Widespread Conformity vs. Heaven

Cameras remain weird and fascinating to me. But one downside of filming a talk (versus writing it down) is that so much time is taken up just rambling along, and so a bunch winds up having to be left out for brevity’s sake. I don’t want to make some major, hour-long doozy of a video. What hell that would be to edit, and how boring to listen to coming from me. Well-aware that I’m not a good speaker, but ah well. The course I feared most in college was Public Speaking. The camera provides a safe enough distance to experiment and play around.

Got things I’m thinking about, might as well jabber some about them too. Why not?

Well, in the second clip above I was talking about what I call “natural hierarchies” and pointing back in time. Probably some genius out there will pipe up to say enslavement existed long before corporations broke onto the scene, and yes — preemptive duh. Part of the film had to be cut out due to crappy sound quality where primates were mentioned, but nevertheless we’re focusing here on primitive humans, all of whom lived in small clans and tribes, over thousands and thousands and thousands of years on up to the few small, isolated groups that remained outside of civilization until the 20th century (which have since been disrupted by foreigners — tribes of Papau New Guinea readily spring to mind). It’s what humans and our progenitors did and do. Try as we might, it’s seriously doubtful we’ll be able to overcome that significant fact of life. Humans are intensely social beings.

My imagination tends to like to swim in the pools of the very, very distant past, the early agrarian past, and where that knowledge and understanding might someday lead our species (maybe, possibly, assuming we don’t wind up nuking ourselves into a new Stone Age — a common worry). And I just like to wonder what our options are, theoretically. In my mind I can envision a modern agrarian renaissance, made all the more necessary because gaining independence from the current setup requires regaining control over food production. This is where the organic and small family farm development really comes in handy, but I believe this is calling for more of us to be involved to whatever degrees. Because in order to feed ourselves currently, we must earn money, and to earn money many people are expected to tolerate unfulfilling and/or soul-sapping and/or low-wage employment positions that tie into the economic slavery game confronting all of society. Even if you’re not employed by some big-dog corporation, chances are you’re still getting hosed. Self-employment is becoming less and less the norm as people turn toward businesses to earn what they need.

We have grown separated from the land. Many of us do not know how to provide for our basic sustenance, hence why we can be so easily manipulated as a population. Our needs all come through working for money, and money is needed to attain nearly everything under the sun today. We do not control the money supply, nor have much say over how it is managed. We are dependent, in other words, and this is not a secret.

Beyond reclaiming our ability to care for our own selves to the utmost in terms of what’s vital for our existence, so as to break away from corporate mammoths with serious quality control issues and unethical business practices, we’ll also gain benefit from working the land again and reacquainting ourselves with the natural world that in recent decades Americans have abandoned and instead taken to being distanced casual observers. It is my belief that many will find a greater sense of purpose and appreciation for their lives if they could reconnect on an elemental level with all that is needed to nourish our bodies and take back power into their own hands and into their own communities where shared values can be flaunted, embraced, and explored.

Diversity is what I’m suggesting, brought about by separating off and dividing up according to what allows communities to prosper. Shared values being an important consideration, tempered with however much or little tolerance will vary from community to community. There is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to the cultures and communities we feel most at home in.

In a way I can see this as a new free market where people segregate off into their respective corners and create the communities they endeavor to. People unhappy here may relocate there instead, if admitted. Ten thousand villages, with privacy-loving stragglers housed in between, aiming to live better within their means, able to understand that efficiency isn’t everything, not always. Some life processes are more pleasurable when left to be, but in plenty of other ways technology will prove amazingly important in this movement I dream of. Agriculture that makes better sense, with Farmer Joel Salatin providing an innovative example for country-dwellers. Urban examples are still in the works.

But how far off the grid can most of us realistically step? I don’t know. Hard to imagine the whole staircase at this point. But the first step I believe is to return our available land toward more productive uses. Lawns soaked in chemicals, made to look artificial, are a waste of time, money, and energy other than providing aesthetic enjoyment (which matters as well, but why be limited to focusing on something as superficial as artificially-derived beauty?). Perhaps if we could start there, more ideas will spring to people’s minds over time. Maybe.

It’s a fanciful wish, I know. Not terribly practical or realistic in our current state of affairs. I know. But that’s what heaven on earth looks like to me. Greater diversity with truly free trade between groups of people, unregulated from on high (aside from perhaps agreements on principles that extend to all, including non-invasion pacts). But how long would such a paradise even last? Probably not long enough before groups got uppity and tried taking each other over. Bummer.

But ah well. We’re free to dream, if nothing else.

“What created the universe, if not God?” and ramblings on constructing a personal philosophy

The1janitor’s answer to the question “What created the universe, if not God?” (at 1:45):

“I don’t know, but I’m not just going to believe the first thing someone tells me without evidence either.”

 

That pretty much sums up the default position of my own beliefs as a self-described agnostic since the mid-90s. That’s my basic core attitude in a nutshell, succinctly put.

I’d been raised as a Christian (Methodist), spending several of those years living in the Bible Belt of the Deep South, but my grandma’s Christian teachings differed a bit from what I found in churches. As in she placed a great emphasis on Jesus’s love, devotion, and ability to forgive our shortcomings as fallible people. Grandma spoke a lot about Jesus, still does, goes on and on and on, always has and always will. But there wasn’t much fire and brimstone in what she had to say. Basically she turned Jesus into a friend and an overseer, someone on our team and wanting to see us all do better, not just some chosen few. It was a simple, humanitarian take on the religion, and I got a lot out of Grandma’s way of seeing things.

Well, then I went to church and we all know what’s typically found there. Basically the screws came loose holding me in religion as soon as I hit adolescence, which then terminated my interest in organized religion a couple years later. It deserves to be stated that some self-professed “Christians” are true-blue assholes. Especially preachers, but don’t get me going off there.

But whatever. I wound up taking a decade off from giving a shit about religion is what ultimately came about. For a long time, my agnosticism basically consisted of me not really wanting to care about the issue for a spell. “God” as described by the biblical narrative is so obviously a myth that doesn’t translate into a literal reality. Plenty of atheists take pleasure in teasing Christians about this, but what real good does that do? Just makes people think you’re a jerk. I was at a point where I’d had enough of religion and competitive arguments on the matter, seeing as how they spring up everywhere and over anything.

And through not seeking religion or even something behind religion, I freed myself up to learn on what felt like a more neutral analytical platform, which proved very beneficial. Through learning about matters that don’t directly relate to religions, it brought me around to questioning the narratives we’re commonly taught, to questioning everything. Going so far that a few years ago I began letting the notion of Jesus back in a bit more, or at least the parts of the myth that strike me as most meaningful and challenging to ponder. That’ felt like the right thing to do, even as I struggle and live in contradiction to some of the values it calls into attention. But I find the myth (story, call it whatever you will) of Jesus to be so valuable in terms of navigating our social world — like the lessons it teaches about reconciliation and forgiving one another and worrying about our own damn hypocrisy and other shit we need to work on instead of focusing on everybody else’s. It’s about living simply and within our means (which is becoming damn near impossible in this money-whore economy), about sharing with one another, about caring for the downtrodden and others who may not enhance our status or offer us a direct reward.

Why? Simply because being alive is a big deal, or at least it feels like it is for us humans, and we are capable of enduring such incredible suffering, so why add to it unnecessarily? But we all do from time to time, even despite harmless intentions. That’s going to happen. Nobody is perfect. It becomes a matter of whether we’re working on ourselves to become better than whatever we were, and that’s a personal journey we each embark on — a thorny, subjective experience if there ever was one. I’m not here to preach to others who happen to stumble across these written words, but to the universe I admit my sins (again, call it what you will — I define sins differently than some) and recognize I have a long way to go. A long way, and no shortcuts have appeared so far, not real ones anyway. Setbacks are never fun, but they happen too.

But moving on from that, I’ve kinda come to blend teachings like those of Jesus with the Golden Rule (and the reversed golden rule: Do not do unto others what you would not want done to you) and things I’ve picked up from authors and a few philosophers, creating a hodge-podge of sorts. Some parts of it are set more firmly than others; some questions still free-float in orbit around the core beliefs and attitudes I wish to uphold within myself. Some items may wind up dismissed over time after proving incompatible or inconsistent with what I’m aiming to be, as to be expected as one grows and learns. This could be considered the construction of a personal philosophy, but it has no name and doesn’t need one. Just an inquiry in response to the call of living, figuring out how one wants to approach this existence and others sharing in it, what standards to set for oneself and what to aspire toward. By and large, it presents itself to me as a personalized social philosophy of sorts, because that’s where the emphasis is primarily placed: on directing myself and relating with others and on the social constructs humans created that we’re currently expected to live with (like the blessed government and economy). In my view, the ultimate goal is to create a sane society. (Notice that I didn’t say a rational society though, because I am giving up on that dream after figuring out humans aren’t terribly prone to remaining rational, much as we may like to think otherwise. But that’s another topic for another time.)

In a nutshell, that’s what the moral/social/individual life is about. Out of this inquiry stems the sociological, the psychological, the philosophical, the existential and metaphysical, the parental, the legal and political, the economic, and, for some, the religious or ‘spiritual’. It all ties together; none stand alone because all are interrelated and in places overlapping. That is what is meant when I refer to our social world. (We can then tie in the environmental and natural since our habitat is part of who we are, which is where sciences and mathematics get introduced, leading into technologies and profound new understandings that have dramatically impacted how we experience the world in modern times. It’s all such a huge fascinating web that not a one of us could possibly cover all the ground there is within one lifetime, alleviating all concern about ever getting bored.)

It truly does help to have some sort of narrative to guide us, and I’ve come to believe its creation must be personally undertaken by each one of us. We each mold and shape what is within us, and we each are definitely primarily responsible for maintaining our own ships (in other words, monitoring and consciously guiding our own behavior and choices to the extent we are able). Because no one else can or should be responsible for managing us for us. Such strikes me as a form of slavery, so it appears we have the option of either shaping our own selves up to standards we’ve given deep introspective thought to and can devote ourselves to, or else risk being pushed by the tides or coerced into being who someone or something else determines we ought to be. We see the direction our countries are headed already, making this inquiry all the more timely and worthwhile.

But anyway, that had very little to do with that man’s video. lol  Kinda in the mood to go off on tangents this weekend. Ha! Out.

Personal conception of God

The concept of “God” as I understand this has very little to do with what Abrahamic religions have to say on the matter. Religions are mythologies, historical tales and explanation systems, and I appreciate them for whatever value they can offer as such.

In reply to my video response on atheism being dumb, someone mentioned gnostic atheists and agnostic theists and I had to go look that shit up. Still don’t care much about breaking it down to that level, but apparently it’s worth noting that yes, we humans are able to clearly realize that what’s written in the Bible or Qur’an isn’t to be taken literally, at least not in this day and age when we’re able to know better. To do so requires relying on magical thinking that defies natural law. But acknowledging that doesn’t completely demolish all value religions contain, nor does it imply that because the Christian myth of that which we call “God” is patently false that it logically follows that all possible ways of perceiving “God” must be false as well.

This word “God” has everybody hung up on either trying to defend it or to destroy it, and personally I try to stay outside of all of that these days. “God” is a word intended to point at something beyond human comprehension, so arguing over whose understanding is most accurate seems pretty pointless. For some people, the concept of “God” involves what may be described as a force of nature, not some entity in the sky that determines the direction of our lives or answers prayers or sends people to heaven or hell. I happen to agree that the biblical narrative is a fairy tale notion of “God” that does unfortunately little to advance our understanding of this ‘phenomenon’ (for lack of a better word) for people today.

People ask why folks even need a “God” to believe in, and I think that’s part of the puzzle right there. Why have religions been an important part of human history for as far back as we can study our species? Is this merely a feature of humanity to where we’re searching to infuse our lives with meaning, or is this humanity’s attempt to comprehend and make sense of a larger natural order that we seem able to experience on some invisible level, yet can’t prove or explain its existence?

In a nutshell, for me this is about a natural order of sorts, having something to do with consciousness, but I haven’t the foggiest clue how to explain to others my own exploration beyond that, just as I doubt anyone else is able to. We each make sense of living in our own unique ways, this including any and all conceptions of “God” or any other belief systems (including atheism and agnosticism). It doesn’t appear possible for any two of us to truly and completely share in our understandings, no matter how close our views may seem, because we cannot see into one another’s minds or experience living behind one another’s lenses.

Even when someone refers to themselves as atheist, that doesn’t tell you their whole story necessarily either. Because someone embraces a label doesn’t allow us to see how he or she has evolved in his or her thinking over time, nor how they may continue evolving (or devolve perhaps) in their understanding as time moves on. This is one of those matters that calls out from the center of our individuality, and there will never come a time when an “objective truth” can be said to exist here. The concept of “God” is just too big to be caged like that. Why do we feel the need to cage and label anything and everything anyway?

People’s quests for certainty is a big reason why I tend to keep my ‘spiritual’ ponderings restricted to interactions with close friends and family, because being cornered and then demanded to explain and defend the merits of one’s own rationale for believing as they do frankly gets old and isn’t particularly fruitful in this instance. If some folks want to take parts of the Bible literally, I suppose that’s their prerogative, and the only time it comes to bother me is if they expect me to believe and behave as their beliefs tell them they should. The situation is made all the more complex since some are hell-bent on forcing the rest to bow down and live according to their expressed beliefs, which is bullshit whether they’re religious or anti-religious or something else in outfield.

I would be happy if we could suspend the fighting for a spell and turn our attention to learning about religions of old (starting way back before the Big Abrahamic 3) and delve into what morals and teachings they imparted, taking into consideration the historical and cultural context to the best of our abilities. Then perhaps it will become clearer to some why religious narratives were important and why a new narrative of some kind is still needed today. Religions started off as narratives, but the narratives going forward need not be like any that came before. We can get beyond religions, this I do believe, in reference to the inflexible group-think exerting too much control over people. We can choose to journey beyond untenable limitations and explore for ourselves, and there’s no reason any new narratives that come into creation can’t allow that to be so.

It’s a tricky topic to speak on when so many people have a set way they want to look at life and aren’t too open to how others see things. For me, it all ties together, from the social realm to moral and philosophical questions; from studying the physical realm, space and time to all forms of life (sentient or otherwise); from individualism to the wider collective(s); from mathematics to language and poetry; from power to play; from love to sexual exploration — all factor into my understanding of that which I’ve come to think of as “God,” yet “God” isn’t caged by any of that. “God” is not an it or a thing or anything resembling a person. That’s my take on it, and I doubt that’s cleared up much to state this. Oh well.

There’s a feeling associated with my understanding of “God” and I can sense this in others at times, whether they be religious or spiritual or not. The way I say it is something “speaks to my soul,” and often enough it reaches me through music. Hence the gospel songs I post and share, plus plenty of songs from other genres. Music is like my church, and through listening and letting its messages and melodies move me I am brought to a feeling of connectedness on some level with others, with the wider human experiment in living and its melodrama and our striving to reach beyond where we stand in a given moment.

There’s no way to be clear on this subject, just no way at all. It truly speaks to a subjective experience in terms of how one relates with this concept and how far we decide (or are able) to follow it. I get to feeling like talk of this nature is deemed as pure crazy by some, but that relates back to us not being able to see life through one another’s eyes, leaving us forced to rely on inadequate words to point instead, and lord knows words are always up for individual interpretation. What I mean by “God” will never be what you or she or he means by “God,” at least not in any definite sense capable of being objectively understood and proven.

So around and around we go with our words and claims and arguments and so forth. We humans truly are an odd and interesting bunch.

This is a complex inquiry within each of our own selves, that is if we’re aiming to remain open to it. Then it’s made all the more complex when a bunch of us want to get together and argue over what can or can’t be or what’s idiotic to believe. What does it even mean to “believe”? I understand this to be an inquiry never headed to becoming a rigid set of beliefs cast in stone, deemed complete and no longer changeable. At least for me. Science proved to be a game-changer for humanity because its methodology and findings dramatically altered and enhanced inquiry of this nature, but scientific inquiry hasn’t done away with ‘spiritual’ inquiry, nor has scientific exploration solved (and perhaps it cannot solve) what all is being asked here. Questions remain open, and I guess my experiences with atheists have given me the impression that a number of them jumped off the train at that stage in their journeys and decided that was far enough, as if that’s all they needed or were interested in knowing. That’s fine for them, I guess, until they start dismissing people with differing views as ignorant fools living back in the Stone Age of intellectual discourse. What’s folly to me is assuming one can know everything worth knowing, and that’s it, case closed, turn the page. How is that not dogmatic thinking in its own right?

Isn’t it about striving to become better, to grow? Guess it depends on how one perceives so-called “objective reality.”

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[Update Sept. 29th, 2014: edited for typos and greater clarity.]

Divvying everything up

Tonight I’m thinking about all this either/or, black/white, this/that talk that’s become the norm in public discussions. Everything’s reduced down to a debate, and so many seem hell-bent on proving their “opponents” wrong or incompetent. People seem to be running around with their dukes up, spoiling for some sort of hostile confrontation that serves as an opportunity to vent their frustrations.

Often I’m reminded of the “two minutes hate” in George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty-Four, imagining people gnashing their teeth behind computer screens.  lol  Sad but true. So many reasons to diss and “hate”: racial clashes, political bickering, the sexes going to battle, warring ideologies and competing economic theories, religions vs. anti-religionists, etc. Lots of bullshit keeping people distracted.

But even if this bullshit is sown among us common folk from on-high, it’s still ultimately our responsibility to face and handle it. Nobody else can do this for us, so the responsibility must lie with us, right? And that’s where the issue gets really sticky, because, much as I tend to get pretty dismissive about knee-jerk labeling of one another, underneath it all there are competing philosophies that do deserve our attention. It’s a matter of struggling to figure out where the root of so much of this lies. Where’s the ultimate source of contention? Likely there is more more than one worth considering.

One important way it does boil down is to competing ideas on centralization vs. decentralization of power. Which of those do the currently powerful seek to support? Decidedly, centralization of power. Which of those do those aiming to become powerful support? They may pay lip service to decentralization in so far as it improves their chances of seizing power, at which point they revert to supporting the centralization of power. Why? Because these types of people aim for a disproportionate amount of power, and it’s not uncommon. Part of the human condition so far as I can tell. Some take it further than others, especially those lacking empathy or desire for meaningful connectedness with other humans.  Psychopathy (or sociopathy — are we still using the terms interchangeably?) is imitated by disenchanted people who’ve been peddled nihilistic fantasies.

It’s an effective strategy, but what’s particularly interesting to me here is that while colluding interests obviously help bring this about, plenty of us unwittingly perpetuate the problems ourselves. I’ve been guilty in the past and may still be guilty in some ways now (forever fallible).  Lots of people support the status quo through what they do to earn a living — hell of a conundrum that can be difficult to avoid. Plenty of us mean well but then get caught up in ideological bias without realizing it. Takes time to figure things out, including our own thought processes. Biases are a part of life, threads woven into the fabric of our individual subjective living experience. No two lives can be identical, and the uniqueness this grants us can feel like a double-edged sword at times. A sense of alienation accompanies this relatively new marvel of individuality taken to new heights.

It helps to put it in historical perspective.  The latest major rise of individualism came about during the Enlightenment Era, heralded as a brand-new way for humans to experience living, no longer mentally or materially shackled to familial clans as had been the case up through most our species’ history. Individualism as Western people experience it is truly revolutionary, unprecedented. But what allowed this to be so? What else occurred alongside this psychological leap within human beings? Economic and technological advancements ushered in new habitats and lifestyles, opening up our choices in terms of what to buy and where and how to live. People now are given the option to isolate ourselves, to live alone, to commute alone, in some cases even to work alone,  and now (thanks to the internet) to shop alone. We can choose to learn as much as we are able alone. Porn and sexual novelties make it easier to enjoy sexual pleasure alone. Many frequently dine alone. There was a time when this sort of thing spelled disaster for unlucky members of our species who found themselves abandoned or excommunicated, because so much of living involved socializing and individuals’ needs were met through the concerted efforts of clansmembers. No one person could manage it all on his or her own.

This shift cannot be overrated for its significance in impacting human psychology, which is something we continue struggling with adjusting to. Community had always mattered, and now we appear to be witnessing its dissolution, replaced by collections of people referring to themselves as communities despite members remaining unfamiliar and distant with one another. That’s a big change. Instead of depending on one another directly, we look toward government and agencies and businesses to supply what we need, and this is very often decided through competitive and coercive rather than cooperative action.

On a side-note, I’m reminded of the scene in the movie “Network” where the newscaster is talking about people living with anxiety, retreating to their homes, clinging to their radios and toasters and begging to be left alone.

Can’t speak for the rest of you, but I’m mad as hell too. It’s a natural reaction to a society out of wack. Part of the problem is just that so much change has occurred so rapidly that we’re made disoriented, especially now as each decade brings a plethora of new shit to get acquainted with. Easy to be dazzled and distracted in today’s world. Difficult to discern effective courses of action from wastes of time, particularly when it comes to waging legal battles through the largely defunct ‘proper channels’. Humanity is atomized into individuals set out on our own singular trajectories, trying to connect with others when able along the journey. Some are more introverted than others and relish so much solitude;  some grow deeply depressed due to lacking meaningful connections and a sense of purposeful living.

This is where modern “collectivist” movements attract attention, providing people with something to belong to, an affiliation to identify with, and access to others with relatively similar views to debate and socialize with. The “hating” toward the “opposition” provides members of the collective in question with something to bond with one another over. That last part is very important, because that’s the glue holding together modern groups. People feel the need to collect around some common goal(s), and standing in opposition to another group of people is an easy strategy open to all sorts. Anyone willing to obstruct the goals of “the opposition” is welcome, so long as you don’t harshly critique your own group in the process. Heck of a price of admission, but when people are lonely they do crazy things such as this. People do crave to experience a sense of belonging and identity, this being integral to how one’s personhood is defined.

Looked at from that angle, is it any wonder some people flock toward “collectivist” ideologies and movements? But this word “collectivist” isn’t a bad word in my worldview, per se. Humans are social creatures, yet individualistic at the same time. Hell of a way to be, but this is what human existence consists of. The balance varies from person to person and across cultures (and subcultures), but the fact remains in place. I am unable to comprehend individualism as if in a zero-sum competition with collectivism, as if individualism could win out and utterly defeat collectivism. No, and I don’t think we’d actually want that if it were possible. But does collectivism theoretically possess the power to potentially stamp out individualism? Maybe so. Hence why I’ve come to think of it rather as a ratio than an either/or proposition. Say, 70/30 in terms of protecting individualism and catering to collective concerns. Because individualism requires safeguards to ensure it won’t be so easily overtaken by collective/conformity-minded pursuits, but those ultimately responsible for policing this and making sure the balance isn’t tipped too far are our own selves, we the individuals. Authorities will not encourage the proliferation of independent thought and action, because that’s (rightly) perceived to be a threat to their own claims to power. Citizens have so far demonstrated we’re terrific at dropping the ball repeatedly, thanks in large part to us not being able to agree on barely anything and spending so much time fighting one another.

Sometimes I have to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation we find ourselves in. Not sure how to remedy it other than to strive to distinguish 2 or 3 core principles a great many of us can agree on enough to at least respect and uphold to provide some needed framework that binds us into a collective on one level, but through each individual’s choice and initiative. This means leaving aside all the ways in which we differ in views for a moment so as to support an effort that is of potential benefit to all humans.

The idea is to create a new (well, actually based on an old attempt that we Americans failed at) framework on which new narratives that serve common people rather than merely the most parasitic among us can have a chance at existence. There likely will have to be multiple narratives since there’s no way one size will fit all. There’s plenty of room for flexibility here, if we could only agree that we, as individuals as well as the communities we take part in, want to be in greater control of our destinies rather than submit to being leashed and muzzled by others vying for the power to exploit our labor and play on our psychologies to suit their own dreams of gaining wildly-disproportionate advantage. It’s called slavery, folks, and regardless of the form it may take, it’s the same old song and dance.

Just some thoughts during a loooong night awake with a cold.  sick

On population, decentralizing power, political labeling, and control of the food supply (thoughts generated while watching and reading RockingMrE)

Thursday night I interacted with RockingMrE in the comment sections of a few of his videos. Some of his arguments I can get behind, but others are problematic for me. One being his use of the term “Cultural Marxism” to describe “leftist” political ideology. I take issue with this term because it isn’t adequately descriptive and, IMO, has very little to do with actual Marxist theory. Wikipedia describes “cultural marxism” as a spin-off of sorts, and I’d say it’s spun off far enough to warrant the application of a new term for the social and political phenomenon it’s intended to describe, for clarity’s sake. But that’s a quibble of my own, wishing that we could clean up the language so as to make it less confusing when sharing and discussing ideas, but undoubtedly few care about my opinion there.

Perhaps instead of labeling this political movement toward collectivism trumping individual rights as “cultural marxism” (as if Karl Marx hasn’t been blamed for enough already, why attach his name to ideas he never even promoted?), we might call it “Godwinism,” in reference to William Godwin. In the book The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers (1999; 7th ed.) by Robert L. Heilbroner, William Godwin is described as

[…] a minister and pamphleteer, [who] looked at the heartless world about him and shrank back in dismay. But he looked into the future and what he saw was good. In 1793 he published Political Justice, a book that excoriated the present but gave promise of a distant future in which “there will be no war, no crime, no administration of justice, as it is called, and no government. Besides this there will be no disease, anguish, melancholy, or resentment.” What a wonderful vision! It was, of course, highly subversive, for Godwin’s utopia called for complete equality and for the most thoroughgoing anarchic communism: even the property contract of marriage would be abolished.

[Page 77]

What’s funny there is I can see shades of what both anarcho-capitalists (i.e. libertarian anarchists) and optimistic “leftist” or “progressive” utopians are striving for in his vision. But maybe the term “Godwinists” is already in use. *shrugs* Doesn’t matter since undoubtedly there are countless others promoting the fantasy of a technologically-advanced, collectivist utopia to rename the trend after. My gripe is it’s become doggone confusing trying to sort out all the different meanings behind words like “communism,” “socialism,” and “Marxism” to where it would be really helpful if from here on out we applied new terms to whatever we’re aiming to describe rather than drudging back up one of these popular three. Otherwise the language gets so muddy that it’s nearly impossible to track what definition any given person is operating with when tossing around these terms. My quibble, yes.

The second argument from RockingMrE that gives me pause is his claim that overpopulation isn’t a problem worth concerning ourselves with. Having now read his blog post on this subject, his explanation hasn’t assuaged my worries, and I’ll tell you why. First off, what Thomas Robert Malthus put forth isn’t such a radical proposition. As populations increase, this places a burden on the resource supply (and prompts the generation of new resources, if that is even possible). People like to look at this sort of thing from a purely theoretical perspective, arguing that so much land allotted to so many people will prove sufficient to provide for an even greater number of people than presently in existence or that through our technological advancements future humans will discover solutions to whatever may ail us over time. The first argument takes into account physical spaces and physical resources, saying little, or nothing, about people’s psychological well-being, which is a major concern for social beings like ourselves. His argument there is, in my view, unduly optimistic in placing so much faith (yes, that is the correct word to use there) in science to eventually save us from ourselves. Why do we leap to assuming that that will be the likely outcome? Because a couple hundred years of mind-boggling advancement deems it must be so, that technology can only continue to advance unencumbered and automatically to the benefit of humankind? There is not enough evidence to suggest that will indeed be the case. Because something has happened says nothing about whether it will continue to happen. Besides, we live in Western countries with infrastructures heavily dependent on fossil fuels to continue functioning. If ever there comes a day when that supply is diminished or access is jeopardized (for example, if China and/or India wind up cornering that resource to advance their own economies, or if Middle Eastern countries someday succeed in pushing us out), so much of what we take for granted will be dramatically undermined or completely uprooted. Other human beings may carry on, but those who lose out in that contest will likely starve or be forced to migrate elsewhere.

I noticed that RockingMrE is fairly quick to dismiss people who challenge his assertions on this, referring to them as “cultural marxists” (here we go again) while assuming that the only reason anyone would continue to take Robert Malthus’s ideas seriously is because the television has brainwashed them into doing so. Television is a pain in the rear in terms of spreading propaganda for people to parrot, I do agree, yet there are other reasons why people will continue to be critical of his ‘optimistic’ stance that have nothing to do with popular media (or even Malthus necessarily). And for that you can thank books. Yes, some people do still read information for themselves and draw their own conclusions.

And before I go any further, I have to say that the mention of global warming in his blog post irritated me a bit, because that too isn’t universally embraced by anyone and everyone who may be concerned with the effects of overpopulation. I, for one, am not sold on the claim of global warming either way and will remain open to all sides of the argument until enough evidence is available to sway me. Until such time, it’s not a topic I care to discuss much because people do tend to get so excited about whatever they happen to think on the matter, throwing around hyperbolic claims that we are unable to currently prove or disprove. I personally prefer instead to focus on what is more directly within my locus of control that I might have the ability to change or influence. For me, the emphasis is placed on the social sphere, and my concerns with overpopulation stem from what I’ve come to wonder about in terms of humans’ psychological and social needs for well-being and high quality of life. An increasing population places stress on individuals, partly because of how we’re expected to compete with one another in this new economic frontier, partly because I believe we each need a certain amount of space and tranquility in order to maintain our sanity. Looked at from this angle, concerns over resource depletion are problematic not only because the resources available may actually be in decline but also because these worries induce anxiety that further stresses us.

Now, on to another point RockingMrE made in his blog post, claiming that people who typically take issue with population growth are in favor of implementing some form of top-down population control. As in the State restricting the number of kids people can have (as is the case in China), I assume is what he had in mind there. He is right to be concerned about people looking to the State to solve these dilemmas for us, because unfortunately many people lack the imagination needed to consider other individually-determined alternatives (like the personal option to choose not to create more children, particularly when children already exist who need the loving support of families). It is never my own contention to support the State deciding these matters for the populace — we are capable of deciding and fashioning our own future, and whether we turn out right or wrong in the end, it is best to leave the matter in the hands of people to choose for themselves. That is my belief. If people wind up one day starving because we screwed ourselves by not heeding the writing on the wall, that will still probably be preferable to having the State police our sexual and procreative choices (or, worse yet, the State taking action to reduce the population). So, in short, I am in no way arguing in favor of the State interfering in an effort to control or reduce the human population. I am, however, arguing that we individuals will likely be better off if we take personal action to help reduce the population ourselves. I’ll break down my own view below.

In terms of reducing the number of kids we choose to have, we free up time and energy to focus on the children we’ve already brought into existence and hopefully also to actively engage with others in our own adult lives. That is arguably beneficial for all involved.

In choosing not to create any children, we free ourselves up from a great deal of the economic pressure that typically bears down on parents responsible for caring not only for themselves but also for their dependents. Alleviating economic pressure reduces stress and frees up energy to be directed toward other (hopefully productive) uses of our time. Such as taking time to study and learn and ponder. Or to create art or enhance one’s skill set. Or to try our hands at vegetable gardening so as to reacquaint ourselves with the food production process that has grown so alien to the majority of us born in the last 50 years in Western countries. It’s important that people know how to provide for their essential needs, and we’ve lost the ability to do so, by-and-large, so any effort that seeks to restore what has been lost there I view as worthwhile and necessary if we are to ever break the chains of dependence on Big Ag (a.k.a. massive corporate food production).

Also, when it comes to choosing to live child-free, our resources are freed up to share with other parents and children whom we wish to see prosper. The benefit here is that this could aid in restoring a sense of community, and also it could potentially reduce people’s dependence on the State to provide for their financial needs. In my view, it would be a positive social advancement if we could get to a point where we can work together and reconstruct and support our own communities, thereby reducing the role of the State to interfere in our families and in our financial affairs (which the government is growing determined to scrutinize and attempt to micromanage, something I take great issue with). If we dream for smaller governments restricted in scope and power, then we must take this power into our own hands and determine for ourselves the narrative we’ll willingly subscribe to. There doesn’t appear to be any other alternative than that, which can be more easily understood as breaking down into centralized versus decentralized approaches to managing our lives, which carries over to the communities we take part in. And on that I do not believe there is one right or best way to go about this, so social experimentation across several communities strikes me as ideal in order for people to figure out for themselves what will or won’t work for them. (And these thoughts can lead off on to a lengthy topic all unto itself, but I’m trying to not stray too far in this post.)

Another advantage of focusing one’s life on matters not pertaining to raising kids (which also can apply to people who’ve already successfully raised their children into adulthood) is that time and energy can be freed up to tackle what all we have going on these days, nearly all of which requires serious and diligent consideration. I am arguing that we need adults taking up the challenge of sorting out what’s happening here and why and also to propose ideas on how we might effectively circumvent the status quo or however otherwise bring about productive change. Parents’ involvement is obviously needed in this inquiry as well, but unfortunately many claim to not have much time to spend on it, hence why I direct my talk toward those who aren’t yet parents or are considering not having any more children (or who now have an “empty nest”). Plenty of what we’re faced with today isn’t appropriate for children to take part in, though unfortunately plenty of kids wind up exposed to so much of it anyway (thanks again, TVs and Internet — parental controls do exist, though they don’t do much good if hardly anyone uses them). My point here is that these are adult topics primarily pertaining to adult relations, decided ultimately by adults through learning, voting, exercising purchasing power, raising arguments in the public square to influence the minds of others, or whatever other efforts that might prove useful. Either way, the goal is to free up time and energy so as to be able to take action as needed.

Now, I realize I’ve responded to more than RockingMrE’s one blog post, having watched several of his videos last night, one having been on the topic of anti-natalism. So I’m responding to a mix of what he’s put out into the world, not limited to the topic of overpopulation alone since I see so many of these topics as overlapping and interrelated. But returning to the topic of overpopulation once again, I’d like to invoke the social theory of David Ricardo now.

In that same book by Heilbroner, on page 79, it states:

David Ricardo, an astonishingly successful trader in stocks, was soon to outline a theory of economics which, while less spectacular than Malthus’s inundation of humanity, would be in its own way just as devastating to the prospects of improvement held out by Adam Smith.

For what Ricardo foresaw was the end of a theory of society in which everyone moved together up the escalator of progress. Unlike Smith, Ricardo saw that the escalator worked with different effects on different classes, that some rode triumphantly to the top, while others were carried up a few steps and then were kicked back down to the bottom. Worse yet, those who kept the escalator moving were not those who rose with its motion, and those who got the full benefit of the ride did nothing to earn their reward. And to carry the metaphor one step further, if you looked carefully at those who were ascending to the top, you could see that all was not well here either; there was a furious struggle going on for a secure place on the stairs.

That’s another interesting way to look at so-called “progress.”

Picking back up on page 88 in this chapter concerned with Malthus and Ricardo:

Although Malthus and Ricardo disagreed on almost everything, they did not disagree about what Malthus had to say about population. For in his celebrated Essay in 1798, Malthus seemed not only to elucidate the question once for all but also to shed a great deal of light on the terrible and persistent poverty that haunted the English social scene. Others had vaguely felt that somehow population and poverty were related and a popular if apocryphal story of the day concerned an island off the coast of Chile where one Juan Fernandez landed two goats in case he should later wish to find meat there. On revisiting the island he found that the goats had multiplied beyond reason, so he then landed a pair of dogs who also multiplied and cut down the goats. “Thus,” wrote the author, a Reverend Joseph Townshend, “a new kind of balance was restored. The weakest of both species were the first to pay the debt of nature; the most active and vigorous preserved their lives.” To which he added: “It is the quantity of food which regulates the number of the human species.”

But while this paradigm recognized the balance that must be struck in nature, it still failed to draw the final devastating conclusions implicit in the problem. This was left for Malthus to do.

He began with a fascination in the sheer numerical possibilities contained in the idea of doubling. His appreciation of the staggering multiplicative powers of reproduction has been amply supported by other, later scholars. One biologist has calculated that a pair of animals, each pair producing ten pairs annually, would at the end of twenty years be responsible for 700,000,000,000,000,000,000 offspring; and Havelock Ellis mentions a minute organism that, if unimpeded in its division, would produce from one single tiny being a mass a million times larger than the sun—in thirty days.

But such examples of the prolific power of nature are meaningless for our purposes. The vital question is: how great is the normal reproductive power of a human being? Malthus made the assumption that the human animal would tend to double its numbers in twenty-five years. In the light of his times this was a relatively modest assumption. It necessitated an average family of six, two of whom were presumed to die before reaching the age of marriage. Turning to America, Malthus pointed out that the population there had in fact doubled itself every twenty-five years for the preceding century and a half, and that in some backwoods areas where life was freer and healthier, it was doubling every fifteen years!

But against the multiplying tendencies of the human race—and it is inconsequential to the argument whether it tended to double in twenty-five years or in fifty—Malthus opposed the obdurate fact that land, unlike people, cannot be multiplied. Land can be added to laboriously, but the rate of progress is slow and hesitant; unlike population, land does not breed. Hence, while the number of mouths grows geometrically, the amount of cultivable land grows only arithmetically.

And the result, of course, is as inevitable as a proposition in logic: the number of people is bound, sooner or later, to outstrip the amount of food. “Taking the population of the world at any number, a thousand millions, for instance,” wrote Malthus in his Essay, “. . . the human species would increase in the ratio of 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 516, etc. and subsistence as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, etc. In two centuries and a quarter the population would be to the means of subsistence as 512 to 10; in three centuries as 4096 to 13, and in two thousand years the difference would be incalculable.”

Such a dreadful view of the future would be enough to discourage any man: “The view,” Malthus wrote, “has a melancholy hue.” The troubled Reverend was driven to the conclusion that the incorrigible and irreconcilable divergence between mouths and food could have only one result: the larger portion of mankind would forever be subjected to some kind of misery or other. For somehow the huge and ever potentially widening gap must be sealed: population, after all, cannot exist without food. Hence among the primitives such customs as infanticide; hence war, disease, and, above all, poverty.

And if these are not enough: “Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature. The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to provide subsistence . . . that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. . . . But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success still be incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow, levels the population with the food of the world.”

No wonder poor Godwin complained that Malthus had converted friends of progress into reactionaries. For this is truly the doctrine of despair. Nothing, nothing can rescue mankind from the constant threat of drowning under its own weight but the frail reed of “moral restraint.” And how dependable is moral restraint against the great passion of sex?

. .

Was Malthus right?

As recently as the early 1970s the general outlook for world population growth seemed to confirm the prescience of his expectations, at least in the less developed portions of the world. In those years demographers spoke of a possible world population of 20 billion—five times the population in 1970—if the momentum of population growth went unchecked for another fifty years.

Today the pendulum has swung somewhat to the other side. In fact, thinking on the population problem has always swung between poles of opinion: it is striking that Malthus himself was much more sanguine in a second edition of his famous essay published only five years after the first, pinning his hopes on the belief that the laboring classes would learn to exercise voluntary “restraint” by postponing their age of marriage.

Today’s cautious optimism is based to a large extent on technological breakthroughs, especially the so-called Green Revolution which has raised crop yields dramatically in countries like India. India today produces enough foodstuffs to be a modest exporter. Hence, although agronomists still hold their breath each year until the crops are in, the terrible prospect of global famine, brought about by Malthus’s arithmetic of supply and demand, is no longer regarded as a realistic prognosis. Horrified TV watchers in the 1980s who saw pictures of skeletonlike human beings in Ethiopia and the sub-Saharan belt were not witnessing Malthus’s predictions come true, but the consequences of localized conditions, such as droughts and inadequate transportation networks.

Nonetheless, more is needed to set aside the Malthusian specter than an increase in food production. Even if global famine no longer seems imminent, experts warn that population pressures are still immense. […]

Perhaps more important, we must not forget that Malthus was right in claiming that population growth, proceeding exponentially, inherently has the capability of swamping increases in agricultural productivity. Thus there remains the necessity to master the demand side of the equation as well as the supply side. What is required is control over the production of children as well as food.

Is worldwide population control possible? The answer seems to be a surprising yes. It is surprising because demographers have long doubted that the nations worst afflicted with the population “disease” could surmount the barriers of peasant ignorance, organized religious opposition, and political apathy. Now a more sanguine outlook prevails. During the last years, countries as different as Mexico and China have switched from indifference or outright hostility to an enthusiastic endorsement of birth control. Even India, long the despair of demographers, has made a determined—indeed, at times a ruthless—effort to introduce planned parenthood.

And the effort has begun to pay off. In the years 1970-1975, despite the prevailing gloom, the rate of growth of population slowed down for the first time in history. The growth of population has not yet stopped by any means—U.N. experts predict that today’s world population of some 5 billion may grow to between 9 to 10 billion before it levels off. But at least and at last, the growth rate is slowing down, and the leveling may come sooner than was imaginable only a decade ago. The trouble is that the victory will not be equally shared. In Europe, for example, we already have something close to ZPG—zero population growth, except for immigration. Fifty years hence, the United States own population, today roughly 275 million, may well number over 390 million, including some 800,000 immigrants. This is a total that will surely add to urban crowding, although it is not likely to overstrain total resources.

But in the poorest parts of the world, where food is scarcest, the forecast is not so reassuring. Birthrates are slowly dropping there, too, but more slowly than in the West, and from a higher starting point. The Malthusian specter will not disappear for a long time.

Curiously, Malthus himself did not aim his shafts at those parts of the world where the problem is so severe today. He was concerned about England and the Western world, not about the continents of the East and South.

It’s a good book and was received as gift from a family member a few years back. In it, Heilbroner summarizes the views put forth by several economists, a number of whom I was previously unfamiliar with. At a later date I’d like to transcribe more from it. But for tonight that suits my purposes and provides a glimpse into what Malthus claimed and why. His thoughts were arguably logical, though I realize many people continue to hinge their hopes on future innovations coming to the rescue. And on that note, one thing I find very interesting are unforeseen variables, as in the unintended side effects or consequences that spin off from any and every action, whether positive or negative or a mixed blessing.

One such case that springs to mind pertains to Big Ag’s innovations in pesticides and genetic modification of crops. Or at least that is presumed to be the culprit behind the mysterious die-off of thousands of honeybees relied on to pollinate our nation’s fruits and vegetables. A recent New York Times article (March 28, 2013) shares the latest news and points with suspicion toward the role new neonicotinoids (“the nicotine-derived pesticide that European regulators implicate in bee deaths”) may play in this fiasco. At this juncture the matter isn’t settled, so we can’t say with certainty what’s going on. I merely offer this as one example of how noble scientific advancements can be accompanied by unintended consequences that may themselves prove disastrous (as the honeybee die-off potentially could, especially when compounded with droughts and other factors impacting crop yields).

I remain open to the possibilities, seeing no reason to embrace optimism or pessimism going forward. The situation simply is what it is, right or wrong. My concern lies chiefly with us being able to partake in lives worth living, which in my view involves us taking actions to regain and reclaim control over that which we can reasonably assume greater responsibility for, which I figure will go a long way in mending our social relations by requiring we learn to cooperate (even if that does entail groups separating off and going their own way so as to allow space between those unable or unwilling to find common ground).

The more I’ve considered our economic, political, and social options, the more important does food production appear to be, because in that lies our greatest dependence on State and corporate powers-that-be. When the food supply was severed away from being under the common people’s control, it set in motion a series of events that have culminated in us being rendered no more powerful than pets begging for someone else to provide what we need to get by. The population size becomes especially important in this scenario because modern farming practices have created conditions that allow for population expansion, yet people then become dependent on this new system because, as is commonly stated, we now could not generate enough food through the use of older techniques to be able to sustain this many of us. That sets us up with a circular dilemma that apparently cannot be remedied so long as this many people exist; and if the modern food producing system fails to perform as expected, we all go down with it, having no alternative source of food to turn toward that could sufficiently maintain more than a small percentage of us. That’s quite a stranglehold to wake up and find ourselves in. Welcome to the 21st century, folks.

At least that’s how it’s come to appear from where I sit. And that’s enough typing on here for one evening.

Neocon economic theory applied in Chile — an excerpt from the book “The Shock Doctrine”

Tonight let’s transcribe a little of Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, beginning with chapter three, page 75:

States of Shock

The Bloody Birth of the Counterrevolution

For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less.

–Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, 1513

If this shock approach were adopted, I believe that it should be announced publicly in great detail, to take effect at a very close date. The more fully the public is informed, the more will its reactions facilitate the adjustment.

–Milton Friedman in a letter to General Augusto Pinochet, April 21, 1975

General Augusto Pinochet and his supporters consistently referred to the events of September 11, 1973, not as a coup d’état but as “a war.” Santiago certainly looked like a war zone: tanks fired as they rolled down the boulevards, and government buildings were under air assault by fighter jets. But there was something strange about this war. It had only one side.

From the start, Pinochet had complete control of the army, navy, marines and police. Meanwhile, President Salvador Allende had refused to organize his supporters into armed defense leagues, so he had no army of his own. The only resistance came from the presidential palace, La Moneda, and the rooftops around it, where Allende and his inner circle made a valiant effort to defend the seat of democracy. It was hardly a fair fight: though there were just thirty-six Allende supporters inside, the military launched twenty-four rockets into the palace.

Pinochet, the operation’s vain and volatile commander (built like one of the tanks he rode in on), clearly wanted the event to be as dramatic and traumatic as possible. Even if the coup was not a war, it was designed to feel like one—a Chilean precursor to Shock and Awe. It could scarcely have been more shocking. Unlike neighboring Argentina, which had been ruled by six military governments in the previous four decades, Chile had no experience with this kind of violence; it had enjoyed 160 years of peaceful democratic rule, the past 41 uninterrupted.

Now the presidential palace was in flames, the president’s shrouded body was being carried out on a stretcher, and his closest colleagues were lying facedown in the street at rifle point. A few minutes’ drive from the presidential palace, Orlando Letelier, recently returned from Washington to take up a new post as Chile’s defense minister, had gone to his office that morning in the ministry. As soon as he walked through the front door, he was ambushed by twelve soldiers in combat uniform, all pointing their submachine guns at him.

In the years leading up to the coup, U.S. trainers, many from the CIA, had whipped the Chilean military into an anti-Communist frenzy, persuading them that socialists were de facto Russian spies, a force alien to Chilean society—a homegrown “enemy within.” In fact, it was the military that had become the true domestic enemy, ready to turn its weapons on the population it was sworn to protect.

With Allende dead, his cabinet in captivity and no mass resistance in evidence, the junta’s grand battle was over by mid-afternoon. Letelier and the other “VIP” prisoners were eventually taken to freezing Dawson Island in the southern Strait of Magellan, Pinochet’s approximation of a Siberian work camp. Killing and locking up the government was not enough for Chile’s new junta government, however. The generals knew that their hold on power depended on Chileans being truly terrified, as the people had been in Indonesia. In the days that followed, roughly 13,500 civilians were arrested, loaded onto trucks and imprisoned, according to declassified CIA reports. Thousands ended up in the two main football stadiums in Santiago, the Chile Stadium and the huge National Stadium. Inside the National Stadium, death replaced football as the public spectacle. Soldiers prowled bleachers with hooded collaborators who pointed out “subversives”; the ones who were selected were hauled off to locker rooms and skyboxes transformed into makeshift torture chambers. Hundreds were executed. Lifeless bodies started showing up on the side of major highways or floating in murky urban canals.

To make sure that the terror extended beyond the capital city, Pinochet sent his most ruthless commander, General Sergio Arellano Stark, on a helicopter mission to the northern provinces to visit a string of prisons where “subversives” were being held. At each city and town, Stark and his roving death squad singled out the highest-profile prisoners, as many as twenty-six at a time, who were subsequently executed. The trail of blood left behind over those four days came to be known as the Caravan of Death. In short order, the entire country had gotten the message: resistance is deadly.

Even though Pinochet’s battle was one-sided, its effects were as real as any civil war or foreign invasion: in all, more than 3,200 people were disappeared or executed, at least 80,000 were imprisoned, and 200,000 fled the country for political reasons.

The Economic Front

For the Chicago Boys, September 11 was a day of giddy anticipation and deadline adrenalin. Sergio de Castro had been working down to the wire with his contact in the navy, getting the final sections of “The Brick” approved page by page. Now, on the day of the coup, several Chicago Boys were camped out at the printing presses of the right-wing El Mercurio newspaper. As shots were being fired in the streets outside, they frantically tried to get the document printed in time for the junta’s first day in the job. Arturo Fontaine, one of the newspaper’s editors, recalled that the machines “worked non-stop to duplicate copies of this long document.” And they made it—just barely. “Before midday on Wednesday, September 12, 1973, the General Officers of the Armed Forces who performed government duties had the Plan on their desks.”

The proposals in the final document bore a striking resemblance to those found in Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom: privatization, deregulation and cuts to social spending—the free-market trinity. Chile’s U.S.-trained economists had tried to introduce these ideas peacefully, within the confines of a democratic debate, but they had been overwhelmingly rejected. Now the Chicago Boys and their plans were back, in a climate distinctly more conducive to their radical vision. In this new era, no one besides a handful of men in uniform needed to agree with them. Their staunchest political opponents were either in jail, dead or fleeing for cover; the spectacle of fighter jets and caravans of death was keeping everyone else in line.

“To us, it was a revolution,” said Cristián Larroulet, one of Pinochet’s economic aides. It was a fair description. September 11, 1973, was far more than the violent end of Allende’s peaceful socialist revolution; it was the beginning of what The Economist would later describe as a “counterrevolution”—the first concrete victory in the Chicago School campaign to seize back the gains that had been won under developmentalism and Keynesianism. Unlike Allende’s partial revolution, tempered and compromised by the push and pull of democracy, this revolt, imposed through brute force, was free to go all the way. In the coming years, the same policies laid out in “The Brick” would be imposed in dozens of other countries under cover of a wide range of crises. But Chile was the counterrevolution’s genesis—a genesis of terror.

José Piñera, an alumnus of the economics department at the Catholic University and a self-described Chicago Boy, was doing graduate work at Harvard at the time of the coup. On hearing the good news, he returned home “to help found a new country, dedicated to liberty, from the ashes of the old one.” According to Piñera, who would eventually become Pinochet’s minister of labor and mining, this was “the real revolution . . . a radical, comprehensive, and sustained move toward free markets.”

Before the coup, Augusto Pinochet had a reputation for deference that bordered on the obsequious, forever flattering and agreeing with his civilian commanders. As a dictator, Pinochet found new facets of his character. He took to power with unseemly relish, adopting the airs of a monarch and claiming that “destiny” had given him the job. In short order, he staged a coup within a coup to unseat the other three military leaders with whom he had agreed to share power and named himself Supreme Chief of the Nation as well as president. He basked in pomp and ceremony, proof of his right to rule, never missing an opportunity to put on his Prussian dress uniform, complete with cape. To get around Santigo, he chose a caravan of gold bulletproof Mercedes-Benzes.

Pinochet had a knack for authoritarian rule, but, like Suharto, he knew next to nothing about economics. That was a problem because the campaign of corporate sabotage spearheaded by ITT had done an effective job of sending the economy into a tailspin, and Pinochet had a full-fledged crisis on his hands. From the start, there was a power struggle within the junta between those who simply wanted to reinstate the pre-Allende status quo and return quickly to democracy, and the Chicago Boys, who were pushing for a head-to-toe free-market makeover that would take years to impose. Pinochet, enjoying his new powers, intensely disliked the idea that his destiny was a mere cleanup operation—there to “restore order” and then get out. “We are not a vacuum cleaner that swept out Marxism to give back power to those Mr. Politicians,” he would say. It was the Chicago Boys’ vision of a total country overhaul that appealed to his newly unleashed ambition, and, like Suharto with his Berkeley Mafia, he immediately named several Chicago grads as senior economic advisers, including Sergio de Castro, the movement’s de facto leader and the main author of “The Brick.” He called them the technos—the technicians—which appealed to the Chicago pretension that fixing an economy was a matter of science, not of subjective human choices.

Even if Pinochet understood little about inflation and interest rates, the technos spoke a language he did understand. Economics for them meant forces of nature that needed to be respected and obeyed because “to act against nature is counter-productive and self-deceiving,” as Piñera explained. Pinochet agreed: people, he once wrote, must submit to structure because “nature shows us basic order and hierarchy are necessary.” This mutual claim to be taking orders from higher natural laws formed the basis of the Pinochet-Chicago alliance.

For the first year and a half, Pinochet faithfully followed the Chicago rules: he privatized some, though not all, state-owned companies (including several banks); he allowed cutting-edge new forms of speculative finance; he flung open the borders to foreign imports, tearing down the barriers that had long protected Chilean manufacturers; and he cut government spending by 10 percent—except the military, which received a significant increase. He also eliminated price controls—a radical move in a country that had been regulating the cost of necessities such as bread and cooking oil for decades.

The Chicago Boys had confidently assured Pinochet that if he suddenly withdrew government involvement from these areas all at once, the “natural” laws of economics would rediscover their equilibrium, and inflation—which they viewed as a kind of economic fever indicating the presence of unhealthy organisms in the market—would magically go down. They were mistaken. In 1974, inflation reached 375 percent—the highest rate in the world and almost twice the top level under Allende. The cost of basics such as bread went through the roof. At the same time, Chileans were being thrown out of work because Pinochet’s experiment with “free trade” was flooding the country with cheap imports. Local businesses were closing, unable to compete, unemployment hit record levels and hunger became rampant. The Chicago School’s first laboratory was a debacle.

Sergio de Castro and the other Chicago Boys argued (in true Chicago fashion) that the problem didn’t lie with their theory but with the fact that it wasn’t being applied with sufficient strictness. The economy had failed to correct itself and return to harmonious balance because there were still “distortions” left over from nearly half a century of government interference. For the experiment to work, Pinochet had to strip these distortions away—more cuts, more privatization, more speed.

In that year and a half, many of the country’s business elite had had their fill of the Chicago Boys’ adventures in extreme capitalism. The only people benefiting were foreign companies and a small clique of financiers known as the “piranhas,” who were making a killing on speculation. The nuts-and-bolts manufacturers who had strongly supported the coup were getting wiped out. Orlando Sáenz—the president of the National Association of Manufacturers, who had brought the Chicago Boys into the coup plot in the first place—declared the results of the experiment “one of the greatest failures of our economic history.” The manufacturers hadn’t wanted Allende’s socialism but had liked a managed economy just fine. “It is not possible to continue with the financial chaos that dominates in Chile,” Sáenz said. “It is necessary to channel into productive investments the millions and millions of financial resources that are now being used in wild-cat speculative operations before the very eyes of those who don’t even have a job.”

Let’s stop there for the night, on page 80.

People vs. the State vs. Major Corporations — What might the future hold in store for Americans?

“Is Government Inherently Immoral? Stefan Molyneux debates Tom Willcutts”:

Having watched this clip once already with plans to run through it a 2nd time, I have a number of thoughts to share at this time. While I’ve enjoyed several of Stefan’s videos on topics pertaining to childhood development, in this conversation I lean closer to Tom Willcutts’ views and will try to explain why.

Never completely understood the anarchist position despite trying many times in the past. They basically wish to abolish or somehow completely undermine and make obsolete any form of government, starting with the present one. And what seems to confuse people who do not identify as anarchists is that the message put forward typically says little about what will happen next. As in doing away with government being one step in a process, but then what? In the above debate, Stefan does attempt to address what he believes will occur, arguing that the “free market” could run and provide much of what’s currently being controlled by Government. The common Libertarian stance, or, more accurately, what I’ve come to plainly refer to as the neoconservative stance.

I’ve explored the Libertarian Party and libertarian political ideology for more than a decade now, giving up on the LP when Bob Barr was nominated as its presidential candidate in 2008. What I saw clearly happening throughout the G.W. Bush administration was that “Libertarianism” became all the rage, associated with everyone from Ron Paul to this country’s founding fathers to members of Bush’s Cabinet. Suddenly everyone wanted to identify as a libertarian of some sort. That’s all fine and good, except that the message being loudly promoted became one of “neoclassical” economic theory popularized by the teachers within the University of Chicago’s School of Economics (e.g., Milton Friedman, Gary Becker, etc.), which originally was informed by positions put forth by the Austrian School of Economics. My familiarity with Austrian School economics isn’t extensive, but I remain relatively open-minded to the debated ideas stemming from that camp.

It’s the Chicago School of Economics that I take greatest issue with, having learned enough about it to smell the rats involved. Milton Friedman was an egoist possessing little empathy, and his teachings reflected that in their calculating manner. He was part of the social engineering project, whether he clearly understood that or not (though I believe he did, as evidenced by his involvement in helping shape U.S. foreign policy in ways detrimental to countless persons living in countries in South and Central America — read Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism to learn more). What I personally witnessed around me was a growing number of people coming to parrot that neoconservative language taught by people like Friedman that political insiders and prominent businessmen in the 1980s onward repeatedly appealed to.

(Quickly, let me also say this: call it “neoliberal” or “neoconservative,” it doesn’t really matter much since both labels point to what essentially amounts to the same movement, confusing as that is. Apparently we in the U.S. refer to it mostly as “neoconservative” because of its militaristic approach, whereas outside of our borders “neoliberal” is the term used when the IMF and World Bank impose their new-age form of economic colonization. Language confusion certainly doesn’t help when people are first aiming to learn about these topics, but for whatever reasons that’s how it currently stands. To see a more detailed breakdown, check out this link.)

So taking this whole trend into consideration, which has been moving in this direction for several decades already within academe and political circles, now expanding into the American mainstream, we see a number of Friedmanite utopians running about today preaching the gospel of this version of the “free market.” The problem with this is the naivete involved, as if the corporate world were some sort of godsend intended to replace all forms of government for the betterment of humankind. But that is a fantasy narrative being peddled to members of the public severely disenchanted with our government’s shenanigans. Please make no mistake: I too am extremely disenchanted with my government and what it has devolved into throughout the 20th century. Americans have lost the reins and have a monster now in our midst that aims to control so much of what we do and how we do it, to the point of diminishing our quality of life. But the thing is that major corporate players have been involved and intermingled from day one in what’s become of the U.S. Government. Politicians apparently tend to be be very weak-minded and status-driven individuals who respond when money talks. Major corporations have played within markets and political spheres all across the globe for as long as they’ve been in existence.

The United States declared its independence the very same year that Adam Smith published his book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Adam Smith was considered one of the key pioneers of political economy, which for him spun off from his studies of moral philosophy, so we need to understand that economics as we think of it today was in its fledgling phase when our country was being formally founded. Or, more accurately, being wrestled out from under the control of Great Britain through engaging in the Revolutionary War, which lasted until 1783. While corporations technically have a lengthy history dating way back, what we think of as modern corporations got their start beginning in the late 1700s as well. While the United States was expanding its territories and figuring out how to manage this brand-new form of government, corporations continued ‘evolving’ over in Europe (as well as in the U.S., though stricter regulation existed in the 19th century to limit how corporations could be used, taking into consideration the ‘public good’). So we see our government coming into being alongside this evolving notion of corporations, and that’s very important because it wasn’t long before these entities came to increasingly intermingle and dramatically affect one another.

I’m not a historian and won’t pretend to be one, but these are thoughts that run through my mind when pondering what’s happened to peoples in the U.S. and abroad in modern times. Understand that history is absolutely relevant when any economic theory’s merits are being discussed. I personally need to ponder from the historical vantage point, to the best I’m able to understand times so long ago, because otherwise it’s too easy to take things for granted, as if it couldn’t be another way. People express that attitude all the time, as if nothing that came before matters today. We seem to think modern times sprang from a vacuum, as if the social realm is inconsequential compared against anything that can be measured and empirically observed and calculated. And that right there is a big part of the problem I take with neoconservative economics — dubbed as the “rationalist” approach.

“Rational.” I’m growing to dislike that word because of how it’s used to dismiss that which can’t so easily be broken down into technical language and then quantified, which is what various schools of economics aim to do today, economics no longer being viewed as a social discipline (which it is). Anything predicated on human behavior and choices will be fickle business — unless, I guess, if it were possible to determine human behavior and shape people’s choices. Sound familiar? It should, because that’s what advertising and marketing has aimed for for nearly a century.

This issue is so much bigger than corporate power on its own precisely because our government has gone along with the schemes hatched by the business world. They’ve been attached at the hip for a long time already (though government has dropped the ball in regulating businesses in the 20th century, a task our government wasn’t originally set up to do and that few Americans can agree on how or if it’s even proper for lawmakers to attempt to do), and what this has done is it’s allowed select corporations to grow to never-before-seen size and scope and for the few largest to corner markets in the most important and popular sectors. What we eat comes from major corporations. How we farm today is decided by major corporations. As is where we shop and what is available for us to buy, and to a sad extent what we’ve come to value (as well as devalue). Heck, not even water is off-limits when it comes to corporate control. Government has allowed this to occur, but that genie is out of the bottle today and flexing its power across the globe, especially in poorer countries where governments easily cave to financial incentives.

People sometimes argue that if government were removed from the equation, we could contend with corporations directly. Well, we could contend with corporations right now, yet so few of us seem interested in doing so. Many (if not most) people are relatively content so long as they have a job and a home and tasty foods to eat and several creature comforts and toys. This topic goes back to my thoughts on human domestication, which I haven’t fully laid out a position on (not even sure that I’m capable of doing so just yet), though a couple of my videos broached a couple angles to that topic. So when talk begins about how we’ll simply do away with government, which is intended to be an organization controlled by the people, and on our own confront corporate power (that few people seem interested in taking on in a serious way, especially if it will result in them having to make major sacrifices, and it will), I have to wonder how we think we might accomplish this.

The libertarian, anarchist position put forth by a few people I’ve watched debate argue in favor of some sort of corporate utopia where we the people vote with our dollars and boycott companies that violate what we deem sacred. In theory I love the idea, but when burdened by practical concerns I become very wary. What might’ve been a decent idea back a hundred years ago or before might not translate so well into this new age where we the people have become utterly dependent on the Corporate State to provide us with what we need and want, younger generations not having been taught the skills necessary to produce our own food or clothing or shelter. A further obstacle is in place now because corporations own most of the materials we’d even need to get started, meaning they ultimately determine the price we wind up paying for anything and everything (nevermind their “free market” big talk — if it came down to the citizenry seriously challenging the Corporate State, we’ll find out how shallow that lip service really is). Then there’s the issue of Americans working for these corporations, dependent on them for income. Then we have to look at the property rights problem, because undoubtedly corporations claim more land than we realize and will likely buy up whatever is abandoned by government (another concern is foreign citizens and companies buying up American agricultural land and houses at a substantially increasing rate in recent years).

In a nutshell, there’s a lot here to consider, so assuming that corporations will be easier managed (and hopefully dominated) once government is out of the picture doesn’t delve into the complexities of this situation. Government, at least theoretically, is intended to be bent to the will of the people. Corporations are intended to be bent to the will of the market, but once a few dominate the market and have already successfully done away with most small business competition, how are people now effectively planning to go up against them? Dollars are their currency, not necessarily ours, because they do the price setting and they also determine people’s wages. We may possess the labor and skills they seek, but corporations can also rather easily draw from labor pools all throughout the world, effectively undermining rebellion in any one particular country. This is what we’re up against. We lack an infrastructure that isn’t corporate-dependent, and their executives are well-aware of that. We the people lack a means of feeding ourselves, doctoring ourselves, and thanks to so many citizens’ passivity we probably no longer have access to the weaponry needed to stand a fair chance at defending ourselves.

People want to talk about militaries and private security forces, believing we the people will somehow be able to afford that as well, nevermind that corporations stand in a much better position to be able to afford such defense. And again, they can draw from foreign paramilitary pools that we Americans cannot access, which then could potentially gain a united front of corporations access to sophisticated weaponry. (Think: Israel.) People don’t want to hear this, and I’m sorry, but I am trying to be realistic. That doesn’t mean I favor the government, especially not as it stands now, but I happen to know that corporations aren’t in any way by their design intended to be concerned with what is actually in the public’s interest. They are profit-driven, first and foremost, and shareholders of publicly-traded companies have also lost control of the reins, leaving so much up to the whims and desires of the executives and fat cats hidden behind these legal fictions. Corporations are an economic vehicle, and without any regulations in place to limit them they will grow, expand, dominate, and suppress competition whenever able. Kings of the concrete jungle, you might say.

People like Stefan speak of arbitrators as if that will prove an effective alternative to the courts and juries of today. Much as our courts are screwed up and in serious need of an overhaul, hiring arbitration services won’t likely produce fairer results, especially not when corporations have the money to spend and we the people do not. They will form alliances with arbitrators and likely will come to decide for us, printed somewhere in their mountains of small print, which arbitrator will be used in the event of a dispute. You don’t want that, but how will you refuse if you remain in the situation as we do now where we are dependent on corporations for so much? Most people won’t be willing to accept unemployment as a condition of rebellion — keep that in mind, because they will become your snitching enemies, your competitors, they and various foreigners driven by desperation and/or blind desire for the “good life,” the so-called “American Dream.” Because of their support, the system will go on and will grow outside of the bounds of what we can imagine today (as scarily alluded to in the recording played back of Stefan’s vision of corporations cutting off people’s credit and bank access after being accused of a crime).  Don’t expect much pity from these people.

So what then is the solution? That’s a damn fine question. I do not know. How do we take on the corporate setup and bring it down to where it is manageable and answerable to the will of the public and its consumers? I believe this is where government can be worthwhile, depending on how diligently we manage it, which Americans have proven poor at thus far.

The question of whether government is inherently immoral troubles me. It nearly seems irrelevant when the bigger question is how to manage civilization. Because that’s apparently what people want, right, civilization? If so, a form of governance, however limited in scope and power, will prove necessary in order to allow this many people to all inhabit one geographical area in relative peace. Whether we like it or not, laws must be established, though I personally believe we have way too goddamn many and not enough that are clearly worded and of actual value to common persons. The rise of civilizations hasn’t wound us up to where we humans in general are rising up so much as a relative few have risen to extraordinary power that allows them (and the corporations they hide within) to exploit the many. The major difference between civilization today versus centuries ago is the incredible advancement in technological innovation and sophistication. That too is largely cornered and controlled by major corporations where not under the domain of universities and our government. In the absence of a government I believe it is naive to assume the government’s and universities’ share would be relinquished to the people. It would help to hear how people think they’d go about ensuring that did occur, because simply assuming and wishing and praying isn’t enough, not when major corporations wield as much power as they currently do.

This is an interesting topic, partly because it forces me to see the potential benefit in the role of government despite our failure at maintaining the project that’s been underway for over two centuries in this chunk of land staked off and named the U.S.A. It was a new idea and we did lose control over it, largely due to people being kept busy working and being easily seduced by the promise of easier living and being dazzled by the assorted offerings that have sprung into existence over the last 150 years (not to mention the propaganda generations have been raised up on via education curricula and media outlets), culminating in so many today being blinded by science to where they can’t see anything but technologies and petri dishes and mathematical concepts and statistics and other sorts of abstractions. We’re losing touch with reality, yet eagerly are chomping at the bit to refashion current reality into fitting some vague ideal claimed as capable of maximizing the “good” for the greatest number of people. A utilitarian’s paradise. Long on banter about technical in details, while short on appreciation for our social and psychological needs. This is what anarchism is showing me, and it disturbs me, because whether people like Stefan are able to understand this or not, they will play right into the hands of corporate power if they endeavor to go that direction without any institutional backing of their own.

There’s so much more that can be said on this topic, and I’d love to continue on, but I’ve tuckered myself out typing this at the moment and will have to leave it to be picked up another day.