Monday, 28 February 2011


Although there are numerous examples of societies that have declined because of foreign invasions throughout the history of civilization, society usually decays from within. Culprits of societal decline include official and private sector corruption, greed by the economic elites, arrogance by politicians, distortion of community-based ideals designed to promote the welfare of all people, militarism that leads to costly defense spending, and systemic exploitation of the majority by a minority social group that enjoys institutional privileges and protection by the state.

All or some of these elements have been present in the decline of societies that once experienced great heights of power and perhaps cultural achievements, including 5th century Athens and 3th century Rome in the classical period, the British Empire after WWII and the Soviet Union, which was in a sense a continuation of the old Russian Empire, in the 1980s. Oswald Spengler tried to capture the decline of western civilization in a book that developed a cyclical theory of the rise and fall of civilizations. Summarily rejected by Karl Popper and Thomas Mann, Spengler was widely accepted by the public in many nations that felt WWI proved the rationalism of the Enlightenment invalid.

Almost one hundred years after Spengler published The Decline of the West, people in all walks of life, from scholars to politicians are raising the question of America's decline after a century of grandeur in domains ranging from global economic preeminence to establishing the best science and arts institutions. All of this may be facing a gradual road to chronic decline. Some argue that spiritual decline is the root cause of American societal disintegration, while others see more secular threats to the Republic.

I searched the Web for stories with the titles “who threatens American democracy” and “threats to US democracy,” and discovered that many essays include the following ten categories:
1. military establishment, conventional war, and war (PR, covert, etc.) on terror;
2. government bailout of banks and corporations at the expense of the middle class and workers;
3. the Supreme Court that is out of touch with the American people;
4. economic weakness and economic inequality -  the top one-tenth of 1% earn as much as 120 million people combined
5. the World Trade Organization, the UN, movement toward world government;
6. Corporate power, corporate media, corporate campaign contributions in the hundreds of millions without disclosure and transparency thanks to the Supreme Court that equates campaign contributions to free speech.
7. Religious extremism of all types, especially linked to political agendas; Islamophobia and Terrorism that has resulted in the expanded bureaucratization of domestic security and intelligence;
8. political (voter) ignorance, and interest groups that have the inside track in government;
9. the Internet, web, blogs and its various dimensions that make it easier to propagate and organize;
10. narcotics trade and crime that contributed to economic and social decline from within.

If we accept all of the above, it seems that an open society has many enemies it must confront. The biggest challenge to remain strong is to maintain sound institutions that enjoy popular support by serving the people instead of a small segment of society, a segment usually responsible for institutional decadence. There are those who dismiss all of the above causes of decline and maintain that one reason that America achieved its cohesiveness as a society and great power status because of its very strong religious tradition, especially conservative Protestantism currently in decline owing to secularization of mass culture.

Besides the spiritual thesis, there is also the 'human nature' thesis regarding leading cause for societal decline.  One very interesting article argues that the most basic threat to democracy is the human brain that “is predisposed to use information to confirm their existing beliefs, which makes democratic governance impossible.” If we accept that human nature as inherently atomistic and irrational guided by instinct without regard to the welfare of others and the community, then the human brain with its predisposition to the irrational and atomistic is indeed the obstacle to democracy.

If we also accept the assumption that competition and private accumulation of wealth power, prestige, etc. in the social, economic and political spheres promotes self-interest at the expense of the greater good, then we have another obstacle to democracy functioning harmoniously for the welfare of all its citizens. But all of this is predicated on the definition of “democracy,” a concept that many people equate with free enterprise and individual pursuit of wealth (Adam Smith and Liberal followers), others with social welfare and the pursuit of the greater good for the greatest number (utilitarian democracy), others with human rights and social welfare (social democracy), others with basic freedoms such as press, assembly, etc.(Libertarian), others equating democracy with voting.

Of the ten categories listed above as “threats to US democracy,” clearly all of them and many more are real, depending on the individual’s definition of democracy, and on value systems that spell out not only what democracy is but what it is not. On the broader question of internal or external factors that cause the demise of a democratic society, here we can look at historical experiences of countries that were “to some degree open societies,” countries that enjoyed aspects of democracy but lapsed toward some model of authoritarianism.

In the cases of interwar Italy, Germany, and Japan the causes of abandoning pluralism for an extreme form of militaristic ultra-authoritarianism rooted in ultra right-wing ideology were internal, although external causes served as a pretext to convince the public of the need for a militaristic/authoritarian regime. If indeed people care more about safety and security, or at least if the media and their political, business, and social leaders convince them that nothing matters more than safety and security, people will voluntarily surrender any commitment to democracy for the perceived guarantee of safety and security.

If the US moves increasingly toward a more authoritarian model under the political shell of “democracy,” as it could if in the future it faces more and deeper economic contractions that result in an increasingly smaller and weaker middle class, the cause will not be the UN, the WTO, Islamic “terrorism,” rogue nations like North Korea, etc. The dynamics of modern society have some similarities with the 17th century when Thomas Hobbes wrote the Leviathan. Therefore, if a modern American Leviathan (authoritarian regime) emerges it will be an expression of contemporary society confronting a social and economic structure that is unraveling.

The segment of society that has the power to mold public opinion and convince them that Leviathan means “salvation” from self-destructive proclivities of an otherwise irrational public, will move society away from the Jeffersonian model that some equate as the ideal toward one that projects an image of narrowly-defined democracy and equates it with “the freedom to shop, to enjoy safety and security, and vote for politicians who represent the same institutions”" a model behind which rests an authoritarian/police/military state.


If we assume as Renaissance philosophers Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes that human nature is essentially corrupt, atomistic, and irrational thus evil, than greed is as old as human nature. If we assume that human nature rests on rational and harmonious foundations and that environment largely shapes human nature, then vices, greed included, are learned behavior. Whether human beings are born carrying the seeds of evil within them, or whether moral man acquires vices from an essentially immoral society, the bottom line is that we live in a culture of greed, especially in the advanced high-consumption societies that contribute the most to the degradation of the ecosystem and unequal division of the world's resources.

One-hundred and fifty years ago, President Abraham Lincoln warned that greed leading to wealth concentrated in the hands of a few people would results in the decline of the republic. Today the culture of high-consumption idolizes greed in all its forms, and only berates it when the capitalist system is in trouble. A number of super-rich, including German-born Canadian billionaire Stephen Jarislowsky argued that ‘extreme' greed was to blame for the global recession of 2008-2011. Nevertheless, he stated that all people want to be rich, an assumption he makes based on popular cultural trends, which he and most people may believe is 'natural' - human by nature wish to acquire as much as possible, and therein rests the element of greed.

Oliver Stone’s film Wall Street and the sequel this year made the term greed a part of popular culture and subject to ongoing debate amid a global recession. The term “greed” indicates “desire for excess” and implies abuse of material accumulation. However, the Freudian definition of greed differs from that of a modern economist who follows Adam Smith’s free-market theory, and that definition differs from the one of a Lutheran theologian, and so on with each field having its own definition and nuances of the term.

It is also significant to consider that in some cultures like the US “greed” may be an integral part of how to achieve the American Dream, while in others like India before British colonial rule greed (individual or institutional) is identified as the primary source of evil (The Bhagavadgita). Historically, greed does not have the same value in Eastern cultures, especially in China and India, as it does in the West. This is partly because western societies are more individualistic and less collectivist, especially Protestant northwest Europe and the US that emphasize individual achievement more than collective welfare and harmony.

In the Orient, social status rooted in noble birth, education, the arts, spirituality as well as political power designed to maintain harmony transcended the sheer accumulation of individual wealth associated with merchants and money lenders whose role was not elevated until the Europeans imposed colonial or semi-colonial rule in Asia. In Western Civilization, greed has a long history that in terms of legal measures to contain it goes back to the era of Solon the lawgiver, who accused the Athenian landowners of undermining social harmony and destroying the city-state:
 The man whose riches satisfy his greed
Is not more rich for all those heaps and hoards
Than some poor man who has enough to feed
And clothe his corpse with such as God affords.
I have no use for men who steal and cheat;
The fruit of evil poisons those who eat.
(Solon Poems)

Athenian greed for wealth, power, and prestige in the fifth century led to the demise of the city-state with the Peloponesian Wars marking beginning of decline for classical Greece. Virgil and Seneca attributed greed (avarice) to the deterioration of Roman society, decay in morals and civil harmony. Drawing largely from the Apostle Paul, the early church fathers (”Primitive Christianity”) recognized greed as one of the seven deadly sins (all of them predating Christianity) and deemed this vice a catalyst to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

As a transitional figure between the Medieval World and Renaissance, Dante condemned greed not only on the part of the temporal (secular) world but of the spiritual realm as well. In the name of God, the Catholic Church was selling indulgences and becoming the richest institution and largest landowner in Europe.
The Enlightenment’s emphasis on the individual’s intellectual awakening, a process achieved through merit, and the Industrial Revolution held the promise of machine holding humanity’s answers for all its material problems.

Enlightenment and Industrial Capitalism provided a further impetus to the bourgeois value system and ultimate goal of creating a material world that would replace the Kingdom of Heaven. Hence, greed, an irrational impulse that ran counter to the Enlightenment’s focus on reason, must be at the center of the new society’s practice. Enlightenment thinker Adam Smith’s contended that self-interest promotes the greater social good because the market’s “invisible hand” determines what has value for the consumer and thus profit for the producer necessarily benefits society.

From Industrial capitalism to financial capitalism and the emergence of robber barons of the 19th century, greed worked to polarize society socioeconomically, ethnically, racially, religiously, and in terms of gender. During the Progressive Era, politicians tried moderating the runaway culture of greed. In reality, capitalists prospered more under Progressive presidents from Roosevelt to Wilson than they had before, a fact that resulted in massive capital accumulation during the 1920s and led to the Great Depression.

The 1930s convinced many Americans that the culture of rugged individualism and greed of capital concentration during the previous decade had caused economic dislocation and social catastrophe. The era of the “Big Bands” and coming together as a nation, implicit collectivism (Socialism to FDR/New Deal critics) moderated the culture of greed as did the war that followed. However, the Cold War meant a necessary ideological return to the culture of greed as the implicit essence of capitalism in a struggle for dominance against Communism.

The value system of greed as an unspoken but practice integral part of the American way of life, a value system and way of life to be exported to the rest of the world, was well on its way. Not that war-ravaged Europe was not anxious to emulate its NATO leader and capture some of the prewar glory associated with the greed of imperialism. In spite of the Civil Rights movement and the cultural revolution of the 1960s that spread beyond urban America to much of the Western World, despite the humbling effect the Vietnam war had on America, greed would remain at the center of the cultural milieu.

“You can call it greed, selfishness or enlightened self-interest, but the bottom line is that it’s these human motivations that get wonderful things done. Unfortunately, many people are naive enough to believe that it’s compassion, concern and ‘feeling another’s pain’ that’s the superior human motivation.” This from Walter Williams, African-American academic who became the darling of the white establishment in the 1980s when Reagan-Thatcher neo-liberalism was triumphant and the Communist bloc was about to fall.

Yes, free at last to say publicly what was on the minds of most about the virtues of greed, the greed that makes the solipsist feel good, the kind of greed that means life. Greed works because it has defeated the Communist bloc and integrated those countries into “our economic system,” greed is great because it means accumulation of more regardless of endemic poverty for about one-third of the world’s population. Greed never took a rest as globalization was responsible for its diffusion and acceleration during the Clinton decade that laid the foundations for the economic crisis of 2008-2010.

And then came Bush to make individual and national greed a revered patriotic duty. Yoshi Tsurumi, former professor at Harvard University wrote on 04/07/05 in the Harvard Crimson: “Thirty years ago, President Bush was my student at Harvard Business School… In those days, Bush belonged to a minority of MBA students who were seriously disconnected from taking the moral and social responsibility for their actions. Today, he would fit in comfortably with an overwhelming majority of business students and teachers whose role models are celebrated captains of piracy.”

Since the 1980s, as neo-conservatives have captured the Republican Party, America’s business education has also increasingly become contaminated by the robber baron culture of the pre-Great Depression era. Yes indeed, the institutional structure which includes colleges and universities have helped to disseminate the value system of greed that Wall Street practices during business hours and always with 100% transparency! The roots of the culture of greed are very deep and complex, and cannot be moderated in a short period or by the political establishment that sees no alternative to acting opportunistically.

Cultural revolutions take years if not decades to have an impact, and unless accompanied by events in society that force people to alter their habits and value system, the status quo remains unchanged because it means survival. The failure to begin addressing change in the culture of greed, individual and institutional (public and private), the failure of institutions to teach that greed is not a virtue, will result in the decay of society as it did in the case of societies built on individual and institutional greed.

Sunday, 27 February 2011


Is organized religion in America more immersed in materialism today than it has been in centuries past in Europe and around the world, thus reflecting current cultural trends? Is religion more hypocritical claiming piety while swimming in sin as it defines it, thus guilty of hypocrisy? In a statement after president George Bush's visit to the Vatican in June 2004, Pope John Paul II advised that the US must end the war in Iraq and allow for national sovereignty, and that the American people should be less materialistic and seek contentment in spirituality. Although such a statement may appear rather typical, I found it intriguing because public opinion polls indicate that between 80 and 90 percent of Americans identify themselves as religious while only a small percentage of Europeans.

Is this a reflection of the level of American political, social, and cultural conservatism in comparison with Europeans? Or is it the case that American churches operate as free enterprises, more competitive and adapt to the community than European churches?  Although Americans identify themselves as religious, they have the reputation as the quintessential hedonists on the planet, and they are unique in so far as they justify money as piety with which corporate America and the political establishment identify.

Interestingly, Pope John Paul II had the same perception as the rest of the world that American society is immersed in materialism and a culture of hedonism, despite the public proclamations of religious convictions and religiously-based political conservatism. In a public opinion poll 83% of Americans claim to belong to some religious denomination (76% Christian), with 40% attending services regularly, and only 13% list no religion. At the same time, 89% of those polled agree that society is too materialistic and 74% believe that materialism is a social problem detrimental to the cohesiveness of family, and 92% concurred that poverty is a very serious social problem.

In the same survey, however, 78% responded that having new and beautiful things was important to them, while only 71% agreed that freedom was important. Besides corporations selling products and services and popular culture inculcating materialistic values in the American people, the clergy itself is largely to blame; about half the population see the churches as far too interested in money and less in spiritual aspects of the faithful.

Religion in general and religious holidays like Christmas specifically are so commercialized that they have become almost indistinguishable from secular institutions. The commodity that religion sells is spiritual salvation, and it could be argued that there was always a price attached that the faithful has to pay at least in institutionalized Christianity. Just as important as the history of Christian materialism, the Christian church invariably plays a major role in the political arena, as it has through the centuries, and it is intertwined with politics serving an agenda that is far removed from spiritual concerns of the faithful. That the more successful churches are more political is not a coincidence, nor is it surprising that many people regard the wealth of the church as a sign of its secular (un-spiritual) mission.

Considering that Calvanism prevalent in America views wealth as a sign of divine favor, that wealthy Americans like John D. Rockefeller who was Baptist believed that God gave him the money he made, and Ronald Reagan lectured that money is not a sin, it is no wonder that this mindset has trickled down to the general population that has accepted 'pious materialism' and wants to emulate the rich instead of castigating them. The legitimacy of 'pious materialism' therefore stems from the financial and political elites, but also from clergy that have adapted to the culture of materialism and politicized churches and transfer such values to their followers by example, no matter what is spoken during the sermon.

The American tradition of marrying religion, politics and business goes back to the 19th century, but especially the 1920s when Jesus and business became intertwined when New York ad executive Bruce Barton who argued that Jesus was the father of modern business. Oddly enough, Barton's promotion of corporate capitalism as an integral part of Christianity coincided with the Scopes trial (creationism v. Darwin's theory of evolution), and with the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan carrying out numerous violent racist campaigns.

With the widespread perception throughout the world that the US is indeed the most materialistic and by implication least spiritual society, do the American people agree that money is pious blessed by Jesus? Do they believe that God has chosen America whose destiny is to remain dominant in the world, thus proving it has been predestined by Divine Providence? Amid an intense global competition and the recent global economic contraction are Americans convinced that the church has guided them toward the righteous path and onto to truth, or has it has deceived them about man's relationship to societal institutions?

Are India and Brazil, and the entire Third World, more spiritual because they have the vast majority of the poor on this planet, so people turn to religion as a core value with which to cope with life's daily adversities, while in bourgeois America seeks satisfaction in automobiles, houses, DVD players, etc. etc.? There is no shortage of articles, books, pamphlets, web blogs, newspaper articles, consultants, etc. advising people on how to become rich, or happy by becoming rich.

Nothing comparable exists on how to become more humane and compassionate, more socially conscious, more interested and active in the welfare of the community and social justice. Even the focus of the church is on individual salvation within the institutional structure of the church, itself secularized and subsumed in the culture of materialism. Herein rests the hypocrisy of an institution claiming divinity, yet, so immersed in earthly affairs.


When I started college in Chicago in 1970, university and college administrators were professors with solid credentials and strong commitment to teaching and scholarship in the Liberal Arts tradition intended to help the student toward self-discovery, to cultivate her/his creative potential, and to become a productive member of society which included securing a career. University/college bureaucracy was limited, salary differentials between administration and faculty were not that great, there were very few part-time faculty, a “democratic” and in some cases “collective” process through faculty senate was respected, and there was no faculty-administration dichotomy.

By the time I left higher education and the US in 2005, the picture had changed completely. The bureaucracy and administration salaries had become bloated, part-time exploded (and of course exploited), administrators were not rooted in scholarship but had evolved into “professional administrator-business managers,” the model of college administration was based on a management-labor dialectic with the faculty senate invariably the enemy of the administration, tuition and taxpayer costs skyrocketing while the quality especially at the undergraduate level declining.

Then there were the publicized cases of abuse and corruption and not those that involved college athletics, about which so much has been written. The problem went beyond sports corruption. Those of us who worked in higher education had heard of or knew about abuse and corruption in our own campuses and in others from colleagues, but we could not prove anything or we felt that we could do nothing about it even when we had circumstantial evidence. Who is at fault?

Complacent and otherwise lazy faculty that teaches a few hours a week, placates students with grade inflation and has not published since the last promotion, resents broad and non-rigged mechanisms of accountability, and seeks to secure an administrative position because she/he is no longer effective in the classroom and too “out-of-it” to conduct research? Perhaps it is the fault of the business community for demanding and securing increasingly inordinate influence in higher education, molding it because of funding that comes from the private sector and of course because it is the place where graduates will be seeking work.

Is it the fault of politicians who want a certain type to fulfill an agenda (must have a woman, must have a minority, must have a Liberal, must have a pro-business, must have a going-along type college leader)? Or is it the fault of society that is moving toward a culture of image without substance that is responsible for administrators who reflect the shallowness of our modern materialistic world?

The following is but a small sample of cases regarding abuses and corruption. “New Jersey’s Stevens Institute of Technology is the latest in the long line of education corruption scandals. The state attorney general is suing the school and its president, Harold J. Raveche, on accusation of plundering the school’s endowment and receiving nearly $2 million in illegal low-interest loans for vacation homes. Over the course of a decade (1990s), the board of trustees at Stevens increased Dr. Raveche’s salary to $1.1 million–which earned him a higher salary than the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Princeton. Stevens reportedly used multiple sets of books to conceal its rapidly deteriorating financial condition. Click here to find out which other college presidents make more than $1 million per year.”

The average salary for academic staff is five to ten times lower than that of college presidents, and if all the perks are considered it is 15-20 times lower. In 2002 The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the $500,000 annual salary for college presidents or chancellors was no longer an exclusive club, but rather widespread in America. The business of top college administrators is so lucrative that head hunters are paid large fees to find such people, and all at the expense of the taxpayers, donors, and of course tuition-paying students.

The question of course in a market economy is one of value a president/chancellor may be offering. Are colleges and universities adding value to the quality of education because of administrators paid salaries historically reserved for CEOs? One of the major criticisms in articles and books about abuse and corruption in higher education concerns the rule by committee for political ends, often to placate the board made up of businesspeople and politicians, and in some cases “stacked” by the university presidents or college chancellors.

The lack of solid academic credentials and the use of the position to secure a position with private sector or enter government adds nothing to the institution that pays the price for the luxury of high-paying administration. Again the question is one of value to higher education as a result of college administrators who are more businesspeople running a corporation than academics. Another key issue that goes hand in hand with the skyrocketing salaries of top administrators is the skyrocketing bureaucratization of college administration whose purpose is to create a very strong administration at the cost of quality classroom teaching. The larger the bureaucracy the larger the part-time and contract academic staff.

Faculty in their quest to have fewer administrative tasks invariably contributed to the bloated bureaucracy, just as faculty in their quest to be satisfied as long as they received their inflation-adjusted salary raises permitted the abuse and corruption of administration. Controlling the budget and using it within guidelines as well as the manipulation of guidelines–top administrators going on domestic and international destinations for pleasure and justifying it as “college-related” adds considerably to the cost for taxpayers and students. When the economy is growing and the university or college is growing, faculty are receiving their salary raises, their grants, and sabbatical, there is no noise. But when crisis hits and budgets tighten, then the rats come out of their hiding places.

Conservatives always point to faculty as the source of the problem in higher education, and it is true that faculty share in the responsibility for so much ranging from lack of enthusiasm for their profession to abuse of the system by not fulfilling their teaching and research obligations. Higher education is the key to progress and far too important to allow it to the whims of what I recently analyzed as “the culture of image and pseudo-events” prevailing in contemporary society, especially in the US, but more broadly in the West.

While the US has the best graduate schools in the world along with the best talent in academic staff, while there are extraordinary universities and colleges that are beyond abuse and corruption, and while even in universities and colleges that have fallen victims to abuse and corruption at the top there are significant accomplishments by individual researchers and teachers, the question is institutional that concerns primarily the schools not in the top 50 list, where mostly the children of the financial and political elites attend.

At a time that conservatives and elements of the business community want to perpetuate education’s “commodification,” the “mass consumer of education” who cannot attend the top 50 colleges and universities, and the general taxpayer need to decide what they want out of higher education, how they want it to serve society’s needs that go beyond careerism that has dominated Western culture since Reagan, and segments of Eastern culture in the last decade?


Violence linked to political activism is universal and as old as civilization. Political violence usually comes from groups that represent extreme or ultra-conservative or ultra-left ideological positions. While it may be difficult to defend any sort of violence, including the political variety, it is possible to find transcending moral justification if targeted political violence that may or may not include collateral damage victims is carried out in the name of social justice and it can be demonstrated as such.

For example, was it be morally justifiable for German military officers to attempt to kill Adolph Hitler or Russians plotting to assassinate Joseph Stalin?  In short, there are and should be exceptions to moral absolutes regarding murder if carried out for a higher moral purpose and to advance social justice. On the other hand, was the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi morally defensible merely because a group of people deemed it so, while the vast majority disagreed? The inescapable trappings of moral relativism notwithstanding, rational human thought based on humane and humanist principles with social justice as the ultimate criteria would permit exceptions such as the Hitler and Stalin cases illustrate, at least for the majority given that both the Nazi and Soviet dictators has loyal followers who would object.

This brings us to the question of the USA TEA PARTY and its relationship with political violence, at least the predilection of a segment of its followers toward violence as an acceptable means to solving political problems. According to one public opinion poll, 6% of Republicans and 5% of Democrats feel violence against the government is justified. By contrast, 17% of Tea Party voters stated that Tuscon murderer Jared Lee Loughner was firmly ensconced, 17% between age 18 and 29 approve of violence against the US government, and 13% of all Tea Party age groups.

That 13% of individuals earning $30,000 or less a year believe political violence is justified and that those are mostly under 30 years old is a disturbing trend in the American political arena. In my view the extreme right-wing followers of the Tea Party controlled by a segment of the financial and political elites demonstrates the failure of American democracy to achieve consensus in the center as it has historically.

Sarah Palin and many in leadership and media roles of the Tea Party argue that the biased left and Liberal media portray the activists in this right wing movement as violent, when in fact they are nothing less than real American patriots. Moreover, the Tea Party argues that the center and left activists are the ones advocating violence against 'patriotic Americans' like billionaire Tea Party backers Koch brothers and Justice Clarance Thomas.

Under the cover of free speech, Republican political protection, and funds from billionaires, the Tea Party is shielded from prosecution for hate crimes, simply because the Tea Party is part of the establishment. If a Communist organization or an Islamic group resorted to the same rhetoric as the Tea Party, the authorities would have prosecuted and the courts would have sent people to prison on hate crime and sedition charges. The Tea Party, however, is used by the Republicans and a segment of the financial elites to keep America as far to the right as possible, especially now against the reality of a declining economy, a waning middle class and lower living standards for the vast majority.

What if the Tea Party movement gains legitimacy by winning the White House at some point in the future and evolves into a fascist-type regime? Political movements and political parties, or movements that may evolve into organized parties and eventually regimes (as for example Fascism in Italy) assume characteristics of each country’s unique history, traditions, ideologies (secular and religious), and culture. This is true even if the ideology (eclectic like Fascism or cohesive like Liberalism) has its roots in another country (or countries). Therefore, it is simply not the case that any political movement or party regardless of whether it is right, center or left can be identical with that of another country no matter the common ground they may share in ideology and political orientation. The Tea Party can never be like the Nazi Party, but it can easily develop into a police-state party under certain political, economic, and social conditions.

Differences notwithstanding, there is usually common ground in goals between political movements, parties and regimes in different countries, even though there are nuances in ideology, modalities, and policies. This was the case with interwar political movements, parties, and regimes. The current global crisis has undercut the liberal-bourgeois social order because it has debilitated the middle class, historically the popular base for “democratic” regimes. Moreover, during economic crises political polarization is inevitable, and it is not necessarily the case that people will flock to the traditional center, but a segment of the middle class and workers invariably looks for extreme solutions in ultra-right movements and parties like the Tea Party, just as another segment will gravitate toward the left–more unlikely today owing to the reality that the memories of failed Communist regimes is still fresh. The establishment, however, almost always never gambles with left or centrist political solutions and opts for conservatism, even if that means extreme right wing conservatism like the Tea Party.

This does not mean that the Tea Party movement with the machinery of the Republican party and business funding behind it is identical to the Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, Austrian, French, etc. right-wing populist counterparts. European ultra-right wingers draw largely from the inter-war Fascist experience, no matter how they try to sugarcoat that link for obvious reasons. American conservatives reach back to the politics of racism/ethnocentrism (embodying sexism and ultra nationalism), “Christian Identity” (Christian fundamentalism intertwined politics with religion), militia activity, “pure or extreme” libertarianism and anti-statism (the driving force behind the Tea Party), combined with an isolationist (Cold War) ideology (militarism and imperial hegemony).

Both in the case of US and European extreme right wing movements and parties it is the case that they influence national and international politics and their mere presence, no matter how much of a fringe group it may be, tends to impact the entire political landscape. While it is safer to predict that the Tea Party folk have a realistic chance to assume political power, it is difficult to predict if once in power they will move toward the center or more to the right and become like small ultra-right wingers in Europe. It certainly seems that we are headed in the direction of extreme politics that may advocate violence, and if socio-economic conditions do not improve as I doubt they will for the majority, increased sociopolitical polarization is a realistic prediction.

Looking at the issue from a cursory perspective it now seems that the Tea Party people can be as dangerously disruptive to social and political harmony, as well as extremely hostile to social justice in any form than some European right wingers, simply because the former have a realistic chance at capturing political power at the local, state and eventually federal level behind the machinery of the “institutionally respectable” Republican Party.

Saturday, 26 February 2011


Feminism is no more a homogeneous concept than 'radicalism'. The varieties of feminism from Liberation Theology feminism to Liberal, Socialist, conservative, eco-feminism, existential, and post-modern feminism. Living in the age of cultural relativism, pluralism and multiculturalism, it would be dogmatic to argue that eco-feminism is superior or 'the correct' ideological brand of feminism.

The roots of feminism are based in the humanist spirit of the Renaissance, especially as expressed in the writings of Venetian-born Christine de Pesan's  The Book of the City of Ladies & The Book of the Three Virtues (1405). A product of the Renaissance, Christine de Pisan dealt with the issues of misogyny and negative stereotypes within the context of the larger theme of Humanism.

The struggle for women to achieve social justice has historical roots and it evolves concurrently with the Enlightenment and rise of liberal-bourgeois revolutions from the French in 1789 to those across Europe in 1848. In short, from within middle class intellectual and political revolutions arose the cries of women to end gender discrimination and to be treated as human and humanely; a demand no different than middle class men demanding that the societal order based on aristocratic privilege must be replaced with a meritocracy and Liberal-democratic institutions.

As the Liberal political ideology swept across Europe and US in the 19th century, early Liberal feminists concerned themselves with individual gender inequality and emancipation through the ballot box and the legal system. Liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill, The Subjugation of Women (1869), and his wife Harriet Taylor Mill were early ideological contributors to the movement. Having the right to vote and reforming the judicial system to place women at a the same legal plane field as men were universal issues, but mainly the concern of middle class women rather than peasants or workers. Western European nations began passing legislation under Married Women’s Property Acts that recognized the independent legal existence of married women, laws that led to the right of women to seek financial support from fathers through judicial process.

Whereas the Liberal ideal for 19th century feminists was for the state to extend civil liberties protection to women, the Anarchist and Socialist ideal was linked to class oppression that subordinated women into extensions of male property. Economic inequality intertwined with institutionalized sexism in general, and more specifically reproductive issues (contraception), violence against women, economic justice, especially equality of pay for equal work, workplace and institutional discrimination against women, immigrants, and all minorities were issues that concerned women activists that came from a more radical background, including Anarchism and Socialism.

Left-wing feminism was closer to the Renaissance humanist and humane spirit of gender issues. A major contributor to humanist and humane-based feminism was from Emma Goldman, born in a Jewish ghetto in Kovno Lithuania in 1869. Like most parents, Emma's considered her birth a burden because they would have to provide a dowry for her. Trying to study French and challenging traditional male roles, Emma found that her family and society was against her as a woman and a Jew. In 1885 she immigrated to Rochester, New York where she worked in a factory. She married in 1887 when the Haymarket riots in Chicago that left a number of workers dead and injured. After the Russian Revolution of 1905 that resulted in new waves of pogroms against Russian Jews, Emma became more active in anarchist-feminist activities in New York, having divorced her husband.

In 1906, she founded MOTHER EARTH magazine devoted to anarchist worker and feminist issues. In an article entitled 'Tragedy of Women's Emancipation', she wrote that Liberal feminist goals of equal rights and the right to vote did not go far enough to address institutional discrimination against women. She argued that the Enlightenment ideal of a person realizing their full potential by having the opportunity through the political and legal systems did not address economic issues and the right of woman to control her body. In the name of free motherhood, Emma supported birth control that she equated with free speech. Charged under the Alien Immigration Act, Emma was deported in 1919 after the FBI argued that her magazine influenced violent anarchists and other radicals demanding women's rights and birth control.

As a pioneer of early 20th century Anarchist feminism, Emma had a far reaching influence in the 20th century, but it would be lost within the heterogeneous movement. Viewing feminism from the perspective of class and sex domination that rested on institutional structures of force, Emma like other leftist feminists reflected the pre-WWI intelligentsia that was optimistic about a more equal and just society; itself and Enlightenment ideal. The synthesis that Emma provided between class and gender, the concern that women's issues were intertwined with class issues and not separate from them as many feminists would argued in the 20th century, and above all her humane approach accounted for her brilliant grasp of how oppressive institutional structures operate against all dissidents who struggle to awaken society to the injustices around them.

In the absence of systemic change of the institutions of inequality and oppression of all types, it is simply impossible to achieve the goal of gender equality. Considering that a segment of the feminist movement has been coopted by the institutional mainstream and it is to a degree an integral part the corporate and political arena in the most advanced countries, by definition feminism has a stake in the status quo of which it is a part.

That feminism has been co-opted by conservatives and Liberals who use it as a vehicle of undercutting class oppression is another indication of how far it has drifted from the era of Emma Goldman. Humane-based feminism has been obscured in the last three or four decades because many feminists inside the institutional mainstream became increasingly legalistic, bureaucratic minded and narrowly mechanical in their approach to social justice, mainly focusing on narrow interests. Having lost a great deal of support among the masses - males and females - feminism, especially gynocentric feminism, cannot have a bright future unless it returns to its humanist and humane roots.


Classical Liberal political theory based on the philosophy of John Locke maintains that individual citizen consent ought to determine politics and policies. “Wherever, therefore, any number of men so unite into one society as to quit every one his executive power of the law of Nature, and to resign it to the public, there and there only is a political or civil society.” (John Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government.)

However, the reality is that T. Hobbes’s Leviathan, that Locke categorically rejected, is far more relevant today among competing interest groups and social elites than Locke's theory. Financial elites have played a catalytic role in shaping policy in modern pluralistic societies governed by varieties of Liberal-type constitutions and regimes, while the ordinary citizen who merely votes has no power beyond the ballot box.

Given this reality, policy-formation is the presumed domain of competing interest groups whether politically organized like the Liberal Whig faction in Locke’s time, or the modern-day corporate lobbies that support both conservative and liberal political parties. Therefore, consent-theory is more easily justified and implemented during times of national emergencies or crises than during “normal times.”

But the manner by which consent is forged during contracting economic cycles such as the one of 2008-2011 is significant because the media, political, business and social elites have the challenge to mold public opinion that the status quo merits support despite systemic institutional weaknesses. If the media and the elites fail to convince public opinion that the regime and societal institutions are worthy of public support, then confidence wanes and conditions develop for mass public protests and/or revolt as was the case in the Middle East-North Africa. One of the reasons that the US has been able to avoid mass protests and revolts is precisely because of the master use of forging consent as a means to engendering popular conformity.

Having built a domestic national consensus during the Great Depression by adopting New Deal reform policies, the US continued to expand its domestic consensus to include the entire Western Hemisphere under bilateral and multilateral agreements. These culminated in redefining the Pan-American system during the war, and then globalized during the Cold War when besides NATO, Organization of American States and South East Asian Treaty Organization,. International Financial Institutions (IFIs) like the World Bank and IMF were also established to complete the triumph of Pax Americana.

The dynamics of the Cold War necessarily resulted in domestic national consensus rooted in permanent national security not only in pluralistic societies like the US at the helm of the world-capitalist system, but also in Communist nations and in the non-aligned bloc. Therefore, the Cold War as the point of origin for policy-formation and consent-theory entailed that the state forged consensus among competing interest groups under a neo-corporatist model that would presumably serve not only the political and financial elites, but the military establishment, intelligentsia, farmers, and labor unions whose cooperation was crucial for policy-formation against the “common external enemy.”

This should not be confused with the military-industrial complex that was only one byproduct of conformist policy-formation. Using the Cold War as a means to retain political consensus domestically and internationally, the US and its junior partners were better able to disseminate the principles of the market economy that kept the existing social order and political status quo in place without threat of revolution from within. The only threat from revolution emanated from Third World nations that enjoyed the support either of the USSR, China or the non-aligned bloc.

After the Communist bloc collapsed and China became thoroughly integrated into the world capitalist system, the institutionalized co-optation of the disparate interest groups needed to remain intact. This is not because there was a “common external enemy”–of course one had to be created as catalyst to interest-group co-optation–but because consent-theory assumptions were obviated by the changing structure of the political economies around the world and the neo-liberal globalization trend. Globalization that promised greater prosperity for the entire world and all social classes failed in its promise, leaving only the financial and political elites much wealthier, especially the political elites of authoritarian nations as is the case across the Middle East and North Africa.

The interdependent world economic structure as the basis of consent-theory and as a reality cannot change systemically as Russia, China, Brazil, India, and even some EU leaders wish. On the contrary, national capitalism weakens, especially for economies dependent primarily on energy exports as those of the Middle East-North Africa, while the majority of the population remains a non-participant in consent of the political regime that determines social and economic policies.

Economic nationalism from the political left to the ideological right and varieties of Socialism have challenged only in rhetoric the American-centered world system as the foundation on which the world's political economy and international security rest. This means new international division of labor, redefinition of the terms of trade and investment that do not disadvantage the Third World and new “North-South” hemisphere relationship that allows for a more equitable redistribution of wealth–all of it used as leverage by those wishing to further dilute Pax Americana.

Depending on its severity, the current global economic dislocation combined with revolts in the Middle East and North Africa may force political and financial elites along with the intelligentsia to re-examine the “consent-theory” paradigm with the US as the leader. They must seek alternatives that would ensure policy-formation does not drift toward the lower classes or to the Third World whose conformity and co-optation must be guaranteed to prevent any change either in the social order or the international order.

The unfolding Arab revolts and labor and middle class protests throughout the world will continue to challenge consent-theory that the political and financial elites are interested in preserving. The middle class and workers will lag far behind in the recovery process for the rest of the decade, while the Third World will suffer even more socioeconomic polarization and poverty as commodity prices will rise. The challenge for the governments of all countries today, especially those of the G-20 is how to forge consent that would ensure the support of the middle class and workers, how to manipulate public opinion to back societal institutions that the political and financial elites control.

The global economic crisis of 2008-2010 will continue to exacerbate societal polarization that manifests itself in increased social protests, xenophobia, ethnocentrism, racism, chauvinism, etc., and in some countries in revolts against their governments. Whether it is to the extreme right or left, or seeking democratic solutions, going to the roots of government that includes popular consent will be a normal response on the part of the masses, whether that is in the Middle East/North Africa or in the West that has yet to be challenged by open popular revolt because a sufficiently large enough segment of the population feels a sense of belonging and safety in institutions that increasingly have failed society.

The current global economic crisis combined with revolts in the Middle East/North Africa will intensify the “revolutionary” impulse to alter the social and political structure as well as a minority counter-revolutionary impulse to retain the social structure by an authoritarian movement, regime, or authoritarian policies adopted by otherwise liberal-bourgeois regimes. The dialectic between the two impulses will entail the biggest challenge to the political elites in pluralistic societies since the Great Depression. If as Jean-Jacques Rousseau has argued the repressive conditions imposed by a minority over the majority necessitate force morally and socially justified, then we can expect in the upcoming months and years more voices of leftist dissent and reactionary outcries to maintain the status quo by force.

The current economic and political crisis has diluted if not obviated policy-formation and consent-theory, as we knew it under Pax Americana throughout the Cold War and in the post-Cold era of the global anti-terrorism campaign on which foreign policy of many states are based; with all its intended and incidental domestic policy-formation consequences. To counter the inevitable challenge that authoritarian and pluralistic societies will be facing in this decade , the political and financial elites will have to deliver on the promise that after the crisis there will continue to be “ever-rising living standards” under more democratic condition and greater social justice within the existing stratified social and international order.

Rooted in arrogance of financial power buttressed and protected by the political elites, are the existing institutions sufficiently sound to convince people who lost confidence in the system along with their homes and businesses, jobs and careers, savings and retirement nest eggs, and their lifestyle turned upside down? Given that the political and financial elites have always manufactured consent as a means of preserving the status quo, consent-theory is their domain to define and implement to preserve and advance their privileged position.
Crises, however, as unpredictable as what has been taking place in Arab nations in January and February 2011 bring out in otherwise docile-conformist citizens revolutionary tendencies. Among the people of western nations the global crisis has brought to the surface everything from cynicism to “apocalyptic nihilism”. Besides resorting to more austere laws to “contain” dissidence as it arises with greater socioeconomic problems, the state along with the media, think tanks, and anyone with access and influence to public opinion will have to argue that any alternative to systemic transformation of the social and political order nationally and internationally will entail the demise of civilization as we know it.

Friday, 25 February 2011


Does Christianity today help maintain vestiges of patriarchal culture or does it help mitigate it? Although in most countries, class status transcends gender, institutionally the Christian church in the community, in town, in the nation and globally plays a catalytic role in perpetuating stereotypes and traditional roles in gender politics of identity. This does  not mean that Judaism or Islam are much different; on the contrary, in some respects similar in others betters, and in some much worse.

For the Catholic Church, for the Eastern Orthodox, for fundamentalist churches across the vast spectrum of Protestantism, patriarchal elitism is alive and well in societies that define themselves as 'democratic and pluralistic', thus exposing the hypocrisy that exists beneath the veneer of equal rights. If the Christian Church remains an obstacle to social change rather than a vehicle to progress, is it one of the significant institutions that serves to preserve the social order by engendering social conformity and redirecting the faithful from institutional injustices to focusing on personal quest for salvation from eternal damnation?

Institutionalized Christianity as an inequitable, unjust, and discriminatory ideological system and process that may be supported or opposed by both men and women also has aspects of charity, humane support for the individual and the community, and serves an important role to afford cultural identity and continuity. General and specific discriminatory practices may be a microcosmic reflection of the larger society. However, if these practices persist in contemporary western societies that are increasingly secular and theoretically adhering to social justice, the institution itself that has been a servant of the elites for centuries will gradually lose its mass following. If the church as a major institution engendering societal conformity plays an increasingly less significant role in society, will society be better off and achieve greater social justice, or lose an advocate of social justice?

Drawing largely from Greek philosophy, values, and culture as well as doctrines of Judaism, Christianity as an eclectic religion with a heterogeneous ethnic and racial base and born during the reign of first Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar became the base of patriarchal culture in the Western World. The apostle Paul and St. Augustine provided the doctrinal foundation for the patriarchal religion that rejected the pagan world's spiritual elitism while maintaining all other forms of traditional patriarchal culture in the Mediterranean world.

In the early era of the Church Fathers, Christianity, a religion that originally appealed to the poor and dejected, entered the ranks of the upper classes in the Roman Empire through the wives that were attracted to the faith partly because it preached equality before God, the human soul transcending gender and accepting the intrinsic value of woman. As Christ transcended gender because he was the Messiah, and as he respected and loved the church, husbands must respect and love their wives, according to the New Testament; a doctrine absent in paganism.

Just as Christianity accepted slaves as spiritual equals, women too were welcome as such, finding spiritual emancipation through faith. However, just as slaves were to obey the master and seek spiritual salvation in the Kingdom of God, similarly women were to accept their earthly role and seek spiritual transcendence. In short, Christianity from the primitive era to the growth of the institution that male priests controlled and defined remained opposed to social, economic, political, and gender emancipation. Nevertheless, the promise of eternal paradise of spiritual bliss where all are equal remained the religion's appeal. This earth is damned awful, especially for women, but at least the next one is something to look forward to.

Once the church became an integral part of society and thus the state, Christian doctrine reinforced 'Father' worship, forcing women to seek comfort in the cult of the Virgin Mary. Resting heavily on the writings of apostle Paul who was influenced by Greek philosophy and Judaism, the upper clergy through the ages preached that woman was made from man - an extension of the male; woman should not speak in church, or wear head scarf and she should accept a subordinate place to their husband; woman is a reflection of man's glory thus lacking an identity for herself.

Original sin attributed to Eve more than Adam, accounts for another deeply ingrained idea inculcated into the minds of Christians that evil flows from females, and that anything other than the Virgin Mary prototype is unholy. By affording legitimacy to monogamy, the Church also stigmatized divorce and sexual activity outside marriage as sin, and did the same for homosexuality and lesbianism. If the wife and daughter do not subordinate their will to the husband/father, as he subordinates his will to God, then disharmony and sin follow. Rooted in sexuality, female sin is invariably associated with guilt and low self-esteem for women, a trait that the church reinforces thus encouraging confession as spiritual cleansing.

Sin and guilt have always been used to condition women to accept inferior status and to internalize what are natural tendencies of their human sexuality and its expression. By subjugating the mind of women in this manner, conformity becomes easier at every other level, thus denying women their humanity. Once the woman doubts her worth and questions self-esteem, she is already convinced that she is undeserving of social justice.

The one institution that presents itself as promoting the ultimate form of social justice (Eden) based on the divinity of Christ, the one institution claiming to dogmatically oppose elitism continues to be an instrument of social and gender elitism today as it has been in the last two thousand years. One of the oldest institutionalized religions on earth, Christianity has always been heavily politicized, thus an integral part of the broader societal institutional structure rooted in elitism that helps to preserve the status quo, and doing so in the name of God and the illusion of eternal salvation.

Thursday, 24 February 2011


MOTHER JONES magazine is running a very significant article in its current online issue. This is an article by the numbers that may surprise or perhaps shock those who believe that democracy in America translates into fairly equitable income distribution.There have been many studies before the one in Mother Jones that indicate the American middle class has been declining in the last three decades, that living standards have also been declining along with incomes for the vast majority, and that social mobility is on the decline, while the top 10 percent have seen their incomes skyrocket.

In a number of my postings about the economy and social classes during the past six months, I have noted that the income trend has been one of steady downward path for the waning middle class and workers, while rising for the super rich, among them multimillionaire senators and congressmen that have been voting to cut taxes on wealthy. The most recent figures from MOTHER JONES indicate that 90% of Americans earn an average of just over $31,000, while the top 1% earns $1.1 million. As incomes have been falling for the middle class and workers in the last three decades, they quadrupled for the top 1%. Surprisingly, according to a survey, the majority of Americans actually believe that income distribution is actually much fairer across all social classes, when in reality there is an extreme income gap.

Studies that have been conducted show that the top 1% of Americans had the same share of income in 2006 as in 1928. Some studies indicate that in 1915 the top 1% of income earners owned 18% of America's wealth, while in 2010 the top 1% owned 24% of the wealth.The top one-hundredth of 1% currently making an average of $27 million per household have seen their incomes rise substantially regardless of the 2008-2011 recession that resulted in millions of people losing their jobs, homes and health care.

The majority of the American people is still convinced that there is fair income distribution when the reality is very different. This is indicative of how successfully the media has indoctrinated people into believing myths of fairness, that political democracy equated with the right to vote somehow magically translates into economic and social democracy. Studies indicate that the majority of the American people believe that individual merit-based values determine income, rather than fiscal policy, institutional structures or the nature of the evolving capitalist economy that increasingly concentrates wealth.

Income inequality in the US is among the highest among the G-20 (richest nations in the world) and ranks according to the GINI index at the level of Russia and Turkey in terms of income gap or divergence between top, middle and bottom income earners. The US also ranks very low in opportunities for upward social mobility in comparison with Europe as well as Canada and Australia. Nevertheless, the majority of the population is convinced that the US ranks number one in the world in social mobility. 

From the Second World War to the end of Vietnam War, income inequality was dropping at a time that a single member of the household worked. Income inequality began a gradual trend toward polarization in the late 1970s when both husband and wife had to work to meet living expenses. That Americans have the highest income inequality among the G-20 is a mystery, considering that in the last three decades that this has been taking place there are more Americans with college degrees, professional and graduate degrees than ever in history.

It is true that the more education an individual has the higher the income and more job/career opportunities. However, while a high school degree was once sufficient for many jobs, today a college or technical degree is necessary in order to be marketable in an economy that has a surplus of 'human capital'. Contrary to the myth that Americans need to secure more and better education in order to secure higher incomes, the general trend for 90% of the population is steady income decline while the top 10% have dramatically raised their income.

Judging by the current fiscal policy, the current trend of gross income inequality will become much worse in America in this decade. If what is taking place in Wisconsin with the public employees having to slash their benefits and deny collective bargaining rights is an indication, and given the freeze in Social Security and federal employees salaries, the US is headed for an austerity program that the middle class and workers will be paying; an indication that income divergence will continue.


As an integral part of the human experience and societal institutions, violence is the mirror of the human condition expressed creatively in literature, art, music, religion and other social science and humanities fields. Symptomatic of complex personality (biological and psychological) and societal factors, violence is studied by various disciplines from criminal justice and psychology to forensic science and sociology.

Violence is multidimensional, transcending gender, ethnic, religious, and racial groups. Although there is some controversial evidence that women are less violent than men, placed in an institutional setting of violence (military or position of authority that requires policy decision resulting in violence), women behave no differently than men. Because most societies since the dawn of civilization were patriarchal, women have been victims of gender and institutional violence. At the same time, patriarchal societies from ancient to modern deem women as carriers of evil.

In the 16th and 17th century Europe, hundreds of thousands of women were tortured and put to death for witchery as a means of cleansing society from evil. Naturally, violent means were used to rid society of women as the source of evil associated with violence. Today many women from Asia and Africa are subject to human traffic violence. Throughout sub-Sahara Africa they are victims of HIV/AIDS because the patriarchal society renders them powerless to protect themselves and their babies.

As civilization unfolds, as science and technology advances and presumably tames the human mind toward a less belligerent disposition, violence becomes increasingly prevalent at the individual level, but especially at the institutional level as governments launch wars that leave countless innocent people injured and dead. Ironically, the US as the most advanced country in the world since 1945 has the one with the highest level of violence in the world both at the institutional and individual levels. More gun violence, more family violence, more serial killings, more prisoners per capita than any other country on earth, despite presenting itself as 'law and order nation'.

Today as well as throughout history, far greater violence and destruction has been caused by calculated government policies against 'defined enemies' and against their own people than any individual acts of violence. The 20th century of course was the bloodiest, producing the greatest number of fatalities and mass destruction in human history. The 20th century also produced some of the most devastatingly tragic holocausts, including Armenians slaughtered by Turks; Jews, Gypsies and Communists by Germans; Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge; Muslim Bosnian catharsis by Christian Orthodox Serbs; Rwanda tribes slaughtering each other in the name of ethnic cleansing in a pursuit of hegemony.

In the first two months of 2011, the world has witnessed Islamic regimes across North Africa and the Middle East pursue violent policies against their own people, leaving many of them dead and injured, especially in Libya. Authoritarian regimes at gunpoint try to perpetuate themselves on a reluctant society that demands greater social justice, greater respect for human rights, and a more inclusive political democracy. Other examples of institutional chronic institutional violence is the apartheid situation in Israel that has been repressing Palestinians at gunpoint for the past six decades, while the world led by the US has failed to stop this chronic tragedy.

Given that nations today whether in the Middle East- North Africa of in Afghanistan live by institutional violence, it is impossible that such belligerent policies would not influence individuals and their conduct. If nations in their quest for political, economic, and military power pursue aggressive means and their desire for hegemony transcends the quest for harmonious co-existence, why would the conduct of individuals not emulate that of nations? The inexorable links between institutional violence by the nation-state and violence by individuals were a subject of focus by various scholars from Georges Sorel at the turn of the 20th century and scholars in the interwar era shocked by the mass destruction of the first world war.

In his work Reflections on Violence, Sorel argued that psychological violence in the absence of the physical act, or institutional conformity to the exploitation of a segment of society (workers by industrialists, peasants by large farmers) can be worse than physical violence. Doing nothing is evil and a form of violence when every 3 seconds a person dies of starvation around the world (75% of which are babies, estimated at 40,000); when more than one billion people are chronically impoverished and have no access to clean water, medicine or shelter; when there is a form of collective punishment against social groups; when people seek social justice and freedom. Doing nothing is a form of violence indicative of amoral behavior that seems to permeate modern society where the individual has been conditioned by atomistic values rooted in materialism to the detriment of any ethical social responsibility.

In the Medieval period it was widely believed in Barbarian Europe and in Eastern Christendom that root causes of violence were triggered by the devil or evil spirits. Learned theologians of course provided more refined explanations, arguing that humans carry the seed of evil within them from Adam and Eve, mostly Eve that theologians blamed for the fall of man from grace. In Paradise Lost, John Milton sees Eve as the source of evil more than he sees the fallen angel in that respect.

Whether the act by individuals or institutionally, whether psychological or the absence of involvement to help mitigate exploitation, violence is indeed a manifestation of evil. However, it has nothing to do with the devil, evil spirits, and certainly nothing to do with Eve, the female prototype that patriarchal society used for centuries and continues to use to explain evil. Violence is largely learned behavior for which society institutionally is responsible for inculcating into the minds of individuals.


Modern Western education systems owe their existence to the Age of Reason (Enlightenment) that was the last intellectual revolution the western world has experienced. Living the legacy of the Enlightenment era means that we have inherited not only its grand bourgeois ideals but epoch-linked and class-based pitfalls as well. Predicated on 18th-century middle class principles of meritocracy, liberalism, and egalitarianism, educational systems have always been elitist in practice in so far as they have served to perpetuate the socioeconomic and political hegemony by the dominant class.

The Age of Reason in the 18th century brought an end to "utilitarian education through imitation," but not the end of elitism despite the fact that it coincided with the dawning of the age of mass politics ushered in by the French and American Revolutions. Without demeaning the Enlightenment's enormous and far reaching contributions to science, technology, and liberal education in general, the question is whether the intellectual elites have best served society - all classes and not just the middle class - with their education model, one we have inherited with modifications to reflect the national character.

While professional teachers 'train,' more accurately acclimatize, pupils to secure a place in private and public institutions established to further elites' interests, by definition the educator's constrictive classroom role entails stifling creativity and fostering institutional conformity. This was especially the case in the 19th century and bitterly criticized in popular novels by many including Charles Dickens who depicted mass education as an extension of factory system of mass production.

For example, in HARD TIMES Dickens is bitterly critical of dehumanizing conditions as much in the factory as in schools that serve as a microcosm of the the industrial city. Students are no different than inter changeable factory parts subsisting in order to serve the larger purpose of enriching the factory owner's profits and move the industrial economy forward. How are things any different today in most of the western countries that have a surplus educated population unable to find employment in the field of their college training and with a salary commensurate to their education. How is the modern college graduate any different than a mere interchangeable factory part that Dickens described of elementary school students in the early 19th century?

Mass education from the Industrial Revolution to the present resembles ailing private enterprises that try to increase productivity and cut costs to survive, while producing a product, the student, ready for the marketplace. The question is not that schools around the world are deteriorating along with polarized pyramid-style socioeconomic structures that they intended to serve, but that they are actually able to graduate students, at least a good percentage, that can function as free thinking, creative, and productive members of modern society; and a small percentage that have energetic creative minds transcending the mediocrity of the system. If private enterprise has problems of incompetence and corruption, why should schools--elementary through college --be any different: could they be any different as they they are operating outside the larger institutional milieu?

Has the Enlightenment ideal of continuous linear progress based on optimistic rationalist assumptions, almost Hegelian in the sense that life and history are endless roads of upward progress, based on a mechanical or mathematical model solved all institutional and social problems?  Or has this model created other problems such as alienation of the individual and class and geographic inequality on a world scale? Has the Enlightenment model of education resulted in more creative and more content people, or has it exacerbated the human condition?

While the Age of Reason coincided with the socioeconomic ascendancy of the bourgeoisie that fostered an education system to mirror middle class interests and values, in that respect no different than medieval religious education that reflected secular and spiritual nobility's interests and values, the bourgeois model with all its modifications is anachronistic and fails to best serve humanity's needs. Unfolding social discontinuity in the age of globalization will eventually entail that a new revolution would incorporate workers' interests and values that the bourgeois intellectual revolution of the 18th century hardly took into account even in theory.

Capitalist managerialism, the exploitation of humans for profit, as Erich Fromm argued in The Sane Society, prevails over humanistic communitarianism, thereby contributing to the alienation of modern humans.  People yield to capitalist managerialism, in fact most feel that it is perfectly natural and many take pride to be a part of it, because they have been indoctrinated by mass education, the media, and mainstream institutions, especially government that seeks mass conformity.

Modern man has been conditioned by society to fear alienation from the community, which translates into submission to institutional conformity, and to accept the security and rewards of institutional conformity at the expense of actualizing the creative potential that falls outside institutional perimeters. Instead of education serving to liberate the human spirit and unleash its creative potential, it has been and remains a tool for conformity, and therein rests the poverty of the system.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


"Never has anyone ruled on this earth by passing his rule essentially on any other thing than public opinion,” wrote Jose Ortega y Gasset in *Revolt of the Masses*. While modern secular man presumably ought to base her/his view of leaders on the prospect of a brighter future for society’s welfare, politicians, businesspeople, professionals of all sorts, image-makers, and the media cultivate a public image on populist personal ‘character traits,’ as though the politician, businessperson, or professional is a marriage candidate instead of someone performing a service in the public or private sector.

The age of mass media has created what mass politics requires and voters have been duped into believing that the criteria ought to be based on 'personal character traits' that transcend policy issues. This is not to suggest that voters should overlook character, but should such traits that can easily be molded and packaged by 'image makers' be the dominant criteria? Whether U.S. or European presidents, or leaders of less advanced countries, image makers advise that the leader must be a ‘man or woman of the people’, close to the people with a ‘personal touch,’ regardless of whether policies only strengthen established interests to the detriment of society’s welfare and social justice for the vast majority.

Things are not much different in the realm of business, especially corporate world where image transcends substance in a cruel Machiavellian sense. Whether in politics or private sector, merely looking the part is 90% of the effort in 'winning the game'. And there is no shortage of consultants to make people both in politics and private sector 'look the part' - everyone from wardrobe/stylist advisers to speech advisers to acting/communication coaches/consultants. There are seminars, books, articles, advice columns, web blogs, etc. all devoted to image making because today more than ever you are what you appear and people behave accordingly toward you, until and unless they find out differently.

To distract from essential issues related to the widening rich-poor gap, the corporate-owned mass media throughout the world constantly molds public opinion and shapes the images of leaders for the masses who are conditioned to accept hollow appearances and not ask questions; focusing not on policies affecting the interests of social groups, but on sensationalized stories, personal lives and lifestyles. Talk radio, TV shows, news programs modeled after talk shows designed to entertain the audience for ratings so the show can remain on the air, project the 'lighter side of life'. Blogs are not much different for the most part. No matter how difficult and heavy reality has become, the focus is 'light everything' just like a soda pop designed to give you the illusion that 'light is good for you', at least it will make you feel better temporarily like a narcotic. 

Because human beings yield to irrational impulses, because the mass media cultivates peoples’ voyeuristic proclivities, and because most voters accept image as a substitute for substance and love to receive it in entertaining doses of incredible 'lightness', politicians have a free reign to serve elite interests while presenting themselves as personable leaders with ‘good’ character traits that the average person can feel good about and identify with.

Illusion works as long as people feel good about it. In identity politics and corporate business what matters is that the average citizen believes that the politician and corporate manager share the values of the common person. This belief - the illusion - leads the individual to conclude that sharing of common values between political (of business) leader necessarily furthers the interests of society as a whole. Whether it is true or not that the politician and/or corporate president actually serve societal interests is not important, only that people believe it is so and act accordingly. But how to convince them amid so many sources of information in the 21st century?

Sensationalized scandals, including ‘human interest,’ sex and crime, celebrity, and ‘reality-show’ programs along with organized religion that is more politicized than political parties, befuddle the average voter’s mind to the degree that internalization of societal problems means the absence of grasping complex problems regarding social justice. During the late 1970s, a Holocaust survivor explained to me that people living near Nazi concentration camps who were able to help were generally satisfied as voyeurs, rather than acting to help those in need inside the camps. In today's world, many reporters, photographers and camera crews are more interested in capturing the story for broadcast than of helping a victim in need.

We have failed to realize that we live in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, where we need to look beyond image and take action to foster social justice and build a more humane world. Thanks to bourgeois institutions and the mass media that foster individualistic cash-value systems as the pillar of modern society, we are deluded into believing that we live in Hitchcock’s Rear Window that offers the psychological satisfaction, immediate gratification that the individual thinks he/she needs as though passing through a fast-food window for a sandwich and a soft drink.

Other than the financial and political elites, as well as the many who work toward that goal for the elites, who benefits from illusions and image-making? Where is society headed if illusion and image-making lack substance behind them? Where is society headed when people conform and believe that 'democracy' entails distributive political power among all citizens able to freely determine their own destiny when in reality 'democracy' as such is an illusion that the media and all mainstream institutions promote, an illusion or dream from which once people awake to stare at reality in the face, they discover concentration of power from political to economic in the hands of the elites hiding behind image-makers.


Uncertainty that engenders fear and high anxiety about the US-based  global economic crisis of 2008-2011 may be at the tail end, but the uprisings in the Middle East, social unrest in many Western and Eastern European countries indicate that there is a price to be paid politically. For now, major markets are headed higher, corporations are reporting healthy profits, the IMF is predicting robust world GDP growth for 2011, even better for most of the G-20 nations that account for roughly 80% of the world's wealth. Assuming relatively calm global political climate, these conditions should theoretically yield lower unemployment and underemployment in the next 12-24 months for the advanced capitalist countries that are coming our of the recession before the underdeveloped ones.

Structurally, however, the nature of finance capitalism for most countries will remain parasitic heavily dependent on inordinate public and private debt, and therein rests the problem of an even greater and deeper recession in the economic cycle that will inevitably follow a growth period after the current recession. Weaker middle class and labor is a reality for most countries, including every one of the G-7. As the world economic leader and the nation with the greatest economic, political, and military leverage in the world, the US has permanent structural problems coming out of the current recession, given that it must roll over debt to meet service obligations, and given the private sector is also swimming in an ocean of debt. How does this translate for American society?

During the 2008-2011 recession, an estimated 50 million Americans experienced malnutrition each year, mostly children and women, in a population of 310 million. These figures suggest Third World conditions that currently exist within the US will deteriorate unless there is a radical shift in fiscal, economic, and social policy.
Not that the EU is much better off, considering that an estimated 20% of the population is below the poverty line, unemployment is higher than in the US as is underemployment. Despite optimistic GDP growth forecasts, both in EU and US more people have been flocking to shelters and food banks in the last three years than at any time since the Great Depression.

In addition to malnutrition, the US is facing a crisis of homelessness owing to record number of foreclosures, just under 10% unemployment (unofficially much higher especially when counting the underemployed). Untreated illnesses amid skyrocketing health care costs and the uninsured remain permanent problems. To make certain that the government does not stand in the way of profits by supporting cheaper generics or slashing Part D in Medicare, the pharmaceutical lobby spent over $110 million for Congress alone in 2009. This example of a single industry illustrates the nature of parasitic capitalism and how it is likely to continue given the relationship between corporate money and politics.

As I have indicated before and since the bailout plan of finance capitalism, the problem with the economic crisis of 2008-2011 is structural that permeates the entire system and not limited to a few banks that made bad loans or recycled mortgages of real estate whose bubble burst. If indeed we are only faced with a question of liquidity in banks holding "bad paper," then we should never see another such crisis given the regulatory mechanism that governments have in place.

Just as the pharmaceutical lobby has spent millions to prevent unfavorable legislation, so have banks. Given that banks, like other corporations advertise in mainstream media, there is a flood of mainstream news stories in the US as well as Europe suggesting to readers, radio listeners and TV viewers that banks are the foundation of the economy and need government and popular support. The media, therefore, is also advancing parasitic capitalism because it is how it survives within the system.

Former IMF official Simon Johnson is one of many mainstream analysts confirming that parasitic capitalism was responsible for the 2008-2011 global recession. In an article  appearing in The Atlantic magazine in May 2009, he wrote that government deregulation of banks accounted for 'Banana Republic capitalism'. Johnson argues that elite business interests created the crisis by gambling in markets with the government's implicit support, while governments were unwilling or unable to do anything about it.

By inserting debt into every sector of the private and public economy from the unsuspecting college student signing up for credit cards to government borrowing to invest in higher defense spending, bankers, corporate executives and a handful of investors accumulated billions for themselves in profits. In the process, however, these bankers and corporate executives that demanded 'free markets' weakened the very markets from which they made huge profits because they bankrupted the system by late 2007. Inviting government to strengthen the markets at the taxpayers' expense in 2008, the same parasitic capitalists began to sink the system back into deeper into debt and setting the stage for the next downward economic cycle.

Parasitic capitalism will persist because governments have not taken the necessary steps to restructure the unsustainable system that could be called 'Banana Republic capitalism' or 'Robin Hood capitalism', or more accurately parasitic capitalism based on perpetual debt and borrowing. Now that the banking system has been restored thanks to government shifting trillions from taxpayers to finance capital, we will most certainly confront higher inflation owing to higher commodity prices.

World Bank and private studies confirm the rise of commodities in inevitable, owing to a rise in population and limited resources concentrated geographically and within a small group of people. These conditions will results in higher structural (permanent) unemployment and underemployment in a number of countries. The IMF sees unemployment and underemployment as the most challenging problem going forward, thus slower growth on a world scale and grossly uneven social and geographic income distribution.

One route for governments to take in order to cut the debt cycle is to absorb the surplus capital generated by parasitic capitalism in the past two decades, and especially in the past decade and to begin investing in jobs-growth industries to create new wealth instead of piling up debt upon rolled over debt. A G-8 agreement to cut defense by 50% and freeze at those levels would be another move to reduce debt and move away from parasitic capitalism.

More liquidity into the civilian economy by central banks, a 25% rise in minimum wage and social security benefits and a 30% surtax on high income groups would be good steps toward absorbing surplus capital from the top income groups and shifting down to generate growth without debt. Instead of absorbing surplus capital from the wealthy and the parasitic defense sector, capital largely parasitic for it does not create new wealth that generates jobs-based horizontal economic growth throughout the world, the state during the recent recession has opted to absorb capital from labor and the middle class to strengthen parasitic finance capitalism that was responsible for the global recession. US, EU and other governments around the world have opted not to adopt to raise taxes on the middle class and workers, slashing social welfare programs, and continuing to shift capital from the bottom social classes to the same elites that Simon Johnson argues caused the economic crisis of 2008-2011.

The US, EU, Japan, Australia and Canada collectively own more than 50% of the world wealth. Instead of helping to strengthen their own middle classes and labor as well as the economies of the poorest 100 nations on earth that own less than 20 of the world's wealth, they have been introducing fiscal, economic and social policies on how to better exploit resources and labor in order to regenerate growth and development after the 2008-2011 economic crisis. Forgiving the foreign debt of the poorest 100 nations instead of using the IMF and World as instruments to exact financial, trade, and investment concessions from the poorest on earth would actually help stimulate phenomenal growth on a world scale; because such growth would be based on creation of new wealth instead of parasitic capital concentration through electronic trading on Wall Street and the other global markets that only increases debt that the middle class and workers must eventually pay through higher taxes and lower living standards.

Some have argued that the structure of parasitic capitalism is not only hitting labor, but children, women, and non-white people within the US and around the world. Parasitic capitalism, therefore, is at its core racist and sexist, but more broadly intended to deny social justice regardless of gender, ethnicity, or race. The question of how long can the host of the parasite survive is one of speculation. For now, it is certain that a large segment of the world's population is paying for parasitic capitalism to thrive. Debt capitalism designed to further concentrate capital in the hands of a few people gambling in financial markets with the state as a guarantor behind them is not sustainable. People will reach their limit and then demand structural change to a system that promises endless riches for all but delivers them only to very few while the many wind up with endless indebted servitude.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011


There is no shortage of conspiracy theories regarding the causes of the revolts. Many people, I suspect the vast majority around the world, accept on face value the revolts as expressions of people's desire for a better regime than the one that lost legitimacy in their eyes, a society with greater social justice, respect for human rights, and above all economic conditions that allow all people to enjoy a better quality of life for themselves and their children.

Rational face-value explanations, however, are for naive people as far as some are concerned who want to believe that the uprisings from Tunisia to Yemen are somehow masterminded and coordinated by some external force that is manipulating grass roots movements. The odd aspect about conspiracy theories is that governments have contributed to them as much as unconventional and mainstream analysts, blogger enthusiasts, and others who feel there is more here than meets the eye - story behind the story; and maybe there is, but unless there is empirical evidence every one of the conspiracy theories belongs to the realm of fiction adventure.

Conspiracy #1: US Defense Department representatives in the Middle East have hinted that Iran may have been behind the social uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). That theory was discussed but dismissed not only because there is no evidence, other than Iranian rushing to have their ships go through the Suez, but because Iran itself has been subjected to social unrest and anti-government demonstrations.

Conspiracy #2: In a live televised speech on Tuesday, 22 February 2011, Muammar al-Qaddafi accused foreign agents of the West, pointing to the US and UK for destabilizing Libya. Of course we need to keep in mind that Qaddafi in the past has also accused the US of creating the HIV virus. In any event, UK officials immediately denied any involvement in Libya, while the US media joined others around the world accusing Qaddafi of genocide against his own people, and asked him to stop the war against protesters. In response to Libya cutting off natural gas and oil supplies to Italy and threatening to cut off energy supplies to the world, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair John Kerry asked oil companies to cease operations in Libya immediately and called for US sanctions.

Conspiracy #3: Such calls as issued by John Kerry only fuel speculation in some Arab and Iranian circles that the CIA is behind all of the MENA uprisings of January-February 2011. This theory has been floated by Webster Tarpley who argues that given the Wikileaks revelations about US dissatisfaction with Mubarak, and given the US interest to impose greater geopolitical and economic control on MENA countries, the CIA had to devise a plan to destabilize all MENA regimes and replace them with friendlier ones to Washington and to Wall Street. How more friendly can a regime be, and what guarantees are there for the end result after the uprising?

Tarpley has not presented any evidence that can stand up to journalistic let alone scholarly scrutiny. Tarpley's conspiracy theory about the CIA working with the UK actually falls into the exact same pattern as that of Qaddafi. It seems that Qaddafi's staff if feeding him theories they pick up from the web. Parenthetically, this is the same Webster Tarpley who argues that 9/11 attacks were engineered by the military industrial complex and carried out by intelligence services. What are his sources? He has none, but it is exciting to pick on CIA director Leon Panetta who had to do so much explaining for failing to provide better intelligence on the MENA social and political conditions.

Conspiracy #4: Israel's intelligence Mossad together with the CIA planned the MENA revolts because the US and Israel want to weaken the Islamic world and be better able to impose their hegemony. On the extreme far right, there are claims that there are Jews and Anglo Saxons behind the MENA revolts in order to crush Islamic terrorism. On the left, Professor James Petras, whose work on Latin America I always respected, has advanced arguments that are not that far from those of Tarpley. And it may very well be true that the US sees volatile regimes in MENA countries and opted to save the state and sacrifice the dictators, but we need hard evidence in order to make such claims.

Conspiracy #5: The culprit behind MENA unrest if al-Qaeda that has been at war with conventional regimes working with the West. Does al-Qaeda really have such global reach even at the neighborhood-grass roots level throughout the Arab world? Not that al-Qaeda has any love for any of these regimes, but this assumes the absence or the minimal influence of all other social and political forces in each MENA country. There are also those who argue, and I would agree with them, that the Arab uprisings will probably diminish the appeal of al-Qaeda to Muslims.

Conspiracy 6: George Soros and billionaires looking to cash in amid chaos of global markets. If US and other billionaires have the kind of influence among the young, women, and other protesters in MENA countries, do they also have the ability to determine political outcomes; an issue that necessarily impacts global markets.

Conspiracy 7: The web (google, twitter, etc.) and the media manipulated by sinister forces are the root cause of the MENA revolts. The web and the media are certainly modern tools people use to disseminate information, but are they causes of the uprisings? Was Fidel Castro's Radio Rebelde a cause for the Cuban Revolution?

Many years will pass before we have a good grasp of the causes of these uprisings. But what if the MENA revolts are similar to those that swept across Europe in 1848, a time when Europeans were influenced by what took place in each other's country just as the Muslims are today; a time when they sensed a common destiny in the same manner that Arabs today believe they too have a common destiny?

What baffles people is the timing and why the people of MENA nations waited such a long time before rebelling. Could we not ask the same of the Europeans in 1848? Just as social, political and economic conditions converged in 1848 to send the Europeans to the streets to demand a new legitimacy that included a broader spectrum of the population, we see a similar situation today in the Arab world.