9 February 2009
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
We have seen during our search for new perspectives on ethics how Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was unkind to his fellow philosophers, whom he considered to be no more than metaphysicians
, chattering earnestly while watering their house plants, so to speak, as their homes are on fire and the city around them burns. Our research has taken us to a critique of Heidegger by Hazel E. Barnes (1915-2008), American philosopher, author, and translator of Jean-Paul Sartre's (1905-1980) earlier classic work, Being and Nothingness
In his Letter on Humanism
, Heidegger explicitly relates his notion of the light of the truth of Being
- If now, in accord with the basic meaning of . . . [the Greek word for place], ethics dwells in the adobe of man, then that thought which thinks the truth of Being as the original element of man as existing is already in itself at the source of ethics. But then this kind of thinking is not ethics, either, because it is ontology. For ontology always thinks only the being . . . of its Being.
This summation, according to Hazel Barnes, is unsatisfactory, as it leaves no place for praxis
. Where, she asks, is the fundamental epistemological question of good faith
toward oneself and others? Is Heidegger simply producing his own metaphysics, replacing the sentient existence
of real people --who think, feel and make choices in their lives which change society-- with what he believes to be the essence
of the revealing light of the true of Being
Against Heidegger's views, Barnes continues:
- But love and concern are at least something on which one can build; an ethics without them is hard to conceive. Heidegger's Being is said to come to us "in a clearing." I cannot help feeling that it simply stands in the way and blocks the light. To define truth as a direct contact with Being results in removing all criteria of truth other than the immediate experience. Furthermore, we have only the word of the subject to assure us that the Being he thought was actually what he thought and not an amalgamation of what was objectively there and what was introduced by his own subjective expectation. We find ourselves in the worst sort of irrationalism from which there is no exit. Whatever Being is, if it is, it offers no clear apodictic message as to what we should do about it. We must still make, each of us, our own being by means of our specific projects in the world. Heidegger's Being seems to call us to come back to it beyond the things of the world. I am convinced that if man obeys the summons, he will do so at the expense of what ought to be his ultimate concern for himself and for mankind.(Barnes, An Existentialist Ethics, 1985, pp.422-423)
Meanwhile the Israelis (with the help of a 3-billion-dollar-a-year military subsidy from the United States government) continue to strengthen the movement of the world-wide left by demonstrating the veracity of the wisdom first uttered by Euripides (484 BC - 406 BC) : "Those the gods wish to destroy, they first drive mad."
Judging from the 18-month Israeli starvation policy inflicted on the 1.5 million people of Gaza, which was followed by the wanton mass murder of about 1,500 men, women and children by American manufactured bombs and gun ships controlled by the venal, self-serving desires of the Israeli "leadership"
, along with the sorry collaboration of official state "leaders" in Europe, America and the Middle East, it appears that to free oneself from the tribal madness of Volkgeist
is no easy endeavor, despite the horror, and the shame, and the wide-spread feelings of disgust that is provoked by this obscene irrationality, this madness
imposed upon innocent victims. What role does ethics play in all this?
Traditional metaphysics, so ardently opposed by Heidegger, has prepared the terrain for tolerance by providing a pedagogy that teaches slogans
, and formula thinking
to accommodate the system and to prepare for The Exam
--a practice which the Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire
(1921-1997), called the "bank deposit theory of pedagogy," by which he meant that students are used as objects
for depositing information, before subsequent withdrawals at exam time. These are tried-and-proven methods used for teaching students not
to think for themselves. In such nonsense training, the object-student eventually becomes a kind of instrument
manufactured to conduct operations on other objects
--events, things, or other persons-- never to question him/herself, nor to subject newly acquired information to any examination in quest of truth. Thus the banality of evil
is perpetuated, generation after generation, by a benighted population of arrogant, ignore-ant
, indifferent technicians in the context of constant chatter. This humanist critique of "false values," is contrasted to Heidegger's "discovery" of homelessness
, by which he explains this "great evasion," leaving us alienated from the light of truth of Being
, never to discover what is essential to our own ek-sisting
Thus we can discover around us today evidence of dressage
, a training that passes as pedagogy
, but is really no more than indoctrination by command, necessarily linked to emotional states of animal fear and existential insecurity. When practiced on human beings, this training limits the imagination; it paralyzes the mind; and it ingrains conditioned reflex
patterns into the very tissue of the object being operated on --sometimes a patient, sometimes a prisoner, and often a student or a soldier, depending on the institutional setting in which it occurs.
In the 6 items
below, CEIMSA readers are invited to search for the truth, by Heidegger's methods,
to discover what inner revelations are forthcoming in the light of the truth of Being
, or to submit this information to a Humanist scrutiny in order to identify what cultural biases
, value judgments
, logical contradictions
, and social class loyalties
are involved in these descriptions provided by citizen scholars reporting on the unfolding of current realities.
is an article from the Council for the National Interest Foundation
which describes the regional significance of the up-coming election in Israel on 10 February.
is William Blum's
the monthly newsletter, "The Anti-Empire Report," in which a U.S. foreign-relations wish list for President Obama is presented (along with a large dose of skepticism).
is an interview by George Kenney,
founder of Electric Politics
, talking to University of Texas professor of economics, James K. Galbraith
on the future U.S. economy (which will look unlike any other U.S. economy).
is an article by University of Massachusetts professor of economics, Richard Wolff
, on the social injustice of using lotteries for state revenue.
was received also from Professor Wolff
, who shares with us a preview of his new documentary film, Capitalism Hits the Fan
, in which he analyzes the causes and the magnitude of the current failure of the capitalist system in the US and beyond.
, sent to us by Z Magazine
founder Michael Albert
is an appeal to keep informed at this important juncture of deep change in the American economic system.
And finally, for an unsettling insight into the banality of evil
, we offer CEIMSA readers a series of interviews with Charles Manson
which reveal the Cult of Violence
he represents in our Age of Desires
, where murderous, fascism-paranoia
attacks are taken to suicidal extremes, and with the active assistance of anarchy-schizophrenia
are integrated into the new social norms
, which, according to Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault, are reprehensible but still little understood formations of bio-power
. (See Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: selected essays and interviews by Michel Foucault
, 1977, ed. by Donald F. Bouchard and The History of Sexuality, vol. 1: An Introduction
,1980, by M. Foucault.)
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies
Director of Research
Université Stendhal Grenoble 3
from Council for the National Interest Foundation :
Date: 7 February 2009
Subject: The Israeli Election: The Final Weigh In.
The Israeli Election: The Final Weigh In
by Frederick C. Butler
(CNI COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR)
s the death toll in Gaza escalates, so does the significance of the Israeli elections this Tuesday.
An 18 month truce between the Israelis and Palestinians is currently making its way down the conveyer belt of peace. However, it will be the new administration's attitude towards diplomacy, and a two-state solution that will ultimately determine the peace deal's expiration date.
In order to have some reconciliation we must address the core political issues that exist in the region with a fair and objective mindset.
Every major candidate in the Israeli national election has vowed to overthrow Hamas in Gaza if elected, and all but one candidate supports a two-sate solution.
Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud Party, recently stated that the offensive in Gaza didn't go far enough, and referred to Hamas as an "extremist fanatic regime backed by the extremist fanatic government of Iran."
Netanyahu openly opposes the two-state solution. He views negotiations with Palestinians as a "sham," and doesn't intend on pursuing peace talks if he assumes office.
Not necessarily the rhetoric of a drum major for peace.
"In the long run," said the Likud Party leader, "we won't be able to tolerate an Iranian Hamas base touching our cities."
Labor Party leader and current Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak almost offers a little more hope of peace. Barak is in favor of the two-state solution, but his statements about his military operation in Gaza questions the candor of his support.
Tuesday evening at the Herzliya Conference, he marveled at the prowess of Israel's military operation in the Gaza Strip, which has left over 1300 civilians dead and Hamas still in power.
"What was before is no longer," he declared. "There is no doubt about what the IDF is capable of doing."
Kadima Party Leader Tzipi Livni offers some hope toward peace in the Holy Land. The Foreign Minister is in favor of a two-state solution.
Livni has laid out a plan that would include removing Jews from settlements in Judea and Samaria in efforts of creating a Palestinian state.
However, Livni shares the same views toward Hamas as her fellow candidates that will inevitably lead to more violence.
"The Hamas Government in Gaza must be toppled," said Livni. "The means to do this must be military, economic and diplomatic."
President Obama should be held to his promise of personal participation with the issues plaguing the Holy Land. His involvement must be persistent, fair-minded, and with the objective of freeing the Palestinian people of occupation, and freeing Israel of its paranoia of a peaceful division of the Holy Land.
--CNI Communication Director can be reached at: Frederick@cnionline.org
from William Blum :
Date: 3 February 2009
Subject: Hoping to Not Kill Hope.
from George Kenney :
Date: 6 February 2009
Subject: Podcast interview re the economy with Dr. James K. Galbraith.
How bad is it? To get a better perspective on our economic crisis and what to do about it I turned to Dr. James K. Galbraith, the brilliant and original political economist, and author most recently of Predator State.
I wish that the Obama team had tapped James for some kind of senior economic position but I guess that Larry Summers has been calling the shots and, therefore, for the most part Obama's economic advisors are mired in outdated models and wrong-headed thinking. The danger is that they won't do nearly enough, quickly enough, to make the economy healthy. (See Paul Krugman's column in this morning's NYT for another such warning.)
As James points out there's simply no way to get back to the way things had been working before. We've got to figure out a new system. And an important part of that involves first figuring out a consensus among progressive economists -- something yet to be achieved.
So here's hoping we can learn from our experience!
As always, if you find the podcast worthwhile please feel free to redistribute the link.
from Richard Wolff :
Date: 3 February 2009
Subject: Lotteries Disguised Tax Injustice.doc.
Although the topic of lotteries may seem small, it affects – and is now planned to have more impact on – millions of lives. The sums involved may surprise you. I have been asked so often to discuss lotteries at public meetings that I decided finally to do so.
Lotteries: Disguised Tax Injustice
by Rick Wolff
Lotteries, now run by most of our 50 states, are disguised forms of taxation that fall most heavily on those least able to pay. In today's economic crisis, state leaders face rising resistance to taxation from everyone. Therefore, many of them plan to expand lotteries even more, hoping that no one realizes they represent a kind of masked tax. In the elegant words of conservative South Carolina State Senator Robert Ford, reported by the Associated Press, "Gambling ain't no blight on society." To fight them, we need first to expose state lotteries as disguised and very unfair taxation.
Consider the rising importance of state lottery revenues also documented in that Associated Press story:
Both Republicans and Democrats have been moving steadily toward ever more lottery sales; there is no reason to doubt that they will continue.
Where do lottery revenues come from? A famous recent study by Cornell University researchers
reached these conclusions:
. . . lotteries are extremely popular, particularly among low income citizens. . . . [I]ndividuals with lower incomes substitute lottery play for other entertainment. . . . [L]ow income consumers may view lotteries as a convenient and otherwise rare opportunity for radically improving their standard of living. . . . [T]he desperate may turn to lotteries in an effort to escape hardship. We . . . find a strong and positive relationship between sales and poverty rates. . . .
In another study, Duke University researchers
in 1999 found that the more education one has the less
one spends on lottery tickets: dropouts averaged $700 annually compared to college graduate's $178; and that those from households with annual incomes below $25,000 spent an average of nearly $600 per year on lottery tickets, while those from households earning over $100,000 averaged $289; blacks spent an average of $998, while whites spent $210.
Put simply, lotteries take the most from those who can least afford them. Thus, still another study of state lotteries concluded: "We find that the implicit tax is regressive in virtually all cases."
Instead of taxing those most able to pay, state leaders use lotteries to disguise a regressive tax that targets the middle and even more the poor. Just as the richest were getting much richer from 2001 to 2006, the middle and poor were getting ever more heavily taxed by means of lotteries.
How do states use their lottery revenues? Some 50-70 percent go to the winners; 20-40 per cent go to pay for states' public services (often education) and the rest (10-20 per cent) go for "expenses" of running lotteries. In 2006, over half of California's lottery receipts used for these "expenses" were paid as commissions
to retailers for selling lottery tickets. Sales per retail outlet in 2006 averaged $188,000 in California (and $405,000 in New York). For many retailers across the country, profits from the fully automated selling of lottery tickets significantly boost their bottom lines.
Lotteries actually redistribute wealth from the poorer to the richer. The vast majority of middle-income and poor people buy tickets and win nothing or nearly nothing, while a tiny number of winners become wealthy. Lotteries raise ever more money for states from their middle-income and poor citizens rather than
those most able to pay, thereby allowing the rich to escape rising taxes. Retail merchants get state welfare in profitable commissions on lottery sales. Politicians boast that they "did not raise taxes" -- having raised money instead by lottery ticket sales.
The effects of lotteries in today's economic crisis are even more perverse. Lotteries take huge sums from masses of people who would otherwise likely have spent that money on goods and services whose production gave people jobs. The lotteries then distribute over half that money to a few, suddenly enriched, individuals who likely will not
spend as much (and thus generate fewer
jobs). This is the exact opposite of the kind of economic stimulus a depressed economy needs. Yet many states are now planning increases in lottery sales to raise money "in these bad times."
Lotteries are also powerful ideological and political weapons. They reinforce notions that individual acts -- buying lottery tickets -- are appropriate responses to society's economic problems. Lotteries help to distract people from collective action to solve the economic crisis by changing society. Lotteries' massive advertising shows an audacity of hype: shifting people from hope for the social fruits of collective action to hope for the personal fruits of individual gambling.
Finally, compare lotteries (disguised taxes) with taxes not wearing masks. Taxes raise money that mostly goes to fund states' provision of public services. Lottery revenues make a few winners wealthy at the expense of the mass of taxpayers; only small portions of lottery revenues fund states' services. We can socially target taxes to tap those most able to pay; we cannot do that with lotteries. Taxes can enable the states to provide public education, child and elderly care, public transportation and so on without using state employees to push us to gamble more
, which is what lotteries do.
The issue here is not gambling per se; the point is not to engage the religious, moral, or mental health debates over gambling. Rather, what matters is the cynical use of state lotteries to disguise unfair tax burdens even as they worsen the economic crisis.
As an alternative to lottery expansions, states could together pass a property tax levied on property in the form of stocks and bonds. (See my earlier MRZine
piece on property taxes: "Evading Taxes, Legally."
) Let's recall that many states already tax property in the form of land, homes, commercial and industrial buildings, automobiles, and business inventories. There is no justification for excluding stocks and bonds from the property tax; stocks and bonds are the form in which the richest among us hold most of their property
. A property tax on stocks and bonds could raise far more than lotteries do, it would tax those most able to pay, and it would end the injustice of allowing owners of stocks and bonds to avoid the taxes now levied on the other sorts of property most Americans own (cars, homes, etc.).
Rick Wolff is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and also a Visiting Professor at the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University in New York. He is the author of New Departures in Marxian Theory
(Routledge, 2006) among many other publications. Be sure to check out the video of Rick Wolff's lecture "Capitalism Hits the Fan: A Marxian View"
from Richard Wolff :
Date: 6 February 2009
Subject: A new documentary film on the economic crisis: "Capitalism Hits the Fan."
I just completed a documentary film offering a Marxist perspective -in readily accessible language without jargon - on the current global economic crisis. I would appreciate your considering its use in and by CEIMSA. The producers have created a website for the documentary:
It can also be ordered via the publisher's own website:
from Michael Albert (ZNet) :
Date: 6 February 2009
Subject: ZCom Update: ZMag Feb Issue Now Available
The February issue of Z Magazine is out now -- arriving in our subscribers' mailboxes, on sale at newsstands / independent booksellers, and also available at our website. We've posted a short commentary article from this issue below by regular Z Magazine writer Bruce E. Levine, "Fundamentalist Consumerism and an Insane Society," which points to the need for "active defiance" of a deadly dogma.
This issue also features other commentary articles on "terror" from Gaza to India, activism articles on a small victory by Food Not Bombs and a big defeat and subsequent organizing surrounding the UN climate conference. There are film reviews of Che and Valkerie, reviews of books about the prison industrial complex, and an author interview on the continuity of racism in U.S. history. There are also feature articles by Noam Chomsky on the elections, Edward S. Herman on NATO, James Petras on the Madoff scandal, and Mina Khanlarzadeh on women and sanctions in Iran.
Fundamentalist Consumerism and an Insane Society
At a giant Ikea store in Saudi Arabia in 2004, three people were killed by a stampede of shoppers fighting for one of a limited number of $150 credit vouchers. Similarly, in November 2008, a worker at a New York Wal-Mart was trampled to death by shoppers intent on buying one of a limited number of 50-inch plasma HDTVs.
by Bruce E. Levine
Jdiniytai Damour, a temporary maintenance worker was killed on "Black Friday." In the predawn darkness, approximately 2,000 shoppers waited impatiently outside Wal-Mart, chanting, "Push the doors in." According to Damour's fellow worker Jimmy Overby, "He was bum-rushed by 200 people. They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me." Witnesses reported that Damour, 34 years old, gasped for air as shoppers continued to surge over him. When police instructed shoppers to leave the store after Damour's death, many refused, some yelling, "I've been in line since yesterday morning."
The mainstream press covering Damour's death focused on the mob of crazed shoppers and, to a lesser extent, irresponsible Wal-Mart executives who failed to provide security. However, absent in the corporate press was anything about a consumer culture and an insane society in which marketers, advertisers, and media promote the worship of cheap stuff.
Along with journalists, my fellow mental health professionals have also covered up societal insanity. An exception is the democratic-socialist psychoanalyst Erich Fromm (1900-1980). Fromm, in The Sane Society (1955), wrote: "Yet many psychiatrists and psychologists refuse to entertain the idea that society as a whole may be lacking in sanity. They hold that the problem of mental health in a society is only that of the number of 'unadjusted' individuals, and not of a possible unadjustment of the culture itself."
While people can resist the cheap-stuff propaganda and not worship at Wal-Mart, Ikea, and other big-box cathedralsand stay out of the path of a mob of fundamentalist consumersit is difficult to protect oneself from the slow death caused by consumer culture. Human beings are every day and in numerous ways psychologically, socially, and spiritually assaulted by a culture which:
- creates increasing material expectations
- devalues human connectedness
- socializes people to be self-absorbed
- obliterates self-reliance
- alienates people from normal human emotional reactions
- sells false hope that creates more pain
Increasing material expectations. These expectations often go unmet and create pain, which fuels emotional difficulties and destructive behaviors. In a now classic 1998 study examining changes in the mental health of Mexican immigrants who came to the United States, public policy researcher William Vega found that assimilation to U.S. society meant three times the rate of depressive episodes for these immigrants. Vega also found major increases in substance abuse and other harmful behaviors. Many of these immigrants found themselves with the pain of increased material expectations that went dissatisfied and they also reported the pain of diminished social support.
Devaluing of human connectedness. A 2006 study in the American Sociological Review noted that the percentage of Americans who reported being without a single close friend to confide in rose in the last 20 years from 10 percent to almost 25 percent. Social isolation is highly associated with depression and other emotional problems. Increasing loneliness, however, is good news for a consumer economy that thrives on increasing numbers of "buying units"more lonely people means selling more televisions, DVDs, psychiatric drugs, etc.
Promotes selfishness. Self-absorption is one of many reasons for U.S. skyrocketing rates of depression and other emotional difficultiesand self-absorption is exactly what a consumer culture demands. The Buddha, 2,500 years ago, recognized the relationship between selfish craving and emotional difficulties, and many observers of human beings, from Spinoza to Erich Fromm, have come to similar conclusions.
Obliterates self-reliance. The loss of self-reliance can create painful anxiety, which fuels depression and other problematic behaviors. In modern society, an increasing number of peoplewomen as well as mencannot cook a simple meal. They will never know the anti-anxiety effects of being secure in their ability to prepare their own food, grow their own vegetables, hunt, fish, or gather food for survival. In a consumer culture, such self-reliance makes no sense. At some level, people know that should they lose their incomesnot impossibilities these daysthey have no ability to survive.
Alienation from humanity. The priests of consumer cultureadvertisers and marketersknow that fundamentalist consumers will buy more if they are alienated from such normal reactions as boredom, frustration, sadness, and anxiety. If these priests can convince us that a given emotional state is shameful or evidence of a disease, then we will be more likely to buy not only psychiatric drugs, but also all kinds of products to make ourselves feel better. When we become frightened and alienated from a natural human reaction, this "pain over pain" creates more fuel for depression and other self-destructive behaviors and harmful actions.
Pain of false hope. The false hope of fundamentalist consumerism is that we will one day discover a product that can predictably manipulate moods without any downsides. Modern psychiatry is a full member of consumer culture. Its "Holy Grail" is a search for the antidepressant that can take away the pain of despair, but not destroy life. In the late 19th century, Freud thought he had found it with cocaine. In the middle of the 20th century, psychiatrists thought they had found it with amphetamines, and later with tricyclic antidepressants like Tofranil and Elavil. At the end of the 20th century, there were the SSRIs, such as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft, which were ultimately found to create dependency and painful withdrawal and to be no more effective than placebos. Whatever the antidepressant drug, it is introduced as taking away depression without destroying life. Time after time, it is then discovered that when one tinkers with neurotransmitters, there isas there is with electroshock and psycho-surgerydamage to life.
Fundamentalists reject both reason and experience. Fundamentalists are attached to dogma and if their dogma fails, they don't give it up, but instead resolve to deepen their faith and double down on their dogma.
Erich Fromm, 54 years ago, concluded: "Man [sic] today is confronted with the most fundamental choice; not that between Capitalism or Communism, but that between robotism (of both the capitalist and the communist variety), or Humanistic Communitarian Socialism. Most facts seem to indicate that he is choosing robotism and that means, in the long run, insanity and destruction. But all these facts are not strong enough to destroy faith in man's reason, good will, and sanity. As long as we can think of other alternatives, we are not lost."
Breaking free of fundamentalist consumerism means thinking of alternatives and it also means an active defiance: choosing to experience the various dimensions of life that have been excluded by the dogma.
Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and author of Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007).
Z Magazine is an independent magazine of critical thinking on political, cultural, social, and economic life in the U.S. It sees the racial, gender, class, and political dimensions of personal life as fundamental to understanding and improving contemporary circumstances; and it aims to assist activist efforts for a better future. Z Magazine (ISSN 1056-5507) is published monthly except for one "double" issue in July/August by the Institute for Social and Cultural Communications.