Part 2 of 2: What is truth?

In order to control society Plato recommended the use of the Noble Lie, so people under the state wouldn’t question their place in life. The Noble Lie was meant to benefit the community. The Noble Lie is a strong mechanism in solving the tragedy of the commons (The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen.) because when people are in balance internally and externally, they are able to make rational decisions that benefits the community. A good reason for the lie is that “in addition to learning the habits of basic civic virtue as a way to encourage people to contribute to the common good, a citizen must be made to believe a falsehood about the reason that justice is a worthy value.”1

David Hume dismissed standard accounts of causality and argued that our conceptions of cause-effect relations are grounded in habits of thinking, rather than in the perception of causal forces in the external world itself. The first step is to keep in mind what Hume called the ‘strange infirmities’ of human understanding, and the “universal perplexity and confusion, which is inherent in human nature”. Armed with this knowledge – for our ignorance is the one thing of which we can be certain – we should be sure to exercise the “degree of doubt, and caution, and modesty, which, in all kinds of scrutiny and decision, ought for ever to accompany a just reasoner”.2

“Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies,” claimed Nietzsche. According to Paul F. Glenn, Nietzsche argues “concepts are metaphors which do not correspond to reality.” Although all concepts are human inventions (created by common agreement to facilitate ease of communication), human beings forget this fact after inventing them, and come to believe that they are ‘true’ and do correspond to reality. Thus Nietzsche argues that ‘truth’ is actually involved in a changing aspect of reality. According to Nietzsche, everything is in flux, and there is no such thing as fixed being. Matter is always moving and changing, as are ideas, knowledge, truth, and everything else.3

In the 1970s supply side economics, the doctrine that tax cuts could be had for free, (incentive effects would generate new activity so higher revenue) without causing budget deficits was promoted by neoconservatives such as Irving Kristol. Supply side economics was a sleight-of-hand maneuver to convince the electorate that tax cuts were really in the interest of the middle class, not simply the super rich, because the cuts more than paid for themselves. Later it was rebranded as an ideology under the trickle-down economic theory. This is an example of fabrications explained by the principle of Plato’s Noble Lie.

The fabrication of trickle down economics provided the opportunity to dismantle the gains of the New Deal. It justified slashing funds for welfare programs to support a pro growth agenda as centralized planning of big government doesn’t work – it creates a culture of dependency that can trap people. Promoted under the guise of creating jobs and job security the neocon backers support bills attacking prevailing wage, minimum wage and living wage laws (that support a wage suppression agenda). Americans for Prosperity, funded by the Koch brothers, supports ALEC, as well as pushes other anti-worker, pro-business agenda by supporting union-busting activities such as concession bargaining.

Contract for America was a coalition of conservatives dedicated to the principles of shrinking the size of government and lowering taxes. Contract for America supporters never campaigned on economic policy, rather they promoted family values and exploited fears in the community to win elections, thus influenced elections by using wedge issues. Following defeats in the 2008 elections, conservative groups provided the resources to set up support for ‘citizen groups’ such as the Tea Party. The two main planks of the Tea Party are small government and less money being put into social welfare programs, which includes the expanded healthcare reform. In the 2010 mid term elections in the US the Tea Party movement provided the wedge issue and by their activities encouraged angry voters (who tend to vote Republican) stirred up by fear and panic, to show up at the ballot booth.

Another method used to distort information is cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance occurs when two unrelated facts are paired. A person desires to minimize their cognitive dissonance. Right wing news outlets mention Iraq and Sept 11th attacks in the same sentence. The close proximity of mentions is designed to create a correlation in people’s minds even when the reality is different. From insinuation people unconsciously take the idea and turn it into a possibility. Through repetition, the correlation becomes fact based upon misinformation. That is why over 50% of Americans today believe that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Similarly, during the 2014 midterm elections the buy adds supporting Republican candidates mentioned President Obama along with the Democratic candidate in the same sentence. The President’s unpopularity transferred to the candidate of the same party through the repetitive attack adds, while the truth is the inefficiency in government process of the previous two years was engineered by a small group of Republican supporters.

The fabrication that trickle-down economics provides equal benefits for all supports the growth of global corporations. Global corporations have adopted the disinformation programs perfected by the tobacco industry over the past fifty years. This includes the climate change denial tactics of the fossil fuel industry. These tactics include introducing manufactured uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence, by setting up so called independent front organizations to publically promote its desired message. This includes cherry picking scientific spokespeople whose interpretations of the peer-reviewed literature suggest to the media and the public that the debate amongst scientists continues, and the results are not definitive. Industries sponsor sophisticated research activities that include both funding of established research institutions, as well as funding of advocacy and ideological organizations to conduct disinformation campaigns – leaving public and law makers confused.

The progressive movement focuses on many issues including environment and social justice. These movements tend to be silos. Progressives must tap into the energy of the progressives from 100 years ago and bring back convictions that governments have a role to solve social problems and the challenge of the oligarchies. This involves freeing government of special interests, and protecting the rights of consumers, workers, immigrants and the poor. To achieve this it is not politically possible to focus on a myriad of goals. By educating the middle class that they have been taken advantage of by a financial system that favors the rich, the Occupy Wall Street movement put economic inequality on the political agenda. Inequality and inequity are not interchangeable. Inequity is unfair, avoidable differences arising from poor governance, corruption, or cultural exclusion. It is the result of human failure giving rise to avoidable deaths and disease. It is necessary to focus on the economy with its multifaceted connections to social issues.

Progressives need to control ideas in order to challenge the political philosophy of the neoconservatives that drives the political debate in Washington to the right. The reality of the neocons is to control the debate in Washington by deception through their planned assault on truth, reliance on religion for moral values, and the use of aggressive foreign policies to unite the masses. The World Health Organization declared “The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live work and age, including the health system.” Now people realize that the health care sector cannot act alone, and are exploring an inter-sectorial approach that links health to relevant economic, educational, social, environmental and employment interventions. Income and social status was identified as the most important determinant of health. Whoever controls the language controls the debate. By making inequality a central part of their vocabulary progressives can take control of the debate in Washington.

How you label things is more important than how you debate them. Success for progressives can be achieved by effectively explaining to the people the following four policies: (1) promote economic and environmental activities through the lens of the social determinants of health, (2) support an accessible health-care system, (3) promote inter-sectorial processes to address the inequities in social and health issues and (4) develop measurements of inequity to measure the impact of new policies. Once the middle class understands the economics of the social determinants of health – reduction in those suffering chronic diseases, extra individuals entering the workforce, savings in welfare payments, fewer hospital admissions and fewer prescriptions for medications4 – it is possible for them to determine what is truth so they can participate in creating change when they visit the voting booth.

1“Plato vs Aristotle.” (25 Oct 2011)

2“The Best Philosophy Is Hume’s Scepticism.” Intelligent Life Magazine, May/June 2013

3“On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense.”

4“The Cost Of Inaction On The Social Determinants Of Health.” (12 June 2012), from The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM), a research centre at the University of Canberra.

Posted in United States Economy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Part 1 of 2: What is Truth?

During the Enlightenment, as each new idea spread across Europe, it was debated and challenged by other thinkers. Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), the skeptic, rejected the scope and power of reason in decision-making that Newton’s work had released. Hume thought that our passions and our affections naturally lead us to perform certain actions with reason acting only as a guide and sought to develop more fully the consequences of cautious empiricism by applying the scientific methods of observation to a study of human nature itself. We cannot rely on the common-sense pronouncements of popular superstition, which illustrate human conduct without offering any illumination, Hume held, nor can we achieve any genuine progress based on speculative or abstract reasoning, which imposes a spurious clarity upon profound issues. The alternative is to reject all easy answers, employing the negative results of philosophical skepticism as a legitimate place to start.

Hume claimed the apparent connection of one idea to another is invariably the result of an association that we manufacture ourselves. We use our mental operations to link ideas to each other in one of three ways: resemblance, contiguity, or cause and effect. (This animal looks like that animal; this book is on that table; moving this switch turns off the light, for example.) Experience provides us with both the ideas themselves and our awareness of their association. All human beliefs (including those we regard as cases of knowledge) result from repeated applications of these simple associations.

According to Hume, our belief that events are causally related is a custom or habit acquired by experience: having observed the regularity with which events of particular sorts occur together, we form the association of ideas that produces the habit of expecting the effect whenever we experience the cause. But since each idea is distinct and separable from every other, there is no self-evident relation; these connections can only be derived from our experience of similar cases. Causal reasoning can never be justified rationally. In order to learn, we must suppose that our past experiences bear some relevance to present and future cases. But although we do indeed believe that the future will be like the past, the truth of that belief is not self-evident. In fact, it is always possible for nature to change, so inferences from past to future are never rationally certain.

Skepticism quite properly forbids us to speculate beyond the content of our present experience and memory, yet we find it entirely natural to believe much more than that. Hume held that these unjustifiable beliefs can be explained by reference to custom or habit. Remember that the association of ideas is a powerful natural process in which separate ideas come to be joined together in the mind. Of course they can be associated with each other by rational means, as they are in the relations of ideas that constitute mathematical knowledge. But even where this is possible, Hume argued, reason is a slow and inefficient guide, while the habits acquired by much repetition can produce a powerful conviction independently of reason.1

Our beliefs in matters of fact, then, arise from sentiment or feeling rather than from reason. For Hume, imagination and belief differ only in the degree of conviction with which their objects are anticipated. Although this positive answer may seem disappointing, Hume maintained that custom or habit is the great guide of life and the foundation of all natural science. The most reasonable position, Hume held, is a ‘mitigated’ skepticism that humbly accepts the limitations of human knowledge while pursuing the legitimate aims of math and science.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) claimed there are no facts only interpretations. In his view there was no objective fact about what has value in itself – culture consisted of beliefs developed to perpetuate a particular power structure. The system, if followed by the majority of the people, supports the interests of the dominant class. Nietzsche is critical of the very idea of objective truth (he did not believe in values or truth). That we should think there is only one right way of considering a matter is only evidence that we have become inflexible in our thinking. A healthy mind is flexible and recognizes that there are many different ways of considering a matter. There is no single truth but rather many. Arbitrariness prevails within human experience: concepts originate via the transformation of nerve stimuli into images, and ‘truth’ is nothing more than the invention of fixed conventions for practical purposes, especially those of repose, security and consistency.

Nietzsche was concerned about the effects of nihilism on society and culture, not because he advocated nihilism. Nietzsche saw that the old values and old morality simply didn’t have the same power that they once did. God no longer mattered in modern culture and was effectively dead to us. He believed that there was no longer any real substance to traditional social, political, moral, and religious values. However, science does not introduce a new set of values to replace the Christian values it displaces. Nietzsche rightly foresaw that people need to identify some source of meaning and value in their lives, and if they could not find it in science, they would turn to aggressive nationalism and other such salves.2

Leo Strauss (1899-1973) was a classical political philosopher who read Nietzsche and had considerable influence on the neocons. From 1949 to 1967 Strauss served as a professor in the University of Chicago political science department, and became the source of the inspiration of the neoconservative ideology of the Republican Party. He developed a political philosophy based on deception, the power of religion, and aggressive nationalism. This was a system in which the people are told no more than they need to know as deception is a norm in political life. He recommended the use of religion for the morals of the masses, but not applying to the leaders. If the masses really knew what was going on it would lead to nihilism. The void was to be filled with religious values. Also Strauss proposed the use of aggressive foreign policy to unite the masses.3 After the end of the Cold War this foreign policy morphed under the influence of neo-conservatives into the concept of ‘exporting democracy’.4

One of the outcomes of the Iraq War was to expose the ugly underbelly of the neo-conservative machine in America. Two of the bureaucrats who put together the package of ‘evidence’ of WMD in Iraq were Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense and Abram Shulsky, Director of the Office of Special Plans, were students of Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago. This like thinking allowed a group to easily engineer a plan of deception of the American people about the need to invade Iraq.

Paul Wolfowitz out maneuvered the State Department and the CIA to get the Bush administration to set up the Special Plans unit because they were more effective in making their argument.   Special Plans was created in order to find evidence of what Wolfowitz and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, believed to be true –that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Qaeda, and that Iraq had an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and possibly even nuclear weapons that threatened the region and, potentially, the United States. Abram Shulsky (who had roomed with Wolfowitz at Cornell and Chicago) was appointed the Director of Special Plans. Under his direction Special Plans put together the case for weapons of mass destruction creating the need to invade Iraq.

In late February 2002, the CIA sent Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate reports that the African nation sold uranium to Iraq to reconstitute their nuclear program. He failed to find evidence of any activities related to the purchase of ‘yellowcake’ uranium from Niger by Iraq. President Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address claimed that purchases of uranium by Iraq from Niger were immanent creating a public protest by Ambassador Wilson. The neocons do not like people who disagree with them. Valerie Plame, the former CIA agent whose undercover status was blown by a White House leak of her identity sues Vice President Dick Cheney, White House aide Karl Rove, and former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Plame accuses them and other White House officials of conspiring to destroy her career as a CIA operative as well as conspiring to besmirch the reputation and integrity of her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson.

I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby who studied under Wolfowitz at Yale, was assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney since 2001, resigned October 28, 2005, after being indicted on five counts which included obstruction of justice, making false statements and perjury. He was later convicted on four of the five counts, and sentenced to thirty months in prison on June 5, 2007. On July 2, 2007 outgoing President Bush spared I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby from prison, commuting the former White House aide’s prison term.5

The neoconservatives identified that one could use democracy to defeat liberty as too much liberty undermines piety and leads to crime, drugs, rampant homosexuality, children out of wedlock, and family breakdown. Neocons have no trouble interfacing with the Christian right (basically turn back the clock on the liberal revolution and its achievements). To this end, the electoral boundaries for districts for the House of Representatives have been gerrymandered to ensure an easy majority of Republicans can be elected. In addition, states with a Republican Governor have enacted legislation that hinders the ability of minorities (especially blacks) from ready access to the voting booth (groups that generally support Democrats). Many states with Republican governors pass laws such as No Rights at Work bills (promoted under the guise of creating jobs and job security) that restrict the freedom of workers to organize to ensure just compensation. The neocons are a group with contrasting values – acting in the name of liberty and democracy, when they have so little regard for either.

With the Republicans sweeping victory in the midterm elections the influence of the neo-conservatives is on the rebound. The neocons are once again driving the debate. The truth for this group is the vision of the neoconservative beliefs (such as a more aggressive national security policy) while the general public receives controlled messages that ensure the elite can rule. President Obama admits that it is his fault that Democrats lost the midterm election because of his failure to explain to the people what it is he is trying to do. For the average person the increased influence of the neocons ushers in an era of increased questioning and skepticism of what is truth.

1“Hume: Empirist Naturalism.”

2“Nietzsche and Nihilism”

3Drury, Shadia. “Saving America: Leo Strauss and the Neoconservatives.

4“Leo Strauss’ Philosophy of Deception.”’_philosophy_of_deception

5Hersh, Seymour M. “Selective Intelligence.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Trickle-down Effect

Milton Friedman (1912-2006), Nobel Prize winning economist from University of Chicago, popularized free market economy. Friedman’s explanation of economics emphasized that the laissez-faire economic system helps poor people by the trickle-down effect, which economic growth flows down from the top to the bottom indirectly benefiting those who do not directly benefit from the policy changes. This economic theory advocates letting businesses flourish, since their profits will ultimately trickle down to lower-income individuals and the rest of the economy. Another teaching of Friedman is that only a crisis real or perceived, produces real change, and when that crisis hits the change that occurs depends on ideas that are lying around.

Advocates for trade deregulation claim that an ‘invisible hand’ – a systemic, emergent force beyond the control of any individual or section of the economy – will produce benefits that will enlarge the total ‘cake’ of the economy, allowing a trickle-down effect that reduces poverty and improves health. Globalization is seductive to many because it enhances material production while simultaneously shielding, muting and distancing the vast number of people who are disadvantaged by it. The emphasis on economic globalization has resulted in objections to taxation based on the premise that taxation is an unnecessary barrier to trade and to the creation of wealth that would otherwise ‘trickle down’ from the rich to poor (sans taxation).

In the 1980s and 1990s monetarism, public choice theory and neo-classical economics, was vulgarized and misused to justify simplistic small government policies. As for monetarism, it is essentially the belief that the freedom to make and spend money will finally address all our human needs, and that the public good is ultimately served by subordinating our social concerns to the requirements of business. Friedman’s supporters actually believe that market forces will reduce poverty and provide public goods, including health care and environmental stability.1 In the 21st century, following the economic debacle of 2007, supporters of trickle-down economics now peddle fear of increased taxes or regulation as toxic to this economic system.

The field of social finance has appeared in the form of social impact bonds already in Britain – applying profit motive to some of the most intractable social problems (that monetarism has not been able to address). Recognizing that the market economy is not addressing the problems of poverty, social impact bonds are being promoted. These bonds have caught on in a big way in Britain. Others warn that this is about commercialization of social values. It opens the debate on how outcomes are measured to decide whether the intervention is a success that leads to a payout for investors.

As a consequence of globalization, the business class is no longer under pressure to accommodate citizens (workers) within Canada. The government default position is that international competition is at stake – increasingly lower taxes, less support for labour and deregulation – creating socio-economic status related inequalities at the same time as budget cuts erode social assets and population capacities that might have buffered the effects of the health inequalities. The double whammy – market-oriented politics and policies of government deregulation erode social assets and undermine safety nets at the very time that greater inequalities and knowledge of epigenetic harms are appearing that could use resources to offset the effects of restructuring of the economy. Regrettably, the present evolution of the population health model can be used to accommodate, rather than challenge, current ways of doing things.

Corporate globalization promotes individualism. The cult of individualism that exists in North America today supports minimal government and self-reliance. Public health is about focusing on the common good. Individualism creates a difficult milieu for discourse on the common good – the individual becomes the focus of intervention, consequently, many public health promotions tend to target on life-style changes of the individual. Policies aimed at the individual do little to address the social determinants of health, thus fail to promote the health of all Canadians. When policies are aimed at the individual, this fosters the allusion that a person’s health status is entirely under his or her control. As a consequence, population health problems are assigned solely to the individual. In the end, the individual becomes a victim, being blamed for what really are socially produced health problems.

Since the 18th century, many believed the invisible hand of prosperity and increased wealth created better health for the majority. Late in the 19th century, it was a community of concerned public health officials who led the charge for clean water and better housing, and the unions for better working conditions for the worker. Ann Robertson, professor in Social and Behavioural Health Science at the University of Toronto, noted: “… it was not simply Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ of wealth that provided the key to health improvements. They were, to a great extent, the result of the constellation of a number of factors, including: improved sanitation, nutrition, living and working conditions, and family planning. And, as Szreter demonstrates, these did not occur ‘naturally’, but rather as the result of the efforts of a coalition of public health reformers, labour activists, and others working from reformist social and political agendas. These are the historical roots of the current health promotion movement which, unlike population health, is not only explicitly political but also explicitly normative.”2

With the completion of the human genome project in 2003, it became known that genetics accounts for about 10% of diseases, and the remaining causes appear to be from environmental and occupational source insults. In the 21st century, the epigenetics revolution is rewriting our understanding of genetics disease and inheritance. Epigenetics is about integrating genes, the organism and the environment. From believing that our biological fates were written in our genes, we now recognize that the environment, and more specifically our perception of the environment, directly controls our behavior and genetic activity. Individuals are much more sensitive to exposures from their environment, diet and lifestyles than previously thought. Epigenetic control of our genes represents a fundamental shift in the way we understand our world.3

Epigenetics is the new science that studies the complex mechanisms of genes being turned on and off according to environmental ques. The genome is very stable; mutations are seldom. On the other hand, the environment is very volatile. In order for our species to survive, the genome has mechanisms that respond to the volatile environment by turning on and off genes. As our genes can be influenced by the environment, our lifestyle can impact the expression of our genes. Early studies show an association between epigenetic marks (in the human genome) and socio-economic status. This has implications for population health and chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease.

How we deal with epigenetic harms implicates the underlying fairness and justice of our social contract. How we develop mentally, and physically, has a tremendous impact upon our inherent capabilities and our set of life opportunities. Attention should be paid to poor health as a mechanism for intergenerational transmission of poverty. Children born into poor families have poorer health as children, receive lower investments in human capital, and have poorer health as adults. As a result, they will earn lower wages as adults, which will affect the next generation of children who will thus be born into poorer families. In Canada, one in four children living in poverty will grow up to be an adult living in poverty

The emerging field of epigenetics suggests the possibility of a happy trickle-down effect. “Those same lifestyle choices may help silence ‘bad’ genes while supporting the activity of ‘good’ genes,” says Andrew Weil, Director of the Center for Integrative Medicine of the College of Medicine, University of Arizona. Because of the role epigenetics plays in human development and in disease causation, there is an important role in regulating epigenetic harms. This could prevent chronic diseases, as well as create a health benefit that can be passed on to children and grandchildren. Weil notes that up to 70% of our health may be influenced by our environment, or epigenetics.4

We need to adopt policies that have science behind them. The trickle-down economic theory was rebranded in the 1970s to an ideology – supply side economics – the doctrine that tax cuts could be had for free (incentive effects would generate new activity hence more revenue) without causing budget deficits. An ideology is a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society (that is normative or based on what is considered the normal or correct way of doing something). In the 21st century trickle-down economics is a fraud – the majority of people are not benefiting, in fact, the gap between the rich and the rest of society is increasing.

Epigenetics explains how environmental factors can switch genes on and off based on choices we make, and highlights the effects of inequality in living and working conditions, as well as a range of disparities in societal opportunities, including income, housing, employment, and access to health care. The effects of age, what someone eats, and the salary of the father trickle down to the child. Epigenetics empowers people to take control of their health by making choices that may override their genetic code, such as diet, exercise, and personal attitude – opening doors for applying epigenetics to the prevention and treatment of many disorders. By incorporating the knowledge of the dynamic nature of epigenetics into decision-making, it is possible to reduce epigenetic harms and create the trickle-down benefits similar to investment in the space program fifty years ago, and ongoing spending in CERN.

In the 21st century we are faced with three deficits: current fiscal imbalance of various levels of government, the need to reverse the epigenetic harms from the toxins in air, water and food, and the debt to future generations as the growing economic gap will ensure them poorer health as adults, which will affect their economic status as they earn lower wages. We need to see the world and ourselves from a new perspective. Because of the role epigenetics plays in human development and disease causation, there is an important role in regulating epigenetic harms. We need to switch from making public policy decisions through the lens of individualism (which oversimplifies complex and multi-faceted problems) to filtering social and economic policies through the lens of the social determinants of health before they are implemented (to ensure they support actions that reduce inequities in the system). The new idea available for the 21st century for everyone to reach their potential is to harness the ability of epigenetics to create a positive trickle down effect!

1 Horsman, Greg. (2012) Objectivism Lost and an Age of Disillusionment, p. 76.

2 Robertson, A. (1998). Shifting discources on health in Canada: from health promotion to population health. Health Promotion International, 13(2), 155-166.

3 Choi, Sang-Woon and Simonetta Fisco. (Sept 2013) “Epigenetics: A New Bridge between Nutrition and Health.”

4 Goldman, Leslie. “Like Mother, Like Daughter.” <;.

Posted in economic inequality, Global Economy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Part 2 of 2: The Rise of the New Anarchists

During the 188Os, when anarchists and socialists were particularly active in the old unions, the American labor movement was an inspiration to the workers of the world. Most of the leaders were Socialists. The trade unions were also radical. The Federation of Trades and Labor Unions (later the A. F. of L.) called and engineered the great general strike of 1886. This historic movement entranced the working class rebels all over Europe, not only because it was the first modern attempt to win the universal 8-hour workday, but especially because it marked the first successful application of their beloved weapon, the general strike of all trades in all localities. Inspired by the American movement for a shorter workday, socialists and unionists around the world began celebrating May 1, or “May Day,” the day upon which the strike began, as an international workers’ holiday.

The strike of 1886 saw 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the US walk off their jobs. In Chicago the epicentre of the strike 40,00 went out on strike with the anarchists in the forefront of the public’s eye. On May 3d violence broke out at the McCormick Reapers Works between police and strikers. The police beat the demonstrators with clubs, which escalated into rock throwing by the demonstrators which the police responded with gun fire wounding many. Full of rage, a public meeting was called by some of the anarchists for the next day in Haymarket Square to discuss the police action. The next day about 3000 showed up at Haymarket Square, but as the police moved to disperse the crowd a bomb was thrown into the police ranks. Enraged the police fired into the civilian ranks killing seven or eight and wounding about forty.

The jury at the trial was composed of business leaders. Lacking credible evidence that the defendants threw the bomb or organized the bomb throwing, prosecutors focused on their writings and speeches (their political and social beliefs). Immediately after the Haymarket Massacre, big business and government triggered a heightened anti-labour movement. Spun by mainstream media, anarchism became synonymous with bomb throwing and socialism became un-American. Anarchism became associated with fear in America. Even after the unsatisfactory outcome of the great 8-hour strike and the execution of the rebel leaders, Parsons, Spies, Fisher, Engel, and Lingg in connection with the Haymarket riot, the Socialists and other radicals enjoyed great power and influence in the trade unions for several years.1

From 1920-1940 anarchism was supplanted by Marxism which became the leading form of left thinking. Elizabeth Girly Flynn and William Foster were both anarcho-syndicalists, before becoming communists. William Foster (1881-1961) founded in Chicago the Syndicalist League in 1912, and wrote a pamphlet (with Earl C. Ford) on Syndicalism, which described the ideological basis for his Syndicalist League of North America, basically to work within the American Federation of Labor to win the trade union over to radical syndicalism. Foster played a role in the great steel strike of 1919. After visiting Soviet Russia in 1921 he joined the American Communist Party and served as party chairman from 1932 to 1957.2

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890-1964) was born in Concord New Hampshire. In 1907 she became full-time organizing for the Industrial Workers of the World. Flynn’s organizing efforts took her all over the US. She led organizing campaigns among garment workers in Minersville, Pennsylvania; silk weavers in Patterson, New Jersey; hotel and restaurant workers in New York City; miners in Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range; and textile workers in the famous Lawrence, Massachusetts, strike of 1912. She was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Flynn joined the American Communist Party in 1936.3 With the appearance of the middle class after World War II unions adopted conservative ideas.

The philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) was a prominent social Darwinist of the late nineteenth century who used Darwin’s theory of evolution “to justify extreme laissez-faire capitalism as natural and right in the sense that free competition ensured the survival of the fittest’’. Spencer believed that human society reflects the same evolutionary principles as biological organisms do in their development. Spencer’s philosophy provided a foundation for an integrated, scientific approach to individualism. In particular, his emphasis on science caught the attention of anarchists of his day as progress was defined as “that form of society in which government will be reduced to the smallest amount possible, and freedom increased to the greatest amount.”4 In addition, the robber barons embraced his theory as it provided the necessary ‘science’ to support long workdays, low wages and child labour.

Not all anarchists accepted Spencer’s ideas. Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) made the achievements of modern natural science available for the development of the sociological concepts of anarchism – including countering the point of social Darwinism, whose exponents tried to prove the inevitability of the existing social condition from the Darwinian theory of the struggle for existence by raising the struggle of the strong against the weak to the stature of a natural law for all natural purposes, to which even man is subject. The ‘unbridled individualism’ seen in contemporary capitalist societies was, Kropotkin claimeded, a ‘modern growth’. What was needed was the emancipation of the individual and of society from the political machinery, the State, which helps to maintain economic slavery. His discussions on co-operation was a means of advancing the debate to counter the exponents of Social Darwinism that the struggle of the strong against the weak was not a natural law.5 A common thread that ties the 19th century anarchists to the new anarchists is Social Darwinism.

The trickle down economic theory was rebranded in the 1970s to an ideology – supply side economics – the doctrine that tax cuts could be had for free (incentive effects would generate new activity hence more revenue) without causing budget deficits. Its creators never believed supply side economics worked – it was an ideology that was created to unite the right. In 1984, Charles Murray published Losing Ground. It was described by the New York Times Review of Books as a “persuasive . . . new variation on Social Darwinism.” Its central thesis was that all government welfare programs should be abolished, supposedly because welfare hurt the very people it was intended to help by “rewarding bad behavior” such as “illegitimate babies.” Murray also called for ending food stamp programs.6 Murray’s work was used as the ‘science’ behind an ideology that supports slashing social programs.

Occupy Wall Street protesters challenged the excesses of the corporations in general, and in particular, a government controlled by corporate money and the growing income gap between the very wealthy and the rest in society. Areas of concern include anti-union activities, and banking reform. The corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) develops model bills such as No Rights at Work bill (promoted under the guise of creating jobs and job security) and bills attacking prevailing wage, minimum wage and living wage laws (that support a wage suppression agenda). Americans for Prosperity, funded by the Koch brothers, supports ALEC, as well as pushes other anti-worker, pro-business agenda by supporting union-busting activities such as concession bargaining. The Volcker Rule refers to the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, originally proposed by American economist and former United States Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to restrict US banks from making certain kinds of speculative investments that do not benefit their customers. Volcker argued that such speculative activity played a key role in the financial crisis of 2007–2010. Wall Street lobbyists have managed to gut many provisions in the Dodd Franks bill including the Volker Rule such that the new regulations for the financial industry are no more robust than prior to the 2007 economic crisis (i.e. by ensuring loopholes and new ways to interpret the law).

Thirty years after Reagan’s re-election in 1984 the economic theory that claims cutting the taxes of the rich will provide jobs for the rest of society has become the dominant economic theory. This policy of minimal taxes and government continues to create a growing income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society – removing social mobility for most of society. In the spring of 2014 Rep. Paul Ryan introduced a budget that proposes to cut $5.1 trillion over a decade in a bid to erase the federal deficit to enhance US global competitiveness. Such a budget would degrade the social safety net including Medicare and Medicaid, cut funding for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, and cut spending for programs combating climate change.7 The program of the new anarchists perpetuates fear of change – if taxes are raised unemployment will rise and existing jobs will disappear.

The new anarchists of the 21st century perpetuate fear around the world on a scale unimaginable in the 19th century. Critics of Obamacare claim it has five hidden taxes in it – creating  fear that this will interfere with job growth, or even lead to job loss. The Canadian Finance Department shelved plans to crack down on so-called ‘treaty shopping’ by multinationals. The move suspends a long campaign by Ottawa to stop what it says is rampant ‘abuse’ of international tax treaties by companies seeking to duck Canadian taxes. Facing intense lobbying from resources companies and their tax advisers, Canadian finance minister, Joe Oliver fears that curbing treaty shopping would put a chill on foreign investment in places such as the Alberta oil sands, leaving Canada at a competitive disadvantage.8 The fossil fuel industry in the US peddles  fear of a weakening economy if environment regulations and responsibility are enforced.

The new anarchists control what you think through proxies who control the information and communication supporting deregulation of the government and the environment, and through their lobbyists who influence what most of your politicians believe. They are responsible for the economic debacle of 2007 with the accompanying loss of jobs, homes and pension funds. The rise of the new anarchists ensures that taxes continue to shift from corporations to the middle class and working poor. The next generation of workers are being paid less in terms of part time work and hourly wages. This means less benefits (pensions), poorer health, for workers and less taxes being paid. Less taxes being paid will translate into less support for safety nets and environment controls. The outcome of the rise of the new anarchists is less equality of individuals and less freedom and opportunities for many to reach their full potential.

1 Chas, Eric (1993) “The Brief Origins of May Day.”

2 “Syndicalist League of North America”

3 Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Facts

4 McElroy, Wendy. (1981) “The Culture of Individualist Anarchism in the Late Nineteenth Century.”

5 Rocker, Rudolf. “Anarchosyndicalism” (originally published in 1938 by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd.)

6 Horsman, Greg. “1984 and Big Brother.” (01 Jan 2014)

7 Berman, Russell and Bernie Becker (01 April 2014) “Ryan’s $5 trillion cuts set midterm debate.”

8 McKenna, Barry. (14 Sept 2014) “Corporations vs. Canada: The threat of treaty shopping.”

Posted in economic inequality | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Part 1 of 2: The Rise of the New Anarchists

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) championed anarchism as the most rational and just means of creating order in society. Among other things, he advocated what he called “mutualism,” an economic practice that disincentivized profit — which, according to him, was a destabilizing force — and argued far ahead of his time for banks with free credit and unions to protect labor. He championed the equilibrium of economic forces. He envisioned mutualism as a system of self-employed workers and co-operatives honestly exchanging goods and services in a market without interest, rent, profit, landlords or capitalists. It aimed to change the state (government), not through social revolution, rather by means of reform – a combination of more just and more efficient economic institutions and pressuring the state from the outside to enact appropriate reforms in support of equality of the individual. The first anarchists were not trouble making, chaotic nilhilists.

Proudhon had endeavoured, in his first memoir on property, to demonstrate that the pursuit of equality of conditions is the true principle of right and of government. The difficulty with the version of social contract posited by Rousseau was that the contract ultimately bound the individual in one way or another to the state, claimed Proudhon, obligating him in various instances to lay aside his own particular will or desires to abide by the general rules of the sovereign power that regulates everyone. Proudhon declared, “We desire a peaceful revolution… you should make use of the very institutions which we charge you to abolish… in such a way that the new society may appear as the spontaneous, natural and necessary development of the old and that the revolution, while abrogating the old order, should nevertheless be derived from it.”1

Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876), a Russian revolutionary anarchist, is considered one of the principle founders of ‘social anarchism’ – society seeking political equality by economic equality.  Anarchism and Marxism have a history of antagonism. Bakunin, writing in the late 19th century, argued that the working class could not use state power to emancipate itself but must abolish the state. Marx (and also Lenin) had pointed out that constructing socialism would require a revolutionary transformation of the state (and ultimately a withering away of the state) based on class. Anarchists, however, criticized Marxists for tending in practice to treat the state as an instrument that could simply be taken over and used for other ends. Anarchists saw the state not as a tool, but as an instrument of oppression, no matter in whose hands.

Mikhail Bakunin’s ideas produced a coherent defense of individual freedom and its basis in a free society. Bakunin believed that political freedom without economic equality is a pretense – a fraud, a lie. He believed that real freedom was possible only when economic and social equality existed. Freedom is a product of connection, not isolation. Bakunin insisted it is society which creates individual freedom through social interaction. Equality for the 19th century anarchists means social equality such as quality of condition, or equal opportunity. An anarchists’ society recognizes the differences in ability and need of individuals but does not allow their differences to be turned into power. If there is a state then there is domination. Anarchism rejects the principles of authority. Thus you need abolition of the state to guarantee freedom.

Anarchism’s absolute hostility to the state, and its tendency to adapt a stance of moral purity, limit its usefulness as a basis for a broad movement for equalitarian social change (let alone transition to socialism). Telling the truth to power is or should be part of radical politics, but it is not a substitute for strategy and planning. In the 19th century anarchism occupied something like the position within the broader left that Communism later came to occupy. From 1920-1940 anarchism was supplanted by Marxism which became the leading form of left thinking – anti-authoritarian perspective and moral critique.

Bakunin warned, “man in isolation can have no awareness of his liberty… Liberty is therefore a feature not of isolation but interaction – not of exclusion but rather connection. As capitalist ideology glorifies the abstract individual, it proclaims free will, and on the ruins of every liberty founds authority. This was unsurprising, as every development “implies the negation of its point of departure. {Thus} you will always find the idealist in the very act of practical materialism, while you see the materialist pursuing and realizing the most grandly ideal aspirations and thought. This is obvious today when the libertarian’s rights to defend individual liberty never gets far from opposing taxation while defending “the management’s right to manage” to maximize profits. Abstract individualism cannot help but justify authority over liberty.2

Given his love of freedom and hostility to hierarchy, besides rejecting the state, Bakunin rejected capitalism and religion. He argued that the state is an instrument of class rule. It is the organization of authority, domination and power of the possessing classes over the masses and denotes force and predominance and presupposes inequality. This inequality in power is required to maintain a class society, and so the state has evolved a hierarchical and centralized structure. Bakunin stressed anarchists should take an active part in the labour movement, “to create a people’s force capable of crushing the military and civil force of the state – it is necessary to organise the proletariat.” The strike played a key role in his ideas as it was “the beginning of the social war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie.”2

Bakunin believed “every human being should have the material and moral means to develop his humanity.” Bakunin’s anarchism was about changing society and abolishing all forms of authoritarian social relationship, putting life before the spirit-destroying nature of the state and capitalism. He recognized that the ruling classes blindly and stubbornly opposed even the slightest social reform and accordingly he saw the only salvation in an international social revolution – a federation of free worker’s associations to ensure the requirements of daily life.2

In common to all anarchists is the desire to free society of all political and social coerisive institutions which stand in the way of the development of freedom. The 19th century anarchist focused on the development of a free humanity, while the new anarchists of the 21st century focus on the freedom of the abstract individual. The agenda of the new anarchists, the proponents of small governments and minimal regulation, includes industrial and environmental deregulation, the privatization of government services, deep reductions in federal anti-poverty spending and the transfer of authority and responsibility for social welfare from the national government to the charitable sector and state or provincial and local government. This ideology creates a system of inequality of the individual in which the majority of the people are unable to reach their full potential.

  1. Gambone, L. (1996) Proudhon and Anarchism

2. The Revolutionary Ideas of Bakunin (07/24/2008)

Posted in economic inequality, Global Economy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Part 3 of 3: The Road to Freedom

George Orwell was attending university at the end of the First World War. The young men returning from the war were angry at their elder’s incompetence for having led them to such mass slaughter. This mood of rebellion in Britain spread to rebellion against the old class system, which, in most people’s minds, was inextricably linked to capitalism. After university, Orwell served a five-year stint in the Civil Service with the Indian Imperial Police Force in Burma. During this time he became convinced that the British Empire was run by a non-productive corrupt upper class that exploited her colonial possessions for financial gain and left the native population and England’s own working classes in poverty and squalor “… the Empire was under-developed, India slept in the Middle Ages, the Dominions lay empty, with foreigners jealously barred out, and even England was full of slums and unemployment. Only half a million people, the people in the country houses, definitely benefited from the existing system.”

At the end of 1936 Orwell travelled to Spain to fight for the communist republicans in the civil war against the fascists. There he experienced first hand the ongoing propaganda and purges (of those with dissenting opinions). He returned to England determined to focus his writing on the war against totalitarianism – both fascism and communism. Nevertheless, he never lost his faith in a socialist revolution against the class structure of society led by the working classes devoid of intellectual bullies, Marxists and Fascists – to wipe out class privileges.

For Orwell, an ideal society was one of absolute equality of all people that included equality of social status, income, and living standards: “…the equivocal moral position of Britain, with its democratic phrases and coolie empire, the sinister development of Soviet Russia, the squalid farce of left-wing politics – all this fades away and one sees only the struggle of the gradually-awakening common people against the lords of property and their hired liars and bumsuckers.” In his review of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom he wrote, “Capitalism leads to dole queues, the scramble for markets, and war. Collectivism leads to concentration camps, leader-worship and war. There is no way out of this unless a planned economy can be somehow combined with freedom of the intellect, which can only happen if the concept of right and wrong can be restored.” He died from tuberculosis in 1950.[i]

The Cold War, the name given to the relationship that developed primarily between the US and the USSR after World War II, dominated international affairs for decades and many major crises occurred: the Cuban Crisis, Hungary, Vietnam, and the Berlin Wall. For many the growth of weapons of mass destruction was the most worrying issue. Initially events seemed to be turning the tide in favour of Soviet expansion and the spread of communism. Soviet-style governments were established in central Europe (1947-1948), the Communists won the civil war in China (1948), and North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950.

Western governments understood that the Soviets were trying to organize communism as a worldwide movement under the direction of the Soviet Union. Mutual suspicion, augmented by profound distrust and misunderstanding fueled the conflict. While confrontation and competition of two antagonistic economic systems was an integral part of the Cold War, the fight was played out in the realm of trade and social policies. The West turned to the writings of Friedrich Hayek to push back communist ideas

Friedrich Hayek promoted the ‘minimum state’ that was adopted by the Republican Party, and served the dual purpose to oppose Soviet Marxism, and undermine the ‘New Deal’ economic policies in place. His thinking has become the ideological basis of the present policies of industrial and environmental deregulation. He criticized the possibility of planning the economy given the fact that its complexity is opposed to any rational estimate. Hayek, speaking on behalf of the ultra-liberals, at the 1955 Congress for Freedom of Culture (organized and directed by the CIA from 1950 to 1967), in Milan recalled that the only right worthwhile to defend is the right to property, (in contrast to to social rights).

When Mikhail S. Gorbachev (1931-) became general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in March 1985, he launched his nation on a dramatic new course. His dual program of “perestroika” (“restructuring”) and “glasnost” (“openness”) introduced profound changes in economic practice, internal affairs and international relations. Perestroika involved drastic restructuring of the Soviet economy. Glasnost led to Gorbachev unilaterally discontinuing the Cold War.

On December 7, 1988 Mikhail Gorbachev addressed the 43d UN General Assembly session: “The compelling necessity of the principle of freedom of choice is also clear to us. The failure to recognize this, to recognize it, is fraught with very dire consequences for world peace. Denying that right to the peoples, no matter what the pretext, no matter what the words are used to conceal it, means infringing upon even the unstable balance that is, has been possible to achieve. Freedom of choice is a universal principle to which there should be no exceptions. We have not come to the conclusion of the immutability of this principle simply through good motives. We have been led to it through impartial analysis of the objective processes of our time. The increasing varieties of social development in different countries are becoming ever more perceptible features of these processes. This relates to both capitalist and socialist systems.”[2]

The freedom of choice that Gorbachev spoke of that day was the social mobility of the middle class in the West. There was the belief in America that an individual could improve his situation through hard work and following the rules, and that his children would be better off than him. The middle class in America appeared after the Second World War. The 1950s is considered the decade that eliminated poverty for the great majority of Americans. The decade was associated with the shift from suburban areas o the suburbs, with the housing supply increasing 27%. The 1970s and the 1980s belonged to the middle class. Unions, a key driver in the creation of the middle-class, are responsible for the reduction of work hours, paid vacation, all sorts of benefits that we all enjoy. In the 1980s unions were at the height of their power in North America.

Within five years, Gorbachev’s revolutionary program swept communist governments throughout Eastern Europe from power marking the official end of the Cold War. Gorbachev’s actions also inadvertently set the stage for the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which dissolved into 15 individual republics. Gorbachev resigned from office on December 25, 1991. Initially, Dick Cheney credited President Ronald Reagan for winning the Cold War. Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Donald Rumsfeld promotes that many people in the West were involved in the collapse of the Soviet empire.

Both Hegel and Marx believed that the evolution of human societies was not open-ended, but would end when mankind had achieved a form of society that satisfied its deepest and most fundamental longings. Both thinkers thus posited an “end of history”: for Hegel this was the liberal state, while for Marx it was a communist society. Francis Fukuyama discussed this in an essay he wrote in 1989, titled, The End of History. He proposes that human history be viewed in terms of the battle of ideologies which have reached an end, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and with no alternative challengers at hand. Soviet socialism was not superior to the West in any respect but was a monumental failure.[3]

For Hegel, historical advance did not proceed through a series of smooth transitions. Once the potentialities of a particular society had been realized in the creation of a certain mode of life, its historical role was over; its members became aware of its inadequacies, and the laws and institutions they had previously accepted unquestioningly were now experienced as fetters, inhibiting further development and no longer reflecting their deepest aspirations. The middle class has been stripped of jobs, income and security. Thus, the majority realizes that the middle class is under attack from the existing economic system, and opportunities once available to the previous generation, have disappeared.

During the Cold War the writings of Hayek played an important part in countering the messages from communism. The 1957 launch of the Russian satellite, Sputnik, had many in the West wondering if the advances in science reflected the strength of the collective system. In the end, the free market system triumphed over planned economy processes. However, we now see that Hayek’s writing’s that were previously accepted unquestioningly, have been used to justify a growing oligarchy at the top of the world economic pyramid. This ideology of minimal government and regulations no longer reflects the aspirations of the majority of the people. It is responsible for the growing economic split between a small group at the top of the economic system and the rest of society. The consequence of this growing income gap between the rich and the poor is the loss of freedom for the majority. The economic debacle of 2007 aggravated the situation. Starting one’s life in a poor economy can translate into lower earnings that translate into lower earnings and less career attainment over a lifetime.

In the 21st century, the epigenetics revolution is rewriting our understanding of genetics disease and inheritance. From believing that our biological fates were written in our genes, it is now recognized that the environment, and more specifically our perception of the environment, directly controls our behavior and genetic activity. Individuals are much more sensitive to exposures from their environment, diet and lifestyles than previously thought. How we deal with epigenetic harms implicates the underlying fairness and justice of our social contract. How we develop mentally and physically has a tremendous impact upon our inherent capabilities and our set of life opportunities. There is a relationship between poor health as a mechanism for intergenerational transmission of poverty. Children born into poor families have poorer health as adults; as a result earn lower wages as adults. For the first time in history, children in North America will end up poorer than their parents, and have shorter lifespans than their parents.

In the second decade of the 21st century the top 5% control economic resources of the world. A new world aristocracy that forms a global community or class system connected by interest and ideology has appeared. This new aristocracy opposes increases in their taxes and the tightening of the regulations of their economic activities. They believe this (low taxes) is driving the whole system. The new global aristocracy is a system in which privileged groups in both developed and developing countries act (often in concert) to protect their own position at the expense of others. Conservative foundations in America fund free-market-oriented programs at universities and subsidize the research of right wing intellectuals to develop free market rhetoric that is elaborate and intellectually vacuous in order to distract the public and legislators from focusing on issues.

A new definition of freedom has emerged during the second decade of the 21st century that eludes the majority of citizens – the freedom of choices to reach their full potential. The increasing economic gap means less social mobility. Inequality is the biggest factor affecting the health or wellness of the population. The health consequences of economic inequality have a profound effect on creating poverty and weakening social structures. The link between socio-economic status and health outcomes is well documented. High socio-economic status is associated with better health, and more equitable and inclusive societies tend to be healthier societies. Why are higher income and social status associated with better health? It is not about the absolute wealth in society, but how it is distributed.

A large-scale British study reported in 1999 that the magnitude of health inequities increases in apparent response to increasing disparities in wealth and income. These authors concluded that the key means of reducing inequalities in health was reducing inequalities in income and wealth. Wilkerson (1996) brought together much of the research showing that societies with greater poverty have higher mortality rates across the entire population. That means the well off in in economically unequal American communities have greater rates of health problems than the well off in relatively equal communities.[4]

There are policies that can close the gap between the rich and the poor. One is to address the value gap – introduce the living wage, and support the formation of unions. The income gap can be addressed through changes to the tax code rather than incremental changes to minimum wages. Then there is the common goods gap – make housing (the greatest drain on the income of the poor) more affordable. In addition, provide a high quality child care system, and improve public education and access to higher education to assist social mobility. The key policy that will reduce inequalities in health and provide individuals with the freedom and opportunities for choices that enable them to reach their potential is the reduction of the inequalities in income and wealth.

[i] “George Orwell: The Fight Against Totalarianism

[2] “Gorbachev’s Speech to the U.N. December 7, 1988.”

[3] “The End of History and the Last Man.”

[4] Raphael, Dennis. “Poverty, Income Inequality, and Health in Canada.” The CSJ Foundation for Research and Education: Toronto June 2002.


Posted in economic inequality, Global Economy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Part 2 of 3: Defining Freedom in the 21st Century

Hegel developed a philosophy of action in which the spirit is always active in the search of some aim, in realizing one’s potential or self-actualization. Hegel believed history is a progressive realization of freedom. Feuerbach’s critique of Hegel’s philosophy is that (any) idealism is an impediment to human freedom and self-understanding. Feuerbach believed that religion must be exposed as a purely human creation in order that humans may become self-conscious and free. For Marx history is the progressive development toward the socialization of the means of life. Money is impediment to human freedom and self-understanding. Marx avoided the idea of humanness or individualism in order to focus his theory on capital, the proletariat and surplus value to strengthen his theory, as he led the revolt of labor against capitalism.

In the 19th century two philosophers, Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, stood out with their reaction against the ‘impersonal’ rationalism of the Enlightenment, and stressed the importance of the individual. Kierkegaard (1813-1855), the ‘father of existentialism,’ believed that one must choose one’s own way without the aid of universal objective standards. Against the traditional view that moral choices involved an objective judgment of right and wrong, existentialists argued that moral choice involved objective judgments of right or wrong. It was necessary to create one’s own values in a world in which traditional values no longer governed. For Kierkegaard, the real problem of life was to discover one’s true talent, secret gift, authentic vocation.

For Nietzsche, the values (culture and traditions) of the dominant society (with an ideology consistent with its interests) were oppressing the emergence of a new generation of stronger individuals and a more vigorous society and culture. Darwin effectively showed that searching for a true definition of species was not only futile but unnecessary since the definition of a species is something temporary, something which will change over time, without any permanent, lasting and stable reality. Nietzsche strived through his philosophical work to do the same for cultural values. He substituted Darwin’s adaptive fitness with creative power – for Nietzsche, everything is in flux. Ideas should change as soon as information and input changes. The goal of the good life was self-fulfillment achieved by overcoming the conflicts in both natural and cultural environments through free personal choices.

After the Second World War, Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992), one of the most important economists of the 20th century, developed a definition of freedom by blending the ideas of John Locke and Adam Smith to create a social contract that supported laissez-faire capitalism. His writings had a major influence on market liberalization strategies, which included discrediting government economic planning. Hayek observed: “Equality of the general rules of law and conduct, however, is the only kind of equality conducive to liberty and the only equality which we can secure without destroying liberty. Not only does liberty have nothing to do with any other sort of equality, but it is even bound to produce inequality in many respects. This is the necessary result and part of the justification of individual liberty: if the result of individual liberty did not demonstrate that some manners of living were more successful than others, much of the case for it would vanish.”[i]

In his book, Road to Serfdom, published in England in 1944, Hayek developed ideas defending capitalism while attacking socialism. The problem with Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, Hayek claimed, was not (only) the non-democratic nature of the political systems, but the (centralized) economic planning being pursued. He warned “most of those who want to restrict private initiative in economic life do so in the hope of creating more freedom in spheres which they value higher [but it]… is not possible without a thorough curtailment of individual liberty.” Hayek claimed, small government, free markets, low taxes, would provide prosperity in the long run.[ii] With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, these economic ideas went mainstream in the West.

The World Health Organization (WHO), defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Wellness was not just absence of negative elements (illness and disease) but the presence of positive elements (physical health and happiness). Wellness is about reaching one’s full potential as a person. Wellness is a decision we make, and we take personal responsibility for achieving it. The WHO defines wellness as the optimal state of health of individuals and groups. There is a growing body of evidence about what makes people healthy.

Inequities reduce the freedom and opportunities for an individual to achieve wellness or good health and, in particular, to reach his full potential. The facts are, as income inequality increases, social mobility decreases. Reduced income translates to reduced wellness – the process by which a person is always seeking and moving towards his or her own highest potential – being the best you can possibly be. A big part of wellness is having meaning in one’s life and the sense that one is contributing to the world whether it be making a difference in the lives of friends and family, ecology or vocation. This has a great deal to do with attitude. Not surprisingly, much stress in in society can be attributed to economic inequality. In fact, economic inequality may have more of effect on our overall health than any other single factor. Research has shown economic inequality to be a primary cause of illness.[iii]

The completion of the human genome project in 2003, also saw the demise of the genetic paradigm and the revival of the epigenetic approach. From believing that our biological fates were written in our genes, it was now recognized that the environment, and more specifically, our perception of the environment, directly controls our behavior and genetic activity. Epigenetics is the new science that studies the complex mechanisms of genes being turned on and off according to environmental ques. The genome is very stable; mutations are seldom. On the other hand, the environment is very volatile. In order for the species to survive the genome has mechanisms that respond to the volatile environment by turning on and off genes. As the environment can influence genes, lifestyle can impact the expression of our genes. Early studies show an association between epigenetic marks (in the human genome) and socio-economic status. This has implications for population health and chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease.

Epigenetics brings another dimension to self-care. Behaviour and environment can affect how genes are expressed. Epigenetics empowers people to take control of their health by making choices that may override their genetic code, such as diet, exercise, and personal attitude. An individual needs to access this epigenetic information, thus, he requires access to health care for prevention, appropriate monitoring and treatment. Much of health care is about prevention; as well as it maintains, or restores functioning (capacity) that is normal for an individual.

Through public policy and health protection, epigenetics provides a mechanism (for all) to assess their environment and adjust their genetic response accordingly. Various factors – diet, life styles and environmental exposures, can affect the epigenetic status of humans (and other organisms), helping to create their environment. Environmental events play a role in evolution by altering the way our genes are or are not expressed. Such alterations are temporary and reversible, but they can still be passed on, meaning that conditions affecting a parent may also affect the offspring of that parent. A wide range of environmental social and nutritional exposures can dramatically control how genes are expressed without changing the underlying DNA. How we develop mentally and physically has a impact upon our inherent capabilities and our set of life options. Wellness is control over how our genes are expressed or used – about turning off adverse genes and expressing healthy ones.

In the 21st century, the epigenetics revolution is rewriting our understanding of genetics, disease, and inheritance. Individuals are much more sensitive to exposures from their environment, diet and lifestyles than previously thought. Epigenetics identifies that certain exposures to toxins, especially during periods of developmental vulnerability, can cause long-term harm to exposed individuals, and sometimes their progeny. Environment and food play key roles in epigenetic changes and in the development of chronic diseases. Epigenetic control of our genes represents a fundamental shift in the way we understand our world. Because of the role epigenetics plays in human development and in disease causation, there is an important role in regulating epigenetic harms.

Epigenetic harms impact on an individual’s capabilities or freedom of life choices. Preserving human potential as a freedom and protecting human capabilities in an equitable manner from epigenetic harms become an important aspect of public health goals. In the capabilities approach people are in a position to avail themselves of the freedom and have choices and opportunity – not affected by access to education and healthcare. Such a system protects the individual’s opportunity to pursue functions (by choosing meaningful ends) within their developing capabilities set. Regulation of epigenetic risks is challenging; risks cannot be calculated with any certainty. The capabilities approach addresses (1) what impacts do particular epigenetic risks have on our ability to exercise free choices? (2) are these risks avoidable? (3) and how are these risks distributed across society? The June 1992 Declaration of the Rio Conference on Environment and Development, Principle 15 reads: “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for post-postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”[iv]

For the protection of all members of the community, a new regulatory framework is required to address epigenetic risk from specific substances (food and environmental chemicals), even if conclusive proof of disease causation cannot be established. It is necessary to introduce the requirement of generating epigenetic risk data to producers of suspected harmful substances. When evidence gives us good reason to believe that an activity, technology, or substance may be harmful, we should act to prevent harm – to protect public health, environment and the future of our children. If we always wait for scientific certainty, people will suffer and die and the natural world may suffer irreversible damage. The goal is to protect human capability in an equable manner.

Why is this important now? Harmful toxins have accumulated over the years, and many have been identified as epigenetic harms associated with chronic disease. Epigenetics explains how environmental factors can switch genes on and off, based on choices we make. Epigenetic studies will predict what environments need to be created womb to tomb in order to protect us, and minimize the risk of chronic diseases.

Wellness is not about the absence of disease. Wellness is control over how our genes are expressed or used – about turning off adverse genes and expressing healthy ones. It is movement towards the highest genetic potential, in which a person is always seeking and moving towards his or her own highest potential – being the best you can possibly be. Living life to the fullest possible extent is made possible by life style changes, which enhance physical, mental and spiritual health.

Wellness is about reaching one’s full potential. Controlling epigenetic harms, or environmental harms, is about treating an individual’s potential as a freedom. The environment, heredity, chance, friends, luck, (things over which one has little control), plays a greater role in wellness than personal life style choices. Governments have a role in preserving human potential as a freedom.[v] The amount of good health or wellness an individual enjoys is a more important measure of freedom than the amount (size) of government or taxes enjoyed.

[i] Hayek, Friedrich A. “Equality, Value and Merit.” <;.

[ii] Hayek, Friedrich. (07 Jan 2010) “What Price a Planned Economy.”

[iii] Rabin, Mitchell. “The Stress of Inequality and its Powerful Effect on Health.” (12 March 2011) <;.

[iv] “Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.” < Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?documentid=78&articleid=1163>.

[v] Khan, F. “Preserving human potential as freedom: a framework for regulating epigenetic harms.” <;.

Posted in Global Economy | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment