Bulletin N° 615
Subject: ON DEVOLUTION AND EVOLUTION AND THE POLITICS OF HOMEOSTASIS.
12 June 2014
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
The Medieval philosopher and statesman Ibn Khaldûn (d.1406), a contemporary of western world-class authors like “the Father of English literature” Geoffrey Chaucer (d. 1400) and the famous Renaissance humanist Giovanni Boccaccio (d. 1375), himself enjoys international stature and is often credited with having laid the foundations of several fields of knowledge, including the science of history, linguistics, sociology, ethnography, and economics. This Late-Medieval scholar, born in Tunisia, was a world traveler and an astute observer of the many societies he visited. Trained in jurisprudence and literary studies, he applied his critical mind to all that he saw and made some unusual discoveries which he recorded during the second half of his long life in a multi-volume book, entitled Al-Muqaddima, An Introduction to History (1377). Khaldûn introduces Book One of this research with some “preliminary remarks” which demonstrate the quality of his thinking. “It should be known,” he wrote,
that history, in matter of fact, is information about human social organization, which itself is identical with world civilization. It deals with such conditions affecting the nature of civilization as, for instance, savagery and sociability, group feelings, and the different ways by which one group of human beings achieves superiority over another. It deals with royal authority and the dynasties that result in this manner and with the various ranks that exist within them. Also with the different kinds of gainful occupations and ways of making a living, with the sciences and crafts that human beings pursue as part of their activities and efforts, and with all the other institutions that originate in civilization through its very nature.
Untruth naturally afflicts historical information. There are various reasons that make this unavoidable. One of them is partisanship for opinions and schools. If the soul is impartial in receiving information, it devotes to that information the share of critical investigation the information deserves, and its truth or untruth thus becomes clear. However, if the soul is infected with partisanship for a particular opinion or sect, it accepts without a moment’s hesitation the information that is agreeable to it. Prejudice and partisanship obscure the critical faculty and preclude critical investigation. The result is that falsehoods are accepted and transmitted.
Another reason making untruth unavoidable in historical information is reliance upon transmitters. Investigation of this subject belongs to (the discipline) of personality criticism.
Another reason is unawareness of the purpose of an event. Many a transmitter does not know the real significance of his observations or of the things he has learned about orally. He transmits the information, attributing to it the significance he assumes or imagines it to have. The result is falsehood.
Another reason is unfounded assumption as to the truth of a thing. This is frequent. It results mostly from reliance upon transmitters.
Another reason is ignorance of how conditions conform with reality. Conditions are affected by ambiguities and artificial distortions The informant reports the conditions as he saw them, but on account of artificial distortions he himself has no true picture of them.
Another reason is the fact that people as a rule approach great and high-ranking persons with praise and encomiums. They embellish conditions and spread their fame. The information made public in such cases is not truthful. Human souls long for praise, and people pay great attention to this world and the positions and wealth it offers. As a rule, they feel no desire for virtue and have no special interest in virtuous people.
Another reason making untruth unavoidable –and this one is more powerful than all the reasons previously mentioned—is ignorance of the nature of the various conditions arising in civilization. Every event (or phenomenon), whether (it comes about in connection with some) essence or (the result of) action, must inevitably possess a nature peculiar to its essence, as well as to the accidental conditions that may attach themselves to it. If the student knows the nature of events and the circumstances and requirements in the world of existence, it will help him to distinguish truth from untruth in investigating the historical information critically. This is more effective in critical investigation than any other aspect that may be brought up in connection with it.
Students often happen to accept and transmit absurd information that, in turn, is believed on their authority. . . . (The Muqaddimah, pp.35-36)
Khaldûn then produced a series of examples of the ‘complacent’ acceptance of obvious errors due to one or more of the reasons he has listed. He goes on to describe what is new and different in this “new science” of historical study that he has discovered.
It should be known that the discussion of this topic is something new, extraordinary, and highly useful. Penetrating research has shown the way to it. It does not belong to rhetoric, one of the logical disciplines (represented in Aristotle’s Organon), which are concerned with convincing words whereby the mass is moved to accept or reject a particular opinion. It is also not politics, because politics is concerned with the administration of home or city in accordance with ethical and philosophical requirements, for the purpose of directing the mass toward a behavior that will result in the preservation and permanence of the species.
The subject here is different from those two discipline which, however, are often similar to it. In a way, it is an entirely original science. In fact, I have not come across a discussion along these lines by anyone. . . .
Although the problems it raises are important, both essentially and specifically, (exclusive concern for it) leads to one result only: the mere verification of historical information. This is not much. Therefore, scholars might have avoided the subject. (p.39)
Khaldûn’s prescience of disciplines that would not be established until centuries later is shown in his meticulous concern with a methodological contextual question, “whether it was possible that the (reported facts) could have happened.” This question, he asserts,
is more important than, and has priority over, personality criticism. For the correct notion about something that ought to be can be derived only form (personality criticism), while the correct notion about something that was can be derived from (personality criticism) and external (evidence) by (checking) the conformity (of the historical report with general conditions).
If this is so, the normative method for distinguishing right from wrong in historical information on the grounds of inherent possibility or absurdity is to investigate human social organization, which is identical with civilization. We must distinguish the conditions that attach themselves to the essence of civilization as requir3ed by its very nature; the things that are accidental and cannot be counted on; and the things that cannot possibly attach themselves to it. If we do that, we shall have a normative method for distinguishing right from wrong, and truth form falsehood in historical information by means of logical demonstration that admits to no doubts. Then, whenever we hear about certain conditions occurring in civilization, we shall know what it accept and what to declare spurious. We shall have a sound yardstick with the help of which historians may find a path to truth and correctness where their reports are concerned .
Such is the purpose of this first book of our work. (The subject) is in a way an independent science with its own peculiar object –the is, human civilization and social organization. It also has its own peculiar problems –that is, explaining in turn the conditions that attach themselves to the essence of civilization. (pp.38-39)
Khaldûn made a contribution not only to the method of objective historical study, but to the modern study of sociology. In a section called “The various ways, means and methods of making a living,” he begins by defining his terms: ‘livelihood’, he wrote, “means the desire for sustenance and the effort to obtain it”; he then proceeds to develope a preliminary discourse on a labor theory of value.
Sustenance and profit may be obtained through having the power to take them away from others and to appropriate them according to a generally recognized norm. This is called imposts and taxation. Or from wild animals by killing or catching them whole on land or in the sea. Or either from domesticated animals by extracting surplus products which are used by people, such as mild from animals, silk from silkworms, and honey from bees; or from plants such as are planted in fields or grow as trees, through cultivating and preparing them for the production of their fruits. All this is called agriculture.
Or profit may be the result of human labor as applied to specific materials. Then it is called a craft, such as writing, carpentry, tailoring, weaving, and horsemanship. Or it may be applied to non-specific materials. This, then, includes all the other professions and activities.
Or profit may come from merchandise and its use in barter; merchants can make such profit either by travelling around with (merchandise) or by hoarding it and observing the market fluctuations that affect it. This is called commerce.
Agriculture is prior to all the other (ways of making a living) by its very nature, since it is something simple and innately natural. It needs no speculation or theoretical) knowledge. Therefore, (invention) of it is ascribed to Adam, the father of mankind. He is said to have taught and practiced agriculture.
The crafts are secondary and posterior to agriculture. They are composite and scientific. Thinking and speculation are applied to them. Therefore, as a rule, crafts exist only among sedentary peoples. (Sedentary culture) is posterior to Bedouin life, and secondary to it.
Commerce is a natural way of making profits. However, most of its practices and methods are tricky and designed to obtain the (profit) margin between purchase prices and sale prices. This surplus makes it possible to earn a profit. Therefore, the law permits cunning in commerce, since (commerce) contains an element of gambling. It does not, however, mean taking away the property of others without giving anything in return. Therefore, it is legal.(pp.299-300)
This section is followed in the same chapter with a discussion on “Being a servant … [as] not a natural way of making a living.” Here Khaldûn observed that “custom causes human nature to incline toward the things to which it becomes used. Man is the child of customs, not the child of his ancestors.”
… satisfactory and trustworthy servants are almost non-existent. There are just four categories according to which a servant of this (description) can be classified. He may be capable of doing what he has to do, and trustworthy with regard to the things that come into his hands. Or, he may be the opposite in both respects, that is, he may be neither capable nor trustworthy. Or, he may be the opposite in one respect only, that is, he may be capable and not trustworthy, or trustworthy and not capable.
As to the first, the capable and trustworthy servant, on one would in any way be able to secure the employment of such a person. With his capability and trustworthiness, he would have no need of persons of low rank, and he would distain to accept the wages (they could) offer for service, because he could get more. . . .
The second kind, the servant who is neither capable nor trustworthy, should not be employed by any intelligent person, because he will do damage to his master on both counts.
No one would employ these two kinds of servants. Thus, the only thing that remains is to employ servants of the two other kinds, servants who are trustworthy but not capable, and servants who are capable but not trustworthy. There are two opinions among the people as to which of the two kinds is preferable. Each has something in his favor. However, the capable (servant), even when he is not trustworthy, is preferable. One can be sure that he will not cause any damage, and one can arrange to be on guard as far as possible against being defrauded by him. (The servant) who may cause damage, even when he is reliable, is more harmful than useful, because of the damage caused by him. This should be realized and taken as the norm for finding satisfactory servants.(pp.300-301)
It is of only fleeting interest to hear Khaldûn express some medieval prejudices, for example towards gays, women, Black Africans, Salvs and other “imperfect” beings. Given the unequal rapports de force and the imbalances of military power in his day, these prejudices were largely accepted as axiomatic truths, which even Khaldûn was unable to transcend. As a whole, however, we find in this work a remarkable power of perception, largely unhindered by ideological a priories and contrived speech, which constitute conventional veils (or stumbling blocks) through which modern man attempts to discover the world and come to terms with what stands before him. His capacity to reason independently, unaffected by the received ideas of his day, was remarkable, and his close attention to empirical evidence and mental representations can only be judged as a harbinger of modern social science, for better and for worse, which was published more than five centuries before the studies of Max Weber, Sigmund Freud, and Emile Durkheim.
The 8 items below offer CEIMSA readers a voyage through the contemporary world, where distortions and misrepresentations are plentiful. In the spirit of Khaldûn, we invite you to submit your soul to these perceptions of these events and remain conscious that your soul can only be colored by these perceptions. As we begin to differentiate from one another, according to the external influences upon our lives, we would do well to remember that we are all made of the same stuff, and that in Ibn Khaldûn’s memorable words, “When the soul has been impressed by a habit, it is no longer in its natural state, and it is less prepared (to master another habit), because it has taken on a certain imprint from that habit.” (p.318)
Perception –that is, consciousness on the part of the person who perceives—is something particular to living beings to the exclusion of all other possible and existent things. Living beings may obtain consciousness of things that are outside their essence through the external senses . . ., that is, the sense of hearing, vision, smell, taste, and touch. Man has this advantage over other beings: he can perceive things outside his essence through his ability to think, which is something beyond his senses. It is the result of (special) powers placed in the cavities of his brain. With the help of these powers, man takes the pictures of the sensibilia, applies his mind to them, and thus abstracts from them other pictures. The ability to think is the occupation with pictures that are beyond sense perception, and the application of the mind to them for analysis and synthesis.(p.333)
We hereby invite you to use this unique human endowment to discern the world you have inherited, to make it a better place to live.
Item A., from Consortium News, is an article on US strategy in Ukraine and how it failed.
Item B., from Information Clearing House, is a new series of articles on Ukraine.
Item C., from Information Clearing House, is an article and video on the Maidan snipers on April 10, 2014 in Kiev.
Item E., from Information Clearing House, is a video broadcast with Noam Chomsky discussing current episodes of US foreign policy.
Item F., from the London Financial Times, is an article by Philip Stephens on Russia and China’s roles in the international system of capitalism.
Item G., from Jim O’Brien of Historians Against War, is a series of recommended recent articles.
Item H., from Jim O’Brien of Historians Against War, is a series of recommended recent articles.
And finally, we invite CEIMSA readers to take a look at Wiebe and Binney and “Why They Blew the Whistle on the NSA” :
The Fallacies of For-Profit Spying in the Modern World
Professor of American Studies
University of Grenoble-3
Director of Research
University of Paris-Nanterre
Center for the Advanced Study of American Institutions and Social Movements
The University of California-San Diego
The US-Ukraine Fiasco.
The State Department’s handling of the Ukraine crisis may go down as a textbook diplomatic fiasco, doing nothing to advance genuine U.S. interests while disrupting cooperation with Moscow and pushing Russia and China back together, reports Robert Parry.
The State Department’s Ukraine Fiasco
The US-Ukraine Fiasco.
UKRAINe : April 2014
Who were the Maidan snipers on April 10, 2014?
National guard/right sector entered Railroad Hospital Krasni Liman and shot dead 37 wounded Donbas Army soldiers and civilians.
Snowden report on NBC censored.
The former National Security Agency contractor in which he questioned the American intelligence community’s inability to stop the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Chomsky of Current US Foreign Polciy.
"Rethinking US Foreign Policy"
By Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky, shares his views on the Edward Snowden revelations, recent debates on intervention and broader themes in US foreign policy. Continue
The FT's Philip Stephens, in an essay published yesterday, claim that Xi & Putin are "contesting the established world order. " This is an increasingly common take on Russia and China's aggressive approach to their respective border disputes (Crimea, the South China Sea, Senkaku/Diaoyutai, etc.). But I think it's folly and the height of arrogance to portray the US's disagrements with Russia and China as one of a disagreement about the basic rules of the international system.
What Xi And Putin Think About The West
by Philip Stephens
HAW Notes 6/3/14: Links to recent articles of interest.
Links to Recent Articles of Interest
By William R. Polk, History News Network, posted June 1
The author is a former member of the U.S. Policy Planning Council and history professor at the University of Chicago. This important article lays out pas experiences with U.S. training programs.
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment blog, posted May 30
The author teaches history at the University of Michigan.
By Walter G. Moss, History News Network, posted May 28
The author is a professor of history emeritus at Eastern Michigan University.
By Phyllis Bennis, Foreign Policy in Focus, posted May 28
A short and thoughtful analysis
By Andrew Hartman, Society for U.S. Intellectual History blog, posted May 27
This piece is an appreciation of Gabriel Kolko (who died May 19 at age 82), with emphasis on his foreign policy writings. The author teaches history at Illinois State University.
By Juliane Fuerst, History News Network, posted May 25
The author teaches history at the University of Bristol.
By Joanne Landy, Campaign for Peace and Democracy, posted May 20
By Tarik Cyril Amar and Per Anders Rudling, History News Network, posted May 19
The authors teach history at Columbia University and the University of Lund, respectively.
By Leon Hadar, The American Conservative, posted May 14
Thanks to Steve Gosch (who has become a de facto co-editor of these lists) and Rosalyn Baxandall for suggesting articles included in the above list. Suggestions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
HAW Notes 6/10/14: Links to recent articles of interest.
Links to Recent Articles of Interest
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com, posted June 10
The whimsical title is a little misleading; the article draws five important lessons from the history of recent decades of U.S. warfare.
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment blog, posted June 6
The author teaches history at the University of Michigan.
By Paul Atwood, CounterPunch.org, posted June 6
The author is a Vietnam-era veteran and a just-retired faculty member in American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
By Winston Warfield, CounterPunch.org, posted June 6
The author is a Vietnam veteran and an active member of Veterans for Peace..
By Andrew J. Bacevich, Boston Globe, posted June 6
The author teaches history and international relations at Boston University.
By Dilip Hiro, TomDispatch.com, posted June 5
The author's 34 books include After Empire: The Birth of a Multipolar World.
By Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies blog, posted June 5
Partly a critique of President Obama's West Point speech, partly a survey of recent events in the Middle East
By Joseph Gerson, Portside.com, posted June 4
The author is director of the AFSC's Peace and Economic Security Program.
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment blog, posted June 2
The author teaches
history at the University of Michigan.
By Neve Gordon, Chronicle of Higher Education, posted June 2
The author is a former chair of the Politics and Government department at Ben Gurion University.
By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Everett, The National Interest, posted May 30
This list was edited by Jim O'Brien and Steve Gosch, with thanks to Mim Jackson, Rosalyn Baxandall, and an anonymous reader for suggesting article that are included above. Suggestions can be sent to email@example.com..