Subject: ON DECADENCE AND DEGENERATE POLICY IN THE MIDST OF A TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION AND A POLITICAL COUNTER-REVOLUTION.
12 February 2012
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
The dialectics between rapidly developing technological innovations and an equally rapid development of reactionary political policies creates from time to time virtual vortices in which entire societies are caught up and can become disoriented and confused. There is no capitalist solution to high technological unemployment. Until the implementation of a “Planned Economy,” capitalists will continue to simply move the problem around –“solving” it here by sending it there-- where hopefully it will remain out of sight, for a while at least.
Like the decadent magician who never forgets that his existence depends on fooling the crowd, the capitalist is also playing a game based on distraction and illusion --albeit a more sinister game, as it involves the sacrifice of many lives and habitats. Such machinations generate massive levels of disgust –embarrassment and remorse.
History shows with unmistakable clarity that prolonged periods of repression can be engineered and public cooperation can be successfully solicited to achieve this end. Social class divisions breed economic inequalities, and these inequalities soon take on the appearance of being something natural and incontrovertible. The so-called “superior” enjoy their advantages because of what they claim are “axiomatic truisms,” while those who are labeled inferior are reduced by equally self-evident truths; there is simply nothing rational that can be done to change this “natural order” short of social revolution. The few who contest are isolated, diagnosed and neutralized in a variety of ways. The more philosophically minded either sing the song of their masters, or quietly look at the changes that are underway, about which they intend to do nothing except, if possible, save their own skin; and Tweedle-Dum replaces Tweedle-Dee . . . .
They had suspected as much for a long time, writes David Rousset in his book L’univers concentreationnaire, but here was the evidence now: inmates at the Buchenwald camp found a human jaw bone in a bowl of stew. It was irrefutable proof that they were eating human flesh at meals. Rousset recounts the prisoners’ reaction to this discovery.
Robert B. me conta l’histoire suivante. En novembre 1944 ; Robert Darnan le neveu résistant du trop célèbre milicien, travaillait à la Klinker. Un jour, il trouva dans sa soupe une mâchoire humaine. Surprise malgré tout, il montra l’objet à Jacob. Jacob était un Allemand social-démocrate fort sympathique et qui parlait assez bien français. Il trouva la découverte curieuse et (fit un rapport à l’Oberstrumbannführer. L’enquête révéla que le Küchekapo et le Kapo du Krematorium s’était entendus pour vendre la viande de la cuisine aux civils et nourrir de macchabées les concentrationnaires. L’opération profitait à tout le monde. La viande disparaissait au plus grand bénéfice des deux compères, et, comme de toute façon les concentrationnaires n’en auraient pas vu la couleur, c’était une charité rare que de leur donner du cadavre. Les deux Kapos furent pendus sur la Grand-Place de Neuengamme. Je jurerais que beaucoup regrettèrent la découvert de Robert Darnan. L’affaire avait, paraît-il, duré un mois.(pp. 129-130)
This history of daily life in a concentration camp, speaks volumes to our own existence in late capitalism, where police surveillance is increasingly necessary to assure profitable investments. The triangulation of citizens (where A encourages B to attack C, mostly for the benefit of A) is not new, of course; it is a classic lesson in military science. What is new, however, is the abject militarization of society. The police-military-industrial complex is a major player in capitalist policy making today; to ignore the importance of these interests is to fail to understand the motor force of policy making in our society. The shift from scientific thinking in recent years toward an emphasis on non-scientific cultural representations is a phenomenon of class interests. Replacing reason with phonetics and grammar and rhetoric is a sure way to produce obedient, empty-headed slaves for future exploitation.
In the first volume of his four-volume book, Science in History, J.D. Bernal writes of the human acquisition of language skills.
How early the acquisition of language must be is shown by the degree to which it has already influenced the inherited anatomical structure of the human brain. The complex of eye and hand co-ordination which occupies well over half the human brain is essentially only an elaboration of that inherited from an ape-like ancestor. The corresponding complex of ear and tongue co-ordination on the other hand, though not so large, is practically a new creation. It can only have arisen and have implanted itself in human heredity after the origin of society.
All mammals use their voices to some degree for social communication, but usually for that of emotion –for sex, anger, or fear—and the hearing of these cries in turn generates an appropriate emotional response. It was only later that the communication of emotion and action could add the communication of information about things and places. The transition is not complete, the undertone of emotion in language come to the surface in poetry, song, and music, but it is never absent from spoken language and gives it a moving and even compulsive character which has contributed to the belief in the magic of words. Yet the magical aspect of language has always been subordinate to the utilitarian one. (p.72)
In discussing the origins of early Greek science and the materialist philosophy of “atomism,” adopted by “wise men” (then called sophists), who were “at the same time materialistic, rational, and atheistical,” Bernal explains that the Ionian philosophers, like Thales (c. 625 - c. 547) and Pythagoras (c. 570 – c. 495), and Heraclitus (535-475) “were concerned less with morals and politics and more with Nature than their successors,’ who taught in post-democratic Athens during the centuries that followed, including immensely influential moral philosophers such as Plato (c. 424 – c. 348) and Aristotle (348 - 322); then later, in the Hellenistic period, Euclid (c. 300 – ?) and Archimedes (287 – 212).
The pre-Socratic philosophers of the sixth century B.C. were far from being decadent; they inhabited the Ionian city states of Asia Minor, “where contact with the ancient civilizations was closest,” and the new Greek colonies of Italy and Sicily. They lived at a time and in an environment where tradition was at a discount and new answers to old questions had a chance to be heard. The great value of the early period of Greek thought was that it tried to answer all questions in a simple and concrete way. It was an attempt to formulate a theory of the world –what it is made out of and how it works—in terms of ordinary life and labour. (p.171)
In this early period of what is known as The Iron Age, the success of these early “wise men” (Sophists), writes Bernal,
was due to the fact that they filled the gap in ideas left by the economic transformation of a bronze to an iron age civilization. They provided what Marx called the ideological superstructure for a new system of relations of production. In that new system the direction of society in the hands of merchants, tyrants, and military princes was apparently more divorced from the material side of production than it was in the Bronze Age. Nor did the philosophers, u8nlike the great directors of wor4ks of the time of the canals, pyramids and temples, have anything to do with the actual material running of the economy. As a result the superstructure they put up was, in general, idealist and inimical to the growth of experimental science. (p.173)
By the fourth century, the use of moral philosophy by Philosophers, as Socrates named these “lovers of wisdom,” was employed in polemics against “Nature philosophy” --and against the democratic forces which had given rise to “Nature philosophy.”Moral Philosophy had become a tactics, employed by wealthy Greek aristocrats and their tyrants that would serve to stabilize existing social class relationships.
The great triad of Greek philosophers, Socrates (c. 470 – 399), Plato (c. 424 – c. 348), and Aristotle (348 - 322), all belong to Athens, but to the Athens of decline. They drew their enormous ability of power to influence thought from the revolutionary greatness of the first free city; the service they put it to was that of counter-revolution. Socrates, at least as Plato represented him, Plato himself, and Aristotle all showed a scorn of democracy that only partially hid their deep fear of it. Marx was too kind to the philosophers, or perhaps he was thinking of his old favourite Epicurus, when he said: ‘The philosophers have hitherto only tried to understand the world, the task, however, is to change it.’ The task that Plato quite consciously set himself was that of preventing the world from changing—at least in the direction of democracy. . . .
The idealistic reaction in Greek thought was expressed in terms of the new technique of logic or the handling of words – logoi. Athenian politics in the democratic era gave to disputation and oratory an even greater importance than they had in most Greek cities; they were a recognized way to fame and wealth. This gave rise to a new interest in words and their meanings. The control of people by words became more rewarding than the contr4ol of things by work. A whole new class of professional wise men –the sophists—arrived to teach this road to success to those who were willing to pay. The most famous of them, Protagoras, is remembered for saying, ‘Man is the measure of all things,’ expressing the primacy of human convention over any absolute knowledge. His opponent was Socrates himself, who developed a method of argument in which, by asking a series of questions directed at his opponent’s own knowledge, he could in a very short time make it clear to the audience that his opponent did not know what he was talking about. For Socrates the chief end of man was individual goodness or virtue which was to be an automatic result of knowledge. Both the Greek word for goodness, arete, and the Latin, virtus, originally referred to combative manliness. Ares was the god of war. It took a long time to soften into the ideal of citizenship and still longer to Christian submissiveness. According to Socrates the knowledge which led to goodness was not physical knowledge or indeed anything that could be learned, it was rather a rejection of all opinion and [instead] reliance on inner intuition. In this he resembled his contemporary the Chinese philosopher Lao-tze, who was as skeptical of convention and as secure in the hold on an inner natural truth. (pp.191-193)
The philosophy in the period of declining democratic in the Greek city state:
Taken together, the three great philosophers of the declining of Athens mark a definite arrest of the movement of ideas which had begun with the Ionian philosophers. Because the social order could no longer advance, the idea that Nature itself was changing and developing was repudiated. Philosophy ceased to be progressive and, as part of the same reaction, ceased to be materialist. Idealism in the mystical form of Socrates and Plato, or in the conformist scheme of Aristotle, took its place. Philosophy taught the acceptance of life as it was, and had nothing to offer to those who found it intolerable but that their sufferings were inevitable and were part of the great order of Nature. Such philosophy was well on the way to becoming a religion, but a religion for the benefit of the upper classes alone.(p.207-208)
What science meant in the Classical world:
We are apt to be so dazzled by the intellectual and artistic brilliance of the Greeks that it is difficult to realize that their knowledge and skill affected far more the appearances than the practical and material realities of life. The beauties of Greek cities, temples, statues, and vases, the refinement of their logic, mathematics, and philosophy, blind us to the fact that the way of life for most people in civilized countries was at the fall of the Roman Empire, much what it had been 2,000 years before when the old bronze ager civilization collapsed. Agriculture, food, clothes, houses, were not \notably improved. Except for a slight improvement in irrigation and road-making, and for new styles in monumental architecture and town planning, the science of the Greeks found little application. This is not surprising; for in the first place science was not developed by well-off citizens for that purpose, which they despised, and in the second, even with the best will in the world, the science they had acquired was far too limited and qualitative to be of much practical use. Greek mathematics, elegant and complete as it was, could be applied to few practical purposes for the lack of either experimental physics or accurate mechanics. (p.235)
This history of metaphysics usurping the popular study of the material world in the social context of a growing emphasis on class relationships and the demise of democracy is an instructive lesson on modes of thinking in the economic context of our own period. If we are to liberate ourselves from old ways of thinking which have led us to this impasse, we might be well advised to study pre-Socratic Greece and the social dynamics that produced the decline of earliest construction of a democratic state and at the same time gave rise to a new ingenious metaphysics of moral philosophy in the service of empire and class domination in the later periods of the Iron Age of classical culture. There is no better place to start such a project than by picking up the studies by Stephen Masson (A History of the Sciences) and J.D. Bernal (Science in History) who expose the emergence and re-emergence of counter-revolutionary decadence through the millennia.
In the 8 items below CEIMSA readers are invited to distinguish the revolutionary from the counter-revolutionary vortices which together constitute the social bind in which we find ourselves now collectively struggling.
Item A., from Michael Parenti, is a talk given in November 2011 on Conspiracy and Class Power.
Item B., from Professor Edward Herman, is a report on Iran, from The Onion News.
Item C., from Professor Rick Wolff, is a New Manifesto for Progressive Change, written by Economic Democracy Manifesto Group.
Item D., sent to us by The Real News Network, is a report on the disease of racism, and the Israeli Summer, and the Occupation.
Item E., from Sky News, is an October 2010 interview with the Honorable George Galloway in which he criticizes Israeli propaganda and the biases reproduced by outlets such as Sky News.
Item F., from George Kenney and Electric Politics, is an interview with Ambassador Peter Jenkins, Britain's Permanent Representative to the IAEA in Vienna, discussing Iran and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Item G., from Truth Out, is an article by William Rivers Pitt on right-wing criticism of the recent Clint Eastwood commercial, “Half-Time in America.”
Item H., from Professor John Gerassi, is a description of poverty in America and Hong Kong, where tens of thousands are seen living in rabbit cages.
And finally, we offer CEIMSA readers this short cartoon presenting a brief history of the evolution of animal rights :
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies
Director of Research
Université Stendhal Grenoble 3
From Michael Parenti :
Date: 16 January 2012
Subject: Conspiracy and Class Power.
Michael Parenti - Conspiracy AND Class Power
From Edward Herman :
Date: 10 February 2012
From Rick Wolff :
Date: 9 February 2012
Subject: A New Manifesto for Progressive Change.
From The Real News :
Date: 10 February 2012
Subject: The Israeli Summer progresses and seeks allies for change.
From Sky News :
Date: 25 October 2010
Subject: Galloway on Israeli propaganda.
From George Kenney :
Date: 16 January 2012
Subject: Iran and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
If, out of fear of what Iran might do with its nuclear program, the U.S. and Israel attack Iran, the Iranians then would have an iron clad case that they were only doing things that they are perfectly well allowed to do under the letter of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In other words, such a war would not be unambiguously legal. Far from it. But you don't have to accept my analysis. That's what Ambassador Peter Jenkins says, and he should know because from 2001 to 2006 he was Britain's Permanent Representative to the IAEA in Vienna. If anyone currently outside government understands the technical complications regarding nonproliferation, and the policy, he does. Moreover, Peter says, back in 2005 the Iranians made us an offer that we should have accepted: in exchange for much more intrusive IAEA safeguards we would agree that Iran can continue to enrich uranium -- again, under the letter of the NPT. Peter remembers thinking at the time that this was a pretty good offer but it wasn't until after he retired from the British Foreign Service that he changed his mind about Iran, began exploring the idea's feasibility, and became a proponent. Which, I should add, took a great deal of courage. In any case, Peter is absolutely right. A compromise within the letter of the NPT is infinitely preferable to going to war!
This one is important. I hope you like it and, if you do, please forward the link.
From Truth Out :
Date : 27 January 2012.
Subject : Counter-revolutionary art.
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "I have said this so many times that I have lost count, and it has been proven correct yet again: the greatest strength enjoyed by the Republican right is their complete, total, and utter lack of shame. They will say anything - literally anything - to gain the rhetorical advantage, even when it flies in the face of twelve dozen statements on the record or forty years of established party doctrine."
When Clint Eastwood Mocks You, You're Officially Screwed
by William Rivers Pitt
From John Gerassi :
Subject: Poverty in American and Hong Kong.
In America, whites have 20 times the wealth of African-Americans. So says census data.
Not 20% more. Not twice as much. Twenty times as much. Specifically, the median household wealth for whites in 2009 was $113,149, and the median household wealth for African-Americans was $5,677.
When I heard this a few months ago, it was not entirely news to me. When I was in Congress, I read the reports that the Federal Reserve sent to Members; to me, that was interesting reading. In the appendix to one of those Fed reports, from a survey of respondents selected in 2007, these numbers caught my eye:
White, non-Hispanic households - $149,900
Hispanic and African-American households - $23,300
So from $149,900 down to $113,149, and from $23,300 (including Hispanics) down to $5,677. These numbers confirm just how hard the Great Recession has whacked minority households.
But there is a deeper issue. Can someone please explain to me how, in a country where we are told again and again that we are “all created equal,” one group ends up with 20 times as much as another?
MLK’s dream was that his four young children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” What are we supposed to think – that one group has twenty times as much character as another?
In the face of incredible numbers like these, you will still find right-wingers who insist that America is now a color-blind society (except for the scourge of “reverse racism”). But the numbers tell a different story. They suggest that America is not a color-blind society, but rather a racism-blind society.
And ask yourself: when has any elected official, ANY elected official, ever discussed this inconvenient truth, and tried to discern what should be done about it? Why is there a veil of silence over such a salient, central fact about the country we all share?
Hong Kong, one of the world's richest cities, is abuzz with a luxury property boom that has seen homes exchanged for record sums.
But the wealth of the city has a darker side, with tens of thousands priced out of housing altogether and forced to live in the most degrading conditions.
These pictures by British photographer Brian Cassey capture the misery of people - some estimates put the figure as high as 100,000 - who are forced to live in cages measuring just 6ft by 2 1/2ft.
The tragedy of tens of thousands living in 6ft by 2ft rabbit hutches,in a city with more Louis Vuitton Shops than Paris