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.

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.

A slice of history — an excerpt from the book “A People’s History of the United States”

Today I’m going to transcribe the first few pages of chapter one of Howard Zinn’s book A People’s History of the United States: 1492 – Present:

COLUMBUS, THE INDIANS, AND HUMAN PROGRESS

Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log:

They . . . brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned. . . . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features. . . . They do not bear arms, and do know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane. . . . They would make fine servants. . . . With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.

These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.

Columbus wrote:

As soon as I arrived in the Indies, one the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.

The information that Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold? He had persuaded the king and queen of Spain to finance an expedition to the lands, the wealth, he expected would be on the other side of the Atlantic—the Indies and Asia, gold and spices. For, like other informed people of his time, he knew the world was round and he could sail west in order to get to the Far East.

Spain was recently unified, one of the new modern nation-states, like France, England, and Portugal. Its population, mostly poor peasants, worked for the nobility, who were 2 percent of the population and owned 95 percent of the land. Spain had tied itself to the Catholic Church, expelled all the Jews, driven out the Moors. Like other states of the modern world, Spain sought gold, which was becoming the new mark of wealth, more useful than land because it could buy anything.

There was gold in Asia, it was thought, and certainly silks and spices, for Marco Polo and others had brought back marvelous things from their overland expeditions centuries before. Now that the Turks had conquered Constantinople and the eastern Mediterranean, and controlled the land routes to Asia, a sea route was needed. Portuguese sailors were working their way around the southern tip of Africa. Spain decided to gamble on a long sail across an unknown ocean.

In return for bringing back gold and spices, they promised Columbus 10 percent of the profits, governorship over new-found lands, and the fame that would go with a new title: Admiral of the Ocean Sea. He was a merchant’s clerk from the Italian city of Genoa, part-time weaver (the son of a skilled weaver), and expert sailor. He set out with three sailing ships, the largest of which was the Santa Maria, perhaps 100 feet long, and thirty-nine crew members.

Columbus would never have made it to Asia, which was thousands of miles farther away than he had calculated, imagining a smaller world. He would have been doomed by that great expanse of sea. But he was lucky. One-fourth of the way there he came upon an unknown, uncharted land that lay between Europe and Asia—the Americas. It was early October 1492, and thirty-three days since he and his crew had left the Canary Islands, off the Atlantic coast of Africa. Now they saw branches and sticks floating in the water. They saw flocks of birds. These were signs of land. Then, on October 12, a sailor called Rodrigo saw the early morning moon shining on white sands, and cried out. It was an island in the Bahamas, the Caribbean sea. The first man to sight land was supposed to get a yearly pension of 10,000 maravedis for life, but Rodrigo never got it. Columbus claimed he had seen a light the evening before. He got the reward.

So, approaching land, they were met by the Arawak Indians, who swam out to greet them. The Arawaks lived in village communes, had a developed agriculture of corn, yams, cassava. They could spin and weave, but they had no horses or work animals. They had no iron, but they wore tiny gold ornaments in their ears.

This was to have enormous consequences: it led Columbus to take some of them aboard ship as prisoners because he insisted that they guide him to the source of the gold. He then sailed to what is now Cuba, then to Hispaniola (the island which today consists of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). There, bits of gold in the rivers, and a gold mask presented to Columbus by a local Indian chief, led to wild visions of gold fields.

On Hispaniola, out of timbers from the Santa Maria, which had run aground, Columbus built a fort, the first European military base in the Western hemisphere. He called it Navidad (Christmas) and left thirty-nine crewmembers there, with instructions to find and store the gold. He took more Indian prisoners and put them aboard his two remaining ships. At one part of the island he got into a fight with Indians who refused to trade as many bows and arrows as he and his men wanted. Two were run through with swords and bled to death. Then the Nina and the Pinta set sail for the Azores and Spain. When the weather turned cold, the Indian prisoners began to die.

Columbus’s report to the Court in Madrid was extravagant. He insisted he had reached Asia (it was Cuba) and an island off the coast of China (Hispaniola). His descriptions were part fact, part fiction:

Hispaniola is a miracle. Mountains and hills, plains and pastures, are both fertile and beautiful . . . the harbors are unbelievably good and there are many wide rivers of which the majority contain gold. . . . There are many spices, and great mines of gold and other metals. . . .

The Indians, Columbus reported, “are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone. . . .” He concluded his report by asking for a little help from their Majesties, and in return he would bring them from his next voyage “as much gold as they need . . . and as many slaves as they ask.” He was full of religious talk: “Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities.”

Because of Columbus’s exaggerated reports and promises, his second expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men. The aim was clear: slaves and gold. They went from island to island in the Caribbean, taking Indians as captives. But as word spread of the Europeans’ intent they found more and more empty villages. On Haiti, they found that the sailors left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a battle with the Indians, after they had roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor.

Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were “naked as the day they were born,” they showed “no more embarrassment than animals.” Columbus later wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death.

The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed.

Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death. Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.

When it became clear that there was no gold left, the Indians were taken as slave labor on huge estates, known later as encomiendas. They were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendents left on the island.

The chief source—and, on many matters the only source—of information about what happened on the islands after Columbus came is Bartolomé de las Casas, who, as a young priest, participated in the conquest of Cuba. For a time he owned a plantation on which Indian slaves worked, but he gave that up and became a vehement critic of Spanish cruelty. Las Casas transcribed Columbus’s journal and, in his fifties, began a multivolume History of the Indies. In it, he describes the Indians. They are agile, he says, and can swim long distances, especially the women. They are not completely peaceful, because they do battle from time to time with other tribes, but their casualties seem small, and they fight when they are individually moved to do so because of some grievance, not on the orders of captains or kings.

Women in Indian society were treated so well as to startle the Spaniards. Las Casas describes sex relations:

Marriage laws are non-existent: men and women alike choose their mates and leave them as they please, without offense, jealousy or anger. They multiply in great abundance; pregnant women work to the last minute and give birth almost painlessly; up the next day, they bathe in the river and are as clean and healthy as before giving birth. If they tire of their men, they give themselves abortions with herbs that force stillbirths, covering their shameful parts with leaves or cotton cloth; although on the whole, Indian men and women look upon total nakedness with as much casualness as we look upon a man’s head or at his hands.

The Indians, Las Casas says, have no religion, at least no temples. They live in

large communal bell-shaped buildings, housing up to 600 people at one time . . . made of very strong wood and roofed with palm leaves. . . . They prize bird feathers of various colors, beads made of fishbones, and green and white stones with which they adorn their ears and lips, but they put no value on gold and other precious things. They lack all manner of commerce, neither buying nor selling, and rely exclusively on their natural environment for maintenance. They are extremely generous with their possessions and by the same token covet the possessions of their friends and expect the same degree of liberality. . . .

In Book Two of his History of the Indies, Las Casas (who at first urged replacing Indians by black slaves, thinking they were stronger and would survive, but later relented when he saw the effects on blacks) tells about the treatment of the Indians by the Spaniards. It is a unique account and deserves to be quoted at length:

Endless testimonies . . . prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives. But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then. . . . The admiral, it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians. . . .

Las Casas tells how the Spaniards “grew more conceited every day” and after a while refused to walk any distance. They “rode the backs of Indians if they were in a hurry” or were carried on hammocks by Indians running in relays. “In thus case they also had Indians carry large leaves to shade them from the sun and others to fan them with goose wings.”

Total control led to total cruelty. The Spaniards “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.” Las Casas tells how “two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys.”

The Indians’ attempts to defend themselves failed. And when they ran off into the hills they were found and killed. So, Las Casas reports, “they suffered and died in the mines and other labors in desperate silence, knowing not a soul in the world to whom they could turn for help.” He describes their work in the mines:

. . . mountains are stripped from top to bottom and bottom to top a thousand times; they dig, split rocks, move stones, and carry dirt on their backs to wash it in the rivers, while those who wash gold stay in the water all the time with their backs bent so constantly it breaks them; and when water invades the mines, the most arduous task of all is to dry the mines by scooping up pansful of water and throwing it up outside. . . .

After each six or eight months’ work in the mines, which was the time required of each crew to dig enough gold for melting, up to a third of the men died.

While the men were sent many miles away to the mines, the wives remained to work the soil, forced into the excruciating job of digging and making thousands of hills for cassava plants.

Thus husbands and wives were together only once every eight or ten months and when they met they were so exhausted and depressed on both sides . . . they ceased to procreate. As for the newly born, they died early because their mothers, overworked and famished, had no milk to nurse them, and for this reason, while I was in Cuba, 7000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation. . . . In this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk . . . and in a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile . . . was depopulated. . . . My eyes have seen these acts to foreign to human nature, and how I tremble as I write. . . .

When he arrived on Hispaniola in 1508, Las Casas says, “there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? It myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it. . . .”

Thus began the history, five hundred years ago, of the European invasion of the Indian settlements in the Americas. That beginning, when you read Las Casas—even if his figures are exaggerations (were there 3 million Indians to begin with, as he says, or less than a million, as some historians have calculated, or 8 million as others now believe?)—is conquest, slavery, death. When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure—there is no bloodshed—and Columbus Day is a celebration.

Past the elementary and high schools, there are only occasional hints of something else. Samuel Eliot Morison, the Harvard historian, was the most distinguished writer on Columbus, the author of a multivolume biography, and was himself a sailor who retraced Columbus’s route across the Atlantic. In his popular book Christopher Columbus, Mariner, written in 1954, he tells about the enslavement and the killing: “The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide.”

That is on one page, buried halfway into the telling of a grand romance. In the book’s last paragraph, Morison sums up his view of Columbus:

He had his faults and his defects, but they were largely the defects of the qualities that made him great—his indomitable will, his superb faith in God and his own mission as the Christ-bearer to lands beyond the seas, his stubborn persistence despite neglect, poverty and discouragement. But there was no flaw, no dark side to the most outstanding and essential of all his qualities—his seamanship.

One can lie outright about the past. Or one can omit facts which might lead to unacceptable conclusions. Morison does neither. He refuses to lie about Columbus. He does not omit the story of mass murder; indeed he describes it with the harshest word one can use: genocide.

But he does something else—he mentions the truth quickly and goes on to other things more important to him. Outright lying lying or quiet omission takes the risk of discovery which, when made, might arouse the reader to rebel against the writer. To state the facts, however, and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: yes, mass murder took place, but it’s not that important—it should weigh very little in our final judgments; it should affect very little what we do in the world.

It is not that the historian can avoid emphasis of some facts and not of others. This is as natural to him as to the mapmaker, who, in order to produce a usable drawing for practical purposes, must first flatten and distort the shape of the earth, then choose out of the bewildering mass of geographic information those things needed for the purpose of this or that particular map.

My argument cannot be against selection, simplification, emphasis, which are inevitable for both cartographers and historians. But the mapmaker’s distortion is a technical necessity for a common purpose shared by all people who need maps. The historian’s distortion is more than technical, it is ideological; it is released into a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports (whether the historian means to or not) some kind of interest, whether economic or political or racial or national or sexual.

Furthermore, this ideological interest is not openly expressed in the way a mapmaker’s technical interest is obvious (“This is a Mercator projection for long-range navigation—for short-range, you’d better use a different projection”). No, it is presented as if all readers of history had a common interest which historians serve to the best of their ability. This is not intentional deception; the historian has been trained in a society in which education and knowledge are put forward as technical problems of excellence and not as tools for contending social classes, races, nations.

To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves—unwittingly—to justify what was done.

My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all)—that us still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly.

Let’s stop there on page 9. Just borrowed this book this morning and I’m unsure if I’ll be able to hold onto it long enough to finish it this time around, but it’s so far piqued my interest, having previously watched the film titled “The People Speak!” based on this book. If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch that, it’s powerfully moving.

Atheism is Dumb

A really good talk by Eric Orwoll. I tend to agree with what he’s getting at, much as I remain ignorant and would never be able to word my ideas anywhere near as clearly as he is able. Atheism has always struck me as being too restrictive, like the flip-side to religion. Once upon a time I came to reject Christianity because I understood it’s a mythology, not something to hang a sense of certainty on. Atheism comes along and claims its own form of certainty, much of which is proposed as standing in stark contrast with Christian theology, basically disputing that the “Y H W H” deity literally rules the universe. Well no shit, atheists — it’s mythological narrative from 4000 years ago that we today have trouble even comprehending, having grown so far away from oral traditions and religiosity that Abrahamic religions sprang from. People today want to be literalists, and I see that applying just as much to atheists as to Christian evangelists. Fundamentalists, they like to call themselves, but it’s really just a label connoting a sense of certainty in a particular belief system. I have no such certainty and am open to the world of possibilities. Much as I’ve found room among atheists to move about in my sandbox of ponderings, frequently I still am checked and reminded that my attitude is “spiritual,” as though that were unacceptable or ridiculous to them.

I reject such limitations on my personal exploration and find those who dismiss people like myself to be rude snobs arrogantly believing themselves to know so much more. The truth is that we don’t know much, nor will we ever be able to know it all. The very notion of infinity sets up unsolvable paradoxes that man’s mathematics cannot unravel in a way we deem as intelligible. Such is the conundrum of living. Some run from this realization and cloak themselves with a sense of certainty derived somehow, because they are afraid to sit with the fear of the unknown. Perhaps because it points back to human frailty and insurmountable limitations — human weakness and smallness — or at least that’s how they tend to perceive it. But this also points to human greatness, or rather the greatness of consciousness, the glory of inquiry, the fascination of life’s mysteries. We are small, but we are not so small as to be completely inconsequential. These are deep philosophical and metaphysical questions that we humans are blessed to possess the ability to wrestle with, and yet we so often run from them and hide our eyes and ears, preferring to avoid the mental heavy-lifting accompanying inquiries of this magnitude. Much easier to reduce life down into blacks and whites, rights and wrongs, yes or no, true or false — oversimplified dichotomies that keep us polarized yet bring us no closer to understanding our existence and our role in the cosmos.

Religions can be considered political constructs, because that’s what they serve to do — to encourage people to behave in certain ways, to tolerate certain conditions imposed on us from on high (whether that be from nature, as was originally the case, or from powerful elites claiming to be specially backed by God, as became common during the reign of Abrahamic religions). Philosophy gets outside of that cage and explores wider terrain, which has the potential to upset both religionists’ and their atheistic counterparts’ applecarts alike. Because the social realm is designed BY human beings, albeit influenced at one point by natural phenomenon (though to a lesser extent as time rolls on). In other words, the debate so often centers around what humans once claimed, what humans once assumed, how humans once attempted to explain their understanding of this life. But human constructs aren’t the end-all/be-all to reality. What we can see, hear, touch, and test isn’t all there is to this life. We are limited on what we can directly experience. There’s no shame in admitting that and allowing ourselves to remain open and inquisitive.

I decided to record my thoughts expressed above in a video response:

Holy shit balls, Wells Fargo!

And THIS IS WHY I continue giving that bank a hard time. Because they fucking deserve the scrutiny and from more of us.

That right there is an article posted in the LA Weekly News (March 7, 2013) forwarded to me by a close friend and fellow critic of Wells Fargo’s shenanigans. In it is told the story of a retired man named Larry Delassus who was accused by WF of owing back property taxes on his condo, though it later came to light that it was actually a typographical error on WF’s part that led the bank to confuse Mr. Delassus with one of his neighbors (wrong condo # typed in). But the story doesn’t end there with an apology and reinstatement of the prior financial agreement between the big bank and Larry Delassus.  Oh no. No, WF instead went right ahead and foreclosed on that innocent man’s home, nevermind his serious medical conditions, and rendered him homeless. DESPITE THEIR OWN ACKNOWLEDGED ERROR.

And then what happened? Larry Delassus sued the bank in turn, claiming “negligence and discrimination against a disabled person.” But while trying to get a fair hearing on the matter, poor Larry Delassus keeled over and died in the courtroom before L.A. County Superior Court Judge Laura Ellison who had already indicated she planned to side with Wells Fargo on this matter. What a complete tragedy to be raked over the coals and put under such duress like this! Which ultimately culminated in the man’s death. And I seriously doubt anyone working for Wells Fargo gives barely a damn.

It’s shit like this that breaks my heart and troubles my soul. I’ve banked with Wells Fargo for about a decade, had my student loans consolidated with them back in 2007 (after receiving what apparently was some bad advice), and I still have accounts open with them (though I have opened an account with another local bank and moved much of my money over there, with plans to move more). I feel dirty supporting a corrupt organization such as this, and yes, I grasp that nearly all banks have morphed into monsters of this sort. This sucks! This is a major problem with the economic setup we’re tolerating these days, because it is predatory and has the backing of the courts and legislation to get away with it. It’s bullshit, flat out.

And it’s not as if this is all Wells Fargo is up to. That bank joined forces a few years back with the uber-corrupt HSBC (that’s Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation — a.k.a. the biggest bank in mainland China, created back when colonized by the British, with a holdings division in the UK and offices all across the world). A banking mega-giant. Read about it (there was a good article about HSBC’s latest bullshit in Feb. 2013’s edition of Rolling Stone magazine). That alone is a good enough reason to withdraw all of our money and let that mammoth die. Ugh.

Wells Fargo and other banking shenanigans is a topic I plan to expand on as time moves on.

Looking into the Independent Women’s Forum

Tonight I decided to check into the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) on wikipedia where, come to find out, its sources of funding are listed. Definitely “right-wing”-funded. Brought in over $2M from Scaife Foundations alone (which helped fund William Kristol and Robert Kagan’s highly-influential neoconservative “think tank” called the Project for the New American Century), plus another $5M from other foundation donors including at least one Koch family foundation. When I see anything funded by the Koch brothers, I walk the other way.

What passes for conservative these days is mind-blowing. Neocons are not conservative, not in any way I understand the term “conservative” to mean. Neocons are radicals bent on uprooting nearly all traditions for the sake of reaching their individual and oligarchical economic ambitions, nevermind their lip service paid to “traditional values” and patriotism. They are gamblers and authoritarians who advocate economic macromanagement (as encouraged by Milton Friedman). If that passes for conservative today, then my and plenty of others’ views went stone-age. Paleoconservative. I’ve tried explaining to some of my more liberal friends that the “Right” has wholly disenfranchised its truly conservative constituents, though many continue handing over their votes to that side of the duopoly. Those who can’t go for either political camp wind up being pushed to a fringe and, ironically enough, labeled as radicals.

People are hopefully awakening to the corruption on all sides, bit by bit. Much easier to judge the corruption of others than of our own selves, but such is life. All I know is after looking into the IWF I’m reminded of a comment exchange on one of my video threads where someone roughly stated that the men’s rights movement will go up against feminism without relying on the government funding the feminist movement has access to, and I replied that their men’s rights movement will wind up needing “corporate-sponsored” funds if they are to compete through the ‘proper legal channels’ in this broken-down, bought-and-paid-for system. This is what I was referring to — foundations funded by wealthy families tied in with big, influential corporations with lobbying power. Apparently a few people didn’t appreciate that response, but it’s not what I’m advocating, just what it seems likely would be necessary to carry out expensive and time-consuming legal battles with a movement as entrenched and well-funded as feminism. I don’t like that reality any more than the next person, hence why I personally urge us as a society not to fall in that trap. Not fully sure what to do, but that certainly isn’t the best out of all possibilities.

When it comes to the money game, it’s just a bunch of soul-selling that winds up corrupting the players involved, because in order to raise the huge amounts of money needed to open doors and actively break out onto the big media-controlled mainstream it’s required that organizations and smaller movements align with powerfully influential entities in order to be granted legitimacy and political protection. It’s all a sham that eventually hollows out what smaller movements originally stood for as they come to be directed and swayed by major financial contributors.

But further ramblings on that topic will have to wait ’til another night.

This is not America?

A video I created last night reading off some of the figures pasted below:

Every so often I feel the need to look into the “performance” of my nation by seeing what the current federal stats and global comparisons have to show.

Beginning with the most obvious, the U.S. is leading by a massive landslide in external debt. (You may notice on the list that the UK, Germany, France, and Japan make up the top 5, China currently ranks 22nd, India 28th, Mexico 29th, Israel 38th, Saudi Arabia 41st, Ecuador 79th, and Iran 84th.)

We’ve ranked #2 since 2000 in our per capita ecological footprint, behind United Arab Emirates, reports NationMaster.com (lots of data there to check out).

We’re ranked 55th for voter turnout in presidential elections with 67.4% registered voters showing up at the polls (sourced in 2003). (And just think, state and local elections voter turnout is even lower.)

Some information I had laying around from the Common Sense for Drug Policy site in its bulletin “International comparisons of criminal justice statistics 2001” reported the United States as having 689 per 100,000 citizens in prison (compared to 129 in England and Wales, 77 in France, 71 in Switzerland, 673 in Russia, 101 in Canada, 411 in South Africa, and 50 in Japan). A quick glance at Wikipedia discloses the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) data from 2009 that increased the number to 743 adults incarcerated per 100,000.

BUT WAIT. Just went looking for updated info and came across this tidbit from the BJS’ “Correctional Populations in the United States, 2010” report (pg. 2):

At year-end 2010, about 1 in every 48 adults in the U.S. was under supervision in the community on probation or parole, compared to about 1 in every 104 adults in the custody of state or federal prisons or local jails.The respective rates of supervision were 2,074 offenders in the community per 100,000 adults and 962 inmates per 100,000 adults.

[All bold and underlined emphases throughout this post will be mine]

The BJS bulletin “Prison Inmates at Midyear 2009–Statistical Tables” stated on page 2 the following:

Males were imprisoned at a rate 14 times higher than females (954 per 100,000 U.S. residents compared to 68 per 100,000 U.S. residents, respectively).

. . .

Black non-Hispanic males, with an incarceration rate of 4,749 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents, were incarcerated at a rate more than 6 times higher than white non-Hispanic males (708 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents) and 2.6 times higher than Hispanic males (1,822 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents).

 

Notably, the BJS website provided data (on a page since removed) claiming that in “midyear 2007 there were 4,618 black male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,747 Hispanic male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 Hispanic males and 773 white male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 white males.” So the rate of blacks and Hispanics imprisoned is up, while the rate of white folks imprisoned has gone slightly down.

Returning to the 2009 bulletin last linked to and quoted up above:

One in every 300 black females was incarcerated compared to about 1 in every 1,099 white females and 1 in every 704 Hispanic females.

Non-U.S. citizens made up 4.1% (94,498 inmates) of the state and federal custody population.

 

Looking into information on county and city jail inmates, the BJS had this to say in its bulletin “Jail Inmates at Midyear 2011 – Statistical Tables“:

Males accounted for 87% of the jail population on June 30, 2011 […]. Whites accounted for 45% of the total, blacks represented 38%, and Hispanics represented 15% of inmates. Fewer than 6,000 juveniles were held in local jails (or less than 1% of the confined population).

And this is why I chose to study criminal justice. It’s worthwhile coming to the realization that our system is corrupt through and through with gross inequalities and disproportionate treatment of citizens in accordance with using arbitrary criteria (such as race, ethnicity, sex) to establish targets, furthering the prevalence and impact of institutionalized racism and sexism. Why turn a blind eye to this information when it stares us in the face?

corrections_population

Originally published at: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/glance/corr2.htm (but since removed, as apparently is the case with plenty of BJS documents).

That’s not even touching on the topic of the privatization of prisons, which is discussed here in an article by Dr. Richard Culp on the Prison Legal News site titled “The Failed Promise of Prison Privatization“:

Between 2000 and 2008, the number of state prisoners placed in private prisons increased by about 25%, from 75,018 to 93,537. In the federal system, however, the number increased from 15,525 to 32,712, or about 110%. During the same period, the number of states placing some portion of their prisoners in private facilities actually declined from 30 states to 27.

There are in practice only fifty-four “customers” buying incarceration services from the private prison industry – the three federal agencies, twenty-seven state departments of correction and two dozen local jurisdictions. Within this small customer base, the federal government plus eight states (Texas, Florida, Arizona, Oklahoma, Colorado, Tennessee, California and Mississippi) collectively account for more than 70% of all private prison business. In effect, the market of buyers constitutes an oligopsony, or a market form in which only a few customers buy a certain good and therefore possess the power to affect pricing. The two largest publicly-traded private prison companies recognize their dependency on a limited number of governmental customers as a threat to their profitability and include a warning to stockholders to that effect in their annual reports.
At CCA, just three federal government agencies, the BOP, ICE and the U.S. Marshals, accounted for 43% of the company’s total revenue for fiscal year 2010, or $717.8 million.
The state of California, which is placing thousands of prisoners out-of-state in an effort to reduce in-state prison populations, provided 13% of CCA’s total revenue for fiscal year 2010, or $214 million. GEO Group reports that while they have a total of 45 governmental clients (customers), 4 of those clients accounted for over 60% of their U.S.-based revenue (BOP, ICE, U.S. Marshals and the State of Florida). Among those, the three federal agencies combined are responsible for 53% of GEO Group’s total U.S. revenue.

The oligopsony of governmental consumers serves to discourage innovation. In practice, government purchasers of incarceration services have required that private prison companies simply duplicate policies and procedures practiced in public prisons, to the effect that the standard operating procedures of most private prison programs closely mirror those of public prisons in the same state. Notably, none of the companies have distinct and viable research and development departments as would be expected in an industry that values innovation. Private prison companies encourage the adoption of public prison practice, rather than the development of innovative practice, by actively recruiting management-level staff from within the public sector.

[…]

Arguably, private prisons are not looking to be innovative unless it is a way of cutting costs. The most common way for these companies to make money from government contracts is by reducing personnel expenses. Because labor represents about 80% of the operating cost of a prison, much of the cost savings in private prisons results from paying private correctional officers less than comparable public correctional officers. But this advantage begins to erode in a market where private companies are dependent upon contract renewals (with more experienced staff) rather than new facilities (with new, entry-level staff). Even as labor rates vary among the states, public sector correctional officer starting salaries average $28,000 across all states with a (one standard deviation) range between $23,000 and $34,200. By comparison, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a mean annual salary of $42,270 for all occupations in the United States (in May 2008). Public sector prison staff salaries are very low already, suggesting that it is not easy for the private sector to continue to undercut the government in personnel costs.

I plan to go into greater detail on the privatization of prisons topic at a later date.

Christina Hoff Sommers on Violence Against Women

Victims of violence are best served by the truth, I agree. It’s those same sort of statistics that pulled at my heartstrings in the late ’90s on into the 2000s when I embraced the label of feminist. And ya know, I don’t think it was an accident to put out false statistics of this sort. For as damaging as they are to men, they also serve the purpose of scaring women and eliciting sympathy from us for our “invisible” sisters who are dealing with what appeared to be a horrible societal “epidemic.” It used us by playing with our emotions and helped turn women against their brothers based on distortions of the truth.

I reflect back on my undergraduate studies when during the last 3 years my focus was on criminal justice, the plan having been at the time to pursue a double-major in that and social science. What I found in CJ textbooks and lectures was a refutation of these sorts of statistics, based on experience gleaned from law enforcement officers and federal bureaus. The criminal justice perspective implicated women in behaving violently in domestic situations, not only men, and of course we explored various criminal behaviors where women played an active role alongside their male counterparts. One crime that is almost exclusively carried out by women is Manchausen By Proxy, where typically a mother induces an illness in her children so as to draw sympathy and support from others to her own self. The more I explored that crime, the more that it became unavoidable seeing that women possess their own ability to behave very cruelly and that it isn’t only men one needs to watch out for. Many of us learn this truth early in life through admission into the School of Hard Knocks — no textbooks required.

And why doesn’t feminism say anything about this? Why did it gloss over women’s wrongdoings, sweeping them under the rug and downplaying them or finding a way to twist it into somehow being the fault of men or patriarchy? That bothered me, and it still does. Because I don’t need sugar-coating for the sex I belong to. I’m well-aware women aren’t little innocent lambs incapable of inflicting harm, so why does feminism attempt to perpetuate such a myth, as if it can stand the test of experiential knowledge attained through dealing with women? I don’t know. All I know is lies of this sort do more harm than good because they destroy not only feminism’s credibility but also that of women who’ve affiliated with and supported that movement. It’s a bad deal, a dishonest way to “help” people, if that were ever truly the motive (which I’ve come to doubt).

Toxic America: Obesity, Depression and Domestication

Another video podcast uploaded by Stefan Molyneux:

Appreciated that one.