Wednesday, August 30, 2006

At 6 degrees rise (inevitable by 2100), sea levels will rise 60 feet

Climate change is about as severe, and we are about as able to do anything about it, as world poverty. All the statistics which are the story of "elsewhere" at the moment - of 800 million people going to bed hungry each night, 2 billion people not having access to safe water, 5,000 children dying of preventable diseases each day - all these statistics which are paralysing in their enormity, which make of the world, which seems so stable and so "sensible" in the North's profitable manufactured dream, instead entirely fraught with and saturated with contradictions, will come to be our story too, with the advent of climate change. It's the same Pareto imbalance, shared by these twin effects of global capitalism, global warming and global poverty, unsustainability and exploitation. The horrendous plight of others wasn't enough to make us care enough to look closely enough to realise the reality of the effects and thence the constitution of the system and to dismantle it in time. So we will face mortal calamity. And in this way, by experiencing the remorseless, pitiless, relentless material reality of capitalism's effects, we will realise all the lies of the system at once - the security it engenders, but only for a progressively narrowing minority; the sense of choice it gives, though the fundamental choice - not to live under capitalism - is forcibly guarded from us; and of compromise - never if it contradicts the imperative of capital accumulation - always to be rolled back in the interest of this latter; of dignity, again only for the minority; of enjoyment of the - individual, isolated, solipsistic, selfish - and yet participating in something real and human and social too (this is how it can work, how the paradigm can be propagated and maintained successfully, tragically so) fruits of capitalism: personal career advancement (bound to contributing to the effects of the paradigm), social motion (always contingent, always removable), physical motion (travelling fast in cars for example), technological advance (used 20% for good etc) etc.

Because we lived as individuals, and allowed ourselves to be beguiled and to travel our solitary furrows, while having (increasingly) global effects with every action we took, humanly, and environmentally, we have created the situation which will correct itself by once again binding us to our effects, unravelling the contradictions. Because we allowed ourselves to forget the cord which binds us to all fellow life, that within us which cannot and will not be happy, if by making somebody or something else unhappy - universality. The elite, pareto control of our society, us, pareto control of the world, wrought it.

It's always this 80-20 proportion - capitalism also contains something within it of reality, not just in the way it's experienced, but in its constitution. Interacting with the material world is hard; and material rewards are beguiling. Both of these properties find their places in capitalism, as an apology for it and an unspoken incentive to it respectively. In an ideal socialism on the other hand, both these factors find their rightful subjugation in properly human-level considerations - material reality is hard, but we interact with it as an oeuvre of love, willingly hewing it and ploughing it to feed ourselves, and for the love of the socially beneficial transformations we make of it; material rewards are beguiling but they are nothing, nothing compared to the love and companionship of our fellow beings, which if we are lucky we are reminded of continually.

Capitalism, before it feudalism, before it, the first hierarchical societies, all concealed the new pact of existentially unbearable subjugation of the human to the material with the cloak of seeming necessity. They all contained that element of something which was true, or something which seemed beneficial because it spoke to true qualities and aspects of human existential and material development (the surface and the new are 20% of reality, 80% the content and the earth), and they always lifted the 20% who benefited and at the same time and because of that had power to decide, and therefore would decide in favour.

With climate change, our actions are saturated with their effects. Even a little bit of greenhouse gas emission is bad. The system is highly sensitive to our industrial processes; temperature rises began accelerating in 1860. Every plume of smoke everywhere, every bit of oil-produced or transported apparatus or food around us, is choking the planet, desiccating it, flooding it, causing wind and disease to scour it. The 20% will feel it 80% less, but they will feel it too, 20% of them, in Florida, and in lowlying parts of England.

Climate change is karma, and adds the most credence yet to the idea the world is alive, and that life has meaning. Because as it saturates 100%, as the smoke fills the room, we won't see the illusions and the divide between us will get weaker and dissolve. The surface will remain as wracked husks and we'll, life will, be left, to read the truth in them.

Friday, August 25, 2006

the clash of civilisations

Throughout, the myth of modernity has buried the reality of what it truly brings and portends and constitutes. Always taking the initiative, with its prioritisation of the superficial, of the immediate, and bringing along with it always the material cost borne by the majority of people, those who suffer its material effects, and the existential cost borne by all, those who create and those who suffer its material effects. It has always represented an unimpeachable, incontournible goal in itself and for itself and on its own terms. In the way that it always conceals the bargain made, and the loss included, and asserts and justifies and hegemonises itself on the basis purely of its sole structuring and constituting characteristic - i.e. that of newness, as well as related characteristics of taking the initiative, and conquering, and asserting itself - it is self-fulfilling, self-announcing, self-justifying and self-enforcing. To the extent it successfully establishes hegemony, materially and in minds, it then disallows the existence of alternative and competing modes or organising principles, the existence of which are reviled and distanciated from, and blamed and scapegoated for the inherent contradictions within the movement, with atavistic alacrity and assiduity.

In performing this manoeuvre the myth of modernity (or its promulgators or vectors) doesn't realise (or prefers not to admit) that the existence of alternative and competing modes is unavoidable and natural, as the "modernity" "vehicle" is intersecting with human and social contexts which are, not less modern in that they are less technologically, materially or socially advanced (whatever the latter in particular means; the former also rely on some assumptions which need to be explained first - is advance which makes inutility into utility genuinely advance? these modes constitute differences and alternatives and even oppositions to this particular "modernity" because historically they are not of it); but which simply form the external context to its discrete moving entity; they are not of that entity, and they constitute by their presence, and by the visible human effects of modernity's irruption into them, a moral reference which is no longer present within that entity (all moral references having been subordinated to and coopted to material progress and geopolitical subjugation - the imperative of geopolitical subjugation, itself, enabled by material progress, and informed by the feeling of civilisational virility which the material progress brings with it) ---- so, the accusations which these contexts constitute by their mere presence, the fact that they include or enact a human social response, which performs a bringing to light and a condemnation of modernity's material actions and impacts, which are implicit (in the parallax view of the irruption) if not explicit - although they are very often explicit too - in the context must be, for the enterprise to survive, psychologically on the part of those who are carrying it out, attacked and maligned. To clarify, it's not modernity of which we speak, as a movement incarnating qualities which are modern, but Western colonial and imperial civilisation, powered by ahistorical ideologies of technopositivism and eurocentricism - which calls itself modernity (and latterly freedom and democracy).

The effects of the progress of this modernity, the chaos and cost it wreaks along its path, have to be absorbed and explained by its ideology; using notions such as a civilising mission; manifest destiny; and more latterly creative destruction, deterritorialisation (replacing what must be by implication a reactionary clinging to notions of continuity of culture and traditions), the mission of replacing arcane religio-fascist ideologies with the new modern civilised democratic freedom-loving ones. The hysteria with which these notions are invoked (and the defensive keenness with which they are accepted, by many people who travel the vehicle, as we who are citizens in the Centre all do) is surely an internal reflection of the knowledge of the bald materialism, and the cruel reality, which they are offered to provide a fig-leaf covering for; acknowledgement of which would reverse the entire balance of moral goodness which is cleaved to so assiduously. In this the manoeuvre is analogous to that which can occur on the individual level - where the knowledge of our own dark side within us is assiduously denied and repressed - which Jung lamented. Recognition of the existence of that dark self and its potential within us all means that when we experience it within ourselves, it can be accommodated within our framework of self-knowledge, and there is no need for it to launch us on a path of hysterical denial, which, precisely to the extent that denial then materialises in our actions, often creates an incarnation of it in the figure of the Other, who becomes the scapegoat for these feelings; leading to an outcome precisely enacting the very dark forces themselves; and leading to a vicious cycle of hurting the other in order to absolve ourselves.

So, to recap: it's the collapse of the moral order, along with the contradictory fact that a moral order is nevertheless cleaved to, and the idea that it must be preserved, the desire to preserve it, and the fact that the motion of the modernity vehicle irrupting into its contexts must create a situation in which the immorality of that motion is revealed, precisely in the visible effects on the people of the context, and perhaps reflected in their responses, which mean that, in denial and in order to preserve the psychological basis of the mission (to do otherwise would be to accept its pure and banal materialism), the blame must be transferred, projected and thrown onto what becomes the Other, the repository for blame, who comes to incarnate to their view the reflection of the protagonists' own malevolence; and the knowledge that in their actions they are themselves responsible for the unbearable, disorientating collapse of their own moral order, whether in its religious derivation, which is a matter of stated and disputable confession, or in its social aspect, which is altogether more immutable and therefore holding greater psychological power and must be denied more deeply.

So the modernity myth effaces, for its own purposes, and to its own self-fulfilling ends, history and content - and in this way it is an analogy of a similar motion working on the individual level, where each day and each moment we accept anew the pact of capitalism, not understanding what it constitutes, not understanding what cost is being paid, materially by others, and by ourselves and all existentially; always accepting it because it is strong and present and its surface is bright and it guarantees us what we had yesterday (until it doesn't and then capitalism will be carried forward by other human vectors). So the true division in the world today, the true clash of civilisations is drawn along the same lines as it always has been, since the division of labour and of society into hierarchies - between those who are willing to accept the pact (guided by a misunderstanding) and those who see it for what it is and attempt to constitute an opposition within and of themselves, drawing on a context which is not superficial, but is timeless and centred in the individual qua social being. This isn't a demarcation between those who are morally "good and bad", rather it's between those who accept the logic of the vehicle, its self-ordering internal moral system, which doesn't admit of, and in denial reviles its contexts, who misunderstand and misapply their socially natural senses of virtue, and diligence, and adherence to continuing and reproducing the social fabric they have benign experience of (not having experienced, or, again, having misunderstood and misassigned blame or fault for, their experiences of the contextual exterior effects of the vehicle), and those who do not; in practise many more of us fall into the former camp, (if helplessly, reluctantly) materially, if not ideologically. But this is the law of motion. If only there were a way to convey that it is the vehicle (to the extent this is useful - there are many other analogies) which irrupts and causes effects which seem unimaginable to those who travel safely aboard; and for us to accept that the visible contradictions are parallax effects caused by the motion of the vehicle, rather than by characteristics of the people the vehicle is riding roughshod over them, as if these latter constituted a legitimate pretext for it to do so.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Oil, war, the dollar and recession/depression = repression

Bob Chapman in Goldseek (via Justin Raimondo's most recent in Counterpunch)

We also believe monetary authorities have no problem with crude oil at $75.00 a barrel. Ex-wars, invasions and occupations oil would be selling at $50.00 a barrel, perhaps less. Oil companies, the main five elitist world oil giants, are making a fortune for their owners, they do not want lower oil prices. A cessation of wars and slightly higher interest rates along with lower money and credit creation would affect a slowdown and oil would fall to a natural demand level. It also should be kept in mind that it is the stated intention of the US-Israeli axis to wage war with Iran and Syria and occupy both countries in order to control Iran’s oil and cement a bloc of countries as a geopolitical base as well as a source of captive oil production and immense profits for transnational conglomerates and other assorted criminal elements, such as the Bush crime family. We might add it is only a matter of time before Venezuela ceases selling oil to the US. That is why bases are being set up in South America surrounding Venezuela. The US knows eventually they will have to invade the country in order to keep the supply of oil flowing into the US. We also believe that if Iran is sanctioned, due to requests from either the US or Israel, that both Iran and Venezuela will cut off oil to the US and cut off oil to world markets. That would send oil up to at least $120.00 a barrel. If conflict with Iran becomes reality, oil could go to $200 a barrel because no shipping would be able to travel through the Straits of the Gulf of Hormuz. That would take gold well over $1,000 an ounce. That could be some time in coming, because Israel was unsuccessful in removing Hezbollah from Lebanon and they now have to settle for a peacekeeping force.


As the dollar falls against other currencies it makes it difficult to compete, thus a falling dollar acts as a deflationary force against Europe and Asia and certainly makes gold more attractive. The reality of global recession hasn’t sunk in yet. People hear what they want to hear, not the difficult voice of reality. At some point soon the US current account deficit will become unsustainable, probably terminated by a falling dollar. We already see diversification out of the dollar. Who wants to get caught holding the bag? The biggest losers will be Japan, China, England and the Middle East oil producers. The flight of foreign capital has already begun and it will accelerate. The dollar-based recession has already begun, it just hasn’t been recognized yet. It will not be different this time. The warning signs are all there...

Monday, August 21, 2006

A call to evolution

(text of a presentation I'm to give soon, to an inter-faith group)

  1. What is global warming, and what causes it?
  2. What are its effects likely to be?
  3. How we can counteract it? Both by making changes in our lifestyles, and by mobilising politically?
  4. Finally, what opportunities could climate change represent, for the evolution of a new pattern of society?

1. What is global warming, and what causes it?

Manmade climate change is the warming of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere caused primarily by the working of greenhouse gases which are emitted when we burn fossil fuels, but also as a result of land use changes, including deforestation (these two account for about 80% and 20% of the phenomenon respectively)1. It has come about since industrialisation first took hold around 1860 - when fossil fuels first started being burned in large volumes in factories2.

Since this time, temperature increases have been gathering pace exponentially. The world’s temperature has increased about 0.6ºc since 1860, and is projected to rise by anything between another 0.9ºc (a very low and optimistic estimate) and 5.2ºc over the course of the coming century3. It’s estimated that there is another 0.6ºc of rises already “locked in” - in other words if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, the “momentum” from the gases we’ve emitted to date would cause temperatures to rise 0.6ºc before levelling out4.

It is figured that 2ºc is the amount of total temperature rise we can generate, from 1860 levels, before we trigger what’s known as “runaway climate change” - where climate change produces vicious cycle effects, which mean it would carry on perpetuating itself, and getting worse, even if we were to burn no more fossil fuels5. An example is that peat bogs would start releasing methane, a key greenhouse gas, in large quantities at this temperature6. It’s estimated that we need a reduction of carbon emissions by 90% on 1990 levels by 2030 in order to have a chance of limiting temperature increases to 2ºc7.

2. What are the effects of global warming likely to be?

That global warming is happening is clear: the 1990s was the warmest decade since the mid-1800s, when record-keeping started. The hottest years recorded: 1998, 2002, 2003, 2001, and 1997, and hottest of all, 2005 8.

As far as the effects, we have already begun to see them: Hurricane Katrina in the US last year, for example, is thought by many commentators to have been made much more severe by ocean temperature rises created by global warming9. The 2003 heatwave in Northern Europe is estimated to have taken around 35,000 lives10.

In the coming years and decades, as the Earth’s atmosphere warms further, we will see more and more disasters. Glaciers and icecaps will steadily melt, causing sea levels to rise, wiping out lowlying land and displacing populations. 100 million people live within one metre of sea-level and are at risk from flooding11. Glaciers melting in the Himalayas will lead to huge floods along the seven enormous rivers in South and South East Asia fed by those glaciers (including the Ganges, the Mekong and the Yellow river) - wiping out crops upon which hundreds of thousands of people depend12. After the floods in these areas there’ll be droughts, causing further problems (ibid). Increased temperatures will pressurise food supplies in many parts of the world, by causing droughts and desertification (maize-growing in Africa, for example, is already being affected13). Similarly, the increased acidification of the oceans will have severe impacts on fish stocks, and will take thousands of years to be reversed14.

Africa and the Indian subcontinent, in particular, will experience grave effects. Temperature rises will be much higher in these regions than in temperate zones; causing desertification, drought, increased prevalence of tropical disease especially malaria, and massive displacement of people15. As people are displaced they will move to neighbouring areas, which in turn may also have been adversely affected; causing widespread and cumulative strain on already fragile ecosystems.

Climate change will cause mass extinctions - something on the order of one million species are expected to become extinct by 2050 16. It will cause drying out and resulting dying out in the rainforests of the world17, and other self-reinforcing causes possibly leading to runaway climate change, as mentioned before18.

So we see that the effects are primarily in the developing countries, while the causes - industrial processes of production and transport - are overwhelmingly located in the developed countries, including China (the US accounts for about 21%, and China 15% of greenhouse gas emissions19).

Another key aspect is that it is the primary and most basic requirements of life - obtaining food and water, land and shelter - which are affected, while the causes have much to do with satisfying wants - such as tourist flights, manufacturing entertainment goods and so on.

It is strikingly clear that action in the form of ceasing to emit fossil fuels is needed urgently. The most amount of action is needed straight away - but it is one of the tragedies and dangers of the situation, that it is likely that a convincing response will only come about once the largest effects of climate change hit and then it will be too late. So it is a race against time to raise awareness as broadly and effectively as we can. And to make radical differences in our lives, not just in terms of our own climatic impacts, but I would argue more importantly, in terms of becoming activists.

The next ten years are crucial. While it is already too late to stop significant effects of climate change, we can make the difference between large regional crises and global catastrophe in the next ten years. If we don’t act to the maximum extent possible now, we will rue it in ten precious years’ time. We will be wishing we were in 2006 then.

3. How we can counteract global warming?

So what can we do? The solutions are as simple as the causes. We must reduce the amount of fossil fuels we burn; and we must also reduce land use changes, especially deforestation.

How do we reduce fossil fuel consumption? Two ways - convert to clean alternative energies: solar, wind and wave; and reduce overall energy consumption.

Clean alternative energies all provide valuable partial answers to the problem, but none of them on their own, or even all of them altogether, including nuclear, is enough to cater for current, or projected future demand (including projected future increases in capacity of these energy sources20). The only non-oil energy source which can enable us to fulfil current levels of demand is coal (already a very important source of energy - providing 50% of electricity in the US and 28% in the UK21). To burn the amount of coal required, ordinarily, would spell climate catastrophe, as coal is more emitting than oil (ibid). That said, there is a possible means to reduce carbon emissions from coal power generation, by "carbon sequestration"22 - trapping the carbon produced, burying it underground, either inland or in seabeds (though this may be problematic - there is possible risk of eventual leaking23), or absorbing it into rich dark earth, known as "terra preta"24. However, the reality is that both the USA and China have hundreds of new coal power stations planned, and these do not feature carbon sequestration25.

It’s clear that the only way to make the sums add up in the short and medium terms - to meet our overall energy demand without using massive amounts of coal - is energy demand reduction26. This is the challenge facing us - to reduce our energy consumption: to do and buy less things that consume large amounts of energy.

In terms of switching to alternative energies, and reducing overall energy consumption, we can do a lot in our personal lives. We can use public transport where possible, and cycle; and not fly except when necessary; we can use energy-saving lightbulbs; purchase only locally-grown produce; and recycle; we can switch to an electricity provider which uses clean energy; and we can offset the carbon cost of our flights. We can try to implement some of these measures at work too.

However if we are all simply left to do these on an individual basis, it’s clear that they won’t be done as radically as is necessary. At times we will forget, or we will let ourselves off; or we will allow more immediate considerations to override. More importantly, the number of people and companies committed enough to implement these changes will always be a minority, as for example with those willing to pay extra for Fairtrade produce27.

What we need is a mechanism which makes the cost of using fossil fuels, or of consuming products made or transported using large amounts of fossil fuels, prohibitive compared to the alternatives. So that companies and people are incentivised en masse to produce, use and purchase the alternatives. So that climatic costs are reflected in the costs of various activities; and the development and use of alternative energies becomes financially incentivised.

That mechanism already exists and is called Contraction and Convergence28. The famous, or infamous, Kyoto Protocol29, is a partial implementation of some of the principles of Contraction and Convergence. Under Contraction and Convergence, a maximum overall level for concentration of carbon in the world’s atmosphere, from now right the way through the future, is decided, based on what is safe and achievable. Then, a sequence of year-by-year annual emissions targets is set for each country in the world, going forward perhaps fifty or seventy years; which are calculated in such a way that the overall global carbon concentration for all time stays within the limit which was initially decided. The targets for the industrialised countries will be set so that they will have to start reducing emissions quite radically straight away; meanwhile those set for developing countries will allow them some extra initial emission capacity in order to enable them to develop. Over time, the emissions of each country will converge, meaning that the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by each country becomes proportionate to its population size - so the situation regarding greenhouse gas emissions becomes completely equitable. At the end of the process, overall world emissions will have been vastly reduced, almost down to zero; and the overall carbon concentration level will have been kept to the safe level initially envisaged30.

Meanwhile, Contraction and Convergence can also tackle land use changes, such as deforestation, by including within its frameworks the emissions created by them.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change said Contraction and Convergence was "inevitably required" to achieve its objective. The New Statesman magazine has said it is “compelling logic that could, without exaggeration, literally save the world”. And the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “Anyone who thinks that Contraction and Convergence is Utopian simply hasn’t looked honestly at the alternatives”(ibid).

Now the unfortunate, indeed life-threatening situation, is that Contraction and Convergence is far away from the prospect of being implemented. Here in the UK, Labour MP Colin Challen is trying to put a Contraction and Convergence bill through Parliament, but this is a difficult prospect31.

The Kyoto Protocol was a partial implementation of Contraction and Convergence, because it only applies to industrialised countries so far, and because the emissions targets envisaged are not enough to make a meaningful difference to global warming. However, it was widely seen as a very hard-won, worthy and necessary beginning. It came into force in December last year, and already the participating industrialised countries are facing limits on emissions, and penalties if they exceed them. Even Kyoto, though, as a first step, has not been ratified by the US, the world's largest emitter, and this means that developing countries like China and Brazil are unlikely to want to take part in emissions agreements any time soon.

The US argues that the Protocol is unfair, because developing countries are not included (so it will be at a competitive disadvantage); and that it won’t be effective because the targets are too modest; and thirdly that it will be too harmful to its economy; and specifically for its standard of living32.

However the Protocol, especially if eventually implemented worldwide, would not actually be significantly harmful either to individual or to the global economies33, especially beyond the short term, but would mostly affect very large corporations within the energy producing and intensive sectors34.

These companies would likely see their costs rise and their bottom line hit in the short term, and this would have an impact on GDP in the short term. But this is precisely the point - to restructure the economy.

Smaller and non-energy intensive companies may feel better about the opportunities offered by new technologies, lacking the burden of significant investment in fossil fuel-based processes. Meanwhile financial companies such as insurance firms and banks are already beginning to tally the trillion-dollar risks of current and future climate impacts, and to reflect them in premiums and other product prices35.

The energy corporations, for their part, are investing large amounts of money in developing alternative technologies, and making a big fanfare about this36 – however these investments do still represent small proportions of their budget compared to fossil fuels, and these companies still remain massively invested, financially and libidinally, in oil - which is after all the purest and most concentrated source of industrial and therefore political power and wealth the world has ever known, and which, unlike many alternative energies, it is possible to monopolise, control and reap massive profits from37. Exxon made $10.4 billion profit this quarter38.

So the business world by no means has a single stance on climate change. Rather its positions are a mixture of: oil companies making marginal changes; some other companies attempting to seize the opportunities it presents, and simultaneously prudently trying to preempt legislation; and still other companies actively calling for regulation, so that the climate adaptation measures they wish to take will not be penalised in competition with companies who don't take them39. Meanwhile, in US domestic politics, many states are already implementing regional climate accords, which will put pressure on the national administration to implement a states-wide policy (ibid).

The greatest obstacle perhaps to the implementation of Contraction and Convergence is the acute control the oil companies have over the Bush Administration40; combined with and spurring on a foreign policy based on a messianic and hubristic vision of world domination, centred on spreading "American values"41. The influence oil companies have over policy has serious effects in other areas too, in particular underwriting a territorial logic which leads to aggressions (and support for aggressiveness) in the Middle East42.

Energy and other corporations exercise vast political power, in the US and the UK and elsewhere, through direct influence on government representatives, and through lobbying; and also have a great deal of influence on public opinion, by virtue of their advertising and public relations activities, and the complicity of corporate media which depends on them for advertising revenue43: with all of this reaching an apex when ExxonMobil effectively wrote the US national climate policy44.

Additionally, fuel companies have consistently lobbied the media to represent the opinions of a handful of climate change skeptics on an even footing with the views of the 2,000 climate scientists who form the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change45.

Our governments have to take a view on which aim is more sacred - averting climate chaos and saving millions of lives; or safeguarding the quarterly results of leading corporations. And the problem is that the companies have so much leverage on the government that it’s all too easy to see which way they will go46 – certainly which way they have gone so far.

The nonetheless encouraging fact, that many companies are taking account of the issue and attempting to alter their practises, is not enough. What is needed is a framework which can genuinely, convincingly and non-negotiably put the interests of the planet, and of humanity and nature, above those of companies.

Contraction and Convergence gives a means to set in advance a target which, based on climate science, will enable us to avoid catastrophe, and then uses economic means, powered by markets, to lead us to remain within that target. It lets us factor future and global effects, into prices, and therefore behaviours, here and now.

So while the efforts and policies of a good number of companies are to be welcomed, they cannot replace an international framework, which the companies should call for because it will incentivise and reward their good policies anyway.

So, in the face of the current impasse in the political situation regarding climate change, the gauntlet is thrown down to us. Are we going to let corporations decide the energy and climate policies of our democratically elected governments? Are we going to let profitability concerns override the preservation of climatic stability; at the cost of millions of lives all around the world; and an unimaginable toll of human upheaval and suffering? Are the next few years of financial results of leading corporations going to take precedence over the future of the planet? Over the rights of all of our children and grandchildren to inherit a viable climate? Will we allow corporate executives to enrich themselves in a one-time closing-down sale of oil and environment goods, comfortable in the knowledge they can inhabit temperate areas and pay for climate protection and mitigation?

The social and political force which can outweigh the corporate interests writing ruinous climate policy is us - a massive mobilisation of the people. We need to take advantage of the full array of interventions available to us in democracies. We can write to our MPs47, urging them to support Colin Challen’s Contraction and Convergence bill. We can vote for or support parties or figures which endorse the proposal. We can demonstrate - worldwide demonstrations are scheduled for November 4th, to coincide with the next high-level UN climate conference. We can inform ourselves and our friends about the issue, and about the stances of the various political and corporate players that count. We can raise the profile of the issue, in any way we can think of, in the media for example. We can join green activist groups; and contribute to community organisations that attempt to set an example by adopting localised, low emission lifestyles.

All these things are important.

4. What opportunities for evolving our society might be presented by climate change?

Now a brief word about what I feel climate change potentially represents as both a challenge, and an opportunity for humanity to grow and evolve as a species.

Modern life is characterised by a disconnect, sometimes a contradiction, between our personal interest, and that of broader contexts - of society, of ecology and so on.

This is a relatively recent state of affairs – it was with the onset of capitalism and the end of feudalism that we became truly individuals, capable of seeing ourselves (to a greater or lesser extent falsely or unhealthily) as standing apart from society. It was at the same time that we, as a species, began to be able to have truly global ecological impacts. And we became progressively more disconnected from our ecological context - ever more removed from the environment which sustains us.

In this paradigm, we become incentivised to concentrate on our own personal issues. We get on with our careers; we pursue our own interest. We may get in a car to go shopping, because it is convenient for us to do so, even though we know it is harmful to the environment we also know we rely upon. As an individual it is in a sense irrational not to take the car; but from the point of view of the environment (a composite of all life, bound in a system), it is irrational to do so. So there is a contradiction - an "antinomy"48, 49.

Working alongside this, and another effect of our capitalist and subsequently consumer society, is the inflation of the importance, in the subjective imagination, of the self and of the current moment. Meanwhile there is also a feeling, quite prevalent in the sciences but also reflected in society at large, that we are at the highest state of awareness and knowledge to date, because of the technological know-how we have accumulated. However, we are in fact less wise than people in former times, who knew that the present moment is not the highest reality - that time and life are cyclical; and that the self is not the highest reality - but rather that we are all interconnected (See The Way, by Edward Goldsmith, first published 1992).

On the global level, meanwhile, the result of the disjuncture between our subjective experience, and the objective effects of our lives, has been that our way of life in the industrialised countries has had (has been allowed to have) all sorts of adverse effects at diverse points in the system; including widening gulfs in income at home50 and globally51, corresponding deepening immiseration of the working class in the North52, and of the vast majority of people in the South53, and numerous ecological catastrophes, crises and erosions54.

All this, because it doesn't adversely affect those whose material situation has benefited (broadly, well-off citizens of the industrialised countries, who are also those who have most political influence within them), has gone on relatively unseen; it's been able to be ignored; or there has been a feeling of being unable to do anything about it. Some may also have been taken in, perhaps, by the ideological argument that through the growing fortunes of big business and the capital centres, eventually the world would be enriched, with the rising tide lifting all boats - despite the existence of theoretical and empirical evidence to the contrary55 (also Capitalism and its Economics, Douglas Dowd, London: Pluto Press, 2000).

What climate change does, apart from disprove the ideological argument that capitalism can in the end create better conditions for all, is allows us, indeed forces us, to transcend the contradiction I'm describing, between personal interest and that of society, which has come to mark experience in modern capitalism. Because for the first time, the effects of the lifestyles of those in developed countries, will be felt by us all.

As a result of climate change, because of the potential it has to affect us so much in the future, we'll need more and more to actively factor in the environment, and each other, into our personal decisions, about our careers, our consumption habits, and so on.

In this way, climate change provides for us the opportunity, and the material imperative, to transcend our atomisation (to resolve the antinomy) and to find once more what is objectively a happy, healthy state for a human being - meaningful connection with one’s environment, and an enlightenedly altruistic concern for others which goes above, or rather is allied with (with the two overlapping), one’s concern for oneself.

There are all sorts of implications which could be enormously beneficial for society. We will have to be responsible; to think about the future, now; to think about "the elsewhere" here; and to operate according to principles of restraint, balance, measure and moderation.

We will need to put aside a paradigm which is based on continual growth, and competition, and rapacious cutting of costs (including environmental and labour costs - read, the security and livelihoods of the planet and of people).

We will have the opportunity to move to a more holistic way of life, more suited to the modes of the ecological and climatic contexts our society finds its home within and draws its life from anew every moment.

We will have to reuse, recycle, repair, make do; we'll involve ourselves in activities in the community and make friends with our neighbours. We will once again find ways of expressing our individuality, not through ephemeral, superficial consumption, but through our relationships and cultural creativity.

We can envisage a future, if we go further, where we will no longer be tempted, beguiled and distracted by an apparatus of ambient advertising designed to make of us mindless consumers; and will no longer caught up in oppressive working patterns, forced to work long hours in order to buy things we’ve been tricked into thinking we need, for status or gratification58, with unsatisfactory family and leisure lives, vast amounts of time spent in travel to get to work, working in jobs which we know deep down contribute to, or at best do nothing to resolve, a paradigm of unsustainability and human exploitation.

We will have the opportunity to adopt slower, more meaningful, local, reflective and self-ordered lives, more in tune with the natural rhythms of the spirit, with the predicates of human growth, of real and rich relationships, and of self-realisation, all of which, perhaps life is all about.

So let's campaign for Contraction and Convergence. Let's be imaginative and ingenious about coming up with ways of adapting our lifestyles, and about raising awareness about climate change. And let's take the opportunity to create a society which is sustainable because it is equitable, and peaceful because it is rational.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Why I am a materialist - JBS Haldane

JBS Haldane, 1940:

Mankind is up against a very difficult situation. We have dealt with a great mass of problems in the past by scientific thinking--that is to say, materialistic thinking. We try to solve our political problems by appeal to eternal values. But if we start thinking materialistically about these 'eternal values' we find that they are social phenomena which have come into being in the last few thousand years, because men gave up hunting and took to husbandry, agriculture, and handicraft. So society became a great deal more complicated, and 'eternal values' are part of the apparatus by which it has been kept going. In particular they are very useful to those who are in comfortable situations at present, and would like the present state of things, with a few minor modifications, to be eternal.

Materialistic thinking in the past has been revolutionary in its effects. It has built up natural science and undermined religion. The same process is going on today. We have to realize that our current ideas about society are mostly very like our ancestors' ideas about the universe four hundred years ago--irrational traditions which stifle progress in the interests of a small minority. These ideas are being transformed by materialistic thinking about history as our ancestors' ideas were transformed by materialistic thinking about nature. The consequence will no doubt be revolutionary, as it was in the past. This would perhaps be deplorable if our society were working well. But it is working very badly. So we are probably going to have an uncomfortable time in the immediate future, whatever happens. And as I want a rational society to come out of our present troubles I am not only a materialist myself, but I do what I can to make other people materialists.

Hezbollah history & background

Helena Cobben: (my tags in italics)

Hezbullah wear suits and have public relations officers

On my first visit to Hizbullah last fall, I was welcomed byMohamad Afif, the head of the party’s media-relations department and a member of its 11-man politburo, who set up a series of interviews for me. The functionaries I met were all men, though women work in other party offices. The ones I met—none of them clerics—all wore a simplified version of western-style dress but with, crucially (as in Iran), no necktie. They did not shake hands with me; they were helpful but wary. This was understandable, since tens of Hizbullah leaders and officials have been assassinated by Israel over the past 20 years and these men had never met me before.

“Z.H.,” who asked to be described simply as “a source close to Hizbullah,” talked to me about the party’s strategy for working within Lebanon’s problematically democratic political system. At the parliamentary level, the Hizbullah-led bloc now has 12 deputies out of 128, including, as Z.H. eagerly noted, “two Sunnis and one Christian.” Although Hizbullah has held a parliamentary bloc of around this size since 1992, it has thus far refused to seek any ministerial slots. Z.H. explained why:

We feel that a party that’s in the government should influence its whole program . . . But in Lebanon, you can’t pursue your own party’s program in government because governments are always formed through coalitions. Elsewhere, you can have one party in government, with one program. And then, it’s easier to hold the party accountable.
Then, there are the expectations of the people. We represent a great proportion of the people. But if you are in such an impotent government, then you sully your reputation with the people. In Lebanon, corruption is everywhere. The institutions need to be completely renewed. This is very difficult, and will take time.
Also, the political structure here is still sectarian. In this system people are led not by reason but by emotions and tribalism. We feel that most of the other politicians are leading people as tribe-members, by appealing to their sectional interests, rather than as citizens.
So altogether, it seems hard for us to go into government at the present time and just reap all the disadvantages from the way things are done there.


Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah - a leader from youth

One of the key participants in Hizbullah’s founding was Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Then 24, and from a family of modest social standing, Nasrallah already had proven leadership abilities. At 15 he had been named Amal’s chief organizer in his home village, al-Bazouriyah, near Biblical Tyr. The following year he was tapped by a local Shiite mullah who sent him to Najaf, Iraq, to study at the prestigious “Hawza” seminary. The Hawza was then headed by Muhammad Baqr al-Sadr, a renowned Shiite jurisprudent who in the late 1950s had helped found the Islamic Da’awa Party, which had networks of supporters throughout the Shiite world. In 1978, when anti-Shiite tensions mounted inside Iraq, Nasrallah returned to Lebanon.

(Two years later, Saddam Hussein’s secret services assassinated Sadr and his sister, in Baghdad. Many waves of terrible, anti-Da’awa persecution followed in Iraq. But Da’awa survived and, being part of the victorious United Iraqi Alliance electoral list, is today more influential in Iraq than ever before. Nasrallah and the many other Hizbullah figures who have studied in Iraq or Iran retain good links with their ex-teachers and fellow students in those countries.)

After Nasrallah returned to Lebanon he resumed his studies at a Baalbek seminary headed by Sayyed Abbas al-Musawi. He also resumed working as an organizer for Amaland by 1979 had become (at 19) its chief political officer for the whole Beqaa’ region and a member of its politburo. Small wonder, then, that when he helped found Hizbullah five years later he immediately became a key member of its leadership.


I watched portions of Nasrallah’s speech at that rally on Hizbullah’s controversial television channel, al-Manar. As at all his public appearances, Nasrallah’s distinctive, bushy-bearded form appeared behind a thick layer of security glass; a couple of tough-looking security men stood behind him scanning the crowd. Nasrallah is an articulate and effective public speaker. He was relaxed, turning easily to address people from all parts of the audience, and lacing his speech with asides in Lebanese vernacular that poked fun at Israel or the United States. He spoke almost without notes, looking down only once every five or six minutes at a small piece of paper in his hand.

Nasrullah is a hero to many Muslims (and some non-Muslims) in Lebanon and further afield. Many Lebanese speak with something near reverence about how, when his 18-year-old son Hadi was killed fighting the IDF in south Lebanon in 1997, the father turned aside any suggestion that he be treated any differently from any other bereaved parent. Two other Hizbullah fighters were also killed in that battle, along with six Lebanese Army soldiers, three of whom were Christians. It reportedly took some time for Hizbullah even to reveal that one of the three “martyrs” it lost that day was the son of the secretary-general.

Some Israelis speculated that they might be able to extract a high “price” for the return of Hadi Nasrallah’s body. But over the weeks that followed, Nasrullah pointedly praised the sacrifice that all the Lebanese, “including our Christian brothers,” were making for the defense of the homeland. When Hadi’s body was returned nine months later it was as part of a broader swap that involved the bodies of all the other Lebanese killed that day. Nearly all of Lebanon was impressed by the humility and grace Nasrallah showed over that affair.

The former U.N. official Timur Goksel has described Nasrullah as “a smart leader who can find a useful symbolic role for the other mullahs in the party to play, even while he allows the party technocrats to make most of the decisions.” In Goksel’s extensive experience, Nasrallah was also a man of his word. “I’ve told the Israelis and Americans they would be crazy to try to kill him,” Goksel said in an interview. “If anything happens to Nasrullah, what comes after would surely be disastrous for them.”


The growth of Hezbullah's political organisation

In 1985, the IDF withdrew from a large region stretching southward from Beirut and consolidated its positions within the so-called security zone, a broad strip of land inside Lebanon, running the length of its L-shaped border with Israel. Much of South Lebanon then became a free-fire zone for Israeli artillery, aerial bombardments, and periodic ground operations, all of which inflicted considerable casualties in the southern Shiite villages. But with the IDF’s permanent positions now removed far from Beirut, Hizbullah was able to establish a national headquarters in the Dahiyeh, and from there a group of talented political organizers set about building Hizbullah into a single, very effective nationwide party with its roots reaching deeply into the Shiite communities of the south, the Beqaa, and Greater Beirut.

All kinds of people, from hardscrabble farmers to well-educated members of the liberal professions, were brought into the constellation of mass organizations that the party established in every region, every profession, and every sector of the economy. Timur Goksel, who last year retired after 24 years as the chief political advisor to the UN’s (highly constrained) peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, told me how surprised he was to discover that the members of the first Hizbullah delegations sent to deal with him, in the mid-1980s, were not wild-eyed Islamist radicals but calm, serious men who were doctors, engineers, or businessmen: men of real substance in their local comunities. Over the years, the party built a robust organizational structure headed by a seven-member Shura Council. (Professor Ahmad Nizar Hamzeh, of the American University of Beirut, has written that from 1989 through 2001, three members of the Shura Council were laymen, and four were clerics. But before 1989, and again after 2001, the Council had six clerics on it.) The party also has a formal politburo, which is supposed merely to “advise” the secretary-general and the Shura Council, though its advice may well, on occasion, be taken very seriously indeed. The politburo has between 11 and 14 members, many of them laymen.


Nasrullah’s leadership strategy—combining efforts at mass organizing and inter-group negotiating with a “militant” image and targeted violence—has many parallels with that pursued by the African National Congress leaders in South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. And just as the ANC realized its longtime goal of establishing a one-person-one-vote system in South Africa, so too did Hizbullah succeed in May 2000 in winning an unconditional Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.

The contribution of mass organizing to Hizbullah’s early growth and to its success in winning Israel’s withdrawal has seldom been recognized in the west. It is true that Hizbullah built a smart, bold, and well-disciplined military wing that inflicted nontrivial harm on the IDF and its proxy forces from the so-called South Lebanon Army. That violence never came anywhere close to overwhelming the IDF militarily, but it did continue relentlessly, and the IDF was never able to suppress it. Meanwhile, over time, the IDF’s continuing losses in Lebanon spurred the emergence of a broad pro-withdrawal movement inside Israel that by 1999 had propelled the withdrawal issue to the top of the national agenda. The promise of withdrawal helped the Labor Party’s Ehud Barak win the 1999 election, and in late May 2000 he followed through.

That withdrawal was very popular inside Israel. But since 2000, a number of Israelis have expressed concern that Hizbullah’s success had “significantly dented Israel’s deterrent capability throughout the region.” Proponents of this view are largely right in judging that Hizbullah’s 2000 victory served as an inspiration to, among others, militant nationalists and Islamists inside the Palestinian territories. But they are wrong to attribute the victory solely to Hizbullah’s military capabilities. For what actually brought Barak to his very sensible decision to withdraw was his realization that winning the military battle in Lebanon (which Israel did many times between 1982 and 2000) could never be translated into winning lasting political gains there; Hizbullah always survived to fight another day. And the roots of Hizbullah’s remarkable resilience lay in the success of its mass organizing.

Ejecting Israel from South Lebanon

In 1996 the IDF had launched yet another of the many extremely punishing offensives it had mounted inside Lebanon since 1982. “Operation Grapes of Wrath,” as it was named, turned out to be decisive. Israeli armor, artillery, and bombers hammered the whole of south Lebanon north of the security zone. Labor Prime Minister (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) Shimon Peres mounted an intense campaign to persuade the Lebanese that this punishment had come down upon them “because of Hizbullah’s continued presence and anti-IDF activities”—and that they had only to repudiate and dismantle Hizbullah for it to stop. But because of Hizbullah’s political activities over the preceding years, virtually the entire Lebanese body politic closed ranks around it. Reports from the time told of middle-class women in the staunchly Christian parts of East Beirut stripping off their jewelry and throwing it into the “emergency donation” bins that Hizbullah opened throughout the whole country.

The Israelis continued their assault for two straight weeks. But as it became clear that they had no chance of attaining their goal, and as international diplomatic pressures mounted on Israel, Peres was finally forced to agree to a ceasefire on what were (for Israel) extremely humiliating terms. Not only was there no mention of “dismantling” Hizbullah, but the agreement—signed by Lebanon, Israel, the United States, France, and Syria—specifically allowed Hizbullah to continue its military activities against IDF forces inside Lebanon.

Hizbullah won its decisive victory over Israel that year, though it took Israel’s political elite a further four years to adjust the deployment of Israeli forces in line with that reality. The 1996 victory was a significant fruit of Hizbullah’s political strategy.

* * *

In May 2000, as the IDF started to withdraw, its proxy force, the SLA, disintegrated rapidly; within hours the whole of the formerly IDF-held strip became a rolling victory carnival for Hizbullah. The SLA men who had guarded and run the notorious prison and torture center at Khiam slipped away from their posts, and the people of Khiam, a predominantly Shiite town, rushed in to free their loved ones. Hizbullah’s yellow flags flew exuberantly right up to Israel’s northern border. Villagers who had over the years been forced out of the security zone or the much-damaged areas to its north crowded home in cavalcades of cars and tractors. Some SLA members fled to Israel. But the bloodbath feared by many Israelis (and some Lebanese) never occurred. The Hizbullah leaders issued strict instructions prohibiting acts of vengeance in the liberated areas and any violations of the international border with Israel. Both orders were obeyed.

But while the Israelis were undertaking what they understood to be a complete withdrawal from Lebanon, Hizbullah and the Lebanese government suddenly claimed that a tiny wedge of land called the Shebaa Farms—where the “security zone” abutted the Syrian-owned but Israeli-occupied Golan—was also part of Lebanon; thus, it should also be evacuated. Israel considered the Shebaa Farms to be part of the Golan, and had no intention of leaving. Hizbullah, Lebanon, and Syria all claimed that Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon was not complete—and therefore, Hizbullah had the right to continue anti-Israeli operations within the tiny area of the Farms.

Syria, Hizbullah, and—arguably—Lebanon all had their own reasons for wanting to keep Hizbullah’s military confrontation with Israel simmering at a low level in the tightly confined space of the Shebaa Farms. For Hizbullah, the claimed “perpetuation” of the Israeli occupation of part of Lebanon buttressed its argument that it needed to keep its guerrilla formations in place in south Lebanon. In addition, maintaining a low level of confrontation against the IDF in that small, nearly unpopulated area has proven a relatively low-cost way for the party’s leaders to give their military planners a chance to test new tactics against Israel, while providing a tightly controlled focus of activity for militants in the party who might otherwise be bored by the dreary work of reconstruction and political organizing that has been the focus of the party’s work everywhere else in the south.

Keeping the Shebaa Farms front alive was not a risk-free strategy for Hizbullah, but its leaders generally calculated and managed those risks remarkably successfully. Indeed, since 2000, as from 1996 to 2000, the military situation along the border has been one of highly asymmetrical but mutual deterrence between the IDF and Hizbullah—but with these two crucial differences from the earlier period: since 2000, the communities on either side of the front line have enjoyed far fewer military alerts and disruptions, and many fewer people—Lebanese or Israeli—have been dying there. The stakes that citizens of both nations have had in the stability of the post-2000 situation have thus been high, and the political leaders of both Israel and Hizbullah have (thus far) been at pains not to jeopardize this stability.


Daniel Sobelman, a strategic-affairs analyst at the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz, has been one of the most careful observers of this situation. In August 2002 he wrote,

Why in fact have the fears of Aman [Israel’s Military Intelligence] of a total collapse in the north following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal not been realized? The answer lies in the indication that although Hizbollah has not ceased guerilla activity over the last two years, it has revealed itself, inter alia, to be a relatively disciplined and responsible organization, aware of its operational limitations and sensitive to the environment that sustains and shelters it. Recently, Nasrallah himself attested as much, and declared in a speech . . . “Once, in a discussion of resistance operations, I told certain officials that ‘we are concerned about the nation, the state, and the future more than you think.’ Why is this so? Because when, Heaven forbid, the country is menaced by security, military, and political dangers or economic collapse, then those people who have capital, bankrolls, companies, children, luxury homes, and houses abroad, flee. They have a second citizenship. It is very simple. They collect the rest of their family and leave the country. [However] our houses, graves, life, death, honor, and mortification—they are all here. Where else can we go?”

In March 2002, Hizbullah’s people were apparently not alone in wanting to heat things up along the Lebanese-Israeli border: Palestinian militants living in the refugee camps that still dotted Lebanon were also, apparently, eager to do so. But once Hizbullah and its backers in the Lebanese, Syrian, and Iranian governments had agreed to return to a more restrained policy in the south, the Palestinians did not stand a chance. Sobelman wrote,

Published reports from Lebanon reveal that Hizbollah fighters deployed in the south assisted Lebanon in blocking a number of independent acts by Palestinian groups. This is an event of no small consequence: it implies that when necessary, alongside its maximalist rhetoric, Hizbollah knows how and is willing to put its radical ideology on the back burner for the sake of Lebanon’s national interest and for the sake of guaranteeing its own limited operations.

Nasrallah himself explained Hizbullah’s restraint in April 2002 a little differently. In a meeting with party activists on April 8, he reminded people sympathetic to the Palestinians,

As you remember I gave a promise more than a year ago . . . I said if “Sharon” [sic] was thinking about committing genocide against the Palestinians in order to expel them in groups, then the Palestinians must consider that they are not alone, and that Hizbullah will be on their side . . . Therefore some people may ask, is there anything worse than [what is] happening now in Palestine? We say yes there is something worse. This would be the following stage which lies inside “Sharon’s” mind and for which we must preserve weapons and put accounts into consideration. It means that each time a stage begins; we should not use all of what we have . . . Moreover if we used all of our weapons, after that “Sharon” would be encouraged to expel the Palestinians.


Ethical resistance - human achievement

The military parade that preceded Nasrullah’s Jerusalem Day speech was reportedly as impressive, and meticulously organized, as the party’s parades always are. A couple of days before, I watched some al-Manar footage of an earlier Hizbullah spectacle in which ultra-fit party activists performed breathtaking stunts on high wires strung between some of the buildings in the Dahiyeh.

The Hizbullah leadership, as it works to motivate and organize its base, seems just about as good at bread as it is at circuses. The AUB professor Judith Palmer Harik has studied the party for many years now. She notes that in the chaotic, civil-war-ridden circumstances in which Hizbullah was born, its provision of basic social services won it considerable loyalty and respect. After Hizbullah took over effective control of the conflict-pounded Dahiyeh in 1988, it almost immediately started providing a reliable trash-removal service there, five years before the central government sent any garbage trucks into the area at all. Regarding safe drinking water, Harik wrote,

During General Aoun’s administration [1988–1990], water and electricity services in the dahiyeh were almost completely cut off due to fighting . . . Several wells dug by UNICEF in the area reportedly failed. With help from the Iranian government RC [the Hizbullah-affiliated “reconstruction campaign,” or jihad al-binaa] resolved this emergency by building 4,000-litre water reservoirs in each district . . . and filling each of them five times a day from continuously circulating tanker trucks. Generators mounted on trucks also made regular rounds from building to building to provide electricity to pump water from private cisterns . . . [In August 2001] Hezbollah still provides the major source of drinking water for dahiyeh residents.

Across the gamut of human services—schools, hospitals, public-health services, rural-development aids, low-income housing, revolving loan funds for small businesses, and income-support projects for the poor—Harik’s story was the same: at a time when the Lebanese government was unable or unwilling to provide these services, Hizbullah and its affiliated organizations stepped in to do so; and even when the government did finally return to the scene, the relevant ministries still relied on Hizbullah’s affiliates to pick up the slack.


Harik, Hamzeh, and other close observers of Hizbullah all agree that Hizbullah’s social-service affiliates, law courts, and schools provide their services on a low-cost basis to those Lebanese who need them, whether Muslim or Christian, and that subsidies are available for very-low-income users. Many Christian parents send their children to Hizbullah-run schools, especially in south Lebanon, where they are often judged to provide the best education available. The budgets for the schools and Hizbullah’s other social-service organizations come from a combination of sources: user fees, government subsidies (where available), donations from Iran, donations from international development bodies, and allocations from the khums, the one-fifth share of one’s income that a Shiite believer is obligated to pay to Islamic charitable organizations. One researcher told me that Hizbullah-related organizations now control the significant income stream constituted by khums donations sent from the numerous Lebanese Shiite emigrés in West Africa.

Harik notes rightly that Hizbullah’s commitment to, and success in, providing these services on a continuing basis is unique among the political parties in Lebanon. The roots of this commitment are complex. Several of Hizbullah’s founders had previously been secular leftists. When I was in Lebanon in the late 1970s, several Lebanese leftists I knew—including a number of Christians—underwent a noticeable conversion to Islamism after the success of the Iranian revolution. Hizbullah’s social-service activities have as much in common with some (secular) leftist rhetoric as with the Khomeinist concept of concern for the Mustaz’afeen (the deprived). But Lebanon’s secular leftist movements never succeeded in organizing anything that even approximates Hizbullah’s efforts in this sphere. The chronically weak Lebanese government has never provided even minimally adequately basic services, either. As Harik notes, Hizbullah’s effectiveness in this sphere certainly helped build and buttress its political support in many parts of the country.

The whole thing here

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

life and its complement

Life is continually anew and renew, and yet it confronts forces, in structure, (and social dynamics which produce and engineer that structure, inform its direction and its orientation) which are ruinous for many parts of it, now and in the past, for the moment mostly sparing those most embracing, being carried by and favouring structure, who therefore don't learn the lessons, and don't change their behaviours (are deliberately obstructed from doing so by those who are safest), yet life being continually anew and renew, and us feeling and being alive, we don't fully appreciate and process the danger represented by this structure, if not for us, now, then for others, now, and for us in the very near future. From where we are, for so many of us, stating the threat seems implausible and churlish, in light of our experience of the presence and resilience of life; this view seems to lack faith in our propensities and properties and constitution, which are after all miraculous. We wake up, we feel alive and ok, the world is not ok; the world is not ok; is fundamentally not ok; in so many places; and yet life, life is ok, life is renew and anew, creation burgeoning and flowing and producing; inspiring and healing. But we must become aware of the material complement which accompanies us, in structure; of the nature and the shape of the structure and of its current actual, and potential future, ramifications; and of the precise, multiple intersections of the structure with our lives; the aspects of our life which are necessary but which we ignore, and those which are illusory, but which we cling the most to. We must see how consumerism creates terrorism. Otherwise, we live in a protracted dream ignorant of the danger which awaits us on awakening. We must see and affirm, every day, that the world is not ok, while life is anew, because of the nature and shape of the structure which we allow to overlie life.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The megamachine

Via Le Colonel Chabert, by Azmi Bishara in Al-Ahram Weekly:

Israeli spokespersons are steadfastly driving home the idea of two distinct and incompatible cultures, two civilisations, two worlds. If the world is divided into cultures and these cultures are divided into friend or foe, which is to say that the world is embroiled in an enormous culture clash, then the notion of "double standards" loses all moral opprobrium, becoming the natural order of things.

The Israeli/US line - the World is divided into two civilisations. One on the side of reason, the other, religious hate.

There is, tragically, a real division between these two sides; but they don't each have the characteristics ascribed to them by the former's leaders, publicists and apologists.
Rather this was an unchosen conflict for the latter "side".

It is a divide between aggressors and victims. And the aggressors do so because of the forces of capitalism; because of the growing power and wealth capital accumulation and defence grants them; this structure, its incentives and interests, vehicle logic and travel inform their actions, their perceptions and stances.

So it's humanity + structure vs. humanity. In the former case, humanity filtered into, overdetermined by and influenced by structure; against humanity tout court, and brought to aggress the latter by the continual expansionist drives inherent in its mode of working.
Because of this mode of working the aggressors have brought the violence of subjugation, of steel and concrete and the image, to innocent people who live in lands where there are resources, energy, labour, land, markets, or strategic advantages, useful for the capitalist countries, creating death and bloodshed.

So it's easy to see that the world is not divided along the lines of reason and religious hate. Rather there is a mode of operation which is rational within the context of the system, and for the vehicle which is operating (Western capitalist civilisation) and for those who travel within it (or at least it has the appearance of rationality within, just as there may be internal stability within a car riding roughshod over nature and travelling towards a wall); but fundamentally irrational in relation to its contexts, whether these be ecology, people who are outside the vehicle, or any objective reference scale of values, whether one looks at human rights, morality, karma, etc. Characterised by an inherent inability to achieve the restraint or other qualities required to integrate successfully into rich, complex, holistic and circular systems.

So where this mode, this vehicle, intersects with its contexts, there are hateful effects; there is expropriation, there is dispossession, there is ethnic cleansing, shelling of civilians, invasion by tanks and F-16s, uprooting, chaos, political repression, exclusion; there is theft and exhaustion of resources, starvation of water; there is sweatshop slavery and farmers' suicides.

All these are not just naturally occurring phenomena in weak states, or racistly ascribable to predilections, ideological or otherwise. They are simply products of a particular way of organising our affairs; they exist coterminously with the other facets of this system, the ones which permit and encourage it to continue, by virtue of being extremely amenable to the tiny minority who benefit unimaginably from them and who have political power in line with their wealth; they coexist with the superprofits of the megacorporations, who are perhaps the only parties in modern society which are indisputably rosy and healthy, just as they were fifty and one hundred years ago, while we stand on the brink of global chaos, and unprecedented ecological catastrophe; they coxist with our lives, as Northern consumers, as commodity-vectors in a relatively peaceful dream, a spectacle, a state of enforced docility, of meaningless freedom, lives which unavoidably participate in advanced fascism.

What the Israeli/US/UK apologists fail to do, is simply to put themselves empathetically in the position of the other party, and they must rely on a racist manoeuvre in order to be able to do this. To describe them as Islamic fundamentalists, or Islamic fascists, or terrorists, is to dehumanise them, to ascribe to them irrational motives, on the basis of confession, identity and religious nationality. But we don't need to look far to find the motives of people who resist, even violently, all the effects of the capitalist machine as it crushes their lives, as it shows no respect, no consideration whatsoever for the sanctity of their way of life and of their bodies. They, their families, their parents and grandparents, have been vulnerable, abused, killed, tortured, uprooted and made into refugees, for generations.

It's a fundamental misunderstanding to see humanity as characterised by two masses of people, whose values are opposed to each other. Even this premise, however we may define the lines people are divided on, is helpful to the elite and their apologists. We shouldn't see it as two tides of humanity; these two tides don't exist. Do we see them confronting each other, massed in a physical arena, continually re-presenting to each other their differences and their inability to coexist? No, it's a sure thing that if people on two sides in a conflict, were somehow able to encounter each other free of the constraints of structure, manifesting their natures and not material circumstances or interests, they would quickly make peace. There's only one humanity, and humanity before or without or as much as it can be in the face of and teeth of structure is social.

No the way to see it is that we, all of us, inhabit a structure; a physical structure in terms of a networked landscape of the state and of the military-industrial-commercial complex - all its buildings from headquarters of government to military planning centres and bases, to commercial formations - and according more or less to that physical structure, a structure of power and command; of interest and incentive. It was created incrementally and according to the linear advance, expansion, saturation and domination of interests and modes of being. And we inhabit it as rabbits in a warren. We are not, emphatically not, the free avatars consumer advertising would have us believe. We are free to consume, and to make personal lifestyle choices. We are not free not to participate in producing the effects of the system for example; which are built-in; which will always occur; and are currently, through the entrenching of power of the capitalists, deepening and worsening and widening in scope. Try and change one thing about the world today, and you'll see this (that's not to say doing that is impossible, but it's about systemic aspects and constraints, which it takes mass communal mobilisation and considerable effort and strategic planning to shift let alone change). Make a move which places you outside your usual coordinates in society and see how people respond to you differently. The grid in which we live, the physical space, the network of logic and meaning and intention, which is now connected all over the world, also takes in concentration camps.
Capitalism is Oxford Street; and it's also tanks in Gaza.

The key is to see this and to know then, that what we do can make a difference. But know in what ways. Know what's illusory. Know our true state and possibilities. Rail against the fact that what we feel is naturally our by right, and which cannot be expressed, is constrained or starved or competed or distracted out of existence by this paradigm; what is offended and occluded by it. What is naturally and rightfully ours, the song which emanates from our hearts and moves through our hands and wishes to include and to share, to know and to touch, to heal, will always remanifest itself from within. Don't fall back on consumerism, on expressing your infinity and beauty and uniqueness through the consumption, accumulation and display of dead commodities.

It's easy to be hamstrung on the axis of subjective-objective antinomy; bearing the weight of the contradiction ourselves in our subjectivity; where our subjective situation is confronted with the severe chaos and other situations produced by capitalism and we are indirectly and implicitly asked, threatened, "can you take responsibility for this?"; or "would you like to live in the conditions of people over there, in another part of the system, because that's the fate that awaits you outside our care, if you take away this structure." "No? Well then slink away into your individuated life"; this is a mis-reading, a misunderstanding; we have both less power and less responsibility as individuals qua individuals rather than part of society (a false construct) than we might imagine.

The system as context, as "Big Other", as something which generates our survival and creates, guarantees our meaning, psychologically, and which we need and are charged with reproducing ourselves (the tube posters say "it's up to all of us" [to combat terrorism]), something we must be loyal to - is too much to bear; the disjuncture between it and contexts both within and without our being (and the latter have an answering call within us too), the contradictions natural to it, the evil it wreaks, cannot be lived with; and this explains why it's easier to choose not to, and to ignore it. The way to bear this is to remove loyalty; take responsibility in the measure you remove loyalty, and therefore can meaningfully take responsibility. Accept the constraints, accept reality.