Saturday, July 04, 2015

Renewable energy costs more than fossil fuels

This is the beginning of a long thread (actually, a couple of long threads) from the Making Sense of Climate Denial Course ("Climate change is real, so why the controversy and debate? Learn to make sense of the science and to respond to climate change denial"), which ran from April-June, 2015.

If you want to read the full thread which contains this introduction then go here straight away. Otherwise, keep reading here if you first want the introduction which sparked the thread before deciding whether or not to read the whole thing.

It represents a challenge to the course organisers on the issue of whether renewables are more expensive than fossil fuels.

Fact: Renewable energy costs more than fossil fuels
discussion posted 4 days ago by ArthurD
Vote for this post, there are currently 3 votes 3 Votes

This simple fact is common ground among all serious participants in debates concerning what to do about global warming.

It is the central reason why many argue for a carbon tax and subsidies to renewables. Without such measures there is no hope of renewables replacing fossil fuels.

It is also the central reason for concern that the world will continue on the present "business as usual" track towards significant problems from global warming before the end of the century. No such measures are in fact being taken to the extent that would be required to make a significant difference.

The vast majority of emissions are expected to come from poor countries like India and China rapidly industrializing over the next few decades.

They are not cannot and will not be switching from fossil fuels to renewables because they cannot afford the extra cost. Consequently 4 times as much additional energy is being supplied by coal each year as by renewables.

There are NO serious claims that renewables will become cheaper than fossil fuels. What IS being claimed is that they will become cheaper than they are now but that it is still NECESSARY to make fossil fuels more expensive through such measures as carbon taxes in order to internalize the external costs imposed by emissions.

Numerous posts with "good news" about trends towards renewables demonstrate that many students in this course are unaware of these facts.

Worse, course staff are actively in denial about them.

I started a thread on this, which had 47 posts --> this course helps preserve fossil fuels

Another student posted several links as follows:
"I'm a serious student of the economic debate, with a degree in economics and in science: renewables demonstrably cost less than consumables, and I nor the World Bank, nor http://thesolutionsproject.org/ nor https://www.irena.org/DocumentDownloads/Publications/Renewable_Power_Generation_Costs.pdf nor Swanson's Law nor http://www.skepticalscience.com/renewable-energy-is-too-expensive.htm nor the IEA do not tacitly or otherwise agree to the myth of cheap consumables; it's a bald misrepresentation to suggest consumables are cheaper."
Not one of these links claims that renewables are or will become cheaper than fossil fuels so that poor countries could switch to them while industrializing. The last, from the group behind this course, repeats what is in fact usually claimed:
"When you account for the effects which are not reflected in the market price of fossil fuels, like air pollution and health impacts, the true cost of coal and other fossil fuels is higher than the cost of most renewable energy technologies."
This is true but completely irrelevant to the question of whether renewables will or can replace fossil fuels in the poor countries that are industrializing.

They are paying ACTUAL costs in the ACTUAL situation of no "carbon price" and people on $2 per day have much higher priorities. They do NOT "account for the effects". (Neither for that matter do most developed countries that could afford to, but the point is that even if they did, poor countries still CANNOT do so while industrializing).

The response of course staff was to close down the thread before I could even point out that NONE of the links offered even denied, let alone refuted the commonly accepted basis for all serious debate that renewables are not replacing fossil fuels because their actual costs are greater.

Please take a look at the closed thread and then come back here and follow this thread if you are interested in serious discussion of what can be done about the ACTUAL situation rather than pretense that endlessly repeating what OUGHT to be can change what is continuing to happen - "business as usual" with rapidly growing emissions.

For the subsequent (lengthy) discussion of these introductory comments go here

Thursday, July 02, 2015

"A wish for a better reality" Smari McCarthy

In the minds of some people there is a connection between different issues that amounts to a continuity. You may call it hope, you may call it wishful thinking or it may be a reflection of reality. In the mind of the Icelandic / Irish information activist Smari McCarthy these events are closely linked: the Economic Crash of 2008 - the Arab Spring of 2010-11 - the current Icelandic Freedom of Information movement

I think he is right.

This story, Bergeron's Children (source) by Smari McCarthy explains how:

1

On the 19th of December 2010, I received a message from a guy I’d met some months previously. ‘TUNISIA’, it said. Capitals, no punctuation. Nothing else.

I searched, saw what was happening, and pinged another contact, a Tunisian guy, asking how I could help. Over the next couple of weeks, we accumulated a set of videos from the protests all over Tunisia, and I bundled them up into an easy to view, share and mirror package.[1] This was the beginning of massive weaponised Streisandisation. The theory is, when you try to restrict access to information, the value of that information goes up. Barbara Streisand learned this the hard way.[2] Anybody who’s ever seen porn knows this instinctively.

Shortly after the Streisandisation project began, Ben Ali fled the country. Unrelated, but revolution was here. And while the victory belonged to the Tunisian people and outsiders should not lay claim to it, I can’t say that I wasn’t somewhat proud. But before the joviality had passed its apex, another message from the same contact: ‘EGYPT’.

This is a guy who had been monitoring North African human rights issues for decades. He knows this stuff in and out. This is a guy who was tortured, and fled, and survived. So when this guy sends me a message, I take it seriously.

A Swedish-originating hacktivist (hacker+activist) group I’ve been working with, Telecomix, took the Egyptian cause to heart. Peter Fein describes Telecomix as the Yin to the Yang of Anonymous.[3] They break, we rebuild. When the Internet got cut off in Egypt, the plain old telephone system was still left running. So the Telecomix agents thought: ‘If the phones are running, we can install modem stacks and people can dial in.’ Reverting to an ancient technology to protect freedom of expression has never been so fun. Somebody came up with the great idea of crawling the Internet in search of Egyptian fax numbers, and a message was constructed and sent to all of them, giving information about how to dial in to the modem racks we had set up in Sweden and Germany. Egypt fell, kind of.

As the year moved on, things slowed down. As NATO started bombing Libya, I kept waiting for a message. None came. So I did as any man would in that situation, and went to Norway. Sitting there one evening, watching Tim Minchin videos and debating information politics, I received the third message: ‘SYRIA’.

Why was Libya so overlooked, as the bombs fell from on high? Could it be callousness on the part of my delightfully informed comrade, or was it something else? Considering the dynamics of what played out in Tunisia and Egypt, and what has since been going on in Syria, it’s hard to think that the Libyan uprising is motivated by the same ideals. The tribal origins of the revolution, coupled with the almost immediate influx of weapons from various Gulf countries and from NATO gives the impression that it was a power grab. Oman, Jordan, Bahrain. Egypt. Iraq. Throughout the region, people were taking to the streets. In Libya it was different. More focused. Some weird politics were in play.

But this is not about Libya. The Arab Spring undoubtedly put a mark on 2011, but for me it was only the origin of the confusion that shaped the year, and the cadence to which my life harmonised.

July. I was sitting at a café in Porto, feeling relaxed and happy with life, when news comes: a city in Syria, Homs, has disappeared from the Internet. A massive contingent of information activists from all over the world start trying to figure out why. After a while, it becomes clear, as we start to see scattered and vague reports of tanks rolling into the city. Then, at more or less the same time that the tanks were blowing holes in buildings in Homs, a massive nationalist Christian conservative fertiliser bomb goes off in Oslo. Just around the corner from where I had been when the ‘SYRIA’ message arrived.

2

To make sense of 2011, I go back to Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, ‘Harrison Bergeron’.[4] The 1995 film adaptation will do even better.[5] The setting is the United States in the second half of the 21st century. After the Cold War, there had come a massive economic downturn: the great recession, which never really ended. ‘In all previous recessions,’ Harrison says, ‘once the economy bottomed out and production increased, unemployment decreased. But in the Great Recession due to new and improved technologies, fewer and fewer workers were required in all sectors. With so many people forced from their jobs the traditional economic recovery was impossible.’ The widening gap between rich and poor ended in a Second American Revolution, following which the government mandates total egalitarianism: citizens are subject to mind-numbing television programmes and fitted with electronic headbands to regulate their intelligence to a social norm.

It is a society in which everybody is forced to be equal, yet what is presented as equality is really a docile acceptance that one should not engage creatively: in fact, should not engage at all, since any engagement in the issues of the society would be a cause of disequilibrium. Anybody who lacked the cognitive capacity to understand the implications would be left behind, and therefore it is considered imperative that all be forcibly reduced to the same level.

Being rather smarter than would otherwise be acceptable, Harrison finds himself recruited to the secret organisation that runs this society. They aren’t allowed to breed, but they are allowed to enjoy all of what human culture had to offer, in terms of culture and technology. Unlike everyone else, they have not been subdued by an information vacuum and prepackaged ideologies. But our protagonist rebels against all of this, taking control of the broadcasting system...

You can guess the rest; it isn’t really important. What matters is the seed of rebellion planted by Harrison. It is only hinted at in the closing moments of the film, but slowly, after his subversive act of defiance against the shadow government, people start to wake up.

I can imagine how it played out. Teenagers daring each other to take the headbands off in secret. Adults sneaking to read a book or two. People having conversations about the state of the world. About history. About culture. Somebody might become good at playing the violin.

And one day, somebody gets a text message. ‘AMERICA’, it might say.

3

By August, Telecomix was providing infrastructural support to half a dozen revolutions. Some, like Egypt, were nominally complete but still reeked of militarism and repression. Others, like Libya and Syria, were ongoing and becoming bloodier each day.

The toll a revolution takes on the revolutionaries is immense. People get tired. Exhausted even. Post-traumatic stress disorder, combat fatigue. Burnout. What we learned, during all of this, is that support staff also get burned out. It’s like the drone pilots dropping bombs on innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq. The cause is more moral, but the scenario is the same. When a soldier goes to war, he stays on the battlefield with friends and comrades for extended periods of time. He and his allies are immersed in the context of their reality, and they back each other up. Just like the protesters on the streets of New York or Oakland, of Madrid or Athens, Damascus and Cairo. That contextual immersion is lost on the drone pilots and hacktivists: when our shift is done, we unplug and leave the war zone. We walk through peaceful streets and have dinner with friends who don’t know or don’t care what happened today in some far away place. Our context shifts from war to peace. Eleanor Saitta wrote that her ‘friends at Telecomix are not on the front lines in Syria, but they know many people there well, and even fighting that war at a remove can tear you apart.’[6]

4

I never got the message saying ‘AMERICA’. I never got one saying ‘UK’. There were many I wish I had received but never did. Yet mixed with that wish was a deep and unnerving fear. A wish for a better reality mixed with fear that the reality I had lived with all my days was at an end. For much of 2011, my heart would jump whenever my phone beeped or rang. Sleep was more disturbed than ever, marked by cold sweat. I was not alone. Many of my friends were suffering, and many thousands of others were fighting a brutal war against oppression, felling dictators when they could, but more often failing.

5

Then we ask why. Why now? What made 2011 different from other years? In many ways it was similar to 2008, when my home country crashed. Iceland’s economy burst and lost almost all of its mass over the course of a few weeks. Iceland is recovering, but there is little will amongst the political class to work through the legacy of the crash which marked the beginning of the end. 2011 was the third year of the Great Recession which had taken many small countries in its first wave.

The politicians and economists hoped that once the economy bottomed out and production increased, unemployment would decrease. They refused to acknowledge that, due to new and improved technologies, fewer and fewer workers are required in all sectors. With so many people forced from their jobs, the traditional economic recovery is impossible. The question becomes: what does a nontraditional economic recovery look like?

The sequence of events was unexpected. All of us who had thought about this eventuality seem to have expected the rich countries to go first. Some, like mine, did. But with our western tunnel vision, we overlooked the way in which the same forces were working on the countries where the stuff we use is made: people are competing against indefatigable machines on a free market. The owners of the devices and productive capacity that keep us alive have alienated all of us. The difference being that, outside of the most developed countries, infrastructural elasticity is much lower and personal freedoms comparatively nonexistent. Of course they were going to go first.

6

But now 2011 is past, and I’m not sure what is going to happen. Some countries are calming down, while others are still ratcheting up. At the time, I often thought that 2011 would be the year of the revolution, where we fix our world; now I see that this wasn’t the year in which we win the wars, but it was the year in which we picked our fights. It was the year in which we all became Bergeron’s children, waking from repose, casting off docility, and becoming human again. Not everybody is there, yet. A lot of people still have their headbands on. A lot of people have so forgotten how to be free that it feels alien to them.

There’s plenty of work to be done, but it’s going to get done. Globalisation may have been used against us so far, but now it’s working to our advantage. Humanity has, for the first time, a real ability to work together, but first we need to overcome some hurdles. In the words of Harrison Bergeron, ‘I hope we can all be together again real soon, as whole people, family – no bands, no government, just people...’

(1) A ‘mirror’ is an exact copy of another website, hosted on a different server. A ‘package’ like this makes it as easy as possible for anyone with access to a server to make a copy of the site, which makes it harder for the material on the site to be taken offline or blocked.
(2) See ‘Streisand effect’, Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect
(3) Peter Fein, ‘Hacking for Freedom’, I Wear Pants, 17 June 2011 - http://blog.wearpants.org/hacking-for-freedom/
(4) Collected in Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Welcome to the Monkey House (New York: Delacorte Press, 1968).
(5) Harrison Bergeron, Directed by Bruce Pittman, 1995.
(6) Eleanor Saitta, ‘Our Stories, Our Weapons’ in ‘Two Stories of Uncivilization’, New Public Thinking, 30 August 2011 - http://newpublicthinkers.org/?p=107

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

iceland: a different vision

After hearing that the Pirate Party has become the most popular political party in Iceland (one source) I've been searching for information which explains how this happened.

What accounts for the difference in the way Iceland is developing politically?

The video at the top of this page, “From the Hell of the Crisis to the Paradise of Journalism” (1 hour 13 minutes) provides a dramatic and informative introduction to what has been happening in Iceland since the economic crisis of 2008 to the near present.

Alternatively, the paper on this page, Beyond WikiLeaks: The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative and the Creation of Free Speech Havens (pdf 24 pp), provides a written down version of similar information.

SUMMARY OF THE VIDEO:
The video opens with this quote from "Demian" by Herman Hesse.
"We were not separated from the majority of men by a boundary, but simply by another mode of vision. Our task was to represent an island in the world, a prototype perhaps, or at least a prospect of a different way of life"
  • A particularly severe Banking crisis in 2008
  • Icelandic citizens in response held a weekly kitchen revolution outside parliament with clear demands (the Government, the Bankers and Monetary authorities should resign). These goals were achieved. Unlike other countries those responsible were punished.
  • A new government constitution was developed initially through crowd sourcing of 1000 citizens randomly (direct democracy) to develop it
  • The media was held complicit in not spotting the weakness of the Banks
  • Wikileaks helped by publishing information about corruption in those same Banks at that time
  • The Bank involved took legal steps to suppress that information – but this resulted in making things worse for them
  • In response the opportunity was taken by visionary leadership to launch a freedom of information revolution
  • One aim is transparent government, to move from secrecy by default to transparency by default
  • A large section of the video goes into detail of the FOI legislation, under nine subheadings: Freedom of Information; Whistleblower Protection; Source Protection; Communications Protection; Limiting Prior Restraint; Judicial Process Protection; Protection of Historical Records; Defamation Law and Libel Tourism Protection. They are serious and well researched about the legal issues surrounding FOI. Also see Progress Report for detail
  • In a world where the internet and governments are becoming less free the Icelandic visionaries see an opportunity to promote freedom as a nation building exercise
  • Never waste a good crisis (advice to those in other countries)
    • countries need to update their outdated constitutions (Birgitta)
    • be clear about what you need to do and how to do it (Smari)
    • catch the spirit of the nation by listening to the people (Birgitta)
    • radical change only happens during crisis, at other times people become too complacent (Birgitta)

Friday, June 26, 2015

with rebellious joy: Birgitta Jónsdótti

I have seen signs
the end of the world
as we know it
has begun

Don't panic
it might look terrifying
on the surface

Yet inside every
human being
a choice
to be a catalyst

Earth is calling
Sky is calling
Science is calling
Creation is calling:

Wake up, wake up now

Transform your heart into
a compassion machine

Now is the time
to yield to the call of growth
to the call of action

You are the change makers

Sleepers of all ages

WAKE UP

wake up: NOW

Iceland’s Pirate Party is the largest political party in Iceland, according to the latest MMR poll ... The party now enjoys the support of 32.4 percent of respondents (source)



Birgitta Jónsdótti blog (Poetician and activist in the Icelandic Parliament for the Pirate Party)

Aiming for the Stars: The Goal and Purpose of a New Pirate International by Ásta Helgadóttir

update (Sat June 27):

THE PIRATE CODEX

Pirates are free

Pirates are freedom-loving, independent, autonomous, and disapprove of blind obedience. They stand for informational self-determination and freedom of opinion. Pirates bear the responsibility entailed by freedom.

Pirates respect privacy

Pirates protect privacy. They fight against the increasing surveillance mania of state and economy because it prohibits the free development of the individual. A free and democratic society is impossible without private and unobserved free space.

Pirates are critical

Pirates are creative, curious, and do not acquiesce in the status quo. They challenge systems, search for weak spots and find ways to correct them. Pirates learn from their mistakes.

Pirates are fair-minded

They keep their word. Solidarity is important when it comes to collective aims. Pirates counteract the blind-eye-mentality of society and take action when moral courage is necessary.

Pirates respect life

Pirates are peaceful. Therefore they reject the death penalty and the destruction of our environment. Pirates stand for the sustainability of nature and its resources. We do not accept patents on life.

Pirates are eager for knowledge

The access to information, education, knowledge and scientific findings has to be unlimited. Pirates support free culture and free software.

Pirates are social

Pirates respect human dignity. They commit themselves to a society united in solidarity where the strong defend the weak. Pirates stand for a political culture of objectivity and fairness.

Pirates are international

Pirates are part of a global movement. They take advantage of the opportunities offered by the internet and are therefore enabled to think and act without borders.

update (Mon June 29):
A New Pirate International
wiki
discussion
pirate times
pirate party australia

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Role of PPPs in Transition

Guest post by Arthur Dent
PPP = Public Private Partnerships

A scenario for transition from capitalism with socialized investment following another Great Depression and its (im)plausibility is discussed elsewhere.

For present purposes those assumptions are as arbitrary as the selection of some hypothetical specific PPP infrastructure project to pitch to some hypothetical target audience.

The need that has not been acted on is investment having become generally paralysed by world economic crisis. Not just traditional infrastructure but all kinds of large scale fixed capital construction projects are needed.

The essence of transition from capitalism under such a scenario is that it is partially public and partially private.

PPPs would be used for all major fixed capital construction projects that are significant for planning resumption of economic growth and ending mass unemployment. Buildings and plant that were previously (not) being privately financed, by single enterprises or project finance, not just the closely related “utilities”. Public institutions would also initially be largely untransformed, so public procurement of a traditional public utility infrastructure facility by a public agency would be subsumed under PPP arrangements as just another private participant that happens to be a public agency.

Public financial and economic planning and management organizations would be involved either as sponsors or minor participants in many types of build, own and operate projects, often taking substantial financial positions in both debt and equity based on the expropriated funds they are now able to invest as well as making ordinary commercial PPP arrangements with private participants.

The relatively small amount of economic and management expertise fully supportive of transition available to an inexperienced government would be heavily focused on the preparation, procurement and contract management/implementation of PPPs. They would have to structure the contracts so the private participants use their know how to maximize the public benefit in their own commercial interests. This would be very difficult and error prone, but not as implausible as simultaneously taking over all existing large economic institutions without enough skills to actually manage them in the public interest.

The much wider role of PPPs requires much better resourced public institutions responsible for PPPs. The relatively small numbers of government decision makers with adequate skills must supervise and structure appropriate incentives to motivate, much larger number of employees and consultants recruited from the private sector for their know how, despite their lack of support for transition.

Currently known “best practices” for PPPs would be generally applicable. There is no point in listing them. But the assumption of quite different circumstances imply many new lessons could only be learned from experience with at least the following differences from the usual circumstances.
  1. Much greater transparency and much less corruption would be imposed on both the public and private participants as part of the broader social changes involved in transition.
  2. Greater flexibility for detailed renegotiations would be necessitated by the circumstances of economic crisis and the more dynamic situations arising from transition.
  3. Political, foreign exchange and national macroeconomic risks (interest rates etc) would be exclusively borne by the public participants and corresponding contingent liabilities and hedging or insurance costs appear openly on the central balance sheets. The public institutions responsible for exchange rates and macroeconomic stability would be closely involved in understanding the financial flows and risks they are assuming and the prices they require for asuming those risks and any hedging arrangements they may be able to make separately. Both international and local private participants would not need to make separate judgments or their own hedging arrangements for particular projects but only apply the sovereign risk ratings assessed uniformly by their own trusted ratings agencies.
  4. Land use and resource management public agencies would likewise manage and appropriately price the responsibilities for land acquisition, site and regulatory risks.
  5. Design, operations, construction, completion and maintenance performance risks would be exclusively borne by the private parties directly responsible for each aspect with detailed incentives tailored to reward overperformance and penalize underperformance. They would be carefully separated according to the expected and actual costs and risks borne by the participants engaged in each aspect and related global, national and sectoral statistical indexes.
  6. Allocation of upside and downside market risks for supply of inputs and sale of outputs would be significantly more complex since the expropriation of private wealth for public investment in PPPs was made necessary by lack of profitable investment outlets in the prevailing market conditions of economic crisis. The aspect for which each private participant is responsible must be commercially viable to that participant at the low competitive rates of return prevailing under crisis conditions. But the overall project need only be value for money to the public participants based on accepting an even lower (or even negative) return on their investment in order to achieve planned economic growth and rapid recovery from mass unemployment.

Transition from Capitalism

Guest post by Arthur Dent

This article is a placeholder for an introduction to a series of articles on various aspects of economic policy to be advocated before, and implemented during, the early stages of, a transition from capitalism in advanced capitalist countries under various different possible scenarios.

I am nowhere near ready to write any such articles, even as tentative drafts, so I cannot write an actual introduction.

Meanwhile one of the courses I am studying to become able to write such tentative drafts is a MOOC on “Public Private Partnerships” by the World Bank. 

This requires as a final project for the policy and procedures track, publication of a “digital artefact” plus a description of the target audience in one hundred words.

I have published as my “digital artefact” the eight hundred word article on “Role of PPPs in Transition”:

The key requirement is:
Topic: Identify an infrastructure need that could be developed as a PPP. This could be a project that is in process of development, one on a country’s PPP project lists, or a need that has not been acted on. Think about the key facts or ideas you wish to convey by answering the following questions:
  • What is the infrastructure problem that the PPP is trying to solve?
  • What services are to be provided and are these services affordable?
  • What are the reasons that the private sector would want to participate?
  • How should these risks be allocated? Consider the country context in judging the risks and who should take them.”
I have identified as a “need that has not been acted on” the general paralysis of investment resulting in prolonged mass unemployment in another Great Depression worse than the 1930s following a financial crisis worse than 2008.

Such a worse financial crisis than 2008 does not seem to be entirely implausible since the last one seems to have been merely postponed rather than resolved by the extraordinary measures taken. Nor does another Great Depression worse than the 1930s seem entirely implausible following such a worse financial crisis.

The need is for all the infrastructure required to resume economic growth, not just traditional infrastructure like existing public utilities. The problem that has to be solved is that there are no profitable outlets for private investment in crisis conditions so investment must be socialized rather than left up to private investors.

This would require some form of state capitalism either as a transition back to “normal” private capitalism or as a transition away from capitalism.

The absence of any significant left in advanced capitalist countries, at least in the english speaking ones I am familiar with, makes any transition away from capitalism seem completely implausible. But then the continued absence of any significant left under the conditions of prolonged mass unemployment and economic paralysis seems even more implausible.

There are already important changes in the political climate of countries like Greece, Spain and Iceland that could become precursors of something much bigger. These countries are peripheral rather than central to the advanced capitalist world, but they are part of it and they are already facing serious economic and political crisis situations.

So I am writing for the target audience described at the end of this introduction, in the conceivable scenario described below.

The services to be provided are not traditional public utilities but the ending of prolonged mass unemployment through resumption of economic growth.

These services are affordable because prolonged mass unemployment is not affordable and both labor and capital are cheap in depression conditions. What is missing is profitability, not affordability.

The private sector would not particularly want to participate, but would not have better options available. Corporations would still want whatever contracts are available at the best returns they can competitively get for the benefit of their shareholders, whether or not some of their shares that used to belong to wealthy private individuals now belong to public institutions. Board members and senior managers who no longer wanted to participate because their incentives had been expropriated would be replaced by board members and managers willing to work for the owners, old and new, under the incentives currently being offered.

But the social system would not yet have been changed and risks and incentives would still have to be allocated in the context of an advanced capitalist country in crisis that is merely beginning a transition from capitalism, not one that has completed such a transition. So many of the same principles would have to still apply and new ones could only be understood and evolved over time.

Scenario

Any transition from capitalism in advanced capitalist countries as a result of another Great Depression would involve:
  1. Inexperienced left governments required to urgently get the economy moving again and end mass unemployment because previous governments, whether claiming to be left or right, had been unable to do so.
  2. Some level of rapid expropriation of privately owned wealth that was immobilized by the crisis now made available for socialized investment in new fixed capital construction projects to get the economy moving again and absorb unemployment.
  3. The day after a change in government would be similar to the day before. The same social relations based on money, wage labor and capital, the same social institutions such as globalized large corporations, and national and local large, medium and small enterprises and bureaucratic government departments and agencies, and the same economic paralysis.

    To simplify things I further assume a “simple” scenario with:

  4. Expropriation narrowly targeted to take all and only the excess wealth of the top 1% of nationals.
  5. This results in substantial investment funds becoming available to governments starting transition but most of the capital in each such country would still be held privately and by foreigners.
  6. The most important capitalist countries such as the USA, China, Japan, and Germany would not be the first to start making the transition. But international financial and investment flows as well as trade continues.
  7. Many top layers of management in most social institutions would be quite hostile to transition but there are enough supporters capable of supervising or replacing them.
Some of these assumptions may not look very plausible. But advocating measures based on such a “simple” case, would place the responsibility for different policies firmly with those who might prevent the policies discussed for this scenario by resorting to the breakup of international financial investment and trade flows, and civil and international wars.

Target Audience

I am studying economics, finance and other subjects to understand how capitalism works and become able to propose economic policies for transition from capitalism in advanced capitalist countries. Currently there is no significant left movement in such countries, but I am drafting tentative ideas for a wider future audience of prospective government policy makers expected when a financial crisis like 2008 eventually becomes another Great Depression like the 1930s. They are not concerned with some specific PPP project. I am conveying one possible policy option for managing partially socialized and partially still private investment projects using PPPs.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

it's too soon to bury Marx

In April last year I published a critique of Marxism, on this blog (The Core Problem With Marxism) and also on reddit, which made sense to me. There was some worthwhile discussion on the reddit thread.

My views were based on a combination of ideas, that marxism was:
  • based on an overblown idea of what science, as in "scientific socialism", could achieve, that marxism was a form of historical or dialectical determinism
  • monist (one True Way) rather than pluralist
  • based on the idea of freedom that recognised necessity
  • based on a belief that Marx / Marxists supported a fact-value dichotomy in their analysis, that facts are objective and values subjective
I went on to argue that these ideas in combination (scientism or scientific determinism + monism + necessity + fact-value dichotomy) opened the door to a deterministic-totalitarian politics in which ethics and democracy were sidelined. I acknowledged that Marx had made important (magnificent) contributions such as his analysis of Political Economy in Capital, but that the combination of the above concepts had led to an overly deterministic trend in analysing how the world worked.

What was I really on about? My thinking was that marxism wasn't doing any better than some form of pragmatic realism with a human face as developed by philosophers such as Hilary Putnam. And that other authors, moral philosophers such as Martha Nussbaum or Iris Murdoch, had done a better job of developing ethical theory than anything in Marx's writings. Marx's alleged neglect of ethics was central to my thinking here. In the reddit thread I said:
"I think we have to turn to authors who have delved deeply into ethical issues to get a handle on these questions. Not Marx but John Rawls, Hilary Putnam, Iris Murdoch, Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum would be my recommendations here"
I now think my critique was inadequate, as applied to Marx. I would now say that my critique may well be valid when applied to the "average marxist", the typical communist party / grouplet or to the practice of marxism in Stalin's Soviet Union but not valid to an understanding of Marx himself. The problem is not Marx but the average Marxist and in this particular case me being an average Marxist.

I'm interested and have been influenced by critiques of marxism by very smart people who have tried it out and had bad experiences. This includes the reflections by Hilary Putnam, Hannah Arendt and Iris Murdoch in particular. See the reference list below. I still think these authors are very smart but perhaps they are reacting more to their experiences with the average Marxist or average communist party rather than a deep understanding of Marx himself. That is the best explanation I can come up with at the moment. Marx in his own lifetime said that he was not a marxist after witnessing a dialogue between some of his supporters.

When I study other pro marxist authors such as Bertell Ollman, Patrick Murray and Terry Eagleton they argue for an interpretation of Marx which refutes my critique.

In looking back now I think it was healthy to challenge marxism in the way I did since it did apply to some of the practice and thinking, including my own at times, of those who describe themselves as marxist. But the subsequent challenge to justify my critique led me to further study of more of Marx's original writings as well as the above mentioned interpreters. In turn, this led to the realisation that my critique was based on insufficient depth of understanding of what Marx was really on about.

Briefly:
  • Marxism is developed by Marx as a science but his idea of science is not anything like what we regard as science today. I think Bertell Ollman argues convincingly that Marx adhered to a philosophy of internal relations and makes other points about Marx's method which are new to my understanding.
  • A theory of possible and probable historical developments through contradiction (and other methods of analysis) is not the same thing as One True Way historical determinism. There remains a larger question of whether Marxism is a monist or pluralist outlook about which I remain uncertain. For now, I still go along with Hilary Putnam's comment that emergent properties of thought (mental states) such as loving, hating, desiring, believing, judging, perceiving, hoping can't be reduced to the physical. We are stuck with this dualism. (Brentano's problem).
    "I am, then, a dualist, or, better, a pluralist. Truth, reference, justification - these are emergent, non-reducible properties of terms and statements in certain contexts. I do not mean they are not supervenient on the physical; of course they are. My dualism is one not of minds and bodies, but of physical properties and intentional properties. It does not even yield an interesting metaphysics." (Three Kinds of Scientific Realism, In Word and Life, 493)
  • Freedom is the recognition of necessity. That principle remains valid but would not be interpreted in a mechanical fashion if we get the nature of Marx's science and history right.
  • Marx never supported a fact-value dichotomy. This was more an issue that developed from Hume and the British empiricists. With Marx facts and values were built into his descriptions of society from the beginning. His ethics develop along with those descriptions. It is true that Marx was impatient with utopian socialists who focused more on the power of argument and ideas than the real social clash of material interests, that is a different issue than my incorrect allegation that Marx supported a fact-value dichotomy.
Much more needs to be said on all of these issues (the nature of science, monism / pluralism, freedom and necessity, facts and values) and other related issues.

What are the practical implications? Simply that well intentioned reform movements as developed by such admirable people as Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum ought to be supported but nevertheless are quite limited in terms of the real task of developing a movement that can effectively challenge and overthrow the real problem: capitalism.

REFERENCE:
Kerr, Bill. The Core Problem with Marxism
Weissberg, Alex. Conspiracy of Silence (1952)
Putnam, Hilary. How Not to Solve Ethical Problems (essay 12). In: Realism with a Human Face (1990)
Putnam, Hilary. Words and Life (1994)
Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. (1951)
Arendt, Hannah. On Revolution (1963)
Murdoch, Iris. Existentialists and Mystics (1997)
Ollman, Bertell. Dance of the Dialectic: Steps in Marx's Method.
Ollman, Bertell. Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society (1971)
Patrick Murray. Marx's Theory of Scientific Knowledge (1988)
Terry Eagleton. Why Marx Was Right (2011)
Nussbaum, Martha. Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach (2011)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Turn down the hype

Guest post by Arthur Dent:

According to the World Bank:
“By acting now, acting together and acting differently, we will be able to transition to a low emissions, climate resilient development path and hold warming below 2°C.”(1)
To help achieve this, a MOOC sponsored by the World Bank (Turn Down the Heat) requires students to produce “digital artefacts” with the aim “create a sense of urgency and a call to action for individuals, companies or countries to change behaviors associated with a warming planet”.

My call is for the World Bank to change its behaviour and “turn down the hype”.

It should be obvious that none of the measures advocated by the World Bank have had much impact on the planet warming, and there is no reason to expect that creating a sense of urgency in support of more of the same will have a better result.

The IPCC's authoritative report on Mitigation of Climate Change(2) shows clearly that there is no realistic prospect of holding warming below 2°C.

The simple reality is that most emissions will result from the rapid industrialization of developing countries like India and China who cannot and will not switch from the cheapest energy sources available while they remain poor. No amount of hype will change that reality.

If the problem was as grave and urgent as claimed there would be no alternative but for developed nations who can afford the cost to switch from cheaper fossil fuels to more expensive nuclear power and also pay the costs of the entire world doing the same. But the World Bank does not advocate that, so it is difficult to believe it takes its own hype seriously.

Wind and solar power cannot solve the problem because they are intermittant. Power is also needed when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. There is no technology on the horizon that could store energy cheaply enough to compete with the dispatchable power from fossil fuels, even if wind and solar power was free. Instead of pretending that wind and solar could do the job it is clearly necessary to act differently. Since there is no viable replacement for fossil fuels on the horizon that developing countries could afford, it is necessary to do something very different from what the World Bank advocates.

We will need some breakthroughs in fundamental technology. Neither the regulatory nor the market pricing mechanisms advocated by the World Bank can achieve that. Massive investments in research and development and fundamental science are required. Contrary to the hype there is no “return” on that investment. As with all fundamental science, the results have to be made freely available to the countries that are too poor to pay for it. So the “free rider” problem ensures that no carbon pricing mechanism could motivate such investment. At present each developed country is hoping that somebody else will pay to develop the necessary technology. There is no “national” benefit in doing so. It is a global, not a national problem. The most ambitious national targets for R&D are about 3% of GDP for all purposes. These targets are not being met, despite the fact that new technology is the driving force for economic growth.

A global levy on developed countries that can afford it is required, to pay for the costs of a massive global R&D program that is not expected to produce any “return” on the investment, other than “merely” solving the problem of global warming.

That may require a significant expansion in the total scientific workforce and consequently a long lead time for education.

If it is not successful, then we will have to resort to some combination of geo-engineering, adaptation strategies and subsidizing nuclear power in all countries, at potentially vastly greater costs. But even if a massive global R&D program failed to produce clean energy competitive with fossil fuels, it would at least accelerate economic growth generally and enable the whole world to afford more expensive energy than fossil fuels more quickly.
“Modernization has liberated ever more people from lives of poverty and hard agricultural labor, women from chattel status, children and ethnic minorities from oppression, and societies from capricious and arbitrary governance. Greater resource productivity associated with modern socio-technological systems has allowed human societies to meet human needs with fewer resource inputs and less impact on the environment. More-productive economies are wealthier economies, capable of better meeting human needs while committing more of their economic surplus to non-economic amenities, including better human health, greater human freedom and opportunity, arts, culture, and the conservation of nature.”(3)
We need more modern technology, not medieval windmills.

(1) WDR 2010: Development and Climate Change
(2) Working Group 3
(3) An Ecomodernist Manifesto

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

remote hopelessness

I watched Remote Hope on 4 Corners. In some respects it was quite a good expose about how bad things have become but it still didn't drill down deep enough into the fundamental basis of the problem or interview those who have thought deeply about it and grappled with a solution.

Tony Abbott ("lifestyle choices") and Colin Barnett ("put yourself in my shoes") have both shot themselves in the foot and are easy targets. But what is needed is not a free kick of unpopular politicians but an honest description of the problem and some deep thought about a solution.

Some good people have thought deeply about the issue of remote indigenous community dysfunction: Peter Sutton, Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton, Bess Price and Stephanie Jarret, to name a few. They are the whistle blowers and they blew the whistle a long time ago. Noel Pearson's essay Our Right to Take Responsibility was delivered in 2000. Why didn't the ABC interview these people?

I thought some of the people interviewed were very good in describing the problem:
  • the Broome mayor, Graeme Campbell 
  • John Hammond, the Perth Lawyer, who supported some shut downs of dysfunctional communities 
  • Anthony Watson who plans to camp on Cable Beach, inconveniencing tourists, and bringing a real problem to the attention of Australians 
  • Karl O'Callaghan, the WA police commissioner, was good, pointing out facts (sex abuse 10 times higher than anywhere else), supporting closures of dysfunctional communities and even providing an emotional response, that he couldn't sleep at night, whether rhetorical or not, it was correct 
  • Susan Murphy right at the end, we can't keep giving handouts 
I thought Tammy Solonec of Amnesty International was terrible, talking about human rights in the abstract, not based on any analysis of reality.

The best attempt at a solution so far is that proposed by Noel Pearson and his Family Responsibility Commission. See the article by Catherine Ford about that, Great Expectations: Inside Noel Pearson's social experiment.

Admittedly nothing about this issue is going to easy. But the problem came about due to bad policy that superficially looked like humane policy. Equal wages led to indigenous unemployment. Welfare led to alcohol and drug abuse and child abuse. The bad policy has dragged on for many years after it was pointed out. Nevertheless, bad policy can be corrected. Of course, it is too late for many but correction of bad policy offers real hope which can grow over time for some.

Kerry O'Brien said right at the end that there was no easy solution but still the puzzle is why they didn't put Noel Pearson on who has come up with a hard solution. I think the ABC is more interested in easy hits on Abbott and Barnett than proposing a real solution. See my earlier article, The closure of remote indigenous communities, for links to the ideas of Marcia Langton and Stephanie Jarret on this issue.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

the closure of remote indigenous communities

Last Friday about 5000 gather at Flinders St Station following a CBD march against closure of Aboriginal communities
I wonder how many of those protesters have informed themselves of what really happens in those remote communities --> murder, violence, abuse of women and children, under age marriage etc. in far greater proportions than any where else in Australia.

I've put together some resources and links which provide background information and documents my above assertion:

The organising group has called itself Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR). Their manifesto is separatist and calls for restoration of tribal sovereignty and customary law. This would perpetuate what is already unacceptable to our post Enlightenment moral values.

Abbott's choice of words is not the issue here by Anthony Dillon
Critics of the Prime Minister's choice of words are ignoring the bigger picture. If people are living in conditions that compromise health and well-being, and their communities cannot be made viable, then a sensible exit strategy is needed

Some graphic descriptions of black on black violence here: Our black mark of shame (1998) by Tony Koch
(This) plea is on behalf of the women and children who live on the remote Aboriginal communities in this state, those people who spend their every day expecting to be bashed, abused, raped or killed by drunken men

Saving the children by Steve Etherington
But then I visit one of our ‘dry’ communities, with its own language, on its own land, as I did last week, and I see girls the same age as my granddaughter, ten or eleven, with dirty matted hair, sitting with drunken adults in card games hoping to cadge food money, or furtively darting out of a house where the porn videos can be heard, shamefaced, frightened. When I talk to them and find them already hardened and wary about life, when I informally assess them, sparing them any humiliation, and confirm that their literacy skills, their numeracy and their general knowledge are below mainstream infants school standard, when I watch their terribly limited capacity to attempt new relationships, I find it hard to thank God

The source for the above two links was a Stephanie Jarrett interview
I am committed to the liberal-democratic principles of universal individual human rights and non-relativism regarding violence. My left-leaning feminism increases my outrage against the oppressions endured by remote Aboriginal women. Through my research, I came to understand that Aboriginal self-determination is a key causal factor in the persistent, high levels of violence against Aboriginal women

Stephanie Jarret's book length treatment of the issue: Liberating Aboriginal People from Violence

Gary Clark has written a reply to a criticism of Stephanie Jarret's book, Speaking Out on Aboriginal Violence in the Quadrant, September 2014. Gary's articles can be accessed through academia, here. You will need to logon there.

Finally, a realistic article by Marcia Langton about what could be done to improve the situation, Health and welfare: Restricted welfare payments may help in many indigenous communities

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

why migration is a fundamental human right

why migration is a fundamental human right

A short extract from the conclusion of an eloquent argument in favour of migration by Mohsin Hamid:
It is we, those who stop migration, who are the criminals, not those who are migrants. And slowly, at a pace that does not terrify us, but whose direction is clear, we must gradually let go, and allow things to change. Only in doing so can we hope to build a world in accordance with the values we claim to believe in – liberty, equality, democracy – and wash clean the taste of hypocrisy that burns so bitter in so many of our mouths.

I imagine that centuries hence, when people are finally free to move as they please around the planet Earth, they will look back at this moment and wonder, just as we wonder about those who kept slaves, how people who seemed so modern could do such things to their fellow human beings, caging them like animals – merely for wanting to wander, as our species always has and always will.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

thoughts about Janis Joplin's line "freedom is just another word for nothin' left to lose"

Freedom might mean:
  • free to rebel against your parents
  • turn on, tune in, drop out (Timothy O'Leary)
  • free love
  • freedom to dump your lover
  • freedom without love (pain)
  • freedom to marry, have kids, buy a house and work hard to pay off the mortage
  • freedom to curse Kim Jong-un before being executed
  • freedom to take responsibility ... our right to self determination is ultimately the right to take responsibility (Noel Pearson)
  • freedom as the recognition of necessity (Engels,in Anti-Duhring, states that Hegel was the first to discover this principle but my googling indicates that Spinoza (1632-1677) may have said something like it before Hegel (1770-1831), see here and here)
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing don’t mean nothing honey if it ain’t free, now now.

Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing, that’s all that bobby left me, yeah,

Here are some extracts from an interesting discussion about the line from a message board (link):

Sam Stone: When you've got nothing to lose, you can do whatever you damned well please. When I was young, single, and had no career to speak of, I could pack up and move to another city, or go backpacking on a whim, or really whatever I wanted.

Now I have a mortgage, a kid, a career, and I'm not free at all. I get up every morning, go to work, do what the boss says, pick the kid up from school, etc. And if I decide to chuck the job, I'd lose the house, maybe the marriage, family... So I'm trapped.

Not that I'd trade it away, but the fact is we give up a lot of freedom when we take on the responsibility of a middle class life. We become slaves to our commitments and to the cost of losing what we've taken years to build up.

Incantatrix: I always thought that the person telling the story, thought that Bobby and she were free because they were roaming around the countryside and exploring and loving each other, and she thought, having a good time.

But then Bobby slips away and she says

Looking for that home, and I hope he finds it

And she realised that they weren't free at all - that Bobby had always been looking for something and it was something that she as much as she wanted couldn't provide. And now she's trapped. Because she knows what she wants but she can't have it.

So in essence, she is free, but she has nothing.

Ahh unrequited love, the saddest love of all .....

Kris Kristofferson (the original author of the lyrics) said: I think when I wrote that, I was trying to show that freedom is a double-edged sword and that you may be free, but it can be painful to be that free...

Elendil's Heir: I always hated that line. Nobody who ever actually lived in tyranny - in Germany under Hitler, Russia under Stalin, Iraq under Saddam Hussein - would ever say anything so fatuous.

Rube E. Tewesday, in reply to Elendil's Heir: I'm not so sure about that. I once read a piece about North Korea, where a refugee mentioned that the only people he ever heard curse Kim Il Sung were being led to execution. It seems to me that having nothing left to lose, they were finally free.

chappachula: The first line ("freedom = nothing left to lose"): means that being free isn't the most important thing in the world. In the exciting atmosphere of new found freedom during the hippy 60's, that was an unusual statement. Being free was the ultimate goal, to defy the conformity of your parents and the 1950's . Wear jeans and a long hair, not penny loafers and brylcream. Posters proclaiming "do your own thing", " free love" were ,like, man, really deep. Very few young people then would dare to say that freedom ain't so great.

The second line ("nothing aint worth nothin' , but its free") is a great double entendre. It reminds you that, in your freedom, you only have a whole lot of nothing. But, you can still try to convince yourself that you've got something--'cause you've got your freedom. Sour grapes!--sure, you're lonely and lost without a girlfriend or boyfriend to love. But you can still love your freedom--for whatever it's worth

Thursday, April 23, 2015

a report from Turkey about Syrian refugees

From a list-serv I am on:
"We have, in Istanbul/Turkey, millions of Syrian families now, approximately 2 million, in metros, in metro stations, in streets, usually couples with 2 children in complete incapacity about what to do, how to survive. No shelter, no food, absolutely nothing.

In newspapers, it reads that Syrian girls or women are bought at 5000 turkish liras (2500 usd) as second or third wives..."
Possibly, in Australia, the mainstream media doesn't report the real news because we would die of shame for not doing more to help the wretched of the earth.

Monday, April 20, 2015

the ecomodernist manifesto

ecomodernist manifesto

I'm trying to work out why ideas like this have so little traction in any significant political party. Liberals, Labour and Green are all hopeless. I've summarised some of the key points below but it would be better to read the whole thing.

1) We live in the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans

2) There are no good reasons for pessimism.

3)... we affirm one long-standing environmental ideal, that humanity must shrink its impacts on the environment to make more room for nature, while we reject another, that human societies must harmonize with nature to avoid economic and ecological collapse

4) There is an answer to environment concerns that are heard every day. The answer is to decouple intensive human development from environmental issues.

5) in contradiction to the often-expressed fear of infinite growth colliding with a finite planet, demand for many material goods may be saturating as societies grow wealthier. Meat consumption, for instance, has peaked in many wealthy nations and has shifted away from beef toward protein sources that are less land intensive (other issues of concern outlined too)

6) Ecosystems around the world are threatened today because people over-rely on them ... Conversely, modern technologies, by using natural ecosystem flows and services more efficiently, offer a real chance of reducing the totality of human impacts on the biosphere

7) Plentiful access to modern energy is an essential prerequisite for human development

8) The energy sources we need are cheap, clean, dense, and abundant. Candidates include next-generation solar, advanced nuclear fission, and nuclear fusion

9) Our Environmental future is a human spiritual or aesthetic choice more than a material or utilitarian choice ... the decoupling makes this choice possible

10) Don't confuse modernity (good) with capitalism (questionable)
"Too often, modernization is conflated, both by its defenders and critics, with capitalism, corporate power, and laissez-faire economic policies. We reject such reductions. What we refer to when we speak of modernization is the long-term evolution of social, economic, political, and technological arrangements in human societies toward vastly improved material well-being, public health, resource productivity, economic integration, shared infrastructure, and personal freedom.

Modernization has liberated ever more people from lives of poverty and hard agricultural labor, women from chattel status, children and ethnic minorities from oppression, and societies from capricious and arbitrary governance. Greater resource productivity associated with modern socio-technological systems has allowed human societies to meet human needs with fewer resource inputs and less impact on the environment. More-productive economies are wealthier economies, capable of better meeting human needs while committing more of their economic surplus to non-economic amenities, including better human health, greater human freedom and opportunity, arts, culture, and the conservation of nature.

Modernizing processes are far from complete, even in advanced developed economies ..."
the authors

the responses (great to see that they are publishing critical responses on their site)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Judith Curry's evaluation of the climate change debate

Judith Curry's testimony to The House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology Full Committee Hearing about The President’s UN Climate Pledge: Scientifically Justified or a New Tax on Americans?

Here is the [link] for the hearing, which includes link to all of the testimonies and also the webcast

Judith Curry (blog):
The central issue in the scientific debate on climate change is the extent to which the recent (and future) warming is caused by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions versus natural climate variability that are caused by variations from the sun, volcanic eruptions, and large-scale ocean circulations.

Recent data and research supports the importance of natural climate variability and calls into question the conclusion that humans are the dominant cause of recent climate change. This includes:
  • The slow down in global warming since 1998 
  • Reduced estimates of the sensitivity of climate to carbon dioxide 
  • Climate models that are predicting much more warming than has been observed so far in the 21st century
While there are substantial uncertainties in our understanding of climate change, it is clear that humans are influencing climate in the direction of warming. However this simple truth is essentially meaningless in itself in terms of alarm, and does not mandate a particular policy response.

We have made some questionable choices in defining the problem of climate change and its solution:
  • The definition of ‘dangerous’ climate change is ambiguous, and hypothesized catastrophic tipping points are regarded as very or extremely unlikely in the 21st century
  • Efforts to link dangerous impacts of extreme weather events to human-caused warming are misleading and unsupported by evidence.
  • Climate change is a ‘wicked problem’ and ill-suited to a ‘command and control’ solution
  • It has been estimated that the U.S. national commitments to the UN to reduce emissions by 28% will prevent three hundredths of a degree centigrade in warming by 2100.
The inadequacies of current policies based on emissions reduction are leaving the real societal consequences of climate change and extreme weather events largely unaddressed, whether caused by humans or natural variability.

The wickedness of the climate change problem provides much scope for disagreement among reasonable and intelligent people. Effectively responding to the possible threats from a warmer climate is made very difficult by the deep uncertainties surrounding the risks both from the problem and the proposed solutions.

The articulation of a preferred policy option in the early 1990’s by the United Nations has marginalized research on broader issues surrounding climate variability and change and has stifled the development of a broader range of policy options.

We need to push the reset button in our deliberations about how we should respond to climate change:
  • We should expand the frameworks for thinking about climate policy and provide a wider choice of options in addressing the risks from climate change. 
  • As an example of alternative options, pragmatic solutions have been proposed based on efforts to accelerate energy innovation, build resilience to extreme weather, and pursue no regrets pollution reduction 
  • Each of these measures has justifications independent of their benefits for climate mitigation and adaptation. 
  • Robust policy options that can be justified by associated policy reasons whether or not human caused climate change is dangerous avoids the hubris of pretending to know what will happen with the 21st century climate.
This concludes my testimony.
Judith also recommends reading the testimonies of Harbert and Thorning

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Capital is a social relation, not a static thing

This is intended as an introduction to the philosophy of internal relations as developed by Bertell Ollman, 1935 -

Capital is not just a thing but a dynamic, living social relationship. My essay on Social Forms is deficient in this respect. It does identify Capital etc. as arising from social relations but it still, implicitly, treats Capital as a passive thing, not a dynamic living thing which depends on its ongoing social relationships for its existence and nature.

Ricardo made a similar mistake. He regarded Capital as “accumulated labour”, as something purely material, a mere element in the labour process. (Marx, Theory of Surplus Value). Ricardo was defining Capital in a narrow, clear cut sense and then linking it externally to other elements such as labour.

Marx, by contrast, describes Capital as an extensive network of internal relations. It is “that kind of property which exploits wage-labour, and which cannot increase except on condition of getting a new supply of wage-labour for fresh exploitation.”(The Communist Manifesto, Ch 2). The relation between capital and labour is treated as a function of capital itself, and part of the meaning of “capital”. Marx goes onto refer to the worker as “variable capital” (Capital vol 1). In other places Marx refers to money and commodities as capital. In Marx's view Capital is not a clearly defined thing but a dynamic, living, evolving, changing thing.

When social relations become subject matter then we have to think differently. What we normally regard as nouns (Capital, wage labour, Value) are transforming into verbs. But our ingrained habit is to think of nouns as static and verbs as active. This is one reason why Marx's Capital is hard to understand.

This relationship view of concepts, staying with Marx's examples of Capital, labour, Value, the commodity for now, views each of these concepts as an internally linked network.

Contrast this with our traditional conventional “scientific” or common sense view that each concept can be defined independently of the other concepts and then linked externally to the other concepts.

In the common sense view Capital is “accumulated labour” which can then be invested in a new project which requires wage labour to succeed. But in Marx's view if wage labour disappeared then there would no longer be any Capital (Communist Manifesto). Max Hirsch (Democracy versus Socialism, 1901) criticised Marx for the alleged imprecision of tying capital to exploitation of the labourer. This meant that a machine used by a farmer who owned it would not be capital, but it would be capital if he hired a man to operate it. The machine in itself is not Capital but when it is connected to wage labour it becomes Capital. However, rather than a valid criticism, this shifting sand arises from the view that Capital is not a clearly definable thing but a social relation in motion.

If we accept Ollman's interpretation of Marx, that social relations become subject matter, that things we regard as clearly defined nouns like Capital are in reality more like verbs, continually in motion, then this in turn impacts on our conception of causation. Once the extensive internal relations of a concept are used to identify it then change becomes more a matter of a shift in those internal relations rather than a traditional scientific cause and effect model.

eg. some have read Marx as an economic determinist because his major work has the words “political economy” in the subtitle. But since the concepts of Marx, such as Capital, have extensive internal relations to wage labour, work, commodity fetishism, estrangement etc. then his analysis is intended as an extensive social critique of the capitalist system as a whole, rather than a narrow economic only critique.

The social system of capitalism is conceived as a living, organic body with extensive, ever changing inner connections. In such a model causes and conditions tend to merge together, unlike a tradition scientific cause and effect model.

At some stage some particular inner connections may become more significant than others and so they might appear to be a major cause of change. But it is more helpful to see this as a principal contradiction (to use Mao's terminology in On Contradiction) determining change than some sort of linear cause and effect model.

Reference:
Ollman, Bertell. Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society (1971), pp. 14-17

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The picture writes the concepts which are then used to describe the picture

The picture writes the concepts which are then used to describe the picture. The categories used to describe society are a dynamic part of a concrete, organic, living whole.

The categories (forms, manifestations, aspects) of bourgeois society are not neutral definitions but are determined by that society dynamically. The story (big picture) dynamically informs the concepts that make up the narrative.

Start with society. That is given from a materialist perspective. The society determines the categories. But society is enormously complex so with which aspects of society do we start? The dictionary gives us words and meanings but doesn't give us a starting point.

Human minds have struggled over the years to formulate categories which describe society. This requires research, study, practice.

We then use those categories to perceive society and describe it to ourselves and others. Perception is not neutral, we perceive through our categories which influence or condition our senses, we see what our minds tell us to see. Inevitably those categories, despite our best intentions, are one sided, incomplete. We are brainwashed by our environment, our upbringing, our parents, our media etc. as to what we perceive, what is important and what is less important.

Society is more complicated and nuanced than our ability to describe it. The best we can do is approach a comprehensive description from our particular point of view. The way a modern atheist perceives society is vastly different from a religious person from the Middle Ages who believed that the Earth was the centre of the universe and those who challenged that view ought to be burnt at the stake.

It would be a mistake to think we have finished this process. Furthermore, society keeps changing so the categories have to be modified as we go along. We have to change too in order to catch up and keep up with social change. The whole process of formulating categories and using them to perceive and describe society is dynamic, changing, not static.

Different humans come to widely different understandings of our society and how it should function and develop: libertarians, social contract, dictatorship, liberal democracy, socialists, communists, Islamic State, Green politics. These labels demonstrate a variety of possible trajectories of different human understandings.

Hence, I am very interested in Marx's method since from my current perspective his method did result in an insightful understanding of the internal dynamics of capitalism, how it works, its problems and its limited future.

Current reading:
Marx, Karl. The Method of Political Economy

Ollman, Bertell. Dance of the Dialectic: Steps in Marx's Method (2003)

Ollman, Bertell. Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society (1971)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

why chess?

I'm currently working as a chess coach with Chess Ideas. Here is my argument for the value of chess:
Iris Murdoch, novelist and philosopher, wrote that great art requires paying close attention to reality (The Sovereignty of Good). She was comparing great art with the more common fantasy art or a capitulation to wishful thinking.

In chess, as well, you have to focus attentively on the position in front of you and not be swayed by wish fulfilment or a sudden mood swing. Chess poses many problems to solve both in quantity and variety; possibly more so than in other domains. There are a wide variety of tactical themes as well as different schools of thought about strategic play. Furthermore, openings, middle game and end game all have their own particular challenges. To succeed in chess you need to prepare intelligently, think rationally, concentrate deeply, control your emotions and not yield to whim or fancy. From this it follows that many chess players become independent thinkers in other domains.

Choice and activity are important parts of chess. This fits nicely with learning theories which stress the importance of active learning, in contrast to the passive reception of received wisdom. Playing chess expertly against an opponent means committing to making complex decisions at nearly every move. This also involves time management because competitive games are played using a timer. This is good preparation for decision making in some aspects of life.

Chess teaches a discipline. This requires looking deeply into a difficult subject, to strive for depth and something approaching objectivity. At the same time it is a game and like all games is fun. This particular sort of fun emerges from a deep mental workout. Chess can be a motivator to immerse yourself deeply in logical, rational thinking.

Young people can be highly successful at chess. Unlike other areas in life sheer ability nearly always comes out on top, irrespective of age. The current world champion, Norwegian, Magnus Carlsen, is 23 years old.
One of Australia's most promising players, Anton Smirnov, is only 13 years old, amongst the best players of his age in the world! The young can tackle this complex cognitive task and shine against adults, which is wonderful for their self confidence.


Chess is competitive. Competition is a double edged sword, for sure, but it does have a good side. It promotes interest, alertness and elicits high achievement. The rapid feedback acts as a huge spur to solve the problems optimally. Losing at competitive chess can be painful. If the player accepts this challenge long term then it is character building, promoting mental toughness, resilience, will power, determination and persistence.

Chess promotes analytical skills. An important part of chess training is to record and then revisit your games to evaluate and in some cases to annotate in detail. Good players also study chess books out of the necessity to improve. This process develops expert reading, study and analytical writing skills.

As former world champion, Gary Kasparov, points out if you can apply what you have learnt through chess to yourself then chess can be very valuable indeed:
"My argument has always been that what you learn from using the skills you have—analyzing your strengths and weaknesses—is far more important. If you can program yourself to learn from your experiences by assiduously reviewing what worked and what did not, and why, success in chess can be very valuable indeed. In this way, the game has taught me a great deal about my own decision-making processes that is applicable in other areas, but that effort has little to do with natural gifts."
- source

Thursday, March 26, 2015

social forms and the individual

Unknown unknowns: All the things you don't know you don't know

I thought I had understood capitalism, that the bosses owned the means of production and the workers had no option but to sell their labour to the boss. There were rich people, poor people and class struggle.

But I didn't know about Value as a social form and so my real understanding of capitalism was deficient.

Despite my involvement in radical anti-imperialist / communist politics going back to the late 1960s I totally missed that a variety of social forms (formations) that we swim in daily have evolved and materialised from non material things, namely social relations. For example, some people worship money and virtually everyone can't help but adopt a strong interest in money, since it is essential to both survival and a good life. But most people haven't thought through that money originates in a social relation, that is, the need to standardise commodity exchange.

Such social forms are historically contingent, not an inevitable aspects of society. In the late 60s I had looked below the surface of capitalism and understood some of its workings but had missed that there was a lot more happening down there than I had imagined. Sadly, I now realise, my ignorance was and is shared by most other 60s radicals. This ignorance originated in a failure to understand Marx's most important work, “Capital”.

SOCIAL FORMS

Social forms are things that emerge (materialise) as social artefacts as society evolves. Their origin is social not material. They become part of that society and are often perceived as part of the air we breathe. But it is social function that has brought them about and not the form which has created the social function. They don’t have any necessary permanence beyond that. Social forms in capitalist society include things of major importance such as value, money, capital, the commodity, commodity exchange, the market, rent and interest. These things emerge from a social process and are not set in stone for all time.

What Marx meant by Value as a social form was the capacity of a commodity to be exchanged as an equal. In terms of social or class consciousness some people have a strong sense of boss – worker relations as a social construct, something that can change, but usually do not have the same sense that Value has arisen socially and will not be around forever. You can imagine a society (socialism, communism) where things are produced for people's needs or wants, that people will receive food, medicine and white goods irrespective of their financial status. In such a society Value as a measure of commodities to be exchanged would whither away.

I am taking a lot of short cuts here. I can explain Value in more detail in another post. Marx argues that money (he refers to gold or silver as money) evolves from the commodity. Money eventually evolves as a universal equivalent. Gold has the ideal properties required for money (divisibility, durability etc.)

Hence Value arises through the social process of commodity exchange. Its origin and evolution is through this social process and has nothing to do with any identifiable physical or material properties of commodities. Although value eventually takes a physical form in the shape of money its origin is social.
“No scientist to date has yet discovered what natural qualities make definite proportions of snuff, tobacco and paintings 'equivalents' of one another” (Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Part 3, p. 130, link)
In time the social forms become more than the expression but the bearers, the motivators, the dominant consideration in the decisions people make in their lives. This is fairly obvious, in the case of money, for instance.

IS THE INDIVIDUAL A SOCIAL FORM?

My friend Peter, is trying to develop a theory of ethical and moral value, based on Marx. One of his ideas here is to include the concept of the individual as a social form. In his words:
“I want to isolate, and show the epistemological weaknesses in notions (widespread in both philosophy and psychology, both in the past and today) of the separate, atomistic, private, individual self, as if it is, as if it could be, the basis of value and meaning in society today.

Such a self, I hope to demonstrate, is a by-product of, an abstraction, from material, universal human interaction. And that that self arises, historically, along with money – as a result, initially, of exchange relations, but only becomes individual autonomy (a very abstract and alienated idea of individual freedom and equality, as described by Marx in Capital) with the rise of wage labour as an important part of exchange in capitalism.

The abstraction that is the separate, atomistic, private individual self today sits over, and obscures (what is regarded as ‘outside’ - both behind the backs, but also in front of the noses, of every individual) – the material, social and universal aspect of everyday human interaction. The creative potential of all our human interactions is depleted in the ubiquitous ‘breaking up’ of those interactions into well intentioned, but very separate, atomistic, private, individual selves (deemed to be both real and ‘universal’).

Life is about, we are told, each of us, giving and taking what we need and we want. And that, the give and take, is a natural and ahistorical fact of life - there is no value greater, there is nothing more real, than the good self who strives to live by what is given to us all, according to what we all have inherited, as good, right and true.

I hope to demonstrate that the religious, superstitious and fetishistic abstraction, that is the autonomous individual, works every day, to erode, deplete and render sterile the creative and social opportunities that arise every day in human interaction. Such individualism, insinuated between every one of us, and between our actions, makes us strangers to the immanent nature of universal social need and injustice. The solitary self is a stumbling block that continues, is actively used, to crush real human creativity."
I have some issues with this interpretation of the individual. I will write about those later. What I wanted to do in this post was to explain the meaning of social forms and at least outline the case, from Peter, that such an interpretation of the individual is at least plausible.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: the future of Islam

But this is not a work of theology. It is more in the nature of a public intervention in the debate about the future of Islam. The biggest obstacle to change within the Muslim world is precisely its suppression of the sort of critical thinking I am attempting here. If my proposal for reform helps to spark a serious discussion of these issues among Muslims themselves, I will consider it a success
“ISLAM’S borders are bloody,” wrote the late US political scientist Samuel Huntington in 1996, “and so are its innards.”

Nearly 20 years later, Huntington looks more right than ever before.

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, at least 70 per cent of all the fatalities in armed conflicts around the world last year were in wars involving Muslims.

In 2013, there were nearly 12,000 terrorist attacks worldwide. The lion’s share were in Muslim-majority countries, and many of the others were carried out by Muslims.

By far the most numerous victims of Muslim violence — including executions and lynchings not captured in these statistics — are Muslims themselves.

Not all of this violence is explicitly motivated by religion, but a great deal of it is. I believe that it is foolish to insist, as Western leaders habitually do, that the violent acts committed in the name of Islam can somehow be divorced from the religion itself.

For more than a decade, my message has been simple: Islam is not a religion of peace.

When I assert this, I do not mean that Islamic belief makes all Muslims violent. This is manifestly not the case: There are many millions of peaceful Muslims in the world.

What I do say is that the call to violence and the justification for it are explicitly stated in the sacred texts of Islam.

Moreover, this theologically sanctioned violence is there to be activated by any number of offences, including but not limited to apostasy, adultery, blasphemy and even something as vague as threats to family honour or to the honour of Islam itself.

It is not just al-Qa’ida and Islamic State that show the violent face of Islamic faith and practice.

It is Pakistan, where any statement critical of the Prophet or Islam is labelled as blasphemy and punishable by death.

It is Saudi Arabia, where churches and synagogues are outlawed and where beheadings are a legitimate form of punishment. It is Iran, where stoning is an acceptable punishment and homosexuals are hanged for their “crime”.

As I see it, the fundamental problem is that the majority of otherwise peaceful and law-abiding Muslims are unwilling to acknowledge, much less to repudiate, the theological warrant for intolerance and violence embedded in their own religious texts.

It simply will not do for Muslims to claim that their religion has been “hijacked” by extremists. The killers of Islamic State and Nigeria’s Boko Haram cite the same religious texts that every other Muslim in the world considers sacrosanct.

Instead of letting Islam off the hook with bland cliches about the religion of peace, we in the West need to challenge and debate the very substance of Islamic thought and practice.

We need to hold Islam accountable for the acts of its most violent adherents and to demand that it reform or disavow the key beliefs that are used to justify those acts.

As it turns out, the West has some experience with this sort of reformist project. It is precisely what took place in Judaism and Christianity over the centuries, as both traditions gradually consigned the violent passages of their own sacred texts to the past.

Many parts of the Bible and the Talmud reflect patriarchal norms, and both also contain many stories of harsh human and divine retribution. As President Barack Obama said in remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast last month, “Remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

Yet today, because their faiths went through a long, meaningful process of Reformation and Enlightenment, the vast majority of Jews and Christians have come to dismiss religious scripture that urges intolerance or violence.

There are literalist fringes in both religions, but they are true fringes. Regrettably, in Islam, it is the other way around: It is those seeking religious reform who are the fringe element.

Any serious discussion of Islam must begin with its core creed, which is based on the Koran (the words said to have been revealed by the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Mohammed) and the hadith (the accompanying works that detail Mohammed’s life and words).

Despite some sectarian differences, this creed unites all Muslims. All, without exception, know by heart these words: “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah; and Mohammed is His messenger.” This is the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith.

The Shahada might seem to be a declaration of belief no different from any other. But the reality is that the Shahada is both a religious and a political symbol.

In the early days of Islam, when Mohammed was going from door to door in Mecca trying to persuade the polytheists to abandon their idols of worship, he was inviting them to accept that there was no god but Allah and that he was Allah’s messenger.

After 10 years of trying this kind of persuasion, however, he and his small band of believers went to Medina, and from that moment, Mohammed’s mission took on a political dimension.

Unbelievers were still invited to submit to Allah, but after Medina, they were attacked if they refused. If defeated, they were given the option to convert or to die. (Jews and Christians could retain their faith if they submitted to paying a special tax.)

No symbol represents the soul of Islam more than the Shahada. But today there is a contest within Islam for the ownership of that symbol. Who owns the Shahada? Is it those Muslims who want to emphasise Mohammed’s years in Mecca or those who are inspired by his conquests after Medina? On this basis, I believe that we can distinguish three different groups of Muslims.

The first group is the most problematic. These are the fundamentalists who, when they say the Shahada, mean: “We must live by the strict letter of our creed.”

They envision a regimen based on Shariah, Islamic religious law. They argue for an Islam largely or completely unchanged from its original seventh-century version. What is more, they take it as a requirement of their faith that they impose it on everyone else.

I shall call them Medina Muslims, in that they see the forcible imposition of Shariah as their religious duty. They aim not just to obey Mohammed’s teaching but also to emulate his warlike conduct after his move to Medina. Even if they do not themselves engage in violence, they do not hesitate to condone it.

It is Medina Muslims who call Jews and Christians “pigs and monkeys”. It is Medina Muslims who prescribe death for the crime of apostasy, death by stoning for adultery and hanging for homosexuality. It is Medina Muslims who put women in burqas and beat them if they leave their homes alone or if they are improperly veiled.

The second group — and the clear majority throughout the Muslim world — consists of Muslims who are loyal to the core creed and worship devoutly but are not inclined to practice violence.

I call them Mecca Muslims. Like devout Christians or Jews who attend religious services every day and abide by religious rules in what they eat and wear, Mecca Muslims focus on religious observance. I was born in Somalia and raised as a Mecca Muslim. So were the majority of Muslims from Casablanca to Jakarta.

Yet the Mecca Muslims have a problem: Their religious beliefs exist in an uneasy tension with modernity — the complex of economic, cultural and political innovations that not only reshaped the Western world but also dramatically transformed the developing world as the West exported it.

The rational, secular and individualistic values of modernity are fundamentally corrosive of traditional societies, especially hierarchies based on gender, age and inherited status.

Trapped between two worlds of belief and experience, these Muslims are engaged in a daily struggle to adhere to Islam in the context of a society that challenges their values and beliefs at every turn.

Many are able to resolve this tension only by withdrawing into self-enclosed (and increasingly self-governing) enclaves. This is called cocooning, a practice whereby Muslim immigrants attempt to wall off outside influences, permitting only an Islamic education for their children and disengaging from the wider non-Muslim community.

It is my hope to engage this second group of Muslims — those closer to Mecca than to Medina — in a dialogue about the meaning and practice of their faith.

I recognise that these Muslims are not likely to heed a call for doctrinal reformation from someone they regard as an apostate and infidel.

But they may reconsider if I can persuade them to think of me not as an apostate but as a heretic: one of a growing number of people born into Islam who have sought to think critically about the faith we were raised in. It is with this third group — only a few of whom have left Islam altogether — that I would now identify myself.

These are the Muslim dissidents. A few of us have been forced by experience to conclude that we could not continue to be believers; yet we remain deeply engaged in the debate about Islam’s future. The majority of dissidents are reforming believers — among them clerics who have come to realise that their religion must change if its followers are not to be condemned to an interminable cycle of political violence.

How many Muslims belong to each group? Ed Husain of the US Council on Foreign Relations estimates that only 3 per cent of the world’s Muslims understand Islam in the militant terms I associate with Mohammed’s time in Medina.

But out of well over 1.6 billion believers, or 23 per cent of the globe’s population, that 48 million seems to be more than enough. (I would put the number significantly higher, based on survey data on attitudes toward Shariah in Muslim countries.)

In any case, regardless of the numbers, it is the Medina Muslims who have captured the world’s attention on the airwaves, over social media, in far too many mosques and, of course, on the battlefield.

The Medina Muslims pose a threat not just to non-Muslims. They also undermine the position of those Mecca Muslims attempting to lead a quiet life in their cultural cocoons throughout the Western world. But those under the greatest threat are the dissidents and reformers within Islam, who face ostracism and rejection, who must brave all manner of insults, who must deal with the death threats — or face death itself.

For the world at large, the only viable strategy for containing the threat posed by the Medina Muslims is to side with the dissidents and reformers and to help them to do two things: first, identify and repudiate those parts of Mohammed’s legacy that summon Muslims to intolerance and war, and second, persuade the great majority of believers — the Mecca Muslims — to accept this change.

Islam is at a crossroads. Muslims need to make a conscious decision to confront, debate and ultimately reject the violent elements within their religion.

To some extent — not least because of widespread revulsion at the atrocities of Islamic State, al-Qa’ida and the rest — this process has already begun. But it needs leadership from the dissidents, and they in turn stand no chance without support from the West.

What needs to happen for us to defeat the extremists for good? Economic, political, judicial and military tools have been proposed and some of them deployed. But I believe that these will have little effect unless Islam itself is reformed.

Such a reformation has been called for repeatedly at least since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent abolition of the caliphate. But I would like to specify precisely what needs to be reformed.

I have identified five precepts central to Islam that have made it resistant to historical change and adaptation. Only when the harmfulness of these ideas are recognised and they are repudiated will a true Muslim Reformation have been achieved.

Here are the five areas that require amendment:

1. Mohammed’s semi-divine status, along with the literalist reading of the Koran.

Mohammed should not be seen as infallible, let alone as a source of divine writ. He should be seen as a historical figure who united the Arab tribes in a premodern context that cannot be replicated in the 21st century. And although Islam maintains that the Koran is the literal word of Allah, it is, in historical reality, a book that was shaped by human hands. Large parts of the Koran simply reflect the tribal values of the 7th-century Arabian context from which it emerged. The Koran’s eternal spiritual values must be separated from the cultural accidents of the place and time of its birth.

2. The supremacy of life after death.

The appeal of martyrdom will fade only when Muslims assign a greater value to the rewards of this life than to those promised in the hereafter.

3. Sharia, the vast body of religious legislation.

Muslims should learn to put the dynamic, evolving laws made by human beings above those aspects of Shariah that are violent, intolerant or anachronistic.

4. The right of individual Muslims to enforce Islamic law.

There is no room in the modern world for religious police, vigilantes and politically empowered clerics.

5. The imperative to wage jihad, or holy war.

Islam must become a true religion of peace, which means rejecting the imposition of religion by the sword.

I know that this argument will make many Muslims uncomfortable. Some are bound to be offended by my proposed amendments. Others will contend that I am not qualified to discuss these complex issues of theology and law. I am also afraid — genuinely afraid — that it will make a few Muslims even more eager to silence me.

But this is not a work of theology. It is more in the nature of a public intervention in the debate about the future of Islam. The biggest obstacle to change within the Muslim world is precisely its suppression of the sort of critical thinking I am attempting here. If my proposal for reform helps to spark a serious discussion of these issues among Muslims themselves, I will consider it a success.

Let me make two things clear. I do not seek to inspire another war on terror or extremism — violence in the name of Islam cannot be ended by military means alone. Nor am I any sort of “Islamophobe”.

At various times, I myself have been all three kinds of Muslim: a fundamentalist, a cocooned believer and a dissident. My journey has gone from Mecca to Medina to Manhattan.

For me, there seemed no way to reconcile my faith with the freedoms I came to the West to embrace. I left the faith, despite the threat of the death penalty prescribed by Shariah for apostates.

Future generations of Muslims deserve better, safer options. Muslims should be able to welcome modernity, not be forced to wall themselves off, or live in a state of cognitive dissonance, or lash out in violent rejection.

But it is not only Muslims who would benefit from a reformation of Islam. We in the West have an enormous stake in how the struggle over Islam plays out. We cannot remain on the sidelines, as though the outcome has nothing to do with us.

For if the Medina Muslims win and the hope for a Muslim Reformation dies, the rest of the world too will pay an enormous price — not only in blood spilled but also in freedom lost.

This essay is adapted from Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s new book Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now. From the Wall Street Journal, here