Recognizing the Path to Happiness and Good Health

Happiness is not a destination; it is a choice we make. To find happiness with the life you have, and to achieve the goals important to you, you must confront the limitations of the system. “Happiness is the feeling that power increases – that resistance is being overcome”, says Nietzsche, and moral concepts are merely façades of the power elite, while happiness is a kind of control one has over their surroundings. In the 19th century Jeremy Bentham recognized the exploitive character of the capitalist relationship. Bentham is primarily known today for his moral philosophy, especially his principle of utilitarianism, which evaluates actions based upon their consequences. The relevant consequences, in particular, are the overall happiness created for everyone affected by the action. For Bentham happiness was a daily experience. He believed the goal of public policy was increasing the contentment and happiness of the greatest number of individuals possible in a society.

Where Rousseau (1712-1778) claimed social equality was possible, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) believed social equality was not possible. At the turn of the 19th century, Bentham introduced the principle of utility – reflected in the statement “every action should be judged right or wrong according to how far it tends to promote or damage the happiness of the community.” Bentham believed that human behavior was motivated by the desire to obtain pleasure and avoid pain. Utilitarianism taught that through the infliction and threat of pain people would be provided with motives to abstain from decisions associated with socially harmful behavior. Bentham claimed that it was possible to decide by scientific means what was morally justifiable by applying the principles of utility. He advocated that actions were right if they tended to produce ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.’ In his day, the ‘people’ were individuals who could vote – workers at that time did not have the vote.

Jeremy Bentham’s moral philosophy reflects his psychological view that the primary motivators in human beings are pleasure and pain. Bentham is not referring to just to the usefulness of things or actions, but to the extent to which these things or actions promote the general happiness. Specifically then, what is morally obligatory is that which produces the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people, happiness being determined by reference to the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain. Bentham says that the principle of utility is something that can be ascertained and confirmed by simple observation, and that, if pleasure is good, then it is good irrespective of whose pleasure it is. Bentham suggests that individuals would generally seek the general happiness because the interests of others are inextricably bound up with their own. For Bentham, moral philosophy or ethics can be simply described as “the art of directing men’s action to the production of the greatest quantity of happiness, on the part of whose interest is in view.”

In parallel during the 19th century, laissez-faire ideology claimed it could deliver the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Free trade stimulated economic growth. Economic growth created more jobs. More jobs meant more opportunities for people to consume, which in turn meant new market opportunities for producers and traders. A virtuous circle was thereby created and ‘the greatest number’ duly benefited. In Britain the evidence of JP Kay, Edwin Chadwick and the other Victorian social commentators also demonstrated the fragility of this supposedly virtuous circle. Without state intervention, they argued, it was clear that the whole Victorian economic miracle might be undermined. The solution adopted was central government intervention to mitigate the most damaging effects of unrestrained industrial capitalism. The Factory Act of 1883 was meant to stop the mistreatment of children: Employment of very young children in textile factories was forbidden, and that of adolescents restricted. Employers had to provide at least two hours’ education a day for child employees.

Bentham claims that “liberty is the absence of restraint” and so, to the extent that one is not hindered by others one has liberty and is “free.” Given that pleasure and pain are fundamental to – indeed provide – the standard of value for Bentham, liberty is good (because it is ‘pleasant’) and the restriction of liberty is an evil (because it is painful). Law, which is by its very nature, is a restriction of liberty and painful to those whose freedom is restricted. He recognized that law is necessary for social order and good laws are clearly essential to good government. He saw the positive role to be played by law and government, particularly in achieving community well-being. Bentham rejected “natural rights” claiming ‘real rights’ are fundamentally legal rights, that exist in law. However, Bentham recognized that there are some services that are essential to the happiness of an individual and that cannot be left to others to fulfill as they see fit, and so these individuals must be compelled to fulfill them.

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. Capitalism, Rand claims, is not today’s system, with its mixture of freedom and government controls, but a social system in which the government is exclusively devoted to the protection of individual rights, including property rights – one in which there exists absolutely no government intervention in the economy. The power elite today promote laissez-faire that pushes individualism to the extreme, turning selfishness into a virtue, as Ayn Rand has done. It is a closed ontology since it does not admit the other, the stranger, into the circle of those towards whom we have a duty of responsibility and care. It thus completes capitalism as a zero-sum game of “winners and losers”.

Altruism is an ethical doctrine that holds that individuals have a moral obligation to help, serve or benefit others, if necessary, at the sacrifice of self-interest. The core of Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism is 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. A German study found that altruism not only correlates with happiness, but causes it. And should we be surprised? If you want to help yourself, help someone else. Turns out it’s true. And there is research to back it up. There is something inherently elevating about creating value for others. Not only does your own self-esteem get a collateral boost, but your sense of purpose – your perceived value of your own life – does, as well. Of course, Bentham and Rand had serious differences, altruism being the main one. Rand categorically rejects it, Bentham embraces it. Similarly, while Bentham believes people act selfishly, Rand advises that people should act selfishly in order to enhance social wellbeing.

Bentham criticized those in power for pursuing their own narrow, socially destructive goals, instead of pursuing happiness for all. His solution was to establish democratic rule by the whole society, rather than by a select class. For Bentham, the legitimate functions of government are social reform and the establishment of the conditions most conductive to promoting the greatest happiness, for the greatest number of people. In the case of happiness, we know that a person’s inborn temperament is important to their happiness. But there are also behaviors and choices people make that can influence their well-being. On the negative side, people can make themselves unhappy by becoming addicted to drugs, unnecessarily worrying all the time, or making other bad choices. On the positive side, people can be positive and supportive with others, have important long-term goals that lead to a meaningful life.1

Mental illnesses produce some of the most challenging health problems faced by society, accounting for vast numbers of hospitalizations, disabilities resulting in billions in lost productivity, and sharply elevated risks for suicide. Scientists have long known that these potentially devastating conditions arise from combinations of genes and environmental factors. Scientists define “environment” in the realm of mental illness broadly; suggest it encompasses everything that isn’t an inherited gene. A study by Gerdtham et al. (1997) found good health to have a significant positive effect on happiness. As health is a strong determinant of happiness then there is every reason for enhancement of health to be a policy priority of the state. Today the causal interaction between happiness and health is well documented. People who are happy enjoy a better health while unhappiness depletes the state of health reducing the immune resistance and developing psychosomatic disease that may lead to depression and suicide.

Some argue that people must make themselves happy because governments cannot do it and it is not the government’s responsibility. However, there actually are things the government can do to influence happiness. There is not one simple key to happiness. It comes from several directions. Greater attention to measures of happiness, can also uncover under-resourced or under-recognized areas for action. Indeed, the UK’s Commission on Wellbeing and Policy (2014) found that mental health is the most important driver of wellbeing, more important than physical illness, income, employment, or family status. Peoples’ happiness, their emotional wellbeing and mental health, affect their ability to meet their full potential: to stay in school, hold a decent job, and contribute to family and community life. The reverse is also true: wellbeing is often the result of expanding opportunities for people to go to school, work a decent job, and be active in their communities.2

1 Sherif Arafa. (5 April 2019) Why Governments Should Care More About Happiness

2 Natalia Linou and Jon Hall. (18 March 2016) The Pursuit of Happiness: paying greater attention to Mental Health

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The Long-lasting Ramifications of the Politics of Resentment and Trumpism

Resentment as a cultural response to economic struggle has political consequences. More than half of US workers are unhappy with their jobs. The frustration you experience by not living the life you imagined is created by the resentment that the outcome of an event is less than you imagined it would be. Donald Trump himself is a cauldron of resentment, who has deeply internalized a life-time of deep resentments, and thus is able to tap into, articulate, and mobilize the resentments of his followers, in a way that Democrats and other professional politicians can. Trump appeals to resentment that ultimately rests on economic failure: working-class whites have been left behind by soaring inequality (but they mistakenly blame emigrants taking their jobs). Donald Trump – figured out how to harness their disillusionment and growing anger – is superior to the others in exploiting the narcissism of small differences to recruit the Republican base.

Claiming to be the victim of the political establishment has been key to Trump’s political persona and the basis of Trumpism. Donald Trump harnessed the resentment and sense of victimhood of the Republican Party. Trump came across unceasingly pained, injured and aggrieved: the primaries were unfair, the debates were unfair, the general election was unfair. He gave a voice to that part of America that also feels aggrieved. Trump claimed there was a conspiracy against him supported by ‘fake’ news. Today Trump’s paranoid White House continues to see ‘deep state’ enemies on all sides. He became the representative of the idea of the new whiny right: waning power of whiteness, privilege, patriarchy, access, and the cultured surety that accrues to those in possession of such. With respect to the 2020 loss, he spent months laying the groundwork for large swaths of voters to be receptive to his claim that it was wrongly taken from him.

Donald Trump was hugely successful in harnessing white identity politics and the politics of white resentment. Trump ran on a promise of restoration, a nostalgia for a time gone by, and the sense that America, particularly white America, is losing and has been losing for years. There is not one big reason Donald Trump won. His election promises represented an appeal to popular resentment, to so-called herd instincts. Trump appeals to resentment that ultimately rests on economic failure: working-class whites have been left behind by soaring inequality (but they mistakenly blame emigrants taking their jobs). He promises to bring back the kind of greatness that once existed, but has been taken over by the politically correct that is too focused on diversity to recognise and support the forgotten white man. Trump feasts on social divisions and has perfected harnessing the rage of the workers driven by the failure of neoliberal market fundamentalism.

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), an English philosopher and economist, believed that society was evolving towards increasing freedom of individuals and held that government intervention ought to be minimal in political and social life. Spencer’s survival of the fittest concept was believed to be natural, hence morally correct. Spencer preferred the Lamarckian evolution of adapted characteristics in which he believed that societies like living organisms evolve from simple states into highly complex forms – equating evolution with progress. He saw evolutionary progress as an economic problem, worked out at the level of the individual. This supported the doctrine of social Darwinism promoted to justify laissez-faire economics, thought best to promote unfettered competition between individuals, and the gradual improvement of society through the survival of the fittest. Consistent with this thinking, most individuals in Trump’s cabinet and donor lists support a system, through which feelings of resentment, fear, anger, and loathing are enacted against the weak, who are considered a drain on the worthy.

Trump won the 2016 election through the promise to build a wall and the rhetoric of racist nationalism. Trickle-down economics destabilizes social order by promising and then ‘dashing’ hopes of individual liberation. Here nationalism plays the role of filling the gap that consumerism can never satisfy, providing placebo compensation for the uncertainty and instability of modern life, social cohesion beyond the fragmentation of the marketplace, and encouraging allegiance to the interests of one’s national ideology. But Trump’s 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.

We fear new because of the uncertainty it brings – we might lose what is associated with change. Our aversion to loss can even cause logic to fly out the window. In rural areas of the US there are many people who feel that neither party represents them, and many have a strong resentment toward the cities and urban elites. Many times, this resentment comes out as a feeling of, “I’m a deserving person, a hardworking American and the things I deserve are actually going to other people who are less deserving.” Donald Trump’s message really tapped into that sentiment. The message of Trumpism is: You are right, you are not getting your fair share, you should be angry, you are a deserving, hardworking American and what you deserve is going to people who don’t deserve it. In 2020 he turned to racist fears of Black people with emphasis on “defund the police” message of progressives along with the smoke and mirrors of increase in taxes of a Biden administration, so-called socialism.

Nietzsche argues “concepts are metaphors which do not correspond to reality.” Although all concepts are metaphors invented by humans (created to facilitate ease of communication), Nietzsche observes, humans forget this fact after inventing them, and come to believe they are ‘true’ although they do not correspond to reality. Nietzsche believed, one should be conscious of the illusory nature of what is considered truth, thus opening up the possibility of the creation of new values. It is necessary to create the social environment or milieu to support good governance to control cognitive dissonance and the consequent balancing of perception that leads to misperception. Nietzsche argued that one of the most powerful forces in society was “ressentiment [French for resentment].” According to their use, ressentiment is a sense of hostility directed toward an object that one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration, that is, an assignment of blame for one’s frustration. The resentment that grows in the weak turns eventually to be evil, deceitful and hateful.

Donald Trump won the election in 2016 largely because enough voters in three states, all in the Rustbelt, who had voted for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012, switched their vote from Democratic to Republican. Economic dislocations played a crucial role in these swing states or Democratic strongholds to persuade many voters to take the dramatic step to vote for an anti-establishment candidate even if that meant a leap of faith into the unknown.  Protest and extreme-right voting which research has shown that racist resentment and anti-immigrant sentiments are an important voting motive, nearly worked in 2020, succeeded in getting Trump the second most votes of any candidate in the history of US elections. Donald Trump’s trickle-down economics approach will not be enough to counter the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. He is leaving an economic mess for Joe Biden to clean up.

At the 2011 White House Correspondence Dinner (WHCD) President Obama roasted Donald Trump. This created enough resentment to push Trump to enter the 2016 primaries for president. He wanted to stick it to the Washington elites who laughed at him that night. He believes the elite unfairly challenged the legitimacy of his 2016 election, so he merely reciprocates. Post-2020 election Donald Trump plays the resentment card that initially got him elected: Trump’s blizzard of misleading fundraising emails and his refusal to concede is bad for the country, but it’s raking in the money for Trump. This money is funding Trump’s farcical legal challenges of the election results. His ongoing anger is reflected in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, in order to discredit Biden’s legitimacy. This disinformation program is poisoning the soil making it more difficult for Biden to handle the current crises and start to heal the nation’s self-destructive divisions left by Trumpism.

Trump is a narcissist, and narcissists are liars. Narcissism and resentment go together. The usual explanation is that narcissists are resentful because the world doesn’t recognize their brilliance or meet their demands for special privileges. Narcissism is a disorder of the self – a self based on opportunism instead of values. For them life is a game and they play to win, and the lie becomes necessary for their own survival. When we’re involved with a narcissist, cognitive dissonance is a psychological state that keeps many clinging to a narcissistic person like Trump, who has succeeded in creating two camps. There is more to it than the profound effect he has had on the Republican party, but also the long-lasting damage he has inflicted. Like carriers of a virus, narcissistic leaders “infect” the very cultures of their organizations, leading to dramatically lower levels of collaboration and integrity at all levels – even after they are gone.1

1 Mickey Butts. (5 Oct 2020) How narcissistic leaders infect their organizations’ cultures.

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An Approach to Tap the Enthusiasm of Progressive Democrats

To drive change it is necessary to tap into into the energy of progressives and bring back convictions that governments have a role to solve social problems and challenge the oligarchies. The progressive movement focuses on many issues including environmental and social justice. These movements tend to be silos. Progressives need to control ideas in order to challenge the political philosophy of the power elite that drive the political debate in Washington. How you label things is more important than how you debate them. Whoever controls the language controls the debate. They must embrace the language of the social determinants of health. The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, that is, their whole life cycle, encompassing not only the social, but also economic, political, environmental, cultural and individual determinants. The social determinants of health concept can help make the links between government policy, the market, and the health and well-being of citizens to surmount the barriers to change.

Individual and community health are determined by a vast array of external conditions and factors that involve housing, education, transportation, social networks and income, to name a few. We now know that these social determinants of health explain why life expectancy and good health improve in some communities and fail to advance in others.  Their impact can even be greater than that of the health care system itself. The consequences of poverty on health are well established and include lower life expectancy, higher disease burden, and poorer overall health. Inequality and inequity are not interchangeable. Inequity is unfair, unavoidable, differences arising from poor governance, corruption, or cultural exclusion. It is the result of human failure giving rise to avoidable deaths and disease. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.

People who suffer from adverse social and material living conditions also experience high levels of physiological and psychological stress. Stressful experiences arise from coping with conditions of low income, poor quality housing, food insecurity, inadequate working conditions, insecure employment, and various forms of discrimination based on disability, gender, or race. Institutional discrimination occurs when resources such as housing, quality, schooling, jobs, criminal justice and other social determinants of health are differently allocated among groups, even when following the explicitly stated “rules of the game.” When this type of discrimination is perceived by the target, it is seen as a major stressful life experience. Whether or not it is perceived by the target, institutional discrimination may trigger additional stressful life experiences, such as unemployment, exposure to poor-quality housing, and environment or stagnated social mobility. The lack of supportive relationships, social isolation, and mistrust of others further increases stress.

What are the policy implications of stress? The focus must be on the source of problems rather than dealing with symptoms. Numerous studies demonstrate that low socio-economic status (SES) individuals have increased stress levels. In addition, it is well known that poverty increases one’s risk for chronic health problems, such as severe depression and other mental illnesses, which hinder success in academics or work. These disorders make it much more difficult for low SES individuals to improve their situation through any form of economic advancement. While it is possible to fulfill the “American dream” and make a better life for oneself, that is not the case for most low SES individuals, especially after they leave school and start supporting a family. Therefore, an effective way to reduce stress and improve health is by improving the living conditions people experience.

The economic elite demand a dressed-up sophisticated economic theory be applied to society regardless of the outcome which has nothing to do with economics but everything to do with power. We now live in a world where those who can afford to spend the most money to have their version of it advertised widely control the debate. There are expectations that Joe Biden, who belongs to the mainstream of the Democratic Party, deliver change. Biden plans to create a public option for health insurance, a New Deal type program to counter the effects of COVID pandemic, as well as raise the minimum wage and invest in green energy. In addition, he supports expansion of tuition-free colleges, and universal preschool access. These would be paid for using money gained back from withdrawing the Trump-era tax cuts. These plans cover a wide swath of issues.

There are soul searching questions why the Democrats lost seats in the House and struggled in the Senate races in the 2020 election. Moderates are blaming the progressives. The real problem, said Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was that the party lacked “core competencies” to run campaigns, rather than, the ability of the republicans to create fear in the electorate over taking funds away from police departments and the “socialist” influence on policies by the progressives. Ocasio-Cortez has criticized the Democratic party for incompetence in a no-holds-barred, post-election interview with the New York Times, warning that if the Biden administration does not put progressives in top positions, the party would lose big in the 2022 midterm elections. She sees the need for ideas that keep young voters and minorities engaged in process towards change. The fact of the matter is Democrats need a process to control the level of fear that Republicans can create at election time.

Biden declares to the Black community, “You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.” The impact of structural inequities follows individuals from womb to tomb.” For example, African American women are more likely to give birth to low-birth weight infants, and their newborns face higher infant death rates that are not associated with any biological differences, even for accounting for socio-economic factors. Although the science is still evolving, it is hypothesized that the chronic stress associated with being treated differently by society is responsible for these persistent differential birth outcomes. In elementary school there are persistent differences across racial and ethnic divisions in rates of discipline and levels of reading attainment, rates that are not associated with any difference in intelligence metrics. For many people, the challenges which structural inequities pose limit the scope of opportunities they have for reaching their full potential. It is important to consider how health of communities is dependent on the social determinants of health.

If groups want high-quality decisions with strong support for follow through, and they are willing to invest time to create a proposal or plan, they will benefit from consensus decision-making. Involving all group members in the discussion of issues and making decisions together is a powerful process. Biden needs a process to counter the power struggle between Democratic moderates and progressives. The best tool for him to develop cohesion is to apply the filter of the social determinants of health to structure the dialogue for input on proposals. Social determinants will include discussions on systemic racism, education opportunities, unemployment, and a comprehensive health care plan. Effective consensus building results in decisions that have been thoughtfully deliberated, incorporate diverse experience and views, and may produce the best possible decision given the configuration of interests that have come together for a given purpose.

By the end of the 20th century, individualism, happiness, and capitalism were part of the core values of Western culture. Individualism is the belief that one’s place in the societal hierarchy – their occupational class, income and wealth, and power and prestige as well as the placement such as health and disease status – comes through one’s own efforts, and the right to make free choices which feeds consumer capitalism. The philosophy of individualism promoted by the power elite provides the support within the general population that keeps this system of privilege in place. We need to ban making public policy decisions through the lens of individualism (which oversimplifies complex and multifaceted problems) and switch to filter social and economic policies through the lens of the social determinants of health before they are implemented to ensure they support actions that reduce inequities in the system.

Eating well and exercising are important, but the things that contribute most to our health are how much money we have and our status within our community. By adopting the social determinants of health inequities as the focus of change the Democrats will achieve three important benefits. The first is to take control the dialogue in Washington that is necessary to bring forward new ideas and legislation. The second is to have both the progressives and moderates sing from the same page of the hymn book with a standardized message format on the programs they want to introduce during the next session. This includes developing short term and long-term policies for key domestic issues such as addressing systemic discrimination, accessible health care for all, equitable employment and new green jobs. The third benefit is ongoing development of dialogue around proposals that describe long-term polices that will inform voters in the 2022 mid-term elections.

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Overview of Republican Political Philosophy in the 21st Century

The philosophy of Leo Strauss is known to influence the ideology of the Republican Party. Let’s look at two administrations: George W Bush, 43rd president of the United States (2001–09), led his country’s response to the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and initiated the Iraq War in 2003. The other is Donald Trump (2017-2021) whose populist nationalist campaign, which promised to “Make America Great Again”, opposed political correctness, illegal immigration. Both leaders relied on various levels of deception; had similar economic policies: Bush with a $1.3 trillion tax cut and Trump’s tax cut with a 10-year cost at $2.3 trillion. They left a conservative legacy in the courts: Bush nominated two conservative judges to the supreme court, while Trump has appointed three. George W Bush with a flaccid mind and Donald Trump having no moral values guiding him means both leaders were readily steered by neoconservative advisors. On analysis, the ideas of Leo Strauss appear to influence policies of these two presidents.

Leo Strauss (1899-1973) was a classical political philosopher who read Nietzsche and had considerable influence on the neocons. From 1949 to 1967 Strauss served as a professor in the University of Chicago political science department, and became the source of the inspiration of the neoconservative ideology of the Republican Party. He developed a political philosophy based on deception, the power of religion, and aggressive nationalism. This was a system in which the people are told no more than they need to know as deception is a norm in political life. He recommended the use of religion for the morals of the masses, but not applying to the leaders. If the masses really knew what was going on it would lead to nihilism. The void was to be filled with religious values. Also, Strauss proposed the use of aggressive foreign policy to unite the masses. Strauss admired Machiavelli. It was Machiavelli’s The Prince, written in 1513, that first laid bare the moral world of politics and the gulf between private conscience and the demands of public action.

The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) was a neo-conservative think tank (1997 to 2006) established as a “a non-profit, educational organization whose goal is to promote American global leadership.” Of the twenty-five people who signed PNAC’s founding statement of principles, ten went on to serve in the administration of U.S. President George W Bush, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. PNAC is noteworthy for its focus on Iraq, a preoccupation that began before Bush became president and predates the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Two of the bureaucrats who put together the package of ‘evidence’ of WMD in Iraq were Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense and Abram Shulsky, Director of the Office of Special Plans – both students of Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago. This like thinking allowed a group to easily engineer a plan of deception of the American people about the need to invade Iraq.

Paul Wolfowitz out maneuvered the State Department and the CIA to get the Bush administration to set up the Special Plans unit because they were more effective in making their argument. Abram Shulsky (who had roomed with Wolfowitz at Cornell and Chicago) was appointed the Director of Special Plans. Under his direction Special Plans put together the case for weapons of mass destruction creating the need to invade Iraq. In late February 2002, the CIA sent Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate reports that the African nation sold uranium to Iraq to reconstitute their nuclear program. He failed to find evidence of any activities related to the purchase of ‘yellowcake’ uranium from Niger by Iraq. President Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address claimed that purchases of uranium by Iraq from Niger were immanent creating a public protest by Ambassador Wilson.

In 1995, the Fed began easing monetary policy in order to support the government bailout of the holders of Mexican bonds in response to the Mexican debt crisis. This money drove the Internet bubble of the 1990s. The US banking oligarchy ensured politicians who needed funds for re-election were supportive of activities such as allowing banks to assign their own risk level. Following the collapse of the Internet bubble, a long period of low interest rates was encouraged by the US government to support the ongoing expansion of housing as it became the main driver of the economy. The economic debacle of 2008 followed years of deregulation and manipulation of the banking system to maximize profits. When the economy slowed down the housing bubble burst. In all the countries affected by the Great Recession, recovery was slow and uneven, and the broader social consequences of the downturn saw historically high levels of student debt, and diminished job prospects among young adults.

In Strauss’s view perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to tell them what’s good for them. At the core of the thinking of Straussian neocons is the idea of lying to achieve their goals. Donald Trump won the nomination as the candidate who lied the most, won the presidency as someone known to lie; has an unshakable base despite ongoing lies. Breitbart news beta tested anti-immigration messages that took down Eric Cantor. Breitbart eventually turned to Donald Trump – with Steve Bannon as CEO of Trump’s campaign and Steve Miller as speech writer – to develop the messages of fear that Trump delivered during the 2016 campaign. In 2017 the Mueller investigation examined the role of Breitbart News played in both amplifying stories from Russian media and being amplified by Russian bots in social media. Breitbart was master of the fake news.

Strauss’s critique of liberalism is understood through the crisis of modernity, more specifically he feared modern relativism would surface through America’s liberal traditions. What neoconservatism has inherited from Strauss was a fear of relativism. Strauss’s critique of modernity holds that liberal society fosters moral relativism which, in turn, destroys the moral fabric of society. In turn, neoconservatives viewed the permissive egalitarianism and cultural relativism of the counterculture as a disintegration of values. In turn, Strauss recommends religion to control the masses, but it was not necessary for the leaders. On September 29, 2016 Trump meets with religious right and makes promises that include: ending the contraception mandate of Obamacare, selecting only anti-choice judges, support prayer in school, keeping transgender people from using the “wrong” bathrooms and locker rooms – basically when it came to religious liberty, he would make sure that America was on the right side of God.

Strauss’s fear of relativism casts suspicions on liberalism and he calls for cultural elites to rule – supporting the concept of a ruling elite or new aristocracy.  Donald Trump’s cabinet is selected from the power elite:  Betsy DeVos (secretary of education, $2 billion), Wilbur Ross (commerce, $600 million) and Steven Mnuchin (treasury, $400 million) – who have all been around since February 2017 – make up 95% of that $3.2 billion total. Betsy DeVos (secretary of education, $2 billion), Wilbur Ross (commerce, $600 million) and Steven Mnuchin (treasury, $400 million) – who have all been around since February 2017 – makes up $3 billion in total. The Trump cabinet’s emphasis on tax cuts and deregulation echoes the Reagan era trickledown policies we saw in the 80s [that] hasn’t helped ordinary Americans. The appearance of a bevy of Wall Street insiders in the cabinet harps back to a Gilded Age.

Leo Strauss embraced Machiavelli’s ideas: There are only two types of people in the world –winners and losers. Winners rule, while losers are ruled, or worse yet, lose their lives. Winners possessing the qualities necessary to be a winner are to be emulated and applauded. Losers, characteristically those who believe in a tender-hearted or an idealistic conception of goodness, are plagued by delusions and despicable weakness. Trump sees the world as winners and losers. In 2014 Trumps claims, “What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate.” Trump reflects America’s current obsession with “winners” and “losers” and the unfairness in how power is distributed. Most recently, President Trump is acting as if his refusal to accept election defeat is motivated by something deeper than his commitment to his self-manufactured image as a winner.

The fact that both Bush and Trump didn’t win the popular vote on their initial election; and the fact that the last year of their watch coincided with economic debacles could be attributed to happenchance. However, other events suggest that the philosophy of Leo Strauss inspired the policies of the Republican party during the last two decades. Strauss rejects all the elements of political morality we associate with liberal democracy as defended by modern philosophers like Locke or Kant. Strauss claimed: The elite must, in a word, lie to the masses; the elite must manipulate them – arguably for their own good. These lies are necessary in order to keep the ignorant masses in line. The Straussian elite see themselves as “the superior few who know the truth and are entitled to rule.” A combination of lies and religion are used to control the people. Time magazine in 1996 called Strauss “one of the most influential men in American politics.”1

1 Catherine and Michael Zuckert. An Excerpt from: The Truth about Leo Strauss

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Social Paradox of the Concept of Freedom in the West

Hayek’s view is human cooperation, social order, and economic prosperity are only possible where human freedom is maximized, subject to the constraints of a legal and moral code that demarcate the realms of mine and thine. Freedom of action within the law gives rise to market phenomena such as prices and profits, both of which make the private knowledge of actors socially accessible to others, which in turn generates economic coordination. Julius Evola (1898-1974) claims freedom and equality are tools of manipulation, and after the movement leaders get what they want, they’ll toss you aside. Evola explains, “Practically speaking, it is only a revolutionary weapon: freedom and equality are the catchwords certain social strata or groups employed in order to undermine other classes and to gain preeminence; having achieved this task, they were quickly set aside.” Today the economic elite claim, there is a threat to other freedoms with any reduction to economic freedom (i.e. regulations).

Simmel wisely observes that the concerns and rules around secrets often provide groups with their particular rules and forms, with an etiquette about language and behavior that marks them off from the unknowing. One effect of these secrets is an intensification of individual identity setting off those who know from those who do not know what is hidden. Philip Mirowski’s argument that under neoliberalism markets are understood to be an information processor superior to any human being “meta-information processors” which, partly based on randomness, produce correct “knowledge” about the social good in the form of prices. The paradox is the spread of neoliberalism required substantial state intervention to establish a global ‘free market’. Governments in the West implement a series of tax and financial policies to stimulate a consumer society, while undermining and weakening social safety nets. We have reached a stage in the development of capitalism underpinned by financialization.

William Blake wrote that secrecy is the human dress, and while he clearly meant no compliment, there is no question that secrecy is central to human affairs, at least if one takes the term to include all kinds of concealment. Taking this broad view of secrecy, one finds few sides of social life where things are not hidden. Georg Simmel begins what remains the most searching analysis of secrecy by observing that all social life is founded on exchanging information about what people are, about what we may expect from one another, and about how to manage things. Yet Simmel’s exegesis, first published in 1908, quickly moves from considering candor to considering artifice, from considering information to considering misinformation, and to the related issues of truthfulness and lying, simplicity and adornment, distortion or concealment, in order to gain communicative advantages over others.

Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992) explains to his enthusiastic supporter Antony Fisher: “Society’s course will be changed only by a change of ideas. First you must reach the intellectuals, the teachers and the writers, with reasoned arguments. It will be their influence on society that will prevail and the politicians will follow.” To empower these ideas corporate money supported think-tanks along with scholarship and intensive use of media. This think-tank network wasn’t for creating new ideas, but for being a gate keeper and disseminating the existing set of ideas around “the philosophy of freedom.” The conscious strategy of this global think-tank network was to take the idea of individual freedom and minimal government mainstream. Neoliberalism is an economic system that needs a strong state, even at the expense of constraining democracy – rebuffing challenges to austerity and minimal government – to maintain a system of thought and applied political strategy. The state is a central instrument for the advancement of the neoliberal agenda.

Neoliberals insist that they are agents of change. They aim to reform society by subordinating it to the market. Their goal is essentially to erase any distinctions among the state, society and the market. Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that the market delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth through merit, ignoring the advantages – such as education, inheritance and class – that may have helped secure it. The poor begin to blame themselves for their failures, even when they can do little to change their circumstances. In a world governed by competition, those who fall behind become defined and self-defined as losers.

A major challenge of the neoliberals is how to maintain their pretense of freedom as non-coercion when, in practice, it seems unlikely that most people would freely choose the neoliberal version of the state. Their answer is to treat politics as if it were a market, and promote an economic theory of democracy while redefining the shape and functions of the state. One of the paradoxes of our age is that we are simultaneously living through a time of positive economic innovation and also a time of the painful erosion of the way of life of many middle-class families. More and more find themselves in an era of insecurity as the safe routines of their life have become undone. Excessive psychosocial stress is associated with the adoption of health threatening coping behaviors. Increased insecurity for low skilled workers is associated with rising mortality rates.

The neoliberal strategy achieves successful upward redistribution. The 1980s marked the start of the declining wage shares in developed countries. There occurred a paradox: real-wage productivity gap resulting in a previously unseen phenomena, the stagnating of the incomes of the middle class. At the same time, as a result of tax decreases inspired by the neoliberal project, the income of the top 10% started to increase dramatically in the UK and the US – the homeland of the neoliberal counter-revolution. The basic paradox is that capitalism creates enormous wealth, but it concentrates into oligopolies and monopolies, to the extent that it undermines that very wealth production it relied on. Another paradox is in how neoliberal capitalism creates and normalizes a culture of lying to itself leading to its inherent instability. Free market fundamentalists and neoliberals are in total denial of the paradox.

Supported by the proliferation of opaque financial products market, “shadow” institutions have emerged with heightened speculative behavior, and corporate and even household governance increasingly focuses on quick returns from speculation on financial assets, exchange rates, real estate, and mergers and acquisitions, often fueling asset price bubble. With its grip over both corporate governance and policy making, economic “success” has now become disconnected from the making, product investment, raising production, and creating jobs. Household debt boosts consumption and GDP growth in the short run, mostly within one year. In a series of recent papers, Schularick and Taylor (2012) and Jordà et al. demonstrate that high debt levels are not only a good predictor of financial crisis but also a key determinant of the intensity of the ensuing recession.1 The collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, the greatest bust (at that time) since the Great Depression, is an example of a crisis from debt driven consumption.

Being born in rich countries like Canada and the US with increasing GDP growth and prosperity doesn’t bring happiness if it comes with more risk and uncertainty. Financialization creates profit through financial channels rather than through trade and commodity production, enriches a select few at the majorities’ expense. Because of the way financial services are measured, GDP data does not measure changes in inequality. The consequence of such dogma: inequality continues to skyrocket ever since the pandemic. In the US, consumer spending comprises 70% of GDP. Real household disposable income, net cash transfers to households, real household consumption expenditure, consumer confidence, households’ savings rate, households’ indebtedness, financial net worth, and labor under-utilization rate are just a few of the indicators that can help provide a better picture of societal progress. Aggregate figures like GDP fails to sum up reality which overlooks the well-being and day-to-day lives of its citizens.

Freedom has nothing to do with democracy or speech or individual rights: for the neoliberal it is about the freedom of the market and the elites who control those markets. The lack of freedom to make choices creates a group working below their capabilities precisely because they have no other option, thus they become susceptible to rhetoric from populist politicians with simplistic solutions. An essential attribute of the good life is that people enjoy not just a range of personal freedoms, but an access to knowledge and a voice in public affairs. When asking searching questions of yourself, realize that freedom resides not in the brain, but in the traditions of critical thought and skeptical reason. Freedom is best exercised as a means to an end, but the end must be one that gives people the choice to make the best possible decisions to reach their full potential.

1 Marco Lombardi, Madhusudan Mohanty and Ilhyock Shim. (Jan 2017) The real effects of household debt in the short and long run

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Social Media Addiction and Its Implications for Your Well-being

Anything that produces pleasure in a person’s brain can lead to addiction. Due to the effect that it has on the brain, social media is addictive both physically and psychologically. According to a new study by Harvard University, self-disclosure on social networking sites lights up the same part of the brain that also ignites when taking an addictive substance. The reward area in the brain and its chemical messenger pathways affect decisions and sensations. When someone experiences something rewarding, or uses an addictive substance, neurons in the principal dopamine-producing areas in the brain are activated, causing dopamine levels to rise. Therefore, the brain receives a “reward” and associates the drug or activity with positive reinforcement. Microtargeting and other online strategies designed to induce addictive behavior points towards a culture of manipulation in the online environment in which most individuals are unaware of how they are being used.

Since 1856 when cocaine had been isolated from the coca plant, the drug was widely used for its pain-killing properties. The drug found its way into such medicines as children’s tooth-ache remedies and was even prescribed to treat morning sickness. Sherlock Holmes is undoubtedly literature’s most famous cocaine user. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, Holmes uses cocaine in order to stimulate his brain when he wasn’t applying it to a case. Although his habit was always condemned by Watson, in later stories Holmes himself referred to his hypodermic syringe as an ‘instrument of evil’. Similarly, the recreational use of cocaine fell off sharply at the end of the 19th century as its dangers became apparent. After the Harrison Narcotic Act that identified cocaine as a forbidden substance in 1914, cocaine abuse in America was a rather quiet phenomenon for several decades, with just a few exceptions.

American pharmacist John Stith Pemberton founded Coca-Cola in 1886 with a beverage concoction derived from coca leaves and African kola nuts. Coca-Cola – at first sold only at racially segregated soda fountains – became popular among the white middle-classes. It is advertised to alleviate exhaustion: “you will be surprised how easily it will restore the tired brain, sooth the rattled nerves and restore wasted energy to body and mind.” In 1899, Coca-Cola began selling its drink in bottles. The lower classes and minorities now had access to the cocaine-infused tonic. The company removed cocaine from its products in 1903, and two years later started adding caffeine. While caffeine produces a small rise in dopamine, it does not cause the large surge that unbalances the reward circuits in the brain that is necessary for an addiction. So even though the word “addiction” is often used casually, caffeine is not addictive (scientifically speaking).1

Crack cocaine – a crystallized form of cocaine – became popular in the 1980s. According to the U.S.  Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the price of illegal cocaine dropped by as much as 80 percent during the late 1970s as a glut of the white powder flooded the U.S. market. Dealers looking for new ways to sell their products turned to crack. The name “crack” is derived from the crackling sound this form of cocaine makes when burned. Crack could be produced by dissolving powdered cocaine in a mixture of water and ammonia and boiling it down until a solid formed. Broken into smaller chunks, or “rocks,” this solid form could be smoked. Crack has a modified chemical structure which allows it to reach the brain more quickly and produce a more intense high, allowing crack to have a greater potential for addiction.

When cocaine reappeared in the 1970s it was touted as the champagne of drugs because it was expensive, high status, and said to have no serious consequences. Crack cocaine was popularized because of its affordability, its immediate euphoric effect, and its high profitability. Crack usage began to surge in the 1980s. Around the same time, crime in some major cities spiked – political tensions erupted as the nation entered a so-called “crack epidemic.” This leads to the War on Drugs, with unintended consequences. For example, the same minimum penalty of five years was given for 1 gram of crack cocaine as for 100 grams of powdered cocaine. Where cocaine was expensive to purchase, crack could be bought at affordable prices and became prevalent in working class and poorer neighborhoods.  Opponents argued the law was racist, since crack users were more likely to be African American.

A study at Michigan State University found that people who report using social media a lot tend to struggle with decision-making. Because this type of deficit in decision-making skills often goes hand-in-hand with drug addiction as well as a gambling addiction, the researchers likened the results of excessive social media use to aspects of an addiction. Aside from the obvious anxiety and nervousness that being away from social media can cause some people, there are some other telltale signs that they may have an addiction to social media. These include everything from isolating themselves from others, losing interest in activities they once found enjoyable, and getting agitated, angry, or anxious when they are unable to check social media. According to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, social media can adapt to limit its addictive effects – unlike other habit-forming outlets. This comment suggests the way platforms present information to users may change to stave off addictive behaviors and encourage people to engage without fear of forming dependency.

The phenomena of social media addiction can largely be attributed to the dopamine-inducing social environments that social networking sites provide. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram produce the same neural circuitry that is caused by gambling and recreational drugs to keep consumers using their products as much as possible. Studies have shown that the constant stream of retweets, likes, and shares from these sites have affected the brain’s reward area to trigger the same kind of chemical reaction as other drugs, such as cocaine. When an individual gets a notification, such as a like or mention, the brain receives a rush of dopamine and sends it along reward pathways, causing him or her to feel pleasure. Social media provides an endless amount of immediate rewards in the form of attention from others for relatively minimal effort. Therefore, the brain rewires itself through this positive reinforcement, making people desire likes, retweets, and emotional reactions.2

Scientists have discovered that most people who use social media end up comparing themselves to the lives of everyone they know. Platforms like Facebook can have a negative effect on mood. Users report feeling like they’ve wasted time spending hours of socially scrolling. Updates from friends and influencers can also leave people feeling jealous and unfulfilled. These emotions are unhealthy, and they are something our newfound awareness of mental health has allowed us to identify. In an attempt to look after themselves, many people are now turning to the social or digital detox. A recent survey of social media users discovered 24.4% of individuals had deleted their social accounts. However, over 30% of respondents had removed social media applications without actually deleting their profiles. This 30% don’t want to remove themselves from the social scene totally. They are instead detoxing – in other words, taking a break.

Researchers have called for adaptive regulatory frameworks that can limit information extraction from and modulation of someone’s mind using experimental neurotechnologies. Social computing shows that you don’t necessarily have to read people’s brains to influence their choices. It is sufficient to collect and mine the data they regularly – and often unwittingly – share online. Therefore, we need to consider setting for the digital space a firm threshold for cognitive liberty. Cognitive liberty highlights the freedom to control one’s own cognitive dimension (including preferences, choices and beliefs) and to be protected from manipulative strategies that are designed to bypass one’s cognitive defenses. The EU data protection authority has underscored if recklessly applied to the electoral domain, these activities could even change or reduce “the space for debate and interchange of ideas,” a risk which “urgently requires a democratic debate on the use and exploitation of data for political campaign and decision-making.”3

The idea of the human mind as the domain of absolute protection from external intrusion has persisted for centuries, but is now under attack. Most of the current online ecosystem strategies are designed to induce addictive behavior, hence to manipulate. What is the response? On personal level social media is engineered to be addictive, but that doesn’t mean it makes you happy. Research shows it can actually make you feel sad, depressed, and isolated, so limiting your social media use can pay dividends in terms of mental health as well as improving productivity and relationships. However, the power elite still target users with customized digital ads and other manipulative information to purposively swing election campaigns around the world. It is necessary to protect our cognitive liberty from psychological manipulation – social influence that aims to change our behavior or perception through indirect, deceptive, or underhanded tactics. Big data analytics needs to be managed and controlled similarly to drugs with harmful health effects.

1 History: The Origins of Coca

2 Jena Hilliard Social Media Addiction

 3 Marcello Lenca and Effy Vayena (30 Mar 2018) Cambridge Analytica and Online Manipulation.

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Horizontal Violence, the Gig Economy and Today’s Dystopia

The term ‘horizontal violence’ was originally coined by Fanon (1963) to describe intergroup conflict (in colonized Africans) as a result of oppression. This conflict leads to aggressive behavior directed horizontally within the oppressed group, even to the point of murder! As the days of the pandemic tick by, we are witnessing overwhelming evidence that the Trump administration is using COVID-19 as an instrument to institute a capitalist dystopia. This is today’s new potential reality through the national security state apparatus. While there is no denying that people are suffering (and dying) from COVID-19 and neoliberal austerity, we must be acutely aware that the state’s reaction is not protecting individuals from the virus. Black Americans have long known the need of government to act on systemic racism, and be held accountable for its promises. As a result of the BLM movement, communities across America are learning the truth about racial disparities rooted in hundreds of years of discriminatory practices, policies, and laws that continue to negatively impact the Black community.

If ‘utopia’ denotes an ideal or dream society, ‘dystopia’ is the word used to refer to an imagined nightmare world – normally the world of the future. But the first citation for the word ‘dystopian’ in the sense of ‘one who advocates or describes a dystopia’ comes from a speech made in the House of Commons by the Victorian philosopher, John Stuart Mill on March 12, 1868: “I may be permitted, as one who, in common with many of my betters, have been subjected to the charge of being Utopian, to congratulate the Government on having joined that goodly company. It is, perhaps, too complimentary to call them Utopians, they ought rather to be called dys-topians, cacotopians. What is commonly called Utopian is something too good to be practicable; but what they appear favor is too bad to be practicable.” The definition of a dystopia today is an imagined state or society in which there is great suffering or injustice.

Ayn Rand’s central philosophical work, her 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, incorporates elements of science fiction, mystery and romance. The novel showcases a dystopian America where businesses suffer due to archaic laws and regulations. The novel explores several themes, all of which would later go on to contribute to Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, that embraces open greed, rejection of empathy and strict atheism. But this didn’t stop it from becoming an international bestseller, as millions were drawn to her central message of individualism and unfettered capitalism, even if they didn’t buy into her whole philosophy. In the 1990s, a survey by the Library of Congress named Atlas Shrugged as the most influential book in the US, after the Bible. Beyond politics, the novel also had an impact in Silicon Valley, where entrepreneurs identified with its emphasis on heroic individuals and their work ethic.

The emergence of the Tea Party – a wing of the Republican Party which favors a shrinking of the state – appears to be driving her recent resurgence. John Galt is often referred to on placards and T-shirts. “She’s become a more dominant influence than she’s ever been and that’s bad because she’s made it cool to be selfish. It’s bad for the people outside her favored elite, the 99%. And it’s bad for the morality of the US,” says Gary Weiss, author of Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America’s Soul. In 2009, sales spiked as the economic crisis raised questions on government interference in the markets. Rand intended her novels to be more than just fiction: she wrote them as a literary presentation of her philosophy of ‘Objectivism’, which can be summarized as a defense of a political philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism and a moral philosophy of egoism.

Workers enjoy the flexibility and freedom to make their own schedules by simply accessing a smartphone app, while businesses can tap into a wide network of part-time employees when they need them. It just stood to reason that in the coming dystopia, everyone would have to settle for “jobs” with little security, low pay, and no benefits. The gig economy is the idea that, increasingly, work will be short-term and temporary in nature, as traditional, secure, long-term salaried jobs are made obsolete by technology. As the share of freelancers in the workforce has edged higher in some countries, there has been a growing debate among economists over whether this is largely a good thing, allowing greater flexibility and worker choice, or the start of an alarming dystopian future in which insecure workers fight with increasing desperation for poorly paid piece of work. The gig economy is now the future of labor.

We need more transparency about the nature of gig work itself. Users, investors, workers, and regulators all need to know more about the nature of the jobs being created and how they might fall short of decent work standards. We need more accountability within the sector. At the moment, many platforms operate in regulatory gaps, and often allege that existing regulation doesn’t apply to them. “We’re a technology company,” they will claim – rather than recognize that they are in fact a high-tech taxi company, food delivery company or cleaning company, and so on. We therefore need to ensure that work and workers are either protected by existing regulation or we need to develop new approaches. Besides its much-touted “flexibility,” the gig economy isn’t much of a place to build a career. Instead, over the course of less than a decade, the self-described “tech companies” that connect people to gig work have managed to erode hard-fought labor protections in place for a century.

Although gig work was initially seen as a way to maximize worker freedom and create opportunities, it has, in its short history, proven corrosive. Sociologist Alexandrea Ravenelle notes “for all its app-enabled modernity, the gig economy resembles the early industrial age…the sharing economy is truly a movement forward to the past.” In general, gig workers don’t receive the basic labor rights afforded to their counterparts in the traditional economy. The lack of minimum wage, overtime payment, employment insurance coverages, paid time off, employer contributions to retirement savings, extended health and maternity benefits, and others has led to profound economic insecurity on the part of these hardworking professionals. The status quo has caused many gig workers to suffer financially, psychologically, and physically. COVID-19 exposes the fact they have few safety nets, the value of their unstable incomes from their unconventional jobs can erode significantly.1

Horizontal accountability has eroded, people are losing faith in government everywhere, with horizontal checks and balances in favor of the executive. This pandemic has increased horizontal violence in America. Workers are being pushed back into the workplace, despite the current risks, in order to “save the economy”. This is being fast-tracked through the uses of technology, like surveillance, that will ultimately target marginalized working-class communities. We are witnessing the ruling-class attempt to save itself with a chokehold over the U.S. courts, elections, prisons, police, government, and economic system. We are witnessing the lengths the economic elite is willing to go to ensure a capitalist dystopia. The country is heartsick, frightened, divided. And President Donald Trump is failing on every front. We can’t turn back the clock to a world with no platforms. But by looking to strategies that involve transparency, accountability, worker power and democratic ownership, we have in front of us the tools to move towards a less exploitative and more just platform economy.

Rand argues in Atlas Shrugged that the freedom of American society is responsible for its greatest achievements. For example, in the nineteenth century, inventors and entrepreneurs created an outpouring of innovations that raised the standard of living to unprecedented heights and changed forever the way people live. Rand, who thoroughly researched the history of capitalism, was well aware of the progress made during this period of economic freedom. We should acknowledge that transparency and regulation will only get us so far. Real change will happen when workers are able to collectively rather than individually negotiate with their bosses. Gig workers are often treated as individual businesses who should compete against one another. But it is only when they come together as colleagues that they can collectively bring about better wages and working conditions.

Trump’s attacks on inspectors general, whistleblowers and the media are part of his effort to present a particular vision of his presidency. Truth is indispensable to constitutional democracy. Shared acceptance of facts allows people to hold their government accountable – to point out when its policies are having adverse effects, or when its words do not match its deeds. This is a norm of democratic society that enables functional governance. The present dystopian nightmare in the US stems from deficiency in horizontal accountability – the checks and balances in a constitutional system of separation of powers – an essential feature of the constitutional state that underpins liberal democracy. When horizontal accountability is undermined there is a democratic deficiency – as when the executive is not sufficiently accountable to the legislature through such acts as government secrecy and lack of transparency. Accountability is an important aspect of election integrity. Elections are, after all, the main means by which citizens hold their elected officials accountable. In turn, electoral administrators and policy makers are held accountable for the quality of electoral process they administer.

1 Ephrat Livni. (26 Feb 2019) The gig economy is quietly undermining a century of worker protections.

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The Wakeup Call for Everyone to Assemble on Public Streets

The pandemic is a wake-up call that markets do not regulate themselves. Overall, neoliberalism failed to deliver what was promised and led to disappointing results on many accounts. It became clear that marketization does not always translate into a better life for society at large. The overwhelming majority of Americans and to a lesser extent the other industrialized economies, are left exposed to the sudden fluctuations in the market that feeds financial insecurity. Remember millions of people lost their jobs and property after the mortgage crisis while government could do nothing but bail out big business and the rich with taxpayer money. Traditional policy tools failed to revive the economy. What we were never told was that the fix was in. We were always condemned to lose. Cities were deindustrialized and fell into decay, wages declined – the working class became impoverished. Today the elements of a decent middle-class life are elusive – reliable jobs and careers, adequate pensions, secure medical care, affordable housing, and college that doesn’t require a lifetime of debt. 

Donald Trump, given the political, economic, and cultural destruction carried out by neoliberalism, is not an aberration. He is the result of a market society and capitalist democracy that has ceased to function. The pandemic exposes this fraud giving people a reason to march. With the increased alienation and poverty, people rise up against these forces of modernization, driven by a primal fury to destroy the technocratic world that condemns them. This rage is expressed in many forms during the George Floyd protests – Black Lives Matter, proto-anarchists such as Antifa and boogaloo, along with those expressing a need to reform policing policies. But the various forms of resentment spring from the same deep wells of global despair. The problem is that these forms of resentment may actually be fueling a further turn to authoritarianism and creating confusion by giving precedence to the suppression of “bad” ideas rather than to the development of good ones through uninhibited debate.

The proponents of globalization promised to lift workers across the planet into the middle class and instill democratic values and scientific rationalization. Religious and ethnic tensions would be alleviated or eradicated. This global marketplace would create a peaceful, prosperous community of nations. All we had to do was get government out of the way and kneel before market demands, held up as the ultimate form of progress and rationality. Neoliberalism, in the name of this absurd utopia, stripped away government regulations and laws that once protected the citizens from the worst excesses of predatory capitalism. It created free trade agreements that allowed trillions of corporate dollars to be transferred to offshore accounts to avoid taxation, and jobs to flee to sweatshops to China and the global south where workers live in conditions that replicate slavery. Mishra notes, “The new horizons of individual desire and fear opened up by the neoliberal economy do not favor democracy or human rights.

Kleptocracies, such as the one now installed in Washington, brazenly steal from the public. Democratic idealism has become a joke. We are now knit together, as Mishra writes, only by “commerce and technology”, forces that Hannah Arendt called “negative solidarity”. An angry and alienated underclass, now making up almost half of the US population, is entranced by electronic hallucinations that take the place of literacy. Many of these folks take a perverse and almost diabolical delight in demagogues such as Trump that express contempt for and openly flout the traditional rules and rituals of power structure that preys upon them. Economics drives support for Trump, especially in swing states: Relative deprivation – the experience of being deprived of something to which one believes they are entitled, is a driver. It is the discontent felt when one compares their position in life to others who they feel are equal or inferior but have unfairly had more success than them.

Social media is an undeniable force in today’s world. What makes social media spread faster? The “power-law” of social media, a well-documented pattern in social networks, holds that messages replicate most rapidly if they are targeted at relatively small numbers of influential people with large followings. The elderly, the young, and the lesser educated are particularly susceptible to fake news. It is partisan at the political extremes whether, liberal or conservative, who are most likely to believe a false story, in part, because of confirmation bias. This bias is the tendency in all of us to believe stories that reinforce our convictions – and the stronger the convictions, the more powerfully the person feels the pull of the confirmation bias. “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge”, observes Daniel J. Boorstin. On a personal level making it a habit to question evidence that you believe supports your opinions is a direct way to counter confirmation bias.

It was not a term many people used four years ago, but “fake news” is now seen as one of the greatest threats to democracy, free debate and the Western order. As well as being a favorite term of Donald Trump, it was also named 2017’s word of the year, raising tensions between nations, and may lead to regulation of social media. To be most effective, fake news needs to be spread through social media to reach receptive audiences. Social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) have become home to millions of social bots that spread fake news. They reside on social media platforms, created by someone with computer programming skills, comprised of nothing but code, that is, lines of computer instructions. So, bots are computer algorithms (set of logic steps to complete a specific task) that work in online social network sites to execute tasks autonomously and repetitively.

Bots simulate the behavior of human beings in a social network: interact with other users, and share information and messages. Because of the algorithms behind bots’ logic, bots can learn from response patterns or input values how to respond to certain situations. That is, they possess artificial intelligence (AI). Artificial intelligence allows bots to simulate internet users’ behavior (e.g., posting patterns) which helps in the propagation of fake news. For instance, on Twitter, bots are capable of a number of social interactions that make them appear to be regular people. They respond to postings or questions from others based on scripts that they were programmed to use. They look for influential Twitter users (Twitter users who have lots of followers), and contact them by sending them questions in order to be noticed and generate trust from them and from other Twitter users who see the exchanges take place.

In a time of sharp political polarization, protest is a notable way that citizens attempt to communicate their views on key issues. Protest is partly a response to citizens’ concerns that they are not being represented well by governmental institutions. Social media are often thought of as the new ground for political and social activism. Controlling information flow grants power, which is the idea behind how digital technologies are transforming social movements and collective action. In practice, protest communication networks are fragmented in ways that hamper information diffusion. Online networks are not always effective mediators of collective action efforts. Effective protest requires not just the right of the people to gather, but accessible public spaces in which gathering is possible and citizens who understand what those rights are. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1939 upheld the right to assemble on the public streets, striking down a municipal requirement that such gatherings require a previously obtained permit.

Digital technology has opened up unimaginable worlds of access and connectivity, but it has also brought into question its own role in undermining the foundations of governments built by people, for people. The realities of face-to-face contact and in-person mass protests, the tools of centuries of struggle for full citizenship and rights, have become even more essential to grounding us as we navigate through a new era of humans’ relationship with technology. Nonviolence resistance proves to be a potent weapon for those seeking change. Harvard Professor Erica Chenowith has identified key elements required for driving social change. This includes: a movement requires large and diverse participation that is sustained. The movement needs to enlist loyalty shifts among security forces, along with other elites. Campaigns need to have more than just protests – there needs to be a lot of variation among the methods they use. 

The pandemic is a wake-up call for a major shift in public opinion; politicians will face the challenge of countering an entirely legitimate disappointment with the current system. Nonviolent civil resistance is far more successful increasing broad-based change than violent campaigns are. When campaigns are repressed – which is basically inevitable for those calling for major changes – it is pivotal that they don’t either just descend into chaos or opt for using violence themselves. A key factor of importance is the overall number of participants in non-violent campaigns. The TEDx Boulder talk (2013) informs us that a surprisingly small proportion of the population guarantees a successful campaign, just 3.5 per cent. In the United States this would amount to 11.5 million people, or three times the size of the 2017 Women’s March. Unless we see such a movement succeeding, we will likely see people expressing their grievances with the prevailing system in more radical ways.1

1 Michelle Nicholasen. (4 Feb 2019) Nonviolent resistance proves potent weapon

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Individualism and Social Fragmentation Are the Basis of the Social Policy of the Populist Right

Social policy has served as a powerful magnet for both political rage and mobilization within the contemporary global context of rising right‐wing populist and authoritarian politics. Social policy is also conventionally considered to encompass several related areas such as housing policy, child protection, family planning and some aspects of care work, insofar as these also relate to the function of providing for or influencing various social outcomes, such as learning, health, or the access to and the incidence of adequate and secure livelihoods and income They have served as powerful vehicles for mobilizing conservative and reactionary populist sentiments beyond critique and towards political projects that construct and propagate nativist notions of ‘community’ as well as ideologies and practices of social order based on segregation, exclusion and subordination. This begs us to question the degree to which current right‐wing populism, for instance, is really a reaction to neoliberal fragmentation or rather an extension of its more perverse but logical trajectories.

As Edmund Burke (1729-1797) who fiercely opposed the French Revolution wrote, “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” Today we are vulnerable to the politics of fear. The politics of fear is when leaders (or candidates for leadership) use fear as a driving or motivating factor for the people, to get them to vote a particular way, allow excesses in spending, or accept policies they might otherwise abhor. It’s banking on the fact that presenting people with an alleged threat to their well-being will elicit a powerful emotional response that can override reason and prevent a critical assessment of these policies. As author Mark Vernon remarks “… the politics of fear plays on an assumption that people cannot bear the uncertainties associated with [risk]. Politics then becomes a question of who can better deliver an illusion of control.”

Republican social policies tend to oppose extensive government regulations, government-funded social programs, affirmative action, and policies aimed at strengthening the rights of workers. While Republicans perpetually talk about getting tough on crime, they actually need it to get and stay in power. Pitting the lower middle class and poor against the really poor, who are simultaneously seen as responsible for and the victims of crime, is the way the economic elite divert attention away from the fact that under Republicans, there is less support for unemployment, income and social inequality – all of which lead to crime. Trump was for the little guy during the election, but once in office he surrounded himself with an economic elite who preach neoliberal doctrines which they know to be untrue in order to preserve their own social status. With social programs, more and more Republicans in 2020 fear being seen as the party of the one per cent.

A person’s social and economic status is highly relevant to their housing situation. More often than not, it will dictate the type of housing available and the likelihood that they will get the housing they are seeking. High market rents, insufficient social housing supply, low minimum wage and social assistance rates, and income-related rental requirements all make it very hard for a person who has low social and economic status to find and keep adequate housing. One’s housing situation is generally a good indicator of one’s overall social and economic condition. Many continue to struggle in the rental housing market, and may find themselves in housing that is neither affordable nor adequate, or, in extreme cases, may find themselves homeless. Pressures on decommodified housing stock since the beginning of the 1990s has translated into rising rents and the loss of inexpensive units that are easily accessible for households with limited financial resources.

Since the mid-1970s, neoliberal political-economic regimes have systematically replaced things like public ownership and collective bargaining with deregulation and privatization, promoting the individual over the group in the very fabric of society. Neoliberalism in terms of its practical effects on people working in areas subject to its power creates a climate of fear and marginalization which expresses itself in the form of cultural anxiety and doubt. When you have to compete in a world that is structurally unfair and where the game is so often loaded against the little guy, fear and stress result. With respect to the broad discussion of contemporary neoliberal globalization, the politics of fear is an important and sometimes underestimated aspect of how hegemony and power expresses and maintains itself. Fear tempts people to misread what truly threatens them. For example, fear persuades people to believe that immigration bans, the possession of automatic weapons, harsh criminal punishments, or the use of capital punishment can make society safer.

New criminology perspectives move from the motivations of the criminal to the factors that can promote criminal opportunities. The idea, therefore, is to increase the cost or reduce the benefits of the illegal (or uncivilized) action through the manipulation of the urban environment. This preventive model also follows the principle of individual responsibility of the (potential) victims: they can prevent offence with their behaviors. The main policy model is the multi‐level governance based on territorial and public‐private partnerships, community activation and citizens’ participation, control technologies such as CCTV. Neighborhood Watch, notes Neuberger (2009), is the largest voluntary movement in the UK and, according to Bennett et al. (2008), the largest single organized crime prevention activity in the US. The ‘success’ of Neighborhood Watch – and we should use this term advisably – has inspired wide-ranging lookalike schemes.

Ultimately, neoliberalism acts as a veil that obscures systemic social relations of power in its quest to crown each person as an individual who is master of their own fate. It thereby becomes an overwhelmingly influential, yet cloaked and diffuse, discourse that persuades people to deny their interdependence with each other, as well as with the environment. In accomplishing this, neoliberal ideology also obliges people to believe that competition, as well as the anguish of poverty, are natural and necessary. With respect to social assistance programs that evolved from the principles of the New Deal, however, over the past four decades there continues to be erosion and fragmentation of public institutions – tended to be piecemeal, underfunded and not prioritized by the state. These forms of specific economic policies (of neoliberal elites) that led to a shift in rationale away from cooperation towards competition and individualism are embraced by the populist right.

It would be an error to regard social media as a realm apart from the rest of the media environment. Instead, social media are an integral part of the total media system. Andrew Chadwick has theorized the emergence of “hybrid media systems” that encompass legacy and social media. In such systems, social and mass media feed off one another in recursive loops of so-called ‘viral reality’ whereby populist leaders and their followers co-create content, often through hashtags that straddle the social versus mass media divide and blur the lines between news and opinion. Actually, the security discourse is not any more a reserve for elites of professional experts, administrators and policy makers, but on the contrary, it becomes central in the public debate. The discourses of populists and mass media are widely based on an emotive storytelling: collective emotions such as outrage and anger have become a basic component of policymaking.

The commodification of politics and social services has stoked mass cynicism towards reigning neoliberal elites, creating receptive audiences for populist slogans to ‘drain the swamp’ at the heart of governments. Populists classically claim to speak for, and personify the interests of, ‘ordinary people’ against established elites (even when these leaders often emerge from elites themselves), and they condemn those who disagree as somehow not genuinely ‘of the people’. In particular, they tell people what they want to hear, often appealing to popular beliefs, prejudices, anxieties and fears, without the need to anchor their programs or policies in scientific or expert knowledge. They are ‘outliers’ – members of fringe minority factions of political organizations – that have hitherto operated only on the margins of established political systems. Trump is a master of fear, invoking it in concrete and abstract ways, summoning and validating it – has been able to grasp and channel the fear coursing through the electorate, until COVID-19.

Health and education provisioning, in particular, have huge implications for social stratification and the social reproduction of inequality, and they touch a core nerve of social politics because they structure the ways that various social groups might come into contact with each other in moments of intimacy and vulnerability. Social policies are in this sense fundamentally political given that they serve as the basis for defining and instituting rights and entitlements, distributing public goods, redistributing wealth, and articulating some of the main mechanisms of integration and segregation within societies. COVID-19 debates include political and economic ideas seriously discussed that had previously been dismissed as fanciful or utterly unacceptable: universal basic income, government intervention to house the homeless, and addressing the environmental crisis, to name just a few. On the other hand, the populist right supports ‘special interest’ groups and the ongoing fragmentation of public institutions. They cultivate resentment of the status quo – they are not agents of change for social policy.

1 Giuseppe Ricotta  (25 July 2016) Neoliberalism and  Control Strategies: The Urban Security Policies in Italy

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The Role of Metaphors in Current Political Rhetoric

The ability to think metaphorically increases the likelihood that one can appreciate ideas in a new light, which, in turn, may lead to solutions that might not otherwise be anticipated. Aristotle considered metaphor a sign of genius, believing that the individual who had the capacity to perceive resemblances between two separate areas of existence and link them together was a person of special gifts. Darwin’s most fertile metaphor in his efforts to understand evolution, for example, was the branching tree. Friedrich Kekule described his understanding of the benzene molecule as a snake biting its own tail. Einstein, in articulating his theory of relativity, relied on an image of himself riding on a beam of light holding a mirror in front of him. An analysis and understanding of metaphors contribute to our knowledge of political rhetoric by enabling us to understand how world views are communicated persuasively in language.

Peter Ramus’s (1515–1572) calls for the pursuit of a language free from the excesses and ambiguities of figured language. As pertains to metaphor, he believed that thought follows the rules of logic and language; because of its vital role in thinking, must be plain and clear. From the Ramist perspective, metaphor has no place in serious discourse and, thus, the nature and tension between its two aspects is rendered moot. However, despite its antimetaphorical outlook, Ramism did not stifle either the flowering of Renaissance rhetoric or subsequent investigations of metaphor. Because the culture of early modern Europe was, in many respects, as, oratory and poetry were highly respected and widely practiced. Thus, Elizabethan and metaphysical metaphors, such as those invented by Shakespeare and Donne, tend to strike an organic balance among three elements: tradition, the age’s increasing emphasis on logic as a basis for artistic invention, and its discovery of a new model of subjectivity distinguished by a personal struggle for self-knowledge and self-determination.1

In general, metaphor in political discourse has previously been described to bear the following functions: supporting political positioning and ideology, creating a ‘myth’, increasing emotional effects, and establishing the speaker as a desirable candidate. Since it is now a widely known fact that people’s voting decisions are frequently linked to mental heuristics, or shortcuts, where an individual attends to only one aspect of a problem while ignoring others, aptly used metaphors may help a politician to have the public focus only on those shades of the issue that are favorable for him or her. According to Mio, one of the major aims of metaphors is to connect the logical (logos) with the emotional (pathos). If a politician embeds metaphors into his or her discourse, they are seeking to frame problems and advocate for a certain course of solutions.

Donald Trump’s chaotic use of metaphor is a crucial part of his appeal. Conceptual metaphor theory holds that metaphorical statements, such as “Costs are rising,” involve structuring one concept in terms of another; in this case, costs are conceptualized in terms of physical verticality. In this way, metaphor is not just language; it is a way of thinking and it is linked to emotions and grounded in bodily experience. Conceptual metaphors in political discourse help to both direct and constrain the audience’s understanding by drawing on certain metaphorical themes. Thus, when Trump, says “Middle-income Americans and businesses will experience profound relief” (metaphor: taxes are pain), he understands that it would resonate with the group of citizens tired of paying high taxes. In this case, as well as in the metaphor immigrants are animals, Trump diverts attention from other issues and hyperbolizes the frames of suffering and fear.2

Metaphors can’t change reality; only shed light on it. When people use metaphors to take liberties with reality, their words can be misleading at best and mendacious at worst. According to Van Dijk, this is how manipulation in discourse works: since short-term memory is mostly involved in interpreting the meaning of clauses, sentences, and texts when listening to or reading a message, one can easily influence the order of this processing by selecting a bigger font or reiterating certain ideas many times. Trump’s constant reference to the same domains ensures that his listeners pick up these metaphors as central. While short-term memory is involved in deciphering the meaning of a text, long-term memory plays a role in the formation of attitudes and opinions. Thus, if people hear that immigrants are animals many times, they are likely to build this ideological model in their mind.

Like similes and analogies, a metaphor is a figure of speech used for rhetorical effect. A word or a phrase takes on an implied meaning that is not literally true or applicable. If you say that you have cold feet, you are not literally saying that your feet are cold. You’re implying that you are nervous or apprehensive about something. When a metaphor has been used repetitively, especially over an extended period of time, it can lose its connection to the original imagery that it was meant to evoke. This is a dead metaphor. The word or phrase is now so commonly used that its metaphorical meaning can be fully understood without knowing the earlier connotation. One of the most striking elements in Trump’s speeches is his frequent use of so-called “dead” metaphors, or metaphors that have lost their meaning over time because they’re so common, said Andrew Hines, a philosophy fellow at SOAS University of London.

But what many commentators who call Trump “the drunken uncle” miss is that Trump himself is a master of metaphor. Anyone seeking to understand his appeal would be wise to consider his uncanny, intuitive ability to craft compelling comparisons. Trump’s figurative language isn’t sophisticated or original, but it’s clever. And that’s precisely what makes it so effective. The fact that his metaphors and similes are stark, common and even a bit stilted makes them more powerful because they’re comparisons that average Americans can understand. Metaphors lend themselves to both consistency and creativity and are easily enhanced by the power of repetition. Through the dual metaphors of the CEO presidency and building a wall, the humanity of immigrants is lost entirely and the racial dimensions of that discourse are masked by business terminology. Donald Trump rarely uses live metaphors, but when he does, they literally make headlines, as the mainstream media twist and turn in their attempts to define what he is actually saying.

Francis Bacon (1551-1626) was concerned with the superficiality of distinctions drawn in everyday language, and consequently the capacity of words to embroil men in the discussion of the meaningless. Because these errors are innate, they cannot be completely eliminated, but only recognized and compensated for. Some of Bacon’s examples are: Recognize our senses are inherently dull and easily deceivable. (Which is why Bacon prescribes instruments and strict investigative methods to correct them.) Our tendency to discern (or even impose) more order in phenomena than is actually there. As Bacon points out, we are apt to find similitude where there is actually singularity, regularity where there is actually randomness, etc. Our tendency is towards “wishful thinking.” According to Bacon, we have a natural inclination to accept, believe, and even prove what we would prefer to be true. Our tendency is to rush to conclusions and make premature judgments (instead of gradually and painstakingly accumulating evidence).

Metaphors can create anxiety: Trump launched his political career by embracing a brand-new conspiracy theory twisted around two American taproots – fear and loathing of foreigners and of nonwhites. ’Defund the police’ is a metaphor, however, Republicans have seized on it characterizing it as radical plan to disband police forces across America. Defund the police does not mean abolish policing, rather it means reallocating or redirecting funding away from the police department to other government agencies funded by the local municipality. This shifting of funding to areas – such as social services is done in order to improve things such as mental health, addiction, and homelessness – is a better use of taxpayer money. Confusion over the fact that ‘defund the police’ is a metaphor is harming the process. People who accept conspiracy theories tend to rely on intuition over analytical thinking and are very susceptible to symbols and metaphors.

What makes metaphors so powerful? Metaphors get your audience to think about your ideas in a different way. Metaphors play a key role in orienting the public perception of populism based on shared modes of understanding social and political life. Populist rhetoric transforms the facts of social issues into divisive symbols and metaphors. Metaphor will always play a role in political rhetoric because, as James Geary writes, “Once metaphor has us in its grasp, it never lets us go, and we can never forget it.” Mainstream media needs to get out of denial – they gain less and less by accusing populist leaders of “twisting the truth”. How something is said may be as important as what is said. Kenneth Burke, an American literary theorist observes, “The most characteristic concern of rhetoric [is] the manipulation of men’s beliefs for political ends …”. We need to recognize and understand the power of metaphors in framing political issues.

1 Metaphor. The Renaissance.

2 Kateryna Pilyarchuk and Alexander Onysko. (January 2018) Conceptual Metaphors in Donald Trump’s Political Speeches: Framing his Topics and (Self-)Constructing hisPersona’s_Political_Speeches_Framing_his_Topics_and_Self-Constructing_his_Persona

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