Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Press Release: People's Alliance for Democracy and Secularism: Defend Democratic Rights of all Citizens of India

 Stand Against Religious Bigotry, Defend Democratic Rights of all Citizens of India
Press Release
March 29, 2017

People's Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS) condemns the murder of rationalist H. Farook in Coimbatore, Tamilnadu on March 16, 2017. Farook was a member of Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam (Dravidian Freedom Organisation) which is inspired by the rationalist ideas of Periyar.

According to the police, the six men who killed Farook were self-radicalised and 'claimed that their radical thought had justified the murder of a Muslim who had deviated from faith and they are proud of what they had done'. After Dr. Dabholkar, Com Govind Pansare and Professor Kalburgi, Farook is the fourth rationalist who has been murdered by the so called champions of religion. On the same day, i.e. March 16 Prof Narendra Nayak, the president of Indian Federation of Rationalist Associations was threatened with assault in Bangalore.

On March 19 in Jaipur a group of gau rakshaks led by one Sadhvi Kamal Didi vandalised a hotel and assaulted its staff claiming that it served beef. This violence occurred in the presence of the police. A repeat of Dadri violence last year was narrowly averted. In UP a number of meat shops have been burnt down by vigilante mobs after Mahant Adityanath Yogi’s administration sealed a number of abbatoirs. While it is beyond dispute that economic activity should be regulated, why have only these two activities been targeted, and what right to mobs have to attack any shop?

These are some of the latest instances of increasing violence in the name of religion in India. In fact, all of South Asia has become a battleground for religious fanatics hell-bent upon subjugating citizens' freedoms via violence and killings.

Dissent from orthodoxy is a feature of religious history and is responsible for religious reform. Such dissent has also contributed to the growth of humanist and democratic values, which are the guiding principles of the Indian constitution and underlie the fundamental rights of all citizens. These rights include the freedom of conscience, the freedom of believers to profess and practice their religion, and also the freedom of non-believers to lead a life of dignity with their agnosticism or atheism.

However, state authorities often disregard constitutional provisions. Rather than upholding the citizens’ freedom to lead a life of their choice, including the right to eat food of their choice, police and judicial system routinely penalise citizens for 'hurting religious sentiments' of one or the other community. The murderers of Dabholkar, Panasare and Kalburgi are still at large, and their political patrons have suffered no damage. In Jaipur police sealed a hotel on a mere allegation, while the FIR for violence on hotel staff does not even mention the sadhavi who led the mob.

Violence in the name of religion will not lead to any golden age. The consequences of religious authoritarianism are visible in Pakistan. The Hindutva brigade is cultivating a similar scenario in India. It wants to attack or threaten all those who disagree with its ideas or diktats. Political parties must realise that their existence depends upon the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Indian citizens. The cultivation of religious aggression is sheer opportunism; and prepares the ground for the sabotage of democracy by authoritarian forces.

P.A.D.S. appeals to all Indians, irrespective of their religious beliefs, creed, or caste to stand against communal hatred and violence. The people committing or instigating this violence may appear to be targeting only rationalists and minorities today. In actual fact they are enemies of democracy and freedom. All of us who value our constitutional rights must unite to defeat such forces. P.A.D.S. demands that state authorities stop collaborating with hooligans and vigilante mobs, and fulfil their sworn duty to protect the lives, property and civil liberties of all citizens.

Battini Rao, 
Convenor, P.A.D.S (93938 75195,

Helen Pluckrose: Postmodernism and its impact, explained

Foucault’s argument that knowledge is historically contingent must itself be historically contingent, and one wonders why Derrida bothered to explain the infinite malleability of texts at such length if I could read his entire body of work and claim it to be a story about bunny rabbits

Those who are obsessed by language finally come to the conviction that there is nothing but interpretation: Stanley Rosen in Hermeneutics as Politics

Postmodernism, most simply, is an artistic and philosophical movement which began in France in the 1960s and produced bewildering art and even more bewildering  “theory.” It drew on avant-garde and surrealist art and earlier philosophical ideas, particularly those of Nietzsche and Heidegger, for its anti-realism and rejection of the concept of the unified and coherent individual. It reacted against the liberal humanism of the modernist artistic and intellectual movements, which its proponents saw as naïvely universalizing a western, middle-class and male experience.

It rejected philosophy which valued ethics, reason and clarity with the same accusation. Structuralism, a movement which (often over-confidently) attempted to analyze human culture and psychology according to consistent structures of relationships, came under attack. Marxism, with its understanding of society through class and economic structures was regarded as equally rigid and simplistic. Above all, postmodernists attacked science and its goal of attaining objective knowledge about a reality which exists independently of human perceptions which they saw as merely another form of constructed ideology dominated by bourgeois, western assumptions. Decidedly left-wing, postmodernism had both a nihilistic and a revolutionary ethos which resonated with a post-war, post-empire zeitgeist in the West. As postmodernism continued to develop and diversify, its initially stronger nihilistic deconstructive phase became secondary (but still fundamental) to its revolutionary “identity politics” phase.

It has been a matter of contention whether postmodernism is a reaction against modernityThe modern era is the period of history which saw Renaissance Humanism, the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution and the development of liberal values and human rights; the period when Western societies gradually came to value reason and science over faith and superstition as routes to knowledge, and developed a concept of the person as an individual member of the human race deserving of rights and freedoms rather than as part of various collectives subject to rigid hierarchical roles in society.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica says postmodernism “is largely a reaction against the philosophical assumptions and values of the modern period of Western (specifically European) history” whilst the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy denies this and says “Rather, its differences lie within modernity itself, and postmodernism is a continuation of modern thinking in another mode.” I’d suggest the difference lies in whether we see modernity in terms of what was produced or what was destroyed. If we see the essence of modernity as the development of science and reason as well as humanism and universal liberalism, postmodernists are opposed to it. If we see modernity as the tearing down of structures of power including feudalism, the Church, patriarchy, and Empire, postmodernists are attempting to continue it, but their targets are now science, reason, humanism and liberalism. Consequently, the roots of postmodernism are inherently political and revolutionary, albeit in a destructive or, as they would term it, deconstructive way.

The term “postmodern” was coined by Jean-François Lyotard in his 1979 book, The Postmodern Condition. He defined the postmodern condition as “an incredulity towards metanarratives.” A metanarrative is a wide-ranging and cohesive explanation for large phenomena. Religions and other totalizing ideologies are metanarratives in their attempts to explain the meaning of life or all of society’s ills. Lyotard advocated replacing these with “mininarratives” to get at smaller and more personal “truths.” He addressed Christianity and Marxism in this way but also science.

Michel Foucault’s work is also centered on language and relativism although he applied this to history and culture. He called this approach “archeology” because he saw himself as “uncovering” aspects of historical culture through recorded discourses (speech which promotes or assumes a particular view). For Foucault, discourses control what can be “known” and in different periods and places, different systems of institutional power control discourses. Therefore, knowledge is a direct product of power. “In any given culture and at any given moment, there is always only one ‘episteme’ that defines the conditions of possibility of all knowledge, whether expressed in theory or silently invested in a practice.”

Furthermore, people themselves were culturally constructed. “The individual, with his identity and characteristics, is the product of a relation of power exercised over bodies, multiplicities, movements, desires, forces.” He leaves almost no room for individual agency or autonomy. As Christopher Butler says, Foucault “relies on beliefs about the inherent evil of the individual’s class position, or professional position, seen as ‘discourse’, regardless of the morality of his or her individual conduct.” He presents medieval feudalism and modern liberal democracy as equally oppressive, and advocates criticizing and attacking institutions to unmask the “political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them.” 

We see in Foucault the most extreme expression of cultural relativity read through structures of power in which shared humanity and individuality are almost entirely absent. Instead, people are constructed by their position in relation to dominant cultural ideas either as oppressors or oppressed. Judith Butler drew on Foucault for her foundational role in queer theory focusing on the culturally constructed nature of gender, as did Edward Said in his similar role in post-colonialism and “Orientalism” and Kimberlé Crenshaw in her development of “intersectionality” and advocacy of identity politics. We see too the equation of language with violence and coercion and the equation of reason and universal liberalism with oppression.

It was Jacques Derrida who introduced the concept of “deconstruction,” and he too argued for cultural constructivism and cultural and personal relativity. He focused even more explicitly on language. Derrida’s best-known pronouncement “There is no outside-text” relates to his rejection of the idea that words refer to anything straightforwardly. Rather, “there are only contexts without any center of absolute anchoring.”

The logical problem of self-referentiality has been pointed out to postmodernists by philosophers fairly constantly but it is one they have yet to address convincingly. As Christopher Butler points out, “the plausibility of Lyotard’s claim for the decline of metanarratives in the late 20th century ultimately depends upon an appeal to the cultural condition of an intellectual minority.” In other words, Lyotard’s claim comes directly from the discourses surrounding him in his bourgeois academic bubble and is, in fact, a metanarrative towards which he is not remotely incredulous. 

Equally, Foucault’s argument that knowledge is historically contingent must itself be historically contingent, and one wonders why Derrida bothered to explain the infinite malleability of texts at such length if I could read his entire body of work and claim it to be a story about bunny rabbits with the same degree of authority.

This is, of course, not the only criticism commonly made of postmodernism. The most glaring problem of epistemic cultural relativity has been addressed by philosophers and scientists. The philosopher, David Detmer, in Challenging Postmodernism, says

“Consider this example, provided by Erazim Kohak, ‘When I try, unsuccessfully, to squeeze a tennis ball into a wine bottle, I need not try several wine bottles and several tennis balls before, using Mill’s canons of induction, I arrive inductively at the hypothesis that tennis balls do not fit into wine bottles’… We are now in a position to turn the tables on [postmodernist claims of cultural relativity] and ask, ‘If I judge that tennis balls do not fit into wine bottles, can you show precisely how it is that my gender, historical and spatial location, class, ethnicity, etc., undermine the objectivity of this judgement?” 

However, he has not found postmodernists committed to explaining their reasoning and describes a bewildering conversation with postmodern philosopher, Laurie Calhoun,

“When I had occasion to ask her whether or not it was a fact that giraffes are taller than ants, she replied that it was not a fact, but rather an article of religious faith in our culture.”

Physicists Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont address the same problem from the perspective of science in Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science:

“Who could now seriously deny the ‘grand narrative’ of evolution, except someone in the grip of a far less plausible master narrative such as Creationism? And who would wish to deny the truth of basic physics? The answer was, ‘some postmodernists.’”

“There is something very odd indeed in the belief that in looking, say, for causal laws or a unified theory, or in asking whether atoms really do obey the laws of quantum mechanics, the activities of scientists are somehow inherently ‘bourgeois’ or ‘Eurocentric’ or ‘masculinist’, or even ‘militarist.'”

Read more:

see also
Andrew Calcutt: The surprising origins of ‘post-truth’ – and how it was spawned by the liberal left
Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson - Revisiting Foucault and the Iranian Revolution
Farewell to reality

Global Seed Vault is actually a reminder that the world is always ending.

 the Global Seed Vault on the Svalbard archipelago (is) part of a frigid cluster of islands far north of Norway where polar bears outnumber human residents. It’s a destination I first discovered in Lauren Redniss’ remarkable illustrated study of weather, Thunder and Lightning. There, she writes, you’ll find the vault, a reinforced and heavily secured tunnel, built into a frozen mountain. It contains hundreds of thousands of unique samples of agricultural crops and serves as a backup repository for seeds from more local vaults around the world. The collection is so inclusive that, as of 2016, virtually every country was represented within.

In photographs, the vault’s exterior is strikingly beautiful, thanks in large part to the haunting crystalline light installation by Dyveke Sanne above the entrance. When Redniss draws the vault, though, she emphasizes just how small it is, a tiny gray wedge emerging out of the endless white expanse of the mountain. It’s an image of resilience in the face of almost overwhelming odds, a reminder that, much as our species is capable of self-annihilation, we somehow incline toward survival.

Sometimes, kept awake by my work, I would tell myself stories of Svalbard. They always began the same: Long after the fall of industrial civilization, an adventurer would discover mention of the Seed Vault in the ruins of an ancient library. Gathering a ragtag crew and building a makeshift longship, she would sail north, in search of treasures that might help her people learn to farm again. Along the way, she would battle pirates and dodge errant ice flows. My adventurer never arrived at the vault: The mere knowledge that it was there, that she was traveling toward it, was reassuring enough to lull me asleep.

I’m hardly alone in imagining Svalbard as a source of optimism. As Redniss notes, this remote locale is sometimes described as a “doomsday vault,” a buffer against our own radical fragility. One representative CNN report on the site from 2015 frames it in these very terms, calling it “our insurance policy” and quoting a source who claims that it would allow us to “recreate agriculture in the world.” A more recent Gizmodo article, similarly, discusses a new deposit to the vault under the headline, “Scientists Add 50,000 Seeds to Arctic Doomsday Vault Because Everything Is Awful.”

Such language is understandable: Redniss quotes a 2008 statement from the vault’s parent institutions holding that its contents would remain frozen for 200 years even in the event of “worst-case scenarios for global warming.” Heavily reinforced as it is, it also seems like the sort of place that could survive more violent conflicts too—in the unlikely event that any battle found its way that far north. The project’s progenitor, agriculturalist Cary Fowler, notes in the conclusion to his book Seeds on Ice that he’s sometimes asked whether the facility could endure a nuclear blast. “My glib answer to such questions is that it depends on how big the bomb is,” he writes. “Tellingly, no depositor, scientist, journalist, or politician who has ever gone down into the Seed Vault has emerged to question the safety of its contents.”

Though such facts are reassuring, the Svalbard vault was never really designed to support life after the end—at least not in the singular, definitive sense that “the end” suggests. As Fowler stresses in Seeds on Ice, the vault was envisioned not out of an obsession with “doomsday” but in a more “pragmatic” spirit. It exists in an ongoing relationship with scores of local seed vaults around the globe, helping them protect their critical contents against the risk of more regional and immediate disasters: floods, power failures, violent uprisings, and so on… read more:

Humans Produce So Much Junk, We Are Creating a New Geological Layer By Starre Vartan

Consumerism plays a massive role in climate change—all those fossil fuels we have to burn to make and ship our stuff, all those trees cut down to make way for expanding cities and businesses, all that livestock that sate our increasing appetites for burgers and steak. But the environmental impact that all of our material goods have on the planet goes far beyond the greenhouse gases emitted in the process of creating and transporting these things.

In fact, much of it has to do with what we leave behind. It’s a manmade phenomenon so massive that that earth scientists suggest it’s creating a distinct geological layer upon the Earth made up of technofossils. Most people associate geological layers with eras long gone: paleontologists digging up fossils of stegosauruses or ancient corals, the stunning layered lines of the Grand Canyon giving testimony to the billions of years of life on Earth. But we’re creating our own coating on the planet that will outlast us. Just as dinosaur bones and petrified wood persist, so too will markers of our time, and they increasingly include the nonorganic. Couches, ballpoint pens, garage doors, safety pins, zip drives, plastic water bottles, cars, buildings - almost anything that’s not recycled has the potential to fossilize - that is, partially or entirely preserved over time due to burial in the earth or within layers of other fossils - think landfill. There are almost certainly numerous future technofossils in front of you right now.

More than just creating a geological mille feuille of our past, scientists warn that this phenomenon is also making a deep impact on our terrestrial future. And like the Anthropocene—another buzzword popular in the Earth sciences community used to mark a new geological epoch in which human influence became the dominant force on Earth—it represents a profound change.

According to a conservative geological estimate from a team of international researchers led by the University of Leicester, all this stuff weighs 30 trillion tons. That’s 110 pounds—the weight of a semi-truck’s tire—for every square meter of the earth’s surface. The group also calculated that the sheer diversity of the types of technofossils we as a species have made—it already exceeds the number of biotic species living on Earth now, and may even “exceed the total biological diversity through Earth’s history.”.. read more:

Observe April 4/5 All-India & International Day of Protest: Free the Maruti Workers!

Appeal to Observe 4th/5th April as All-India & International Day of Protest
Free the Maruti Workers!

You are aware of the repression on us by the nexus of Company management-Police-Government, as 13 MSWU members have been sentenced to Life Imprisonment and 4 more workers handed 5 years by the Gurgaon Sessions Court on 18 March 2017 – without a shred of evidence, and solely on the false witness accounts by the management.

The MSWU body members have been targeted because they have been the leadership of the struggle since 2011 against illegal contract worker system and for Trade Union rights and dignity of labour. It is a ‘class attack’ as in the words of Maruti CEO RC Bhargava. All workers know that this manifestly unjust verdict is to ‘teach a lesson’ to us by those in power that we should not fight for our rights and dignity on the shop-floor and beyond.

But against this repression, thousands of workers in this industrial belt and across India and world are protesting. On the evening of the Verdict on 18th May, 30000 workers in Gurgaon-Manesar did tool down strike against the injustice. The Maruti Suzuki Mazdoor Sangh (MSMS)–the joint platform of Maruti Suzuki factories–had given a call for Protest on the martyrdom day of Bhagat Singh-Rajguru-Sukhdev on 23rd March in Manesar. Despite prohibitory orders of Section 144, thousands of workers from the industrial belts in Haryana and Rajasthan rallied in protest from factory after factory in Manesar. A letter from the Jailed workers was read out, and a call given to intensify the struggle for the release of the Jailed workers. It was also decided to give economic assistance to families of the Jailed workers.

On this 23rd March Protest program, we already appealed to all to observe 4th April as an all-India Day and International of Protest. Preparations for the same have already begun in various places. Meanwhile, recognized Central Trade Unions later issued a call to organize all-India Protest in solidarity with the Maruti Suzuki workers on 5th April. So, We appeal to all workers and pro-worker forces to observe 4th/5th April 2017 as all-India and International Days of Protest and show solidarity in whatever ways possible.

The struggling workers in the Gurgaon-Manesar-Bawal-Neemrana industrial belt in the states of Haryana-Rajasthan are showing that they will not relent on their legitimate rights and strengthen their class unity against the capitalist onslaught. We have also received great courage and thank the amazing show of solidarity of workers with the struggle for Justice of Maruti workers. Since the last few days, there have been protests by lakhs of workers in this and other industrial belts and by various workers, student-youth, human rights and other democratic organizations in over 30 cities-towns in the country. We also greatly encouraged and thank the amazing show of international working class solidarity with protests, deputations and solidarity positions and actions in over 21 countries. This is a long battle, and only the growing force of the movement and wider solidarity can take the struggle forward.

Provisional Working Committee,
Maruti Suzuki Workers Union
Contact: 7011865350 (Ramniwas), 9911258717 (Khusiram) on behalf of the PWC, MSWU.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Gandhi’s Last Message: ‘Raze the Sacred Sites of Others and You Too Will Be Obliterated’ - by Sudhir Chandra

For a man who made such a powerful intervention in the history of the 20th century, many of Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas were misunderstood during his lifetime. Sudhir Chandra’s Gandhi: An Impossible Possibility, translated from Hindi by Chitra Padmanabhan draws our attention to Gandhi’s last years, particularly the marked change in his understanding of the acceptance of non-violence by Indians. It points to a startling discovery Gandhi made in the years preceding India’s Independence and Partition: the struggle for freedom which he had all along believed to be non-violent was in fact not so. Calling for a serious rethink on the very nature and foundation of modern India, this book throws new light on Gandhian philosophy and its far-reaching implications for the world today. Excerpted below is a section from the book in which Gandhi’s voice reaches out to our times with renewed urgency. 

Gandhi…had wanted to avoid the country’s partition. Failing in that he engaged himself in preventing the division of hearts, emphasising that even as the country had been divided, the hearts must not be divided. Also knowing that if the hearts had not been divided, the country could never have been divided and contending with this paradox, because he understood that neither India nor Pakistan stood to gain in the absence of mutual friendship. Should one become hell, the other can never be heaven.

Seventy years have since gone by. In the meantime, the division of hearts has perhaps deepened in both countries – across the border and within the border as well. People’s hearts have experienced new divisions. Gandhi’s warning has assumed greater relevance today compared to earlier periods.
But only if we are able to see, which is not easy. And when people cannot see, saying or doing something to reach out to them becomes that much more difficult. Why was Gandhi running in his old age from pillar to post? To be immortalised in history? To save the Hindus and the Sikhs from the Muslims? To save the Muslims from the Sikhs and the Hindus? Or to save humans from humans, by saving their humanity for them?…

Gandhi’s helplessness was such that he was reduced to admonishing everybody by turn because everybody was succumbing to the prevailing frenzy. He knew, and was repeatedly saying so, that between the Hindus and Muslims [both of whom had become animals] for one to refrain from becoming an animal is the only straight way to get out of this violence. But no one was ready to heed him, to refrain from becoming an animal. When he admonished the Hindus and the Sikhs, he was told to see what the Muslims in Pakistan were doing, and also that the Muslims staying on in India were traitors. Gandhi would listen attentively and respond publicly. But such had become people’s mentality in the midst of that collective hysteria that Gandhi’s slightest concern for the Muslims seemed like outright favouritism to the Hindus and Sikhs, and when he criticised the Muslims or gave them advice, he was disregarded….

…Along with humanity,Gandhi laid stress on civic responsibility in a democracy:

Had man not become so ruthless as to commit atrocities against his brother, these thousands of men, women and innocent children [in refugee camps] would not have been so helpless, and in many cases hungry. . . . Was all of this inescapable? A strong voice came from within me: ‘No’. Is this the first fruit of a month of independence?. . . Have the citizens of Delhi become mad? Do they not have even a shred of humanity left in them? Does the love for their country and its independence not appeal to them at all? I may be forgiven for putting the blame primarily on the Hindus and the Sikhs. Can they not be worthy as humans to halt this tide of hatred? I would strongly urge Delhi’s Muslims to let go of their fear, put their trust in God and surrender all their firearms to the government. Because the Hindus and the Sikhs are afraid that the Muslims possess firearms, it does not mean that they do not have weapons of their own. It is only a question of degree. Some may have less, some more. To obtain justice, the minorities will either have to depend on God or on the human created by Him, or they will have to depend on their guns, pistols and other weapons to protect themselves against those whom they do not trust.

My advice is firm and unchanging. Its truth is self-evident.

Have confidence in your government that it will protect every citizen from those who commit injustice, no matter how many more and superior weapons they may have. . . . By their actions the people of Delhi will only make the task of seeking justice from the Pakistan government difficult. Those who want justice will have to do justice. They should be guiltless and true. Let the Hindus and Sikhs take the rightful step and ask the Muslims who have been chased out of their homes to return.
If the Hindus and Sikhs have the courage in every way to take this rightful step, the refugee problem will become very easy to handle. Then not only Pakistan but the whole world will acknowledge their claims. They will save Delhi and India from disgrace and destruction.

‘Those who want justice will have to do justice.’ This was not mere idealism. Gandhi was providing a formula for a viable morality.

In any civilised society, said Gandhi, if avenging ill-will is considered proper, it can be done so only through the agency of the government, certainly not through individual interventions….
Gandhi believed that if the safety of the Muslims was assured in India, he would be able to go to Pakistan and do a great deal for the minorities there. [H]e said:

What shall we do about the Muslims who have left? I have stated that we will not bring them back right now. We will certainly not bring them back by means of the police and military. We will bring them back only when the Hindus and Sikhs tell them, you are our friends, please return to your homes, you don’t require the military or police, we are your military, we are your police, all of us will live as brothers. If we are able to accomplish this in Delhi I assure you that our way will become absolutely clear in Pakistan. And with that will commence a new life. When I go to Pakistan I will not let them off easily. I will die for the Hindus and Sikhs there. I would be happy to die there. I would be happy to die here, too. If what I say cannot be achieved here, then I must die.

That a new life should commence was Gandhi’s desire. He was desiring this amid the barbarity of 1947. It was either this or else a vow of self-annihilation... read more:

See also
Dennis Dalton - Gandhi During Partition: A case study in the nature of satyagraha

Paul Sagar - The last hollow laugh - Francis Fukuyama and 'The End of History’

NB: This informed defence of Fukuyama contains the following arguments: Late capitalist modernity might be the highest civilisational point we could achieve, because it contained the fewest contradictions... The anti-capitalist Left, however, was a busted flush. Communism was now a known fraud and failure, and post-Historical people driven by megalothymia would have no truck with its egalitarian pretensions, or its nakedly tyrannical realities. Far more threatening to the stability of liberal capitalist societies would be the emergence of demagogic strongmen from the fascistic Right..

Three years after it was written, in the midst of a pandemic, perhaps the author will recognise the fatal flaws in his argument: late capitalist modernity is not a high civilisatonal point - or if it is, we are doomed. And liberalism / communism / fascism are connected - because the authors' so-called 'fewest contradictions' are always present in all projects to conquer nature. They have all contibuted to the crisis we face today. Yet it remains true that democratic liberties are a crucial achievement of humanity, and along with reasoned, non-ideological speech provide us the platform from which we can correct ourselves. DS (commenting on April 29, 2020)

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man (1992)Rarely read but often denigrated, it might be the most maligned, unfairly dismissed and misunderstood book of the post-war era. Which is unfortunate for at least one reason: Fukuyama might have done a better job of predicting the political turmoil that engulfed Western democracies in 2016 – from Brexit, to Trump, to the Italian Referendum – than anybody else.

This should sound surprising. After all, Fukuyama’s name has for more than two decades been synonymous with a fin-de-siècle Western triumphalism. According to the conventional wisdom, he is supposed to have claimed that the collapse of the communist regimes in eastern Europe and the United States’ victory in the Cold War meant that liberal capitalist democracy was unambiguously the best form of human political organisation possible. To his popular critics – sometimes on the Right, but most especially on the Left – The End of History was thus a pseudo-intellectual justification for a hyper-liberal capitalist ideology, whose high-water mark was the disastrous administration of George W Bush. Fukuyama’s tagline – ‘the end of history’ – was seized upon by critics as proof that he was attempting to legitimate neoconservative hubris, cloaking a pernicious ideology with the façade of inevitability.

The surprising origins of ‘post-truth’ – and how it was spawned by the liberal left

But (the conventional wisdom continues) hubris was soon followed by nemesis: the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent disaster of the Iraq War showed how wrong any triumphalist vision of liberal-capitalist world order was. Fukuyama took particularly heavy flak in this regard. Francis Wheen, in How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World (2004), was typical when he accused Fukuyama of being a shill for neo-con interests. In reply to the question ‘How do you get ahead by boldly making one of the worst predictions in social science?’ Wheen sniped: ‘If you are going to be wrong, be wrong as ostentatiously and extravagantly as possible.’ He claimed that Fukuyama ‘understood what was required to titillate the jaded palate of the chattering classes’ – and played on this for personal gain.

Yet all of this is incorrect.

Larry Elliott - Populism is the result of global economic failure

The rise of populism has rattled the global political establishment. Brexit came as a shock, as did the victory of Donald Trump. Much head-scratching has resulted as leaders seek to work out why large chunks of their electorates are so cross.

The answer seems pretty simple. Populism is the result of economic failure. The 10 years since the financial crisis have shown that the system of economic governance which has held sway for the past four decades is broken. Some call this approach neoliberalism. Perhaps a better description would be unpopulism. Unpopulism meant tilting the balance of power in the workplace in favour of management and treating people like wage slaves. Unpopulism was rigged to ensure that the fruits of growth went to the few not to the many. Unpopulism decreed that those responsible for the global financial crisis got away with it while those who were innocent bore the brunt of austerity.

Anybody seeking to understand why Trump won the US presidential election should take a look at what has been happening to the division of the economic spoils. The share of national income that went to the bottom 90% of the population held steady at around 66% from 1950 to 1980. It then began a steep decline, falling to just over 50% when the financial crisis broke in 2007.

Similarly, it is no longer the case that everybody benefits when the US economy is doing well. During the business cycle upswing between 1961 and 1969, the bottom 90% of Americans took 67% of the income gains. During the Reagan expansion two decades later they took 20%. During the Greenspan housing bubble of 2001 to 2007, they got just two cents in every extra dollar of national income generated while the richest 10% took the rest.

The US economist Thomas Palley says that up until the late 1970s countries operated a virtuous circle growth model in which wages were the engine of demand growth. “Productivity growth drove wage growth which fueled demand growth. That promoted full employment, which provided the incentive to invest, which drove further productivity growth,” he says.

Unpopulism was touted as the antidote to the supposedly failed policies of the postwar era. It promised higher growth rates, higher investment rates, higher productivity rates and a trickle down of income from rich to poor. It has delivered none of these things.

James Montier and Philip Pilkington, of the global investment firm GMO, say that the system which arose in the 1970s was characterised by four significant economic policies: the abandonment of full employment and its replacement with inflation targeting; an increase in the globalisation of the flows of people, capital and trade; a focus on shareholder maximisation rather than reinvestment and growth; and the pursuit of flexible labour markets and the disruption of trade unions and workers’ organisations.

To take just the last of these four pillars, the idea was that trade unions and minimum wages were impediments to an efficient labour market. Collective bargaining and statutory pay floors would result in workers being paid more than the market rate, with the result that unemployment would inevitably rise… read more:

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Exiled Former Russian Lawmaker Shot Dead In Kiev / Lawyer For Russian Whistleblower’s Family Falls From Building One Day Before Hearing

Ukraine accused Russia of “state terrorism” after a former Russian lawmaker and key witness in a treason case against former leader Viktor Yanukovich was shot dead in broad daylight outside a hotel in central Kiev on Thursday. Russia called the allegation “absurd.”

Former MP Denis Voronenkov was killed by an assailant who was armed with a pistol. The assailant was wounded by Voronenkov’s bodyguard and later died in hospital, police said. Voronenkov fled to Ukraine last year and was helping the Ukrainian authorities build a treason case against Yanukovich, Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin former president. Voronenkov had also spoken out against Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, although he voted for the move at the time.

President Petro Poroshenko said the killing “is an act of state terrorism on the part of Russia, which (Voronenkov) was forced to leave for political reasons.” “Voronenkov was one of the main witnesses of Russian aggression against Ukraine and, in particular, the role of Yanukovich regarding the deployment of Russian troops to Ukraine.”

Relations between Kiev and Moscow are at an all-time low after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in March 2014 and the subsequent outbreak of separatist fighting in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region that has killed more than 10,000 people. Poroshenko said it was “no accident” that Voronenkov was shot on the same day as a warehouse storing tank ammunition was blown up at a Ukrainian military base. Moscow denied any involvement Voronenkov’s murder … read more:

see also

Andrew Calcutt: The surprising origins of ‘post-truth’ – and how it was spawned by the liberal left

the groundbreaking work on “post-truth” was performed by academics, with further contributions from an extensive roster of middle-class professionals. Left-leaning, self-confessed liberals, they sought freedom from state-sponsored truth; instead they built a new form of cognitive confinement – “post-truth”... More than 30 years ago, academics started to discredit “truth” as one of the “grand narratives” which clever people could no longer bring themselves to believe in. Instead of “the truth”, which was to be rejected as naïve and/or repressive, a new intellectual orthodoxy permitted only “truths” – always plural, frequently personalised, inevitably relativised.

Under the terms of this outlook, all claims on truth are relative to the particular person making them; there is no position outside our own particulars from which to establish universal truth. This was one of the key tenets of postmodernism, a concept which first caught on in the 1980s after publication of Jean-Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report On Knowledge in 1979. In this respect, for as long as we have been postmodern, we have been setting the scene for a “post-truth” era.

“Post-truth” has been announced as the Oxford Dictionaries’ international word of the year. It is widely associated with US president-elect Donald Trump’s extravagantly untruthful assertions and the working-class people who voted for him nonetheless. But responsibility for the “post-truth” era lies with the middle-class professionals who prepared the runway for its recent take-off. Those responsible include academics, journalists, “creatives” and financial traders; even the centre-left politicians who have now been hit hard by the rise of the anti-factual.

On November 16, 2016 Oxford Dictionaries announced that “post-truth” had been selected as the word which, more than any other, reflects “the passing year in language”. It defines “post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

The word itself can be traced back as far as 1992, but documented usage increased by 2,000% in 2016 compared to 2015. As Oxford Dictionaries’ Casper Grathwohl explained:

We first saw the frequency really spike this year in June with buzz over the Brexit vote and again in July when Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination. Given that usage of the term hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time.

Punditry on the “post-truth era” is often accompanied by a picture either of Donald Trump (for example, BBC News Online or The Guardian) or of his supporters (The Spectator). Although The Spectator article was a rare exception, the connotations embedded in “post-truth” commentary are normally as follows: “post-truth” is the product of populism; it is the bastard child of common-touch charlatans and a rabble ripe for arousal; it is often in blatant disregard of the actualité.

The truth about post-truth
But this interpretation blatantly disregards the actual origins of “post-truth”. These lie neither with those deemed under-educated nor with their new-found champions. Instead, the groundbreaking work on “post-truth” was performed by academics, with further contributions from an extensive roster of middle-class professionals. Left-leaning, self-confessed liberals, they sought freedom from state-sponsored truth; instead they built a new form of cognitive confinement – “post-truth”.

More than 30 years ago, academics started to discredit “truth” as one of the “grand narratives” which clever people could no longer bring themselves to believe in. Instead of “the truth”, which was to be rejected as naïve and/or repressive, a new intellectual orthodoxy permitted only “truths” – always plural, frequently personalised, inevitably relativised.

Under the terms of this outlook, all claims on truth are relative to the particular person making them; there is no position outside our own particulars from which to establish universal truth. This was one of the key tenets of postmodernism, a concept which first caught on in the 1980s after publication of Jean-Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report On Knowledge in 1979. In this respect, for as long as we have been postmodern, we have been setting the scene for a “post-truth” era... read more:

see also

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Stephen C Angle - In defence of hierarchy

The modern West has placed a high premium on the value of equality. Equal rights are enshrined in law while old hierarchies of nobility and social class have been challenged, if not completely dismantled. Few would doubt that global society is all the better for these changes. But hierarchies have not disappeared. Society is still stratified according to wealth and status in myriad ways.
On the other hand, the idea of a purely egalitarian world in which there are no hierarchies at all would appear to be both unrealistic and unattractive. Nobody, on reflection, would want to eliminate all hierarchies, for we all benefit from the recognition that some people are more qualified than others to perform certain roles in society. We prefer to be treated by senior surgeons not medical students, get financial advice from professionals not interns. Good and permissible hierarchies are everywhere around us.

Yet hierarchy is an unfashionable thing to defend or to praise. British government ministers denounce experts as out of tune with popular feeling; both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders built platforms on attacking Washington elites; economists are blamed for not predicting the 2008 crash; and even the best established practice of medical experts, such as childhood vaccinations, are treated with resistance and disbelief. We live in a time when no distinction is drawn between justified and useful hierarchies on the one hand, and self-interested, exploitative elites on the other. 

As a group, we believe that clearer thinking about hierarchy and equality is important in business, politics and public life. We should lift the taboo on discussing what makes for a good hierarchy. To the extent that hierarchies are inevitable, it is important to create good ones and avoid those that are pernicious. It is also important to identify the ways in which useful and good hierarchies support and foster good forms of equality. When we talk about hierarchies here, we mean those distinctions and rankings that bring with them clear power differentials.  

We are a diverse group of scholars and thinkers who take substantively different views on many political and ethical issues. Recently, we engaged in an intensive discussion of these issues under the aegis of the Berggruen Philosophy and Culture Center in Los Angeles, and we found ourselves agreeing on this: much can be said in defence of some kinds of hierarchy. The ideas we present here are at the very least worthy of more widespread and serious attention. All of this takes on a new urgency given the turn in world politics towards a populism that often attacks establishment hierarchies while paradoxically giving authoritarian power to individuals claiming to speak for ‘the people’.

What then, should be said in praise of hierarchy? First, bureaucratic hierarchies can serve democracy. Bureaucracy is even less popular these days than hierarchy. Yet bureaucratic hierarchies can instantiate crucial democratic values, such as the rule of law and equal treatment. 

There are at least three ways in which usually hierarchical constitutional institutions can enhance democracy: by protecting minority rights, and thereby ensuring that the basic interests of minorities are not lightly discounted by self-interested or prejudiced majorities; by curbing the power of majority or minority factions to pass legislation favouring themselves at the expense of the public good; and by increasing the epistemic resources that are brought to bear on decision-making, making law and policy more reflective of high-quality deliberation. Hence democracies can embrace hierarchy because hierarchy can enhance democracy itself. 

Yet in recent decades, these civic hierarchies have been dismantled and often replaced with decentralised, competitive markets, all in the name of efficiency. This makes sense only if efficiency and effectiveness (usually assumed to be measured in economic terms) are considered the overriding priorities. But if we make that assumption, we find ourselves giving less weight to values such as the rule of law, democratic legitimacy or social equality. Hence, we might sometimes prefer the democratically accountable hierarchies that preserve those values even over optimal efficiency.

Read more:

Ajmer blast case: Two including a former RSS worker get life imprisonment

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) special court in Jaipur today sentenced Devendra Gupta and Bhavesh Patel to life in jail in the Ajmer blast case. The two were convicted along with Sunil Joshi on March 6. Joshi died under mysterious circumstances soon after the bombing, in which three people were killed and 17 others were injured. The October 11, 2007 blast took place during the month of Ramazan and targeted the Khwaja Chishti shrine.

Both Devendra Patel and Sunil Joshi are former RSS pracharaks.

BHARAT BHUSHAN - Narendra Modi's Republic of fear ...

  1. On March 6, the court found three of the accused guilty in the 2007 blast case. Those convicted include Devendra Gupta, Bhavesh Patel and Sunil Joshi. Both Devendra Gupta and Sunil Joshi are former Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) pracharaks.
  2. The NIA court found the three men guilty of conspiracy, planting bombs and inciting religious sentiments. While Devendra Gupta and Bhavesh Patel have been in judicial custody, Sunil Joshi had died mysteriously in 2007, soon after the Ajmer bombing.
  3. The remaining accused, including Aseemanand, Chandrashekhar Leve, Mukesh Vasani, Bharat Mohan Rateshwar, Lokesh Sharma, Mehul Kumar and Harshad Solanki were acquitted in the case. Three accused - Suresh Nair, Sandeep Dange and Ramchandra - were declared absconders.
  4. The National Investigation Agency had accused Aseemanand of masterminding the blast. The Jaipur court, however, acquitted Asseemand and others for the lack of evidence. The court also did not find any involvement of senior RSS functionary Indresh Kumar in the blast.
  5. The case had witnessed a major twist when Bhavesh Patel, one of the three men convicted, accused several Congress leaders, including Digvijaya Singh and former Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde of pressurising him to name senior RSS leaders, including current RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat and senior RSS functionary Indresh Kumar as being complicit in the blast case. He demanded a judicial enquiry into his accusations and into the alleged role of Congress leaders and NIA officers.

see also
RSS leader announces Rs 1 crore reward for beheading Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan
List of serious criminal charges against new UP CM Yogi Adityanath
Julio Ribeiro - Burying Karkare: I cannot let these forces go unchallenged
The Supreme Court, Gandhi and the RSS
The BJP and Justice, Chapter 2

Very short list of examples of rule of law in India
A letter to Jaitley: Why do students get jailed but RSS leaders who issue vile threats walk freely?