Monthly Archives: March 2017

Begging in a welfare state – just neoliberal logic

If anyone in the 1970s had said that we were going to have beggars in the Swedish streets 40 years into the future, we would have presumed that some catastrophe, like a third World War, had to have taken place in between. But there are beggars here today, and the disaster that happened wasn’t a war but neoliberalism and globalization. And it’s not a few people shaking paper cups; they are deployed outside every supermarket and – particularly – at the doorstep of every liquor store (where the Swedish conscience already is sensitized).

It’s said that most of them are from Romania, and as EU citizens they are fully entitled to be here and try to make their living. The problem is that begging is so remote from Swedish social habits that there is no law saying anything about it. But there is an ongoing discussion on whether or not to ban begging.

We must go back to the 19th century to find visible begging in Sweden. Then it disappeared, but in the harshest years of the 1920s, poor people tried to get by through selling shoelaces and matchboxes in the streets. That was the closest we got to begging in that century. Until 1965 there was a law against vagrancy that could have been used for prosecution of beggars, but it was obsolete long before that year.

I think begging in most Swedish minds is a sign of a dysfunctional society. Poor people should be helped in more civilized manners. In the minds of neoliberals on the other hand, begging may be an example of private initiative, of people showing their will to take care of their own problems and not become a burden to society. On top of that, beggars serve as a warning to lazy people what can happen if they don’t accept the depressing and dirty jobs they barely are qualified for.

Neoliberalism didn’t just create the positive view on begging, it created the beggars themselves. Romania never was a rich country, but people were not left entirely by themselves in the old days, and they had no beggars. It was a poor but inclusive society. Then, like the other countries in eastern Europe, Romania was smashed to a pulp by the robber capitalism western powers introduce them to. The blessings of the free market shoveled most of eastern Europe back to the third world from which it came 70 years prior. And they all have a bumpy road back to some kind of normal standard.

The neoliberal “philosophy”, viewing the beggar as a responsible individualist, is of course self-serving for the wealthy, but is contrary to human nature. With Marx’ profound words (my translation): “A human is a zoon politicon (a political animal), which only in a society can isolate itself.” In the long run (provided the human species survives) socializing will defeat narcissism, firstly because it’s in accord with our deepest traits, secondly because it’s rational, thus follows from pure logic.

Ignorance supports one side in the class struggle – rationality the other

“Ignorance has become a virtue” is a theses argued by Tom Nichols in a timely book, reviewed in New York Times the other day. The author has of course plenty of recent illustrations with which to back up his supposition. But hasn’t this race into darkness been in the works long before Trump?

After the failed attempts of revolution in the 1960s, progressives had difficulties in dealing with their disappointment. Some of them (also “leftists” in their own mind) made an about-face and ended up in the arms of Saussure, Nietzsche, Heidegger and other solid reactionaries (and, occasionally, Nazis). They effectively declared the end of all factual knowledge, roughly claiming that reality existed only in language and nowhere else.

It all started in France but spread like a flu to the “soft” departments of western academia, such as literary studies, social sciences and the like. Their scholars, who had lived in the shadow of natural sciences, now got a weapon against the intrusive scientists with their annoying claims to know anything about the reality (that the “soft” scholars had no clue about themselves). These delicate minds called their teaching by different names, often beginning with “post”, but may for simplicity all be named “postmodernists”.

Michel Foucault, a kingpin among them, asserted that every narrative was as true as anyone else, only too late realizing that such theses can be aimed at itself, making it arbitrarily true or false. This is the level of postmodern thinking, only becoming increasingly absurd when the proud new thinkers ventured into science (hilariously undressed by Sokal and Bricmont).

The emperor’s new clothes come certainly to mind here. Postmodernists don’t seem to realize how naked they are. Noam Chomsky has famously said about them (paraphrasing): of the lashings of postmodern verbiage there is, I only understand a small part, and that is either truisms or false.

When large parts of the academic world have grown accustomed to believing in nonsense, it could not be surprising to find the political apparatus going down the same path. Is there even a class analysis to make here?

Postmodernism and neoliberalism are roughly contemporaries. The forceful counterattack by Capital, starting late 1970s, swept through the western world and stunned the progressives. Those “leftists” who retreated into the postmodern nonsense world became in effect fifth columnist. They distracted popular opposition by combatting the most important instrument for people’s struggle: rationality.

If I were a multi-billionaire, strictly caring about my own money, I would certainly encourage and support every stupid prophet who deceives people into all kinds of gibberish that takes their eyes off me and my absurd wealth. Postmodernism has served that duty quite well, as far as it reaches.

Now the political world itself has been endowed with a master deceiver who certainly will do as much he has time for to lure and betray his electorate. Ignorance has not just become a virtue; it has been made a main principle by a ruling class that has everything to gain from public stupidity and everything to fear from rational class analysis.

Fake environmental protection, continued

Environmental problems is an important field for fake news, as noted in my previous post. For journalists and reporters in most media, environment is on top of the agenda, for good and for bad, as it turns out. The subject as such has the advantage of being a benevolent cause, at the same time a legitimate means to aggravate the audience, something media actors seem to value highly.

And many times media is on the right track, to their credit. The climate hazard is something they mostly get right, for instance. Now and then they also target air pollution around the world, a disaster that claims millions of premature deaths. But all too many times media take mythical, populist and science denying positions. And it’s striking how unidirectional mainstream media around the world are on these issues. A serious problem is that dissident media usually are even more on the mystical path regarding the environment.

If one asks a Swede what he or she does to protect the environment, the first thing a large majority will mention is “sopsortering”, which is to sort different fractions of domestic waste into separate trash cans and deliver to a special container park (which in rural districts may be located quite remote). Those fractions can be newspapers, other kinds of paper, plastic, metal cans, colored glass and colorless glass. (More special waste, like paint, solvents, electronic waste etcetera, must even in large cities be delivered by car to a central waste facility, which in those cases is motivated.)

The ideological superstition behind this giant quasi operation is that recirculation must result in new material of the same kind. Dirty and mixed plastic waste must thus be recycled into smelly, bad quality plastic bags, while premium petroleum very well may be burned in ovens, vehicles or anywhere. Same with short and worn cellulose fibers in recycled paper that must be used for production of very low grade paper, while premium, virginal fibers very well may be burned in stoves and even in large power stations.

Real experts on waste deem this recirculation as having no value for environmental protection whatsoever. Still it is considered by the population as their main effort to save the environment. It’s heartbreaking, and media is playing along, naturally, making no effort to enlighten people. Experts mention as a small example that it is twice as costly to make glass from recycled material than from virginal raw material (not including the considerable costs in time and transportation for recycling, that is paid by citizens). These costs can be directly translated into damage to the environment.

The most environmental-friendly way to handle waste consisting of paper, plastic, wood and other combustible materials is to burn it in a specially designed incineration plants with premium flue gas cleaning. Then the waste can be transformed to useful electricity and heat. (Glass is by the way perfect to improve slag formation during incineration.)

When passing a border between two municipalities in Sweden one usually reads a sign saying “Engine idling max. 2 min.”. It’s a local prescription, and there are 290 municipalities in the country, all of them obviously having decided the same thing. Of all possible prescriptions to put on thousands of signs one can think of innumerable ones significantly more relevant for environmental protection (“Driving max. 20 min.” would have been one.) But this is the kind of sham operations so common when it comes to environment. And no one reacts, least of all media.

Air quality in cities has become a main issue lately. When media reports on that here, car traffic is always mentioned as a main cause. It’s more seldom revealed that small scale wood burning (in our cozy stoves) often is equally guilty of this problem. But that kind of burning has by the ignorant been designated as environmentally friendly and is gently saved from exposure. This is the way media works with its ideologically motivated deception.

The real large scale deception by media is of course on political issues, on which western corporate media mostly is patronizing, self-sufficient and bullying, and yet unable to understand why people have less and less trust in them. To undress media is an educational process that has gained momentum, and which will be an important part of a progressive enlightenment.

Fake news as an old media speciality

“Fake news” is on every editor’s mind these days, and one could say that it’s about time, because there’s very much more to it than hits the eye today. It runs back in human history, probably till the very beginning, that people have lived in a world where myth, saga and intuitive senses of evidence have ruled, parallel to rationality and empirical facts. We are told that the Enlightenment marks the turning point at which reason and logic became the real hallmarks of human development. Would that it were.

We will probably never get rid of irrational spirituality, sometimes perhaps for benign reasons, but sometimes for unnecessarily stupid ones. Earnest media have double identities on this question, by both taking their enlightening task seriously but also nurturing specific myths and prejudice that has become “official truths”. Media have in any way a crucial role in forming the prevailing narrative.

There are innumerable examples, so let’s start with the toughest one: nuclear energy. We have just passed the 6th anniversary of one of the most tragic peacetime catastrophes that has ever hit Japan, the tsunami of 2011, which in most media now is renamed “The Fukushima disaster”. It’s indeed a remarkable disaster in which not a single individual has been injured, let alone killed. The real disaster – the tsunami itself – is repressed, and the almost 20,000 human beings that it killed seems forgotten.

The consequences of the Fukushima reactor breakdown, such as evacuations and decontaminations activities, were largely exaggerated due to public pressure, intensified by media and ordered by sensitive politicians. An important fact for perspective: there are areas on earth where people have lived for thousands of years with ten times higher radiation levels than those in the evacuated areas in Japan (look up “Ramsar”, for instance) and with no adverse health effects.

Already 25 years earlier the world had endured a similar event, Chernobyl, without media and others learning anything. More than a hundred of the world’s foremost experts on the subject made a deep and thorough study under UN auspices. Its findings contradict almost everything that had grown into the official narrative. They concluded that the damage on society, including the premature deaths among the public, was mainly a consequence of misguided actions by authorities, including unnecessary evacuations (reference: UNSCEAR 2000).

(One of the few Russians we like – Svetlana Alexievich – received the Nobel Prize in Literature, mainly for her reportage books. One of these covered the Chernobyl events and consisted of interviews with numerous people involved in the accident. A short review: it’s hard to find one single claimed fact in the book that is even close to true.)

Opposition to nuclear energy has become a journalistic faith, not surprisingly. It’s the perfect issue for keeping audiences alarmed at a convenient level, at the same time presenting a low probability that someone gets to call the cards. It’s likewise with other environmental issues suitable for alarmism. Organic products of all kinds are highest fashion here, as elsewhere in “enlightened” countries. And indeed, it sounds a natural thing.

About once a year my newspaper admits space for some scholars from our University of Agriculture to explain that organic farming has very little or nothing to do with environmental protection or health improvement (but the more to price increases). On some parameters, it may be slightly better than traditional farming, but on others it is clearly inferior. Among the former one finds the low level of pesticide residues, which on the other hand is an illusory victory. The pesticide risk we face is namely wildly exaggerated. The total amount of such chemicals we get through food in an entire year pose the same cancer risk as one single cup of coffee.

There’s more to this issue, but already too long, it’s time for an intermission…

Media has created their own favorite enemy – Trump

It’s almost entertaining to experience the western media frenzy about the lies and deceptions by their main enemy Donald Trump. The man has the guts to stand up against Media! That’s not just a breach of etiquette but a challenge against a power that is not used to being challenged. At least not by politicians.

Corporate media is (or perhaps used to be) the conductor for the charades called US presidential elections, in which two candidates who mainly agrees on all important issues, differing only on superficialities, perform a media show devoid of substance. It is thus a matter of life and death for election campaigns to be on good terms with media, not least in order to stay clear of public scandals, something that’s usually crucial for the outcome.

This betrayal of real democracy by media is not limited to elections, and certainly not to the United States. Corporate media is constantly making politics a shallow spectacle in which the most important issues are put aside, paving the way for empty rhetoric, personal image and style, thus defining the boundaries for what’s fit for politicians to say. This is spiced with brainless propaganda to defame the official enemy states and their leadership. By this the hacks have been elevated to power, in a way (or in their own eyes) above politicians.

It goes without saying that search for truth is not a media hallmark, as is not high ethical standards overall. In the ambition to gain deniability media mostly avoid outright lies. But more efficient than straight lies are insinuations, spreading of rumors and, above all, suppressing and censoring important facts that are detrimental for the prescribed ideology.

Up comes then this self-sufficient man who breaks all rules and challenges the media right on. Journalists and reporters don’t see that he just holds up a distorting mirror in which they may look at themselves (and laugh in despair). After betraying the ordinary US citizens for decades by withholding the truth about a system that consequently has worked to deteriorate living conditions for the majority, with the goal of funneling obscene wealth to a tiny minority, the media and the entire establishment has lost every shred of credibility.

And they created Donald Trump (just as mini-Trumps have multiplied in most of Europe and elsewhere.) By downgrading truth, reason and rationality in treating politics, media has opened a highway for the absurd parts of the Trump ideology. Citizens are lured to promote a semi-fascist to power, a man who will start by depriving millions of his voters of their health insurance (and give that money to the rich) and presumably go on in the same direction.

We have seen it all before, and that one ended in a global war with 50 million people killed. When will they ever learn…

Dedication to achieve an unsustainable world

Making Scott Pruitt head of the Environmental Protection Agency is equivalent to making Sam Harris an Archbishop.

This willful ignorance, bordering to devoted stupidity, is a threat to the whole world (giving me the right to opinions in these Swedish postcards). But is the difference between extreme right-wing populism and ordinary right-wing politics a difference in kind or just in grade?

There can be no doubt that the last 35 years of neoliberalism, aimed specifically at enriching a miniscule minority at the expense of the large majority of ordinary employees, have paved the way thoroughly for any kind of revolt. That this revolt in the US took the shape of right-wing populism is certainly not surprising. The same tendencies are apparent in Europe too.

The entire US establishment in politics and media (including the liberals) has done everything to obscure the real reasons behind people’s grievances, and overlook the neoliberal mechanisms. This establishment has not given the people any comprehensible explanations, thus opening the floodgates for the stupid answers from extreme right-wing outlets: “your problems stem from others taking your money: the government, the immigrants, the lazy, the liberals – let’s get rid of them”.

The complacency against this fascist-leaning propaganda is nothing but logical. If I were a multi-billionaire I would gladly give room for such ideas, rather than tolerating progressive thought, which really would be a threat to my wealth. In the US it seems as if the established liberals in politics and media feel equally threatened by the real progressives. (It took some conspiratorial actions by DNC to keep Bernie Sanders away from power.)

United States harbor the most cultured people with the sharpest brains, and in politics they usually are dissidents. As such they are effectively barred from communication with the bulk of the population. It’s nothing surprising about that either, as those with economic power owns and controls the “free” media. But the progressive movements behind the scene are lively and bright. As seen by the Sanders successful case the possibilities for enlightened and organized young people to break through the iron curtain erected by the handymen for the economic power are encouraging.

Maybe we first must endure La politique du pire, as the French say, meaning that we are forced to let horrendous politics destroy everything before something entirely new can emerge from the rubble. That optimism in the long run makes it perhaps easier to live through the day ahead without crumbling from all the absurdities.