The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Month: November 2018 Page 1 of 2

The Joy of Evil

One of the great problems with our society, is human nature, as created by this particular society.

To whit: It is enjoyable for most people to force other people to do what they want.

We often pretend this isn’t so, but seeing a human do what you want usually gives rise to pleasant feelings. The forcing can be subtle, using deceit and manipulation. It can be overt, using threats. And it can be through the actual use of force.

It can also be legal or illegal. We all know, I trust, that many police enjoy forcing people to do what they tell them to. Politicians enjoy their power. Bosses enjoy making employees jump, they get off on it.

And people who are forced to do things resent it. When I was growing up, it was assumed that it was high-level, type “A” executives who had the most likelihood of heart attacks. Then the British civil service decided to find out if this was true and commissioned a massive study.

To the contrary, it turned out that those with health problems and heart attacks were lower on the totem pole. The key factor was how much control they had: Those who were ordered around constantly, or were in precarious situations, were the most likely to have health problems.

So the problem is that people don’t want to be forced to do stuff they wouldn’t otherwise do, but that people enjoy forcing other people to do what they don’t want to do, and that our society is caught in this trap.

We take this as being human nature, but it isn’t. Or, not exactly. It is human nature as expressed in our sort of society. In band-level societies, you don’t see this. Even in tribal “big man” societies there is little of it, because even the big men have limited power (and can’t pass it to their children).

How much of it there is also varies even between our own societies, and over time in our societies. I remember a time, in the 80s, when bosses had a lot less ability to force their will on low-level employees. I recall being reamed out once by a boss, and I laughed at him. “Fire me if you want. I’ll have a new job in two weeks.”

In capitalist societies, tight job markets mitigate against a lot of boss-abuse. In societies where people have the ability to provide their own livelihood, a lot of that type of abuse is not present. (There are other types of abuse, however, if the societies are stratified.)

But the bottom line is that power feels enjoyable, and not having power feels awful, so the majority of the population is scrambling to be shitting down more than they are being shat on.

Unfortunately, in a relatively hierarchical, stratified society, which ours still is (there aren’t that many chairs for senior executives), this means a majority of the population is being shoved around quite a lot.

And what is done to people they tend to do to other people.

This is an endemic problem in our form of society, especially boss-abuse (and for the chronic poor, social worker and cop abuse, which are very real). It is baked into our sort of society: There may be more or less in various societies, and at various times, but it’s always somewhat with us.

If we want genuinely good societies, which produce genuinely healthy people (both physically and psychologically), we need to figure out a way to run our society which involves much less coercion and precarity. The whip of hunger, the fear of losing one’s job and with it any life worth having, are the ruling fears of our time, and they produce real and genuine illnesses.

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Russia Seizes Ukrainian Ships and Ukraine Declares Martial Law

Russia fired on and seized two Ukrainian gunboats and a tug, near the Kerch Straight. This strait leads from the Crimean Sea into the Sea of Azov. US and Western reaction has been condemnatory, and in this case, I think correctly. The Sea of Azov abuts a lot of the Ukraine, and the 2003 treaty gives the Ukraine the right of access to it.

Of course, the geography of the strait between Crimea and Russia makes it an easily-sealed strait now that Russia controls Crimea, but on the face of it, it appears to be an act of war to seize ships.

The phrase “on the face,” is important, because it is possible that the ships did move into Russian waters. The Ukrainians say they didn’t, the Russians say they did. But if they stuck to the Strait of Kerch, as I understand it, they do have the right of access.

The declaration of martial law, which affects ten border regions, is more interesting. Mind you, a lot of those regions aren’t really under the Ukrainian government’s control any longer, but it gives the military rights to shut down strikes and protests, and, one assumes, to seize people at will.

The Ukraine is screaming that Russia might invade it, but that seems unlikely. If Russia was going to do that, they should have done it during the initial crisis.

The Ukraine is a bleeding wound for Russia, diplomatically, being used to justify all sorts of sanctions and other harmful actions. It is a situation that Russia can’t seem to resolve; invasion would be crazy, and it would precipitate full economic sanctions and a guerrilla war. But withdrawing entirely would lose Crimea and Sevastopol, and probably lead to the Ukraine joining NATO, a Russian red line.

The obvious “deal” which should probably be made is to allow Crimea to stay in Russia (all evidence is that, in fact, most Crimeans do want to be part of Russia, the Crimean Tatars are a minority, and Crimea was part of Russia for far longer than it was part of the Ukraine), stop supporting rebel movements in the rest of the Ukraine, and restore ordinary relationships.

Neither side appears willing to make this deal, nor trust the other side to keep it. And the sides are Russia and the West (US, EU). What the Ukrainian government thinks is a secondary issue: If both sides agree on a deal, the Ukraine will have little choice but to accept it.

So we continue with a bleeding ulcer for Russia. The negative for the West, and particularly for the US, is that Russia is being de-facto pushed into an alliance with China. Compared to that, in realpolitik terms, what is happening in the Ukraine hardly matters.

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The Difference Between Compulsiveness and Happiness

One of the most striking bits of research lately has been that every study I am aware of of social media finds a correlation between unhappiness and social media use. The more social media people use, the less happy they are. It’s really extraordinary.

I’ve been thinking about this recently. While ill recently I played some Civilization VI (the worst version  of Civilization in its history.)

I found it compulsive. I’d be sitting there, not enjoying myself, yet found myself playing “just one more turn.”

Social media feels much the same. You tweet or put up a Facebook post or comment, or an Instagram picture, or whatever, and then you wait to see if people respond. The responses are intermittent: you can’t entirely predict them, so it’s very strong reinforcement.

The feeling of posting on social media is compulsive. Like one has to check to see if there are responses: like on has to post something new.

It’s not a happy feeling, usually. Instead it feels like addictive behaviour. Perhaps mildly addictive in some case, perhaps seriously in others.

I find happiness, right now, for me, happens most often while listening to music. It isn’t compulsive at all. I enjoy it, I stop when I have something else to do. It’s relaxed.

Dopamine hits aren’t particularly enjoyable. They’re just demanding: compulsive. “Do more of this.”

Happiness is something else. Not compulsive. Optional.

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The Age of Compliance

This is a small thing, but it’s one I keep noticing.

When the crossing light is red, and there are no cars nearby, I am the only person who crosses the street against the light.

When I was in my 20s, back in the 80s and early 90s, I was not the only one.

I find this rule-obeying when it makes little sense disturbing. This just was not the case when I was young. It was even less the case in the 70s when I was a child.

People are obeying rules when the rules make little sense.

I notice this in general, but somehow it strikes me most on the street, perhaps because I’m the one not obeying the rule.

Now this is in Canada, and in Ontario, and doubtless it’s different elsewhere. (I know it is.) But I have noticed it fairly often in better neighbourhoods in the US as well.

It feels to me like we in Canada and the US have internalized the rules in a way we hadn’t before; we obey even when there is no reason to, and no risk of being caught or punished.

That isn’t a good thing, even if you think traffic rules should always be obeyed.

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What May’s Brexit Deal Tells Us About the EU and Britain’s Future

So, May has a Brexit deal. It’s a terrible deal, which makes the UK subject to many EU laws, and which doesn’t allow Britain to withdraw from the deal if the EU doesn’t want it to.

This has caused ministerial resignations, and Corbyn has come out against it.

But the interesting part is what the EU and May have negotiated. This clause, for example:

Corbyn’s policies include straight up re-nationalization of the railways, regulation of housing prices, and the government outright building vast numbers of flats, among many other similar policies.

In other words, Corbyn’s policies interfere with liberal market rules. They are, actually, forbidden by the EU–but on occasion exceptions are made.

Of course, retaining privileged access to the EU market was going to require some rule taking, but May has chosen to take more rules that are “no socialism” and less rules that are “treat your people decently.”

What May has done is negotiate a deal which ties Corbyn’s hands: He can’t implement his policies if he becomes Prime Minister, and he can’t leave the deal. (Well, in theory, and perhaps in practice.)

Of course, Britain can still leave the deal: Parliament is supreme, and one parliament cannot tie the hands of another parliament. Nonetheless, leaving the deal would be damaging to Britain’s relationship with the EU, to put it mildly.

These sorts of efforts to tie future government’s hands so that are forced to preserve neoliberal policies are common. The now-dead Canadian Chinese trade deal had a clause which required a 20-year withdrawal notice, for example. The Canadian-EU free trade deal forbids the Canadian government from many of the same sorts of policies that May rejected as well.

This is the great problem with the neoliberal world order: It is set up to force countries into a specific sort of economy, and to punish them if they resist or refuse. That would be somewhat okay–but only somewhat–if neoliberal economics worked, but they don’t.

What neoliberal economics does, instead, is impoverish large minorities, even pluralities, in the countries which adopt its policies. Those pluralities then become demagogue bait. (Hello, Trump!)

Meanwhile Macron has proposed an EU military, and Germany’s Merkel has said she supports the idea.

EU elites are absolutely convinced their way is best, and that anyone who is against it is wrong. They are not primarily concerned with democracy (the EU is run primarily by un-elected bureaucrats), and do not consider democratic legitimacy as primary. If people vote for the “wrong” thing, EU elites feel they have the right to override that. They have overseen what amount to coups in both Greece and Italy in the past ten years.

The funny thing is that orthodox neoliberal economic theory admits there will be losers to neoliberal policies and states that they must be compensated. The problem is that this has never been done, and indeed, with accelerating austerity, they’ve done just the opposite: At the same time as a plurality is impoverished, the social supports have been kicked out from under them.

Macron has been particularly pointed in this, gutting labor rights in the name of “labor market flexibility.”

Neoliberalism, in other words, creates the conditions of its own failure. It is failing around the world: In the US, (Trump does not believe in the multilateral, neoliberal order), in Europe, and so on.

Even in countries that “support” the EU, there are substantial minorities, pushing into plurality status, which don’t support neoliberalism.

So Europe needs an army. Because Eurocrats know best, and since neoliberalism isn’t working for enough people that things like Brexit happen; that Italy is ignoring rules, that the East is boiling over with right-wing xenophobia, well, force is going to be needed. A European military, with French nukes, is the core of a great power military. And soon countries won’t be able to leave.

That, at any rate, is where things are headed. We’ll see if the EU cracks up first.

In the meantime, May’s Brexit deal really is worse than no deal, and in no way should be passed. In fact, if I’m Corbyn, and it’s been passed, if I became PM, I’d get rid of it. Because it either goes or he’ll have to substantially break all of his most important electoral promises.

The EU is loathsome. I won’t say it’s done no good, but it’s now doing more harm than good (indeed it has been for at least a decade). As with the US, because the EU is misusing its power, it needs to lose it. That process will be ugly, as a lot of those who are rising to challenge it are right-wing assholes (because the left has abandoned sovereignty).

You simply can’t fail pluralities of your population and stay stable without being a police state and holding yourself together with brutal force.

Those are the EU’s two most likely futures: brutal police state or crackup.

Pity, but that’s what EUcrats, with their insistence on neoliberal rules and hatred of democracy have made damn near inevitable.

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In Flanders Field, by John McRae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

Dems Take the House: What It Means

Nancy Pelosi

Ok, this is good news–


back in 2006, the Democrats took the House under an unpopular Republican President.

The Democratic leader was, as today, Nancy Pelosi.

She did very very little.

Some things did not get passed that would have if Republicans held the House. She did not go after Bush or try to block him in any significant way.

This is what, I expect, she will do this time. This is who she is and what she believes in. She has already said she will not go after Republicans the way they went after Democrats.

So, good news, but please don’t expect very much. Pelosi is a centrist, leading a centrist party, who finds Trump’s policies distasteful, but finds vigorous opposition even more distasteful. She does not believe in fighting right-wingers.

Unrequited good news: The re-enfranchisement of Florida felons. That will likely put Florida solidly Dem in the next election.

(Also, in popular vote terms, this was a wave election, but gerrymandering and the “great sort” mean the seats don’t translate.)

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The Mid-Terms

So, the polls suggest the Democrats stand a good chance of winning the House and a small chance of winning the Senate.

Let us hope they win at least one of the two, as a divided government, in the face of Trump, will be a good thing. Trump’s been doing a lot of mean, stupid things, the latest of which are his imposing sanctions on Iran, even though Iran has kept up their end of the nuclear deal, for which sanctions were removed.

I didn’t support Clinton in 2016 because of her anti-Russian hawkism and insane Syria policy (and didn’t support Trump either because he’s an evil douchebag). But Trump is moving towards war with Iran, which would be insanity. Even if war doesn’t happen, the sanctions will hurt and kill a lot of Iranians, are actually hurting their relatively moderate current government, and strengthening Iran’s more conservative forces.

Trump’s a very effective guy in certain ways, but he’s also a moron in a lot of other ways, and a cruel and rather petty man.

Let’s hope Americans put a brake on him.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

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