Bulletin N° 794
Subject : The economic, political and ideological debacle of capitalism now underway . . . .
21 April 2018
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
Recently at a scholarly intervention at the University of Minsk in Belarus, I had the opportunity to engage in a discussion on the topic of “science and ethics.” In this extended conversation, I invoked the writings of Etienne de La Boétie (1530-1563), Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), and Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962).
Bachelard, I explained at the meeting, had contributed to my understanding of scientific thinking by pointing out the close relationship which exists between scientific production and artistic production. Both activities require an active human mind, disciplined by the desire to obtain results which bear upon the experience of observation and reflection. In both cases – with the formulation of the scientific problematic, as with the initial conceptualization of the artistic project - the objective is to make a contribution toward a new human understanding or appreciation, with coherency and social fellowship when the achievements are formally recognized. Art, like science, relies on social participation, and in the event of a "scientific discovery”, as with the creation of an original work of art, this social participation includes judgments within a specific community of people to help interpret the value of the work and place it in its historical/social context.
In his book, La formation de l’esprit scientifique, Bachelard writes about the importance of formulating an adequate problematic: “If there has been no question, there can be no scientific understanding. Nothing is self-evident. Nothing is given. Everything is constructed.” This, then, is the creative impulse that both scientists and artists live with; and, of course, it is a human quality that is often stifled in youth, for obvious reasons in a class-divided society.
Spinoza, also, is concerned with the nature and the potential of the human mind and in his work, The Ethics, he studies the effects of emotions on human thought. There are, he writes, both active and passive emotions - ‘good’ emotions which enhance our understanding, and ‘bad’ emotions which impede our understanding. He goes on to describe three kinds of knowledge: ‘Confused knowledge”, derived from random events and fragmentary ideas; ‘Abstract knowledge’ derived from rational understanding of cause and effect and adequate ideas of attributes of ‘Existence’; and ‘Intuitive knowledge’ (a synthetic understanding) which stems from love of ‘Nature’ and ‘Essence’. I explained to the group of scholars why I have allowed myself to be influenced by this ontology that engages in the nature of being – of ‘existence’ and ‘essence’ and its relationship with the rest of nature (using the analogy of the candle-maker bringing into existence the candle which when thrown into the fire no longer exists, but leaves, nevertheless, its essence in the residue of wax.)
The general confusion which reigns in a divided society is not disinterested, but rather is initiated from above, for purposes of expanding private ownership and maintianing politcal power over society.
Part Five of his book is entitled, “Of the Power of the Intellect, or Of Human Freedom”, and this is where Spinoza postulates Proposition N° 28:
The conatus, or desire, to know things by the third kind of knowledge, cannot arise from the first kind of knowledge, but from the second.(p.217)
In 1661, Spinoza discusses the concept of ‘Free Will’ in a letter addressed to the German theologian and scientific thinker, Henry Oldenburg:
Secondly, you ask me whaqt errors I see in the philosophy of Descartes and Bacon. In this request, too, I shall try to oblige you, although it is not my custom to expose the errors of others. The first and most important error is this, that they have gone far astray from knowledge of the first cause and origin of all things. Secondly, they have failed to achieve understanding of the true nature of the human mind. Thirdly, they have never grasped the true cause of error. Only those who are completely destitute of all learning and scholarship can fail to see the critical importance of true knowledge of these three points.
How far astray they have wandered from true knowledge of the first cause and of the human mind can readily be gathered from the truth of the three propositions to which I have already referred. So I confine myself to pointing out the third error. Of Bacon I shall say little; he speaks very confusedly on this point, and simply makes assertions while proving hardly anything. In the first place, he talks for granted that the human intellect, apart from the fallibility of the senses, is by its very nature liable to error, framing its assumptions on the analogy of its own nature, and not on the analogy of the universe, so that it is like a mirror of irregular surface receiving rays, mingling its own nature with the nature of reality, and so forth. Secondly, he holds that the human intellect, by reason of its own nature, is prone to abstractions, and imagines that things that are in flux are stable, and so on. Thirdly, he holds that the human intellect is continually increasing and cannot come to a halt or rest. Whatever other causes he assigns can readily be reduced to the one Cartesian principle, that the human will is free and more extensive that the intellect, or, as Verulam himself more confusedly puts it the intellect is not characterized by a dry light, but received infusion from the will. (We should here observe that Verulam often takes ‘intellect’ for ‘mind’, there in differing form Descartes.) This cause, then, disregarding the others as being of little importance, I shall show to be false. Indeed, they would easily have seen this for themselves, had they but given consideration to the fact that the will differs from this or that volition in the same way as whiteness differs from this or that white object, or as humanity differs from this or that human being. §So to conceive the will to be the cause of this or that volition is as impossible as to conceive humanity to be the cause of Peter or Paul.
Since, then, the will is nothing more than a mental construct (ens rationis), it can in no way be said to be the cause of this or that volition. Particular volitions, since they need a cause in order to exist, cannot be said to be free; rather they are necessarily determined to be such as they are by their own causes. Lastly, according to Descartes, errors are themselves particular volitions, from which it necessarily follows that errors - that is, particular volitions – are not free, but are determined by external causes and in no way by the will. This is what I undertook to prove.(pp.228-229)
The epistemological errors of Descartes and Bacon prevented them, according to Spinoza, from understanding the proper limits of knowledge, of finding ‘truth’ by way of ‘empiricism’, ‘justification’, and ‘logical deduction’; and to reduce or remove doubt with ‘warrant’, ‘rationality’ and ‘probability’. The result of this error was ‘Confused knowledge’ and fragmentary ideas.
The third study to which I referred in my talk this past week at the international conference on “science and ethics” in Minsk was The Politics of Obedience, The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, by Etienne de La Boétie, written when he was no more than 23 years old. This radical essay, which aimed to educate the general public, is diametrically opposed to the immortal tract of Nicolai Machiavelli (1469-1527), who sought to win favor by speaking truth to power. Boétie’s writing calls us back to the social context in which we who do scientific investigations live and work. This social context of economic inequality is necessarily riddled with social class strife and political manipulations. Boétie gives us a penetrating analysis of how a population interrelates to produce wealth for their rulers.
It is true that in the beginning men submit under constraint and by force; but those who come after them obey without regret and perform willingly what their predecessors had done because they had to. This is why men born under the yoke and then nourished and reared in slavery are content, without further effort, to live in their native circumstance, unaware of any other state or right, and considering as quite natural the condition into which they are born . . . the powerful influence of custom is in no respect more compelling than in this, namely, habituation to subjection.
. . .
Roman tyrants . . . provided the city wards with feasts to cajole the rabble . . . . Tyrants would distribute largesse, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterces: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, “Long live the King!” The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receibing without having first taken it from them. A man might one day be presented with a sesterces and gorge himself at a public feast, lauding Tiberius and Nero for handsome liberality, who on the morrow, would be forced to abandon his property to their avarice, his children to their lust, his very blood to the cruelty of these magnificent emperors, without offering any more resistance than a stone or a tree stump. The mob has always behaved in this way – eagerly open to bribes . . . .
. . .
Summarizing Boétie’s views on the maintenance of this particular social order, Murray Rothbard - the editor to the 2015 edition of this book - explains that: “Hence, their stake in despotism does not depend on illusion or habit or mystery; their stake is all too great and all too real. A hierarchy of patronage from the fruits of plunder is thus created and maintained: five or six individuals are the chief advisors and beneficiaries of the favors of the king. These half-dozen in a similar manner maintain six hundred ‘who profit under them,’ and the six hundred in their turn ‘maintain under them six thousand, whom they promote in rank, upon whom they confer the government of provinces or the direction of finances, in order that they may serve as instruments of avarice and cruelty, executing orders at the proper time and working such havoc all around that they could not last except under the shadow of the six hundred.(p.28)
. . .
[W]hen the point is reached, through big favors or little ones, that large profits or small are obtained under a tyrant, there are found almost as many people to whom tyranny seems advantageous as those to whom liberty would seem desirable . . . . Whenever a ruler makes himself a dictator, all the wicked dregs of the nation . . . all those who are corrupted by burning ambition or extraordinary avarice, these gather around him and support him in order to have a share in the booty and to constitute themselves petty chiefs under the big tyrant. (pp. 23-29)
Using these references, the argument was made that science without ethics is not science, since the scientist cannot exclude himself and his specific viewpoint as an element in the experiment or observation undertaken. Werner Heizenberg’s work in quantum physics at the end of the First world War and his insightful formulation of “The Uncertainty Principle” is an illustration of this reality, namely that as observers we are connected with what we observe – for better or for worse.
Intellectual cowardice at a time when the economic, political and ideological debacle of the world capitalist system leaves more and more people alienated, suspended like houseflys caught in a spider web, unable to act in their own interests and unwilling to die. The knowledge of how to dismantle the predator’s web remains beyond their comprehension as they are overcome by emotions of fear, then despair.
For a contemporary scientific discussion of Spinoza’s work, please see our references to the American neurologist, Dr. Antonio Demasio, and his study of the human brain in the February 14, 2010 issue the CEIMSA Bulletin @ http://www.ceimsa.org/archives/bull-437.html
The 15 items below testify to the instability of this late imperialist period. The general panic on the part of a small alliance, now crumbling into dust, is provoking violence to justify further political repression that might forestall for a while longer the total dissolution of imperial power and corporate capitalist class rule.
Professor emeritus of American Studies
Director of Research
University of Paris-Nanterre
Center for the Advanced Study of American Institutions and Social Movements
The University of California-San Diego
Long Before Cambridge Analytica, a Belief in the ‘Power of the Subliminal’
Exposed: Staged Suffering?
Interview with boy in Douma video raises more doubts over ‘chem attack’
Posted April 19, 2018
Rand Paul Says - Possible Alleged Syrian Gas Attack
Was False Flag
Posted April 20, 2018
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Cleanup Around Damascus Continues
WMD Rumors Prepare For New U.S. Attack
by Moon O Alabama
After the Syrian army liberated Douma, the next Takfiri held areas near the capital Damascus fell in short order. The Jaish al-Islam militants in Dumayr, north-east of Damascus, gave up without a fight. As usual by now the Takfiris were transferred to the north-western Idleb governorate held by al-Qaeda and other Turkish supported forces. The town of Dumayr controls the Damascus Baghdad highway. Capitulation negotiations in the nearby Eastern Qalamoun
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
The mainstream media once again have enthusiastically endorsed Donald Trump’s latest strike on Syria, pulled off without Congressional approval and in blatant violation of US and international law. Reporting in breathless detail the weapons used and the sites bombed, the mainstream media seem to agree with President Trump that Syrian President Bashar Assad is a “Gas Killing Animal” responsible for the ghastly deaths of Syrian innocents in a chemical attack, one which demands swift, forceful retaliation. This rush to judgment comes even as international organizations have yet to conduct any formal investigations into the evidence of what, if anything, happened in Douma and who is responsible.
Now compare this intense media coverage of the alleged Syrian chemical attacks to the near silence accorded the horrific civilian massacre perpetrated by Israeli soldiers in Gaza, at the very same time. The Gazan health ministry reports that at least 34 unarmed Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces over the past weeks, with hundreds more injured during six weeks of planned demonstrations titled the “Great March of Return.” which largely consisted of tire-burning and prayer. Human Rights Watch denounced the killings as “calculated” and “unlawful.” A video of an Israeli sniper shooting an unarmed Palestinian man is but one example of the substantial available evidence of this deliberate killing of innocent civilians. After the sniper shoots the man, one of the soldiers yells “yes!” and “son of a bitch!” in celebration as a crowd rushes toward the body. Israel’s defense minister Avigdor Lieberman rejected calls for an inquiry into these Israeli killings of Palestinians, saying soldiers along the Gaza frontier “deserve a medal” for what they did. The United States, rather than labeling Lieberman a “killing animal,” instead blocked a Kuwait-drafted U.N. Security Council statement that would have called for an independent investigation. And the mainstream media says next to nothing.
The Palestinian women at the forefront of Gaza's protests
In socially conservative Gaza, women have been leading the Great Return March movement, uniting all Palestinians.
The Electronic Intifada
Israeli massacres continue . . . .
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
“Solving Other People’s Problems in the Middle East”
Establishment journalists and politicos write and say the darndest things, advanced as common sense under the sway of reigning nationalist and imperial ideology. Take the New York Times’ chief White House correspondent Peter Baker. In a page-one “news analysis” last Sunday, Baker wrote the following about Donald Trump’s recent missile strike on Syria:
“The strike brought home Mr. Trump’s competing impulses when it comes to Syria — on the one hand, his manful chest-thumping intended to demonstrate that he is the toughest one on the international block, and on the other, his deep convictionthat American involvement in the Middle East since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has been a waste of blood and treasure….He did little to reconcile those impulses with his retaliatory strike to punish the government of President Bashar al-Assad for a suspected chemical attack a week ago that killed dozens of people. But then again, he reflected the contradictions of an American public that is tired of trying to solve other people’s problems in the Middle East….” (emphasis added).
The sheer tonnage of bullshit contained in this short passage is striking. Baker lacked the decency to note that (as everybody knows) Trump’s missile spasm was intended to distract U.S. public attention from his troubled political situation at home. It was a transparent dog-wag that worked for a day or two.
Fooled again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Given the Trump administration’s all-out war on working people, a government by billionaires and for billionaires considerably more blatant in its class warfare than the ordinary White House, it has long puzzled me that some activists insist on giving it the benefit of the doubt when it comes to trade issues.
Protest & Political Activity Increases
by Kevin Zeese
People have noted that the last year has seen an escalation of protest activity in the United States. Many of these protests are generated by opposition to Donald Trump, e.g. protests against immigration policies, and many have partisan leanings, e.g. the Women’s March, the March for Science and others were brought on by events or circumstances, e.g. the March or Our Lives against gun violence. Protests began on the weekend of Donald Trump’s Inauguration, indeed there may have been more protesters at the inauguration than supporters of the president.
The Washington Post has conducted a poll that measures how widespread political action has been in the Trump era. The poll was conducted in the first two months of this year among a random telephone sample of 1,850 adults nationwide, including 832 who attended a protest or rally in the last two years. The Post reports, “Tens of millions of Americans have joined protests and rallies in the past two years, their activism often driven by admiration or outrage toward President Trump, according to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll . . .”
A Bloody Water War Rages in Mexico as Irate Residents Vow to Halt
Corona Brewery Construction
A battle the people of the United States should watch like hawks continues to unfold in Mexicali, the capital of Mexico’s Baja California, over water claims, privatization, and an existential question particularly poignant and raw to Indigenous Peoples and Native American tribes across the continent — who has a right to clean, potable water?
Is water even a right?
Add the possibility a region sorely in need would see 750 permanent jobs, and this battle — whether or not Constellation Brands should be permitted to construct a government-endorsed, $1 billion state-of-the-art brewing facility for its various Modelo and Corona beer brands — has exploded into a hostile and bloody showdown between law enforcement and irate residents concerned for area farmers over the possibility of dwindling water supplies.
Rashid Khalidi: The Israeli Security Establishment Is Terrified
of a Nonviolent Palestinian Movement
Interview with Rashid Khalidi
Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University. He’s the author of several books. His most recent is titled Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.
Palestinian protests against the Israeli occupation are continuing this week as Israel begins to mark the country’s 70th anniversary of its founding in 1948. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, Israeli forces have killed 33 Palestinian protesters over the past three weeks since the “Great March of Return” protests began to commemorate the mass expulsion of Palestinians during Israel’s establishment. Palestinian authorities estimate nearly 4,300 Palestinians have been injured in the peaceful protests—many were shot with live ammunition or rubber-coated steel bullets. Gaza authorities have also accused Israel of deliberately targeting journalists and medics. Since the protests began, one journalist—Yaser Murtaja—was killed, and 66 journalists were injured. In addition, 44 medics have been wounded, and 19 ambulances were reportedly targeted. The protest marches are set to last to until May 15, recognized as the official Israeli Independence Day. Palestinians mark the date as Nakba Day, or “Day of the Catastrophe.” For more, we’re joined by Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University. He’s the author of several books, his most recent titled “Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.”
Sent: Thursday, 19 April, 2018
Anti-Empire Report #157
The U.S. Role in the Destruction of Syria
by David Ray Griffin
(Excerpt from Chapter 6, "Global Chaos," of Bush and Cheney: How They Ruined America and the World [Interlink Books, 2017])
In Syria, the goal of creating chaos has succeeded in spades. Mnar Muhawesh wrote: [F]oreign powers have sunk the nation into a nightmare combination of civil war, foreign invasion and terrorism. Syrians are in the impossible position of having to choose between living in a warzone, being targeted by groups like ISIS and the Syrian government’s brutal crack- down, or faring dangerous waters with minimal safety equipment only to be denied food, water and safety by European governments if they reach shore.
Of course, many Syrians were unable, or chose not to try, to reach Europe. Continuing her discussion of the refugee crisis created by the destabilization of Syria, Muhawesh added: Other Syrians seeing the chaos at home have turned to neighboring Arab Muslim countries. Jordan alone has absorbed over half a million Syrian refugees; Lebanon has accepted nearly 1.5 million; and Iraq and Egypt have taken in several hundred thousand. . . . Turkey has [by 2015] taken in nearly 2 million refugees.(p.55)
By the end of 2015, the conflict in Syria
had “displaced 12 million people, creating the largest wave of refugees to hit
Europe since World War II.”(p.56)
Planning to Destabilize Syria
Some neocons had come into office with preformed ideas about destabilizing Syria. As mentioned earlier, Richard Perle and other neocons had prepared a 1996 paper for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, en- titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” It suggested that Israel seek peace with some neighbors while beginning to topple the regimes of its enemies, especially Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Although regime change in Iraq would be the first goal, it would be achieved primarily for the sake of “weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria,” ultimately overthrowing Bashar al-Assad. In other words, the road to Damascus would run through Baghdad.(p.57)
Yanis Varoufakis: Marx predicted our present crisis -
and points the way out
The Communist Manifesto foresaw the predatory and polarised global capitalism of the 21st century. But Marx and Engels also showed us that we have the power to create a better world.
For a manifesto to succeed, it must speak to our hearts like a poem while infecting the mind with images and ideas that are dazzlingly new. It needs to open our eyes to the true causes of the bewildering, disturbing, exciting changes occurring around us, exposing the possibilities with which our current reality is pregnant. It should make us feel hopelessly inadequate for not having recognised these truths ourselves, and it must lift the curtain on the unsettling realisation that we have been acting as petty accomplices, reproducing a dead-end past. Lastly, it needs to have the power of a Beethoven symphony, urging us to become agents of a future that ends unnecessary mass suffering and to inspire humanity to realise its potential for authentic freedom.
No manifesto has better succeeded in doing all this than the one published in February 1848 at 46 Liverpool Street, London. Commissioned by English revolutionaries, The Communist Manifesto (or the Manifesto of the Communist Party, as it was first published) was authored by two young Germans – Karl Marx, a 29-year-old philosopher with a taste for epicurean hedonism and Hegelian rationality, and Friedrich Engels, a 28-year-old heir to a Manchester mill.
As a work of political literature, the manifesto remains unsurpassed. Its most infamous lines, including the opening one (“A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism”), have a Shakespearean quality. Like Hamlet confronted by the ghost of his slain father, the reader is compelled to wonder: “Should I conform to the prevailing order, suffering the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune bestowed upon me by history’s irresistible forces? Or should I join these forces, taking up arms against the status quo and, by opposing it, usher in a brave new world?”