More Government?

January 22, 2018

In my work I often come across people writing something like:

There’s a category of people, often found mollycoddled inside government institutions such as universities, for whom “more government” is the answer to absolutely every problem.

This annoys me.

For one, in my entire and pretty lengthy life, I have never met anyone who thinks the answer to anything is “more government”. Never. It is a completely false accusation.

There are, however, a large number of people who object to giving all governmental power to the corporate sector (as is the usual results of actions by those who supposedly support ‘small government’), and there are those who think that ‘the people’ should be able to participate in their own government and challenge corporate dominance.

As you might expect both positions are easily misrepresented by people who work for the dominant powers who heavily fund think tanks and now permeate the university system. We might even say, by those cosseted by capitalism, for thinking ‘righteously’. They can pretend that wanting to be able to challenge corporate dominance, is a call for more government, knowing that hardly anyone will protest in favour of more government, once it is framed that way. This is also fundamentally dishonest.

The real questions are: do you want input into the government, do you want to participate in government, or do you want to leave it to the corporately sponsored and paid for elites? Do you want to keep wondering why government decisions always seem to benefit that class, or do you want to do something about it?

Capitalism appears to inherently intertwine itself into the State, resulting in more liberty for corporations, and more oppressive government for everyone else, unless it is challenged. At least I do not know of a historical circumstance in which this is not true. The fact that other systems can be even worse, does not disprove this.

We need to challenge these glib pro-corporate memes which try and construct corporate interests and peoples interests as always the same and always coinciding only with corporate interests, and replace them with ones that reflect reality.


What is Socialism?

January 19, 2018

Usually socialism means that ‘the people’ have the right to try and influence market power, so that the inherently top down processes of capitalism involving corporations and other elites do not tread all over them. Socialism also tries to provide increased opportunity for those who are disadvantaged, or who don’t have the luck to be born to wealthy parents, without lowering the opportunities for those who start off more fortunate. Capitalism seems to try to make it harder for people to succeed if they are not born into the right class. Metaphorically, if capitalism wants dancers, it breaks the legs of everyone who is poor, has them set badly, and then claims that the wealthy dance better because they have worked harder and have more intrinsic talent. Sure some people with broken legs will find a new way of dancing, but the corporate media will scoff endlessly. Socialism approves of social mobility and people bettering themselves, even when they are not of the right class.

Attempting to curb corporate power and insure against bad luck, usually translates into government policies such as there should be a minimum wage (rather than that competition between workers should bottom out below what is needed to live). There should be some kind of unemployment benefits (so that people can risk changing work, or not be forced to work for wages less than the benefits) and this benefit should not just time out. There is usually some kind of provision for health care, so that poor people do not have to ‘choose’ to die or suffer unnecessarily. There is usually a provision for basic pensions, or a compensation scheme, for people who are ill or injured and cannot work.

Socialism believes that a people can only govern themselves if there is a good education system not influenced entirely by commercial factors, as commerce has little relationship to truth. So it usually believes that spending taxpayers’ money on such a system is a good investment, although it allows people to spend their own money, without subsidy, on their ideas of education, provided it meets some basic quality standards – there will always be debate about these. A socialist state usually has a well funded and independent media provider – which is free of government intervention and commercial control – this has to be fought for, as capitalists like controlling all information. Ideally a socialist government should not be able to declare war unless there is a direct attack on the country, or it consults with the people.

There are usually regulations on the ‘free market’ (as the desire of corporations to control markets completely is known), so that people cannot be injured, maimed or killed at work without some employer responsibility or compensation from the system. There are usually regulations so that corporations cannot poison, or pollute with complete impunity. It is usually expected that money earned in a country should be taxed in that country, as the money is earned in a situation built by that taxation and spending. Socialism encourages unions so that workers have some bargaining power at work and some rough power equality with their employers.

The classic socialist states usually ran businesses in competition with private companies. The idea of this was to prevent cartels forming, to have real competition, and to try and foster innovation which is commercially risky. Socialist governments usually try and make sure there is an independent science sector as well to avoid commercial control and the issuing of harmful but profitable substances, and to try and prevent patents from inhibiting research and innovation.

Basically socialism is about minimising the top down organisation that you get in capitalism where, when things are unchecked, you end up with a simple plutocracy and those who have the money have all the power – like we have now. Socialism encourages all people to participate in their governmental process at whatever level they wish to. It does not panic at the thought of popular action and power sharing.

Naturally plutocrats hate the idea of sharing power, so they spend a lot of money pretending that capitalist practice leads to liberty and good for all. It has never done so. Capitalism always leads to capitalists capturing the government and using it to further their interests at the expense of everyone else.

Some Quotations from Adam Smith

January 18, 2018

“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the publick, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

“The capricious ambition of kings and ministers has not, during the present and the preceding century, been more fatal to the repose of Europe, than the impertinent jealousy of merchants and manufacturers”

“Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”

“Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer. The maxim is so perfectly self-evident that it would be absurd to attempt to prove it. But in the mercantile system the interest of the consumer is almost constantly sacrificed to that of the producer; and it seems to consider production, and not consumption, as the ultimate end and object of all industry and commerce.”

“Folly and injustice seem to have been the principles which presided over and directed the first project of establishing those colonies [in the Americas]; the folly of hunting after gold and silver mines, and the injustice of coveting the possession of a country whose harmless natives, far from having ever injured the people of Europe, had received the first adventurers with every mark of kindness and hospitality.”

U.S. Dictatorship

January 13, 2018

Can the USA become Fascist?

A lot depends on what you mean by fascism. After all Hitler and Mussolini’s ideas were significantly different from each other, and yet had significant resemblance to Stalin’s. If you mean a militaristic and nationalist state of the kind found in Germany and Italy in the 1930s, then yes its possible if the US keeps increasing military spending, militarizing its police, supporting arms manufacturers, threatening other States, or expelling inferior people who are not “real Americans”. If you mean a state which unifies and includes the established corporate sector, then yes its probable (if that is not already standard practice). If you mean a State in which it is respectable and beneficial to be a self proclaimed neo-Nazi, then yes. If you mean a state which sacrifices its people to fantasy, then we already have that. Fascism requires people have a flexible attitude to reality and truth; truth is what the party says it is.

It is, however, probably better to scrap the term fascism and ponder about dictatorial governance. If, by fascism you really mean a personalized dictatorship in which everyone has to say how wonderful the dictator is, and there is constant heavy likelihood of war – then the US is also pretty close to that.

Conservatives often say that dictatorship cannot happen under the Republicans because they believe in individual responsibility and free markets. However, not all well-intentioned ideas work out in practice, or are even implemented by those who espouse them. To me, it often seems that Republican politicians primarily act to increase the powers of the wealthy and the corporate sector and remove any inhibitions on those powers – this is what they mean by ‘free markets’ – and this has nothing to do with freedom or liberty. Likewise conservatives are supposed to respect traditions and procedures. However, the Republicans seem largely to respect traditions and procedures when those traditions support their ‘side’. The difference between the way they have encouraged investigation of the Clintons over relatively trivial matters and seem to be trying to shut down investigations into this President on relatively serious matters is otherwise remarkable. Dictatorship encourages ‘sides’ and ‘allegiances’, and the idea that the other side is evil. To some extent, it depends on this.

Dictatorships often start off abusing people that disagree with them, turn blind eyes when people on their side try to threaten others physically, and then try to shut opposition down (Charlottesville). If a member of the party brings bad news or agrees with the other side (even once) then they are to be exiled and punished; setting an example and warning against independent thought for the others (think of Bannon). This seems to be the current US President’s only mode of debate. Fellow Republicans appear to be falling in line.

In accordance with the idea of allegiance being truth, dictatorships do not like the idea of umpires, neutral observers or scientists, if these people do not always obey the ideology and swallow the ideological truth. This position is never clearly enunciated, because the ideology must be true and disbelievers are criminal, so umpires are always potentially ‘biased’. Lies, confusion of knowledge, accusations of lies, false theories, common-sense that is wrong, and so on are part of dictatorship. People live in fantasy and denial (climate change, ‘free markets’). The position clearly does not respect individual rights, or reality. Dictatorships also try to stack positions of authority with people who are loyal and subservient rather than competent. This is true to a great extent of many of Trump’s appointments.

The Dictator is said to be a super-genius who everyone must look up to as their savior. He is unique, beyond the law and an exemplar for everyone, no matter what his real history, because he is the best. He knows more than generals. Knows more than scientists. Knows more than specialists in any field. He instinctively knows what is right…. criticism of him suggests the critic is an evil fool who must be repudiated and stomped on. Remind you of anyone?

This pattern is entirely in keeping with what social category theory would predict, and indeed suggests it may well be deliberately engineered. So how do you make dictators?

Firstly, you remember that people are more easily persuaded by people they identify with, who claim to be on their side. You deliberately increase the negative reactions towards people from outgroups. You take over the news media and make it more extreme. You say all other disagreeing media is hopelessly biased. You persuade people that other media is attacking our group. You make it up if you have to. You get people angry. Your audience is said to be abandoned by the other media and side of politics, they are the victims. This makes your viewers less likely to use other media. You lie shamelessly. You repeat the falsehoods continually so they become part of the background. You destroy any linkages with the other side, by making lack of linkage a matter of loyalty and of distrust of others. You expand into extremism, linking people together who are hostile to your ‘enemies’. This further destroys links between moderates, and moves people to defend extremists and separate themselves further from those on the other side. You pretend that your side is fighting against power, even when its policies do nothing other than support power. Everyone who argues differently must suffer or be exiled. This helps reinforce group loyalties. You gradually keep increasing the tensions until the system breaks and a savior from your group comes along, and its does not matter that he treats the outgroups badly, because they are the villains. You say you are defending the nation and tradition, while you tear those traditions down. You help this with abuse, force and violence, making the violence more and more natural. If corruption on your side becomes visible, then you argue that the other side is equally corrupt if not worse.

These are some steps towards making a dictator. They boil down to: reinforce group identities, together with group boundaries and exclusions. Control information, and build anger against outgroups.

What do you do to prevent loony personalized Dictators?

Don’t think that because you are a nice person and well intentioned, that other people on your side cannot do bad things. Be suspicious of ingroups and outgroups, the more the boundaries seem forced.

Imagine your response if the other side behaved the way your side is behaving, and see if you are consistent. (ie what would your response be if the Russians had helped Clinton win, if they had had contact with high up people in her electoral campaign, if people in Campaign headquarters had lied about those contacts, and if Democrats where trying to shut the inquiry down claiming it was a harmful witch hunt). This helps restore perspectives and spread ‘evil’ around, rather than concentrate it.

Make sure powerful people obey the law and get punished equally to poorer people, and don’t have special exemptions for them – especially if they are identified with your side.

If powerful people look like they have committed treason or other crimes then it must be investigated, no matter how inconvenient it may be for your side’s victory.

Support traditional checks and balances, and traditional procedures – especially if they seem inconvenient.

Make sure you don’t strip away rights from ordinary people. (And recognize that rights always involve an inhibition of other people’s rights to take away those rights. For example, a right of private property depends against stopping the rights of others to take that property away, or paying a portion of that property to guarantee the rest of it. So rights are always in conflict, especially with previous privilege.)

Make sure you don’t help a powerful class of people get more powerful.
Do not support increases in military spending, especially if the threat is vague.

Do not support the expansion of weaponry sales elsewhere, as that just encourages instability and increases the likelihood of war.

Support candidates who actually listen to the other side, because not listening to any one else is a mark of dictatorial attitudes.

Don’t support people who argue by abuse or threat.

Support people who listen to science rather than ideology – they are more in tune with reality, and used to letting ideology go.

Recognise that Dictatorship, and ‘cult of personality’ is a particular form of intensive group loyalty and unquestioning allegiance. It usually comes together with scapegoating, intolerance and militarism. It seems well suited to large scale societies and requires vigilance to avoid.

Virtue is not easy. Organize, before you get organized.

Never think it cannot happen simply because of the virtue of your side of politics, and then it is far less likely to occur.

C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and the Spiritual Problems of Our Time

January 2, 2018

In a great Post John Woodcock drew attention to the importance of visionary experience amongst other things. However he also drew attention to C.S. Lewis, and this is where I have a problem.

John reminds us of the end of the Perelandra Trilogy in which the (literally) demonic scientists aim to bring about immortality. He quotes them

It is for the conquest of death: or for the conquest of organic life, if you prefer. They are the same thing. It is to bring out of that cocoon of organic life, which sheltered the babyhood of mind, the New Man, the man who will not die, the artificial man, free from Nature. Nature is the ladder we have climbed up by, now we kick her away.

The people on the side of the angels (again literally) are joyous when Merlin (yes that Merlin) breaks up the possibility of the scientists communicating, and then summons hoards of animals to eat them. Unlike John, I don’t find this denouement either satisfying or hilarious.

Indeed, the passage from Lewis reminds me exactly why I find him so disappointing. He is caught up hopelessly in surfaces and binaries. It’s spirit/matter, godly/ungodly, good/evil and so on. If God is on our side then whatever happens must be right, whatever discomfort our enemies suffer is wonderful. There are no tensions because God will win. God is all powerful after all, and the good guys are on the side of all power. Suck on that Demons!

It’s reminiscent of the bits in Narnia where the young woman is exiled because she likes stockings and make-up and the good crusaders slaughter heaps of evil Muslims in the battle to end all battles. All surface, dressed up to be deep. Faced with imagined people who think life is a bit more complicated than he does, all he can imagine is to break up their attempt at communion and praise murder. What a righteous attempt at solution! What imagination! What empathy! Lewis cannot even suspect the shadow of his spirituality, or his God, which he projects onto what he sees as science. His own spirituality can have nothing to do with the problems we face – it is all elsewhere and he is not responsible even a bit.

Its easy to imagine Lewis an inquisitor sadly condemning someone to excruciation until death, and thinking that if there is any sin in the matter its the fault of the secular authorities alone – he is innocent and unsullied. [As a caution we should all note that when we start condemning people, especially collectivities of people, we are probably engaged with the Jungian Shadow – ie the ‘evil’ in ourselves which it is less painful to see in others.]

Lewis needed to dream more freely rather than confine vision to allegory, see deeper and depend less on dogma for his interpretations.

By comparison good science is precisely about not stopping with surfaces but exploring reality and letting it impress us; not trying to trap it in binaries and given understandings. And we find an awe – even in people like Dawkins – which is perhaps more spiritual than almost anything in Lewis. The world revealed by science is weirder and more complex than anything Lewis or his characters could imagine. The God revealed in creation is not the tyrant of the Bible, but a being who delights in complexity, chance, freedom, creativity, who puts life into the fundamental bits of existence. Sure science has limits, but what doesn’t? While scientists are more Merlin than Lewis’s Merlin, science probably needs a little more more alchemy (in Jungian terms).

Perhaps Lewis’s apparent spiritual impoverishment (yes that is strong, but that is the kind of language he might use) arises not because of his Christianity, but because of his Platonism. Platonism constructs an ideal world and then regards this world as a falling away, a bad copy, which is of little value, except for the elite to transcend. Dying is good, as it could get you to reality; we must make sure everyone dies. Hence Lewis’s anger that anyone might want to live for ever, unless this life is non-material and it involves his elite and no one else. We probably don’t need Nietzsche to point out the problems with a mythology that seeks its fulfilment in death, either personal or in the death of others (indeed they might well tend to be the same). In that sense Platonism seems to be at the root of our ecological problems, and perhaps our problems of power – in which everything living has to be ordered to be good, when everything that is living is, in reality, messy and unpredictable. For platonists the only good creature is a dead creature. Platonism, and the demand for order is almost certainly one of the roots of the Anthropocene.

Let’s compare Lewis with another and far greater writer: G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton does have his low moments (in Father Brown, you always know it was the atheist what done it), but his work is full of the sense of mystery impinging on and in the world, and the joyous knowledge that arises from catching a glimpse of this reality.

Chesterton’s books on Aquinas and Francis are amongst the best of their kind, and full of the glory of spirit, faith and intellect. He does not see intellect as evil but as part of God’s way, part of the way we go beyond appearance to reality. The Man who was Thursday explores the complexity of an omnipotent God, even if Chesterton denies it does, he can do it. Chesterton fights with what he sees as the evils of the modern world; fiercely as with Shaw and Wells (although he accepts their point that unfettered capitalism is not good), but he never lets go of the insight that his enemies are also expressions of the glory of God, and he remains friends with his foes and engages in dialogue – as that communion is more important than righteousness and murder, even while he admits that sometimes war may be necessary. There is no poverty of imagination here. The real ‘material’ world is potentially holy, or even holy already (God made it and it was good).

Life is a constant potential for transfiguration – although Chesterton would probably use the model of the mass rather than alchemy or hermeticism. Further, he has no need to be of the spiritual elite, because he knows real humility and not the display of humility. He can celebrate the joys of ordinary people who are not perfect, because it is not his business to exclude people from ‘heaven’ or the heaven of Earth. He knows surfaces are holy, and that there are depths beyond the capacity of allegory to imagine.

My only complaint is that Chesterton is largely ignored, except by those usually on the political right) who would confine him, and pretend he was one of theirs – when he most certainly is not.


January 2, 2018

I guess this is repetitive…. but does everyone really think that Republicans would be poo-pooing and calm if:

a) The Russians had intervened to help the Democrats win a Presidential election

b) High level members of the Democrat campaign had been having contact with known Russian agents to the extent the FBI was interested.

c) High level members of the Democrat campaign knew in advance of stolen documents from the Republican Campaign and encouraged the Russians to make them public.

d) These people lied about their contacts with Russians and their advance knowledge.

e) Various people including the presidential candidate had lied about their business dealings in Russia.

f) The newly elected President had tried to discredit the investigation, get rid of the investigators, and threaten those involved. And the President’s party had tried to obstruct the enquiry.

g) More and more evidence kept implicating the Democrat campaign, and non supported their claims that they were ignorant.

We can guess they would be screaming about treason, and taking the latest piece of evidence that members of the President’s campaign thought the Russians had dirt on the opposition in May 2016, very seriously indeed.

Clearly Putin would not support Trump if he thought Trump had any chance of making America Great Again. He, like most people who had followed any Trump news probably expected an ignorant, thin skinned mass of confusion who would try to make money out of his office and alienate his allies. At the least he would know Trump would be erratic and would probably fold under personal threat.

Humanities, Universities and Neoliberalism

January 1, 2018

The problem of the usefulness of the Humanities again. The problem is really “how do you do anything in a neoliberal age?” I’m not sure you can deal with the question of the value of the Humanities without some idea of what you are talking about, and some of the problems arise from this confusion so.

a) Humanities is the study and understanding of, and thinking with, the best works of art, literature and philosophy that we think exist. This list should always be challengeable, because tastes and appreciations change. For example, I personally do not think the absence of Virgil is a problem, it’s an improvement. In general, this understanding requires knowing something about the socio-cultural background and reception of these works. So humanities is bound up with:

b) Social Studies (note I’m not using the term social sciences, as there is massive dispute about the extent to which any social study can be a science in the way physics is, or biology is, or geology or astronomy are) Social studies inherently involves meaning and interpretation (so it requires (a)). Social studies is the study of how human social and cultural life works in general. Economics is a sub branch of social studies, even though it pretends not to be, primarily to protect itself from a criticism of its values.

c) Linguistics – not the learning of languages, which could be part of (a), but attempting to understand how languages work, what the impact on thinking is, and how they function in social life. For me this includes Rhetoric, because there is little language without attempts at persuasion.

There might be other divisions one can make, the categories do not have to be firm or bounded.

Humanities tend to be conservative and social studies tend to be leftist or critical. On the whole, neoliberals think both are a waste of time; subjects should simply support capitalism and corporate power. Ultimately humanities (a) cannot be justified in terms of profit; criticism (b) should simply be stopped as its wrong; and everyone knows how to speak (c) so all are vulnerable in corporatised universities.

Neoliberals control universities, as they control most things in our societies. They like building, restructuring and making money, more than thinking. Money goes into CEO and star performer salaries, not to the academic staff in general or student services. Making money is the only mark of value. The idea that a university exists as a space for independent thought, or for learning how to think is, in neoliberal terms, a pointless waste of money. If there is no job at the end of it, and no profit then subjects should go. Consequently, academics should teach paying students what they want to hear, or do research which is profitable and brings in money. I recently read of computer science academics who were not interested in supervising PhD’s that would not lead to a start up company; this may not be true of course.

If work ends up criticising the contemporary establishment, then it is usually treated as drivel by that establishment. Scientists have started to learn this point as well. We all know how climate scientists have been attacked for speaking unwanted truth to power. Nowadays pure science that is of no corporate interest, or which shows corporate ‘science’ is faulty, is unwelcome. It is seen as political, rather than as part of a search for greater accuracy. Humanities and social studies are automatically considered political, because they are about people and how people behave, and all politics makes assumptions about humans. Even historical research which challenges clichés about socially foundational events, such as Athenian democracy, the American Revolution, or the invasion of Australia, or the beneficence of capitalism, is inherently political, and therefore either to be ignored or persecuted.

Humanities and social studies are useful, if useful is worthwhile considering. Writers and media people, might find courses on poetry, literature, language and rhetoric useful, as might other people who want to gain some cultural depth and independence of thought, or who might want to persuade people of something. People who want to go into governance, management or journalism had better know something about social studies, if they don’t want to mess things up in normal ways. If values or ethics are important, then having an idea of the range of possible values and how they tend to function is useful as well – although again it will seem pointless to neoliberals as it conflicts with their decided understanding. In neoliberalism, ethics is always about making money, and that is pretty obvious and may need no complex thinking.

Finally, in neoliberalism there is no such thing as ‘community’, the only class positions that are allowed to exist should be marked by wealth, and human connection should be financial – everything else is simply false. The idea of a community of scholars of intellectuals has no meaning in modern politics. If neoliberals want thought they will set up a think tank, and know what they are going to get in advance; that’s value for money.

Basically the struggle everywhere is between life and neoliberalism. The more the neoliberal ‘free market’ mob win, the less there is to live for. And conservatives should know this as well; they used to.

Materialism, Spirit and Shadow

December 31, 2017

[Re-edited 14 Feb 2018, responding to comments]

I’m sometimes surprised when people say that we live in a ‘material age’. It is true that we are governed by an economics and politics that only values money, profit and power, but that is not usually the subject of people’s disapproval, they usually object to science. To be clear, I’m not arguing that we live in an effective spiritual age – I’m not sure such has ever happened – but we hardly live in a scientifically materialist age. The urge for spiritual experience is as great as ever, and its dangers are as great as ever.

We (and it’s a Western ‘we’ here, apologies to everyone else) have probably lived in one of the most exciting spiritual and theological periods of human history. Since 1880 or thereabouts the flourishing of spiritual thought and action(of various levels of sophistication), has been extraordinary – partly because of the, perhaps beneficial, decline of religious authority.

In theological terms we have had Mary Baker Eddy, Albert Schweitzer, Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Martin Buber, Simone Weil, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Wolfhardt Pannenberg, Rudolf Bultmann, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Teilhard de Chardin and Mathew Fox to name some of the original and more well-known writers. That’s just off the top of my head and I’m not a theologian; I’m sure people will think of other influential originals. We have had important movements such as liberation theology, death of god, process theology, ‘traditionalism’, feminist theology, historical Jesus, and green/gaian theology. We have had the popular recovery of alchemy, hermeticism, gnosticism, kabbalah, sufism, goetic magic and altered states of consciousnes. We have had the ongoing (and again popular), cross fertilisation between Christianity and Buddhism (to the betterment of both in my opinion, with the shift of Buddhism from suppression of desire to active compassion, and the recovery of Christian meditation and oneness). We have had the influx of Indian religious practice, and we may have some popular understanding of Taoism. We have popular contributions from science (Haldine, Bateson, Capra), philosophy, (Bradley, Wittgenstein, Edith Stein, Heidegger, Barfield, Agamben, Vattimo), anthropology and comparative religion (Frazer, Eliade, Levi-Strauss, Victor Turner, Evans Pritchard, Rene Girard (ok this list could go on :), literature (From Kazantzakis to Dan Brown and C.S. Lewis) and of course psychology (Jung, Maslow, Ornstein, Houston, Mindfulness, AA etc). We’ve had arena’s full of popular spiritual writers and practitioners. We have probably had more channelled texts than at any time in history (from the ‘Book of the Law’ to the ‘Course in Miracles’). The world is full of spiritual healers. We have even had important and influential ‘joke’ spiritualties like Discordianism (All hail Eris!). Again this is not to say that all are beneficial; that is the point, because something claims to be spiritual does not automatically mean it is a good guide to life or ‘spirit’.

If ‘materialism’ means not limited and not dogmatic, then we have had a materialistic age. However, if ‘materialism’ means non-spiritual then this has not even remotely been a non-spiritual age. It has been an age of flourishing experiment rather than authority, and an age in which few people have been burnt at the stake for heresy. We should probably celebrate it, rather than denigrate it.

However, this does not mean we have had an age without shadow. Clearly not as the ‘spiritual’, (like everything human) is rarely without shadow or its specific ‘evils’, and it is dangerous to think that because something is spiritual it is automatically good or constructive. Part of the spiritual problem is that spirit sometimes can only see its own as spirit and protects its own and only its own, and attacks all else. Hence, perhaps, the apparent inability of ‘spiritual people’ to perceive current spiritual flourishing, and the (perhaps necessary) descent to dogma.

As for the ‘darkness’: we now know about child rape in church and the protection of rapists for the spiritual good of authority, of the insistence on obedience and not thinking, of spiritual desolation in proposed saints, of spiritual violence against the failing world. There was Nazism, and if you don’t think Nazism was a spiritual movement you have not read enough of the original Nazis. We have the activity of some Christian and Islamic Fundamentalists who work in a unity of hatred to bring about the apocalypse in the middle east, with the second coming of Jesus and the birth of perfection in the death of millions of sinners and infidels, and we have religious terrorists, sexists and racists – every ‘evil’ you can think of will have some spiritual defenders.

We have many spiritual programmes that primarily seem to seek personal wealth as the mark of divine favour, and who often condemn the poor as unspiritual or undisciplined. I would tend to agree with the proposition that people are mislead by much of this kind of spirituality; that is part of the shadow I am discussing. But simply stating that one is not so mislead, and that the followers of such movements are, does not mean one is without shadow. We perhaps need to ask whether this condemnation of others is an inherent part of the shadow of spirit, which helps to justify the elite who ‘get it’ and their position as beings of influence?

Then we have Platonist spirituality where focusing on the ideal spirit, or absolute perfect forms, can lead to denigration and attacks on the ‘fallen’ ‘imperfect’ real/material world and help foster ecological crises and the destruction of Nature. In this wordview only death opens perfection as we escape the material we hate. Only a dead or transcended world seems a good world. Or we can say everything is in the hands of God, and nothing harmful will eventuate from human action – spirit is already perfect and that is all that matters. People can attack their bodies, their minds and their empathy for others, in the name of spiritual perfection. We can see murder of the ‘evil others’ on whom we have projected our spiritual shadow, as the solution to problems – particularly if our God is good because ‘he’ is all-powerful and prone to vengeance. In that case, what difference is there between our spirituality and existential fear? Our righteousness seeks to prove we are on the right side, by condemning others before we ourselves are condemned. The shadow is massive.

The idea that all that is spiritual is totally of the light, or immaterial, is dangerous. Especially when it is phrased as if people on the right path cannot be deceived. Again, this can be a basis for murderous righteousness. The idealist shadow can penetrate all modes of life, making the possible seem deadly material by comparison, and lead to the sacrifice of both humanity and nature for a perfection which exists elsewhere – and possibly only imaginally.

If we need more spirituality then we need as much care in identifying its shadow and integrating it as we do in all other parts of life. We may well need a material spirituality, in which the world itself is part of the sacred and, if we transcend, it is as in alchemy, and endless circulation in which we bring back the spirit to this world and unify the two – neither being complete without the other. We respect what is, as we live amongst it.

To repeat, just because something can be called spiritual, it does not mean it is unalloyedly good or beneficial for either humans or nature. This has to be discovered rather than claimed in advance – anything can have unintended effects.

Buying Green

December 29, 2017

We are sometimes told that we should use our money carefully and buy green, healthy and low polluting, and that way corporations will start producing more green, healthy and low polluting goods.

While this is obviously better than buying any old thing, it does not solve the problem, because it can just as easily shift business competition into making it harder for people to find out what is in products (for example rendering it not necessary to declare when food involves GM products), into claiming products are ‘healthy’ or ‘good for the environment’ when they are not, or into persuading people to show their bravery, or status, by doing cool ‘unhealthy’ things. “Guaranteed to clog your arteries, don’t eat if you’re scared!”

As well, if people don’t get paid enough to live comfortably, and if they are time poor with several jobs (and still not living comfortably), then it is very hard for them not to choose the cheapest, most convenient, thing irrespective of whether it is good for them or the environment or not.

Its easy under capitalism to defer responsibility to someone else. That is what the dominant factions do all the time. “People won’t buy healthy stuff, so we don’t have to make it”. So the strategy can be said to have the ultimate result of making the relatively powerless carry the blame for corporate depredation.

Economics and Climate

October 17, 2017

Its simple really.

If destroying the environment makes a profit and saving it has a potential cost, then saving the environment will not happen – especially under capitalism.

However, this point can be generalised.

If destroying the environment allows more tax payers’ money to be given to the established wealthy then that will happen especially under a ‘free market’ government

If destroying the environment conserves the power of the established elites, and saving it might challenge them, then saving it will not happen.

If it is easier to destroy the environment by continuing as we have done or persisting with the default position, and saving it takes effort and thought, it won’t happen.

That’s all the economics you need to know