Wednesday, 31 August 2011


In pagan civilizations, it was perfectly acceptable for war chiefs and kings to attribute divine intervention in natural and human phenomena and to summon the gods to intervene on man's behalf. Especially in times of disasters, many civilizations attributed the hand of a deity in everything from floods to earthquakes. Such reasoning makes sense when society has embraced a pantheon that has deified natural forces, but how do we explain American Republican candidates for president in 2011 attributing divine intervention in the political arena?

Are we witnessing a case of madness as some in and outside of the US believe when trying to understand right-wing Republicans running for office, or is the entire affair sharply calculated as part of strategic political platform intended to secure a segment of the popular base that is very receptive to religion injected in politics; a process that media and business support? After all, if you are not the front runner, it is much easier to capture a segment of the popular base in the fringes than it is in the mainstream on which the insider candidate and party machinery has a lock and which requires a great deal of money to reach.

One of the politicians trying to capture the 'voters' imagination' by using strategic extremism, as mainstream analysts would define it in the US, is Minnesota congresswoman and Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann competing with Rick Perry who also uses religion as part of his campaign strategy. Bachmann recently tried to convince Floridians that hurricane Irene and the earthquake that preceded it were God's messages to Washington; a divine attempt to capture the attention of the White House and Congress about fiscal issues.

Some people probably believe that God is concerned with US fiscal policy, while others would rather leave God to the larger issues of the type that serious theologians or astrophysicists like Stephen Hawking and others deal with. Well, this latter group, those secular humanists relying on Hawking-style atheistic physics, would be wrong and sinning, according to Evangelical Lutheran Michelle Bachmann. I am assuming that congresswoman Bachmann does not find Garrison Keillor's jokes about wayward Lutherans very funny and probably believes that the writer-comedian only demeans hard-working Lutherans in the upper Midwest.

Bachmann has taken a page out of televangelist Pat Robertson and a number of others like him who see God as angry, spiteful, vengeful all-mighty destroyer for sins that people commit, sins like abortion, gay marriage, drug addicts receiving welfare, ' freedom-loving Americans' denied the right to gun ownership, supreme court decisions that impact family decisions on how to guide their children, and countless of other sins that multicultural and permissive America has committed in the name of tolerance and progress. This is not so different than what Perry advocates. Therefore, these two Republicans must have figured out that religion still seels in politics, especially when people are seeking answers to economic chronic problems.

When a number of politicians saw the videotape of Bachmann stating that the earth quake and tornado, both occurring along that sinful East coast, they were caught smiling or laughing. God was not laughing with them, and neither are extreme right-wingers who see evangelical-style politics as the key to capturing votes. Bachmann knows better than these secular humanists who never took seriously issues like gay marriage, while she prayed for guidance and God guided her to introduce legislation in Minnesota making marriage a union between one male and one female, just as God guided her to marry her husband, even before they met! No, she has not claimed that she has succumbed to mysticism, not yet, but this campaign has legs...
The Tea Party is solidly behind Bachmann who claims that she is a follower of 16th century German theologian Martin Luther, a theologian whose works Bachmann may be surprised to discover inspired the German Peasants' War against the propertied classes. While the radical Lutherans favored an egalitarian Christian community, mainstream Lutherans embraced institutional conformity. Radical Lutheranism is as much a part of the Protestant tradition as conservative Lutheranism that Bachmann follows in order to secure votes from the religious right.

Voter turn out is an important consideration when running for office, and that can only be achieved by bold and 'out of this world' statements, instead of generic political rhetoric that everyone employs. After all, Obama and the congressional leaders did not think to tell the American people that God was sending a message about fiscal policy by causing the earth quake and hurricane!

No matter how outrageous, politically strategic extremism works in getting the message to voters only as long as the mainstream media has decided that it is in the interest of corporate America to promote such candidates. Therefore, the key is neither the candidate nor the extremist strategy per se, but the media behind which represents corporate America willing to push the candidate into the forefront because s/he serves the goal of distracting the public from real issues facing them.

Given that the US does not have a leftist wing, like France, Spain, and other countries, and given that 'left' in the US means 'Kennedy-style liberal' who would be otherwise conservative in many countries, the struggle for political power takes place within a narrow conservative range. From 1980 to the present, this political struggle has been about how far to the right to move the line by Republicans and how far to move it back toward center-right by Democrats.

The presidential election of 2012 is exactly such a struggle where new boundaries are tested by far right-wing politicians backed by millionaires who fear that the decline of the US economy in the last ten years may mean erosion of their lion's share of the economy and other privileges such as political and social influence.  Bachmann claiming that God is sending a signal to lawmakers through tornadoes and earth quakes fits into this institutional pattern that the establishment supports.


Drug-testing of the poor is not a new story, as it goes back to the 1940s when US government researchers infected Guatemalan subjects with syphilis. In September 2010, Sec. of State Clinton apologized for the use of 696 Guatemalans gathered from prisons, army bases, and mental health facilities and injected with the bacteria on their faces, arms, and genitals. Similarly, the US government conducted the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiments on blacks. There have been numerous books, articles and even motion pictures dealing with this sensitive subject, but the practice continues.

The illegal research tests in the 1940s and 1950s took place despite the fact that the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 had stipulated strict regulations on the 'ethical use of human subjects in medical research'. In 1948, the US strengthened regulation of human subject testing, after the Nuremberg trials that revealed Nazi experiments on concentration camp prisoners. "The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential," the code stated. The US government violated the law at the expense of the poor and minorities within and outside the country in order to conduct research experiments, a practice that Washington had condemned the Nazis at Nuremberg.

Despite the violation of its own laws, despite emba5rassing public apologies for using the poor within and outside the US as involuntary research medical subjects, the US and American corporations are continuing to use the poor as subjects in violation of US law. In the last ten years, US and EU drug companies have used India for medical research purposes, justifying the entire unethical, if not criminal process, as part of globalization.

As a country rapidly developing, but with a very large number of poor people, India has become the world's largest pretrie dish, according to Sean Philpott, managing editor of The American Journal of Bioethics. "Not only are research costs low, but there is a skilled work force to conduct the trials. Individuals who participate in Indian clinical trials usually won't be educated. Offering $100 may be undue enticement; they may not even realize that they are being coerced."

During my college teaching days, one of my undergraduates whose academic record was less than stellar boasted that he would become a doctor in a just a couple of years by going to India where he would have 'practical experience', instead of wasting time studying medical books in the US. At the time, I though that he was comforting his tortuous mind. However, he was correct after all. For decades, pharmaceutical research in India rests on actual patients and not on clinical testing.

Although the World Health Organization has been pressuring India to change its laws regarding medical research, things are very slow to change in everything from neighborhood abortion clinics mostly to abort female fetuses to drug testing. US and EU pharmaceutical companies love India because they can save millions - an estimated 60% in clinical trial costs that account for 40% in drug development - in expensive drug tests that the Food and Drug Administration requires. For the US and EU and for the multinational pharmaceutical corporations, poor people are as disposal as garbage and they are treated as such in medical experiments.

Unethical and/or illegal human experimentation has taken place in a number of area from surgical, radioactive, chemical, psychological, and others in the past one-and-a-half centuries by government and private sector as much in the US as in Europe. Legal, and professional guidelines have proved meaningless. The idea that the UN or WTO would do something meaningful is unrealistic to expect, even if it were enforceable. What can be done to stop using the poor as subjects for medical research experiments? The best solution is grass roots organizing and getting the word out to the world that unscrupulous corporations and governments are using the poor for medical experiments.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011


The US and Europe hope that the wave of popular uprisings in Islamic nations during the first quarter of 2011 will bring friendly regimes toward the West; and friendly means that they will accept Western foreign investment under favorable terms to the multinational corporations, trade with the lowest possible tariffs, and military and foreign policy alliances designed to keep Israel strong. However, it the US permits Israel to drag its foreign policy into an ideological war with the emerging regimes, the beneficiaries will be China and Russia, and to a lesser extent EU, depending on the degree to which it follows the US lead.

If the regimes that emerge in the aftermath of the popular uprisings are Islamist or influenced by such popular and/or political movements, Western governments and businesses hope that they would be close to the Turkey's Justice & Development Party that is committed to becoming a full member of the EU. Turkey, however, has a long-standing secular tradition that goes back to the country's modern political hero Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. North Africa and the Middle East have nothing similar, although secularization cultural aspects are present in some countries more than others, and it would be best to see each country individually instead of lumping them together as 'Muslim World'.

Is it at all possible that the new regimes in the Middle East and North Africa would be closer to the theocratic models of Afghanistan's Taliban, or perhaps to Hamas and Hezbollah that are committed to adamantly opposing Israel? There is every indication so far that the influence of Islamists in each country will be greater with the new regimes. This is the case in Egypt and it seems the same will be the case in all countries that will undergo regime change in 2011.

Not all Islamists are of the same mold as al-Qaeda, and every movement has its own identity shaped in part by nationalism and the specific problems facing their country from Tunisia to Yemen. It is also true that it is very different to exist as opposition movements openly or in the underground than becoming political parties or taking power. There will definitely be a change the dynamic of any Islamist movement once it enjoys legitimacy and/or assumes a role in government.

It is wishful thinking to argue that the new regimes with Islamic and popular rebel influences will be as embracing of US foreign policy (closely linked to Israel), and welcoming of Western businesses as the old regimes. Nor can it be argued that Islamist movements lack legitimacy after all they are going through in the fight to dethrone pro-US authoritarian regimes. If Islamic movements across North Africa and Middle East emerge into political parties through open elections like Hamas and if the US refuses to accept them as legitimate as it refuses to accept Hamas, the gap between the Christian West and the Islamic nations will grow wider.

Some within the Obama team have argued that given the US strong position of supporting, at least in rhetoric, 'the people protesting in the streets', the US and the West should not fear Islamists that may become influential in the future. If regime change had taken place during the Cold War it would have been much better for the West, but today it is not necessarily good news, given the US-led global war on "Islamic terrorism' and a horrific policy record not just toward Palestinians but toward Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US and EU are counting on the fact that the new regimes will be asking for foreign aid - military and economic. The US and EU are also counting on elements within the political arena and armed forces of each country wishing to have ties with the West. It is entirely possible that a strategy of co-optation and carrot-and-stick approach may work with the new regimes, although it certainly did not work with Iran or Afghanistan under the Taliban. It is also a certainty that the US and EU will be very busy trying to foment divisions within the new governments by luring some factions or parties toward the West to break the solidarity of the new regimes if those are unfriendly.

The bottom line for the new regimes will be their survival from internal and external pressures that may under extreme circumstances result in regional conflicts. There are no models other than the single capitalist one operating under varieties of regimes from far right to moderate left-center and to one-party state in the case of Communist countries like China, Cuba, N. Korea. Given that integration on a regional or global level is absolutely essential for the survival of any nation, the new regimes will have to choose between forging a strong regional bloc to moderate external pressures, or opt for global integration as semi-dependencies of the West or perhaps of China. The paths for new Islamic regimes are very narrow and do not offer nearly as much hope as it appears in terms of enjoying national sovereignty and freedom from neo-colonial trappings.


Feminism is no more a homogeneous concept than 'radicalism'. The varieties of feminism from Liberation Theology feminism to Liberal, Socialist, conservative, eco-feminism, existential, and post-modern feminism. Living in the age of cultural relativism, pluralism and multiculturalism, it would be dogmatic to argue that eco-feminism is superior or 'the correct' ideological brand of feminism.

The roots of feminism are based in the humanist spirit of the Renaissance, especially as expressed in the writings of Venetian-born Christine de Pesan's  The Book of the City of Ladies & The Book of the Three Virtues (1405). A product of the Renaissance, Christine de Pisan dealt with the issues of misogyny and negative stereotypes within the context of the larger theme of Humanism.

The struggle for women to achieve social justice has historical roots and it evolves concurrently with the Enlightenment and rise of liberal-bourgeois revolutions from the French in 1789 to those across Europe in 1848. In short, from within middle class intellectual and political revolutions arose the cries of women to end gender discrimination and to be treated as human and humanely; a demand no different than middle class men demanding that the societal order based on aristocratic privilege must be replaced with a meritocracy and Liberal-democratic institutions.

As the Liberal political ideology swept across Europe and US in the 19th century, early Liberal feminists concerned themselves with individual gender inequality and emancipation through the ballot box and the legal system. Liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill, The Subjugation of Women (1869), and his wife Harriet Taylor Mill were early ideological contributors to the movement. Having the right to vote and reforming the judicial system to place women at a the same legal plane field as men were universal issues, but mainly the concern of middle class women rather than peasants or workers. Western European nations began passing legislation under Married Women’s Property Acts that recognized the independent legal existence of married women, laws that led to the right of women to seek financial support from fathers through judicial process.

Whereas the Liberal ideal for 19th century feminists was for the state to extend civil liberties protection to women, the Anarchist and Socialist ideal was linked to class oppression that subordinated women into extensions of male property. Economic inequality intertwined with institutionalized sexism in general, and more specifically reproductive issues (contraception), violence against women, economic justice, especially equality of pay for equal work, workplace and institutional discrimination against women, immigrants, and all minorities were issues that concerned women activists that came from a more radical background, including Anarchism and Socialism.

Left-wing feminism was closer to the Renaissance humanist and humane spirit of gender issues. A major contributor to humanist and humane-based feminism was from Emma Goldman, born in a Jewish ghetto in Kovno Lithuania in 1869. Like most parents, Emma's considered her birth a burden because they would have to provide a dowry for her. Trying to study French and challenging traditional male roles, Emma found that her family and society was against her as a woman and a Jew. In 1885 she immigrated to Rochester, New York where she worked in a factory. She married in 1887 when the Haymarket riots in Chicago that left a number of workers dead and injured. After the Russian Revolution of 1905 that resulted in new waves of pogroms against Russian Jews, Emma became more active in anarchist-feminist activities in New York, having divorced her husband.

In 1906, she founded MOTHER EARTH magazine devoted to anarchist worker and feminist issues. In an article entitled 'Tragedy of Women's Emancipation', she wrote that Liberal feminist goals of equal rights and the right to vote did not go far enough to address institutional discrimination against women. She argued that the Enlightenment ideal of a person realizing their full potential by having the opportunity through the political and legal systems did not address economic issues and the right of woman to control her body. In the name of free motherhood, Emma supported birth control that she equated with free speech. Charged under the Alien Immigration Act, Emma was deported in 1919 after the FBI argued that her magazine influenced violent anarchists and other radicals demanding women's rights and birth control.

As a pioneer of early 20th century Anarchist feminism, Emma had a far reaching influence in the 20th century, but it would be lost within the heterogeneous movement. Viewing feminism from the perspective of class and sex domination that rested on institutional structures of force, Emma like other leftist feminists reflected the pre-WWI intelligentsia that was optimistic about a more equal and just society; itself and Enlightenment ideal. The synthesis that Emma provided between class and gender, the concern that women's issues were intertwined with class issues and not separate from them as many feminists would argued in the 20th century, and above all her humane approach accounted for her brilliant grasp of how oppressive institutional structures operate against all dissidents who struggle to awaken society to the injustices around them.

In the absence of systemic change of the institutions of inequality and oppression of all types, it is simply impossible to achieve the goal of gender equality. Considering that a segment of the feminist movement has been coopted by the institutional mainstream and it is to a degree an integral part the corporate and political arena in the most advanced countries, by definition feminism has a stake in the status quo of which it is a part.

That feminism has been co-opted by conservatives and Liberals who use it as a vehicle of undercutting class oppression is another indication of how far it has drifted from the era of Emma Goldman. Humane-based feminism has been obscured in the last three or four decades because many feminists inside the institutional mainstream became increasingly legalistic, bureaucratic minded and narrowly mechanical in their approach to social justice, mainly focusing on narrow interests. Having lost a great deal of support among the masses - males and females - feminism, especially gynocentric feminism, cannot have a bright future unless it returns to its humanist and humane roots.


A few days ago, Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich emailed me a Chris Hedges essay entitled: “How Democracy Dies: A Lesson from the Master,” which relies on Aristophanes’s works as an example of how society decays from within by corruption, greed, arrogance, distortion of ideals designed to promote the welfare of all people, and of course perpetual militarism that debilitates society and ultimately contributes to its demise. After reading the article, I surfed the Web for stories with the titles “who threatens US democracy” and “threats to US democracy,” and discovered that many essays (more than 20 million hits) include the following ten categories:

1. military establishment, conventional war, and war (PR, covert, etc.) on terror;
2. government bailout of banks and corporations;
3. the Supreme Court that is out of touch with the American people;
4. economic weakness and economic inequality;
5. the World Trade Organization and the UN;
6. Corporate power, corporate media, corporate campaign contributions;
7. Religious extremism of all types, Islamophobia, and Terrorism;
8. political (voter) ignorance, and interest groups;
9. the Internet;
10. narcotics trade and crime.

One very interesting article argues that the most basic threat to democracy is the human brain that “is predisposed to use information to confirm their existing beliefs, which makes democratic governance impossible.” If we accept that human nature as inherently atomistic and irrational without regard to others, assumptions that English philosopher Thomas Hobbes articulated in the Leviathan, then the human brain with its predisposition to the irrational and atomistic is indeed the obstacle to democracy. 
If we also accept the assumption that competition and private accumulation of wealth power, prestige, etc. in the social, economic and political spheres promotes self-interest at the expense of the greater good, then we have another obstacle to democracy functioning harmoniously for the welfare of all its citizens. But all of this is predicated on the definition of “democracy,” a concept that many people equate with free enterprise and individual pursuit of wealth (Adam Smith and his Liberal followers), others with social welfare and the pursuit of the greater good for the greatest number (utilitarian democracy), others with human rights and social welfare (social democracy), others with basic freedoms such as press, assembly, etc.(Libertarian), others equating democracy with voting. 
Of the ten categories listed above as “threats to US democracy,” clearly all of them and many more are real, depending on the individual’s definition of democracy, and on value systems that spell out not only what democracy is but what it is not. On the broader question of endogenous or exogenous factors that cause the demise of a democratic society, here we can look at historical experiences of countries that were “to some degree open societies,” countries that enjoyed aspects of democracy but lapsed toward some model of authoritarianism. In the cases of interwar Italy, Germany, and Japan the causes of abandoning pluralism for an extreme form of militaristic ultra-authoritarianism rooted in ultra right-wing ideology were internal, although external causes served as a pretext to convince the public of the need for a militaristic/authoritarian regime. 
If indeed people care more about safety and security, or at least if the media and their political, business, and social leaders convince them that nothing matters more than safety and security, people will voluntarily surrender any commitment to democracy for the perceived guarantee of safety and security. If the US moves increasingly toward a more authoritarian model under the political shell of “democracy,” as it could if in the future it faces more and deeper economic contractions that result in an increasingly smaller and weaker middle class, the cause will not be the UN, the WTO, Islamic “terrorism,” rogue nations like North Korea, etc. 
The dynamics of human society are similar today as in the 17th century when Hobbes wrote the Leviathan, therefore if a modern American Leviathan emerges it will be an expression of contemporary society confronting a social and economic structure that is unraveling. The segment of society that has the power to mold public opinion and convince them that Leviathan means “salvation” from self-destructive proclivities of an otherwise irrational public, will move society away from the Jeffersonian model that some equate as the ideal toward one that projects an image of narrowly-defined democracy and equates it with “the freedom to shop, to enjoy safety and security, and vote for politicians who represent the same institutions”" a model behind which rests an authoritarian/police/military state.

Monday, 29 August 2011


Now that Libya is in the 'Western camp' with the inevitability of a regime that will surrender many sovereign rights to the US and its European allies, what will the US do if indeed the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria also falls as Syrian rebels believe is inevitable? Will that be sufficient to for the US to save the Saudi Arabian regime and to keep Israel as the strongest country in the Middle East, or will Iran be the next target as it has been but without success despite the aggressive covert military and intelligence operations and foreign intervention that we have seen in Libya. Wishful thinking for the US and others in the West is that Iran goes back to the good old days of the Shah, at least something like it, but is that what most Iranians want, given that we are not sure what most Libyans or Syrians want. All we know is that national sovereignty will be a thing of the past for Libya and for Syria as well after Assad.

During August 2011, there have been clashes between security police in Albu Kamal on the border with Iraq where rebels are presumably backed by US-backed forces and are conducting raids and engaged in sabotage. Reportedly, US-trained rebels bombed an export oil pipeline near Homs, causing an oil leak. One of the most important cities because of the two oil refineries, Homs has suffered street protests presumably guided or at least influenced by agents that cross over from Iraq. Ironically, the Assad regime has stated that it is fighting terrorists that are trying to overthrow the legitimate government - America's freedom fighters are Syria's terrorists.

To prepare public opinion for military operations in Syria, the US and its junior partners, especially France and UK, have been laying the groundwork through intense propaganda as well as covert operations on several fronts. The latest issue with Syria, fresh from the disinformation desk of the State Department, is that the embattled Assad regime must go not only because there has been social unrest with many casualties for several weeks, but because Syria possesses chemical weapons and Assad has a history of backing 'terrorists'. This is not to minimize the reality of Assad as an authoritarian ruler who inherited the position and is responsible for more than 2200 dead owing to suppression of the social revolt; even though it  has been a revolt like that in Libya heavily influenced by the West.

These arguments have been used before against Muslim leaders that the US opposes, but not a word about the massive arsenal of countries that possess even more powerful weapons, like Israel and Saudi Arabia that the US supports. The world has known for a number of decades that Syria has a Russian, Chinese and North Korean connection, just as it has known for decades that Syria is a major player in the regional balance of power and especially in Lebanon. It turns out, now that Gaddafi is finished, Syria is the real threat, not Libya as the US, UK and France, 'the crusading trio' as I have been referring to them in my writings. US intelligence is not necessarily arguing that Assad would use such chemical weapons or that he would hand them to Muslim extremists interested in using them. But what if those chemical weapons, scud missiles, artillery and laser rockets, which are reportedly considerable, fall into the wrong hands? 

The US is already concerned that the Syrian rebels, many trained in Iraq, combined with local rebels, many of whom are indeed genuinely opposed to Assad and are not Western agents, are too weak and divided ideologically to take over if/when Assad falls. In the event that the regime weakens further and social unrest intensifies during autumn 2011, civil war is not only possible between pro and anti-Assad forces, but among anti-Assad forces once the rebels taste victory. In short, just as Yemen and Libya suffer from socio-political fragmentation, so does Syria; all of these are scenarios for the eventual rise of new dictatorships that would replace existing ones.

Using Syria's former ally Turkey, the US has encouraged the opposition to unite, but by their own admission, Syria's opposition leaders acknowledge that they represent only a segment of the population.This means that Syria's 'pro-democracy' opposition is hardly democratic, which is the reason that the US and EU have been moving rapidly to adopt an embargo against Syrian products. The same crusading trio that was behind the Libyan social uprising is also behind the Syrian, but they are trying to get the United Nations behind the campaign so that world public opinion will not conclude that there is a Western crusade intent on installing pro-Western regimes in Islamic nations. Heavily influenced by the Western nations, the UN human rights council has been investigating Syria's regime for crimes against humanity; a charge that could easily be leveled against the 'crusading trio', given its war crimes in Africa and Asia in the last decade alone.
As expected, Russia, China and Cuba object to sanctions and to UN using its offices to investigate crimes against humanity in Syria amid the popular uprising.

The central issue before the US is to have pro-Western regimes in as many Muslim countries as possible, given that Iran is refusing to yield its sovereignty to Washington and remains determined to have a voice in the regional balance of power. And let us assume that the US and its junior partners succeed in installing pro-West regimes across the entire Muslim world, how long before there is grass roots opposition rises to challenge surrender of sovereignty to the Crusading West? Already the African Union, which had been behind Gaddafi but did nothing to support him against the might of the "Crusading trio", is now rejecting the Transitional National Council that the West supports and calling for an all-inclusive government that would be able to bring together all of the various factions and tribes in Libya.

What is achieved by replacing one dictatorship with another as far as the people are concerned? Can neo-imperialism prevail in the 21st century when there is no patron state on which client states like those of Libya and Syria rely? Many believe that it can because it has in Muslim countries for more than a century, assuming that Russia and China wash their hands of these regimes and are rewarded with contracts when new regimes take over.


The documentary now broadcast on the Press TV web site here:
This is a documentary in which a number of pubic officials and analysts take part. 
I was also able to make a contribution to the documentary that I believe is worthy of viewing.

Is Philosophy Relevant?

  What is Philosophy by Jose Ortega y Gasset is one of the very few studies that describes the field of study, a task with which professional philosophers hardly bother. Like other academicians who do not describe their field but delve into it, philosophers immerse in the various branches of the discipline (13 total, according to some) such as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, logic, language. etc. Other than sharpening and fulfilling the mind, what “cash value” does philosophy have in a modern technological society that has reduced human beings into commodities and consumers of commodities?

If philosophy has no “cash value,” is that the fault of philosophers who write for each other instead of addressing the entire population like a best-selling novelist? Recognizing that philosophy must be rooted in experience and in the masses instead of reserving for itself an elite and esoteric place among a few scholars, Ortega y Gasset argued that philosophy deals with the essence of life and allows people to gain a better understanding of life and society. Uncovering the multiple layers of one’s self and the environment that shapes those layers is philosophy’s goal, to return to the Socratic goal of the field.

A number of philosophers from Kant, Nietzsche, Husserl, and Heidegger influenced Ortega y Gasset, who lived during the interwar era when great thinkers breathed life into Existentialism from different perspectives–Sartre and Heidegger among the most influential and best exponents of the particular branch. Understanding Heidegger’s (Being and Time) and Sartre’s (Being and Nothingness), influenced by the former, is extraordinarily difficult and not very pleasant reading for the average person. Even an elaborate glossary does not help, especially for Heidegger, unless the reader has substantial background in philosophy. This raises the question that John Eipper poignantly asked WAISers on 15 November: “why are modern philosophers incomprehensible? Is it because every profession needs its proprietary language, to keep out the amateurs? Have all the basic concepts been explored, à la Plato, leaving only the complex ones for philosophical reflection?”

With the exception of history, every other academic discipline has its own technical or proprietary language. In the case of philosophy, the difficulty emanates from the fact that the student cannot fully understand for example John Locke’s Treatises on Government without first having studied Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, and in addition having a fairly good command of the historical context in which both Hobbes and Locke wrote. The reader of Locke or any other philosopher needs a broader sense not only of societal developments but understanding of the contemporary theories of science on which philosophy often relies. For example, the nexus between Locke’s epistemology based on empiricism and Newtonian physics provided the foundation for Enlightenment thought. Unless one studies the precursors to the Enlightenment (Locke, Newton and Descartes) it is more difficult to appreciate the Enlightenment.

Although a background in “Liberal Arts” education helps to understand philosophy, philosophers cannot resist writing for each other and to a large degree they have marginalized themselves, just as Ortega y Gasset warned more than eighty years ago. A very successful and influential philosopher, Bertrand Russell wrote in a very clear and simple style for which his works earned many distinctions and honors. This does not mean that to appreciate his works one need not study the historical context and the thinkers that influenced him.
In all cases, the manner that a person grasps philosophy or any other discipline for that matter, depends not merely on the writer but on the reader’s level of education, background, experience, social and cultural background,as well as the specific field of academic training.

A banker understands the issue of wealth and poverty, for example, very differently than a theologian. Although both Protestant reformers, John Calvin with his legal background and political experience in Geneva (hieropolis) had a legalistic concept of Christianity that he imposed on the city, while Martin Luther with his background as monk and university professor did not have “puritanical legalism” as part of his doctrines.

From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, philosophy, profoundly influenced by the classical Greeks as well as Christianity, was an integral part of a general “Liberal Arts” education. Undergraduates studying philosophy were proud of the field instead of apologizing for “wasting their time” as today’s undergraduate majoring in chemistry may complain about “having to take a philosophy course.” The advent of the Industrial Revolution accounting for advances in science and technology, and the practical application of the findings of these fields in the realm of business regimented educational training to the degree that philosophy became less relevant to daily life, associated increasingly with the aristocracy and the affluent who had “the leisure to engage in speculative thought.” The Industrial Revolution that accounted for changes in the social structure and institutions also brought changes in the value system of the Western World where philosophy’s place was gradually diminished.

As an ancient discipline rooted in religion and cosmology, philosophy from Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” to Erwin Laszlo’s “Introduction to Systems Philosophy” and Ernest Nagel’s “Scientific Method” rely on advancements in science to explain the human condition in a holistic manner, although science within its framework of an institutional structure that influences peoples’ perceptions of it role.

Clearly Einstein influenced many philosophers, including Wittgenstein and Popper among many others, and philosophy in the 20th century would not be the same in the absence of Einstein. While it is understandable that the language and style of scientists must be technical and esoteric, the question is why must the same hold true for philosophers whose purpose as Ortega y Gasset argued is to enlighten the public about the essence of life, self-discovery and appreciation of the nature and the world.

The style, language, and method of philosophy, especially ever since Kant, is so out of reach for the general public that it has had less relevance to society and unfortunately less demand even in college curriculum designed to prepare students for a career by loading them with courses in their major field. While philosophers are partly to blame for making themselves less relevant, modern bourgeois society seeks out the “cash value” of knowledge and it does not have much use for philosophy any more than it does for creativity in the Fine Arts, unless of course it it has been reduced into a commodity like gold or pork bellies.

When William James wrote Pragmatism in 1907, philosophy still had some value for society. James was swept up by the Anglo-Saxon concept of “action-based, and results-oriented” value system that was popular during the era of Progressivism, an era based on the notion of improving self and society, mainly in the material sense of the word. John Dewey was also part of the era and he had a far reaching influence on American education. Material civilization immersed in pragmatism and a hedonistic value system has increasingly obviated the institutional need and individual intellectual quest for philosophy.

While I do not think that the time will ever come in human history that there will be no philosophy as a field of study, I also do not believe that there should be a Dummy’s Guide to Philosophy, (there is such a book) as there is such guide for all fields like accounting that people identify as “useful.” Today when society is confronting institutional structures that the political economy shapes and along with them the human mind, there is definitely a need for philosophers and academia to make philosophy relevant to society and to the individual no matter `how the broader anti-intellectual culture militates against it.

Sunday, 28 August 2011


In the past two decades or so, there has been a general process in Western nations that have led to the marketing, funding and politicizing 'Islamophobia'. Although this started with the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and it was a peripheral issue,  by the time that the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, Islamophobia is now an integral part of the political, military, intelligence, economic and cultural mainstream as much in the US as in Western Europe, both claiming a commitment to multiculturalism and tolerance in theory, but in practice falling far short of hollow 'democratic' rhetoric.

A great deal changed in media approach on issues regarding Islam and Muslims after 9/11. The US and by extension its NATO allies redirected their Cold War institutions to serve the manufactured crisis of 'global terrorism' behind which was Islam. This campaign unleashed a wave of think tanks, academics, journalists, politicians, and others with a right-wing racist agenda to use Islamophobia as a pretext to mobilize popular support behind this new global enemy of the West that replaced Communism. Cold War institutions became "Islamophobe" institutions under the guise of the war on terror.
The situation is as bad for the 20 million Muslims who live in Europe and feel increased discrimination in every respect, from political to cultural, as it is for American Muslims. In the past decade, surveys and analytical studies that been conducted in Europe and US indicate systematic discrimination against Muslims in the workplace, in neighborhoods, in cultural and political settings. This trend is rising and it filters down through all aspects of society. Parallel to the rise of Islamophobia is the rise of extreme right wing political groups whose agenda is based on racist discrimination invariably funded by everyone from ordinary fanatic citizens to millionaires.

That half of Americans and about as many Europeans see Muslims in a negative light is not an accident, but the result of systematic Islamophobia behind which rests political, media and financial muscle. Money flows to individuals who propagate against Islam and Muslims as a threat to Western Judeo-Christian civilization. Conservative foundations pour money into what are otherwise 'respectable' political, social, and cultural analysts whose job is to castigate Islam and Muslims as the evil behind all which ails Western Civilization. These same foundations and same critics would have been devoting their money and time to castigating the Communist bloc during the Cold War, but now the new 'industry' of hatred focuses on Islam; a cause that also serves not only the 'war on terror' that has drained the US treasury in the last decade, but it also serves Israel's interests that the US and to a lesser EU embraces as its own.

Government agencies and independent entities like foundations, think tanks, various media outlets, and independent contractors see very clearly that marketing, funding, and politicizing Islamophobia has gained legitimacy and moved into the mainstream of Western Civilization, as it is now a deeply ingrained part of the mass psychology.

Why does half of the US and EU population have negative stereotype views of Muslims? Is it only the mass marketing, funding and politicizing of the issue, or is it also the deep economic crisis that has resulted in downward social mobility for the middle class feeling alienated and looking for enemy to blame; seeing that enemy in the well-publicized face of a Muslim? After all, if Muslims were not at fault for all calamities, why are their countries in shambles and many undergoing socio-political uprisings; a legitimate question that the masses ask because the media and governments in the West guide them in that direction.

Does the mass marketing, funding and politicizing of Islamophobia mean that we will witness more ultra-right-wing incidents which mainstream politicians and media will dismiss as 'isolated acts of paranoid' individuals, and not a manifestation of rising racism (Islamophobia) in the West? Is Islamophobia so far out of the mainstream, or is it so far into the core of society that it makes sense for politicians to tolerate rising Islamophobia with their policies, while condemning it with hollow rhetoric about 'commitment of integration, multiculturalism, and equality for all'?

The danger of Western Civilization is that it is experiencing a crisis not only of its decadent economic system that leaves more people less well off as capital is increasingly concentrated, but that the moral decline associated with a political regime unable to sustain public confidence, so that it has to rely on subtle and at times overt racism. The 'clash of civilizations' is real, but only because it is so marketed, funded and politicized; the result of a clash that is deeper and more within Western Civilization that seeks enemies to justify its global hegemony. If Islam never existed, would there be a need to create another enemy?  Western Civilization has abandoned its values of tolerance, multiculturalism, freedom and 'democracy' in exchange for fear and hate-based values that are reminiscent of the Cold War, if not the crusades. The result of this will be even more rapid decline from within as the corpse slowly rots from within.


Has human nature undergone a radical transformation in the past 10,000 years? Have people in “civilized society” created institutions that reflect an egalitarian/hierarchic dichotomy in their nature? Watching a documentary, I was amazed at one of the 9/11 survivors who claimed that when families came together to form a support network, hierarchies developed naturally because some believed “their suffering” was greater than the others.

What accounts for the propensity to reject a communitarian/egalitarian spirit and to act accordingly in social groups, especially in the Western World? Strongly influenced by Marx whose dialectical materialism he rejected, Weber developed conflict theory, and social stratification theory on the basis of property, power, prestige, age and gender–all in a white European context of the 19th century. Besides class, status, gender, ethnicity, race, and prestige, the immediate and extended family structure, the ego and desire to affirm/validate the self by claiming separateness from the other may be contributing factors to the hierarchical mindset and practice. But the irony remains that in society and in hierarchies the ideal aspiration is egalitarianism.

Food gathering communities operated under egalitarian/communitarian conditions that reflected their needs and no doubt considered it “natural.” Today such conditions appear antithetical to humans that respond to hierarchical models in daily life. If universally immersed in hierarchical models, why do human beings pay homage to egalitarianism (spiritual or humanist) and seek it as an ideal? Before Judaism, Christianity and Islam, paganism which was based on nature and female deity worship evolved toward patriarchal and hierarchical structures with the stratification of society owing to private property and military conquest.

Initially rooted in hierarchy of nature and then reflecting patriarchal social stratification, paganism reflects the convergence of the real and the ideal. By contrast, Christianity, once it separates people into “good and evil” dichotomy, judges all who are “good” (saved) as equal in the Kingdom of God, while the eschatological model of Hell certainly makes liberal use of hierarchies as Dante dramatized in his ingenious novel intended to criticize secular and spiritual hierarchies in the Italian city states.

Of the Eastern religions, Confucianism of course is hierarchical. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism are closer to paganism in spirit and structure, while they embrace a holistic oneness de-emphasized in the hierarchical mindset. The basic hierarchic model has remained in tact throughout history partly because it reflects the stratification of “civilized society.” Today hierarchies are not only present in military, government, business, hospitals, academic institutions, NGOs, but even in community groups that begin with some kind of egalitarian structure but quickly abandon it.

Communist countries never managed to put into practice an egalitarian structure as their followers hoped. After taking power, they tried to address the larger issue of social justice within the context of the regime’s political perimeters. By adopting a rigid hierarchical structure to enforce “social justice,” Communist regimes lost the PR war to Liberal-bourgeois regimes that idealized the individual within the hierarchic social structure. Even to their own popular base, Communist regimes appeared to undercut Marxist ideology, thus allowing critics and their Cold War nemesis to claim moral superiority on the issue of “equality.”

All along, hierarchies at all levels of society East and West prevailed and the question was who is better off materially–Communist East or capitalist West? The thin layer of Communist regimes resting on top of a multi-layered hierarchical society was hardly sufficient to alter peoples’ hierarchical values and envy of Western materialistic culture.

Since the French Revolution the proclaimed ideal of governments as often reflected in their written constitutions is egalitarianism in some form. Invariably this is translated into equality of opportunity in Western bourgeois regimes, a model exported to most of the world with globalization and the downfall of Communism. The (hierarchical) reality of course is far from the unreachable (egalitarian) ideal. While merit-based system is the aspired ideal of businesses, an ideal that business often projects as “equality of opportunity,” the reality is one of rigid hierarchy often unrelated to merit-based models.

Given that educational and non-profit institutions have followed the business model, hierarchies prevail in those sectors despite the ideal of egalitarianism. Hierarchies may not only be the result of social conditioning, or inherent societal conflict where each individual struggles to maximize his benefit as Weber postulated, but they may have a psychosomatic basis as well. If we accept Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and Carl Jung’s “stages of life” theory, then hierarchies are a reflection of human nature.

Shaped by society’s institutions invariably dominated primarily by social and political elites, human nature is conditioned to accept hierarchies as “natural.” In the Middle Ages the Divine Chain of Being (the ultimate hierarchy) was reality throughout Christendom. Human beings thirst for affirmation of self and the desire to transcend self, they struggle to maximize their individual benefits oblivious to the welfare of the community. Therefore, they live in hierarchical structures because hierarchies are an expression of neurosis to use a Freudian interpretation. However, at the ethical and socio-political levels, the elites and most people in Western societies acknowledge that some basic rights–human rights–must be conceded because we live in communities, share a common fate, and aspire to harmony that yields safety and security.

At the existential level, death as the great equalizer representing the inevitability of eternal oblivion, the realization that the individual is indeed an organic part of nature’s whole forces human beings to feel empathy in order to feel human and overcome fear of death, as in Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyitch. Given that equality cannot exist in the absence of integration with the whole and given the individual resists integration into an amorphous mass where will and ambition are surrendered to the benefit of the “whole,” hierarchies which are externally imposed will remain for eternity.

Politics and the Economics of Deception

With two global wars and many more regional ones, with many recessions and a Great Deception, with mass education designed to provide a learned workforce for the public and private sector, and with mass communications, the 20th century has created a population cynical about societal institutions, especially political and economic; or is it that political and economic institutions of deception have created a cynical population riddled with anxieties and frustrated with a modern world successful at the material level for a minority of the people but failing humanity at every other level? 
The recent global recession ushered in declining living standards for the middle class and workers and also brought widespread frustration among the majority of the population, mostly in Western countries. Just as the 1920s, the decade of prosperity appeared to hold the promise of endless economic growth with the possibility of upward social mobility, proved that prosperity and upward mobility was limited to a small segment of the population, similarly the 1990s failed in its promise to deliver the miracle of sustainable middle class living standards for all generations to come.

At least, the prosperity decade of the 1920s and its pro-business politics, followed by the decade of depression ushered in structural changes that resulted in various social safety nets–social security and stronger trade unions with collective bargaining, greater state regulation of the predatory and high-risk finance sector, and the state as an agent of growth and protection for all classes. Today, almost three years after the recent global recession, the worst contraction since the 1930s, politicians, mostly among the G-7, have conveniently forgotten promises they made at the start of the crisis about launching more rigorous measures to regulate financial institutions so that there is no repeat of a similar crisis a few years down the road. 
Where are the rigid measures against multi-million dollar bonuses, salaries, and fraudulent corporate practices that were too large for governments not to bail them out? People see rewards for those responsible for the global financial crisis and punishment for the victims at the lower end of the social scale. At G-7 and G-20 meetings in the past year, the talk is mostly of how to coordinate better fiscal, monetary and trade policy. Of course, there have been some regulations designed to prevent the system from destroying itself, but they are very modest, despite the massive bailouts that financial institutions received and despite the sacrifices that governments asked and continue asking workers and the middle class to make. 
Evidence of widespread frustration with the status quo abounds, not by looking at public opinion polls, but observing how strikes and demonstrations whether in Paris, London, Madrid, etc. have no impact in convincing government to alter the course of chipping away at middle-class and working-class living standards in order to strengthen the “business as usual private sector,” especially finance capital that is clearly back in the driver’s seat driving government policy. People express political frustration in different forms–apathy among the most significant, usually combined greater self-indulgence, or some form of nihilism. Apathy actually furthers the interests of the financial and political elites that know a segment of the population is outside the opposition public zone. 
Mainstream media and institutions in general reinforce conformity, though to some degree they also reinforce apathy, but then present the apathetic individual as lacking positive personal character traits, thus deserving of the “bad politicians, bad institutions.” A segment of the population frustrated, mostly confused with the politics and economics of deception, gravitates to fringe political groups or parties, realizing that Republican or Democrat in the US, for example, or varieties of center-right, center, or center-left in Europe basically represent the same system that provides funding to their political campaigns. 
Critical intellectuals not on the payroll of an employer demanding conformity and self-censorship express frustration with the political establishment by trying to analyze the degree to which the system is subject to change, likely to remain stagnant, or perhaps beyond the realm of change for an indefinite period of time. Alain de Benoist’s well-stated: “Optimists learn English; Pessimists learn Chinese, Realists learn to use Kalashnikov” exemplifies very succinctly frustration by today’s intelligentsia critical of the status quo. Alain’s comment reminded me of Georges Sorel, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, or other pre-WWI intellectuals confronting seemingly insurmountable obstacles to social change. 
Millions of people demonstrated and rioted in Paris this month, but to no avail (before them millions of others in other European cities); only to be subjected to a system that will continue eroding their living standards, benefits, and social safety net as they know it, only for the sake of strengthening finance capital with no promise of a better tomorrow for the majority of the people in what we call “democracies” and take pride to defend them as ideal! The utility and intellectual value of learning Chinese or any other widely use language notwithstanding, is the solution to structural problems of a modern society becoming a linguist? 
What was the result of all these mass strikes, demonstrations and riots across Europe? Was there any change in policy, any change to the politics and economics of deception? On the contrary, more to come in the future, and perhaps much worse than what we have seen against the background of the global economic pie divided into more slices in an increasingly poly-centric world power structure. At the beginning of this century the world economic and military power structure appears more poly-centric than it has been since 1914, with power shifting from West to to the East, at least, power shared in an inter-dependent unified economic world-system separated by disparate regimes in nation-states linked by regional and international integration systems (economic and strategic). 
In short, the nation-state is a mere extension as is the economy of something larger, so what can the individual do, what can the French trade unions do, what can three million protesters do, what can ten million European protesters do to have a voice in government about their future against the reality that their nation is part of larger entities (NATO, EU, UN, WTO, etc.)? The dynamics of human identity have changed and become more complex today owing largely to the fact that transnational entities–corporations to government and non-government organizations–have continued to erode the role of the nation-state and the national institutions in which the “democratic process” is to work for all citizens. 
If society is an extension of an increasingly interdependent world with transnational institutions in the age of mass communications (and web), institutions outside the nation are enjoying more power than national ones where the democratic process presumably takes place; and if identity is forged from the individual’s interactions with society, then human identity either at the conscious or subconscious level is inexorably linked to the entire world. To some degree, this accounts for the sense of apathy, fatalism, nihilism of people who believe that while institutions are trying to convince the public that individual voice matters in a democracy, when in reality it means absolutely nothing.


News reporting, and news analysis and commentary by pundits regarding the 'timing' of the Chinese test of the first flight of the prototype J-20 stealth aircraft is predictable in the US and western mainstream media. If I was a newspaper editor, or a TV or radio news producer, I too would opt for the same semi-sensational nationalist, moderately militarist angle that 'sells' with the public, namely, castigating China for testing the J-20 prototype while the US Defense Secretary was on an official state visit. However, it is not at all unusual for governments to conduct military tests right before or even during high-level official visits if they wish to send a symbolic message to their counterpart and/or third parties. 

Without the benefit of Chinese official internal memos between ministries, news reporters, analysts and pundits base their interpretations of what took place on their own political, ideological, or professional affiliation. One can only speculate of what message Beijing wanted to send to Washington (Japan, Russia, Taiwan, and South Korea) by conducting the J-20 aircraft test while US Defense Secretary Robert Gates was visiting Beijing, and a few days before President Hu Jintao was scheduled to meet with Obama in Washington.

Beijing could have postponed the test, and there is a very remote possibility that the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) conducted it without informing the president, indicating a disconnect between the military and civilian leadership. This theory has been a long-standing favorite theme in the West, although it is a theory for which there is lack of hard evidence. Nevertheless, China deliberately chose to go through with the test (official explanations about the weather and scheduling issues notwithstanding), recognizing that it would not sit well with the US, and knowing that it would send a strong message to the entire world about rising Chinese military power.

Gates claimed before a public gathering in Japan that the PLA did not inform President Hu Jintao about carrying out the test. This seems highly unlikely because China is not Turkey or some Third World nation where the military enjoys a preeminent role over civilian leadership. This is not to deny that the PLA is a very powerful force in Chinese society, although in the last decade or so the PLA's role in political institutions has been reduced, there has been a sharper division of civil and military elites, and the PLA has become more professionalized while military budgets increased, all in an attempt by the civilian leadership to concentrate power in its own hands.

Arguing that the PLA embarrassed the civilian leadership and demanding a moratorium on N. Korea nuclear and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) tests (program to be completed within five years), Gates was sending a message both to Pyongyang and Beijing about what constitutes a threat to US strategic interests, about what is and what is not acceptable military balance of power in East Asia. In my view, he was fully justified to make such a public statement, given the close alliance between US and Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, and given Beijing's obvious demonstration of military power. The degree to which news reporters and analysts understand the substance behind the rhetoric is a separate issue.

At the very least, Gates' claim was intended to express public disapproval mostly for the 'consumption' of US and global public opinion, as well as to apply pressure on Hu, who chairs the Communist Party's Central Military Commission, to impose greater control on the PLA. Despite the vast changes of the PLA, American Cold Warriors in and outside of government associate the PLA with the Cultural Revolution and with Chinese hardliners, when in fact decisions rest with the civilian leadership. Gates also used the opportunity to protest the slow negotiations for N. Korea and new developments in China that impact on the Asian strategic balance of power. Given that Gates visit in China coincided not only with the J-20 test flight, but far more significant with the Ministry of Land and Resources purchase of 11 rare earth mines, the question for news reporters, analysts, and pundits is whether they focus on the issue of lesser value to the US and China.

Just as there was a global struggle for control of minerals, especially strategic minerals, during the Cold War (concealed behind ideological rhetoric on the part of both the Communist bloc and the West), similarly there is a struggle in the 21st century for access to rare earth resources. Given that China controls 97% of the world's rare earth resources; given that about 40% of same resources until recently were black market operations; given that the Hu regime regards rare earth resources as key to future economic and military development, and given that Beijing announced that it was cutting exports of same by 35% (far less than the West deems needed to meet current demand), the US govt.  has every right to complain about the side issue of J-20 and PLA influence in policy. Again, how the media manages to rally public support for such issues is another issue, one that does not necessarily reflect the actual merits of the disagreement between US and China.

The rare earth resources issue is also tied to Chinese policy of providing financing to foreign businesses interested in signing multibillion dollar contracts for construction of everything from high-tech factories to commercial inter-oceanic vessels. In short, China took a page right out of the US Export-Import Bank way of doing business to make sure that its economy benefits well into the 21st century; a policy that also applies to rare earth resources in the form of value-added products benefiting Chinese manufacturing and defense. 
Used for everything from hybrid-car batteries to missiles, China has been using the rare earth resources (terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, lutetium, neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum) that some have called "industrial MSG," or the "21st century gold" to lure foreign investment in high tech sectors into the country and limit the export of the precious raw materials. The concern is about China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology proposal to sharply curtail, in some cases ban, export of these resources, thus forcing capital investment to come to China and affording it an advantage over its competitors.

Rare earth resources are a major bargaining chip for China; a resource that affords Beijing considerable leverage that worries not just the US but Japan and the EU (all of them rear earth resources beggars) who are seriously concerned about the future of their industrial defense sectors in comparison with China's. Beijing is also using the rare earths issue linked to J-20 in order to influence US arms sales to Taiwan, especially in the wake of the solidification of the US-Japan-S. Korea military alliance to counterbalance N. Korea for which no solution can emerge to the North-South antagonism without Beijing's cooperation. 
The US is well aware that the Chinese are using N. Korea to send a message that China determines the balance of power in Asia and wants the US to lessen its military aid to Taiwan ($6.4 billion in sales in February 2010). Another area of US-China competition that could and probably will eventually evolve into cooperation is space exploration, especially given the importance that Boeing and GE place on Chinese contracts. China cannot make progress in GPS and space exploration without US government and private sector cooperation. Both countries are using the considerable leverage they each have to gain optimal benefits in their interdependent relationship.

Naturally, the US and its allies are trying to use all their leverage, and they have immense leverage as China's customers and suppliers of raw materials and technology it lacks, in order to maximize influence in commercial, fiscal, monetary, trade, and strategic policy. In this struggle for influencing policy, the US and the West have tried using the inordinate pollution generated by rare earth resources, a rather weak argument given that the US history with the Kyoto Protocol and overall history toward environmental standards that it has used as a tool to prevent other countries from industrializing - at least as far as those polluting are concerned. Both Washington and Beijing realize that the only constructive road for the mutual development of both and the rest of the world is 'business-like' negotiations, free of ideological baggage and old Cold War rhetoric that only slows down cooperation.

China needs to continue to purchase not just US government bonds, but bonds of weak Eurozone members so that advanced capitalist countries continue to function under a regime of relatively low inflation and sustainable pattern of balance of payments transactions, a goal that also serves China's economic interests. China also needs to adjust its monetary policy so that it does not have an unfair competitive advantage with its trading partners, while it expects its trading partners to ease restrictions on technology transfers and to share their technology (everything from aerospace to energy and information tech); this despite concerns about military applications of such technologies. 
Just as the US and EU have a relationship based both on competition, at times antagonistic, and cooperation, similarly China needs the US and its partners as much as the latter need China. The question is to what degree would the political leadership, now and in the future, of China, US, Japan, and EU would pursue enlightened co-existence and cooperation policies, instead of opting for confrontation at any level from economic to diplomatic, or even the unthinkable indirect military conflict over a third country like N. Korea?


Representing the integrity of the euro as a reserve currency and European banks, the European Central Bank (ECB) is determined not to permit Greece to default, although in essence Greece has been bankrupt since it signed the first memorandum to borrow 110 billion euros in 2010, and in July 2011 it went back for more loans that would in fact guarantee the bankrupt nation does not declare bankruptcy. 
The issue remains, do the numbers work for Greece; can the country service a sovereign debt currently 160% of GDP and rising rapidly toward 200%? Some are betting billions of dollars that Greece will not make it, others are waiting for assets to become even cheaper so they can buy them for pennies on the dollar, other are praying that they can get their money back on bonds they have purchased, still others see the entire affair as the catalyst that could be the cause for the disintegration of the old EU and the creation of a new and more competitive one, and still others see this issue as the deep-rooted symptom of the declining capitalist system. There are historical parallels and they are worth examining.
The most significant global depression before the Great Depression of the 1930s took place in the 1890s, and as expected it resulted in turmoil in poorer countries that were financially dependent on the rich nations. The “panic of 1893″ hit countries from the US to Russia very hard, and it was the era that gave birth to many radicals in Russia, China, Europe and the US. On 10 December 1893, Greek premier Harilaos Trikoupis stood before Parliament and announced official bankruptcy. 
After a frenzy of massive borrowing that European banks encouraged so that Greece could modernize its infrastructure so that it could attract more foreign investment, after a decade of Western economic expansion in the 1880s, the depression of the 1890s that plagued the US and Europe forced Greece into bankruptcy. Like the Ottoman Empire, China, Russia and many Latin American countries that had a very large foreign debt, Greece fell under tight financial control of the Great Powers. 
Like the Ottoman Empire, China, Latin American republics and to a certain degree Russia, Greece was a quasi-protectorate of Britain and France that represented the interests of bondholders and export interests. As to to be expected, Greece had very limited sovereignty. The idea that the country was a “democracy” was a goal to be achieved at some point in the future. In 2010 the situation in Greece is not very different than in the late 19th century. 
A number of economists and financial analysts speak of the possibility that Greece may still fall into bankruptcy. In reality, Greece is in bankruptcy managed by Brussels and the IMF. What brought Greece to this tragic state of affairs that it has lost its creditworthiness along with limited sovereignty it enjoyed? “It was quite obvious that one day Greece would have to face this kind of problem, and we knew that this problem would occur,” Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker explained during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in Washington in early October. 
According to Juncker, German and French officials along with European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet were well aware of “the perspectives of what was not at that time known as so-called Greek crisis…I could not go public with the knowledge that I had.” What did EU officials know? They knew that Greece was engaged in heavy deficit financing, that it was falsifying revenues and expenses, balance of payments deficits, plagued by widespread tax evasion and official corruption that involved domestic and foreign companies; that about one-third of the economy was “unofficial” (black market that included money laundering, off-shore operations, etc.), and that Goldman Sachs had engaged in swap deals to help Greece conceal its true deficits. 
Like rich nations, Greece continued raising its public debt until the global financial crisis hit home. Foreign bondholders demanded higher interest rates to extend more credit to service existing loans. Just as lenders demanded that poorer countries like Greece lower the ratio of debt to GDP, the economic slowdown entailed higher debt-to-GDP ratio and the inevitable cycle of more massive public borrowing to service existing obligations. After it borrowed $110 billion euros in 2010 (to service existing loans for the next two years), Greek debt-to-GDP ratio is estimated at close to 200% by 2014. 
No matter how well the national economy performs in the next two years, Greece will not be in a position to service its debt after 2014. Meanwhile, billions will be made by bondholders in extra payments primarily at the expense of Greek workers and the middle class who are enduring lower living standards and higher costs for the privilege of keeping foreign bondholders and their governments managing the Greece debt crisis. Although there is surplus capital in the private sector of advanced capitalist countries, the IMF and G-7 governments insist that poorer countries (Greece is merely the poster child) must be forced to pay higher interest rates and thus decapitalized to strengthen Western finance capitalism.

Because no one believes that Greece will be able to service loans amounting to one-third of GDP annually, the only question is to roll over debt, to restructure a payments schedules, to forgive part of the debt, to extend the current IMF-EU program another three to five years as the IMF has informally suggested, pending final EU approval, or for Greece to walk away from the EU and declare an outright default. The answer of course is one that has been worked out already, namely managed bankruptcy under IMF-EU austerity and policy guidance. 
It is absurd to even suggest, as some prominent economists and financial analysts have been doing, that Greece may lapse into bankruptcy when it is already there and operating under an IMF-EU managed bankruptcy program. Because Greece is part of the eurozone, an official declaration of bankruptcy would be a reflection of the EU. Unlike Trikoupis who had the courage and integrity in 1893 to stand up before Parliament and declare bankruptcy and place the country under rigid foreign financial control, PASOK Premier George Papandreou employs meaningless “Socialist,” nationalist, and populist rhetoric to explain the “true state of affairs” in Greece. 
Beyond the very tragic issue of millions suffering lower living standards, a situation not very different for other countries from the north Balkans to Ireland, the question is to what degree is Greece (Ireland, Portugal, and other countries in similar situations) a sovereign country and to what degree do citizens have a voice in what the media and government tells them is a democratic process? Can a country so externally dependent as Greece enjoy democracy at the same level as a more affluent country like France or the US? But let us quickly reflect on democracy in France and US; to what degree does a worker or a middle class professional in France or the US feel that she/he is making a difference in the democratic process, and to what degree do citizens believe that it is large corporations determining the country’s economic destiny?

Laws of History: Economic Determinism

Economic Determinism is an undisputed law of history, though by no means the only one as many Marxists would argue. Societal institutions, the state, the economy, social classes, religion, the family, values systems and norms are to a large extent economically determined. The question is to what degree do other forces play a role in determining history and society? For Christians who hold to the doctrine of Divine Providence, history is guided by the hand of God, while for Hegel history is the unfolding of the mind of God. Are the laws of history more rooted in the spiritual as St. Augustine argued, the intellectual as Hegel and to some degree Kant contended, or in the material as Marx and Engels maintained? After the ceremony of president Ronald Reagan's funeral, former president Mikhail Gorbachev was asked if Reagan's high defense spending was the principal reason for the fall of the Communist bloc. Garbachev replied that there were multiple causes for the fall of Communism. Reflecting prevailing thinking among conservatives, Colin Powell insisted that defense spending was at the core. Since the early 1990s, Marxist scholars scrambled to explain why the fall took place and what this means for the future of Marxism as an ideology. If we assume that the laws of history are a reflection of the laws of nature, economic determinism is a very important law. Marx and Engels, among many others, deserve credit for their work in refining economic determinism into a coherent doctrine that helps all scholars explain history and political economy. Gorbachev was indeed correct that many forces precipitated Communism's downfall, among them economic. Semi-integrated into the world capitalist-system while pursuing its own regional integration, the Communist bloc was neither Communist nor capitalist, but a mixture of an anachronistic enclave that operated very inefficiently without meeting the material needs of its people and without offering much hope for the future. Ironically, the doctrine of "Economic Determinism" explains the fall of Communism. That should give hope to those who believe in Socialism as a viable system, and it should be a source of concern for those advocating globalization. The same forces that brought down Communism are at work in any political economy that fails to serve society and fails to keep pace with change".


In Western Civilization, cultures of pessimism pervaded during the Black Death/Hundred Years War (1337-1454) epoch, the era of the witch hunts  of the16th-17th centuries, to the era of revolutions and wars from 1789 to 1914, to Great Depression and global war 1930-1945. All through these epochs of natural and man made catastrophes, literature like art reflected society's trend. In the 19th century that marked rapid changes in technology, science and industry, when technology and industry drove military advancements, the culture of pessimism was reflected in all the social sciences and humanities.

Nineteenth century social scientists and philosophers analyzed the causes and proposed solutions for contradictions developed in industrial capitalist society. Contemporary society is still confronting these contradictions, namely, science and technology made production faster, better, easier, and more abundant, but poverty and socioeconomic polarization remain serious problems that seem antithetical to the view that mass production resulting in mass politics necessarily entails democratization of institutions and greater social justice. European and American literary authors brilliantly captured these contradictions, and they were better able to express them for the general population through fiction, a reality that remains with us to the present but unfortunately with very few literary authors able to capture the essence of these familiar themes.

The 19th century produced some of the most brilliant and creative literary minds in the history of Western civilization. Gavin Jones argues that contemporary literary theory fails to capture the essence of poverty in the manner of classical American writers such as Herman Melville, Theodore Dreiser, Edith Wharton, James Agee, and Richard White. Author of American Hungers: The Problem of Poverty in U.S. Literature, 1840-1945 (Princeton, 2009), Jones advances a literary theory on poverty based on American literature. He argues that: "Only in imaginative literature can we fully understand the problems of poverty and inequality.  This statement may seem strange, counterintuitive at best.  Surely poverty is a material condition, a position in the social structure.  And literary texts: are they not aesthetic artifacts, retreating by their nature into the privacy of the imagination?  Only in this retreat from the tactile and the statistical, I contend, can we approach the complexity of poverty as an ideological formation, or understand the inner life of being poor—the tangled web of emotion and behavior that gets brushed too easily from social study."

Fiction expressing disillusionment with society and underlying problems that the political economy had created for underprivileged social groups (peasants, workers, women, children, religious, ethnic, racial groups) assumed a central role during the 19th century. The earliest masters that influenced writers from their time until the present included Honore de Balzac, Charles Dickens, Emile Zola, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, T. S. Eliot, Edgar Allen Poe and William Faulkner among others. Capturing the plight of the poor, criticizing institutions that were inhuman and unjust.  Émile Zola's Germinal, a brutally realistic story of a coalminers' strike in northern France in the 1860s, intended to evoke anger at social injustice during the Second Industrial Revolution.

Dystopian literature master H. G. Wells raised concerns about the inhuman society shaped during the late 19th century as expressed in the Island of Doctor Moreau. A socialist who eventually moved to Labour party politics, Wells believed in the inevitability of a world state that would promote science under meritocracy. The sense of pessimism about the human condition in Wells, as in other 19th century fiction writers, arises out of concern that society is not headed in the right direction, but that it could. There is underlying optimism for the future, despite disillusionment with society's current trends.

In the 20th century, speculative fiction tried to capture the essence of 'transformation' as a phenomenon of cultural diffusion as well as the rise of internationalism in the world of politics and integrated world economy. Creating alternative world as a way of understanding ours, literary writers tried to penetrate empirical reality through creative imagination, but the preeminence of the individual protagonist, not the individual as a representative of social group, becomes more pronounced. Moreover, the trend is increasingly toward conformity while only appearing non-conformist on a very surface and innocuous level.

While for the most part, fiction writers in the post-WWII have not demonstrated overt empathy for the political and business elites, they have not been able to demonstrate dynamically the penetrating insights and creativity that 19th century writers or even those of the Great Depression were able to capture. Literary themes based on social class, powerful institutions supposedly intended for the social good but in reality retarding social justice and dehumanizing society captured the public imagination from the Industrial Revolution to the Great Depression. Such themes are not nearly as evident or as sharp after WWII when apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic literature, influenced by the global war, and nuclear arms race of the Cold War, concerned writers more than class themes that concerned writers from Balzac and Dreiser to Steinbeck.

Even Jean-Paul Sartre, an Existential Marxist, reveals through his best novel Nausea written during the Great Depression that he needs to depart from the larger societal themes that preoccupied novelists from Balzac to Steinbeck and focuses on aesthetic, psychological and ultimately philosophical problems of the modern urban middle class individual who confronts meaninglessness of existence, thus confirming that the Enlightenment value system and European order were killed during the First World War.
"I realized that there was no half-way house between non-existence and this flaunting abundance. If you existed, you had to exist all the way, as far as mouldiness, bloatedness, obscenity were concerned. In another world, circles, bars of music keep their pure and rigid lines. But existence is a deflection."
While existentialist themes have become more common in Western literature, invariably the hero or anti-hero individual in society takes precedence over societal institutions shaped by and serving predominantly privileged social groups.

The emphasis in post-WWII novels is invariably on individual stereotypical amoral villains, a few bad apples, rather than on a systemic problems, although there is a great deal of fiction about business scams and 'evil business people' that give the otherwise sound if not moral and sound market-based political economy a bad name. Even apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic literature usually intended to be very critical of the status quo does not measure up to the grand themes or creative imagination that Mary Shelley or H. G. Wells raised in their science fiction works.

The value system and Western liberal ideology is clearly evident in contemporary fiction, which tends to promote escapism (escapism fiction that makes the best-seller lists). This is the case in almost all genres, whether through stereotypical romance and adventure stories where mainstream ethical values are violated by the protagonists or in science fiction intended to criticize the faltering of contemporary institutions. This mega trend of escapism fiction has been influenced by motion pictures and TV that serve as instruments of escapism and treat subjects from a very superficial and caricature perspective while trying to remain within the cultural milieu so the novel can find a broad audience. The contemporary appetite for hedonistic, atomistic, fast-food-everything culture is reflected in fiction.

The general reader feels good escaping through reading from everyday life into exotic worlds and situations, experiencing vicariously the adventures of a hero's revenge, love, lust, and achievements whether that entails surviving a storm and pirates in the Caribbean, or prevailing over vampires, werewolves and Martians. Like good tasting fast food that is nutritionally bad, this type of fiction is intended to excite the senses and not the intellect, because this is what the publishing companies want to market.

Nor is this an issue about giving hope and projecting optimism through fiction, because Dickens and Dreiser did exactly that while engaging the reader to think about human beings function within societal institutions; in short, there was a didactic purpose behind modern literature from Balzac to Steinbeck. By contrast, the central focus of much contemporary fiction is distraction from the real problems that society is confronting, with privileged social groups to a large degree determining the destiny not just of the lumpen proletariat but of the broader middle class, but the only solution being to either retreat to spiritual or philosophical medication, 'cultivate your own garden', to borrow the phrase from Voltaire's Candide, or conform.

It is indeed possible that today we are living in an age that has some similarities with the 1840s when the Opium Wars were taking place and the West was imposing its hegemony on the non-white world, a time when the brutal factory system, the devastating Irish famine, the revolutions of 1848, the problems of workers and the urban poor, the American debates on emigrants, slavery, and war prompted serious literary works reflecting these conditions.

There have always been literary theories, and contributors include prominent thinkers from the area of literature, psychology and philosophy. The issue, however, is one of fundamental assumptions, and in contemporary times such assumptions are geared toward celebrating, vilifying, victimizing, and generally focusing on the individual against the context of social and institutional conformity, in other words modern fiction is designed to brush over if not conceal the culture of pessimism as a manifestation of a systemic and historic process producing contradictions in society that mold the lives of individuals. The main reason for this, is that literary writers from the Age of Romanticism (early Industrial Revolution) until the Great Depression were driven by the Enlightenment's underlying theme of optimism, while after the Second World War that optimism fades to the point where it has reached its nadir today and thus it is reflected in the type of fiction we have.