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 conservatives 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.

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.” http://www.iww.org/history/library/misc/origins_of_mayday

2 “Syndicalist League of North America” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syndicalist_League_of_North_America

3 Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Facts http://biography.yourdictionary.com/elizabeth-gurley-flynn

4 McElroy, Wendy. (1981) “The Culture of Individualist Anarchism in the Late Nineteenth Century.” https://mises.org/journals/jls/5_3/5_3_4.pdf

5 Rocker, Rudolf. “Anarchosyndicalism” (originally published in 1938 by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd.) http://www.spunk.org/library/writers/rocker/sp001495/rocker_as1.html

6 Horsman, Greg. “1984 and Big Brother.” (01 Jan 2014) http://questioningandskepticism.com/2014/01/01/1984-and-big-brother/

7 Berman, Russell and Bernie Becker (01 April 2014) “Ryan’s $5 trillion cuts set midterm debate.” http://thehill.com/policy/finance/202389-ryans-5-trillion-cuts-set-midterm-debate

8 McKenna, Barry. (14 Sept 2014) “Corporations vs. Canada: The threat of treaty shopping.” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/international-business/corporations-vs-canada-the-threat-of-treaty-shopping/article20593830/

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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 http://www.spunk.org/texts/writers/proudhon/sp001863.html

2. The Revolutionary Ideas of Bakunin (07/24/2008)   http://anarchism.pageabode.com/anarcho/the-revolutionary-ideas-of-bakunin

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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 http://www.freeradical.co.nz/content/58/Orwell.php

[2] “Gorbachev’s Speech to the U.N. December 7, 1988.” http://isc.temple.edu/hist249/course/Documents/gorbachev_speech_to_UN.htm

[3] “The End of History and the Last Man.” http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/fukuyama.htm

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

 

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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.” < http://www.woldww.net/classes/General_Philosophy/Hayek-equality.htm&gt;.

[ii] Hayek, Friedrich. (07 Jan 2010) “What Price a Planned Economy.” http://mises.org/daily/4004

[iii] Rabin, Mitchell. “The Stress of Inequality and its Powerful Effect on Health.” (12 March 2011) <http://www.naturalnews.com/031674_inequality_health.html&gt;.

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

[v] Khan, F. “Preserving human potential as freedom: a framework for regulating epigenetic harms.” <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21243846&gt;.

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Part 1 of 3: The Struggle for Freedom

Western Europe once had a deeply religious culture, in which theology was the main discipline. Then theology developed philosophy, and it was soon swallowed and eaten by its child. Theology began to lose ground to philosophy in the 17th century, and by the 18th century philosophy was the dominant discipline in the intellectual life of Western Europe. The Enlightenment was stimulated by the scientific revolution. Stunning successes in understanding the physical world through processes of logic and observation encouraged the belief that similar progress might be made in the area of political economy and social 
relations.

It was not long, of course, until philosophy was forced to yield its centricity. With the advent of the Romantic movement in the 19th century, history began to dominate all disciplines. Many of the libertarian and abolitionist movements of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were engendered by the romantic philosophy – the desire to be free of convention and tyranny, and the new emphasis on the rights and dignity of the individual.

Georg Hegel (1770-1831) who saw a world governed by individual self-interest believed that we are controlled by external forces, and are nothing but pawns in the game. The classical liberal describes freedom as the absence of restraints. A negative definition means little without the positive freedom to act upon things. For Hegel freedom is realized through self-determination and self-actualization. Hegel sees ideas in the abstract but embodied in society and institutions that change. He believed there is no role for individual freedom, even though one may behave as he likes, he is not free. Freedom is more than one’s own capacity for decisions. Individuals must realize that even laissez-fare manipulates you.

For Hegel, history was where real insight into the human condition could be found. He saw events always moving forward, in perpetual change, conflicting ideas with destabilization leading to a new situation. The random linear process goal of history led to the greater development, realization and understanding of human freedom. It was about the spirit – there was the process of change with the end point of the mind coming to know itself. Absolute knowledge equals absolute freedom.

To understand the process of change described by Hegel we ask three Ws and one H: what, why, how and where. What should be a need-led process, and should respond to concerns. For Hegel what is the changing spirit or the mind, always in search of some aim, realizing potential. Why should be change or outcome focused. Hegel claims individuals are in various states of alienation – the tension created between the way things are and the way they ought to be. The answer to the how question helps you understand the way in which the task or activity is actually done. The process should involve all those desiring change, including communities. For Hegel the process is the dialectic. The conflict between two opposing views (thesis and antithesis) result in change (synthesis.) The dialectic is a dynamic process: Once a synthesis is produced, it becomes a thesis, which inevitably brings forth its own antithesis. Where describes the location of the users or stakeholders. Hegel sees ideas as abstract, but embodied in society and institutions (at the political level), that change.

Hegel turned to the study of Greek history to determine why freedom was so elusive. The fall of Athens had been brought about by the symbiosis between the individual and society being shattered following a combination of events – rise in trading empire, rise of aristocracy and imperialist wars. As the wealth of the polis increased, political power fell into the hands of a few. Those in power ruled in their own interest without regard to public welfare. The fall of the polis, Hegel explains, was the result of the spirit departing from it. The death of the spirit in a people involves the loosening of a sense of the citizen’s identification with his state.

Hegel believed humanity is not to be conceived according to the mechanistic models of 18th-century materialism. Essentially humans are free, but the freedom that constitutes their nature can achieve fulfillment only through a process of struggle, and of overcoming obstacles that is itself the expression of human activity. It was in this sense that Hegel claimed that spirit was “at war with itself … it has to overcome itself as its most formidable obstacle.” In concrete terms, this meant that 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. Thus, each phase of the historical process could be said to contain the seeds of its own destruction and to “negate” itself; the consequence was the emergence of a fresh society, representing another stage in a progression whose final outcome was the formation of a rationally ordered community with which each citizen could consciously identify himself and in which there would therefore no longer exist any sense of alienation or constraint.

Before the Enlightenment human beings were generally considered in terms of how they fit into social hierarchies and communal institutions, but following enlightenment the view was that the individual rather than society as a whole, is the most important entity. Self-criticism and self-denial were no longer in vogue, replaced by self-expression, self-realization and self-approval. Hegel explains the modern state is the institution that will correct this imbalance in modern culture. Although economic and legal individualism play a positive role in society, Hegel foresees the need for institutions that will affirm common bonds and ethical life while preserving individual freedom. He believes, for example, that the state must regulate the economy and provide for the poor in society and that there should be ‘corporative’ institutions somewhat similar to modern trade unions, in which different occupational groups affirm a sense of social belonging and a feeling of being connected to a larger society. According to him, religion (or his philosophical interpretation of it) fulfilled man’s constant psychological need to have an image of himself and of the world by which he could orient himself.

Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) played a role in the transition of post-Hegelian philosophy in traditional idealism to various forms of naturalism, materialism and positivism, influencing themes developed further by others. Feuerbach joins the great tradition of materialist philosophers who, taking as the point of departure for their views man’s actual state in nature and in society, could see that the idealistic solutions were illusory. The hard fact that man’s natural drives were permitted no satisfactory outlet, showed freedom and reason to be a myth, as far as social realities were concerned. Hegel had committed the unpardonable offense against the individual of constructing a realm of reason on the foundations of an enslaved humanity. Despite all historical progress, Feuerbach cries out, man is still in need, and the pervasive fact philosophy encounters is ‘suffering.’ This, and not cognition, is primary in man’s relation to the objective world. ‘Thought is preceded by suffering.’ And no realization of reason is in the offing until that suffering has been eliminated.

For Feuerbach religion must be exposed as a purely human creation in order that humans may become self-conscious and free. Feuerbach replaced reason with sense perception. Feuerbach’s critique of Hegel: Philosophy is an impediment to human freedom and self- understanding. Feuerbach’s radical move is seeing the dialectic as a dialectic of consciousness that is rooted in the very condition of material human existence, such as human needs, wants, and interests. By material, Feurbach means something real or existing, as opposed to consciousness alone. There is no need for the God of good qualities of the human species, Feuerbach believed, the act of liberation (freedom) can be brought about through a simple reformation of people’s consciousness.[i]

Karl Marx (1818-1883) owes his philosophical awakening to Feuerbach. With regard to religion, then, Marx believed, we don’t project an ideal, unalienated realm in religion for nothing; we are desperately trying to deal with ourselves in an unhappy, oppressed, dismal situation. Marx’s most significant criticism of Feuerbach is that the latter interpreted reality, but did not change it. Materialism argues that the actual reality of the surrounding world determines the way people think and what they believe. In contrast to religious and other ‘idealist’ philosophies, Marx’s materialist conception of history asserted, “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.” (Karl Marx, Preface to “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy,” 1859).

Marx’s theory is founded upon his observation that, within the capitalist mode of production, workers invariably lose determination of their lives and destinies by being deprived of the right to conceive of themselves as the director of their actions. For Marx alienation of man created by the fact people’s own labour rules them, giving workers little control over what they do.[ii]

All men are free, but the mechanisms of the labor process govern the freedom of them all. Marx’s shift to economics made money the impediment to human freedom and self-understanding. Marx’s theory of history is centered around the idea that forms of society rise and fall as they further and then impede the development of human productive power. Marx used Hegel’s theory of the dialectic to back up the theory of communism.

Karl Marx observed societies with poverty and inequality, and, in response, developed a theory based on exploitation and class antagonism. Marx focused on the labour theory of value, and profit as the extraction of surplus value from the exploited proletariat. In the need to focus on the proletariat, the individual disappeared from his philosophy, and personal freedom became an abstract concept. Lenin adapted Marx’s ideas to support the Russian Revolution run by a minority, and inserted a band of revolutionaries at the head of an elitist revolution onto an unwilling population. Lenin established a small group, that evolved into an oligarchy, to control the USSR.[iii] Marx sought to end exploitation, but the system that sought to apply his ideas gave rise to its own version of exploitation of the weak by the strong.

The thinkers of the Enlightenment believed that ‘truth’ discovered through reason would free people from the shackles of corrupt institutions, such as the church and the aristocracy, whose misguided traditional thinking had kept people subjected in ignorance and superstition. Voltaire (1694-1778), an outspoken writer known for his brilliant wit and sarcasm, preached freedom of thought. To Immanuel Kant, combining free will and reason creates the capacity for free choice. Man’s purpose, Kant claimed, was to develop fully his capacities for reason and freedom (free will).

Like Kant, Hegel believed that we do not perceive the world or anything in it directly and all that our minds have access to is the ideas of the world – images, perceptions, and concepts. For Kant and Hegel, the only real reality we know is virtual reality. Hegel’s idealism differs from Kant’s in two ways. First Hegel believed that the ideas we have of the world are social, which is to say, the ideas that we possess individually are for the most part shaped by the ideas that other people possess. Our minds have been shaped by the thoughts of other people through the language we speak, the traditions and mores of our society, and the cultural and religious institutions of which we are a part.

The second way Hegel differs from Kant is that he sees the spirit or collective consciousness of a society evolving in a system called ‘a dialectic’, a progression in which each successive movement emerges a solution to the contradictions inherent in the preceding movement with the development of freedom and the consciousness of freedom. There can be no progress, according to Hegel, without struggle. The synthesis that emerges from this struggle then discovers its own internal contradiction and starts the process anew. For Hegel, the struggle against alienation becomes the attainment of freedom.[iv] The necessary ingredient for Hegel’s philosophy was freedom of action, not just freedom of thought.

[i] “Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach.” http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ludwig-feuerbach/

[ii] “capitalist mode of production.” https://www.boundless.com/sociology/definition/capitalist-mode-of-production/

[iii] Horsman, Greg. Evolutionary Economics and Equality: An Age of Enlightenment. 2013. p. 177.

[iv] “GEORG WILHELM FRIEDRICH HEGEL (1770–1831).” http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/hegel/themes.html

 

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Social Class, Government, and Dissemination of Information

The Enlightenment of the 18th century opened up the floodgates of new ideas, new thoughts on everything from the way man saw government and his own role in society to the way scientific ideas were conceived, demonstrated, and above all, published and shared with the world. During this period there arose three major areas of concern for the philosopher: the discovery of the underlying laws which govern society, the proper structure of government, and dissemination of knowledge of the material world.

Newton began his career with mathematics work that would eventually evolve into the entire field of calculus. From there, he conducted experiments in physics and math that revealed a number of natural laws that had previously been credited to divine forces. After Newton’s discovery of the laws that governed nature it was believed that through reasoning it would be possible for one to look past the traditions and conventions that had dominated Europe in the past, and to make decisions for oneself – to discover the laws that governed society.

It was believed that through the use of rationality and improved technology there would be progressive improvement of people’s lives both in terms of physical comfort and intellectual sophistication. Denis Diderot recruited a group of intellectuals in France to write and publish the first systematic encyclopedia of human knowledge. This group hoped to enlighten the public by encouraging critical thinking, promoting scientific research and by publishing information people could use to understand their world and improve their existence.

The Enlightenment writers were concerned about the inequality of the existing system and introduced questioning and critical thinking to replace the dead weight of tradition and challenge the blind faith in institutions. The philosophers wanted to understand the rationale behind inequality, were particularly interested if there were natural reasons for it, or if inequality came wholly from social conventions. Voltaire criticized the class system of the time – a rigid class system based on inherited positions of nobility and wealth – as being a system exclusively dominated by aristocrats who possess all the financial, political and social power.

Charles Murray claims there is a class structure in the US based on IQ. In his latest book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, Murray promotes a trickle down value system.  Rather than explain social problems in economic terms, he explains social problems in moral terms. The gap that Murray has identified is illustrated by the fact of a marriage rate of 83% in upper middle class neighbor hood compared to 48% for working class contemporaries. So instead of contributing economically, the wealthy should be contributing morally to healing a culture gap (which began with the disintegration of national values by the counterculture of the 1960s). The attack on women by the conservatives in the US is the claim that workingwomen weaken the family and its adherent social values.

Murray claims a new upper class and a new lower class in the US have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship – and claims divergence has nothing to do with income inequality and has grown during good economic times and bad. A new upper class with advanced education has appeared. Murray has produced a book-length argument placing responsibility for rising inequality and declining mobility on widespread decay in the moral fiber of white, lower-status, less well-educated Americans, putting relatively less emphasis on a similar social breakdown among low-status, less-educated Americans of all races. Murray alleges that those with higher IQs now exhibit personal and social behavioral choices in areas like marriage, industriousness, honesty and religiosity that allow them to enjoy secure and privileged lives. Whites in the lower social-economic strata are less cognitively able – in Murray’s view – and thus less well equipped to resist the lure of the sexual revolution and doctrines of self-actualization, so they succumb to higher rates of family dissolution, non-marital births, worklessness and criminality. This interaction between IQ and behavioral choice, in Murray’s framework, is what has led to the widening income and cultural gap.[i]  In such a system, he believes, the free market must provide income to create the social processes.

Murray is the not first to propose that the plight of the poor is due to character weakness. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) advocated utilitarianism as the basis for government reforms in the early 19th century. He claimed that it was possible to decide by scientific means what was morally justifiable by applying the principles of utility. He advocated that actions were right if they tended to produce ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.’ In his day, the ‘people’ were individuals who could vote – workers at that time did not have the vote. While he died in 1832, his ideas were applied to the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, with the goal to reduce the rates of poverty in the country in order to reduce the cost to the landowners.

In 19th century England most members of the working class likely slipped into poverty at some point in their lives because of such things as unemployment, sickness or old age. They had to rely on their friends, children or credit in hard times, and this was considered proper as it encouraged the poor to work. Poverty was not seen as a social problem – destitution was felt to be the result of character weakness. The Poor Law reform that reorganized the workhouses was expected to work wonders for the moral character of the workingman, because it was believed that poverty was caused by the bad habits of the poor.[ii]

When an individual fell into debt he had to report to a poorhouse, or workhouse, to live and work until he or she had paid off their debt. The poorhouse was bleak living conditions, provided with the bare essentials and bland food – the men and women were segregated so that they could not ‘breed’. The goal of an efficient workhouse was to ensure conditions within the workhouse were worse than the lowest paying jobs on the outside. Bentham’s pain pleasure principle was in play. The Poor Law did not deal with physical/mental ill health, old age, or loss of parents. This 19th century plan to instill morality into the poor was an unmitigated failure.

During the 19th century, the size of many British cities increased rapidly as a result of the industrial revolution.  Housing, in turn, became overcrowded and epidemics were a major problem. After the influenza and typhoid epidemics of 1837 and 1830 Edwin Chadwick (1800-1890), a lawyer and social reformer, was asked by the government to carry out an inquiry into sanitation in Britain.

His report was published in 1842 and it claimed that disease was directly related to living conditions and that there was a desperate need for public health reform. He advocated government intervention (take steps) to protect the lives of people living in Britain’s towns and cities. He claimed that public health should be administered locally so as to encourage people to participate in their own protection. One part of his advocacy to protect and improve health included changes to building codes to protect the health of the laboring classes by amendments of existing building and regulation of new buildings to address the conditions in the towns – “in the great proportion of cases where neither private benevolence nor enlightened views can be expected to prevail extensively.”[iiiiChadwick noted that it was necessary to address issues of sewage and good water supplies before actually being able to determine the contribution of crowded housing to health problems. He was appalled at the number of people admitted to the workhouses and became convinced that if the health of the working population could be improved then there would be a drop in the numbers of people on relief.

Chadwick used an economic argument to drive change – loss of revenue to the government because of early death of so many people. He believed that a healthier population would be able to work harder and would cost less to support, and if all of his recommendations were carried out the average life expectancy for the laboring classes would increase by at least 13 years. The report was not acted on until 1848 – following a general election, when a new government under Lord John Russell came to power. The 1848 parliament passed a Public Health Act that provided the formation of a Central Board of Health with powers to create local boards to oversee street cleaning, refuse collection, water supply and sewerage systems. This was the beginning of public health advocacy.

In spite of the scientific revolution, new ideas from science can take awhile to have an effect. Corporations have adopted the disinformation programs perfected by the tobacco industry over the past fifty years. 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 campaign – leaving public and law makers confused. Finally the tobacco control movement prevailed. It took a series of regulations and taxes to address the negative effects of smoking and create the opportunity to achieve wellness or good health – a process or quest by which a person always seeks and moves towards their own full potential.

Once the reality of the consequences of the economic debacle of 2008 set in that the pleasant retirement and the promise that one’s children would have a better life than their parents had been destroyed, many became angry and disillusioned. For the first time in history middle class children will likely end up poorer than their parents. The Occupy Wall Street protesters are connected by the anger of the common person against the banks for manipulating the system and nearly tanking the economy. Their manifesto becomes a list of items for corporations to clean up and become accountable. This includes rolling back the widespread tactics of misinformation that originated with the tobacco industry, and promote the political will to transform the system in fundamental ways.

In the second decade of the 21st century we now realize the middle class has been stripped of jobs, income, and security. We need to replace socioeconomic status with class as the significant structural factor in determining health. Class represents structural characteristics of society. Recently the structural class perspective is rapidly increasing. Social inequalities, such as income, are a consequence of structural change in class power. It is about the rise of business power and the decline in labor power (as part of the era of globalization) along with the attacks of the “new right” on the welfare state – consequently there is a rapid rise in social, income and health inequalities. The global class system (now considered the new aristocracy) is described as 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. Under globalization the dominant business class no longer needs to accommodate citizen pressures within national boundaries.

The accumulated impacts of human activity over the past two centuries are now threatening our continued well-being. Under The Four Systems Conditions identified by scientists: “The problem is not the mining of heavy metals, or the use of chemicals or compounds produced by society or disruption of natural process, or even temporarily interfering with people’s capacity to meet their basic needs (unemployment). It is, rather, our industrial system has developed so that substances extracted from the earth and produced by society will continue to build up indefinitely in natural systems. This means a progressive build up of pollutants and substances that not only harm us directly but damage natural processes that have taken billions of years to develop.”[iv]

Today economics trumps politics – the trickle down economics belief system supports industrial and environmental deregulation for job growth. Scientific information that should be used to make decisions on sustainability is manipulated or hampered by underfunding of regulators and through the influence of lobbyists. Consequently there are many toxins (such as endocrine disruptors) in the environment that the majority of people are unknowingly exposed to. The harshest costs of modern economic practices fall upon ecosystems and populations with little current economic power or value, including generations not yet born. In thirty short years this economic system has created a class system in Canada and the US with increasing inequality between the wealthy and the rest of society. Class, now an important social determinant of health, needs to be addressed to ensure the social mobility necessary for all individuals have an opportunity to reach their potential.


[i] Edsall, Thomas B. “What to do about ‘Coming Apart.’ (12 February 2012 New York Times. <http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/what-to-do-about-coming-apart/&gt;.

[iii] Chadwick, Sir Edwin. Inquiry into the Conditions of the Poor. (184)

[iv] “The Four Systems Conditions.” <http://www.thenaturalstep.org/en/canada/the-system-conditions&gt;.


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Another Inconvenient Truth

An inconvenient truth is a truth no one likes to admit, and thus it is inconvenient and causes problems or difficulties for someone. The truth about the climate crisis is an inconvenient one that means we are going to have to change the way we live our lives. Our climate crisis may at times appear to be happening slowly, but in fact it has become a true planetary emergency and we must recognize that we are facing a crisis.  The 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, starring former US Vice President Al Gore, did raise public awareness – we seem to be sitting on a ticking time bomb. So why is it that some leaders seem not to hear the clarion warnings? Big oil companies have spent millions of dollars over the last decade trying to confuse the public on global warming in order to maintain the status quo.

An Inconvenient Truth identified the facts that humans are responsible for climate change, and the effects can be devastating. Since the 1970s, the extent & thickness of the Arctic ice cap has diminished precipitously. There are now studies showing that if we continue with business as usual, the Arctic ice cap will completely disappear each year during summertime. At present, it plays a crucial role in cooling the Earth. Preventing its disappearance must be one of our priorities. The message is current technology can reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 1970 levels. This response involves multiple approaches: reduction of oil consumption by the more efficient use of electricity in heating and cooling systems, lighting, appliances and electronic equipment; increased vehicle efficiency by manufacturing cars that run on less gas and putting more hybrid and fuel-cell cars on the roads; reduction of use of fossil fuels can be achieved by changes in transport efficiency, such as designing better mass transit systems, and increased reliance on renewable energy technologies that already exist. All these actions impact the oil industry’s bottom line.

The correlation between temperature and carbon dioxide concentrations over the last 1,000 years – as measured in the ice core record from Greenland – is striking. Nevertheless, the so-called global warming skeptics often say that global warming is really an illusion reflecting nature’s cyclical fluctuations. To support their view, they frequently refer to the Medieval Warm Period. But the historical thermometer shows the vaunted Medieval Warm Period was tiny compared to the enormous increases in temperature of the last half-century. There is a debate over how fast the polar ice caps will melt – and detractors use databases with the minimal rise in ocean levels excluding Greenland and Antarctica (because researchers could not quantify the amount of melt, not because it will not be significant). The documentary suggested the conveyor (thermohaline circulation) in the north Atlantic would disappear, while IPCC model has it slowing down by 30%. We don’t know what the consequences of a slow down will be, or when it will appear, because it depends on the efforts put in place to reduce the pollution that causes global warming.  However, thousands of other facts in the movie have gone unchallenged.1

Cigarettes did not become popular until the development of automated equipment to make them in the 19th century. The tobacco industry was set up to reap huge profits. During the 1940s, the tobacco companies promoted the health benefits of cigarettes – preventing colds and relaxing individuals. Lung cancer was rare in the early 1900s but by the mid-20th century it had become an epidemic. A 1950 medical report described a casual association between the smoking of cigarettes and lung cancer.

In 1952, a Readers’ Digest article decried the negative health consequences of cigarette smoking. The following year was the first year in two decades that the sale of cigarettes dropped. The tobacco industry responded by setting up the Council for Tobacco Research. This was the beginning of a survival strategy. This meant denying the health consequences of smoking. Deceiving customers about the true nature of cigarettes through marketing and PR, as well as damaging the credibility of industry opponents. This including introducing distractions by drawing attentions to other agents like radon gas, asbestos, arsenic, silica and chromium. The tobacco companies joined many associations who typically oppose taxation and promoted themselves as supporters of freedom of expression, but blocked making available any information linking smoking to death or any negative outcomes.

In the 1960s lung cancer was only a few per 100,000 in non-smokers, but over 300 per hundred thousand in smokers. At the time, the Tobacco Research Council funded studies that suggested there was no cause and effect between smoking and lung cancer, and suggested that air pollution should be considered. A long series of court cases (all of which the tobacco lobby won) were based on a lack of evidence – the illness was not causally related. In 1978 scientists discovered the suppressor gene p53 – when it detects DNA damage p53 halts cell division and stimulates the DNA repair enzymes that fix the problem. Mutations that inactivate p53 remove a key barrier to unrestricted cell decision. Benzopyrene, a potent mutagen found in cigarette smoke, binds directly to the tumor suppressor gene p53 and mutates it into the inactive form. This was the link proving chemicals in cigarette smoke cause mutations causing lung cancer and after this study cigarette companies abandoned their claim that cigarettes have not been shown to cause cancer.

In spite of the scientific revolution, new ideas from science can take awhile to have an effect. Corporations have adopted the disinformation programs perfected by the tobacco industry over the past fifty years. 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 campaign – leaving public and law makers confused. The best example of recent public health advocacy and eventually control of a chronic disease was the success of 50 years of efforts in tobacco reduction strategy, and second-hand smoke control. 2

The chief propagandists of neoliberalism, were Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, who, in 1947, founded the Mont Pelerin Society, to coordinate the creation of an international network of think-tanks and foundations, to spread trickle down ideology.3 Subsequently, right-leaning think-tanks were established around the world “to improve public understanding … of the role of markets in solving economic and social problems.”  Hayek inspired Antony Fisher to establish the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in London during 1955, the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., during 1973, and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research in New York City during 1977 and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in 1981.  In turn, the Atlas Foundation supports a wide network of think tanks, including the Fraser Institute (established in 1974 in British Columbia). As the think-tanks evolved they took a page out of the tobacco industry playbook and incorporated it into their communication strategy.4

The oil industry is known for their heavy financial support to organizations that promote doubt over climate science, peddle fossil fuel use and attack clean energy alternatives. The Heritage Foundation has played a consistent role in promoting the oil ideology. Senator Jim DeMint became the president of the Heritage Foundation in 2013. As a Senator, he defended the fairness of giving billions of dollars in subsidies to Big Oil. As president of the Heritage Foundation he champions slashing funds for welfare programs to support a pro growth agenda. The problem, DeMint claims, is centralized planning of big government that doesn’t work – it creates a culture of dependency that can trap people. In fact, he is aware that Scott Winship of the Manhattan Institute scoured dozens of research studies and found no evidence that income inequality causes less economic mobility or slower economic growth. This he claims, supports his ideas that government programs are stifling upward mobility.5

The Fraser Institute, a right-leaning think tank, has supported climate-change skeptics for nearly a decade. The Fraser Institute has argued that right-to-work states have seen more rapid employment growth than those without. An analysis of the Ontario conservative party plans for right-to work would put the middle class out of reach for many. Using Statistics Canada’s Longitudinal Administrative Databank, a recent Fraser Institute study, Measuring Income Mobility in Canada, tracks a cohort of over a million Canadians from 1990 to 2009 to see how their incomes changed. Their study claims that the middle class is not in trouble – over the period studied low-income individuals were advancing economically.6 However, Michael Wolfson, a former statistician from Statscan, had previously used the same database and came to the opposite conclusion. The authors of the Fraser Institute  study have yet to publish the details of their income groups.7

A study reported in Psychological Science in 2011 claims that statisticians can prove almost anything. This is otherwise known as confirmation bias, or the tendency to favour ideas that fit with one’s settled positions. The study reports that it is not unusual for a researcher to falsely find evidence that an effect exists than to correctly find evidence that it does not. This report creates significant doubt on any researcher who claims his findings are ‘statistically significant.’ One field, which is losing credibility because of this factor, is psychology, and, in particular, social psychology that merges with economics. The root problem is researchers’ degrees of freedom – the flexibility on data use – that “lead to bias at best, and nonsense at worst”.8 The Fraser Institute article identifies the need for more details to determine the significance of the income mobility report. So just when there is a requirement for better data to target programs on poverty, Prime Minister Steven Harper, a politician well connected to the Fraser Institute, cancelled the long census form in 2013, that used to accompany tax forms – pandering to the speaking points of less government carries the day.

The agenda of organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Fraser Institute include 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. 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. The singular success of Occupy Wall Street is to put inequality on the political agenda. The truth is as income inequality increases social mobility decreases.

The tobacco industry was involved in over fifty years of minimizing the hazards of cigarette smoking through various methods, such as suggesting factors like air pollution may be involved in lung cancer. The consequence of these activities was the delaying of the decision to intervene with public health programs to reduce smoking in the general public to prevent chronic disease and early deaths. Another inconvenient truth, but a truth that must be addressed, nonetheless, is the increasing income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society and the subsequent loss of social mobility. There is a need in the 21st century to circumvent activities by various think-tanks to create doubt of the effects of inequality that prevents progressive government initiatives to address the issue. Changes are necessary to address wealth distribution to ensure the freedom of individuals to reach their full potential.

1Masters, Jeffery. “Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.” http://www.wunderground.com/resources/education/gore.asp

2Horsman, Greg. Evolutionary Economics and Equality: An age of Enlightenment, p 25-26.

3Horsman, Greg. ( 6 Oct 2012) “Trickle Down Ideology.” http://questioningandskepticism.com/2012/10/06/trickle-down-ideology/

4Livingston, David. The Fraser Institute and the Subversion of Canadian Society http://www.thedyinggod.com/node/108

5DeMint, Jim. (18 Jan 2014) Why President Obama’s Approach to Poverty Won’t Work http://blog.heritage.org/2014/01/18/president-obamas-approach-poverty-wont-work/

6Veldhuis, Niels, Lammam, Charles, Karabegovic. (Jan 2013) “The ‘poor’ are getting RICHER” http://www.fraserinstitute.org/uploadedFiles/fraser-ca/Content/research-news/research/articles/poor-are-getting-richer-jan2013.pdf

7Wolfson, Michael. (4 Dec 2012) “In Canada, “Rags to Riches” Is a Myth.” http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/michael-wolfson/income-inequality-canada_b_2234034.html

8Brean, Joseph. Statisticians can prove almost anything, a new study finds. (20 Nov 2011) http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/11/20/statisticians-can-prove-almost-anything-a-new-study-finds/

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