interpretation by the medieval Andalusian philosopher Averroes generated controversies in Christendom that led to the Catholic Church taking steps to deal with their implications, with Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) laying down an acceptable interpretation of Aristotle, and the condemnation of Averroist doctrines in 1270 and 1277.

Thirteen propositions were listed as false and heretical, some related to Averroes' doctrine of the soul and others directed against Aristotle's theory of God as a passive unmoved mover. For example, the propositions "That human acts are not ruled by the providence of God", "That the world is eternal", and "That there was never a first human" had obvious signs of influence from scientific investigation and threatened basic tenets of Christian theology.

Moreover, Averroes argued that "scriptural text should be interpreted allegorically if it appeared to contradict conclusions reached by reason and philosophy."  The motive of Scholasticism then was to bring reason to the support of faith by using argumentation to silence all doubt and questioning while, at the same time, maintaining that faith was more important than reason.

On a political level Thomas Aquinas' ideas reflected the hierarchical thinking of the church in that he considered "monarchy is the best form of government, because a monarch does not have to form compromises with other persons. Aquinas, however, held that monarchy in only a very specific sense was the best form of government – only when the king was virtuous is it the best form; otherwise if the monarch is vicious it is the worst kind." Yet, "unless an agreement of all persons involved can be reached, a tyrant must be tolerated, as otherwise the political situation could deteriorate into anarchy, which would be even worse than tyranny."

John Toland (1670–1722), the Irish rationalist philosopher, threw a spanner into the works when he suggested in his book, Christianity Not Mysterious (which was ordered to be burnt), that "the divine revelation of the Bible contains no true mysteries; rather, all the dogmas of the faith can be understood and demonstrated by properly trained reason from natural principles"; i.e., Natural Law – the "system of right or justice held to be common to all humans and derived from nature rather than from the rules of society." In this case, the rules set by the Church.

From a political perspective Toland took a pantheistic approach to religion, the idea that god was 'immanent' or 'in' nature and not ruling over nature. Therefore, if nature had no need of hierarchy, then man had no need either. Toland believed that there was no need for hierarchy in the church or the state, "bishops and kings, in other words, were as bad as each other, and monarchy had no God-given sanction as a form of government."

Portrait of Newton at 46 by Godfrey Kneller, 1689

The Scientific Revolution

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.
— (Galileo Galilei)

By the early 18th century the new science and mechanical philosophy initiated by the Scientific Revolution had profoundly changed society as "developments in mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology (including human anatomy) and chemistry transformed the views of society about nature." An ideological battle developed between Christian philosophers like Leibniz who tried "to locate the origin of force in a vast spiritual universe, and ultimately therefore in God" 1 and the Newtonians who believed in a "divine presence operated as an immaterial "aether" that offered no resistance to bodies, but could move them through the force of gravitation", that is, an immanent or omnipresent god that was simply a part of nature.

Out of this influence of Newton there arose Enlightenment Deism, the idea that the universe is "a vast machine, created and set in motion by a creator being that continues to operate according to natural law without any divine intervention". Deism would allow the scientists to continue doing science without the fear of excommunication from the Church, worried about the implications of mechanical philosophy on God's role in the universe. Leibniz, critical of this theological sleight of hand, quipped: "God Almighty wants to wind up his watch from time to time: otherwise it would cease to move. He had not, it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion."

Deism emphasized the concept of natural theology (that is, God's existence is revealed through nature). Therefore, "Enlightenment Deism consisted of two philosophical assertions: (1) reason, along with features of the natural world, is a valid source of religious knowledge, and (2) revelation is not a valid source of religious knowledge." In practice this meant the rejection of (1) all books (including the Bible) that claimed to contain divine revelation (2) the incomprehensible notion of the Trinity and other religious "mysteries", and (3) reports of miracles, prophecies, etc. Thus, as Margaret C. Jacob writes:

The new mechanical philosophy banished spiritual agencies, inherent tendencies, and anima from the universe. In their place were put explanations based upon those natural properties capable of mathematical calculation. Nature had to be observed and experienced, and wherever possible given mathematical expression. The physical universe became a place with spatial dimensions within which bodies moved at measurable speeds. Bodies moved one another by impulse, that is, my pushing one another and to explanations of the natural world based upon impulse we commonly ascribe the term 'mechanical'.2

For Leibniz, though, this was political, as he perceived the new naturalistic and materialistic explanations of the universe were being used by 'politically dangerous men' to "disestablish churches and weaken the power of kings and courts." 3

The trial of Giordano Bruno by the Roman Inquisition. Bronze relief by Ettore Ferrari, Campo de' Fiori, Rome.

Pantheism and Materialism

When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?
— Lollard priest John Ball

Of course, Toland's pantheism, Aquinas's fear of anarchy, and Leibniz's dread of politically dangerous men were all rooted in an awareness of "popular heresy and social protest coming from the lower orders of society." 4  There were rumblings of dissent associated with radical groups steeped in centuries of paganism that had never been fully overcome by Christian theology. Pantheistic ideas could be found in animistic beliefs and tribal religions globally "as an expression of unity with the divine, specifically in beliefs that have no central polytheist or monotheist personas." The idea of a distinct personal or anthropomorphic god was not recognised. The 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) popularised pantheism in the West through his book Ethics along with the earlier Giordano Bruno (1548–1600), an Italian friar who evangelized about a transcendent and infinite God, but was eventually burned at the stake in 1600 by the Roman Inquisition. As Jacob noted:

The pantheistic materialism of seventeenth-century radicals owed its origin to the magical and naturalistic view of the universe which Christian churchmen and theologians had laboured for centuries to defeat. At the heart of this natural philosophy lay the notion that nature is a sufficient explanation or cause for the existence and workings of man and his physical environment. In other words, the separation of God from Creation, creature from creator, of matter from spirit, so basic to Christian orthodoxy and such a powerful justification for social hierarchy and even for absolute monarchy,  crumbles in the face of animistic and naturalistic explanations. God does not create ex nihilo; nature simply is and all people (and their environment) are part of this greater All. 5

Indeed, the earlier pagan religious practices had co-existed with Christianity, many of which the church had co-opted but the worship of saints (and Mary) almost seemed like the continuation of polytheism. As Christopher Scott Thompson writes:

Paganism in this broader sense did not end with the Christian conversion, because it was never limited to "organized religion" in the first place. Regular people all over Europe continued to leave offerings for the fairies and the dead many centuries after the official conversion to Christianity. They didn't think of themselves as "pagans" in any formal sense, but they still thought of the world around them as being filled with spirits and their daily spiritual practices reflected this worldview. They still believed in local fairy queens and fairy kings, entities that would have been understood as gods before the Christian conversion. They also retained a semi-polytheistic worldview in the veneration of saints, many of which were not recognized as saints officially by the church and a few of which were originally pre-Christian gods.

Furthermore, the radical peasants used elements of paganism and communitarian ideas in the bible to underpin their struggle against oppression by kings, queens, landowners and the aristocracy:

Peasants resisting feudalism sometimes turned to this tradition of magic and spirit worship for aid against their oppressors. For instance, Emma Wilby's The Visions of Isobel Gowdie documents how folk beliefs about fairy kings and the malevolent dead were used by magic practitioners in 17th century Scotland to curse feudal landowners. […] These practices existed alongside organized religion yet distinct from it, before the Christian conversion and after it. People cultivated relationships with the spirits of nature, the dead and other entities for help with their practical daily problems — including how to effectively resist oppression.

In England, for example, the radicals organised in groups such as the Diggers, Ranters, Levellers, Muggletonians, Familists and Quakers, some of whom believed that the "Scripture foretold of a democratic order where property would be redistributed" 6, for example, in Acts 2:

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

Woodcut from a Levellers document by William Everard

Materialism reflected the pagan, pantheistic worldview, as it "holds matter to be the fundamental substance in nature, and all things, including mental states and consciousness, are results of material interactions" (The idea that man created god, in stark contrast to the idealist view that god created man). This materialism was eventually combined with the aforementioned dialectics to form the basis of Marxian philosophy and change radical group ideology from pantheistic communitarianism to atheistic socialism. Thus, the non-hierarchical aspect of pantheism found its natural home in radical communitarian thought which was rejected by conservative forces, as Jacob states:

At every turn they rejected mechanistic explanations that hinged upon the power of matter unassisted by spiritual forces separate from the natural order. To their mind, scientific materialism, whether mechanistic or pantheistic in its inclination, justified atheism, social levelling, political disorder, in short the turning of 'the world upside down'. 7

The desire to turn 'the world upside down' was exhibited most famously by the religious and political dissidents known as the Diggers. They put their ideas into practice when they took over some common land in Surrey:

The Council of State received a letter in April 1649 reporting that several individuals had begun to plant vegetables in common land on St George's Hill, Weybridge near Cobham, Surrey at a time when harvests were bad and food prices high. Sanders reported that they had invited "all to come in and help them, and promise them meat, drink, and clothes." They intended to pull down all enclosures and cause the local populace to come and work with them. They claimed that their number would be several thousand within ten days. "It is feared they have some design in hand."

Their leader, Gerrard Winstanley (1609–1676) was an English Protestant religious reformer, political philosopher, and activist. The radical nature of the Diggers' ideology is demonstrated in the difference between the Diggers and the Levellers, as, while the Levellers sought to "level the laws" (while maintaining the right to the ownership of real property), Winstanley sought "to level the ownership of real property itself, which is why he and his followers called themselves "True Levellers".

Winstanley underpinned this radical ideology in combined passages from the bible and pantheist thinking in his writings:

In the beginning of Time, the great Creator Reason, made the Earth to be a Common Treasury, to preserve Beasts, Birds, Fishes, and Man, the lord that was to govern this Creation; for Man had Domination given to him, over the Beasts, Birds, and Fishes; but not one word was spoken in the beginning, That one branch of mankind should rule over another. And the Reason is this, Every single man, Male and Female, is a perfect Creature of himself; and the same Spirit that made the Globe, dwels in man to govern the Globe; so that the flesh of man being subject to Reason, his Maker, hath him to be his Teacher and Ruler within himself, therefore needs not run abroad after any Teacher and Ruler without him, for he needs not that any man should teach him, for the same Anoynting that ruled in the Son of man, teacheth him all things… And so selfish imaginations taking possession of the Five Sences, and ruling as King in the room of Reason therein, and working with Covetousnesse, did set up one man to teach and rule over another; and thereby the Spirit was killed, and man was brought into bondage, and became a greater Slave to such of his own kind, then the Beasts of the field were to him.

The Diggers were harassed on St George's Hill by organised gangs. They endured beatings and an arson attack on one of their communal houses. They were taken to court (but not allowed to speak in their own defence) and when they lost their case they had to leave the land or risk the army moving in and evicting them. Other Digger colonies were set up around different parts of England as their influence spread. Winstanley had to flee but continued to advocate the redistribution of land.

Conclusion

While ultimately the Digger movement failed, the Enlightenment developed out of the Scientific Revolution as the 17th century bequeathed two contradictory traditions to the future. On the one hand there was the predominant "moderate and liberal Christianity wedded to the new science and supportive of strong monarchy within a constitutional framework" while, on the other hand, a republican tradition "in conformity with a pantheistic and materialistic understanding of nature." 8  Two opposing traditions that are very much to the fore in politics today.

  1. Margaret C. Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans (A Cornerstone Book, 2006), p. 27.
  2. Margaret C. Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans (A Cornerstone Book, 2006), p. 2.
  3. Margaret C. Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans (A Cornerstone Book, 2006), p. 31.
  4. Margaret C. Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans (A Cornerstone Book, 2006), p. 3.
  5. Margaret C. Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans (A Cornerstone Book, 2006), p. 3/4.
  6. Margaret C. Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans (A Cornerstone Book, 2006), p. 43.
  7. Margaret C. Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans (A Cornerstone Book, 2006), p. 45.
  8. Margaret C. Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans (A Cornerstone Book, 2006), p. 36
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Dissident Voice
28 Sep 2022 | 3:45 pm

“Will of the People” vs. Political Process: A View From the U.S.


It's no secret that the political process in the U.S. has devolved from "consensus" to "contest," with political factions on the Left ("liberals") championing the inclusion of marginalized groups, freedom of choice and environmental concerns; while those on the Right ("conservatives") increasingly standing for preserving the status quo, if not rolling back some progressive advances, and privilege, particularly of white males.

After this year's Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade, threatening women's right to have an abortion, I read a report that, according to surveys, most people in the U.S. support abortions being legal. How, I asked, can this be – or, more accurately, why isn't this majority view reflected in the law of the land? And how many other social issues have the same disconnect, where the majority view is not manifest in legislation and social programs?

I'm a songwriter, and look to the traditions of folk music, particularly the topical or "protest" genre, to illuminate the realities of the US political landscape. I wanted to write a song that looked at the disconnect between the will of the people and political processes from three perspectives: what do "the people" really want? Are their desires being achieved, and if not, what is preventing it? And how can we give "the people" what they really want?

I started by looking at major social issues in the U.S. today: abortion. Gun safety. LGBT rights. Health care. Police reform. Immigration. Economic security. Climate change. I searched the Internet for current surveys on these issues, from reliable polling organizations, to find out what it is "the people" really want. My findings were stark (I'm including links to the surveys I relied on)

* Seventy-one percent (71%) of Americans surveyed approve same-sex marriage

* Seventy-one percent (71%) feel gun laws should be made more strict

* Seventy-nine percent (79%) of Americans surveyed favor nondiscrimination protections of members of the LBGT community

* Seventy percent support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants

* Sixty-two percent (62%) support raising the minimum wage to $15

* Over 60% of Americans believe abortion should be legal

* Fifty-nine percent (59%) believe it's more important to control gun violence than protect gun rights

* Sixty-five percent (65%) say Government is doing too little to address climate change. Sixty-nine percent (69%) support developing alternate sources of energy (wind, solar)

* Fifty-five percent (55%) support Medicare for all; 68% support a government health care option

* Eighty-nine percent (89%) of Americans surveyed say change is needed to improve how police serve the public

* Fifty-four percent (54%) support the separation of church and state

These surveys make the case that the majority of Americans want the progressive agenda that the Left's "liberals" have at the core of their governance agenda. Why, then, don't we see this "will of the people" reflected in the Nation's laws, policies and programs?

That brings us back to the tribalism that marks today's politics in the U.S. As of this writing (late September 2022, about five weeks before the mid-term Congressional and state elections), the Democratic Party (the "Left") controls the White House and Congress (with a slim, one-vote majority in the Senate). The GOP, when it held control under the past Administration, used its power to shift the balance of the Supreme Court to a conservative majority (as well as pack other Federal judicial posts with conservative incumbents); and need only sway a handful of votes to effectively control the Senate on individual issues.

The Republicans have openly stated that their goal is to thwart virtually all Democratic-proposed legislation – and they've effectively done so, time and again, using their control of the Senate to block legislation and funding. We see that mirrored in the House, where Democratic-sponsored legislation passes over the "no" votes of the entire Republican Membership (and then may be effectively blocked in the Senate).

And so, even though the majority of Americans want progressive change, they don't get it – because it's blocked by Republicans representing the minority of our citizens.

What's to be done? How can we deliver the change that the majority of Americans clearly want?

One of the clear lessons of the 2016 Presidential election is that the only poll that matters, is the one held on Election Day. In that case, although the majority of surveys predicted a win for the Democratic Candidate, the Republican won (this was due, in part, to the functioning of the Electoral College system, but that's another discussion). The 2020 cycle showed that Democratic wins are still possible — but, particularly in the case of Congressional races, are a function, not necessarily what the "people" want, but rather of how many of which party shows up in the States to actually vote.

So, the answer is simple, but by no means easy: Democratic/Left/liberal voters need to turn out and vote, in numbers greater than Republican/Right/conservatives. It's the bedrock concept of our representative democracy – and has proved enormously challenging, and will surely be so in the upcoming 2022 mid-terms.

That's how I approached my song, which became "Pop Vox! (The Vote Song)." Addressed to Democrats/progressives/liberals, it asks a series of questions, all revolving around progressive change and how to achieve it. Do you want equal rights? Vote. Do you want choice? Vote. An interlude lays out the above referenced surveys (one of the few instances I'm aware of, of statistics forming a major part of a song's lyrics); and then reinforces that's our votes that will secure the change the majority of Americans want to see.

"Pop Vox!" was released on September 26, and is available for streaming at MikeTurner.hearnow.com. I've been distributing the track to various political groups, organizations, public figures and candidates, making it available for use in campaigning and recruiting drives.

The bottom line? The majority of Americans support the change needed to realize the true potential of the American Dream. But in order to achieve that change, we need to replace obstructionist officials with Representatives of the will of the people.

And to do that, we all have to turn out on Election Day, and vote.

The post "Will of the People" vs. Political Process: A View From the U.S. first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Dissident Voice
28 Sep 2022 | 5:55 am

Without Culture, Freedom Is Impossible


Roberto Matta (Chile), Cuba es la capital ('Cuba Is the Capital'), 1963.

Roberto Matta (Chile), Cuba es la capital ('Cuba Is the Capital'), 1963.

In 2002, Cuba's President Fidel Castro Ruz visited the country's National Ballet School to inaugurate the 18th Havana International Ballet Festival. Founded in 1948 by the prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso (1920–2019), the school struggled financially until the Cuban Revolution decided that ballet – like other art forms – must be available to everyone and so must be socially financed. At the school in 2002, Castro remembered that the first festival, held in 1960, 'asserted Cuba's cultural vocation, identity, and nationality, even under the most adverse circumstances, when major dangers and threats loomed over the country'.

Ballet, like so many cultural forms, had been stolen from popular participation and enjoyment. The Cuban Revolution wanted to return this artistic practice to the people as part of its determination to advance human dignity. To build a revolution in a country assaulted by colonial barbarism, the new revolutionary process had to both establish the country's sovereignty and build the dignity of each of its people. This dual task is the work of national liberation. 'Without culture', Castro said, 'freedom is not possible'.

Enrique Tábara (Ecuador), Coloquio de frívolos ('Colloquium of the Frivolous'), 1982. Acrylic on canvas,140.5 x 140.5 cm.

Enrique Tábara (Ecuador), Coloquio de frívolos ('Colloquium of the Frivolous'), 1982.

In many languages, the word 'culture' has at least two meanings. In bourgeois society, culture has come to mean both refinement and the high arts. A property of the dominant classes, this culture is inherited through the transmission of manners and higher education. The second meaning of culture is the way of life, including beliefs and practices, of a people who are part of a community (from a tribe to a nation). The Cuban Revolution's democratisation of ballet and classical music, for instance, was part of its attempt to socialise all forms of human life, from the economic to the cultural. Furthermore, the revolutionary processes attempted to protect the cultural heritage of the Cuban people from the pernicious influence of the culture of colonialism. To be precise, to 'protect' did not mean to reject the entirety of the coloniser's culture, since that would enforce a parochial life on a people who must have access to all forms of culture. Cuba's Revolution adopted baseball, for instance, despite its roots in the United States, the very country that has sought to suffocate Cuba for six decades.

A socialist approach to culture, therefore, requires four aspects: the democratisation of forms of high culture, the protection of the cultural heritage of formerly colonised peoples, the advancement of the basic elements of cultural literacy, and the domestication of cultural forms that come from the colonising power.

Violeta Parra (Chile), Untitled (unfinished), 1966. Embroidery on sackcloth, 136 x 200 cm.

Violeta Parra (Chile). Untitled (unfinished), 1966.

In July 2022, I delivered a lecture at Cuba's Casa de las Américas, a major institution in Havana's cultural life and a heartbeat of cultural developments from Chile to Mexico, that centred on ten theses on Marxism and decolonisation. A few days later, Casa's director, Abel Prieto, also a former minister of culture, convened a seminar there to discuss some of these themes, principally how Cuban society had to both defend itself from the onrush of imperialist cultural forms and from the pernicious inheritance of racism and patriarchy. This discussion provoked a series of reflections on the process of the National Programme Against Racism and Racial Discrimination announced by President Miguel Díaz-Canel in November 2019 and on the process that led to the 2022 Family Code referendum (which will come to a popular vote on 25 September) – two dynamics that have the capacity to transform Cuban society in an anti-colonial direction.

Dossier no. 56 (September 2022) from Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and Casa de las Américas, Ten Theses on Marxism and Decolonisation, contains an expanded version of that lecture with a foreword by Abel Prieto. To give you a taste of it, here is thesis nine on the Battle of Emotions:

Antonio Berni (Argentina), Juanito Laguna, n.d.

Thesis Nine: The Battle of Emotions. Fidel Castro provoked a debate in the 1990s around the concept of the Battle of Ideas, the class struggle in thought against the banalities of neoliberal conceptions of human life. A key part of Fidel's speeches from this period was not just what he said but how he said it, each word suffused with the great compassion of a man committed to the liberation of humanity from the tentacles of property, privilege, and power. In fact, the Battle of Ideas was not merely about the ideas themselves, but also about a 'battle of emotions', an attempt to shift the palate of emotions from a fixation on greed to considerations of empathy and hope.

One of the true challenges of our time is the bourgeoisie's use of the culture industries and the institutions of education and faith to divert attention away from any substantial discussion about real problems – and about finding common solutions to social dilemmas – and towards an obsession with fantasy problems. In 1935, the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch called this the 'swindle of fulfilment', the seeding of a range of fantasies to mask their impossible realisation. The benefit of social production, Bloch wrote, 'is reaped by the big capitalist upper stratum, which employs gothic dreams against proletarian realities'. The entertainment industry erodes proletarian culture with the acid of aspirations that cannot be fulfilled under the capitalist system. But these aspirations are enough to weaken any working-class project.

A degraded society under capitalism produces a social life that is suffused with atomisation and alienation, desolation and fear, anger and hate, resentment and failure. These are ugly emotions that are shaped and promoted by the culture industries ('you can have it too!'), educational establishments ('greed is the prime mover'), and neo-fascists ('hate immigrants, sexual minorities, and anyone else who denies you your dreams'). The grip of these emotions on society is almost absolute, and the rise of neo-fascists is premised upon this fact. Meaning feels emptied, perhaps the result of a society of spectacles that has now run its course.

From a Marxist perspective, culture is not seen as an isolated and timeless aspect of human reality, nor are emotions seen as a world of their own or as being outside of the developments of history. Since human experiences are defined by the conditions of material life, ideas of fate will linger on as long as poverty is a feature of human life. If poverty is transcended, then fatalism will have a less secure ideological foundation, but it does not automatically get displaced. Cultures are contradictory, bringing together a range of elements in uneven ways out of the social fabric of an unequal society that oscillates between reproducing class hierarchy and resisting elements of social hierarchy. Dominant ideologies suffuse culture through the tentacles of ideological apparatuses like a tidal wave, overwhelming the actual experiences of the working class and the peasantry. It is, after all, through class struggle and through the new social formations created by socialist projects that new cultures will be created – not merely by wishful thinking.

It is important to recall that, in the early years of each of the revolutionary processes – from Russia in 1917 to Cuba in 1959 – cultural efflorescence was saturated with the emotions of joy and possibility, of intense creativity and experimentation. It is this sensibility that offers a window into something other than the ghoulish emotions of greed and hatred.

Nicolás Guillén honours Alicia Alonso at the Unión Nacional de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba ('National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba'), Havana, 1961.

Nicolás Guillén honours Alicia Alonso at the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), Havana, 1961.

In the early years after 1959, Cuba convulsed with such surges of creativity and experimentation. Nicolás Guillén (1902–1969), a great revolutionary poet who had been imprisoned during Fulgencio Batista's dictatorship, captured the harshness of life and the great desire for the revolutionary process to emancipate the Cuban people from the wretchedness of hunger and social hierarchies. His poem 'Tengo' ('I Have') from 1964 tells us that the new culture of the revolution was elemental – the feeling that one did not have to bow one's shoulders before a superior, to say to workers in offices that they too are comrades and not 'sir' and 'ma'am', to walk as a Black man into a hotel without being told to stop at the door. His great anti-colonial poem alerts us to culture's material foundations:

I have, let's see,
I've learned to read,
to count.
I've learned to write,
and to think,
and to laugh.
I have, yes, I have
a place to work
and earn
what I have to eat.
I have, let's see,
I have what I have to have.

At the close of his foreword to the dossier, Abel Prieto writes, 'we must turn the meaning of anti-colonial into an instinct'. Reflect on that for a moment: anti-colonialism is not just the ending of formal colonial rule, but a deeper process, one that must become ingrained at the instinctual level so that we can build the capacity to solve our basic needs (such as transcending hunger and illiteracy, for instance) and build our alertness to the need for cultures that emancipate us and do not bind us to the flashy world of unaffordable commodities.

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Dissident Voice
28 Sep 2022 | 12:33 am

China is Capitalist


https://chuangcn.org/2022/03/china-faq-capitalist/

The Greanville Post recently republished China watcher Jeff Brown's 2015 piece, "The Myth of Chinese Capitalism". Brown calls the supposed myth, "One of the greatest fabrications of Western media, among academics and on Wall Street…" He asserts that the West promotes a "self-assuring message…that China is fully in the fold of Western capitalism, except…Beijing plays dirty, using its own set of rules" (emphasis in the original). Further, he disputes the "superficial image" of China as "just a copycat, eastern version of crass Americana." He is correct that these messages and images are simplistic. In their place, however, rather than a more complex, and importantly, more accurate variation, he offers his own superficial image.

Despite appearances, Brown really only offers four gaunt pieces of evidence for his claim that China is "communist-socialist", instead of capitalist, two of which are highlighted in the subtitle. "Every last inch of China's land is collectively owned. And so are the 'commanding heights of the economy'" (arguing the latter, he includes more general claims about state-ownership of industry). The remaining pieces of evidence concern China's constitution and its welfare state. I will look at them in the order they are presented.

Before explaining his proofs, Brown engages in some general applause for the Chinese system—though the causes for his cheerleading are basically beside the point regarding whether China is communist-socialist or capitalist. He states that "China has become, in one generation, the world's largest economy in purchasing power parity (PPP)"—a measure economists question anyway when used in reference to production, as Brown does.

Economist Patrick Honohan argues:

China's GDP at PPP recently passed that of the United States. But such calculations neglect the fact that PPPs take account of the systematic tendency of poorer countries to have lower prices….

If cross-country comparisons are to be robust, they need to take account of factors such as environmental degradation and the globalization of production. In at least 10 countries, the required resource depletion adjustment for environmental degradation amounts to more than 15 percent of GDP. The far-fetched 25 percent GDP growth rate in Ireland in 2015 reflects the role of multinational corporations.

In any event, PPP stats hardly establish the nature of the system in the terms given.

Further, and no proof either, he cites China's once "very egalitarian 0.16" Gini coefficient, noting that currently (2015) it is 0.37, between Sweden's (0.25) and that of the United States (0.41). Having said this, it is true that, as Brown implies, (1) not all modernization (in the sense of productivity and reduction of poverty) occurred after 1978, when liberalization generally is considered to have begun, and (2), not all post-1978 reform and transformation has been neoliberal, save for the qualification of reputed Chinese cheating. Yet, these also fail to demonstrate that China is "communist-socialist" rather than capitalist.

As Brown's first proof of China's "communist-socialist" system he offers an extended quote from China's constitution, specifically its 1982 version. But the passage, unsurprisingly, is not much more than the CCP's self-reported hagiographic nonsense. Yes, a decrease in poverty has been achieved, both under Mao and during the post-1978 period. Dispute as to the exact number and measures used remains, but the achievement is not insignificant. On the other hand, the assertion that "The exploiting classes as such have been eliminated" is fanciful today even if it was arguable in the Maoist period.

The constitution is quick to assert the government is a "people's democratic republic led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants". In this regard, it might be of interest to know that the actual membership of the Chinese Communist Party has changed over time. If it was ever a meaningful worker/peasant organization (and arguably in the pre-civil war days it was), it isn't now. As Chuangcn notes, in June 2022, "the Organization Department of [the] CCP published the latest statistics about members composition". Chuangcn observes that while "workers and peasants are in a constant trend of decrease", "managers, specialists and retirees have one of increase." This being the case, it is no stretch to say this latter group is roughly similar to the professional-managerial class (PMC) in the United States.

In John and Barbara Ehrenreich's 1977 essay, "The Professional-Managerial Class", they write:

To generations of radicals, the working class has been the bearer of socialism, the agent of both progressive social reform and revolution. But in the United States in the last two decades, the left has been concentrated most heavily among people who feel themselves to be 'middle class,' while the working class has appeared relatively quiescent. This 'middle class' left, unlike its equivalent in early twentieth-century Europe or in the Third World movement; it is, to a very large extent, the left itself. It has its own history of mass struggle, not as an ally or appendage of the industrical class, but as a mass constituency in and of itself. At the same time, most of the U.S. left continues to believe (correctly, we think) that without a mass working-class left, only the most marginal social reforms is possible.1

Has a similar class arisen in China, where one party perhaps can even tighten elite political control over "the most marginal social reforms"? Are we to suppose, even if we take seriously the notion that the dictatorship of the workers and peasants can be something other than just a dictatorship, that the current make-up of the Party can deliver anything but, in this case, party-state-capitalist control and, for the rest, a demand for docility?

What about social programs as a proof? The implication that social welfare programs makes China "communist-socialist" is transparently ridiculous, and it echoes right-wing views about such programs. Plainly, I think, social welfare programs demonstrate at most that China is social democratic. While social democracies certainly do provide real assistance to populations, they have never approached the core of capitalist social relations in any real sense. That neoliberalism butts heads with social democracy remains a debate within capitalism.

Next on Brown's short list of supposed evidence is China's supposedly collectivized land.

Brown writes that "China is still very much communist, because every square meter of this country is owned collectively by the Chinese people, via the state." In the next paragraph, he gives the punchline. "Anybody on Planet Earth can invest in China's real estate, but if you wish to keep it longer than 70 years [70 years!], you will have to renew your lease contract and pay its going market value, to do so." I defy you to find a capitalist who is significantly unnerved by such an arrangement.

We might have guessed, of course, that collective land ownership could be as meaningful or meaningless as democracy, freedom, or popular sovereignty. In fact, in China, "swindling locals and forcing them off their land" so that it might be converted "to state-ownership" and then "placed on the market" is "all too common in China since the capitalist transition spread to the sphere of land ownership and became more centered on real estate over the past two decades".

Further:

"Socialist Modernization" has, in reality, only led to the further entrenchment of the private property system. The party has overseen the destruction of essentially all remaining communal or semi-communal conventions in land and enterprise management, alongside all remaining forms of socialist welfare, systematically replacing them with conventions of private ownership modelled on the legal systems of the leading capitalist nations. This cultivation of commodification, combined with the repression of all potential for communist organizing to emerge among the population at large, seems to pose this Chinese 'socialism' against all prospects for proletarian emancipation. Placed in global context, it is not an exaggeration to say that socialism, as it actually exists today, is largely anti-communist.

The next piece of evidence is that of state-owned enterprise.

A recent report published by The Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), finds that:

China's private sector has grown not only in absolute terms but also as a proportion of the country's largest companies, measured by revenue or (for listed ones) by market value, from a very low level when President Xi was confirmed as the next top leader in 2010 to a significant share today. SOEs still dominate by revenue among the largest companies, but their preeminence is eroding. To be sure, the Communist Party has attempted to develop its presence in the corporate world, including in the private sector, through various means. But equity ownership structures matter. China's private-sector companies are focused on profit maximization and value creation in ways SOEs are not.

The authors note that everyone from the Rockefeller-founded Asia Society to The Wall Street Journal, and, incidentally, state propagandists in China, take seriously Xi Jinping's supposed "pivot to the state".  They also remind us that claims of a "pivot back to state-sector dominance have been made multiple times before, with reference to policy shifts in 1989-1990, 2003, the mid-2000s, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2017, 2019, and early 2020. Meanwhile, China's private sector has kept advancing. There is no compelling indication that this time is different."

(Regarding the subtitled pieces of evidence (that land and the most important industries are state owned), it is probably not a coincidence that, as a left-wing Chinese writer claims, these "form the basis of the [Chinese] regime's claim to be 'socialist'". Brown, a resident of Beijing (at least as of 2015), has probably heard them before on TV.)

Chuangcn recently offered an array of answers to the broader questions: "What Do Chinese Workers Think about the CCP?",'Is China a capitalist country?', 'Is China a socialist country?', and 'Wasn't China a Communist Country under Mao?'. Chuangcn members, both in China and internationally, supplied answers. These replies can be summed up as 'not much', 'yes', 'no', and 'no'.

Still, a few quotes are helpful.

Regarding workers' opinions about the CCP, one respondent, Ruirui, said that though he or she originally took the Party to be genuine and even "sacred", he or she nevertheless "came to realize that the CCP truly had nothing to do with communism, so my interest in it completely disappeared." Another, Kaixuan, said that "There is nothing socialist or communist or even mildly progressive about the CCP." Cheng Yeng said that since he or she became an actual communist, they had no interest in the Party whatsoever. There are many more similar replies.

As for the questions whether China is capitalist or socialist, Chuangcn gives the following rejoinders. "China is capitalist. It is capitalist both because it is fully integrated in the global capitalist system and because capitalist imperatives have penetrated all the way down to everyday life.". As for socialism, Chuangcn says that if China is socialist it is only because the word has "lost any relationship to the destruction of capitalist society".

Chuangcn substantially says regarding communism under Mao that, no, China was not communist. Additionally, they claim that Maoist China really matched more the description "developmental regime", a system of building up the capacities and wealth of the country while modernizing it. The developmental regime more or less described every Third World and Non-Aligned country. They attempted to develop either via Western methods or Soviet methods (or some variation thereof).

However, and just as important as the facts of the matter, there is more generally the subject of judgment. The term religiosity as a criticism of Brown's interpretation refers to secular, political simplified, good-vs.-evil belief system. It applies well to nationalism. As the British political scientist, Frank Wright, put it, "Nationalisms are not merely 'like' religions – they are religions." Brown, who "grew up in Oklahoma, USA, in the 50s-60s" and like many Cold War babies, perhaps, tended to perceive the world in very stark dualistic terms, probably clung then to a United States-focused nationalism. In an apparent case of transferred-nationalism 2 , though, has he traded one simplified view for another, this time one echoing tenets set forth in Beijing?

*****

There is a further sense in which Brown's view may be seen as religious-like and relevant to my argument. The sociologist Daniel DellaPosta considers the problem of simplified, good-vs.-evil worldviews specifically in regard to "an increase of mass polarization" arising from "belief consolidation, entailing the collapse of previously cross-cutting alignments, thus creating increasingly broad and encompassing clusters organized around cohesive packages of beliefs". This means a person is likely to have a set of views governed first by their perceived occurrence on a political spectrum instead of independently-judged beliefs that may, secondarily, seem more-or-less scattered or clustered across a political spectrum.

Naturally, when one is raised with a simplified view (like nationalism), at least parts of which are found to be significantly distorted or unfair, adopting a transferred- or negative nationalism might seem like a reasonable reaction, and doing so may lead to some insight. It's also a readily-useful position to fall back on, particularly when faced with limited information. Invariably, though, a flexible, complex view fully expecting the unexpected, the inconsistent, and the ambivalent, is the only worthy replacement for a simplified view like nationalism or transferred-nationalism. 

  1. Barbara and John Ehrenreich, "The Professional Managerial Class", Radical America, (March 1977), p. 7.
  2. In the sense of reflexive and total support for another nation-state rather than the one in which one was born or resides. No support or criticism, certainly, can be applauded or dismissed merely on the basis of one's birthplace or location. But the over-simplicity and Manichean nature of a worldview sets it out as religious-like. Of course, Orwell can be dismissed for having the wrong politics, but the points he makes refer to faulty thinking and cannot be so easily dismissed.
The post China is Capitalist first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Dissident Voice
27 Sep 2022 | 5:43 pm

NWO Hamster Wheel


The post NWO Hamster Wheel first appeared on Dissident Voice.
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