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The World Economy: into the Wild Blue Yonder

10:00 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

Jet

It would be comforting for many to imagine that our globalized economy is a conspiracy,  a murky cabal, directed from the shadows by some Bilderberger-ish, ecumenical-protocol, of sinister “elders”, who are pulling all the strings.

I say comforting because presumably, if sufficiently intimidated, the people who got us into this mess could easily pull their strings and get us out.

However, I am afraid that instead of being something so tidy, there are no identifiable human hands on the controls of our world and the whole thing is simply on automatic pilot…

How does that work?

I could illustrate that with an old joke I recall.

An airliner takes off full of people and a metallic voice comes over the speaker system:

“Welcome aboard Acme Airlines flight 505 to London, the first totally automatic flight in aviation history, this is your computerized control system speaking, totally free from any possibility of human error, there is no pilot on board,. We hope you enjoy your flight. We will be flying at an altitude of 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet,  30,000 feet….

That is where I think we are right now. No one is in charge: the system itself has taken over and has no idea of the future but to grow endlessly.

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The Crisis: where are we headed?

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by David Seaton

Onward and Upward

Onward and Upward

I think almost all of us, progressive and otherwise, are conscious that we live in a strange and special era. “The best of times and the worst of times”… yada yada; not “evil” like the 1930s, but strange, dysfunctional, unstable, unpredictable and of a sinister syncopation.

How could we define it?

I would define this time we live in as “the end of the post-Cold-War”, the end of one thing, without the new thing being yet apparent..

To understand this concept it helps to be rather old. I was 45 when the Berlin Wall went down in 1989 and the Cold War began when I was four years old. If you are in your twenties or early thirties it would be almost impossible for you really understand or even imagine how the Cold War structured our world and our lives, how all pervasive it was and how much intellectual capital it used up on both sides of the Iron Curtain. How its cold, dead, vapors infuse the way we still see the world. We are still in the process of clearing our heads and dear old reality is coming to our aid.

In the Cold War, ideology became an industry on both sides, a factory system as powerful and layered as the automobile industry, turning out the ideological marketing that goes by the loaded name of propaganda.

Thousands upon thousands, several generations, of the most talented and intellectually gifted communicators gained prestige, comfortable livings, scholarships, tenure and an infinity of perks in this decades long struggle to see who could tell the best and most convincing story. Actual thinking was of course as poorly rewarded as it always had been.

This wall to wall propaganda did have some very positive effects. Certainly the Berlin Wall would not have come down without it and I would submit that on the other hand, without the ubiquitous presence of Soviet propaganda the American Civil Rights Movement would never have succeeded. Jim Crow was America’s Achilles heel in the battle for hearts and minds in the third world. The good and the great of the United States saw that eliminating “colored only” drinking fountains and letting a few more people vote, was a small price to pay to maintain access to the ever growing amount of the world’s raw materials and strategic areas that were falling into the hands of dark skinned peoples. So the endless advertising campaign did have its positive side. The problem for us was not that people in the soviet block believed our propaganda, the problem for us is that we believed our propaganda. By 1990 those on the eastern side of the wall knew that their propaganda was all bullshit, however, we are just beginning to realize that our propaganda was all bullshit too.

Unfettered, capitalism would spread its powerful wings and fly, so our story went, which of course capitalism certainly did… and now it seems to have bashed its brains out like a light-blinded bird crashing into a glass door.

So now we having discovered that just as “real existent socialism” didn’t work, neither does “real existent capitalism”.

So now, having discovered that the last 64 years or so were mostly a mirage, what comes next?

I would submit that becoming fully human is our most urgent task.

Here are a couple of texts that my intuition tells me point out the path to follow:

To expect morality in the market is to commit a category error. Capitalist values are antithetical to Christian ones. (How the loudest Christians in our public life can also be the most bellicose proponents of an unbridled free market is a matter for their own consciences.) Capitalist values are also antithetical to democratic ones. Like Christian ethics, the principles of republican government require us to consider the interests of others. Capitalism, which entails the single-minded pursuit of profit, would have us believe that it’s every man for himself.  William Deresiewicz – New York Times

Humans, comprising the genus Homo, appeared between 1.5 and 2.5 million years ago, a time that roughly coincides with the start of the Pleistocene 1.8 million years ago. Because the Pleistocene ended a mere 12,000 years ago, most human adaptations either newly evolved during the Pleistocene, or were maintained by stabilizing selection during the Pleistocene./ Evolutionary psychology therefore proposes that the majority of human psychological mechanisms are adapted to reproductive problems frequently encountered in Pleistocene environments. In broad terms, these problems include those of growth, development, differentiation, maintenance, mating, parenting, and social relationships. (…) Our ancestors lived in smaller groups, had more cohesive cultures, and had more stable and rich contexts for identity and meaning. (…) Since hunter-gatherer societies are egalitarian, the ancestral population may have been egalitarian as well.(…) Since an organism’s adaptations were suited to its ancestral environment, a new and different environment can create a mismatch. (…) One example is the fact that although about 10,000 people are killed with guns in the US annually, whereas spiders and snakes kill only a handful, people nonetheless learn to fear spiders and snakes about as easily as they do a pointed gun, and more easily than an unpointed gun, rabbits or flowers. A potential explanation is that spiders and snakes were a threat to human ancestors throughout the Pleistocene, whereas guns (and rabbits and flowers) were not. There is thus a mismatch between our evolved fear-learning psychology and the modern environment  Evolutionary Psychology – Wikipedia

Evolutionary psychology is one of the most exciting fields today because it gives scientific weight to the idea of humanity’s social, cooperative, empathetic “species nature”. Really we can see that most of today’s problems are not dependent on some “miraculous” scientific breakthrough or more economic growth, but rather on taking full cognizance and internalizing that species nature of ours and acting in consequence. Some of the examples of our failure to do this jump out at us from the media daily and are grotesque to the point of caricature.

As an example: millions of Americans are suffering from obesity to a degree that may eventually collapse our health system, while other millions of equally human beings are suffering severe malnutrition all over the third world. Hundreds of such examples have become mere cliches, they are so self evident. Assume a breakthrough in cancer research took place, what percentage of the world’s population would have access to it? Knowing that there is more than enough food, shelter and medicine for all, why are there starving, homeless and untreated humans walking the earth?

And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? Genesis 4:9

That is the crux of the problem. Answering Cain’s question honestly; answering “who is this all for?”, that is the central challenge of our times.

 

Cross posted from: http://seaton-newslinks.blogspot.com

What has the Republican Party come to? – III

11:08 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

Observing the pantagruelian expense and listening to and reading about the nauseating, sociopathic babble of the seemingly endless Republican primaries in the United States; people all over the world are questioning the democratic process and wondering if China’s authoritarian system might be superior.

In my opinion, this is not a problem of systems, democracy is not an end in itself, it is simply a means to an end. The object in democracy is the same as in any system, be it an authoritarian or even a totalitarian, tyrannical regime: governance.

Democracy, by allowing a fuller expression of the people who practice it, logically expresses more faithfully the nature of that people then any other system possibly could. If the society practicing democracy is decadent and corrupt, so their democratic expression will reflect that decadence and corruption.

In the United States, quoting today’s The Guardian:

“Almost one third of Americans, according to a recent poll, have read Atlas Shrugged, and it now sells hundreds of thousands of copies every year.”.

The financial crisis we are suffering now, worldwide, is simply the result of a faithful following over decades of the psychopathic philosophy of Ayn Rand by the United States of America, which happens to be the world’s most powerful country… The disaster that follows cannot be laid at the feet of democracy… just like with computers, in democracy GIGO applies: “garbage in, garbage out“.

It is the United States and its values that  have been hollowed out and debased, not democracy.

Cross posted from: http://seaton-newslinks.blogspot.com

Occupy Wall Street: Plan – B

12:58 pm in Uncategorized by David Seaton

Foreclosure is a national tragedy and a relentless drag on economic growth. Jobs can’t be created until demand increases, and demand won’t increase until consumers get out of debt, and housing is the biggest obstacle. If we had healthy institutions, the White House, both parties in Congress, the leaders of the biggest banks, and consumer groups would have sat down together and worked out a solution that keeps millions of people in their homes without wiping their debts completely clean. But we don’t, and so the history of the past few years has been written by Rick Santelli and Occupy Wall Street. George Packer – New Yorker

The big question that people who want to change things have to ask themselves over and over is “what is to be done”. That is the question that OWS must ask itself and answer quickly if it doesn’t want to peter out into irrelevance… something that would be tragic if it were to occur.

The role of OWS is pedagogical, it is about raising awareness, consciousness. This is the terrain of what is known as the “propaganda of the deed“. A practical, non-violent, American illustration of this would be the lunch counter sit-ins and  freedom riders of the Civil Rights Movement, photogenic action which captured the attention of the media daily and soon the imagination and the “hearts and minds” of the American people. These acts were the thin wedge that opened up the conscience and the consciousness of Americans and changed the face of America.

In my opinion the tragedy of mass foreclosures and thousands upon thousands of Americans being evicted from their homes in the midst of the gravest economic crisis since the Great Depression is an issue that has the same transformational potential. Read the rest of this entry →

Looking on the bright side of life – Part Two

10:46 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

Looking at the political paralysis of the American political system, the wasted lives and treasure in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ceaseless unrest in the Arab world, the increasing possibility of a war with Iran and the sense of imminent financial collapse, I get the feeling I am only hearing the other shoe drop.

With a little historical perspective you might see that the mysterious process of transformation, a continuum,  that began only 22 years ago (a blink of the eye history-wise) with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent sudden, unforeseen, collapse of the Soviet empire is also attacking the remaining economic, military and political structures of world power. In other words, in time, we won’t see these as separate, unconnected events, but as one continuous, unfolding, tragedy, such as the period of similar length between World War One and World War Two; a tragedy that was rooted in the culture, economic and political developments of the 19th century as ours is rooted in the culture, economic and political developments of the 20th.

Nowadays as was the case in Eastern Europe as the USSR fell apart and its grip loosened, our “satellites” and our client regimes are in revolt and/or collapsing too. Perhaps the financial system is just a “leading indicator” of this ongoing metamorphosis.

I am coming to believe that we are living through some sort of  process of deep systemic change and end of an era that might have begun with the industrial revolution: a period which we don’t have enough distance or perspective to properly understand and that the fall of USSR was simply a warning, something similar to the water receding before a tsunami hits. Foolishly, instead of taking precautions, we wandered out in the tidal flats collecting seashells… now the tide is rolling in and it is too late to run for cover.

Looking on the bright side of life

8:41 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

“When you’re chewing on life’s gristle

Don’t grumble, give a whistle”

Eric Idle

Things are looking pretty dismal at the moment. The economic situation is the worst in my lifetime, and I was born at the end of WWII.  The bad news comes fast and furious.

When I am subjected to an information overload, I occasionally experience some sort of intuitive flash connected to images, a sudden understanding/epiphany/gestalt.

The other day the Tea Party movement revealed itself to me in a poetic metaphor that put them into a different perspective. Something that although just as grotesque, is at the same time touchingly human in its vulnerability. Read the rest of this entry →