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.

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)