We Need to Change Our Beliefs in Order to Change Our Actions

The Declaration of Independence says that government has one primary purpose; that of protecting beliefs of the people that includes the unalienable right to freedom. Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism argues that the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness, and that the purpose of government is to aid that pursuit. Laissez-faire capitalism, she argues, is the only system that truly protects individual rights. In Atlas Shrugged, Rand extends this idea to divide humanity into two groups: creators, who should be given free rein to do anything, and consumers, who should be tolerated if possible and crushed if necessary. The core of Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism – which also constitutes the overarching theme of her novels – is that unfettered self-interest is good and altruism is destructive. These beliefs support the legitimacy of unbridled capitalism of neoliberalism – the product of economists like Frederick Hayek and Milton Friedman.

There are problems: Greenspan pre-2008 wrote a letter to the New York Times responding to a damning book review: “Atlas Shrugged is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.” In October 2008, Greenspan belatedly hinted that he may have finally seen the dark side of Rand. In a speech to Congress, he said he had found a “flaw” in his “ideology” of how the free market worked. He had always hewed to the Randian belief that companies left to their own devices would work in their best long-term interests. But the real-estate bubble demonstrated that many companies had actually favored massive short-term profits over long-term sustainability. In the process, they laid the groundwork for the biggest recession in sixty years.1

In the aftermath of a potentially demoralizing 2008 electoral defeat, when the Republican Party seemed widely discredited, the emergence of the Tea Party provided conservative activists with a new identity funded by Republican business elites and reinforced by a network of conservative media sources. With the financial crash and the presidency of Barack Obama that followed, spooked by the fear that Obama was bent on expanding the state, the Tea Party and others returned to the old-time religion of rolling back government with lower taxes and federal budget deficit through decreased government spending – Ayn Rand-style capitalism to counter change. Yaron Brook observed, “So many people see the parallels with actually what’s going on, with the government taking over the banks, with the government kind of taking over the automobile industry, a president who fires the CEO of a major American corporation. These are the kind of things that come out of ‘Atlas Shrugged.’” The goals and beliefs of the Tea Party movement support a national economy operating without government oversight.

By 2010 the Tea Party became a very influential movement in American politics. How does this affect American politics? By clinging to the superficial commonality of hostility to welfare, tea partiers fail to see (or willfully ignore) something critical: Rand espoused an elitist, oligarchic philosophy that is both anti-American and deeply at odds with the Tea Party’s own “we the people” causes. Tea Party activists in their fervor against the elites, more closely echo the motto of the Russian Bolsheviks, “the cook, if taught will efficiently govern society.” So deep is the Tea Party mistrust of the elite, over-educated Americans that the mediocre academic pedigree of political figures like President Trump seems to be a point of pride. Certainly, the Tea party does praise Ayn Rand-style capitalism, but it also passionately defends universal principles of liberty promulgated in the Declaration of Independence – the voice of the people does matter – restore a government of the people by the people, is a fundamental departure from Rand.

The polarizing of American politics has its strongest roots in Rand’s classic, Atlas Shrugged, where a capitalist elite engage in a perpetual cultural warfare for the soul of America, fighting society’s “moochers, looters and parasites,” anyone and everyone demanding government money to solve their problems. The elite see a threat of America degrading into a welfare state and socialism. Ayn Rand was defined by her rage, not her advocacy of a fantasy version of capitalism. Her message of creative aspiration is laced with anger and cruelty, and endowed with idealized and moralized selfishness and greed. The individuals that Trump has surrounded himself with is a collection of power- and wealth-obsessed closet Objectivists. Trump’s culture of cruelty views violence as a sacred means for addressing social problems and organizing society.

Cognitive dissonance is the brain’s inability to handle two conflicting realities, so it creates an alternate one, which often defies actual reality. Cognitive biases reflect mental patterns that can lead people to form beliefs or make decisions that do not reflect an objective and thorough assessment of the facts. For instance, people tend to seek out information that confirms preexisting beliefs and reject information that challenges those beliefs. On the societal level, cognitive dissonance is responsible for a large number of people not taking the COVID-19 risk seriously. On the individual level, it’s responsible for failure to connect with other human beings and create harmonious relationships. Cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias are simply a means of not being able to accept, or even listen to, the COVID-19 response. We will do anything we can to disprove, discredit, and deny the new information. However, the more we deny, the less we will be able to learn.

Today narcissism is metastasizing so rapidly Americans feel ever more helpless to solve their problems, making collapse a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, this toxic narcissistic virus has infected America’s soul, eating away at core values while blinding most to both the problem and the solution. You ask, why do Americans embrace their own demise like out-of-control addicts? The theory of cognitive dissonance helps explain why people will sometimes go to great lengths to account for thoughts, words, and behaviors that seem to clash – when one learns new information that challenges a deeply held belief. When we’re involved with a narcissist, cognitive dissonance is a psychological state that keeps us clinging to a narcissistic person like Trump even when we know he is completely incapable of ever satisfying us. In other words, we are torn between believing what we want to believe about someone and accepting what we know to be the truth (as horrible as that might be).

The government action that you support during the COVID-19 pandemic is a function of your perceived risk – and will depend on your personality, physical health, financial health, and biases. If are you scared of getting the virus (perhaps because you have a chronic condition, are older, or have a more anxious disposition) you are more likely to support the government forbidding travel and closing most businesses, and damaging other businesses to protect you. However, if you are not concerned (perhaps because you are young, healthy, more worried about losing your job) you are more likely to resent the willful damage to your own and others’ livelihood and be concerned about long term consequences of emergency decisions that are being made. In relation to biases, remember that many of the measures taken under special government authority to protect lives in the short-term will themselves have unquantifiable consequences on health and lives in both the short- and long-term – aggravated by the unraveling of the social safety net over the past 30 years.

Carl Jung observes, “His uncertainty forces the enthusiast to puff up his truths, of which he feels none too sure, and to win proselytes to his side in order that his followers may prove to himself the value and trustworthiness of his own convictions… Only when convincing someone else of this does he feel safe from knowing doubts.” Public policy analyst Robert Reich argues that “the theme that unites all of Trump’s [budget] initiatives so far is their unnecessary cruelty.” The culture of cruelty has become a primary register of the loss of democracy in the United States. Vast numbers of individuals are now considered disposable and are relegated to zones of social and moral abandonment. A culture of cruelty highlights both how systemic injustices are lived and experienced, and how iniquitous relations of power turn the “American dream” into a dystopian nightmare in which millions of individuals and families are struggling to merely survive. Limiting the public’s knowledge now becomes a precondition for cruelty.2

The power elite control what you think through proxies who control information and communication, and through their lobbyists who influence what most of your politicians believe. A little more than a year after America rebelled against political elites by electing a self-proclaimed champion of the people, Donald Trump, its government is more deeply in the pockets of lobbyists and billionaires than ever before. Interrogating a culture of cruelty offers critics a political and moral lens for thinking through the convergence of power, politics and everyday life. It also offers the promise of unveiling the way in which a nation demoralizes itself by adopting the position that it has no duty to provide safety nets for its citizens or care for their well-being, especially in a time of misfortune. There is more to introducing change than getting rid of Trump, there is a need change beliefs to eliminate this pervasive irrationality in which democracy is equated to unbridled capitalism.

1 Bruce Watson. (6/Feb/2010) Ayn Rand, Thomas Malthus, and the High Cost of Terrible Ideas https://www.aol.com/2010/02/06/ayn-rand-thomas-malthus-and-the-high-cost-of-terrible-ideas/

2 Henry A. Giroux. (22/March/2017) The Culture of Cruelty in Trump’s America https://truthout.org/articles/the-culture-of-cruelty-in-trump-s-america/

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An Analysis of Existential Threats and the COVID-19 Pandemic

This analysis critiques the early response of the economic troika – the EU, China and US – to a threat. The RAND Corporation’s Center for Global Risk and Security in the early 2000s ranked threats as existential, serious and nuisance. Terrorism was in the nuisance category – killing fewer Americans than lightning – and the only threat in the existential category was pandemics. The National Intelligence Council (NIC), warned in the 2004 version of Global Trends, looking out two decades to 2020, “… it is only a matter of time before a new pandemic appears …”1 Services are crucial to the EU economy – they account for around 70% of all economic activity in the EU and a similar proportion of its employment. In the US consumer spending comprises 70% of GDP. Historically, China was one of the world’s foremost economic powers for most of the two millennia from the 1st until the 19th century. COVID-19 threatens EU solidarity, to halt China economic expansion, and to plunge the US into unemployment at Depression levels.

The initial response of the troika to the coronavirus has been far from spectacular. China is the world’s largest manufacturing economy and exporter of goods, and the world’s fastest-growing consumer market and second-largest importer of goods – initially put secrecy and order ahead of confronting the virus. The EU, 22% of world economy, consists of an internal market of mixed economies based on free market and advanced social models. For instance, it includes an internal single market with free movement of goods, services, capital, and labor. Italy, whose leaders spent considerable time debating whether social isolation was a western value, while considering the restriction of movement of people as discrimination, became the epicenter of infection in Europe. The Trump administration’s response was slow and muddled. The US stock market has never before responded so dramatically to an outbreak of disease and the public-health policy response, together with the interconnectedness of the modern global economy.

Europe had been immolated, but the ashes left by war created the space to imagine a new world: Sartre and Camus gave voice to the mood of the day. Readers looked to Sartre and Camus to articulate what that new world might look like. It came in the form of existentialism. Sartre, Camus and their intellectual companions rejected religion, staged new and unnerving plays, challenged readers to live authentically, and wrote about the absurdity of the world – a world without purpose and without value. ‘[There are] only stones, flesh, stars, and those truths the hand can touch,’ Camus wrote. We must choose to live in this world and to project our own meaning and value onto it in order to make sense of it. This means that people are free and burdened by it, since with freedom there is a terrible, even debilitating, responsibility to live and act authentically.

Jean-Paul Sartre believed that human beings live in constant anguish, not solely because life is miserable, but because we are ‘condemned to be free’. While the circumstances of our birth and upbringing are beyond our control, he reasons that once we become self-aware (and we all do eventually), we have to make choices – choices that define our very ‘essence’.  Sartre’s theory of existentialism states that “existence precedes essence”, that is, only by existing and acting a certain way do we give meaning to our lives. According to Sartre, each choice we make defines us while at the same time revealing to us what we think a human being should be. Sartre decried the idea of living without pursuing freedom. The phenomenon of people accepting that things have to be a certain way, and subsequently refusing to acknowledge or pursue alternate options, was what he termed as “living in bad faith”.

Albert Camus argued that the only way out is to embrace the absurdity of the situation and to rise above it, even if it is only within the context of your own life. In other words, if you are going to be a person in this world, then you need to make a choice to make meaning in your own life, whatever form that takes. Camus also argued that the ability to have passion for what could otherwise be considered a meaningless life reflects an appreciation for life itself. If you can stop trying to live for the end, or the “goal,” and start living for the act of “being” itself, then your life becomes about living it fully, choosing integrity, and being passionate. According to Camus, the absurd is produced via conflict, a conflict between our expectation of a rational, just universe and the actual universe that it is quite indifferent to all of our expectations.2

COVID-19 poses an existential challenge to the European project – in the face of a pandemic that disproportionately affects some countries more than others threatens to undermine the quest for shared long-term prosperity and the future of European integration, unity, and economic cohesion. The virus has stirred memories of the financial crisis from a decade ago, that left deep social inequalities and animosities between EU states over the imposition of austerity policies – such animosities that lead to populist and nationalist gain in momentum and political strength. From a sluggish political response to the crisis to bitter internal rows about how to mitigate the economic effects of the coronavirus, member states have turned against one another, and in on themselves. This crisis presents Europe with a particular stark set of choices about its future direction.

China’s government sees human rights as an existential threat. Its reaction could pose an existential threat to the rights of people worldwide. At home, the Chinese Communist Party, worried that permitting political freedom would jeopardize its grasp on power, has constructed an Orwellian high-tech surveillance state and a sophisticated internet censorship system to monitor and suppress public criticism. The Chinese Communist Party has shown that economic growth can reinforce central power by giving it the means to enforce its rule – to spend what it takes to remain in power, from legions of security officials it employs to the censorship regime it retains and the pervasive surveillance state it constructs. Unprecedented level of surveillance was put in place in addressing the coronavirus outbreak – the political implications for China could be long-lasting. The question now is what will China do with its new forms of power and control once the threat is overcome?

When facing coronavirus, poverty is a preexisting condition hitting American poor the hardest, in part because these workers simply can’t afford to adhere to social distancing restrictions if it means going without a paycheck. Also, they are more likely to have jobs that can’t be done on a laptop, and require public contact. In addition, poor people are more likely to have preexisting health risks such as diabetes, asthma or obesity. Income inequality in the US has exacerbated the healthcare crisis, will contribute to the eventual economic and financial crises, and has resulted in a situation where society is now counting on many of the poorest people to continue to risk their health in order to ensure supply lines continue to function, all while being more likely to be hurt by the pandemic. Now only does this increase the risk of social unrest, it makes handling the pandemic more difficult. Income inequality is now an existential threat to national security.

An existential crisis occurs when one recognizes that even the decision to either refrain from action or withhold assent to a particular choice is, in itself, a choice. An existential threat, put simply, is a threat to society – a veritable threat to existence does not have to be present for someone to experience a sense of existential threat. Right-wing misinformation is a direct and immediate threat to the American public. In US there is a dramatic increase in hate crimes (up by 15%), polarized viewpoints, and a rise in violent extremist propaganda for recruitment purposes. Given the current state, vulnerable youth, young adults, and adults are at risk of moving toward polarized ideological positions that can put them on the pathway toward radicalization and violent extremism. With most polarized societies, as the truth fades away, many are losing faith in political institutions and turning to the absurd.

The ongoing threats: In a recovery from an epidemic like COVID-19, restarting activities in private consumption is much slower than restarting investment and manufacturing. This is the first time since 1992 that the official GDP of China has contracted – threatening long-term goals for growth. Capital Economics says the disease could result in a record-breaking 15 percent quarterly drop of eurozone gross domestic product in the second quarter. The coronavirus could tear the EU apart – the biggest rifts have opened over the economic rescue package, which pitches rich countries against poorer ones. COVID-19 has refocused the U.S. election campaign – Trump and his populist supporters are attached at the hip to the GDP which has taken a hit, along with the Trump administration’s credibility on how to handle a crisis. There is an excellent chance the next US federal election will result in the removal of Trump and along with his enablers in the Senate.

1 COVID-19: We had the warning but we lacked the leadership. (5 April 2020)  https://thehill.com/opinion/white-house/490404-covid-19-we-had-the-warning-but-we-lacked-the-leadership

2 Sam Dresser. How Camus and Sartre split up over the question of how to be free. https://aeon.co/ideas/how-camus-and-sartre-split-up-over-the-question-of-how-to-be-free

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The Role of Public Health in Protecting and Improving Health

Economic inequality is measured by looking at the distribution of wealth and income in a society, not the general wealth of a country. A growing body of research suggest that inequality – more so than absolute wealth alone – has a profound influence on a population’s health, in every socioeconomic group from rich to middle class to poor. Sir Michael Marmot, professor of epidemiology at University College London, found there is a stepwise relationship between your socioeconomic position and your health. In the 21st century public health stresses the importance of an approach that addresses the social determinants of health. Social determinants of health include policies that offer a living wage, higher assistance levels for those unable to work, a more progressive tax structure that redistributes income more fairly, increased unionization, better funding of affordable, high-quality childcare and early education, increased spending on a housing strategy.

A prevailing view of the origin of modern human disease is that most arose after the advent of animal domestication and urbanization during the Neolithic period some 12,000 years ago. The first public health measures were based upon the idea that miasmas – bad smells – caused disease. Although the idea was wrong, the measures against miasmas involved a greater focus on cleanliness, and the improved public health. In mid-19th century the miasmas theory was replaced by the Germ Theory of disease. In 1861, Pasteur published his germ theory which proved bacteria caused disease. The idea was taken by Robert Koch in Germany who began to isolate specific bacteria that caused specific diseases such as TB and cholera. Of the top 10 most common causes of death in the US, influenza and associated pneumonia is the only one of acute infectious etiology. Influenza and associated pneumonia caused 14.3 deaths in the US per 100,000 population in 2017.

A viral infection, small pox spread along trade routes, emerging first in Africa, Asia and Europe and reaching the Americas in the sixteenth century. Because smallpox requires a human host to survive it tended to smolder in densely populated areas, erupting in a full-blown epidemic every ten years or so. Small pox was a leading cause of death in the 18th century. Most people became infected during their lifetime, and about 30% of people infected with small pox died from the disease, presenting a severe selection pressure on resistant survivors. Quarantine was the only measure available to reduce the spread. In the 19th century, cow pox or calf lymph was used as a vaccine. They were able to control outbreaks with vaccination. In 1853 vaccination against smallpox was made compulsory in Britain. Vaccination of Americans against small pox stopped in 1972 after the disease was eradicated in the world.

Edwin Chadwick (1800-1890), a leader in sanitary reform, 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. In 1848, a cholera epidemic that killed over 50,000 people, terrified the government into doing something about prevention of disease – through both public and individual health measures.

Cholera spread across the world in multi-pandemics during the 19th century. The 3d pandemic occurred from 1846 to 1860. The 1854 Broad Street Cholera outbreak in London ended after physician John Snow identified a neighborhood Broad Street pump as contaminated and convinced officials to remove the handle. This action proved contaminated water was the main agent spreading cholera, although he did not identify the contaminant. It would take many years for this message to be believed and fully acted upon. In 1849, cholera claimed 5,308 lives in the major port city of Liverpool, England, an immigration departure point for immigrants to North America. Cholera, believed spread from Irish immigrant ships from England, spread throughout Mississippi River system, killing 4,500 in St Louis, and over 3,000 in New Orleans. Thousands died in New York, a major destination for Irish immigrants. During this pandemic some US scientists began to believe that cholera was somehow associated with African Americans as the disease was prevalent in the south in areas of black population.

The diphtheria threat grew significantly during the late 19th century to become one of the major causes of death, fueled by the industrial revolution and increasingly crowded urban centers. Though mostly a disease associated with the poor and a particular threat to children, diphtheria did not discriminate by class and age, and its cause, route of spread and cure remained a mystery until the last part of the 19th century. The US recorded 206,000 cases of diphtheria in 1921, resulting in 15,520 deaths. Diphtheria death rates range from about 20% for those under age five and over 40, and 5-10% for those age 5-40 years. Since the introduction of effective immunization, starting in 1920s diphtheria rates have dropped dramatically in US and other countries that vaccinate widely. Diphtheria is transmitted from persons usually via respiratory droplets. Between 2004 to 2008, no cases of diphtheria were recorded in the US.  

It also became clear that providing immunizations and treating infectious diseases did not solve all health problems. Despite remarkable success in lowering death rates from typhoid, diphtheria, and other contagious diseases, considerable disability continued to exist in the population. There were still numerous diseases, such as tuberculosis, for which infectious agents were not clearly identified. Draft registration during World War I revealed that a substantial portion of the male population was either physically or mentally unfit for combat. It also became clear that diseases, even those for which treatment was available, still predominantly affected the urban poor. Registration and analysis of disease showed that the highest rates of morbidity still occurred among children and the poor. On the premise that a healthier society could be built through health care for individuals, health departments expanded into clinical care and health education. In the early 20th century, the New York and Baltimore health departments began offering home visits by public health nurses.1

The primary goal of influenza vaccine in high risk groups – those >65 years of age, those with chronic medical conditions including pulmonary, cardiovascular, or renal disease as well as immunosuppression –  is to prevent unnecessary hospitalization and premature death related to influenza, since episodes of influenza tend to exacerbate chronic medical conditions and lead to occurrence of secondary bacterial pneumonia. In the US about 67% of over age 65 get annual influenza vaccination. When the vaccine is well-matched with the circulating strain there is a 40-60% reduction in in hospitalization and mortality. The ability of adults >65 years of age to receive seasonal influenza vaccine is influenced by structured, intermediate, and healthcare-related social determinants which have an impact at the health system, provider, and individual levels. CDC identifies that the average number of Americans who die from influenza and associated pneumonia annually is 56,000. The first death from COVID-19 in US was in California on February 6, 2020; the number of deaths from COVID-19 reported by April 27, 2020 in US exceeded 56,000.

Although science provided a foundation for public health, social values have shaped the system. Despite the huge successes brought about by scientific discovery and social reforms, and despite a phenomenal growth of government activities in health, the solving of public health problems has not taken place without controversy. Repeatedly, the role of the government in regulating individual behavior has been challenged. Chadwick’s influential sanitary report of 1842 divided people into ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ parties and some people believed Chadwick wanted the poor to be made clean against their will – government attitudes also played a role.  In 1853, Britain’s Board of Health was disbanded because Chadwick, its director, “claimed a wide scope for state intervention in an age when laissez-faire was the doctrine of the day.” The unprecedented natural effort to shut down much of life to slow the spread of COVID-19 is promoting a growing number of protests. Right-wing media supports the protest by spreading misinformation about coronavirus.

The coronavirus spreads inequality: Better-off Americans are still getting paid and are free to work from home, while the poor are either forced to risk going out or lose their jobs. Americans with less education and lower incomes are far more likely either to have been showing up at their workplaces – putting themselves at greater risk for infection – or more likely to see their work dry up. Dylan Scott reports, “Black New Yorkers are dying [from coronavirus] at twice the rate of their white peers; Latinos in the city are also succumbing to the virus at a much higher rate than white or Asian New Yorkers. The same trends can be seen in infection and hospitalization rates, too.” On the other hand, in 2017, the age adjusted death rate of influenza and associated pneumonia was 26% higher among blacks compared to whites. Socioeconomic status is the most powerful predictor of disease, disorder, injury and mortality we have.

The determinants of health are understood to interact with each other in a variety of ways, to compound vulnerabilities for certain sections of the population, and to be modifiable through public health policy and changing social norms. As public health leaders look for ways to put a cap on coronavirus spread – primarily through social distancing practices and in some cases shelter in place protocol – the nation is seeing just how deep health disparities run. There are clear delineations between different social groups and how they are faring in the new normal as tens of millions of additional citizens are falling into poverty – clearly COVID-19 vaccine will not solve all health problems. If public health cannot directly affect broader societal conditions, interventions should be focused around advocacy and education about the societal determinants of health. As such, the health sector needs to take a more political approach in finding solutions for health inequities.

1 A History of the Public Health System https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218224/

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Analysis of the Economic System Through the Lens of COVID-19

Crisis moments present opportunities for change; there is a loss of innocence and complacency. The COVID-19 pandemic causes a decline in “polarization” as various communities focus on a “common enemy” with a new collective approach to handling threats. Established relationship patterns in the community become more susceptible to change after a major shock like the pandemic destabilizes them. The failure of the Trump administration both to keep Americans healthy and to slow the pandemic-driven implosion of the economy has shocked the public enough back to insisting on something from government other than emotional satisfaction. The COVID-19 crisis forces people to understand and accept that expertise matters. It is necessary to immediately replace the populists in the Trump administration who attack bureaucracies and expertise that make most governments function on a day-to-day basis. With voters increasingly prioritizing competency over emotive narrative, the time is at hand to sincerely reform social structures in Canada and the US.

Today we recognize the limits of economic rationalization that underpins an ideology based on selfishness. The consequences of the 2008 debacle – slow economic growth and under-employment, and the growing income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society underscores the basis of rational self-interest (selfishness). When challenging ideology (in 2020 the status quo) it is necessary to choose criterion for distinguishing ideas that support the relations of domination from those that do not. The fundamental dogmatism of this economic system of minimal government and regulation is codification of a political ideology defended by proxies. The level of equality of opportunity determines how people perceive inequality. Societies in which individuals have the same chances to obtain valuable outcomes such as income, education and health, have a higher tolerance to inequality. A consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic is the end of our romance with market society and hyper-individualism.

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 under the mantra that 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 power elite support legislation that weakens unions to support a wage suppression agenda. 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. The right-wing media lies have come home to roost. So-called “junk plans” that don’t actually cover common medical expenses, such as lab tests contribute to this problem, aren’t very different from going without insurance altogether.

Max Weber noted by loosening the hold of custom and tradition, rationalization led to new practices that were chosen because they were efficient and predictable, rather than customary. A rational society is one built around logic and efficiency rather than morality or tradition. Rationalization of the economy during the 1980s created the mindset that the economy requires less and less engineering (regulations), and would be capable of fixing itself. This, in turn, created the notion that there exists an inherent natural law unaffected by human endeavor and weakness that drives the economy. “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies,” claimed Nietzsche. 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’ although they do not correspond to reality.

Growth and fundamental levels of change only tend to occur when we are out of our comfort zone. The disruption of the pandemic moves us far from equilibrium, where certainty and predictability no longer reign supreme. So, we might look at the crisis as a blessing in disguise, albeit an unwanted one. Crises tend to present themselves as either acute or chronic circumstances. Now on top of a system of  ongoing increasing inequality, the COVID-19 pandemic is driving the United States and the world economy into highly volatile perturbations, with both wealth and employment literally disappearing. In the lives of most people, this is an external crisis raining upon them, exacerbated by COVID-19 but, not of their own making. Yet, through these losses, many people are coming to reflect on their values and choices and are making adjustments – due to the acute crisis – that actually benefit them. However, many other people die all the time because of their position in society. And the pandemic crisis is revealing a lot of these deeper structural problems with the way we organize social life.

David Harvey explains, “For any system of thought to become dominant, it requires the articulation of fundamental concepts that become so deeply embedded in common sense understanding that they are taken for granted and beyond question.” Neoliberalism has successfully reached this point in postmodernity, making it postmodernity’s defining ideological feature. The Great Recession of 2008 saw the rich get richer and the poor being ripped off. The Occupy Wall Street protests challenged the excess of corporations in general, and in particular, a government controlled by corporate money, and the insecurity of job tenure and the menace of layoff that it implies. The consequence of this was that the Trump administration became attracted to reactionary politics which emphasized a return to traditional identity and its values; the destruction of the “deep state” responsible for undermining it, which includes eliminating key bureaucracies – including the ones that could have provided a head start in responding to the COVID-19 risk.

Income inequality creates disadvantage for particular segments of the society. Widening inequality also has significant implications for growth and macroeconomic stability, it can concentrate political and decision-making power in the hands of a few, lead to a suboptimal use of human resources, cause investment-reducing political and economic instability, and raise crisis risk.  Policies that focus on the poor and the middle class can mitigate inequality. Irrespective of the level of economic development, better access to education and health care and well-targeted social policies, while ensuring that labor market institutions do not excessively penalize the poor, can help raise the income share for the poor and the middle class. Income distribution matters – IMF findings suggest that raising the income share of the poor and ensuring that there is no hollowing-out of the middle class is good for growth through a number of interrelated economic, social, and political channels.

This sudden credit crunch exposes those that have too much debt and weak business models and have taken excessive risk. Their distress spreads to the rest by way of business closures, job losses, and fire sales of otherwise good assets. Matters are made even worse if the economic victims have financed their activities with borrowing, such that their losses eventually strike the balance sheets of creditors that were unwise enough to lend to them. Fear of these repercussions contracts credit across the board. For many Canadians and Americans the sudden 2020 downturn in the economy creates mind-numbing distress. Then there is the long-term issue: “By the time that most individuals achieve a point in life where incomes and savings rates are great enough to invest excess cash flows, they generally do not have 30 years left to reach their goal. This is why losing 5-7 years of time getting back to “even” is not a viable investment strategy.”1

A consequence of the coronavirus epidemic in Canada and the U.S. is an understanding of the limits of a country’s medical system. It has led to system-wide disruptions that physicians say are necessary for combatting the immediate, un-ignorable threat of COVID-19 – but that may, by default, force individuals who do not have coronavirus to shoulder a heavy burden. Those with chronic conditions will have to fight harder to get the care they need, not only now but also after the outbreak ends, when hospitals are left to deal with backlogs from appointments canceled en masse. Anyone with the misfortune to get into a car accident or have a heart attack during the outbreak will be at the mercy of a strained system. And in this environment, the gulf between people who can and cannot afford to spend the time and money to seek out good care will become ever-more apparent.2 Market-based solutions for social organization have failed.

The failure of the existing consumerist institutions and supporting dogma has put the health and economic viability of citizens throughout the world in jeopardy. Individuals and communities must support a paradigm shift – that includes an effort to concentrate all practical efforts to bring the greatest good to the most people (and other species) over the longest time by rethinking and redesigning production and consumption patterns. John Kenneth Galbraith remained optimistic about the ability of government to improve the lot of the less fortunate. “Let there be a coalition of the concerned,” he urged. “The affluent would still be affluent, the comfortable still comfortable, but the poor would be part of the political system.” The violence exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis cries out for a new model of democratic governance. However, we must not let laissez-faire apologists explain away various failures during the pandemic by the existence of a vast left-wing conspiracy. Through the COVID-19 window we recognize the importance of returning to laws based on equality of the person rather than laws of the market.

1 The Disconnect Between The Markets & Economy Has Grown (23 Sept 2019)  https://www.hvst.com/posts/the-disconnect-between-the-markets-economy-has-grown

2 Jaime Ducharme. (26 March 2020) Coronavirus Will Have Long-Lasting Impacts on the U.S. Health Care System—And the Poorest Will Suffer Most. https://time.com/5810260/coronavirus-will-have-long-lasting-impacts-on-the-u-s-health-care-system-and-the-poorest-will-suffer-most/

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How Pandemics Can Create Change

The Black Death of the 14th century not only shook Italian society, but transformed it. It marked the end of an era in Italy and resulted in wide-ranging social economic, cultural and religious changes. This led to the emergence of the Renaissance humanism. Humanism called for the comprehensive reform of culture, the transfiguration of what humanists termed the passive and ignorant society of the dark ages into a new order that would reflect and encourage the grandest human potentialities. Neoliberal policies of the 21st century, in an anti‐humanist perspective, criticizes the notion of social rights and social justice with the denial of any human right above the laws of the market; are now understood by many as a direct response to the progressive policies and to working people’s increased share of total wealth during the period between 1950 and 1980. The COVID-19 pandemic lays bare the need for social and economic change including social justice.

Black Death triggered a financial crisis – trade ceased because of the fear of plague. As trade stagnated, businesses failed, and unemployment rose. The plague caused a complete social breakdown in many areas. The plague led to a shortage of trained monks and priests to deal with it; the Church hastily trained new monks and priests to serve the spiritual needs of the country, still coming to terms with the trauma of Black Death. This meant than many unsuitable individuals became clerics and this led to a drop in the standards among parish priests, in particular. The Church became increasingly corrupt and gradually over time lost the respect of many believers. In the long run, an increasing corrupt institution meant that many people lost their faith. This led to increasing secularization of Italian society as many increasingly turned away from the church in disgust.

The contempt many felt is evident in stories of Boccaccio of venal and deprived priests, monks and nuns. The church had traditionally monopolized education, but after the Black Death there was more secular education, especially in cities. This was decisive in the emergence of the Renaissance, with its emphasis on human value experiences rather than religion. People at the time were no longer willing to accept the status quo. This change manifested in numerous political revolts of the time – in particular peasant revolts. No longer are people as willing not to question the old ways of doing things, and no longer accepted things because they were sanctioned by tradition. The Black Death led to the questioning of the old certainties. This led many, especially among the urban elite, to use reason to understand the world. The new spirit of inquiry helped ignite the Renaissance, especially in politics and philosophy.

The Black Death changed Italian society in the 14th century and led to great socio-economic, cultural and religious changes. This unleashed the forces in Italian society that made the Renaissance possible. Those who questioned authority and the received wisdom, such as the Poet and Scholar, Petrarch inspired the Humanist movement, which valued reason and critical thinking. The Humanists are essential in the development and progress of the Renaissance. Their name was itself based on the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero’s concept of humanitas, an educational and political ideal that was the intellectual basis of the entire movement. Humanism included not only understanding, benevolence, compassion, mercy – but also, more assertive characteristics as fortitude, judgment, prudence, eloquence and even love of honor. Just as action without insight was held to be aimless and barbaric, insight without action was rejected as barren and imperfect. This called for a fine balance of action and contemplation, a balance born not of compromise, but of complementarity.1

Neoliberalism is an anxious form of crisis management attempting to cover over the gaps in its ideological contradictions. While this ideology champions that individuals have maximum freedom, a crisis exposes the clash with neoliberal interpretation of freedom and responsibilities, on the balance between personal freedom and the common good. Neoliberalism has not only created an economic crisis but also a political crisis. The state rescue orchestrated by the Obama administration transformed the 2008 crisis in private finance into a crisis of public finance and sovereign debt, which has to be solved through the austerity politics of neoliberals. “Instead of delivering growth,” a 2016 IMF report explains that neoliberal policies of austerity and lowered regulation for capital movement have in fact “increased inequality.” As a consequence of neoliberal ideology of the past 40 years in US, the top 1% has grown 23 trillion dollars richer while the bottom 50% has grown 900 billion dollars poorer.

Nobody, looking back at the first two decades of this century, can suggest that the political, economic and financial elites who brought you the euro crisis, the war in Iraq, the Great Recession of 2008, growing inequality and middle-class income stagnation have not made some very serious mistakes, of very enduring consequences, with very startling impunity. A lot of that anger and distrust toward large institutions remains to this day. A common complaint against twenty-first century democracy is that it has lost control of corporate power. More and more are protesting, boycotting, calling out, and sharing memes that reflect their contempt and anger about politics and social issues. We need to challenge the ideal of consumption as “happiness” and shift our understanding of freedom as residing in consumer choice. The first condition to overcome is selfishness on an individual level is to develop an awareness of and its root causes, and then to practice unselfish and compassionate acts.

Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992) developed a theory of cultural evolution intended to account for the development of free-market capitalism, and explained why it works so well. He believed that it had allowed him to achieve what no earlier economist had – to paint “what now seems to me a tolerably clear picture of the nature of the spontaneous order.” Hayek thought he was solving the problem of modernity: the problem of objective knowledge. For Hayek, the market didn’t just facilitate trade in goods and services; it revealed truth. Supersizing Hayek’s idea and radically upgrading the price system into a kind of social omniscience means radically downgrading the importance of our individual capacity to reason – our ability to provide and evaluate justifications for our actions and beliefs. What is the face of a failed ideology? Many are going from being nearly poor to poor.

In 1893, the French sociologist Émile Durkheim published his theory of collective consciousness, describing how within each individual there exist two forms of consciousness: an individual consciousness, which emphasizes our individuality and distinctiveness, and the collective consciousness, which includes the shared values, ideas, and beliefs that are common within our entire group or society. The major role of the corporate media is to manufacture consent in order to shape the collective consciousness in ways that further the interests of the power elite. On the other hand, the world has become a tinderbox with seemingly minor changes in policies such as transport taxes prompting massive demonstrations. Today ordinary citizens hit the streets in outpourings of years of pent-up economic oppression, tired of “just getting by” or “not getting by at all.” But there is even more at stake: our civil society and our sense of identity, both as individuals and collectively.

Further to the point, neoliberalism is a backwards approach to economics because it isn’t capital that creates economic growth. It’s people that create economic growth. And, it isn’t self-interest that promotes the public good. It’s reciprocity. And, it isn’t competition that creates prosperity. It’s cooperation. Yet, neoliberalism is tethered to capital creation as the engine for growth, self-interest as the fuel for growth, and competition as the determinate of success. Most recently, the 2020 pandemic is disruptive not only to our routines but also to our sense of physical and mental well-being. The COVID-19 virus creates concern for individuals that points to reminders of the preciousness of others, can be a motivator to reach out and connect.  Almost 40% of American adults wouldn’t be able to cover a $400 emergency with cash – on the rise since 2013 – and disruptions of the pandemic only emphasize this challenge. 

COVID-19 risk drives the concern for the well-being of others mixed with an awareness of shared fragility.  Concern for vulnerable groups that brings to mind structural inequalities, can become a motivator, also to, when the time is right, join together and address particular things so that we might not again have to worry in the same way about the same things for the same people. To make a middle-class standard of living a realistic goal once again for most Americans, markets must serve society, rather than vice versa. Government has a greater role to play than just in propping up the private sector in the short term during an economic crisis, but rather in encouraging it to do what it should in the long term. And through collective action during the pandemic – through government – we recognize there are ways we can do things that we couldn’t do alone and which the market on its own won’t.

1 Eric Lambrecht. How did the Bubonic Plague make the Italian Renaissance possible? (29 Jan 2019) https://dailyhistory.org/How_did_the_Bubonic_Plague_make_the_Italian_Renaissance_possible

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Wages Stopped Rising: Unraveling the Libertarian Movement

The first well-developed statement of libertarianism, An Agreement of the People (1647), was produced by the radical republican Leveler movement during the English Civil Wars (1642–51). Presented to Parliament in 1649, it included the ideas of self-ownership, private property, legal equality, religious toleration, and limited, representative government. Libertarian is not a single viewpoint, but includes a wide variety of perspectives. Classical liberalism rests on a presumption of liberty – that is, on the presumption that the exercise of liberty does not require justification but that all restraints on liberty do. Libertarians have attempted to define the proper extent of individual liberty in terms of the notion of property in one’s person, or self-ownership, which entails that each individual is entitled to exclusive control of his choices, his actions, and his body. Libertarians can range from market anarchists to advocates of a limited welfare state, but they are all united by a belief in personal liberty, economic freedom, and skepticism of government power. 

Like Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek, Ayn Rand demonstrates the importance of immigration not just to America but also to American libertarianism. Mises had fled his native Austria right before the Nazis confiscated his library; Rand fled the Communists who came to power in her native Russia. When a heckler asked her at a public speech, “Why should we care what a foreigner thinks?” she replied with her usual fire, “I chose to be an American. What did you ever do, except for having been born?” In 1943 Rand wrote her first novel, The Fountainhead. The book is about the conflict between those who think for themselves and those who allow others to dominate their lives. Hayek published his book, The Road to Serfdom, in 1944 with new ideas, sounding the alarm that the West was rapidly abandoning its inheritance of individualism. Since its publication it has been an influential and popular exposition of market libertarianism.

Ludwig von Mises, a monetary theorist and author of a book-length critique of socialism, became Friedrich Hayek’s mentor. Hayek, with Mises’s assistance, became the director of the newly founded Austrian Institute for Business Cycle Research in Vienna. In 1931 Hayek joined the London School of Economics, and immediately became embroiled in a debate with University of Cambridge economist John Maynard Keynes over their respective theories about the role and effect of money within a developed economy. Hayek wrote a lengthy critical review of Keynes’s 1930 book, A Treatise on Money, to which Keynes forcefully replied, in the course of which he attacked Hayek’s own recent book, Prices and Production (1931). The term “neoliberal” was adopted at the Walter Lippmann Colloquium, held in Paris in 1938, with Mises and Hayek in attendance. When, in 1947, Hayek founded the first organization that would spread the doctrine of neoliberalism – the Mont Pèlerin Society – it was supported financially by millionaires and their foundations.1

The economics of information is now an important area of economics, and many theorists (among them, Leonid Hurwicz, Sanford Grossman, and Joseph Stiglitz) credit Hayek with being among the first to emphasize the role of market prices in conveying information. In the 1970s, Hayek handed the presidency of the Mont Pèlerin Society over to Milton Friedman. Friedman became an advisor to Republican President Ronald Reagan and Conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In 1973, the year General Pinochet began implementing a Friedman free market economic system with minimal intervention reforms; Chile’s unemployment rate was 4.3%. In 1983, after ten years of free-market modernization, unemployment reached 22%. Real wages declined by 40% under Friedman reforms. In Road to Serfdom Hayek stands in opposition to the idea of a partnership between government and business in state capitalism. It is an important book today because now economists and politicians are debating how to solve underemployment and long-term disequilibrium in the financial markets.

Floyd Arthur Harper (1905–1973), a member of the Mont Pèlerin Society, was present at the group’s first meeting in 1947 along with Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, and Karl Poppe. He helped start up the Foundation for Economic Education, and founded the Institute for Humane Studies. The unique thing that Harper brought to the table was a social Darwinian account of human progress. Harper believed that progress was generated by the “variation,” i.e. the bell curve distribution, which “seems to pervade the universe”. Everything exists on this “normal” distribution, and social progress is achieved when the exceptional men at the end of the curve are free to do as they please. Harper became disturbed by the wage increases of his era. He related this to progressive inflation “that will surely end in the destruction of capitalism unless we can resolve the problem…” His book, Why Wages Rise, written in 1957 which lays out strategy and practice for the libertarian movement, is where Harper’s influence is visible today.

Charles Koch read Why Wages Rise as a young man, and calls Harper’s book “life-changing”. The Koch brothers first entered politics as the financiers of the nascent Libertarian Party in the 1970s that was formed in response to Barry Goldwater’s 1964 defeat. Reagan’s smashing political success pushed libertarianism in new directions. The Kochs focused their funding on institutions such as the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, to promote ideas on neoliberalism – minimize the role of government, regulations and unions – to create wealth. The main difference between libertarianism and neoliberalism – a controversial term that refers primarily to the 20th century resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism, is basically, neoliberalism has a lower threshold of government ability to cope with problems. Their support for a largely uncompromising libertarian philosophy and politics helped to create the modern Republican Party – and therefore indirectly lay the groundwork for the triumph of Trumpism.2

The core of Ayn Rand’s philosophy – that unfettered self-interest is good and altruism is destructive – is the ultimate expression of human nature, the guiding principle by which one ought to live one’s life. To many of Rand’s readers, a philosophy of supreme self-reliance devoted to the pursuit of supreme self-interest appears to be an idealized version of core American ideals: freedom from tyranny, hard work and individualism. It promises a better world if people are simply allowed to pursue their own self-interest without regard to the impact of their actions on others. Rand’s books first appeared when no one seemed to support freedom and capitalism, and when even capitalism’s greatest defenders seemed to emphasize its utility, not its morality. It was often said at the time that socialism is a good idea in theory, but human beings just aren’t good enough for socialism. It was Ayn Rand who said that socialism is not good enough for human beings.

For decades Ayn Rand was the most frequent point of entry to the libertarian movement. Now, 38 years after her death, she remains a polarizing figure – but there is no question that her works are enormously influential. College students, professors, businessmen, Rand Paul, the rock group Rush, and Hollywood stars have all proclaimed themselves fans of Ayn Rand. Republican pundit David Frum claimed that the Tea Party, founded in 2009, was reinventing the GOP as “the party of Ayn Rand.” During 2009 as well, sales of Atlas Shrugged tripled, and GQ magazine called Rand the year’s most influential author. A 2010 Zogby poll found that 29% of respondents had read Atlas Shrugged, and half of those readers said it had affected their political and ethical thinking. Rand’s optimistic cruelty, contempt and indifference of human inequality along with a culture of greed, supports the legitimacy of neoliberal policies.

What’s different in 2020 – and what the Kochs were surely been told more than once – is that a rise in productivity is no longer enough. It’s no longer true that wages will rise with labor productivity as night follows day. Indeed, it stopped being true about four decades ago – political libertarianism is not much of a guide to real-world politics.  Modern history has shown that activist democratic governments, ones that provide public goods and help for the poor, do not really threaten liberty. In Scandinavia, for example, where the governments are much more activist than in the United States, democracy is very vibrant and far less corrupt than in the U.S.  In fact, by keeping mega-income under control, the Scandinavian countries have avoided the kind of plutocracy – government by the rich – that has engulfed Washington. If Harper were writing today, he’d have to title his book “Why Wages Don’t Rise.”

The neoliberal form of libertarianism is definitely an efficient tool to create wealth, however, it is not very good at distributing it. It took Donald Trump to show that the libertarian emperor had no clothes. He had never been active in movement circles, and hence did not know that one had to bow before the economic beliefs the Koch brothers had created. His ideas were crudely put but were essentially the antithesis of their views – a clarion call for government action in trade, immigration, infrastructure and preserving entitlement spending. Trump exploited the gap between GOP elite thinking and GOP voter preferences and wiped out the entire field. Trump’s daily assaults on core American values are genuinely too numerous to name. The future of the Republican Party also looks increasingly inhospitable to libertarianism. The Koch version of the libertarian movement has been shown to be a paper tiger.

1 Hayek’s Intellectual Contribution. https://www.britannica.com/biography/F-A-Hayek/Hayeks-intellectual-contributions

2 Timothy Noah. (30 Nov/2015) Charles Koch, Listen to Your Guru https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/11/charles-koch-favorite-book-libertarian-stagnating-wages-213385

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Lessons Learned from Alfred Russel Wallace’s Interactions with Flat-earthers and Bell Curve Enthusiasts

Alfred Russel Wallace is best known for independently conceiving the theory of evolution through natural selection; his paper on the subject was jointly published with some of Charles Darwin’s writings in 1858. When he died in 1913, he was the most famous field biologist in the world. In 1870, Wallace accepted a wager for £500 from by a flat-earther, John Hampden, to demonstrate in public that the earth is round. Hampden put it plainly: “No one can believe a single doctrine or dogma of modern astronomy, and accept Scriptures as divine revelation.” Alfred Russell Wallace successfully demonstrated the curvature of the Earth to answer the challenge. In an 1891 letter to Francis Galton discussing whether individually acquired external characters are inherited, Wallace recommended that “questions can be settled by experiments systematically carried on for ten or twenty years” and offered to collaborative with him. Galton, champion of the bell curve, did not follow up.

Experiments to prove the earth is round were conducted at the Old Bedford River which had a six-mile drainage canal marked at each end by a bridge. Samuel Rowbotham wrote Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe to advance his theory that the earth was flat, not round, (3d edition 1881 has 441 pages).  He had previously used the Bedford Canal to prove the non-existence of Earth’s curvature. He looked through a telescope from one end of the canal and was able to observe boats on the other end. He ignored the effect of refraction and wrongly concluded that the Earth does not have curvature. On the other hand, Wallace designed a better experiment to minimize the effect of refraction. He raised the entire experiment by 13 ft 3 in (4 m) above water along the canal. In contrast, Rowbotham did his experiment only 8 in (20 cm) above water. In addition, Wallace added a pole with two discs in the middle of the canal for observational aid. This way, if there’s a curvature, it would be easy to observe.

In the experiment, Wallace successfully proved the existence of Earth’s curvature. Although Hampden saw what everyone else saw he refused to accept the results. First, Wallace was obliged to give back the money. Hampden, despite issuing the bet in the first place, took him to court and claimed that two people, alone, were not qualified to settle whether or not the world was round or flat. Hampden then started publishing insulting letters in publications. When he moved on to death threats, which he charmingly sent to Wallace’s wife, he was put in prison. Eventually the harassment became a cycle. Hampden would publish libelous claims and send Wallace threats. Wallace would take Hampden to court and Hampden would be forced to recant, briefly imprisoned, and barred from writing anything about Wallace for a few months. This harassment was only interrupted by Hampton’s death in 1891.

Systematic collection of population statistics began in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as a response to the social upheavals of the time and the consequent concern with understanding the dynamics of mass behavior. Adolph Quetelet, the father of quantitative social science, was the first to claim that the bell curve could be applied not only to random errors but also to the distributions of social phenomena. Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton (1822-1911), an explorer and anthropologist with an interest in mathematics and techniques of measurement, used Darwin’s theories to support his own cause and, in particular, applied it to social issues. From Darwin’s description of the selection of physical characteristics, Galton set about developing the idea of the ideal man. He became known for his precise quantitative measurements that led him to develop statistical measurement of hereditary predisposition as a way of predicting and improving the population. His work led to the ‘bell curve’ being the starting point for modeling many natural processes. Galton first coined the term “eugenics” in 1883.

In a letter to Francis Galton sent on February 3, 1891 Wallace observed: “My dear Mr. Galton, Don’t you think the time has come for some combined and systematic effort to carry out experiments for the purpose of deciding…. fundamental but disputed points in organic evolution, [such as] whether individually acquired external characters are inherited, and thus form an important factor in the evolution of species – or whether as you & Weismann argue, and as many of us now believe, they are not so, and we are thus left to depend almost wholly on variation & natural selection…” In a follow up letter in Feb 13, 1891 Wallace says, “It is only in this way that we can arrive at a satisfactory mode of procedure, and I regret that I cannot have the advantage of discussing the question with yourself & others who are well acquainted with the subject and with the special difficulties of experimentation.” There was no follow up by Galton to this offer to collaborate.1

Defining “scientific” as biological means that social factors can be dismissed as ideological and therefore not scientific. In the early 1900s capitalist philanthropic foundations backed academics from top universities to promote “race science” and ultimately eugenics to eliminate the “socially unfit.” Karl Pearson (1857-1936) was Galton Professor of Eugenics at the University of London who developed the Chi squared test. In his various studies, Pearson fell back on mathematical statistics in his desire to find truth. Pearson used his newly developed Chi Square test to check how closely a number of empirical distributions of supposedly random errors fit the bell curve. He found that many of the distributions that had been cited in the literature as fitting the normal curve (including Galton’s work) were actually significantly different from it, and concluded that “the normal curve of error possesses no special fitness for describing errors or deviations such as arise either in observing practice or in nature”. Pearson’s conclusions were not sufficient to stop the application of the normal curve of error as a norm in assigning classroom grades or in psychological testing.2

Charles Murray, FA Hayek Chair in Cultural Studies, co-authored with Richard Herrnstein, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in America (1994) which is not a work of scientific research but rather a political book written by one of the most prominent conservative policy entrepreneurs in America as part of a larger ideological project. The actual conclusion of The Bell Curve is that America should stop trying to improve poor kids’ material living standards because doing so encourages poor, low-IQ women to have more children. It also concludes that the US should substantially curtail immigration from Latin America and Africa. His writings have revived discredited racist eugenics theories “proving” that blacks and Latinos are genetically inferior to whites, and today argues that the lower classes are inferior to the upper classes due to breeding differences. The interpretation of those data, however, is very much in dispute. So, too, are the authors’ conclusions that little or nothing can or should be done to raise the ability of the IQ-impaired, since so much of their lower intelligence is due to heredity.

While The Bell Curve presents elaborate statistical justifications for most of its assertions, however, the claim that intelligence is normally distributed is defended on common sense grounds. Herrnstein and Murray (1994: 557) simply assert that “it makes sense that most things will be arranged in bell-shaped curves. Extremes tend to be rarer than averages.” They note that the bell curve “has a close mathematical affinity to the meaning of the standard deviation,” a concept which they use extensively in the book, and remark that: “It is worth pausing a moment over this link between a relatively simple measure of spread in a distribution and the way things in everyday life vary, for it is one of nature’s more remarkable uniformities.” In reality, there is nothing remarkable about the fact that measures which contain a good deal of random variation will fit a measure designed to measure random variation. If the normal distribution were properly understood as nothing more than a distribution of random errors, it would not lend any weight to their arguments.2

Murray and Hernstein, in their book, suggest that one cannot be sure whether weight is between genetic or environmental, while the book only promotes genetic ‘evidence.’ On the other hand, the role of epigenetics has now provided high quality evidence supporting the importance of DNA in shaping people’s lives. While epigenetic changes can be passed on from parents to children, they can also be altered by stress, diet, environment and behavior. Early life stress alters how DNA is packaged, which makes cells function differently than their original mandate. These epigenetic switches are triggered by many factors such as our lifestyle, environment, diet, stress, emotional deprivation or hormones and our age, and as the development of a growing foetus in the womb is totally dependent on these signals, it can alter the function of its cells. Epigenetics has been particularly helpful in gaining new insights into the wide range of health benefits of exercise.

In the 19th century Alfred Russel Wallace challenged empirical observations of both flat-earthers and bell curve enthusiasts. In the 21st century the Flat Earth Society applies the Zetetic method in which sensory observations reign supreme – making ‘logical’ decisions based on empirical data. A sub-group called flat-earthers question science, claiming everything you have ever known is incorrect. Social media has been a magnifier for this group. The conclusions promoted by Charles Murray are problematic as the bell curve is a mathematical abstraction, not anything scientific. For Charles Murray and mainstream neoliberals like Milton Friedman empirical research on intelligence was an effective means of influencing public perception and policy on welfare, affirmative action, and immigration. The lessons learned: today everyone understands that both flat-earthers and Charles Murray enthusiasts use empirical data, essentially, relying on poor quality evidence to support their claims.

1 The Alfred Russel Wallace Page.  https://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S707AC.htm

2 Ted Goertzel. The Myth of the Bell Curve http://crab.rutgers.edu/~goertzel/normalcurve.htm

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The Rise of Revolutionary Ideas Over the Past 200 Years

In the 19th century, man has seen some of the most revolutionary ideas in human history. These ideas have not only shaped the way we live our lives, but they have completely changed the way we view ourselves and the world around us. Significant new ideas have come by way of science, philosophy and religion, psychology, and sociology. Perhaps the most significant idea of the 19th century was that of Charles Darwin. His Theory of Evolution had major implications on the scientific thinking, religious thinking, and social thinking of the 19th century. Georg Hegel (1770-1831) was responsible for introducing a significant alternative way to view the course of human history. He saw it as a dialectical, in other words, history progressed through a series of contradictions followed by solutions to those contradictions. The struggle that Hegel envisioned is the great tension between ‘is’ and ‘ought,’ between the way things are and the way they ought to be.

Richard Hofstadter devoted an entire chapter of Social Darwinism in American Thought (1955) to Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), arguing that Herbert Spencer’s unfortunate vogue in late nineteenth-century America inspired Andrew Carnegie and William Graham Sumner’s visions of unbridled and unrepentant capitalism. The Gospel of Wealth, an article written by American steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie in 1889, argues that the wealthy can undermine social protest by donating to worthy causes. Carnegie rejected demands to raise wages and living standards because that would cut into profits. During the Victorian period, Spencer urged the importance of examining social phenomena in a scientific way. He developed the concept that eventually was identified as social Darwinism. He believed that natural selection applies to human societies, social classes and individual as well as to biological species developing over geological time. These ideas promote unfettered competition between individuals, and the gradual improvement of society through the survival of the fittest.

Against the backdrop totalitarianism and the Second World War, Hayek wrote what is arguably his most famous book: The Road to Serfdom. The title itself was inspired by Alexis de Tocqueville, and it was immediately very popular when it was first published in Britain in 1944. It has been lauded as such by prominent thinkers and economists like Milton Friedman: “This book has become a true classic: essential reading for everyone who is seriously interested in politics in the broadest and least partisan sense.” Hayek supported (at the time of the writing of The Road to Serfdom) at least work-hour regulation and some degree or form of social welfare. However, this is not necessarily the position that those who cite Hayek as an influence take and this seemingly moderate stance is perhaps somewhat at odds with the legacy he has left.

After Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan took power in the 1980s, the rest of the package soon followed: massive tax cuts for the rich, the crushing of trade unions, deregulation, privatization, outsourcing and competition in public services. Through the IMF, the World Bank, the Maastricht treaty and the World Trade Organization, neoliberal policies were imposed – often without democratic consent – on much of the world. Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments. Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty. Neoliberalism was not conceived as a self-serving racket, but it rapidly became one. Economic growth has been markedly slower in the neoliberal era (since 1980 in Britain and the US) than it was in the preceding decades; but not for the very rich.

The words used by neoliberalism often conceal more than they elucidate. “The market” sounds like a natural system that might bear upon us equally, like gravity or atmospheric pressure. But it is fraught with power relations. What “the market wants” tends to mean what corporations and their bosses want. “Investment”, as Andrew Sayer notes, means two quite different things. One is the funding of productive and socially useful activities, the other is the purchase of existing assets to milk them for rent, interest, dividends and capital gains. Using the same word for different activities “camouflages the sources of wealth”, leading us to confuse wealth extraction with wealth creation. Perhaps the most dangerous impact of neoliberalism is not the economic crises it has caused, but the political crisis. As the domain of the state is reduced, our ability to change the course of our lives through voting also contracts.1

Neoliberals support only the mechanisms by which wealth is created – that is, ‘open competitive markets’ and limits to protectionism – inevitably leading to the manifestation of extreme personal greed. The propensity for Western governments to deviate toward neoliberal principles of economic management played a central role in building up to what is the biggest economic crisis in our hands. ‘The salient failure of the current financial crisis is that it was not caused by some external shock … the crisis was generated by the system itself’, observes George Soros. Popular resistance to neoliberalism has mounted since the financial crisis of 2008, exposing the flaws of deregulation. Staring objectively at the events of the US, Britain and Europe, it is not difficult to see that the entire structure of neoliberal thought is built upon the demands of the wealthy and powerful, all of which have been dressed up as sophisticated economic theory and applied without consideration of the outcome.

The modern environmental movement differed from an early form of environmentalism that flourished in the first decades of the 20th century, usually called conservationism. Led by such figures as Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, the conservationists focused on the wise and efficient use of natural resources. Modern environmentalism arose not out of a productionist concern for managing natural resources for future development, but as a consumer movement that demanded a clean, safe, and beautiful environment as part of a higher standard of living. Although the environment is usually discussed within the context of sustainability, it is equally important for an individual’s quality of life: Indeed, environmental conditions not only affect human health and well-being directly, but also indirectly, as they may have adverse effects on ecosystems, biodiversity, or even more extreme consequences such as natural disasters or industrial accidents. Alexander De Heijer observes, “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”

This environmental degradation is starting to reverberate and affect economic growth. If unchecked, there is a real risk of serious impacts on financial stability and the welfare of people around the world. In the past, many viewed environmental quality as a trade-off with economic growth: Any increase in environmental quality came at a cost or slow-down in economic development prospects. As new clean technologies have emerged and their costs plummeted, it has been increasingly clear that many green alternatives can be cost-competitive. We can have both a clean environment and robust growth. More recently, evidence has shown that sustained growth is, in fact, dependent on environmental protection, and the two must go together. The challenge now, without any doubt, is to accelerate the transformation to a better, more inclusive, sustainable economy. This is especially urgent in emerging economies, where growth is advancing most rapidly.

The Environmental Revolution resembles the Industrial Revolution in that each is dependent on the shift to a new energy source. And like the earlier revolution, the Environmental Revolution will affect the entire world. No sector of the global economy will be untouched by the Environmental Revolution. In this new economy, some companies will be winners and some will be losers. There has not been an investment situation like this before. By 2017 governments were subsidizing oil extraction to the tune of $400 billion per year, which could be spent on energy in the eco-economy. One difference between the investments in fossil fuels and those in wind power, solar cells, and geothermal energy is that the latter are not depletable. Those who participate in building the new economy will be the winners. Those who cling to the past risk becoming part of it.2

The thrust of neoliberal ideology is to privatize everything, taking common resources (even those built at public expense) and commodifying them so as to be able to realize a profit from their use. This then leads to economic inequality. Now, as we wake up to the clear and present threat to public goods that have sustained us, we can better appreciate their value to us. With this increased consciousness, we may now be better able to press for an expansion of public goods. A caring society is a compelling alternative to the present neoliberal order. But we need to make the ethics of caring concrete by outlining how it can be institutionalized. We need to institutionalize it in an expansion of commons that embody the ethics of caring. These revolutionary ideas must not only deal with the economic crisis, but the present political crisis.

1 George Monbiot. (15/April/2016) Neoliberals – the ideology at the root of all our problems. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/15/neoliberalism-ideology-problem-george-monbiot

2 Lester Brown (29/Jan/2007) The Environmental Revolution. https://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/the-environmental-revolution.html

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We Need to Replace the Three Poisons of Neoliberalism

Against the idea that neoliberalism lacks a moral core, let us turn to ideas that were developed during the Iron Age. Buddha defined the three roots of evil or poisons as: greed, hatred and delusion. Greed is also passion. Hatred is also ill will, anger and aggression. Ignorance covers indifference – this enables people to prioritize their pleasure over the suffering of millions of others. If Buddha was correct that greed, ill will and delusion are causes of our suffering and we have institutionalized them; these are matters of deep and urgent concern. Present power elites and institutions have shown themselves incapable of addressing the various crisis that now threaten humanity and the future of the biosphere. It has become obvious that those elites are themselves a large part of the problem and that the solution needs to come from somewhere else. Individual “awakening” is not enough, we require a “social” awakening. Solutions need to be worked at to overcome these poisons dominating society.

What you feel matters, what you do with your feelings even more. Living your life with greed, anger and ignorance have consequences – these emotions influence you in overt and subtle ways – down a path of unhappiness. The neoliberal project is founded on – and acts upon – the assumption that the average citizen is too confused and ignorant to really know what’s best for society or themselves. With respect to “fake news”, the common practices of social media “sharing” constitute an emerging practice that makes one an especially favorable target for neoliberal strategies of social control. A willful hostility toward established knowledge has emerged on both sides of the political spectrum, one in which every opinion on any matter is as good as every other. In a curious ruse of history, the neoliberals’ own economics of ignorance has given rise to forms of tribal epistemology in which information asymmetry and distrust of traditional information sources have propelled new forms of bigotry, lies, and fake news that poison the community.

Neoliberalism has institutionalized greed, ill will and delusion. Corporations are legally chartered so that their first responsibility is not to employees or customers nor members of society they operate within, nor the ecosystem on earth, but to their stockholders who with few exceptions are concerned only about return on investment. With respect to institutionalized ill will: Conservatives, expecting the poor to act self-reliantly, feel less personal complicity in the fact of poverty. Conservatives act differently than progressives to the phenomena associated with poverty – their point of view tends to be “mean spirited” or as “blaming the victim”. Considering the institutionalized delusion of neoliberalism: Democracy requires an activist press, to expose abuse and discuss political issues. However, major media have become profit-making institutions whose bottom-line is advertising revenue, their main concern is to do whatever maximizes those profits. It is never in their own interest to question the grip of consumerism.  

Today everyone is angry, and this rage is expressed in many forms – Hindu nationalism, fascism, the Christian right, anarchic violence and others. The Brexit referendum campaign – just like the U.S. election – has boiled with populist anger, fear-mongering by politicians, hostility towards distant political elites and resurgent nationalism, and exposed a visceral feeling in the electorate that ordinary voters have lost control of the politics that shape their own lives. But nationalism is, more than ever before, a mystification, if not a dangerous fraud with its promise of making a country ‘great again’ and its demonization of the ‘other’; it conceals the real conditions of existence, and the true origins of suffering, even as it seeks to replicate the comforting balm of transcendental ideals within a bleak earthly horizon. Its political resurgence shows resentment – in this case, of people who feel left behind by the globalized economy.

The historian Jennifer Burns has this wonderful insight when she describes Ayn Rand as ‘the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right’ – justifying a certain picture of the world is learned at a very early age, that leads them down the path to narcissism. Because the current culture gives them just enough to behave in ways that the neoliberals describe as being the ideal entrepreneur of the self, confusing freedom with imaginary lack of constraint, and so on and so forth. No one has to read Foucault. Just remember watching The Apprentice, or spend a little time on Facebook. Philip Mirowski traces the origins of neoliberalism to Friedrich Hayek and a European thought collective called The Mont Pelerin Society, who saw markets as information processors, superior to human reason. When neoliberalism, as a real-world political project, expects ignorance of the masses, then spreading confusion becomes an acceptable mode of operation, and lying is not necessarily a bad thing.1

Rand acolytes were spread throughout the world of business during the 1980s and ’90s, but the tech gurus of Silicon Valley have been an especially rich source of Ayn Rand fandom. At their core, Rand’s philosophies suggest that it’s O.K. to be selfish, greedy, and self-interested, especially in business, and that a win-at-all-costs mentality is just the price of changing the norms of society. Trump is in most ways a Rand villain – a businessman who relies on cronyism and manipulation of government, who advocates interference in so-called “free markets,” who bullies big companies to do his bidding, who doesn’t read. His cabinet and donor lists are full of Rand fans who support neoliberal cruelty. This cruelty, through which feelings of resentment, fear, anger, and loathing are enacted against the weak, who are considered a drain on the worthy. Cracking down on welfare “cheats,” “illegal” immigrants, and homeless “vagrants” can become a form of public satisfaction.

An important part of genuine education is realizing that many of the things we think are natural and inevitable (and therefore should accept) are in fact conditioned (and therefore can be changed). The world doesn’t need to be the way it is; there are other possibilities. The present role of the media is to foreclose most of those possibilities by confining public awareness and discussion within narrow limits. With few exceptions, the world’s developed (or “economized”) societies are now dominated by a power elite composed of governments and large corporations including the major media. People move seamlessly from each of these institutions to the other, because there is little difference in their worldview or goals: primarily economic expansion. Politics remains “the shadow cast by big business over society,” as John Dewey once put it. The role of the media in this unholy alliance is to “normalize” this situation, so that we accept it and continue to perform our required roles, especially the frenzied production and consumption necessary to keep the economy growing.

It’s important to realize that we are not being manipulated by a clever group of powerful people who benefit from manipulating us. Rather, we are being manipulated by a deluded group of powerful people who think they benefit from it – because they buy into the basic illusion that their own well-being is separate from that of other people. They too are victims of their own propaganda, caught up in the webs of collective delusion that include virtually all of us, one of the poisons – ignorance. As the Viennese satirist Karl Kraus once said, “How do wars begin? Politicians tell lies to journalists, then believe what they read in the newspapers.” The same applies to shared fantasies such as the necessity of consumerism and perpetual economic growth, and collective repressions such as denial of impending eco-catastophe.2

The opposite of the ignorance of institutionalized neoliberalism is knowledge or awareness. Of the three passions ignorance is viewed as the worst, inhibiting our ability to follow the path that leads to the cessation of suffering. It would appear that the picture of the ordinary human condition, mired in ignorance and moved by short-term pragmatic goals, precludes such a notion of personal freedom. To repeat, on the psychological level, Shantideva tells us we have no more justification for blaming someone who harms us than for blaming a fire for causing heat or, in another example, for blaming the sky for having clouds. This line of thought reflects the view that all wrongdoing is due to ignorance.3 We must end the corrupt system of money for influence – get big money out of politics. With money comes time, access, and the corruption of representative democracy. The majority of the middle class, even many within the power elite, are ignorant of the fact that this affects their own well-being.

The opposites of the poisons of greed and anger of institutionalized neoliberalism are generosity and compassion or understanding. To counter the greed of neoliberalism it is necessary to introduce a living wage, and invest in affordable, high quality childcare and early education. The answer for compassion comes from a 1996 white paper, “Just changing the way business is done, if only by a few companies, can change the flow of wealth, ease and eliminate poverty, and leave us all with something better to worry about. Basic human needs such as food and shelter are fundamental human rights; there are more than enough resources available to go around – if we can just figure out how to share.“ In 2009 the President of the UN Assembly argued, “The anti-values of greed, individualism and exclusion should be replaced by solidarity, common good and inclusion. The objective of our economic and social activity …  should be universal values that underpin our ethical and moral responsibility.”4

1 Podcast (25/Oct/2016) Interchange – Selling Ignorance: Part Two of the Way of Neoliberalism https://wfhb.org/news/interchange-selling-ignorance-part-two-of-the-way-of-neoliberalism/

2 David Loy ( 19 /Nov/2013) The Three Poisons, Institutionalized https://www.huffpost.com/entry/buddhist-three-poisons_b_4293245

3Rick Repetti. BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVES ON FREE WILL: AGENTLESS AGENCY? https://philarchive.org/archive/REPBPO-2

4 Jeff Mowat. (13/Oct/2013) Is Compassion the Antidote for Neoliberalism?  https://bullshit.ist/is-compassion-the-antidote-for-neoliberalism

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Unitarian and Social Anarchist Ideas Could Complement One Another

More and more people are asking why laissez-faire economics does not appear to work, and are questioning the theories that support the free market system. This brings the neoliberal project under scrutiny, including the necessity for less taxes and regulation. This, in turn, makes theories that support laissez-faire capitalism, like objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, suspect. Ayn Rand died in 1980, but her novel, Atlas Shrugged (dubbed the bible of selfishness) sold 140 million copies by 1997. With the market problems of 2008, neoliberal economics has become the main suspect and, as a consequence, objectivism has fallen from its lofty heights. Orlando A. Battista (1917-1995), chemist and writer, noted for both scientific and inspirational themes, claimed, “An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” Having recognized the error of neoliberal economic theories in general and the manipulations of the power elite in particular, it is necessary to introduce a new cultural approach to supporting communities.

 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. Proudhon had endeavored, in his first memoir on property, to demonstrate that the pursuit of equality of conditions is the true principle of right and of government.

Mikhail Bakunin’s ideas produced a coherent defense of individual freedom and its basis in a free society. Bakunin believed “every human being should have the material and moral means to develop his humanity.”  He 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 means social equality such as quality of condition, or equal opportunity. Men deprived of freedom to decide their own future, means they lose the sense of purpose in their life. Some – the economic elite – are cushioned by wealth and privilege from feeling the direct impact of this process, though they too are affected in insidious ways, but the poor and marginalized experience the imposition of the minimal state in a very direct way.

When Ayn Rand developed the ideas around what would become objectivism, she turned to Aristotle for ethics. For Aristotle, moral virtue had to do with feeling, choosing and acting well. This included one being all he could be to fulfil his potential, and living in a way that reached his full potential. To achieve this, self-love was necessary. Aristotle described two types of self-love. For him, self-love was a proper emotion, provided it expressed in love of a virtue and was valuable. Being noble and good promoted the good of the community. The second was the dangerous self-love in which the individual assigned material advantage and pleasure. This was the selfishness driven by individualism, where there was no evident benefit for oneself in helping others. What happens when individuals do not follow the good self-love of Aristotle that includes acting with dignity and not acting on impulses? You get a narcissist like Donald Trump who resists accepting suggestions, thinking they will make him appear weak, and believes others have nothing useful to tell him.

Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman believe in a predestination future of those children whose parents cannot afford to enroll them in high quality private schools, preparing them for higher education. “There will always be a situation in which parents are too poor to educate their children, says Rand, “Those children must rely on the charity or self-interest of others.” According to Rand, while the state should not interfere with its citizens’ life, it also has no obligation towards ‘the good education’ – there is a privilege secured by those who can pay for it. Moreover, she explains, the wealthy are free to decide whether it is in their interest to finance education for the poor as charity which would later serve them: “… it is in the interest of the industrialist to have a an educated work force… Companies run specialized schools to train future employees, not for a mawkish altruistic reason: they need skilled employees.”1

It was as if everyone was asleep and not aware of the risks of derivatives and swaps not being regulated. In October 2008, Alan Greenspan, who has a libertarian point of view of the market, spoke in a congressional hearing room: “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.” This was part of the statement that documented that four decades of Ayn Rand’s ideals had let him down. Greenspan had refused regulation of derivatives and swaps in 2002-2004. These instruments were used to insure or cover their trading in subprime mortgages. This inaction allowed the banks to consolidate on one hand and, on the other, run large parts of their business out of the scrutiny of the regulators. Those in the mortgage market were very selfish and their activities were harmful to the community. For many, this meant the dreams of a pleasant retirement and the promise one’s children would have a better life than their parents, have been destroyed.2

The community decides what can be regarded as knowledge, therefore power, and what cannot. Power thus circulates throughout society and both creates and is governed by the accepted local practices and discourses within that particular society. One cannot escape power, Foucault argues, power can only be negotiated and resisted from within a local context, and argues that mechanisms of power would be unable to function unless knowledge apparatuses were created, organized and made to circulate – these knowledge apparatuses are not ideological constructs. Power produces what we believe to be our reality through knowledge, however knowledge is also produced by power, as power cannot exist without the discourses produced within a society; but power also governs the creation of these discourses. Foucault observes elites determine, often based on self-interests, the standards of normality. Once one method has been selected over others, alternatives become deviant. This creates tension between the elites and the masses.

Charles Eddis in his pamphlet What Unitarians Affirm states, “The emphasis on sensible, ethical religion which characterizes Unitarianism goes back to a reform movement of Christians in Italy in the 1530s and 1540s who drew on humanism and enlightened Catholicism of Erasmus as much as on Protestant thought.” The Renaissance called people to look scientifically at the world the way it was, not as they might like to believe that it was, and to develop curiosity and objectivity. Servetus’ book On the Errors of the Trinity, opened up a can of worms that main-line Protestant reformers, Luther, Calvin and Zwingly, had agreed not to open, in other words the Trinity. Main-line Protestantism knew that the Trinity was not in the Bible and had arisen as a theological-philosophical concept, growing out of a political compromise in the year 325 of our Common Era at the Council of Nicaea. However, the Unitarians believe in moral authority but not necessarily the divinity of Jesus; and reject authority and hierarchy. In turn, main-line Protestantism has always tried to push Unitarians out.3

The 1999 battle of Seattle for the most part and the Million Mask March on Guy Fawkes Day were associated with a number of anarchist groups – generally associated with limited outbreaks of violence. There are many different schools of thought within anarchism that are strictly non-violent, and a vast majority of anarchists oppose violence except in extreme circumstances for self-defense. For this discussion we focus on social anarchism. Social anarchist thought emphasizes community and social equality as complementary to autonomy and personal freedom. Most social anarchists recognize the need for education and to create alternatives, but most disagree that this is not enough in itself. The social anarchist school agrees that significant community ownership and management of the economy is required to provide the necessary framework to protect individual liberty in all aspects of life by reducing the influence of the power elite, in whatever form it takes.4

We need to correct the circulating messages and ongoing abuses of the power elite. Social anarchist and Unitarian ideas have the potential to rectify these short comings – relying on a strong focus on being consistent in community values as well as a strong tendency towards critical thinking. A significant part of anarchism is the idea of self-liberation. We must unlearn oppressive axioms instilled on us by the neoliberal project. Just as anarchists wish to create non-hierarchical institutions which satisfy our material needs in place of the oppressive ones, we should be establishing institutions which satisfy our spiritual needs. Unitarianism rejects authority and need for hierarchy, nor the presumption that life be based on competition. Unitarianism rejects predestination while the religious right doctrine of predestination re-enforces laissez-faire which, in turn, supports the legitimacy of neoliberal policies. Anarchist and unitarian ideas would complement one another in their commitment to a better world.5


2 Greg Horsman (2012) Objectivism Lost and an Age of Disillusionment, Chapter 6.

3 Ray Drennan. (2005) Unitarianism: Where Did We Come From? https://cuc.ca/unitarian-universalism/history/unitarianism-where-did-we-come-from/

4 What types of anarchism are there?  https://www.activism.net/government/AnarchistFAQ/secA3.html

5 Clayton Dewey (2004)  Anarchism and Unitarian Universalism https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/clayton-dewey-anarchism-and-unitarian-universalism

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