Individualism and the Social Determinants of Health

Individualism was established as a Western value during the Enlightenment. During the 19th century there was reaction to many of the values of the enlightenment, except individualism. Romanticism appeared which supported the individual listening more intently to his conscience (emotion) rather than the (rational) demands of society. Existentialism stressed the importance of the individual, people had to create their own values, as traditional values were no longer the standard. Nietzsche claimed that individual freedom required freedom from all external restraints on one’s behavior. Herbert Spencer believed the individual had the right to do anything except interfere in another man’s rights. Individualism fueled the American dream – the hope for a better quality of life and a higher living standard than their parents had.

The rise of capitalism and individualism grew in tandem. Individualism is the belief that one’s place in the social hierarchy – their occupational class, income and wealth, and power and prestige as well as the effects of such placement such as health and disease status – comes through one’s own effort. Neo-conservatism supports dominance of markets and market model. The main tenants are (1) markets are the best and most efficient allocators of resources in production and distribution, (2) societies are composed of autonomous individuals who have the ability to control their own destiny through their own decisions (3) competition is the major market vehicle for innovation – there is no need for entitlements.

During the 20th century Ayn Rand championed the American idea of rational selfishness and individualism. By the end of the 20th century, individualism, happiness and capitalism were part of core values of Western culture. During the last 30 years of the 20th century the self-esteem movement created a population with an exaggerated sense of entitlement and self-tolerance. For this group the world is viewed from an emotional rather than a rational perspective that allows personal feelings to override the distinction between right and wrong. This ushered in narcissism that influenced decision-making and accountability. Such individuals learn to tolerate their errors and personal flaws and come accept themselves as okay. For example, individuals in the financial services industry with self-tolerance and a sense of entitlement leveraging the market, brought chaos on the world financial system.

In the 21st century liberty and self-determination, available to those who have sufficient financial resources and cultural capital, is out-of-reach for much of the population. Oxfam notes that the divide between the rich and the rest of society tends to grow – the top 1% now control 50% of the world’s wealth. The cause of poverty is still seen as somehow being in the eye of the beholder by the right – a narrative in which poverty is seen as an innate moral failure of the poor themselves has taken hold. John Kenneth Galbraith, an economist who warned of the dangers of deregulated markets and corporate greed, observed, “the modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercise in moral philosophy, that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”1

Individualism, a powerful philosophy and practice in North America , limits the public space for social movement activism. The challenge is not the amount of democracy rather it has to do with public policies that determine how the resources of the nation are to be distributed among the population. One policy change process (pluralist) approach sees policy development as driven primarily by the quality of ideas in the public policy arena such as those judged as beneficial and useful will be translated into policies by governing authorities. An alternative materialist approach is that policy development is driven primarily by powerful interests who assure that their concerns receive rather more attention than those not so situated.

A primary component of individualism is individual responsibility – being accountable for one’s personal choices. It leads to placing the focus of responsibility for one’s health status within the motivations and behaviors of the individual rather than health status being a result of how a society organizes its distribution of a variety of resources. It fits perfectly with a declining welfare state and also influences responses to health inequities. Individualism creates barriers to the quality of social determinants of health outcomes.

The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries. However, the biomedical model also fits neatly with the dominant contemporary political discourse of market individualism, with its culture of opportunity over entitlement and its disavowal of the distributive role of the state.2

It has been well documented over the past few decades that health is determined by more than one’s genetic makeup and access to/use of health care services. Individual and community health are determined by a vast array of external conditions and factors that involve housing, education, transportation, social networks and income, to name a few. We now know that these social determinants of health explain why life expectancy and good health improve in some communities and fail to advance in others. That is, inequities in health – or avoidable health inequalities – occur because of the ‘circumstances in which people grow, live, work, and age, and the systems put in place to deal with illness.’

In most of the world, labour’s share of national income has fallen continuously and wages have stagnated under this regime of privatisation, deregulation and low taxes on the rich. Poor and unequal living conditions are the consequence of poor social policies and programmes, unfair economic arrangements, and bad politics. This variation among individuals and groups due to income is referred to as the “social gradient.” The social gradient illustrates that higher income levels result in better health outcomes, where lower income levels result in poorer health outcomes. Even in affluent countries such as the US and Canada the social gradient exists but is often masked by the high levels of overall population health status (Mikkonen & Raphael, 2010). The social gradient not only represents the effects of income on health but also the importance of income as a means of gaining access to other social determinants of health such as education, food, housing, recreational activities, and other societal resources.

Education plays an important role in determining health status of an individual, but is more likely to be linked to income, employment, and career success than it is to an individual having a greater store of personal knowledge. With higher levels of educational attainment, individuals have access to less hazardous jobs, and reduce their risks associated with workplace injuries. In addition, their education attainment provides more access to employment with job security, retirement plans, and health insurance that is not covered by government health programs.

Mikkonen and Raphael (2010) call attention to an issue that many people never consider: When is something a privilege or right, or a citizen right, as opposed to something that has to be purchased as a commodity? Take the example of health care. Some countries offer full coverage for all required health care including prescribed medications, dental care, and home care. Access to health care, in this example, is determined by the decisions of those in political power. But this concept also applies when we consider the important social determinants of freedom from poverty, housing, food, employment, and the ability to participate in society. In many developed nations, governments take on the responsibility of assuring access to these social determinants of health.3

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) has shown that disparities in health associated with socio-economic status are reflected in the costs to the health care system. Preventable disease and injuries drive higher hospitalization rates for lower-income groups. In other words, there is an excess hospitalization rate for people from lower-income groups, which is likely related to preventable causes of disease and injury. High hospital admission rates among patients with low socio-economic status for the treatment of chronic illnesses that, ideally, should be managed on an outpatient basis suggest that these patients face underlying barriers to optimal primary care.

Policy options that support the social determinants of health must reduce the incidence of poverty, reduce social exclusion, and restore and enhance social infrastructure. Policies to reduce the incidence of poverty include raising the minimum wage to a living wage, improving pay equity, restoring and improving income supports for those unable to gain employment. Policies to reduce social exclusion include ensuring families have sufficient income to provide their children with the means of attaining healthy development, assure access to educational, training and employment opportunities especially for the long-term unemployed, and create housing policies that provide enough affordable housing of a reasonable standard. Policies to restore and enhance infrastructure include restoring eligibility and level of employment benefits to ensure health, as well as address the working poor that includes universal welfare policy that has been effectively combined with job creation strategies that support gender equality and accessibility.

The road map leading to less inequality includes education, motivation, and activation. There is need for education by raising public awareness of the social determinants of health. The population has been subject to continuous messaging as to the benefits of trickle down economics that benefits everyone. This messaging lacks the societal effects of reduced government and regulations – increasing income and wealth inequality, persistent poverty and increased working poor. These factors impact the health and the opportunities for many to reach their full potential. The epidemic of chronic disease appearing in the US and Canada – obesity and type II diabetes – are the health consequences of present policies.

Motivation is about shifting public, professional and policy maker’s focus. There is a need to shift from the biomedical model that Nettleson calls the “holy trinity of risk”, of tobacco, diet and physical activity. This means within the traditional health sciences approach health problems remain individualized, localized, de-socialized and de-politicized. This fits the neo-conservative political ideology whereby social problems are being continually framed as individual ones rather that societal (e.g unemployment, poverty, racism, etc,). This dominant lifestyle health paradigm needs to shift to social determinants of health perspective by collecting and presenting stories about the impact social determinants of health have on people’s lives.

The most difficult role is to develop the political will to support action to refocus agendas on the determinants of health. The quality of any number of social determinants of health within a jurisdiction is shaped by the political ideology of governing parties. The rich, via lobbyists and Byzantine tax arrangements, actively work to stop redistribution. Inequality is not inevitable, it’s engineered.4 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 philosophy of individualism provides the support within the general population that keeps this system of privilege in place. However, the social determinants of health concept can help make the links between government policy, the market, and the health and well-being of citizens to surmount the barriers to change.5

  1. Horsman, Greg. (2012) Objectivism Lost and an Age of Disillusionment. P 26, 27,147
  2. “Social Determinants of Health.” http://www.who.int/social_determinants/sdh_definition/en/
  3. Commission on Social Determinants of Health (2008). Closing the Gap in a Generation: Health Equity through Action on the Social Determinants of Health. Final Report of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health. Geneva, World Health Organization.
  4. Moore, Susan. (19 Jan 2015) “Inequality isn’t inevitable, it’s engineered. That’s how the 1% have taken over.” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/19/inequality-inevitable-1-per-cent-growth
  5. Raphael, Dennis, Curry-Stevens, Ann and Toba Bryant. “Barriers to addressing the social determinants of health: Insights from the Canadian experience.” Health Policy 88(2008) p 222-235.
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The Neocons and Reality

Maureen Finnigan observes, “[Friedrich] Nietzsche assures us that ideal truth and pure reality are illusory, for they are utterly indemonstrable. Inasmuch as absolute truth and reality are unsubstantiated conjectures of the human mind, we are left with our perspective, which is not then imperfect or inferior truth, but the only truth. The truth is a claim made by an individual from a context in life. Hence, Nietzsche does not deny truth or reality, but provides an interpretation that redefines them. The sole opportunity for truth and the only experience of reality are from an individual’s perspective within life.”1

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, and 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. Narcissism is one such salve.

During the 1980s, school systems lowered educational standards to protect children from failure. This self-esteem movement has had a significant impact on the school system – in order to ensure positive self-esteem education standards were lowered, creating a milieu for extreme individualism. The world would be saved from crime, drug abuse and under-achieving through bolstering self-esteem. When there is too much self-esteem there are problems of self-tolerance, entitlement and narcissism. This person demands automatic and full compliance with his/her expectations. The cult of self-esteem that was created in the school system in the 1980s provides a pool of individuals in the 21st century who view the world from an emotional rather than a rational perspective, supporting extreme individualism and allowing personal feelings to over come the distinction between right and wrong.

Extreme individualism leads to narcissism and a declining sense of responsibility. Narcissism sets up the illusion that that once one has a feeling, then it must be reality. When narcissism is out of hand one can see many of the characteristics of deception between the rulers and the ruled (the people would be told what they need to now and no more) that Leo Strauss (whose writings have considerable influence on the neocons) believed were essential for modern politics. It is about bringing individuals of like thinking into their bubble, and attributing unique or perfect qualities to those with whom they associate. Strauss’ idea of a hierarchical system in which elites ruled is no different than the narcissist’s drive to be superior, to express distain for those whom they consider inferior, and to seize and control power over others that translates into the right to dominate the lesser creatures around themselves. Strauss was concerned the masses could not cope with this absence of absolute truth and required religion to provide moral values, but this did not apply the leaders of the movement.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, neocons, outraged by the excesses of the shattered society, created an intellectual underpinning for more traditional values. The neocons organized themselves as ‘intellectuals’ focused on shaping public policy. Neoconservative pundits have a tendency to assert something is true even if it is not and then repeat the assertion over and over again to give it credibility. After the Vietnam debacle neocons were concerned that Americans were afraid to make the effort and sacrifice required to sustain the exercise of power. In the late 1970s the neocons championed a renewed cold war and a huge military build up. The election of the Reagan administration saw the implementation of neoconservative evangelism of fear and consequently the beginning of the second cold war.

When traditional morality breaks down two things occur. A new ethic arises to replace the old worn out system and part of society tumbles into amorality or more correctly into nihilism and narcissism. With narcissism the greatest problem is profound disconnect from reality. These people believe that they are always right and that there is nothing that they cannot achieve. They tend to exploit others. In this system of self-tolerance their sense of entitlement leads to victimhood – placing blame for personal inadequacies elsewhere. They lack respect for authority and habitually lie to people. Students demand better grades than they earn. Corporate executives award themselves exorbitant salaries. Neoconservatives are involved in revisionism rather than admit to their mistakes predicting  events in Iraq.

In the 1970s the neoconservatives fretted about the demise of capitalism because it could not preserve bourgeois virtues. The neoconservative lament of declining moral standards, the destruction of the traditional family, and the loss of will at home and nerve abroad (the ‘Vietnam syndrome’). The problem of the family (in the 1970s) the fact that the husband had lost patriarchal authority to the working wife, which in turn, pulmugated a new range of groups and issues that were considered threatening that included drugs, busing, crime, welfare, taxes, abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, women’s rights, divorce and general permissiveness. Neocons insisted that only restoring the rule of traditional authorities that included organized religion, traditional moral values, and the family could save America.2

Neocons argued because of the economic pressures arising from economic demands (associated with the ‘excess of democracy’) on the welfare state, taxes had been raised, inflation had increased and the sole male breadwinner was not able to sustain his family. The answer to capitalism’s moral decline was an assault on the counterculture. Neocons blamed the ‘new class’ whom they defined more or less as government bureaucrats and those professions that benefited most from an expanded government. These people, they claimed, profited from capitalism’s loss of moral legitimacy, because it increased the moral standing and power of noncommercial ‘nonprofit’ institutions they were associated with. The neocons’ attacks on the new class allowed them to take on an identity dear to all intellectuals in democratic societies, that of defending the common man against the elite – the bureaucrats and professionals of the new class. The attraction of the ‘new class’ theory for many neocons lay in the way it allowed them to cloth their aristocratic reaction to the counterculture in democratic language.3

Through brand extension the Tea Party movement has created a strong anti-intellectual movement amongst conservatives lumping experts and science as the enemy labeling them ‘ivory tower intellectuals”. Alliance of the Christian right and neoconservative intellectuals in think tanks with the financial right moved the Republican Party to the right and manipulated public opinion under the influence of sympathizing media oligarchs like Rupert Murdock. Neoconservatives believe in using the government to actively work to achieve conservative goals. Although most neoconservatives still favor a small government, they argue that the government must act assertively in some areas to promote conservative values and policies.

Narcissism and the feeling of entitlement create a group who oppose rational evidence of a debate, leading to polarized positions. In this culture, angry individuals can be recruited to causes without a rational debate. They feel justified in asserting themselves, defending their perceived rights. Everything they say and do is for effect. The truth is irrelevant; as they play for the reaction they want. This activity makes them extremely observant and perceptive; they can appear to be smart. They will tend to agree with people, that is, tell them what they think they want to hear, and then find subtle ways to undermine it.

During the self-esteem movement self-criticism and self-control have been replaced with self-expression and self-assertion. This thinking supports such visions as, “I have a right to my opinion, so my opinions are right” This leads to extreme individualism and self-tolerance. Narcissists can rationalize violence as being caused by evil strangers across the ocean that threaten their righteous and holy way of life, and blame others for the conflict so that they can justify their attacks. Their egotistical lust for superiority would support ‘might makes right’ and aggressive foreign policy. The neoconservatives brook no dissent about the righteousness of the American cause in Iraq.

Too much self-esteem leads to problems of self-tolerance and narcissism and an individual with an exaggerated sense of entitlement. Such individuals learn to tolerate their errors and personal flaws and come to accept themselves as okay. This person rarely admits to ignorance and regards his intuition and knowledge superior to objective data. Part of the bubble universe in which they recruit others involves groupthink. Groupthink is a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, created by a faulty group decision-making process, which is not critical of each other’s ideas. Groups experiencing groupthink do not consider all the alternatives, and they desire unanimity at the expense of quality decisions. This group is highly cohesive, but isolated from contrary opinions.

Damon describes in Hands on Parenting that “self-esteem is a perfectly good thing for people to have, but it should be the result of good behavior. In other words you should feel good about yourself because you have done something right… We want to promote self-esteem that comes from achievement and service to others.”4 There are examples of such good behavior. The progressive movement takes on many issues that include the environment and social justice. The mainstream media breathlessly report Pope Francis urges activists to struggle against the ‘structural causes’ of poverty. This is a person who lives Christ’s life, and after studying reality, reflecting on it and, only later, takes action. This is the old morality of the past connecting with the post-modern ethic of the progressive.

An old cliché is that “the first casualty of war is truth”. The neocons ridicule anyone who opposes further involvement in Iraq and blame the ongoing instability in Iraq on President Obama – ignoring the manipulation of intelligence and media  engineered by neocons during the Bush administration to get the US into the war. When it comes to issues like the Iraq War the neocons are divorced from reality. At best they are a cult, an exclusive group of individuals sharing a devotion to ideas, principles and intellectual interests. Another reason that neocon activities are not part of a political movement because their political posturing is consistent with narcissism.

1 Finnigan, Maureen. (2000) “Nietzsche’s Perspective: Beyond Truth as an Ideal.” http://www.iwm.at/wp-content/uploads/jc-06-09.pdf

Campbell David. (1998) University of Minnesota Press. Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity. p 165.

Kahan, Allan S. (2010) Mind vs Money: The War Between Intellectuals and Capitalism. New Brunswick, N. J.: Transaction Press p 236.

4 Horsman, Greg. (2011) The Narcissist’s Vocation and the Economic Debacle, p 202.

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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) http://olivershapiro24.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/plato-vs-aristotle/

2“The Best Philosophy Is Hume’s Scepticism.” Intelligent Life Magazine, May/June 2013 http://moreintelligentlife.com/content/ideas/anonymous/best-philosophy-humes-scepticism

3“On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense.” http://www.periplus.com/p/9781478386001/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. http://www.natsem.canberra.edu.au/storage/CHA-NATSEM%20Cost%20of%20Inaction.pdf

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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.” http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/4t.htm

2“Nietzsche and Nihilism” http://atheism.about.com/od/nihilismnihilists/a/nietzsche.htm

3Drury, Shadia. “Saving America: Leo Strauss and the Neoconservatives. http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article6750.htm

4“Leo Strauss’ Philosophy of Deception.” http://www.alternet.org/story/15935/leo_strauss’_philosophy_of_deception

5Hersh, Seymour M. “Selective Intelligence.” http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/05/12/selective-intelligence

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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.” http://advances.nutrition.org/content/1/1/8.full

4 Goldman, Leslie. “Like Mother, Like Daughter.” <http://www.naturalhealthmag.com/health/mother-daughter&gt;.

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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.” 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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