Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Karl Marx

Cases of “Historical Dialectics” of human and knowledge development

Posted on December 23, 2009

Dialectics is not only used to comprehend historical development of human/knowledge development but is basic in discussions and effective dialogues.

Hegel was first to introduce “dynamic logic” and used the term of historical dialectics as the interaction of an extreme opinion (thesis) that generates an opposite extreme counter opinion (antithesis) which results in a consensus (synthesis). 

Historical dialectics is a macro method for long range study and it does not explain the individual existential conditions (survival situations). 

Hegel offered dialectics as a method for explaining how human knowledge developed by constant struggle between contradictory concepts among philosophical groups. The purpose of his method was to demonstrate how the “universe of the spirit” or ideas managed to be raised in human consciousness.

Before I offer my version of knowledge development it might be useful to give a few examples of historical dialectics.

In Antiquity, the pre-Socratic philosophers were divided between the Eleatics or philosophers who claimed that change of primeval substances was impossible: we cannot rely on our senses. 

Heraclites reacted with his position that we can rely on our senses and that everything in the universe is in a state of flow and that no substance remains in its place.  

The synthesis came from Empedocles who claimed that we can rely on our senses but that what flow are the combination of substances, though the elementary particles do not change. 

The Sophists during Socrates were the paid teachers of the elite classes and tore down the mythological teaching of the period and focused on improving individual level of learning.

They were in effect in demand by a nascent City-State democracy of Athens that relied on a better educated society to participate in the political system.

Socrates reacted by proposing that there are fundamental truths, and that knowledge is Not an exercise in rhetorical discourse. The same dialectics worked between the world of ideas of Plato and the empirical method counterpoint of Aristotle.

In the Medieval period the Catholic Church set up a barrier or distance between God and man and forced people to believe that all knowledge emanates from God.  

The Renaissance man (wanting to be knowledgeable in many disciplines) reacted by promoting the concepts that God is in every element, that man is a complete microcosm of the universe, and that knowledge starts by observing nature and man.

Another example is the position of Descartes who established that rationalism was the main source for knowledge. 

David Hume responded by extending that empirical facts are generated from our senses that are the basis for knowledge.

Kant offered the synthesis that the senses are the primary sources for our impressions but it is our perceptual faculties that describe and view the world: there is a distinction between “matter” of knowledge or the “thing in itself” and “form” of knowledge or the “thing for me”. Kant became the point of departure for another chain of dialectical reflections.

Many philosophers used the dialectic methods to explaining other forms of development.  

Karl Marx wrote that Hegel used his method standing on its head instead of considering human material conditions. Marx claimed that “philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is to change it”.

Thus, Marx defined three levels as basis of society: condition of production (mainly the geographic, natural resources, and climatic conditions), means of production (such as machineries and tools), and production relations (such as political institutions, division of labor, distribution of work and ownership).

Marx claimed that the main interactions are among the working class (the new slaving method of production) and the owners of the means of productions or the ruling class: it is this struggle that develop the spiritual progress

Another dialectical process is the extreme feminist political claims of equality between genders which brought about a consensus synthesis for a period.

My view of progress is based on the analogy of combination of two schemas:

The first schema is the coexistence of two strings of evolution (picture a DNA shape): the knowledge development (mainly technological) and the moral string (dominated mainly by religious ideologies).  

The second schema is represented by historical dialectic evolutions in the shape of helical cones. The time lengths of cycles for the two strings are not constant: the technological progress phase has shorter and shorter cycles while the moral string has longer cycles.

The two strings are intertwined and clashes frequently. 

When one string overshadow the other string in evolution then there are a slow counter-reaction culminating in stagnate status-quo phases between the two forces.

Technological or level of sustenance period has time length cycles that is shrinking at the top of the cone before the cone is inverted on its head so that the moral time length cycles start to increase and appears almost invariant (that what happened in the long Medieval period that stretched for over 11 centuries in Europe). Then the cone is reverted on its base for the next “rebirth” cycles (for example the Renaissance period that accelerated the knowledge string ascent).

Note 1: Currently, the technological progress is overwhelming and the mythological string is countering this vigorous cycle: Racism, apartheid, far-right exclusion organization and massive sanctions on entire people based on geopolitical antagonism…

The worst of time started when nature was considered a means to increase capitalism “profit” through massive exploitation of people and nature. Looks like the viability of Earth is on a trend of doom for most living species.

And technology is proven to be very limited in countering the weak moral trend of ignoring the foundation for our existence

Note 2: The Islamic empire that lasted 9 centuries also struggled between religious ideologies and rational thinking. This empire witnessed two short renaissance of the mind and generated countless scientific breakthrough that Medieval Europe tried hard to oppose and to translate.

Woodstock and May 68 (France): Any links?

Posted on October 8, 2010

Woodstock turned out to be the free musical event of the century and gathered a million of youth and young parents with their kids for three days:  It was organized in a nation of plenty and economic growth and a savage, genocidal war in Vietnam.  

The US was training astronauts to land on the moon and the war in Vietnam was harvesting 200 US soldiers every day.  

The youth in France, and particularly in Paris, took to the streets and occupied schools, universities, manufactures for an entire week.  France was in a State of plenty; and “Law and Order” policy was firmly established.  Transparency of the power system in both countries was lacking.

Youth and the newer generations were worried of carrying on their life as their parents did:  It seemed pretty boring and pointless to working for just acquiring consumers goods.  

Youth needed an alternative for their future and a way out of what to do of these internal conditions of plenty and security.  

In both events, youth motto was: “Love is everything.  We need to be free to love and be loved.  Yes for peace and no for war”  

In a sense, morality and law and order to the youth were no longer necessary.  They want to be liberated of  the shackles of the moral “value set” that society was chaining them in. That’s how they perceived the political and social situation then, and their feeling was on target:  Change and reforms were not being felt as technology was.

(Actually, the Beat generation a decade ago set the stage for this new phase)

Men, lawyers and investors, organized Woodstock; but it was the women who ran the show and kept the peace; marijuana and a few other drugs helped.

It was not supposed to rain in that summer event but it poured; people enjoyed sliding in the muddy inclines.  Many soldiers returning from the front in bad mental and physical conditions joined the party:  They were in states of shock and diminished as individuals. 

The mood at war was different from the mood of fraternity, compassion, respect for the other during the musical event:  They experienced extremes in mood swings.

People who purchased tickets, before the event turned free, could gather in front of the large stage. Most attending visitors parked on the hills surrounding the show:  They saw little ants singing and bouncing on the stage but they had their own music in the caravans and vans and tents.

They had their own supply of drugs and favorite music.  They could feel at peace alone even among million.  Masses were no longer of any threat; they could deal with their own internal demons in a gathering of like-minded association.

I lack statistics on the casualties during Woodstock such as injuries, sicknesses…but it is amazing that the event went on for three days in relative peace and very few official policing.  

Most of the youth had no plans of action for their future; they had not the slightest idea where the next location will be or how their life will unfold.  

Many converged to San Francisco, particularly to Ashbury Heights.  The young women had a better grasp of how their individual social stand could transform and empower family and community.

Transparency of the democratic system and reforms were very much in the mind of the newer generation but the detailed programs and future activities were not planned.  It was the real step forward in mankind history instead of the so-called “giant step” of Armstrong on the moon.

In the Paris revolt of May 68, women were the most vocal and most active in the organization and demonstrations:  They were revolting for serious freedom to womanhood in the customs and traditions of society.  Laws were to be more specific on gender equality in duties, rights, and responsibilities and opportunities in the workplace and be effectively applied.

At that age of seemingly confused plan of actions, many claimed that joining for music sake and this impulse of being there in the gathering of crowds was a show of unity of youth spirit around the world.

Youth refuses to miss a togetherness event.  It is this power of gathering that worried the power-to-be: The various interpretations of the meaning of these demonstrations were beside the point.

It was a big party with deep lucidity:  banners read “Run, comrade, run.  The old world is chasing after you.”  

Youth was taking a reprieve by running joyously, a week of total freedom, running as fast as he could, knowing that the old world will invariably catch up with him.   Karl Marx said:  “When history repeats its cycles, the next time around is a farce.”  

Spring of 68 was a sympathetic and spontaneous farce; it was an innovating and creative revolt with no arms.

It was a spring of movable fair, an all free-invited party.  It was a movable feast for sharing ideas and desires for justice, peace, liberty, and pleasure.

There were plenty of generosity and compassion:  Youth was feeling bored of the old world system of unjust order, capitalism, petrified ideologies and dogmas.  It was a humongous fair where affluent lifestyle in the western States of plenty hide the miseries of the lowest classes living in shantytowns.

It was in a period for the third world struggling to emerge from the slavery stage of colonialism.  Spring fairs in the western world spread to most nations where the partying lasted and lasted.

The virus of the movable feast reached countries with old systems destroyed by the colonial powers:  The newer power systems were unstable and mostly haphazard to come chasing after mass movable fairs. 

Spring of 68 crossed to Lebanon and lasted 5 years and emerged on a civil war that lasted 13 years and produced 300 thousand casualties (10% of the population!)

You don’ t need to have a unified purpose to ge together; just youth assembling.  

Large assembling of wolves is good enough a show of force to giving the best impulse to political parties for figuring out the major problems in the political structure ideology.  

The awareness of the problems, after the show of “peaceful force”, can make a difference even if the demonstration was not united behind a clear banner of intent for specific reforms.  

Invariably, a few reforms are imposed.  Getting on the streets beats sitting in isolation, eating our hearts out in bitterness and confusion.

The next phase of modernity began after this successful big party.  Moral values were reviewed and adapted to new realities because ancient fears changed qualitatively:  Laws of pure obedience were submitted to a new reflecting generation. 

Ethics of giving more weight to values than laws was supposed to be the normal extension to morality. The foundations were set for the remaining of this most violent century.

Though the trend for launching pre-emptive wars around the world were in the planning and executed with determination: Let blood reach the knees in the nascent underdeveloped States and south America.

Tidbits #55

Investors bought €1 billion in bonds (Pension funds, hedge funds, and one of Europe’s largest private banks) backed by the mafia Italy’s ’Ndrangheta group.

Karl Marx did describe his vision for the final phase of capitalism in the third volume of Das Kapital, his magnum opus. At that point, he wrote, the global market will have superseded that of any individual country, concentrating the world’s wealth into just a few very lucky hands. (Did Covid-19 pandemics revised this perspective?)

Give to Caesar what is to Caesar and to God what is to God”? A nice diplomatic statement to avoid confrontation with the Roman Empire, though it implicitly hide a most dangerous unfair and inequitable recommendation. It basically says: And give your money to the clergy and lay all your indignities and famine at God’s feet?

In antiquity female divinity (Goddess) was often associated with ambivalence and multiplicity. A reflection of nature, the Goddess embodies both the destructive power and the ability to create,

In 10 seconds Fred Rogers  said it all during his 1997 acceptance speech for a lifetime-achievement Emmy: He asked the audience to think about people who have “loved us into being”

“This moment is so much bigger than me… it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”Halle Berry, Best Actress Academy Awards 2002

Hattie McDaniel, winner for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Gone With the Wind, is the first African-American to receive an Oscar. “I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race.

During the Oscar Award speech in 1978,  Vanessa Redgrave calls out “Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world.”

Brutal force is meant to deny equitable and ethical negotiations

Many of the world’s biggest polluters are missing the opportunity: A letter released this week by a coalition of leading climate diplomats and economists warns that “most stimulus packages have not incorporated climate resilience into their recovery plans.” Instead, as carbon emissions head back toward pre-pandemic levels, fossil fuels are getting a rich payday.

Unbelievable: French rulers forced Haitians (This currently wrecked and forgotten State) to “compensate” them for the loss of land and slaves that came with independence, in 1804, to the tune of 90 million francs.

I say: Don’t waste your time studying the dominant religious sect in a society, just try to figure out the common denominator of this religion by studying the daily routine behavior of the various classes.

Apparently, the US military is afflicted with massive Covid-19 cases: Trump opted safe to wear his mask in his latest visit to Walter Reed hospital?

Palestinians are No longer crossing to Israel for fear of morsening Covid-19 pandemics there. Israel will No longer find anyone to build settlements anymore? Israel is begging US to dispatch what it has of masks and incubators and…to cope with this spreading pandemics.

Most Jews don’t believe God exists. US Christian Evangelical fundamentalists convinced them that their God promised them Palestine

In cold blood: Israel assassination teams enter Palestinian camps and kill young Palestinians. Every day, dozens are detained administratively for months

How Marx observed Capitalists at work: Read former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis

Before he entered politics, Yanis Varoufakis, the iconoclastic Greek finance minister at the centre of the latest Eurozone standoff, wrote this searing account of European capitalism and and how the left can learn from Marx’s mistakes

Wednesday 18 February 2015

In 2008, capitalism had its second global spasm. The financial crisis set off a chain reaction that pushed Europe into a downward spiral that continues to this day.

Europe’s present situation is not merely a threat for workers, for the dispossessed, for the bankers, for social classes or, indeed, nations.

No, Europe’s current posture poses a threat to civilisation as we know it.

If my prognosis is correct, and we are not facing just another cyclical slump soon to be overcome, the question that arises for radicals is this: should we welcome this crisis of European capitalism as an opportunity to replace it with a better system?

Or should we be so worried about it as to embark upon a campaign for stabilising European capitalism?

To me, the answer is clear.

Europe’s crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a humanitarian bloodbath, while extinguishing the hope for any progressive moves for generations to come.

For this view I have been accused, by well-meaning radical voices, of being “defeatist” and of trying to save an indefensible European socioeconomic system.

This criticism, I confess, hurts. And it hurts because it contains more than a kernel of truth.

I share the view that this European Union is typified by a large democratic deficit that, in combination with the denial of the faulty architecture of its monetary union, has put Europe’s peoples on a path to permanent recession.

And I also bow to the criticism that I have campaigned on an agenda founded on the assumption that the left was, and remains, squarely defeated.

I confess I would much rather be promoting a radical agenda, the raison d’être of which is to replace European capitalism with a different system.

Yet my aim here is to offer a window into my view of a repugnant European capitalism whose implosion, despite its many ills, should be avoided at all costs.

It is a confession intended to convince radicals that we have a contradictory mission: to arrest the freefall of European capitalism in order to buy the time we need to formulate its alternative.

Why a Marxist?

When I chose the subject of my doctoral thesis, back in 1982, I deliberately focused on a highly mathematical topic within which Marx’s thought was irrelevant.

When, later on, I embarked on an academic career, as a lecturer in mainstream economics departments, the implicit contract between myself and the departments that offered me lectureships was that I would be teaching the type of economic theory that left no room for Marx.

In the late 1980s, I was hired by the University of Sydney’s school of economics in order to keep out a leftwing candidate (although I did not know this at the time).

Yanis Varoufakis: ‘Karl Marx was responsible for framing my perspective of the world we live in, from my childhood to this day.’ Facebook Twitter Pinterest

After I returned to Greece in 2000, I threw my lot in with the future prime minister George Papandreou, hoping to help stem the return to power of a resurgent right wing that wanted to push Greece towards xenophobia both domestically and in its foreign policy.

As the whole world now knows, Papandreou’s party not only failed to stem xenophobia but, in the end, presided over the most virulent neoliberal macroeconomic policies that spearheaded the eurozone’s so-called bailouts thus, unwittingly, causing the return of Nazis to the streets of Athens.

Even though I resigned as Papandreou’s adviser early in 2006, and turned into his government’s staunchest critic during his mishandling of the post-2009 Greek implosion, my public interventions in the debate on Greece and Europe have carried no whiff of Marxism.

Given all this, you may be puzzled to hear me call myself a Marxist.

But, in truth, Karl Marx was responsible for framing my perspective of the world we live in, from my childhood to this day. This is not something that I often volunteer to talk about in “polite society” because the very mention of the M-word switches audiences off.

But I never deny it either. After a few years of addressing audiences with whom I do not share an ideology, a need has crept up on me to talk about Marx’s imprint on my thinking.

To explain why, while an unapologetic Marxist, I think it is important to resist him passionately in a variety of ways. To be, in other words, erratic in one’s Marxism.

If my whole academic career largely ignored Marx, and my current policy recommendations are impossible to describe as Marxist, why bring up my Marxism now?

The answer is simple: Even my non-Marxist economics was guided by a mindset influenced by Marx.

A radical social theorist can challenge the economic mainstream in two different ways, I always thought.

One way is by means of immanent criticism. To accept the mainstream’s axioms and then expose its internal contradictions. To say: “I shall not contest your assumptions but here is why your own conclusions do not logically flow on from them.” This was, indeed, Marx’s method of undermining British political economics.

He accepted every axiom by Adam Smith and David Ricardo in order to demonstrate that, in the context of their assumptions, capitalism was a contradictory system.

The second avenue that a radical theorist can pursue is, of course, the construction of alternative theories to those of the establishment, hoping that they will be taken seriously.

My view on this dilemma has always been that the powers that be are never perturbed by theories that embark from assumptions different to their own. The only thing that can destabilise and genuinely challenge mainstream, neoclassical economists is the demonstration of the internal inconsistency of their own models.

It was for this reason that, from the very beginning, I chose to delve into the guts of neoclassical theory and to spend next to no energy trying to develop alternative, Marxist models of capitalism. My reasons, I submit, were quite Marxist.

When called upon to comment on the world we live in, I had no alternative but to fall back on the Marxist tradition which had shaped my thinking ever since my metallurgist father impressed upon me, when I was still a child, the effect of technological innovation on the historical process.

How, for instance, the passage from the bronze age to the iron age sped up history;

how the discovery of steel greatly accelerated historical time; and

how silicon-based IT technologies are fast-tracking socioeconomic and historical discontinuities.

My first encounter with Marx’s writings came very early in life, as a result of the strange times I grew up in, with Greece exiting the nightmare of the neofascist dictatorship of 1967-74.

What caught my eye was Marx’s mesmerising gift for writing a dramatic script for human history, indeed for human damnation, that was also laced with the possibility of salvation and authentic spirituality.

Marx created a narrative populated by workers, capitalists, officials and scientists who were history’s dramatis personae. They struggled to harness reason and science in the context of empowering humanity while, contrary to their intentions, unleashing demonic forces that usurped and subverted their own freedom and humanity.

This dialectical perspective, where everything is pregnant with its opposite, and the eager eye with which Marx discerned the potential for change in what seemed to be the most unchanging of social structures, helped me to grasp the great contradictions of the capitalist era.

It dissolved the paradox of an age that generated the most remarkable wealth and, in the same breath, the most conspicuous poverty.

Today, turning to the European crisis, the crisis in the United States and the long-term stagnation of Japanese capitalism, most commentators fail to appreciate the dialectical process under their nose.

They recognise the mountain of debts and banking losses but neglect the opposite side of the same coin: the mountain of idle savings that are “frozen” by fear and thus fail to convert into productive investments.

A Marxist alertness to binary oppositions might have opened their eyes.

A major reason why established opinion fails to come to terms with contemporary reality is that it never understood the dialectically tense “joint production” of debts and surpluses, of growth and unemployment, of wealth and poverty, indeed of good and evil.

Marx’s script alerted us these binary oppositions as the sources of history’s cunning.

From my first steps of thinking like an economist, to this very day, it occurred to me that Marx had made a discovery that must remain at the heart of any useful analysis of capitalism.

It was the discovery of another binary opposition deep within human labour.

Between labour’s two quite different natures:

i) labour as a value-creating activity that can never be quantified in advance (and is therefore impossible to commodify), and

ii) labour as a quantity (eg, numbers of hours worked) that is for sale and comes at a price.

That is what distinguishes labour from other productive inputs such as electricity: its twin, contradictory, nature. A differentiation-cum-contradiction that political economics neglected to make before Marx came along and that mainstream economics is steadfastly refusing to acknowledge today.

Both electricity and labour can be thought of as commodities. Indeed, both employers and workers struggle to commodify labour.

Employers use all their ingenuity, and that of their HR management minions, to quantify, measure and homogenise labour. Meanwhile, prospective employees go through the wringer in an anxious attempt to commodify their labour power, to write and rewrite their CVs in order to portray themselves as purveyors of quantifiable labour units.

And there’s the rub. If workers and employers ever succeed in commodifying labour fully, capitalism will perish.

This is an insight without which capitalism’s tendency to generate crises can never be fully grasped and, also, an insight that no one has access to without some exposure to Marx’s thought.

Science fiction becomes documentary
In the classic 1953 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the alien force does not attack us head on, unlike in, say, HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds.

Instead, people are taken over from within, until nothing is left of their human spirit and emotions. Their bodies are shells that used to contain a free will and which now labour, go through the motions of everyday “life”, and function as human simulacra “liberated” from the unquantifiable essence of human nature.

This is something like what would have transpired if human labour had become perfectly reducible to human capital and thus fit for insertion into the vulgar economists’ models.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Photograph: SNAP/REX
Every non-Marxist economic theory that treats human and non-human productive inputs as interchangeable assumes that the dehumanisation of human labour is complete.

But if it could ever be completed, the result would be the end of capitalism as a system capable of creating and distributing value.

For a start, a society of dehumanised automata would resemble a mechanical watch full of cogs and springs, each with its own unique function, together producing a “good”: timekeeping.

Yet if that society contained nothing but other automata, timekeeping would not be a “good”. It would certainly be an “output” but why a “good”? Without real humans to experience the clock’s function, there can be no such thing as “good” or “bad”.

If capital ever succeeds in quantifying, and subsequently fully commodifying, labour, as it is constantly trying to, it will also squeeze that indeterminate, recalcitrant human freedom from within labour that allows for the generation of value.

Marx’s brilliant insight into the essence of capitalist crises was precisely this: the greater capitalism’s success in turning labour into a commodity the less the value of each unit of output it generates, the lower the profit rate and, ultimately, the nearer the next recession of the economy as a system.

The portrayal of human freedom as an economic category is unique in Marx, making possible a distinctively dramatic and analytically astute interpretation of capitalism’s propensity to snatch recession, even depression, from the jaws of growth.

When Marx was writing that labour is the living, form-giving fire; the transitoriness of things; their temporality; he was making the greatest contribution any economist has ever made to our understanding of the acute contradiction buried inside capitalism’s DNA.

When he portrayed capital as a “… force we must submit to … it develops a cosmopolitan, universal energy which breaks through every limit and every bond and posts itself as the only policy, the only universality the only limit and the only bond”, he was highlighting the reality that labour can be purchased by liquid capital (ie money), in its commodity form, but that it will always carry with it a will hostile to the capitalist buyer.

But Marx was not just making a psychological, philosophical or political statement. He was, rather, supplying a remarkable analysis of why the moment that labour (as an unquantifiable activity) sheds this hostility, it becomes sterile, incapable of producing value.

At a time when neoliberals have ensnared the majority in their theoretical tentacles, incessantly regurgitating the ideology of enhancing labour productivity in an effort to enhance competitiveness with a view to creating growth etc, Marx’s analysis offers a powerful antidote.

Capital can never win in its struggle to turn labour into an infinitely elastic, mechanised input, without destroying itself.

That is what neither the neoliberals nor the Keynesians will ever grasp. “If the whole class of the wage-labourer were to be annihilated by machinery”, wrote Marx “how terrible that would be for capital, which, without wage-labour, ceases to be capital!”

What has Marx done for us?

Almost all schools of thought, including those of some progressive economists, like to pretend that, though Marx was a powerful figure, very little of his contribution remains relevant today. I beg to differ.

Besides having captured the basic drama of capitalist dynamics, Marx has given me the tools with which to become immune to the toxic propaganda of neoliberalism.

For example, the idea that wealth is privately produced and then appropriated by a quasi-illegitimate state, through taxation, is easy to succumb to if one has not been exposed first to Marx’s poignant argument that precisely the opposite applies: wealth is collectively produced and then privately appropriated through social relations of production and property rights that rely, for their reproduction, almost exclusively on false consciousness.

In his recent book Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, the historian of economic thought, Philip Mirowski, has highlighted the neoliberals’ success in convincing a large array of people that markets are not just a useful means to an end but also an end in themselves.

According to this view, while collective action and public institutions are never able to “get it right”, the unfettered operations of decentralised private interest are guaranteed to produce not only the right outcomes but also the right desires, character, ethos even.

The best example of this form of neoliberal crassness is, of course, the debate on how to deal with climate change.

Neoliberals have rushed in to argue that, if anything is to be done, it must take the form of creating a quasi-market for “bads” (eg an emissions trading scheme), since only markets “know” how to price goods and bads appropriately.

To understand why such a quasi-market solution is bound to fail and, more importantly, where the motivation comes from for such “solutions”, one can do much worse than to become acquainted with the logic of capital accumulation that Marx outlined and the Polish economist Michal Kalecki adapted to a world ruled by networked oligopolies.
In the 20th century, the two political movements that sought their roots in Marx’s thought were the communist and social democratic parties. Both of them, in addition to their other errors (and, indeed, crimes) failed, to their detriment, to follow Marx’s lead in a crucial regard: instead of embracing liberty and rationality as their rallying cries and organising concepts, they opted for equality and justice, bequeathing the concept of freedom to the neoliberals.

Marx was adamant: The problem with capitalism is not that it is unfair but that it is irrational, as it habitually condemns whole generations to deprivation and unemployment and even turns capitalists into angst-ridden automata, living in permanent fear that unless they commodify their fellow humans fully so as to serve capital accumulation more efficiently, they will cease to be capitalists.

So, if capitalism appears unjust this is because it enslaves everyone; it wastes human and natural resources; the same production line that pumps out remarkable gizmos and untold wealth, also produces deep unhappiness and crises.

Having failed to couch a critique of capitalism in terms of freedom and rationality, as Marx thought essential, social democracy and the left in general allowed the neoliberals to usurp the mantle of freedom and to win a spectacular triumph in the contest of ideologies.

Perhaps the most significant dimension of the neoliberal triumph is what has come to be known as the “democratic deficit”. Rivers of crocodile tears have flowed over the decline of our great democracies during the past three decades of financialisation and globalisation.

Marx would have laughed long and hard at those who seem surprised, or upset, by the “democratic deficit”. What was the great objective behind 19th-century liberalism?

It was, as Marx never tired of pointing out, to separate the economic sphere from the political sphere and to confine politics to the latter while leaving the economic sphere to capital. It is liberalism’s splendid success in achieving this long-held goal that we are now observing.

Take a look at South Africa today, more than two decades after Nelson Mandela was freed and the political sphere, at long last, embraced the whole population.

The ANC’s predicament was that, in order to be allowed to dominate the political sphere, it had to give up power over the economic one. And if you think otherwise, I suggest that you talk to the dozens of miners gunned down by armed guards paid by their employers after they dared demand a wage rise.

Why erratic?
Having explained why I owe whatever understanding of our social world I may possess largely to Karl Marx, I now want to explain why I remain terribly angry with him.

I shall outline why I am by choice an erratic, inconsistent Marxist.

Marx committed two spectacular mistakes, one of them an error of omission, the other one of commission.

Even today, these mistakes still hamper the left’s effectiveness, especially in Europe.

Marx’s first error – the error of omission was that he failed to give sufficient thought to the impact of his own theorising on the world that he was theorising about.

His theory is discursively exceptionally powerful, and Marx had a sense of its power. So how come he showed no concern that his disciples, people with a better grasp of these powerful ideas than the average worker, might use the power bestowed upon them, via Marx’s own ideas, in order to abuse other comrades, to build their own power base, to gain positions of influence?

Marx’s second error, the one I ascribe to commission, was worse. It was his assumption that truth about capitalism could be discovered in the mathematics of his models.

This was the worst disservice he could have delivered to his own theoretical system.

The man who equipped us with human freedom as a first-order economic concept; the scholar who elevated radical indeterminacy to its rightful place within political economics; he was the same person who ended up toying around with simplistic algebraic models, in which labour units were, naturally, fully quantified, hoping against hope to evince from these equations some additional insights about capitalism.

After his death, Marxist economists wasted long careers indulging a similar type of scholastic mechanism.

Fully immersed in irrelevant debates on “the transformation problem” and what to do about it, they eventually became an almost extinct species, as the neoliberal juggernaut crushed all dissent in its path.

How could Marx be so deluded?

Why did he not recognise that no truth about capitalism can ever spring out of any mathematical model, however brilliant the modeller may be?

Did he not have the intellectual tools to realise that capitalist dynamics spring from the unquantifiable part of human labour; ie from a variable that can never be well-defined mathematically?

Of course he did, since he forged these tools!

No, the reason for his error is a little more sinister: just like the vulgar economists that he so brilliantly admonished (and who continue to dominate the departments of economics today), he coveted the power that mathematical “proof” afforded him.

Why did Marx not recognise that no truth about capitalism can ever spring out of any mathematical model?
If I am right, Marx knew what he was doing. He understood, or had the capacity to know, that a comprehensive theory of value cannot be accommodated within a mathematical model of a dynamic capitalist economy.

He was, I have no doubt, aware that a proper economic theory must respect the idea that the rules of the undetermined are themselves undetermined.

In economic terms this meant a recognition that the market power, and thus the profitability, of capitalists was not necessarily reducible to their capacity to extract labour from employees; that some capitalists can extract more from a given pool of labour or from a given community of consumers for reasons that are external to Marx’s own theory.

Alas, that recognition would be tantamount to accepting that his “laws” were not immutable. He would have to concede to competing voices in the trades union movement that his theory was indeterminate and, therefore, that his pronouncements could not be uniquely and unambiguously correct.

That they were permanently provisional. This determination to have the complete, closed story, or model, the final word, is something I cannot forgive Marx for.

It proved, after all, responsible for a great deal of error and, more significantly, authoritarianism. Errors and authoritarianism that are largely responsible for the left’s current impotence as a force of good and as a check on the abuses of reason and liberty that the neoliberal crew are overseeing today.

Mrs Thatcher’s lesson

I moved to England to attend university in September 1978, six months or so before Margaret Thatcher’s victory changed Britain forever.

Watching the Labour government disintegrate, under the weight of its degenerate social democratic programme, led me to a serious error: to the thought that Thatcher’s victory could be a good thing, delivering to Britain’s working and middle classes the short, sharp shock necessary to reinvigorate progressive politics; to give the left a chance to create a fresh, radical agenda for a new type of effective, progressive politics.

Even as unemployment doubled and then trebled, under Thatcher’s radical neoliberal interventions, I continued to harbour hope that Lenin was right: “Things have to get worse before they get better.”

As life became nastier, more brutish and, for many, shorter, it occurred to me that I was tragically in error: things could get worse in perpetuity, without ever getting better.

The hope that the deterioration of public goods, the diminution of the lives of the majority, the spread of deprivation to every corner of the land would, automatically, lead to a renaissance of the left was just that: hope.

The reality was, however, painfully different. With every turn of the recession’s screw, the left became more introverted, less capable of producing a convincing progressive agenda and, meanwhile, the working class was being divided between those who dropped out of society and those co-opted into the neoliberal mindset.

My hope that Thatcher would inadvertently bring about a new political revolution was well and truly bogus. All that sprang out of Thatcherism were extreme financialisation, the triumph of the shopping mall over the corner store, the fetishisation of housing and Tony Blair.

Instead of radicalising British society, the recession that Thatcher’s government so carefully engineered, as part of its class war against organised labour and against the public institutions of social security and redistribution that had been established after the war, permanently destroyed the very possibility of radical, progressive politics in Britain.

Indeed, it rendered impossible the very notion of values that transcended what the market determined as the “right” price.

The lesson Thatcher taught me about the capacity of a long‑lasting recession to undermine progressive politics, is one that I carry with me into today’s European crisis.

It is, indeed, the most important determinant of my stance in relation to the crisis. It is the reason I am happy to confess to the sin I am accused of by some of my critics on the left: the sin of choosing not to propose radical political programs that seek to exploit the crisis as an opportunity to overthrow European capitalism, to dismantle the awful eurozone, and to undermine the European Union of the cartels and the bankrupt bankers.

Yes, I would love to put forward such a radical agenda. But, no, I am not prepared to commit the same error twice. What good did we achieve in Britain in the early 1980s by promoting an agenda of socialist change that British society scorned while falling headlong into Thatcher’s neoliberal trap? Precisely none.

What good will it do today to call for a dismantling of the eurozone, of the European Union itself, when European capitalism is doing its utmost to undermine the eurozone, the European Union, indeed itself?

A Greek or a Portuguese or an Italian exit from the eurozone would soon lead to a fragmentation of European capitalism, yielding a seriously recessionary surplus region east of the Rhine and north of the Alps, while the rest of Europe is would be in the grip of vicious stagflation.

Who do you think would benefit from this development? A progressive left, that will rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of Europe’s public institutions?

Or the Golden Dawn Nazis, the assorted neofascists, the xenophobes and the spivs? I have absolutely no doubt as to which of the two will do best from a disintegration of the eurozone.

I, for one, am not prepared to blow fresh wind into the sails of this postmodern version of the 1930s.

If this means that it is we, the suitably erratic Marxists, who must try to save European capitalism from itself, so be it. Not out of love for European capitalism, for the eurozone, for Brussels, or for the European Central Bank, but just because we want to minimise the unnecessary human toll from this crisis.

What should Marxists do?

Europe’s elites are behaving today as if they understand neither the nature of the crisis that they are presiding over, nor its implications for the future of European civilisation.

Atavistically, they are choosing to plunder the diminishing stocks of the weak and the dispossessed in order to plug the gaping holes of the financial sector, refusing to come to terms with the unsustainability of the task.

Yet with Europe’s elites deep in denial and disarray, the left must admit that we are just not ready to plug the chasm that a collapse of European capitalism would open up with a functioning socialist system.

Our task should then be twofold.

First, to put forward an analysis of the current state of play that non-Marxist, well meaning Europeans who have been lured by the sirens of neoliberalism, find insightful.

Second, to follow this sound analysis up with proposals for stabilising Europe – for ending the downward spiral that, in the end, reinforces only the bigots.

Let me now conclude with two confessions.

First, while I am happy to defend as genuinely radical the pursuit of a modest agenda for stabilising a system that I criticise, I shall not pretend to be enthusiastic about it. This may be what we must do, under the present circumstances, but I am sad that I shall probably not be around to see a more radical agenda being adopted.

My final confession is of a highly personal nature: I know that I run the risk of, surreptitiously, lessening the sadness from ditching any hope of replacing capitalism in my lifetime by indulging a feeling of having become agreeable to the circles of polite society.

The sense of self-satisfaction from being feted by the high and mighty did begin, on occasion, to creep up on me. And what a non-radical, ugly, corruptive and corrosive sense it was.

My personal nadir came at an airport.

Some moneyed outfit had invited me to give a keynote speech on the European crisis and had forked out the ludicrous sum necessary to buy me a first-class ticket.

On my way back home, tired and with several flights under my belt, I was making my way past the long queue of economy passengers, to get to my gate. Suddenly I noticed, with horror, how easy it was for my mind to be infected with the sense that I was entitled to bypass the hoi polloi.

I realised how readily I could forget that which my leftwing mind had always known: that nothing succeeds in reproducing itself better than a false sense of entitlement.

Forging alliances with reactionary forces, as I think we should do to stabilise Europe today, brings us up against the risk of becoming co-opted, of shedding our radicalism through the warm glow of having “arrived” in the corridors of power.

Radical confessions, like the one I have attempted here, are perhaps the only programmatic antidote to ideological slippage that threatens to turn us into cogs of the machine.

If we are to forge alliances with our political adversaries we must avoid becoming like the socialists who failed to change the world but succeeded in improving their private circumstances.

The trick is to avoid the revolutionary maximalism that, in the end, helps the neoliberals bypass all opposition to their self-defeating policies and to retain in our sights capitalism’s inherent failures while trying to save it, for strategic purposes, from itself.

This article is adapted from a lecture originally delivered at the 6th Subversive Festival in Zagreb in 2013

Follow the Long Read on Twitter: @gdnlongread

Seen through game theory, cancer and police corruption are pretty much the same thing.

And for one of them, there’s a cure

To defeat corruption, we need to understand why it arises in the first place.

Naturalists have long regarded ants and bees as a sort of living parable on the benefits of universal virtue.

Karl Marx was right, socialism works,’ said Edward O Wilson; ‘it’s just that he had the wrong species.’

Certainly, the eu-social insects (from the Greek eu meaning ‘good’ or ‘real’) are better citizens than you or I will ever be.

Reproduction is restricted to queens and drones.

The workers, unable to pass on their private genome, devote themselves instead to the service of the nest.

From the perspective of our own contentious societies, it’s tempting to view the anthill as a place of angelic (or robotic) order.

By Suzanne Sadedin

But that’s not quite right. Even in these superhumanly lawful communities, crime lurks.

In virtually all the eusocial insects, a few workers surreptitiously lay eggs of their own, eggs that can grow into reproductive males.

By diverting shared resources away from the nest, these workers selfishly reduce the fitness of their nestmates. They play the system for their own advantage.

In many species, including the Eurasian tree wasp, such unscrupulousness is held in check by a kind of policing behaviour. Wasps caught engaging in illicit reproduction are attacked.

In tree wasps, rather intriguingly, the attack behaviour is performed exclusively by wasps who are themselves cheats. They are bigger and tougher than average, which comes in handy both in their police work and their criminal activities.

In other species, however, the enforcers do not seem guilty of the same hypocrisy.

Ordinary honeybee workers detect and devour more than 99 per cent of the eggs laid by their sisters.

Among several species of ants, common workers will attack individuals whose ovaries indicate they might be reproducing, biting their limbs to the point where half of them die.

Such is the price of conformity.

And these aren’t even the most thoroughly integrated societies in biology. Nature boasts collectives so harmonious that we rarely even think of them as such: collectives such as you, you great lumbering swarm of self-replicating cells.

Your cells are astonishingly well-behaved.

They fall on their molecular swords at the faintest whiff of selfishness. They rat on any neighbours they suspect might be harbouring revolutionary impulses, wafting out chemicals that alert the immune system. And yet, even here, rogue elements are known.

With enough mutations, cells can abandon the collective cause and set out on that doomed quest for self-actualisation we call cancer.

To stop them, we have cellular cops – macrophages that monitor tissues and attack areas of unconstrained growth.

And just like the ant police, these cellular enforcers can be suborned. Tumors sweet-talk young macrophages, recruiting them to join the rebellion.

Instead of attacking the cancer cells, the macrophages grow excited, differentiating and multiplying. They start to secrete growth factors and defend the rogue growth from the rest of the immune system.

We are, in short, looking at a typical pattern in nature.

A population organises itself around rules. It grants police powers to some of its members – and then those law‑enforcers use their privileges to cheat the system.

Cliché has it that corruption is a cancer.

The truth, though, is probably the other way around: corruption is the more general phenomenon, manifesting in one context as melanoma and in another as illicit reproduction – or police extortion.

But what if I were to tell you that it is not inevitable?

That it can, to all intents and purposes, be eradicated from society? Would you believe me? And would you pay the price?

According to the non-governmental organisation Transparency International, each year around 16% of the world’s (human) population bribes a police officer.

That figure varies a good deal between regions, from just 0.5 per cent in Oceania in the Pacific Ocean to nearly 40 per cent in central Africa.

Studies in Ohio and Illinois suggest that 70-80 per cent of police officers witness minor corruption each year.

A 2002 police report claimed that corruption was so pervasive at Scotland Yard in the UK that crime syndicates could enter at will by bribing officers. In the US, investigations of police crime are said to be hampered by a ‘blue wall of silence’.

There’s a certain defeatism implicit in most approaches to these problems.

While we see sporadic efforts to ‘clean up’ a particular department, organisation or neighbourhood, they tend not to be very systematic, and usually fall off after a year or two as public interest wanes.

Perhaps our cynicism is justified. All too often, the very people who win power with promises to fight the rot are later found to be riddled with it. No wonder we collectively assign the problem to the global too-hard basket. But we shouldn’t be too hasty.

To defeat corruption, we need to understand why it arises in the first place.

For that, we need game theory. A ‘game’ is a stylised scenario in which each player receives a pay‑off determined by the strategies chosen by all players.

There’s also a variant of game theory that deals with so-called evolutionary games. In that kind of scenario, we imagine a population of self-reproducing strategies that get to multiply depending on the pay‑offs they achieve.

A strategy is said to be ‘evolutionarily stable’ if, once it is widely adopted, no rival can spread by natural selection.

The archetypal co‑operation game is the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Imagine that two prisoners, each held in isolation, are given a chance to rat on the other.

If only one takes the bait, he gets a reduced prison sentence while the other gets a longer one. But if both take it, neither gets a reduction. In other words, mutual co‑operation (saying nothing) provides a higher reward than mutual defection (ratting on your partner), but the best reward comes from defecting while your partner tries to co‑operate with you, while the lowest pay‑off comes from trying to co‑operate with your partner while he stabs you in the back.

The most obvious evolutionarily stable strategy in this game is simple: always defect.

If your partner co‑operates, you exploit his naïveté, and if he defects, you will still do better than if you had co‑operated. So there is no possible strategy that can defeat the principle ‘always act like an untrusting jerk’.

At this point, you could be forgiven for thinking that game theory is both appalling and ridiculous. Co‑operation clearly pays off.

Indeed, if you make normal people (people who are not economics students) play the Prisoner’s Dilemma, they almost never defect. And not just people. Rats will go out of their way to free a trapped cage-mate; rhesus monkeys will starve for days rather than shock a companion. Even bacteria are capable of supreme acts of altruism.

This trend toward biological niceness has been something of an embarrassment for biology. 

In fact, the task of finding ways around the more dismal conclusions of game theory has become a sub-disciplinary cottage industry.

In the Prisoner’s Dilemma, for example, it turns out that when players are allowed to form relationships, co‑operators can beat defectors simply by avoiding them. That’s fine in small societies, but it leaves us with the problem of co‑operation in large groups, where interactions among strangers are inevitable.

Game theory (as well as common sense) tells us that policing can help. Just grant some individuals the power and inclination to punish defectors and the attractions of cheating immediately look less compelling.

This is a good first pass at a solution: not for nothing do we find police-like entities among ants, bees, wasps, and within our own bodies.

But that just leads us back to the problem of corruption.

What happens if the police themselves become criminals, using their unusual powers for private profit? Who watches the watchers?

In 2010, two researchers at the University of Tennessee built a game-theoretical model to examine just this problem.

The results, published by Francisco Úbeda and Edgar Duéñez-Guzmán in a paper called ‘Power and Corruption’, were, frankly, depressing.

Nothing, they concluded, would stop corruption from dominating an evolving police system. Once it arose, it would remain stable under almost any circumstances.

The only silver lining was that the bad police could still suppress defection in the rest of society.

The result was a mixed population of gullible sheep and hypocritical overlords. Net wellbeing does end up somewhat higher than it would be if everyone acted entirely selfishly, but all in all you end up with a society rather like that of the tree wasps.

Is that where we live now? It can certainly seem that way. I grew up in Australia, which Transparency International lists as one of the least corrupt nations in the world. Even so, the local pizza shop delivered a pizza each week to the constabulary in gratitude for a certain forbearance.

The US, according to published metrics, suffers minimal corruption, but who needs illegal corruption when the police can legally pull you over, ransack your car and sell anything they find?

In Mexico, where one in five citizens has recently bribed a cop, an acquaintance recently paid several thousand dollars to persuade a pair of policemen to move out of her house.

In the original corruption model, the results left one tiny sliver of hope, a parameter region where corruption, though dominant, remained unstable. That observation suggested that, given a jolt, a society might transition away from the corrupt equilibrium. Intrigued by this, Duéñez-Guzmán and I decided to explore the model more deeply.

The results were startling. By making a few alterations to the composition of the justice system, corrupt societies could be made to transition to a state called ‘righteousness’.

In righteous societies, police were not a separate, elite order. They were everybody. When virtually all of society stood ready to defend the common good, corruption didn’t pay.

Among honeybees and several ant species, this seems to be the status quo: all the workers police one another, making corruption an unappealing choice. (Communist policing system outside the politbureau?)

In fact, the study showed that even if power inequalities later re-appeared, corruption would not return. The righteous community was extraordinarily stable.

Not all societies could make the transition. But those that did would reap the benefits of true, lasting harmony. An early tribe that made the transition to righteousness might out-compete more corrupt rivals, allowing righteousness to spread throughout the species.

Such tribal selection is uncommon among animals other than eusocial insects, but many researchers think it could have played a role in human evolution. Hunter-gatherer societies commonly tend toward egalitarianism, with social norms enforced by the whole group rather than any specially empowered individuals.

Perhaps we can see something like human righteousness at work among the egalitarian Turkana of East Africa.

The anthropologists Sarah Mathew and Robert Boyd of Arizona State University report that these 500,000-odd warlike nomads lack any kind of centralised political or military structure, yet they have maintained regional dominance for decades, raiding other ethnic groups at will.

It’s a dangerous life: nearly a quarter of the men die in raids. What drives them to take such risks for the collective good?

Not kinship, nor even friendship. They do not live in lasting tribes. Their settlements are loose and temporary. Most of the men participating in any given raid are strangers to one another.

Rather than personal ties, Turkana co‑operation seems to be maintained by a strong moral code, underpinned by the fear of egalitarian punishment. Turkana men were outraged by a hypothetical scenario in which one Turkana raided another; as Mathew and Boyd describe: ‘most subjects would not stand next to this warrior in a raid, entrust their herds with him, lend him a goat… or let their daughter marry him’.

And this righteous attitude extends to performance in war. Battles are discussed at length after the event. Minor acts of cowardice result in mockery and scolding.

In more serious cases, the culprit is tied to a tree and whipped by a group of his peers. Just desserts, in the community of the righteous. Is this what freedom from corruption looks like?

Game theory, of course, ignores the complexity of the human mind. We are all capable of behaving co‑operatively, righteously, corruptly and selfishly, all at the same time. Hardly anyone deliberately kills another person, for example, and in the absence of extenuating circumstances, most of us would turn in our friends for doing so. It would appear that we’re already righteous about murder.

Attitudes to infidelity present an intriguing contrast. Most people agree that it is wrong, yet we generally turn a blind eye to our adulterous friends.

Meanwhile almost everyone drives too fast and downloads popular TV shows without paying for them. Such quiet cheating is likewise evident among egalitarian hunter-gatherers. ‘It would be a rare Mbuti woman who did not conceal a portion of the catch in case she was forced to share with others,’ noted the anthropologist Colin Turnbull in Wayward Servants: The Two Worlds of the African Pygmies (1965).

Those differences in attitudes might seem appropriate to the severity of the crimes. And yet murder is far from being the only topic we get righteous about. We can be blithely judgmental of other people’s fashion choices, personal hygiene and manners. We seem to revel in generating and enforcing arbitrary social rules, from Catholic confession to the ritual nose-bleeding of Sambia men in Papua New Guinea.

Granted, our punishments for minor infringements are usually subtle: a joke, a snub, a verbal rebuke. But don’t underestimate their impact.

Repeat offenders are likely to find themselves gradually ostracised, mateless and unsupported in times of need. Evolutionarily speaking, social rejection might as well be a death sentence for humans.

And this is not the full extent of our moral flexibility. Even as we ruthlessly enforce our codes, we try to cheat them. Lord Acton claimed in 1887 that ‘power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’, and the evidence supports him.

In a 2010 study, the researchers Joris Lammers at the University of Cologne and Adam Galinsky at Columbia Business School primed their subjects to feel either powerful or powerless. Those who felt powerful condemned others’ hypothetical immoral behaviour more harshly than those who felt powerless. But at the same time, the powerful cheated more on a game of dice, and then readily forgave themselves.

Such hypocrisy makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. As the Rutgers biologist Robert Trivers put it in Deceit and Self-Deception (2011), we evolved to fool ourselves so we could better fool others.

Righteousness is a sound strategy for the young revolutionary surrounded by righteous peers. On the road to power, you need allies who must be convinced of your sincerity. But once you have cemented your position, you can most improve your fitness with covert acts of selfishness, justified by a new-found sense of entitlement.

We would appear to have found our mechanism. Our tendency towards righteousness might be triggered when we feel equal to our potentially righteous compatriots; and the more secure we feel in our power over them, the more we switch to corruption.

Can we use social engineering to manipulate this switch? The model suggests that we can. If we decrease power inequalities, increase punishments and reward punishers, in theory that should trigger a societal transition to righteousness.

Here’s how it might look in practice. Imagine a city where police commit blatant traffic violations and never ticket one another. The authorities could decrease power inequalities by developing an online system in which all citizens are able to anonymously report dangerous drivers.

Anyone who received too many independent reports would be investigated – police included. This sounds almost laughably simple, and yet the model indicates that it ought to do the trick. It is, after all, essentially the same system used by many online communities.

Indeed, if anything, such systems might work a little too well. A punitive review on Yelp can devastate a young business. While uncensored communities are quickly overrun with trolls, communities that upvote good behaviour and sternly punish mischief can become stiflingly polite, awash with unique cultural norms, private in‑jokes and abstruse discussions of the code of conduct.

Behaviour that garners upvotes on Reddit will see you banned on Quora. As a species, we appear to have an insatiable appetite for enforcing arbitrary norms.

Imagine, if you will, a society where the laser eye of social condemnation is trained on every possible transgression. Safely rolling past a Stop sign earns the same disgust from your friends as if you were to pick your nose at the dinner table.

Listening to a pirated MP3 of your favourite song would shame your whole family, and your spouse would divorce you for sharing a sip of wine with your 17-year-old son. There can’t be many people for whom this sounds like an appealing vision.

Then again, if we can be righteous when it comes to fashion yet corrupt when it comes to adultery, is it implausible that we might be disgusted by bribery yet tolerate other small acts of rebellion?

Already, most of us participate in numerous different social contexts, switching adeptly between roles and social norms.

Armed with game theory and a wealth of social data, it seems we have – for the first time in history – the tools to start experimenting with democratic, egalitarian social structures that bring out the best in us.

We would, of course, have to proceed with caution. As early as the 18th century, the economist Bernard Mandeville envisaged a transition to perfect, peer-enforced co‑operation – and argued that it could only end in disaster. In his book The Fable of the Bees (1714), he depicted a society where prosperity and progress derive from endless conflict over ubiquitous corruption:
Thus Vice nursed Ingenuity,
Which join’d with Time, and Industry
Had carry’d Life’s Conveniencies,
It’s real Pleasures, Comforts, Ease,
To such a Height, the very Poor
Lived better than the Rich before

Jove, in a fit of irony, curses the bees with honesty. Their wealth promptly dissolves, society stagnates, and the population dwindles as the virtuous bees are unable so much as to contemplate any sort of creative rebellion. Sometimes it’s good to bend the rules. But which ones?

11 May 2015

Many USA within 20 blocks: A divided Americas…

The creator of The Wire, David Simon, delivered an impromptu speech about the divide between rich and poor in America at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney, and how capitalism has lost sight of its social compact.
America is a country that is now utterly divided when it comes to its society, its economy, its politics. There are definitely two Americas.
This is an edited extract of  David Simon’s speech:

‘There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show’

I live in one America, on one block in Baltimore that is part of the viable America, the America that is connected to its own economy, where there is a plausible future for the people born into it.

About 20 blocks away is another entirely different America. It’s astonishing how little we have to do with each other, and yet we are living in such proximity.

The Wire creator David Simon in Baltimore

David Simon, creator of The Wire, near his office in Baltimore. Photograph: Stephen Voss/Redux / eyevine

There’s no barbed wire around West Baltimore or around East Baltimore, around Pimlico, the areas in my city that have been utterly divorced from the American experience that I know. But there might as well be.

We’ve somehow managed to march on to two separate futures and I think you’re seeing this more and more in the west. I don’t think it’s unique to America.

I think we’ve perfected a lot of the tragedy and we’re getting there faster than a lot of other places that may be a little more reasoned, but my dangerous idea kind of involves this fellow who got left by the wayside in the 20th century and seemed to be almost the butt end of the joke of the 20th century; a fellow named Karl Marx.

I’m not a Marxist in the sense that I don’t think Marxism has a very specific clinical answer to what ails us economically. I think Marx was a much better diagnostician than he was a clinician. He was good at figuring out what was wrong or what could be wrong with capitalism,if it wasn’t attended to and much less credible when it comes to how you might solve that.

You know if you’ve read Capital or if you’ve got the Cliff Notes, you know that his imaginings of how classical Marxism – of how his logic would work when applied – kind of devolve into such nonsense as the withering away of the state and platitudes like that. But he was really sharp about what goes wrong when capital wins unequivocally, when it gets everything it asks for.

That may be the ultimate tragedy of capitalism in our time, that it has achieved its dominance without regard to a social compact, without being connected to any other metric for human progress.

We understand profit.

In my country we measure things by profit. We listen to the Wall Street analysts. They tell us what we’re supposed to do every quarter. The quarterly report is God. Turn to face God. Turn to face Mecca, you know. Did you make your number? Did you not make your number? Do you want your bonus? Do you not want your bonus?

And that notion that capital is the metric, that profit is the metric by which we’re going to measure the health of our society is one of the fundamental mistakes of the last 30 years. I would date it in my country to about 1980 exactly, and it has triumphed.

Capitalism stomped the hell out of Marxism by the end of the 20th century and was predominant in all respects. The great irony of it is that the only thing that actually works is not ideological, it is impure, has elements of both arguments and never actually achieves any kind of partisan or philosophical perfection.

It’s pragmatic, it includes the best aspects of socialistic thought and of free-market capitalism and it works because we don’t let it work entirely. And that’s a hard idea to think – that there isn’t one single silver bullet that gets us out of the mess we’ve dug for ourselves. But man, we’ve dug a mess.

After WWII, the west emerged with the American economy coming out of its wartime extravagance, emerging as the best product. It was the best product. It worked the best. It was demonstrating its might not only in terms of what it did during the war but in terms of just how facile it was in creating mass wealth.

Plus, it provided a lot more freedom and was doing the one thing that guaranteed that the 20th century was going to be – and forgive the jingoistic sound of this – the American century.

It took a working class that had no discretionary income at the beginning of the century, which was working on subsistence wages. It turned it into a consumer class that not only had money to buy all the stuff that they needed to live but enough to buy a bunch of shit that they wanted but didn’t need, and that was the engine that drove us.

It wasn’t just that we could supply stuff, or that we had the factories or know-how or capital, it was that we created our own demand and started exporting that demand throughout the west. And the standard of living made it possible to manufacture stuff at an incredible rate and sell it.

And how did we do that?

We did that by not giving in to either side. That was the new deal. That was the great society. That was all of that argument about collective bargaining and union wages and it was an argument that meant neither side gets to win.

Labour doesn’t get to win all its arguments, capital doesn’t get to.

But it’s in the tension, it’s in the actual fight between the two, that capitalism actually becomes functional, that it becomes something that every stratum in society has a stake in, that they all share.

The unions actually mattered.

The unions were part of the equation. It didn’t matter that they won all the time, it didn’t matter that they lost all the time, it just mattered that they had to win some of the time and they had to put up a fight and they had to argue for the demand and the equation and for the idea that workers were not worth less, they were worth more.

Ultimately, we abandoned that and believed in the idea of trickle-down and the idea of the market economy and the market knows best, to the point where now libertarian in my country is actually being taken seriously as an intelligent mode of political thought. It’s astonishing to me. But it is.

People are saying I don’t need anything but my own ability to earn a profit. I’m not connected to society. I don’t care how the road got built, I don’t care where the firefighter comes from, I don’t care who educates the kids other than my kids. I am me. It’s the triumph of the self. I am me, hear me roar.

That we’ve gotten to this point is astonishing to me because basically in winning its victory, in seeing that Wall come down and seeing the former Stalinist state’s journey towards our way of thinking in terms of markets or being vulnerable, you would have thought that we would have learned what works. Instead we’ve descended into what can only be described as greed.

This is just greed. This is an inability to see that we’re all connected, that the idea of two Americas is implausible, or two Australias, or two Spains or two Frances.

Societies are exactly what they sound like.

If everybody is invested and if everyone just believes that they have “some”, it doesn’t mean that everybody’s going to get the same amount. It doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be people who are the venture capitalists who stand to make the most. It’s not each according to their needs or anything that is purely Marxist, but it is that everybody feels as if, if the society succeeds, I succeed, I don’t get left behind. And there isn’t a society in the west now, right now, that is able to sustain that for all of its population.

And so in my country you’re seeing a horror show.

You’re seeing a retrenchment in terms of family income, you’re seeing the abandonment of basic services, such as public education, functional public education. You’re seeing the underclass hunted through an alleged war on dangerous drugs that is in fact merely a war on the poor and has turned us into the most incarcerative state in the history of mankind, in terms of the sheer numbers of people we’ve put in American prisons and the percentage of Americans we put into prisons.

No other country on the face of the Earth jails people at the number and rate that we are.

We have become something other than what we claim for the American dream and all because of our inability to basically share, to even contemplate a socialist impulse.

Socialism is a dirty word in my country.

I have to give that disclaimer at the beginning of every speech, “Oh by the way I’m not a Marxist you know”. I lived through the 20th century. I don’t believe that a state-run economy can be as viable as market capitalism in producing mass wealth. I don’t.

I’m utterly committed to the idea that capitalism has to be the way we generate mass wealth in the coming century. That argument’s over. But the idea that it’s not going to be married to a social compact, that how you distribute the benefits of capitalism isn’t going to include everyone in the society to a reasonable extent, that’s astonishing to me.

And so capitalism is about to seize defeat from the jaws of victory all by its own hand. That’s the astonishing end of this story, unless we reverse course. Unless we take into consideration, if not the remedies of Marx then the diagnosis, because he saw what would happen if capital triumphed unequivocally, if it got everything it wanted.

And one of the things that capital would want unequivocally and for certain is a diminished labour. They would want labour to be diminished because labour’s a cost. And if labour is diminished, let’s translate that: in human terms, it means human beings are worth less.

From this moment forward unless we reverse course, the average human being is worth less on planet Earth. Unless we take stock of the fact that maybe socialism and the socialist impulse has to be addressed again; it has to be married as it was married in the 1930s, the 1940s and even into the 1950s, to the engine that is capitalism.

Mistaking capitalism for a blueprint as to how to build a society strikes me as a really dangerous idea in a bad way.

Capitalism is a remarkable engine again for producing wealth. It’s a great tool to have in your toolbox if you’re trying to build a society and have that society advance. You wouldn’t want to go forward at this point without it. But it’s not a blueprint for how to build the just society. There are other metrics besides that quarterly profit report.

The idea that the market will solve such things as environmental concerns, as our racial divides, as our class distinctions, our problems with educating and incorporating one generation of workers into the economy after the other when that economy is changing; the idea that the market is going to heed all of the human concerns and still maximize profit is juvenile.

It’s a juvenile notion and it’s still being argued in my country passionately and we’re going down the tubes. And it terrifies me because I’m astonished at how comfortable we are in absolving ourselves of what is basically a moral choice. Are we all in this together or are we all not?

If you watched the debacle in the fight over something as basic as public health policy in my country over the last couple of years, imagine the ineffectiveness that Americans are going to offer the world when it comes to something really complicated like global warming. We can’t even get healthcare for our citizens on a basic level. And the argument comes down to: “Goddamn this socialist president. Does he think I’m going to pay to keep other people healthy? It’s socialism, motherfucker.”

What do you think group health insurance is?

You know you ask these guys, “Do you have group health insurance where you …?” “Oh yeah, I get …” you know, “my law firm …” So when you get sick you’re able to afford the treatment.

The treatment comes because you have enough people in your law firm so you’re able to get health insurance enough for them to stay healthy. So the actuarial tables work and all of you, when you do get sick, are able to have the resources there to get better because you’re relying on the idea of the group. Yeah. And they nod their heads, and you go “Brother, that’s socialism. You know it is.”

And … you know when you say, OK, we’re going to do what we’re doing for your law firm but we’re going to do it for 300 million Americans and we’re going to make it affordable for everybody that way.

And yes, it means that you’re going to be paying for the other guys in the society, the same way you pay for the other guys in the law firm … Their eyes glaze. You know they don’t want to hear it. It’s too much. Too much to contemplate the idea that the whole country might be actually connected.

So I’m astonished that at this late date I’m standing here and saying we might want to go back for this guy Marx that we were laughing at, if not for his prescriptions, then at least for his depiction of what is possible if you don’t mitigate the authority of capitalism, if you don’t embrace some other values for human endeavour.

And that’s what The Wire was about basically, it was about people who were worth less and who were no longer necessary, as maybe 10 or 15% of my country is no longer necessary to the operation of the economy.

It was about them trying to solve, for lack of a better term, an existential crisis. In their irrelevance, their economic irrelevance, they were nonetheless still on the ground occupying this place called Baltimore and they were going to have to endure somehow.

That’s the great horror show.

What are we going to do with all these people that we’ve managed to marginalise? It was kind of interesting when it was only race, when you could do this on the basis of people’s racial fears and it was just the black and brown people in American cities who had the higher rates of unemployment and the higher rates of addiction and were marginalised and had the shitty school systems and the lack of opportunity.

And kind of interesting in this last recession to see the economy shrug and start to throw white middle-class people into the same boat, so that they became vulnerable to the drug war, say from methamphetamine, or they became unable to qualify for college loans.

And all of a sudden a certain faith in the economic engine and the economic authority of Wall Street and market logic started to fall away from people. And they realised it’s not just about race, it’s about something even more terrifying. It’s about class. Are you at the top of the wave or are you at the bottom?

So how does it get better? In 1932, it got better because they dealt the cards again and there was a communal logic that said nobody’s going to get left behind. We’re going to figure this out. We’re going to get the banks open. From the depths of that depression a social compact was made between worker, between labour and capital that actually allowed people to have some hope.

We’re either going to do that in some practical way when things get bad enough or we’re going to keep going the way we’re going, at which point there’s going to be enough people standing on the outside of this mess that somebody’s going to pick up a brick, because you know when people get to the end there’s always the brick. I hope we go for the first option but I’m losing faith.

The other thing that was there in 1932 that isn’t there now is that some element of the popular will could be expressed through the electoral process in my country.

The last job of capitalism – having won all the battles against labour, having acquired the ultimate authority, almost the ultimate moral authority over what’s a good idea or what’s not, or what’s valued and what’s not – the last journey for capital in my country has been to buy the electoral process, the one venue for reform that remained to Americans.

Right now capital has effectively purchased the government, and you witnessed it again with the healthcare debacle in terms of the $450m that was heaved into Congress, the most broken part of my government, in order that the popular will never actually emerged in any of that legislative process.

So I don’t know what we do if we can’t actually control the representative government that we claim will manifest the popular will. Even if we all start having the same sentiments that I’m arguing for now, I’m not sure we can effect them any more in the same way that we could at the rise of the Great Depression, so maybe it will be the brick. But I hope not.

David Simon is an American author and journalist and was the executive producer of The Wire. This is an edited extract of a talk delivered at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney.

Note: The American Ghettos

Lesson for the Muslim Brother: From Karl Marx?

Is “Springtime of the Arabs” going the same downhill trend as 1848 “Springtime of the people”?

KARL MARX wrote that history repeats itself. First as tragedy, then as farce.

Marx was referring to the Revolution of 1848, when a democratic uprising against the French monarchy collapsed into a Bonapartist dictatorship (Napoleon 3rd).

Just as the French Revolution had six decades earlier in 1789.

In 1848, workers joined with liberals in a democratic revolt to overthrow the French monarchy. However, almost as soon as the old order collapsed, the opposition fell apart, as liberals grew increasingly alarmed by what they saw as “radical” working class demands.
Conservatives were able to co-opt fearful liberals and re-install new forms of dictatorship.
SHERI BERMAN published in the Opinion of the NYT this August 10, 2013: Marx’s Lesson for the Muslim Brothers
Those same patterns are playing out in Egypt today — with liberals and authoritarians playing themselves, and Islamists playing the role of socialists.
Once again, an inexperienced and impatient mass movement has overreached after gaining power.
Once again, liberals have been frightened by the changes their former partners want to enact and have come crawling back to the old regime for protection. (The army and oligarchic dominion)
And as in 1848, authoritarians have been happy to take back the reins of power.

Enlarge This Image

If Egypt’s army continues its crackdown and liberals continue to support it, they will be playing right into the hands of Marx’s contemporary successors. “Islamists of the world, unite!” they might say; “you have nothing to lose but your chains.” And, unfortunately, they will be right.

It should come as no surprise that Egyptian liberals would implore the military to begin a coup to end the country’s first experiment with democracy, just two years after they joined hands with Islamists to oust an authoritarian regime.

In the early stages of a country’s political development, liberals and democrats often don’t agree on anything other than the desirability of getting rid of the ancient regime.

Establishing a stable democracy is a two-stage process.

First, you get rid of the old regime,

Second, you build a durable democratic replacement.

Because the first stage is dramatic, many people think the game is over when the dictator has gone. But the second stage is more difficult.

There are many examples of broad coalitions coming together to oust dictators but relatively few of them stayed together and agreed on what the new regime should look like.

Opposition movements tend to lose steam, falling prey to internal squabbles and the resurgent forces of the old regime.

The year 1848, the original “springtime of the peoples,” was the first time that an organized workers’ movement had appeared on the political scene, and its demands frightened liberals.

The middle class wanted economic liberalization; many workers demanded more radical economic and social change.

Liberals favored a limited opening of the political system, while workers’ groups wanted full democratization and the power that came with it.

When it became clear that workers and socialists might win, liberals balked, and many of them turned back to the conservatives, seeing the restoration of authoritarianism as the lesser of two evils.

This is almost exactly what is playing out in Egypt now.

Years of authoritarian rule meant that political and social institutions allowing the peaceful articulation of popular dissent were systematically suppressed. And the state deliberately deepened social divisions.

When democratization came, long-dormant distrust and animosity exploded in extremist rhetoric, mass protests and violence. These things always frighten liberals, who favor order and moderation and dislike radical social experiments.

This was true in Europe in 1789 and 1848, and it’s true of Egyptian liberals today.

The problem is how liberals react to such fears.

During the late 20th-century transitions to democracy in Southern and Eastern Europe, extremism and religion weren’t major factors.

Different groups were thus able to agree on the rules of the game. Also, it was not the first try at democracy in most European countries, and the European Union was there to help.

In Egypt and other parts of the Arab world, the threat of extremism terrifies liberals, and thanks to years of authoritarianism, there isn’t a culture of compromise, nor is there a strong democratic neighbor to guide them.

The 1848 fiasco strengthened the radical elements of the socialist movement at the expense of the moderates and created a poisonous and enduring rift between liberals and workers. After liberals abandoned democracy, moderate socialists looked like suckers and radicals advocating a nondemocratic strategy grew stronger. I

n 1850, Marx and Engels reminded the London Communist League that they had predicted that a party representing the German liberal bourgeoisie “would soon come to power and would immediately turn its newly won power against the workers. You have seen how this forecast came true.” They went on to warn, “To be able forcefully and threateningly to oppose this party, whose betrayal of the workers will begin with the very first hour of victory, the workers must be armed and organized.”

This is not the lesson anybody wants Islamists to learn now.

The mistake that liberals made in 19th-century Europe was to see all socialists as fanatics.

But while some socialists were extremists, others were opposed to violence and dedicated to democracy. Those socialists — who later became Europe’s social democrats rather than communists — wanted social and economic reforms, but not ones that were mortal threats to capitalism or democracy.

Yet, for too long, European liberals were unwilling to recognize those differences; they opposed full democratization and worked actively to repress the entire movement. The results were disastrous.

Radical, violent and nondemocratic elements within the socialist movement began to ask why workers should participate in a system unwilling to accept the possibility of their victory.

And when socialists became the largest political force across Europe, liberals accepted unsavory bargains with conservatives to keep the Left out of power. As a result, European societies became increasingly divided and conflict ridden.

Egypt’s liberals are repeating those mistakes today.

Once again, they see their opponents as zealots determined to abolish everything liberals value. But just as not all socialists were pro-Stalinists, not all Islamists want to implement a theocratic regime. There are moderate Islamists today who are willing to play by the rules of the game, and they should be encouraged to do so.

Islamism is still the largest and best-organized popular political force in Egypt, and it is vital that the Egyptian Army and its liberal allies let Islamists know there is a place for them in the region’s democratic future.

If all Islamists are demonized, the divisions within Egyptian society will grow, the moderate Islamists will become marginalized, and Egypt’s political future will be troubled.

A century after 1848, social democrats, liberals and even moderate conservatives finally came together to create robust democracies across Western Europe — an outcome that could and should have happened earlier and with less violence.

Middle Eastern liberals must learn from Europe’s turbulent history instead of blindly repeating it.

Note 1: The files of Egypt Moslem Brotherhood were working class and represented Egypt rural peasants. However, the ranks of this cultist movement were staunch conservative elite, seeking wealth and domination.

Actually, the Morsi government literally begged for financial aids from the rich monarchies of the Arab States and from the IMF in order to gain a breathing space for order and stability. No financial aids were forthcoming. The potential donors believed Morsi proposals but they were apprehensive that any sustained stability will force the files to pressure their government for more radical economical reforms.

The liberals in the Middle-East, who are trying to make a difference between Islam and Christian dogmas and system of believes in order to discredit any possibility for democratic transition, are forgetting that the Christian Church was far more obscurantist and dictatorial for over 13 centuries than any radical Moslem rule.

Note 2: Lenin lambasted the social democrats for not leading a drastic revolution. However, Stalin represented the “Bonapartists” version of the Soviet Communist revolution.

Note 3: SHERI BERMANA is a professor of political science at Barnard College and the author of “The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe’s Twentieth Century.”

Note 4: A version of this op-ed appeared in print on August 11, 2013, on page SR6 of the New York edition with the headline: Marx’s Lesson for the Muslim Brothers.

This article approaches two points: First, the demonstration that scientists and scholars’ cooperation and prompt dissemination of colleagues’ works is the cornerstone for diffusion and development of new knowledge and inventions: This is the case of the intellectual climate of England in the 19th century, the period of Darwin analytical discovery. Second, the article will confront the misinterpretations and outright falsehoods heaped on Darwin and straighten out the correct positions of Darwin.

While France generated far more scientists, discovers, and inventors than England, the fact that England of the 19th century established sustained scientic institutions, in all fields of study, with mission of prompt dissemination, translation, and publications of scientific papers permitted England to become the hub of scientific progress in theory and application.

For example, Darwin frequently dispatched samples of what he gathered in his long trip, on his 5 years around the world, to the botanist professor Henslow in England.  These samples were promptly disseminated among the specialists in their fields for study; and monograms in geology, entemology, archeology, mineralogy, and natural sciences were written and conferences called at for discussing the findings.  Darwin was already well-known in England while far away on the Beagle.  

The preface of Darwin’s book “Voyage of a naturalist around the world” stated: “The manuscript contains a memoir of professor Owen on mammalian fossils, a memoir by Waterhouse on living mammals, a memoir by Gould on birds, a memoir of Jenyns on fishes, and a memoir by Bell on reptiles.  I added to the description of each species observations on its habits and habitats.   Doctor Hooker will present a description of the austral flora that I have dispatched from meridional America.  Professor Henslow published a list of plants that I gathered on the isles of Keeling, Berkeley describes my samples of cryptogamic plants….

In 1858, Darwin is ready to publish the results of 20 years of analysis when he receives the manuscript of Alfred Wallace “On the tendency of varieties to separate indefinitely of the original type”.  Wallace insists more on the ecological and climatic pressures on species selection and evolution.  Darwin does not deny the ecology factor but his main variable is based on sexual selection. 

In “Variation of animals and domestic plants” Darwin exposed his preliminary hypothesis: “Everything that nature made individuals acquire or lose under the influence of circumstances in which the race has been exposed for too long, and thus, under the influence of the usage of a predominant organ, this organ is conserved by later generations, given that the acquired changes are common characteristics to the two sexes.  This natural law of transmitting common traits to future generations has been observed in all species.”  This is what Darwin means by innate characteristics.

Many religious and political “scholars” started misinterpreting Darwin’s theory, consciously or for political advantages, a situation that forced Darwin to extend further clarifications, particularly on the evolution of mankind characteristics.  He wrote: “Man is distinguished from animals in the fact that his conscience replaces instinct, or that his instinct is a conscious one. As man advances in civilization and small tribes gather in larger communities, the simple reason advises an individual to extending his social instincts and empathy to all members of the community and to the nation, even though the member is personally unknown to him.  Once this stage in civilized life is reached, only artificial obstacles retains man from extending his sympathy to all men, regardless of race or color.”

On the issues of the inferiority of “savages” and female gender in the evolution process, Darwin had to clarify misunderstanding; he wrote: “Attached to the education of the kids and to a life less adventurous and less explorative than man, women had less opportunities to developing inventiveness and hardiness in their characters.  Women are nontheless the bearer of social instincts: they are formost in protecting, and defending the weaker members, common to the rescue and weaving social links; women are best in transmitting moral feelings.  Women as well as the colonized people are victims of society and not inferior by heritage.”

Darwin’s grand father, father, and elder brother were physicians; his dad wanted Charles to become also physician but Charles was interested in natural sciences; Charles’ father then relented and sent him to Cambridge to become an Anglican cleric.  Charles wrote: “I totally wasted my time these three years to learning theology”.

Charles  has three older sisters and one elder brother; he was 8 as his mother died.  His elder sister Susannah cares for his education.  “I was passionate for gathering all kinds of plants, insects, stones, stamps…and then classifying them and storing them in an orderly fashion. I was doomed to becoming either a systematic naturalist or an avaricious person.  It must have been an innate nature in me since no one in the family shared this passion for collecting things.”  Charles love fishing and hunting.

Charles’ brother Erasmus let him participate with him in chemistry experiments on their property lab. “This period in the lab was the best schooling I could receive:  I learned what is scientific experimentation” and Charles reads several treaties in Chemistry such as “Chemistry catechism” by Samuel Parker.

At Cambridge, Charles spends most of his time walking in the forest and collecting rare insects and the “British insects Illustrations” published his article.  Charles wrote: “Nothing is more magical than reading my name in the magazine saying “captured by C. Darwin, esq.”  Charles is assiduously being invited to Fridays’ gathering of scholars at professor Henslow’s who is a botanist and knowledgeable in the fields of geology, mineralogy, entomology, and chemistry.

In 1831, Charles accompanies the geologist Adam Sedgwick during his summer vacation exploring the geology of northern Galle of England.  He would later write: “When we examine for the first time a new region we feel dispaired by the chaoes of rocks.  As we start registering the stratification, or the nature of rocks and fossil in numerous locations, never stopping reflecting and predicting what we are going to find in the next location, then light grows little by little and the structure of of the whole region becomes intelligible.”

In 1829, Charles aspires to travel like Alexander Humboldt to Tenerife and Latin America that was freed by Simon Bolivar from Spanish colonialism in 1826; he talks about his project to Henslow.  This year, the French precursor to Darwin, Lamarck dies. Lamarck had exposed his theory that species evolve slowly and by ordinary generation and organic functions modified according to living conditions.  He claimed that all living species, animal and plants, are derived one from another, and extended the hypothesis that mankind is descendant of monkey.  Lamarck coined the name “biology”.  The other French colleague, Cuvier, stated that mankind is a “catastrophic creation” among this discontinuous series of species. The French Saint-Hilaire has also written : Species are formed of the same organic units and evolve slowly under the influence of the environment.

Charles has to finish another semester to getting diploma when Henslow finds him a place on a military navy the Beagle with mission to studying the cartography of Latin America.  The trip was for 2 years but it lasted 5 years. The 27.5 x 7.5 meters Beagle is crowded with 76 people  and lead by captain Fitz-Roy, who later will be appointed governor of New-Zealand.   Charles is 22 of age and embark on Nov. 27, 1831.  Fitz-Roy offers Charles a gift “Principles of Geology” by Charles Lyell.  

Lyell has postulated that earth is still slowly evolving and changing and current shapes and forms are the results of slow forces constantly acting on it.  The Beagle is carrying three men from the island of Fiji, on the southern tip of south America, to be returned:  Fitz-Roy had kidnapped them three years ago and were educated as Englishmen and the men expressed the wish to return to their island.

Charles has observed the treatments of slaves working in sugar canes in his travel and wrote: “I would not want to be a conservative Tory, those dry hearted people encouraging the worst Christian scandal: Slavery.  I have witnessed enough monstrosities in the disposition of colonial slavery to be totally disgusted by the lies and insane positions spoken about in England”.  Darwin is collecting snakes, lizards, birds, parrots, plants, stones, shelves…

The three men of Fiji are dropped on the island and the crew aid them build homes, and plow, and saw for survival and leave them tools.  Fritz-Roy is plagues with remorse and returns to check on them six months later, delaying the return of the Beagle.  Two of the men had left carrying all their belonging and a third was found with a woman, living in nature’s life-style. This observation will have an impact on Darwin’s theory on the evolution of mankind.

Darwin decided to categorize all his samples by himself for accuracy, and spent 20 years finding links among them.  In the meantime, Darwin would publish monograms on the batches he analyzed and described in details.  He wrote: “I had formulated a theory of evolution to work on, but I decided to spend time on further exhaustive analysis.”

He showed Lyle the manuscript of over 800 pages and the latter suggested to abridge and give recognition to Lamarck.  The published book is a thorough description of every collected specie in his samples and then the theory is expressed in a few paragraphs at the end. Darwin states his theory that acquired traits can be explained by an evolution taking into account the geographic isolation and the environmental climate of a specie.

Darwin wrote: “Last night, I reflected on the fact that there are far intelligent men who produce nothing original than the ones who discovers unknown realities.  I wondered if the art of discovery resides in the habit of searching for causes and their significance of what is generated.  This implies attentive observations and a deep knowledge of the subject matter.”

Karl Marx considered Darwin as an original communist and wrote to his disciple Ferdinand Lassale in Germany: “The work of Darwin offers a foundation, within the natural sciences, to the historic struggle among classes.  Darwin recognizes the division of work, the competition, the opening of new markets in the English society.” He sent Charles hi first volume of “Das Capital”.  Charles read the first 150 pages of the voluminous manuscript and replied: “I have no expertise in your line of study and cannot invest time on other fields of research.”

Thomas Huxley, a strong memebr within his powerful secert society, the “Athenee Club”, manages to have Darwin buried in Westminster Abbey in the greatest of pomp in 1882.  The autobiography of Darwin will be published 5 years later at his request.

I contend, in addition to Darwin’s findings, that a critical factor for survival is the acquired ability for “optimism maturity”.  A mature optimist has learned to discriminate among cases of life’s problems:  Problems with windows of opportunity to fight and resist for survival, versus problems that no actions can modify the course of events, thus, adopting a position of waiting for the storm to clear up while keeping focused on a window of opportunity to reacting decisively and vigorously.




June 2023

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