Author Archives: larsschaff

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.

Trump is not a xenophobe, just a skilled demagogue

Let’s assume that Donald Trump’ s intelligence and knowledge are at least on an average level, or higher. Then one must conclude that he not for a minute can believe that illegal immigration is the root of 30 year’s stagnation or decline in living conditions for ordinary Americans. However, he is a master demagogue and knows what upset people the most. And he used that skill to manipulate the democratic system and win his first election.

We’ve been through this before in Europe and it ended no good. Trump’s tactics regarding foreign people are similar to those used by fascists then.

With some simplification one may say that neoliberalism has been the cradle in which today’s neo-fascism was nurtured. It goes like this: unfettered capitalism fails and creates crisis of all kinds. The result is stagnation for a majority and fabulous wealth for a few, while everything in the common sector crumbles.

It’s no mystery who gains and who suffers from this focus on privatizing everything and destroying the commons. Those who profit are calling all the shots, not least in the media, and will certainly not spend any energy informing the public about the real causalities. When people finally runs out of docility, up comes the right-wing populists with their popular but false answers.

Immigrants are the easy targets for populists. (We all have some innate xenophobe traits and it takes conscious thinking to repress them.) But people’s real grievances have of course only marginally to do with immigrants. That should be particularly obvious for US citizens with their rich country’s entire wealth created by immigrants. Still the Stranger Card pays off for populists – big!

Sweden is known for its open borders. With the surge in refugees arriving we had last year the largest percentage population growth since 1861. Is this from benevolence only? Hardly! This is where immigration is hurting ordinary people to some degree, namely in holding down worker’s wages, something the ruling property owners find most welcome (here they have a common interest with humanitarian liberals).

That’s not to say that immigrants and refugees are responsible for ordinary people’s problems. The main reason for these problems is instead a power-grab by the ruling elite, the capital owners, by which they have impounded most of the economic growth the last 30 years and funneled it to very few pockets (more pronounced so in USA than in EU, and even less so in Sweden).

But nor is it to say that immigration is problem-free for the society as a whole or above all for the newcomers. They are forced to live in quite meager circumstances, have difficulty learning a new language and finding jobs. The Social network in Sweden is not what it used to be and people are left to solve their own problems, not an easy task for individuals fleeing war zones and burdened by traumatic experiences. Desperation sometimes leads to riots with violence and counter violence between immigrants and right-wing groups, which adds to the aversion against immigrants and refugees.

Donald Trump knows quite well that the immigrants to US didn’t cause the depressing conditions for people during neoliberalism. He just uses them as a potent political weapon among his deceived constituency. He is probably also aware of the real reasons for people’s grievances. He just acts like the businessman he is: go full ahead and don’t bother about consequence beyond the next quarter, regardless of how dire they are.

On the other hand Trump has shown some insight into what created the current, giant refugee crisis, namely West’s unwarranted wars in the Middle East and North Africa. His expressed ambition to withdraw US from these wars is a hopeful sign (and a significant deviation from historic fascist practices). But on this issue he is at odds with strong forces in both parties and the outcome of that remains to be seen.

Democracy as a Glass Bead Game for “academics”

Today’s New York Times has a piece titled Democracy in America: How Is It Doing?, presenting a study that excels in political scientists’ most dear subjects: formalities and instrumentalities forming a rather shallow analysis, if one by democracy means people’s real power. It’s of course presented with much (insipid) statistics and graphics. The summary of the study is: “Democracy in the United states is strong, but showing some cracks”.

I submitted the following lines to the NYT Readers Comments’ section:

Really prudent and knowledgeable American thinkers, most prominently Noam Chomsky, argues convincingly that today’s USA is a plutocracy, not a democracy at all. He bases his view on the fact that the economic powerful simply are able buy political decisions that are gaining their interests. This power mostly overrides voters’ real influence on politics, something that has been demonstrated in numerous polls (such as on health care).

Citizens United stands for legalized corruption on a limitless scale, not really intelligible for many outside US. That should have been be none of our interests, were it not for US being a role model followed by other states, not least Sweden, with some years’ or decades’ delay. So, let’s unite across oceans and reclaim real democracy.

 

Trump’s gaffe on Sweden, coming true

“More than half a century ago president Eisenhower sat the standard for mocking Sweden, when he publicly stated that suicides were more common there than elsewhere. The reason implied was that Swedes were so deeply bored in there cuddling socialist state that they didn’t want to live at all. The assertion about the suicides was in itself not true, of course (speaking of lying presidents), but it is still glued to the Swedish image in the whole world.

Eisenhower served an entry, and then it has just rolled on. Every small crack in the smooth facade of the idyllic social democratic paradise did create media frenzy (with mostly less correct reporting) and cozy schadenfreude. That provoking Nordic welfare country, number one in most rankings, was an aching thorn in the eyes of conservatives around the globe.

But the reactionaries may relax now. Sweden has been hit by neoliberalism (facilitated by a right-wing government) and is becoming increasingly compatible with rest of the industrial world. Welfare is fading and there is cause for grievances among the less affluent, a development that, not surprisingly, has handed xenophobes and the Alt-right considerable progress in public opinion. At the same time, economic gaps are widening faster than in other EU-countries. – So: SkÃ¥l, reactionaries of the world! Your future seems bright (but to the others: let’s disappoint them thoroughly!)”

This was a comment of mine on an article in New York Times that mentioned Trump’s gaffe about some attack in Sweden. A day later there really was riots and car burning in a Stockholm suburb, as if Trump were clairvoyant. That elicited the following answer to me in the comment section:

“Odd you say that, knowing that riots just broke out in Sweden. Guess which community areas? Isn’t it terrible when facts on the ground don’t cooperate with dogma?”

Well, I never said anything about a riot-free Sweden; I could have commented on the opposite.

Fascism – an ideology a la mode

If there is no indisputable definition of fascism there are anyhow specific characterizations of the phenomenon. The basic one, at the same time the most despicable, is lack of empathy for other human beings (outside a closed circle). Among fascists, the reasons for living are instead Race, Honor, War, Blut und Boden and equivalent concepts. (Empathy is something that a fascist occasionally may feel for animals.)

In line with these characteristics it follows that fascists see as deadly enemies all democratic movements in favor of equality and solidarity, such as labor movements and other associations engaging ordinary human beings. Fascists embrace mainly people and things that are strictly theirs in some sense, such as their ego, their family, their clan, their nation.

Fascism started, and is responsible for, the Second World War. It’s equally true, but nowadays repressed, that the Soviet Union carried by far the heaviest burden to defeat the worst and strongest of the monstrous fascist war machines. Soviet was then considered by many to be a workers’ state, and workers’ unions thus gained a strong position in most of Europe the years after the war.

This period have been called a Golden Age in industrialized countries. Economies flourished with high growth; income distribution was fairly equal (very much so by today’s standards), welfare measures were carried through and ordinary working families could acquire a comfortable life. Fascists were practically non-existent during these optimistic years (we had a few hibernating Nazis in Sweden, but they were commonly regarded as complete dimwits).

The backlash came in the late 1970s, when the capitalist class finally managed to regain political and ideological hegemony by using its economic power. In the name of neoliberalism, they could enable a strong reaction against wage workers’ acquired rights. Pitched as globalism, the new march backwards became international. One instrument of this redistribution of production results to the very rich was deregulation of the financial markets, resulting in repeated financial crashes hitting poor people the hardest.

With this capitalist reaction the groundwork for resurrection of fascism was laid. We had been through it once before in near history and should have learned, but those in real power doesn’t want us to learn. They obviously prefer fascism before progressive development that really deals with people’s grievances. The right wing paves the way for right wing extremism. Their most important objective is to keep progressives away from power.

A more polite term for right-wing extremism is populism, and both have kinship with fascism. The connections are illustrated in a recent article in New York Times dealing with the ideological preferences in the head of Stephen K. Bannon, the chief strategist in the most powerful administration in the world. He is said to be influenced by, or at least open to, the world of Julius Evola, an extreme traditionalist that inspired Mussolini and now is openly hailed by Alt-right leaders.

Evola himself broke with the Italian Fascists “because he considered them overly tame and corrupted by compromise. Instead he preferred the Nazi SS officers, seeing in them something closer to a mythic ideal. They also shared his anti-Semitism.” (Evola is called an influential “thinker” which is an odd epithet for a man who conspicuously prefer feeling ahead of thinking.)

Evola was Anti everything enlightened, rational, modern, liberal, progressive and humanitarian one can think of. An American scholar has described his ideal order to be based on “hierarchy, caste, monarchy, race, myth, religion and ritual”. This points a straight way back to the heart of medieval darkness. A way that Stephen K. Bannon, on the face of it, at least not entirely abstain from recommending.

All while our media are outraged by silly scandals, alleged leaks, fake news (including their own) and above all: The Russians. There is something rotten in the state of affairs, but it’s more dire than the headlines in our newspapers suggest.

The really hazardous side of Trump

When I was younger one could occasionally pick up the innocent notion here that everyone should be eligible to vote for the President of the United States, since the US had such an impact on the whole world. Naiveties like that are mostly gone nowadays, but in one respect they ought to be revived. And that’s about environmental issues.

US is the worst per capita polluter in the world, by a long shot. One emission that is harmful for everyone on earth is carbon dioxide. Alongside nuclear war, climate catastrophe is the greatest threat to survival of the human species. We’re not talking of some people, or even millions of people being exterminated, it’s literarily the entire human species that is at stake.

Global warming is accelerating at a terrifying pace with its deleterious effects measured almost day by day. Our grandchildren will experience changes in global weather never seen by mankind, most of those highly unfavorable. And that’s just the beginning.

In these dire straits a man elected President of the United States declares that he will do the outmost to enhance this treat to the human species, thereby supported by a Congress filled with likeminded climate deniers. To the latter’s defense one should admit that many of them believe Jesus to come back to earth and rescue them personally in a near future, leaving the rest to destruction. For them it’s at least logical to flout the end of humanity. They have rescued themselves by living an impeccable Christian life (voting for every immoral war possible).

To really underscore his fateful ambitions the President appoints a certain Scott Pruitt to be the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, a man who according to his own website is “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” This was already prepared for when a man named Myrion Ebell, a really dedicated climate denier, in September 2016 was appointed a member of the transition team, responsible for the EPA.

This is certainly a world that it takes a Jonathan Swift to describe and ridicule in a novel. Kafka would not be credible enough.