Thursday, 31 January 2013


Human nature remains fundamentally the same for thousands of years. However, culture has an impact intelligence. It is amazing that civilizations that thrived, from classical Persian and Athenian to classical Chinese and Indian civilizations, eventually declined and collapsed in eras of 'dark ages' in  comparison with other world civilizations. This is not because people became less intelligent, but because governments followed policies that accounted for the decline and fall of civilizations, thus sinking the entire population into darkness - regression after periods of immense accomplishments.

France experienced the Enlightenment era (18th century), and while it did not decline in the same manner as classical empires, it is certainly not to be compared today with the 18th century when so much talent manifested itself in all domains. The culture of the era profoundly influences individuals toward creative endeavors or toward nihilism, pessimism and mere survival for its own sake. Despite the vast availability of technology today, it cannot be argued that people are more intelligent because of it. In some respects technology actually inhibits creativity, as the individual is not forced to think and create for her/him self.

Many years ago, when I served as Director of an undergraduate Honors Program, I conducted a seminar entitled CREATIVITY. Needless to say, I went in with specific fields to cover in the course of the semester - from creative writing and art to music and architecture. The most important lesson learned, for the entire class instructor included, was that there is no limit to creativity and that every human being is creative. That human beings have the opportunity to manifest only a small part of their creative potential is a matter of nature environmental and institutional constraints.

1. what is creativity? the ability to unleash a new synthesis from existing models. This does not mean just mere invention of something, anything from a new machine to a new style of music, or wardrobe, but also altering an existing paradigm by viewing it from a perspective never before seen.

2. where does it rest? people are born creative, but education and society also teach as well as constrain creativity.

3. what activates creativity - activating both sides (hemispheres) of the brain is brought on by the environment, DNA, invariably by tragedy or other unusual circumstances.There are stages of the creative process - that is why instinct or innate tendencies, practice, and refinement are all part of the process, whether it is JAZZ, painting, or anything else.

4. Does formal education contribute or hinder creativity? It all depends, but for the most part I must admit the answer is that creativity is only an incidental goal of formal education. I believe that not allowing school to get in the way of one's education (a quote attributed to Mark TWAIN but in reality offered by novelist Grant Allen) may be useful to all who believe that formal education teaches creativity, instead of institutional conformity intended to prepare the pupil for the marketplace.

 Are institutional pressures a motivator or a hindrance in creative endeavors? As a historian who takes the 'long view', I believe that in times of societal crises, like the Black Death, the French Revolution followed by the Napoleonic Wars, WWI, Bolshevik Revolution, Great Depression, WWII, Third World de-colonization movements, all tragedies in many respects unleashed enormous creative energies manifested in art, literature, music and other areas. It is no accident that one of the most creative eras in human history was the Renaissance that coincided with the Black Death. When I would mention to my formed undergraduates the link between tragedy and creativity, they looked at me sort of funny, as though I was advocating tragedy so that people can unleash their creative potential. I only mean to say that tragedy forces human beings, certainly not all be any means to reach deeper within themselves to become more creative and measure up to the realities of the day, while at the same time such creativity is therapeutic.

Let us distinguish, as I tried to indicate before, between commercial creativity, which does indeed fall into the domain of "shallow and abyss of nothingness", and cultural creativity where relativism enters into the picture. For example, a cultural anthropologist would have the scientific training to appreciate arts and crafts of a tribe in central Asia, and not fall into the trap of dismissing it as superficial because the criteria is based on a "Western model of creativity" I want to caution readers here to be very careful about the dangers of looking at creativity in historical and anthropological terms free of a Western-centered prism, something that a critic from the non-Western World would argue is prejudiced if not guilty of cultural imperialism.

 Jean-Paul Sartre may have been right in part, but there is definitely something to be said about the subconscious that cannot be dismissed with the idea that humans fear absolute freedom - here is where I question the concepts of 'absolute' and 'freedom' attributed to human beings that have a finite time span. Sartre like the rest of us lived in a highly structured society and not before civilization, not in the state of nature in collectivist communal or nomadic settings. More to the point regarding the difference between creativity as 'recovery' instead of discovery. If a tribal people in the Amazon jungle that does not know of the existence of a mechanical device 'discovers it', is a recovery or discovery?
And can humans in civilized society today make any discoveries outside the institutional confines that both reward and limit creativity? Is it not true that most people identify discovery with a 'cash-value' mindset and not independently from it?  If there is an incentive to discover a new video game, a new cancer drug, a 'creative' of way of trading securities to maximize profits, etc., people will be operating within that framework. On the other hand, creativity that is as infinite as the universe will remain an option, not because people fear absolute freedom as Sartre argued because he too was immersed in a bourgeois mindset, but because the environment, society, the world provides no incentives, guidance or even a hint in the direction of the infinite universe.

Saturday, 26 January 2013


Besides the US where the vast majority of the people believe that they live in a 'democracy' - not to be confused with Scandinavian democratic models - Western nations have been experiencing a gradual road toward what I call 'Authoritarianism light'. This has been the case especially since the US institutionalized the 'war on terror' - operating domestically under the Patriot Act. The war on terror is the new Cold War against generic Islamist militants that replaced the old Cold War against 'generic Communism').

The new Cold War campaign, accompanied by an ideology and a package of domestic and foreign policies as well as a series of laws, is largely a mechanism to impose sociopolitical conformity, given that the new Cold War has been institutionalized in the same manner as the old Cold War. Therefore, the 'war on terror' fills the gap that the Cold War left behind and permits imperial policies abroad and quasi-police policies at home that are intended to engender sociopolitical conformity at home and preserving the pre-Cold War world order globally.

The media has played the most significant role in the transition from Cold War democracy to 'authoritarianism light'. Mainstream media has played a catalytic role in promoting the culture of conformity behind the thin veneer of the 'war on terror', a fairly meaningless term that is very subjective. The term is so hollow and subjective that it allows many around the world to argue that 'terrorism' is linked with rebels, regardless of the differences between different groups seeking social justice, and regardless of whether they are Muslim or not. At the same time, there are those arguing the US and its Western allies are the most destructive terrorists simply because they have caused the most casualties on the planet and they have not just military means but economic as well to destroy.

Mainstream media goes along with the subjective and politically-defined 'loaded term' of terrorism that the government uses for its own ends, a term that stigmatizes Muslim and non-Muslim rebels and dissidents world-wide. Similarly, both government and media treat all issues from the prism of that new Cold War perspective, painting with the same broad brush stokes all rebel groups, Muslim and non-Muslim, as terrorists. This is not necessarily a new thing, given that under Tsarist Russia in the 19th century, any dissident defying the oppressive regime and seeking social justice was an enemy of the state and thus a terrorist no different than the most extreme Anarchists using violence against authority.

To demonstrate the subjective and political use of the terminology, and the media's role in molding public opinion, let us take some specific events of the recent past, events that continue to preoccupy world public opinion. The Arab Spring uprisings were a case of Arab people seeking 'freedom and democracy' against tyranny; this as far as Western governments argued and Western media reported. In some Arab Spring uprisings there were al-Qaeda elements that the US and its Western partners as well as the media had defined as terrorists in Afghanistan. However, the West found itself i on the same side as terrorists because the larger goal was overthrowing regimes in select Muslim countries. This meant overlooking what would otherwise be terrorist groups and collaborating, something that started in 2010 across northern Africa and continues in Syria in 2013.

Digging deeper and taking case by case uprisings, one sees that the Western media did several things to serve as a mouthpiece of government.

1. The media never covered, or very superficially covered those countries allied with the US and NATO, Saudi Arabia among the most significant authoritarian countries. This meant that only one side was presented, namely that of the Western government and the rebels that the West backed, while the other side was reduced to a demonizing role.

2. Because the perspectives that the Western media presented were in accordance with the national security interests of their governments, there was no attempt to touch upon issues that exposed all of the underlying causes, including the anti neo-colonialist sentiment among the rebels. In short, the rebels that the West was backing in Arab Spring were 'freedom-seeking, democracy-loving' presumably pro-Westerners; something that was very far from the reality in any country going through Arab Spring.

3. While US-NATO worked to overthrow regimes that al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups also targeted as was the case in Libya, the media remained almost mute on the significant issue of the West selectively choosing to collaborate with rebels in one country - Libya for example, but not doing so in another, namely Yemen. In Yemen and Libya al-Qaeda was active, but the West backed the Yemen regime, while opposed Qaddafi. A similar situation holds true in 2013 when Alawites are fighting against Sunni Muslims in Syria, and where it is documented that rebels have been responsible for atrocious crimes. Although these rebels seeking to remove Assad from power would be terrorists as far as the Syrians are concerned, the rebels enjoy the full backing of the West, so they are in fact freedom fighters.

The mainstream Western media reports US aid for rebels fighting against the Syrian government as 'aid for Syria' or 'aid for the Syrian people', as though the only Syria that exists is the one the rebels are occupying, and the only Syrian people are the ones that are not supporting the Assad regime. The main issue for the mainstream Western media is that the Assad regime is killing civilians that the US and the West, along with Saudi Arabia and Turkey are helping; as simple as that.

That Assad wants to stay in power and that Russia is backing him for geopolitical reasons, with China also providing soft diplomatic backing is a topic that makes news only as an example of how the West is obstructed by former Communist allies of Syria. Simpleminded Cold War style reporting in this case reflects the ultimate goal of serving Western government geopolitical and business interests that want regime change. What if Assad is replaced by yer another dictatorship, even one that may not be as friendly to the West, as long as Assad goes and there is a change to satisfy NATO, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

4. During the Arab Spring revolts, there was very superficial coverage, even if there were correspondents on the scene during the uprisings. They usually focused on individual protesters stating on the record that they wanted 'democracy', leaving the Western audience to assume US-style democracy as opposed to Norwegian, as opposed to a mix that includes Islam, a constitutional commitment to pluralism, and above all national sovereignty that includes political, military and economic sovereignty. This last part regarding sovereignty at the core of Arab Spring was rarely mentioned, because it conflicted with the US-NATO 'freedom and democracy' agenda, and this from governments that violate the civil rights and human rights within their own borders.

The cases illustrated above by themselves do not point to Western democracy lapsing toward 'Authoritarianism light', but if one examines domestic policies of Western countries, especially economic, fiscal, and labor policies, then the perspective changes. Let us consider that neo-liberal policies under globalization have created a more unequal society in the West than at any time in modern history, and that this could not be possible in the absence of media promoting the agenda of the political and financial elites. Distracting public opinion through the mass media with preoccupation of 'the terrorist threat' works to engender institutional conformity.

The question is whether this system of gross socioeconomic inequality and marked absence of social justice in countries that have moved toward quasi-police state solutions can be called by the generic name 'democracy', or 'authoritarianism light'? Political, social and economic hegemony of a small percentage of the population that rules through an elected political class is typically called Democracy because voters have the right to choose from candidate of the political class, but this is only an illusion of a socially just society swimming in injustice. In essence such a system is a form of "Kyriarchal plutocracy" (dominant rule by the rich), and the political regime is quasi-authoritarian, or authoritarian light.

The case of the massive retreat of labor unions in the last decade, especially in the last five years during the global economic contraction is a manifestation of authoritarianism light taking hold. It is true that one measure of a healthy democracy is a healthy middle class and social justice for all people. The statistics we have indicate that the West, especially the US have been suffering a shrinking middle class in the past three decades, erosion of middle class and working class incomes, and a sharp decline in social justice accompanied by the demise of the social welfare state replaced with the corporate welfare state.

Legislative and judicial means have been used to de-institutionalize the welfare state and weaken trade unions, along with police intervention in cases of protests, labor strikes and demonstrations. The mass media propagates that legitimacy emanates from conformity, regardless of the lack of social justice, thus fomenting the new phenomenon of 'authoritarianism light'.  Labor unions that have been targeted by businesses interested in lowering wages and benefits, so they can compete with the Chinese and Indian economies.

Amid all of this, what has been the role of the media in labor-management issues? Does the media report that there is a direct correlation between declining trade unionism and declining middle class? Does the media report that the rise of the corporate welfare state replacing the social welfare state requires weakened trade unions throughout the Western World. Does the media report that the deep economic recession starting in 2008 and lingering to this day requires massive transfer of capital from labor to banks and corporations so they can become even more competitive while the social fabric on which 'democracy' has been built is destroyed? None of the above.

The media reflects the official position of governments and has debates only within the narrow confines of the existing neo-liberal system operating under globalization (global economic integration that absorbs capital from the lower classes and from the periphery to the core countries). Therefore, the media has been projecting the image that legitimacy rests within the boundaries of a socially unjust society that can be called democracy simply because people have the right to vote.

The following case study illustrates how the media promotes 'authoritarianism light' and undercuts social justice that is the essence of democracy. During an 10-day labor strike by metro workers in Athens, Greece that ended on 25 January 2013, domestic and foreign correspondents reported the news story copying the arguments the government was making, without bothering to report the causes of the strike as the labor union had stated that cause.

The government argued that the real cause of the strike was a) unionists did not want a 25% cut of their wages; b) they wanted to retain privileged trade union wages, because some earned higher wages than college professors; c) they were obstructing the IMF-EU austerity agreement by resisting to go along with the cuts; d) the leftist parties backed these radical trade unionists who were an obstacle to the harmonious running of the trains in a city of four million people; e) foreign investment demands social tranquility and trade union conformity to the neo-liberal reality in the land.  

It is the role of the media to investigate and determine the validity of the the government's case, but also interviewing the trade unions, political opposition, constitutional and labor lawyers, and non-government labor-management experts to determine what was really going on. None of this took place by any of the mainstream media services in the West, but also in English-speaking India media. Instead, the only side presented was that of the government and business, with labor unions and/or political opposition expressing discontent about the 'wage cuts', which was never at the center of the strike.

The general sentiment of the media was that in a country with official or statistical unemployment at 26% and unofficial at 32%, the metro workers were lucky to have jobs. Moreover, how can foreign investment come in the country if there are labor strikes? Therefore, instead of striking and inconveniencing 1.5 million metro riders and scaring investors, they should have accepted not just the additional pay cut of 25%, accepted the end of collective bargaining and the right to strike, and thanked God and country for having work.

Although leftist media, which is marginalized and has limited readership, reported the labor union story as an example of what austerity entails, using Greece as an example of what is generally taking place or will take place globally, not one word from the mainstream mass media that emergency law is used in time of war, natural disasters, or other related emergency.

The Military Junta in 1967-1974 was the last time that labor unions were crushed because the Junta wanted to end collective bargaining. The current government made up of a conservative party and two others calling themselves 'leftist', issued "civil mobilization order" to union members and threatened immediate dismissal, arrest and even imprisonment, unless they returned to work. Police raided the union-held train depot and forced an end to the strike.

With some variations of what actually took place, the way that the media - including BBC, CBC,  Times of India, FOXNEWS,  UK's Independent, REUTERS, DEUTSCHE WELLE Financial Times, New York Times, UPI, Washington Post, UK Guardian, and others continued to report the story did not change, referring to the issue of the public inconvenienced by a handful of militant unionists whose pay would be cut by 25%. The question of course is whether the mainstream media relied for its information only on the coalition government that has been seeking to break the unions as part of an effort to meet the IMF-EU privatization demands.

This is not a question of one-sided reporting, namely that of the pro-IMF-EU government pursuing austerity that has impoverished more than one-third of the population and caused unemployment to rise from 8% before austerity in 2009 to 26% at the end of 2012, with expectations that unemployment will reach above 30% in 2013. This is not an issue that the labor union was demanding government provide some safety net for collective bargaining, so that a newly-hired employee with a college degree does not earn 25% more than a non-degreed employee of 30-year service.

Nor is this an issue of the government refusing any negotiation with the union because it simply wanted to break it to send a signal to all unions that the era of neo-liberalism is here to stay. Finally, this is not an issue of  Constitutional lawyers arguing that transport workers are not covered in the fields of 'emergency staff' touching upon public safety and health, and that Greece is the only country in the EU that has used the Junta-based law to break the union's strike and impose the end of collective bargaining. The metro strike is but one small example of the erosion of democracy and the road to 'authoritarianism light' under neo-liberal policies that the rich Western nations are imposing in order to best serve finance capitalism at the expense of workers and the eroding middle class.

BBC on its web page as well as live coverage is case and point of massive journalistic distortion of this significant story that has reverberations for all of Europe.  The only issue for the media was that Greece was under austerity and workers needed to accept massive cuts, on top of existing cuts, something that labor union members were not disputing, arguing all along that the media focus on the real issue of collective bargaining that was a prelude to privatizing public enterprises without any collective bargaining contracts that private companies do not want.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation followed the general media line that the real cause of the strike was the cut in wages, indicating that real income cuts since 2009 have dropped  by 30%. Not a word about collective bargaining, crushing the labor unions through police-state methods similar to those used by the Military Junta, or that the ultimate goal of the entire affair was to make public enterprises attractive to foreign investors who want not just low wages, but elastic labor-management relations uncomplicated by collective bargaining contracts.

In sharp contrast to the manner that the mainstream media covered the metro trade union strike, the media treated the bombing of a mall in Athens that is owned by a billionaire received in the dramatic fashion of yet another 'terrorist' act. The Greek government has been trying to identify the main political opposition party SYRIZA, a center-left party committed both to NATO and EU integration, as a party tolerating terrorism. This story, which is reminiscent of Cold War ideological and political dichotomy, received the treatment of a 'terrorist glamor story' by the mainstream media, again without any investigation to determine who was behind the bombing. The rush to stigmatize the political opposition opposed to austerity and anti-labor policies was not just bad journalism, but an integral part of propagating to promote authoritarianism light.

Reading this article, one may conclude that in the specific cases of the Arab countries and Southern Europe, the media does not do a good job, or it simply reports official (government and business perspectives) versions because that is what media has always done, given that it is the way it survives. However, the issue here is that the Western mainstream media is serving a political economy based in the West - its political, military and financial interests - all at the cost of undercutting democracy while helping to promote what is emerging as 'authoritarianism light'. Some have argued that we live under financial juntas hiding behind political parties that change seats from opposition to government every few years. The issue remains that the entire institutional structure pushing society toward authoritarianism. How long before people wake up to see that their society having no respect for social justice is not a democracy as the media insists?

Monday, 21 January 2013


1. Is there a universally agreed definition of terrorism? NO because different governments, and various groups from academic to journalistic use their own criteria as it suits them politically, ideologically and emotionally. Is it possible that a mainstream Western Liberal or conservative can agree on the definition and characterization of terrorism, let alone a non-Western Muslim intellectual or activist agree with an American mainstream politician? In short, 'terrorism' is not subject to absolute laws of physics, but very subjective and subject to ideological, political, religious, cultural and geographic considerations. Nevertheless, those who enjoy dominant power on a world scale, namely the US, have defined the term for much of the Western World, and have institutionalized the legal, military, political, and economic mechanisms to isolate what constitutes 'terrorism'.

2. Does 'terrorism' mean the same thing today as it did during the Roman Empire confronting Jewish rebels seeking autonomy from the imperial rule? "The Reign of Terror" during the French Revolution under Maximilien Robespierre1793-94 provides another twist in the birth of the term 'terrorism', although those carrying it out argue they were seeking justice.19th century Tsarist Russia confronting Anarchists seeking social justice provides another glimpse of 'terrorism', according to the Tsarist regime representing the landowning class. IRA rebels fighting against British imperial rule and Indian and African freedom fighters trying to secure national sovereignty were 'terrorists'? In each case the status quo regime demonized the opposition seeking social justice and/or power as 'terrorist', although in each case the state enjoyed overwhelming power and its devastating force demolished the minority opposition.The only case where the state itself was the overt instrument of terror was during the French Revolution, when in essence the state has always had the massive means to crush rebel opposition using unconventional methods of war.

3. Do the G-20, especially Russia, India China, US, UK, Brazil, France, Japan, etc. - define terrorism in the same sense and do they agree on what groups are 'terrorist' and what groups are simply freedom fighters? Their voting record on the UN regrading Iran, Palestinian question and other controversial issues indicates that the G-20 disagree on what is terrorism.

4. Has the 'loaded' use of the term 'terrorism' replaced the old Cold War term "International Communism" intended to put everyone who questions the Liberal political philosophy and capitalist economic system in one basket? If one is a critic of the status quo, then one must be part of the larger amorphous enemy. This Cold War logic is used today to lump together every possible group and individual, from national freedom fighters to vandals for the purpose of forcing the rest of society to accept the status quo.

Each country defines it in the manner that best suits what it deems its 'national security interests'. This has always been the case, considering that the American revolutionaries were indeed patriots as their fellow nationalists called them, or terrorists, as the British insisted. The same goes for all colonial resistance movements from China and India in the 19th century to Africa in the 20th. As far as 'killing of civilians' by 'terrorists', let us consider that throughout modern history, especially in the 20th century, most of the victims of 'conventional war' have been civilians! In fact, conventional wars have killed a tremendously high percentage of people in comparison with those killed by those employing non-conventional means, namely 'terrorists'. This for the simple reason that conventional war is on a well organized and massive scale, as compared with unconventional war.

Have things changed in the last 200 hundred years with governments relying on 'statehood legitimacy' to label terrorists select targeted enemies using force, especially 'unconventional military (guerrilla) tactics'? Let us take two cases in the 20th century, the Kurdish question in Turkey and the Palestinian one in Israel.

As far as the Turkish government is concerned, the Kurdish freedom fighters are terrorists, especially if they are associated with the PPK, (Kurdistan Workers' Party) that is in essence a national liberation movement that engages in 'non-conventional warfare tactics'. The term 'non-conventional warfare tactics' is what allows the government in Ankara to label PPK 'terrorist'. However, the French President recently met with a high-level PPK official, thus affording legitimacy to PPK, as far as the Turkish government is concerned.

As far as PPK is concerned, the Turkish government has been terrorizing the Kurdish minority by violating their human rights and denying them national self-determination. The really strange thing here is that the US in the last half century had to choose between 'good Kurdish' populations and bad ones, depending on its foreign policy in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey - all countries with the minority population that has no country of its own. This contradiction continues to this day amid the Syrian civil war.

Another example of how subjectively and politically the term 'terrorist' is used concerns the Palestinian FATAH and HAMAS groups that have been fighting for the freedom of Palestinians. The situation with the Palestinians is well known and as far as the people of Gaza and the West Bank are concerned, as well as their defenders, they are under an apartheid regime that has been terrorizing them for the past sixty years. Hamas is a terrorist movement, argue the Israelis, while Hamas accuses Israel of all kinds of crimes against humanity. 

Modern warfare really causes more widespread and indiscriminate damage to civilians than people may assume, simply because they accept conventional war as 'legitimate'! That is also well documented and holds true for the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) as the great historian Thucydides writes in his monumental history, especially regarding the "Melian Dialogue" where it is revealed the Athenians killed every adult male on the island while they enslaved the women and children. It is even worse during the Punic Wars, especially the Third Punic War (149-146 B.C.) when the Romans burned the city of Carthage (for 17 days) and the population was slaughtered. 
People respond so emotionally to 'terrorism' because they fear for their own lives, for their sense of safety and security that the state presumably provides. But what if the state is the source of instability and the root cause for the rise of groups that it then labels terrorists? This is the case in Mali. The issue in Mali is not democracy, for if that were the case, why doesn't the US and NATO go after Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states? The issue here is geopolitical, with NATO feeling that it may be losing ground to rebel groups, especially Islamists, in Africa that is one of the richest continents in raw materials with the lowest labor costs. Containment is at the core of the Mali situation, and no one should be surprised that even China is nervous, given that Beijing has been expanding its operations across much of Africa.

Let us not forget that Western covert activity, overt aid, political support, and NATO operations for rebel groups in Muslim countries (Arab Spring) has not exactly resulted in resounding successes of democratic rule. From Algeria to Egypt what we have is at best a situation that ought to concern everyone who believes that stability emanates from sociopolitical harmony.

Finally, the use of the term 'terrorism' will eventually work itself out of the daily political-journalistic dictionary, and eventually relegated to more specific instances instead of the generic meaning that people around the world attribute to just about any group and/or activity that they oppose. I have seen articles describe what would otherwise be acts of vandalism as 'terrorism'. This is not to say that the term has no place in the political dictionary, but some judicious use at last is needed, otherwise it becomes meaningless. That politicians, journalists, and commentators of various types have been using the term 'terrorism' to describe opponents from extreme right wing fanatics to ultra left-winger, from trade unionists engaged in labor strikes to unemployed youth protesters, from minority groups seeking social justice to minority political parties seeking to express dissenting voices is indicative that 'terrorism' is already devoid of meaning other than the one the speaker/writer wishes to ascribe to it.

Friday, 18 January 2013


In an eloquent work entitled MORAL MAN AND IMMORAL SOCIETY, Reinhold Niebuhr, a theologian, responds to the interwar crisis of the Western World confronting a political, economic and social crisis. Rooted in Judeo-Christian values and Western Liberalism, both archaic and victims of Western secularization, the arguments Niebuhr raises address how society can maintain harmony between the individual and institutions. The same question can be asked in the early 21st century when the capitalist political economy necessarily promotes capital concentration and structural socioeconomic inequality, depriving the current generation of young people of the prospects for upward social mobility that their parents and grandparents enjoyed.

In my view, the West is currently experiencing a crisis not because of 'The Decline of the West', as Oswald Spengler argued after WWI when Europe destroyed itself and proved that the value system of the Enlightenment was finished, but owing to a crisis that is largely due to the systemic flaws in the capitalist political economy (under a neo-liberal model accompanied by aggressive globalization), simultaneously facing intense competition from China, India, Russia and Brazil, and subject to bloc trading groups - EU, NAFTA, ASEAN, etc.

There is the debate currently that society's salvation rests with the elimination of any form of statist model. I would agree that statism under Fascist or authoritarian states as well as crony/mercantilist capitalism entail greater concentration of capital and greater parasitic activity in the economy - capital not geared toward productivity intended to create horizontal economic growth vs. vertical growth within the same elites.

From the ashes of this early 21st century crisis will emerge a new synthesis and therein will rest its values. In short, values do not fall from the sky to enlighten humanity, but emerge from society itself thus molding the culture and individuals. Free will and its limitations notwithstanding, and free will vs. determinism debate aside for now, individuals do not fall from the sky and come to earth with their own pre-molded value system, but are born, live and die within society and its institutions. Whether in the form of crime, protests and demonstrations, revolts, social fabric disintegration, the elites that largely mold society's institutions inevitably pay a price for creating privileged hierarchical systems that cater to the few at the expense of the many.

Sunday, 13 January 2013


Much has been written in the last five years about the so-called 'lost generation', namely, young people who are highly unlikely to experience the kind of upward mobility that their parents and grandparents experienced. The most amazing aspect about all that has been written regarding the 'lost generation' is the abundance of analysis of the causes, but surprisingly very little about any solutions. Recently, a local journalist approached me and asked if he could interview me about the 'lost generation', stressing that he wanted me to focus only on 'what do young people do', not what are the causes of the problem.

Naturally, politicians speak opportunistically about 'the solution' to the youth crisis, arguing in favor of jobs training programs, tax relief to corporations, tax hikes on corporations, jobs creations in the private sector by offering incentives to employers, or jobs in the public sector by raising taxes on the wealthy. Academics are even more opportunistic in offering solutions than perfidious politicians, arguing that the answer is more education, more government grants to colleges and universities to enroll more students, more education, regardless of whether there are jobs for those people who graduate with the 'extra education'. Religious leaders at least offer hope by asking the young and their parents to pray and meditate so they can at least have inner peace, if not a career or a job that pays the bills. One could argue that the religious illusion is just as bad as the political or academic, but that is up to the individual to decide.

The world has suffered a dozen recessions, great and small, since the end of WWI, and in all cases the young people, from mid teens to mid-thirties, have suffered more than the rest of the population in terms of securing gainful employment. Invariably, youth unemployment runs twice the rate of overall unemployment. If overall statistical unemployment runs at 10% (real unemployment usually runs a few percentages higher), youth statistical unemployment would be at least 20%. Youth unemployment varies widely with Western countries and between them and developing nations. For example, youth unemployment in northwest Europe runs in the low teens, while it hovers roughly at 50% in Greece and Spain. The caveat about youth unemployment is that it is deceptive because a large percentage of young people are not in the labor market at all, invariably remaining dependents on parents or guardians, thus contributing to the so-called 'disguised unemployment'.

Besides the cold numbers that one can easily dismiss as the price for 'enjoying' the benefits of a free market economy under the neo-liberal model, there other aspects to the 'youth crisis' amid recessions.
The apparent lack of options for molding one's future based on the level of academic training drives many young people to despair. Because youth by nature necessarily entails a sort of naive optimism that has not been crushed by the experiences of the 'real world', economic recessions inculcate in young people everything from cynicism and emotional instability to nihilism and radical action.

There is a big difference in what people actually do and what they could be doing amid economic hard times. What actually happens to a segment of young people is that they stay idle and dependent on their parents and/or grandparents until they find gainful employment and move out on their own. Another segment lapses into a combination of vices that range from alcohol and drugs to gang activity or other illegal acts such as petty theft. Some studies indicate that there is a correlation between the rise in youth unemployment and the rise in a) crime, b) suicides, c) drug and alcohol abuse, d) emotional problems, extreme political activity that includes targeted or random violence in response to dire institutional conditions.

My contention is that economic recessions also yield a degree of intense creativity in every field in the arts and sciences. For some reason, human beings reach deeper when there is a crisis at the social and personal levels to bring out the most creative endeavors, partly as therapy, partly as a response to the crisis, partly as an existential statement asserting one's purpose in life. This is a good thing and needs to be pursued even more, given that it is constructive for the individual and society, while the five destructive behaviors I listed above only make the statement of despair.

Now, for all practical purposes, what can an individual do amid a severe economic crisis to better cope creatively and live in harmony with herself/himself and society?

1. more education, given that the higher degrees usually entail greater marketability.
2. more education of the kind that will yield a job, assuming the individual does not mind compromising her/his commitment to a field.
3. foreign languages and latest computer skills.
4. paid and unpaid internships.
5. volunteerism,  preferably in areas related to one's field of academic training.
6. part time job in any sector, just to stay active.
7. relocation to where jobs are - within the same country as well as globally.
8. focus on where the future needs of job market are.
9. take part in social/community organizations that are committed to activism of some constructive type, such as helping the disabled, a cleaner environment, etc.
10. Political activism at the grassroots level is a must for the responsible citizen who refuses to accept the dire circumstances of an institutional structure working against the hopes and dreams of young people.

Saturday, 12 January 2013


In The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious Carl Jung argued that besides the 'personal unconscious' there is also the collective one that is universally shared and is inherited. Based on preexisting dispositions, the collective unconscious is governed by such things common to human beings as power and loss, birth and death, elements that bind humans into a sort of collective soul or mind. It is of course important to consider that the unique culture and epoch in history play determining roles in shaping the nuances of the collective unconscious.

For example, collective unconscious in the time of Augustus and Christ differs in nuances from the era of Martin Luther and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V confronting Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Similarly, the evolution of the capitalist economy in its embryonic stage during the time of Charles V and Suleiman began to shape collective unconscious as it did personal unconscious. The transition from a religious-based consciousness to a secular one, as manifested through the Renaissance movement and the Scientific Revolution begins to shape what historians call 'modern man', a concept referring to people living under a capitalist political economy and social structure so dominated culturally by the market system and its values.

Global wars and the Great Depression between them, as well as revolutionary movements during the 20th century clearly determined the nuances of the collective unconsciousness, as did the Cold War East-West confrontation that resulted in the demise of Communism and the triumph of capitalism under the neo-liberal model of globalization. Has globalization molded the 'collective unconscious' and subsumed individual free will (at least the illusion of it)? If so, is that a negative development because globalization is not rooted in predatory profit motive based on a hierarchical social model instead of humane-compassion-rooted conscience? If everything is for sale, why not thought and creativity, why not free will, or at least what is left of it for the individual to exercise?

People sell human organs as they once sold members of their family to slavery and as they still sell women in the Afro-Asian business of human trafficking. On occasion people even sell their 'hardly used soul' on EBAY for those interested in purchasing it for a few dollars so they can imitate Goethe's Faust. People sell their bodies and minds, their services that invariably entails surrendering their 'free will'.

Even worse, when the will of the other is subjugated by institutions a human being feels reduced to the level of a lower species, wrongly in my view, for a bird flies freely and fish swim the oceans and lakes without others of their own species imposing constrictive conditions.In a materialistic society people trade all traces of their humane and compassionate aspects, their dignity and independence for success as defined by a bourgeois value system - wealth, status, power and prestige.

Globalized collective unconscious in the early 21st century and selling of free will is a harsh reality shaped by material culture. "Selling ice to Eskimos" as a marketing strategy may sound absurd, but is it not the case that bottled water is now a global trend owing to marketing and not need? A person may be standing next to a water cooler, but will purchase a plastic bottle of water from the vending machine or cafeteria because his brain has been conditioned to do. Is this a case of surrendering free will to the marketing of bottled water or simply surrendering free thought to 'prevailing trends', and to what degree is there a difference? The age of mass politics and mass culture entails that markets and the state have co-opted and commercialized the individual and local and national culture - free will and collective unconsciousness.

Carl Jung correctly observed that from the dawn of civilization until the 20th century people believed the human soul is a substance with eternal life. In the last half century or so, contemporary science and the materialistic society's institutions and value system have obviated the soul and left humans in an existential void. Perhaps this was an inevitable result that started with the rationalism of the Enlightenment as we see in Critique of Pure Reason by I. Kant, a philosopher whose works influenced Jung.

If there is no soul because modern society has obviated it, is there a free will, and if it exists, is it merely a another commodity no different than a bag of onions? Do humans have the ability to choose in an autonomous manner their thoughts, imagination, and actions any more than they can choose their dreams? In that respect how are we different than other animal species? Jung's most famous concept of 'collective unconscious' developed in the 1920s, largely as a departure from Freudian psychology, has great relevance in today's globalization culture that not only subordinates the individual into the cultural abyss of commercialism and its ideology, but local and national cultures and what Jung described as the 'collective unconscious' that today lacks any sense of humane-rooted conscience.

More than natural science, material conditions account for the collective unconscious that globalization shapes and subsumes as an integral part of the predatory market economy of which the individual is an extension. Subsumed in the globalized collective unconsciousness, the individual feels less significant and less confident of how free will shapes identity and destiny, thus less confident about life's purpose and meaning that comes already defined by the natural sciences as conformed to serve the globalized materialistic culture.

Is free will an illusion, as teleology linked to free will has waned, or is free will a reality, otherwise, how else could human beings make countless choices in their lives - everything from choosing what to eat to choosing to commit a sin as their religion defines it? But do humans 'choose' what to eat from a predetermined set of foods, based on how they have been culturally conditioned what foods to eat, and based on cost, time of the day, and a host of other predetermined conditions of thought patterns rooted in human biology and psychology? Similarly, do people choose their sins - let us say homosexuality that Catholics define as sin, although bio-genetics points to the direction of genetic determinism?

Although the neuroscience of free will as almost as controversial as philosophical and religious discussions of the subject, it is a legitimate question to ask if it is possible to ascertain the nature of free will if emotions and thoughts are determined by electrochemical reactions within and between nerve cells. The technology exists today to predict that the brain has already committed to a decision before it is even aware of its action. Perhaps free will is an illusion and that it is so could be supported by hard science one day. But if the choice of illusions an illusion? Is the issue of free will as much a political issue as it is a matter for neurobiology and philosophy?

In 'Psychology and Literature' Carl Jung writes: "The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through him. As a human being he may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is "man" in a higher sense - he is "collective man," a vehicle and molder of the unconscious psychic life of mankind." If it is the case that the collective unconscious guides if not determines human behavior, is our species not closer to animals than it is to anything divine?

From the ancient times when religion convinced people that their lives were left to the gods until the present when politicians and psychologists try to convince people that they do exercise free will in daily decisions about their own lives, their family, friends, associates, neighborhood, community, town, state, country, the world. The absence of belief in free will easily absolves the individual of any sense of personal responsibility. At the same time, it is demoralizing, in fact enslaving, for the individual to believe that there is nothing but chance, luck, and predetermined fate at work regardless of the individual's endeavors. Herein rests the overwhelming feeling that globalization has obviated free will, local culture and national identity by fostering a collective unconsciousness whose only goal is conformity to the value system and institutions promoting capitalism.