September 7, 2015
Crisis: Hedges, Wikipedia, QE For Ordinary People, Encryption, What I Am (Not)

 "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

Prev- crisis -Next


The Real Enemy Is Within
2. Wikipedia founder backs site's systems after extortion

3. Rising Progressive Leader in Britain Making Waves with
     His Plan Spread the Wealth

The Pincer Movement Against Security
5. I am not a story

This is a Nederlog of Monday, September 7, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 6 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article by Chis Hedges (I partially disagree with); item 2 is about Wikipedia, which was intentionally falsified by some "editors"; item 3 is about an article
by Ellen Brown, on the merits of providing loans to ordinary people to get out
of the crisis, rather than to bankmanagers and other rich folks; item 4 is about a good article on the merits of encryption and the dangers of non-encryption; and item 5 is about a stupid prejudgement that these days seems to move many intellectuals: They are - they say - the narrative they tell about themselves.
As far as I am concerned, that is complete ideological nonsense (as I will briefly explain).

1. The Real Enemy Is Within

The first article today is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:
This starts as follows:
If you are not dedicated to the destruction of empire and the dismantling of American militarism, then you cannot count yourself as a member of the left. It is not a side issue. It is the issue. It is why I refuse to give a pass in this presidential election campaign to Bernie Sanders, who refuses to confront the war industry or the crimes of empire, including U.S. support for the slow genocide carried out by Israel against the Palestinians. There will be no genuine democratic, social, economic or political reform until we destroy our permanent war machine.
Well... I more or less agree with Hedges on the "permanent war machine", if only because it takes up over half of the US federal budget (see also below).
But I don't quite agree that there "
will be no genuine democratic, social, economic or political reform" (bolding added), and I also don't agree with Chris Hedges on Bernie Sanders.

In fact, I also don't agree with Bernie Sanders on all things, but I simply completely disagree with Chris Hedges who refuses to call him "a member of the left". My reason is rather a matter of - anti-totalitarian - princinple:

There are many kinds and shades of leftism, and one cannot deny someone - like Bernie Sanders - is a leftist because one disagrees with him on some issues. Indeed, I consider myself a leftist, but I disagree with most leftists on several things (such as: totalitarianism, economy, plans, science, equality, law, history, sociology, politics) but that doesn't move me at all to infer that they cannot be "real leftists" because they disagree with me.

Then there is this:
Militarists and war profiteers are our greatest enemy. They use fear, bolstered by racism, as a tool in their efforts to abolish civil liberties, crush dissent and ultimately extinguish democracy. To produce weapons and finance military expansion, they ruin the domestic economy by diverting resources, scientific and technical expertise and a disproportionate share of government funds. They use the military to carry out futile, decades-long wars to enrich corporations such as Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman. War is a business. And when the generals retire, guess where they go to work? Profits swell. War never stops. Whole sections of the earth live in terror. And our nation is disemboweled and left to live under what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism.”  Libertarians seem to get this. It is time the left woke up.
Again, yes and no. I mostly agree on the role of the military, but I do not think
that they are "our greatest enemy":

Our greatest enemies are stupidity and ignorance, for we need to know the relevant facts (which is nearly always difficult) and judge them well and rationally (which is always difficult) simply to be fairly safe that we judged more correctly than not.

Then there is this:

“Bourgeois society faces a dilemma,” socialist Rosa Luxemburg writes, “either a transition to Socialism, or a return to barbarism ... we face the choice: either the victory of imperialism and the decline of all culture, as in ancient Rome—annihilation, devastation, degeneration, a yawning graveyard; or the victory of Socialism—the victory of the international working class consciously assaulting imperialism and its method: war. This is the dilemma of world history, either-or; the die will be cast by the class-conscious proletariat.”
Well... no.

First of all Rosa Luxemburg was a Marxist rather than a socialist. The distinction is relevant, for while Marxists are socialists, socialists quite often are not Marxists, and the dilemma Luxemburg articulated is a specifically Marxist one.

Second, she was murdered in 1919, since when there was no "victory of Socialism" [1], but also not - in spite of two World Wars - no "
annihilation, devastation, degeneration, a yawning graveyard".  I don't disagree that the past hundred years might have been very much better than they were, but they were
not as bad (in Europe and Northern America, at least) as Luxemburg predicted.

Third, I don't believe in "
the class-conscious proletariat", but this is probably mostly me, who had intelligent and sincere marxist parents (and two anarchist and one marxist grandparents): I believe in groups, and in the rich and the poor, and also that the few rich generally are rich because the many poor are poor, but although I've heard my father say many times that he was "a class-conscious worker" I never understood (precisely) what he meant by this (which is also not true for many other leftist and communist things he said: these I generally
understood) and "class" seems to me a mistaken abstraction. [2]

The following quotation seems quite true to me:
The corporatists and the military, which have successfully carried out what John Ralston Saul calls a “coup d’état in slow motion,” have used their political and economic clout to dismantle programs and policies put in place under the New Deal.
In fact, the "coup d'état" - seizure of the state by the corporatists, especially - took over 40 years if it is dated as started with Powell's memo of 1971, though it was much furthered by Bush Jr. being assigned the presidency by the Supreme Court, although Bush Jr. had fewer votes than Gore, and by the militarization of the USA through the "Patriot Act" and 9/11.

There is also this I mostly agree with:
Military expenditures bleed the federal budget—officially—of $598.49 billion a year, or 53.71 percent of all spending. This does not, however, include veterans’ benefits at $65.32 billion a year or hidden costs in other budgets that see the military and the war profiteers take as much as $1.6 trillion a year out of the pockets of taxpayers. The working and middle class fund the endless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and a host of other countries while suffering crippling “austerity” programs, massive debt peonage, collapsing infrastructures, chronic underemployment and unemployment and mounting internal repression. The war industry, feeding off the carcass of the state, grows fat and powerful with profits. This is not unique. It is how all empires are hollowed out from the inside.
But I don't quite understand the last statement: Surely, there are many forces and groups and interests active in empires.

There is also this (with a fine long quotation by Mills that you can get from the original):
C. Wright Mills in “The Power Elite” warns of a military machine that not only holds the political and economic life of the nation hostage but also has the ability to form public opinion. The Pentagon spends $4.7 billion a year and has some 27,000 employees who work on recruitment, advertising, psychological operations and public relations, according to a 2009 report by The Associated Press. But millions of dollars more for propaganda are hidden within classified budgets.
Yes, this seems simply true - and is a huge deterioration compared to the early
1960ies, when Eisenhower warned for the "military-industrial complex".

I partially agree with the following, though "empire" (like "class") seems to me an abstraction which is mostly misleading - and what is wrong with "capitalism" for "empire"?
The reality of empire is nearly impossible to see from the heart of empire. Those who speak its truth are banished from the airwaves. They are condemned as traitors or “anti-American.” The cries of empire’s victims are rarely heard. The crimes that empire commits are rendered invisible. The greed of the war makers, along with the corruption and dishonesty of the political, judicial, academic and media courtiers who serve empire, is blocked from public view. The image of empire is scripted like a Walt Disney movie. This mythical narrative is disseminated in films, on television, by the press, in churches, in universities and by the state. It is a lie. But it is a lie that works. And it works because it is what we want.
And what I disagree with is the last statement: I don't want it and don't believe it; Hedges doesn't want it and doesn't believe it; and many Americans don't want it and don't believe it (without necessarily agreeing with Hedges or with me).

This is the last paragraph, and it seems again too vague to me. First, I would replace "empire" by "capitalism", and "neoliberalism" by "neoconservatism":
There can be no rational debate about empire with many desperate Americans who have ingested this as their creed. The distortion of neoliberalism has left them little else. Here lies the virus of fascism, wrapped in the American flag, held aloft by the Christian cross and buttressed by white supremacy. It is a potent and dangerous force within the body politic. And it is growing. The real enemy is within.
Second, while I more or less agree on "fascism" I don't really know what Chris Hedges means by it. Third, I don't know what Chris Hedges means by the "real enemy" nor by "within". And fourthly, I think one can have - something like - a rational debate with almost anyone, though indeed this becomes a lot more difficult with the stupid, the ignorant, and the liars.

2. Wikipedia founder backs site's systems after extortion scam 

The next article is by Stuart Dredge on The Guardian:

This is mostly here because I use Wikipedia a lot (most of the many links I provide are either to the originals I review, or to the Wikipedia, or to my Philosophical Dictionary). It starts as follows:

The founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, has spoken out in defence of the online encyclopedia’s systems for detecting and dealing with abuse for the first time since an extortion scam was uncovered, which led to hundreds of Wikipedia editor accounts being blocked.

Wales said the blocking of 381 Wikipedia editor accounts for “black hat” editing as part of an attempt to extort money from people and businesses was proof that the site’s systems for detecting and dealing with abuse were working.

Wales said: “We’ve seen coordinated editing and attempts to do paid advocacy, but we’ve not seen it be so bluntly dishonest in trying to deceive the victims.”

More than 200 Wikipedia articles created by deceptive accounts, known as sock puppets, were removed after a network of deceptive accounts was found to be approaching businesses and individuals and demanding payment to create pages about them and then protect them from being negatively edited – while pretending to be senior Wikipedia editors.

I say, though in fact I am not very amazed.

First, about Wikipedia (<-Wikipedia about Wikipedia): I use it a lot and find it quite helpful, and also often put links to its lemmas in my texts, but I am aware that the articles differ rather wildly in quality. (And I tend to warn about or not link to articles I don't trust.)

Second, I grant that it performed better than I expected, ten or fifteen
years ago. (This is about the English Wikipedia. I rarely use the Dutch one, and
it is certainly worse than the English one.)

But third, I have known several credible stories, from people I trust, both morally
and intellectually, that they could not really edit (without their edits being quickly destroyed by anonymous editors, usually for nonsensical reasons) subjects they deeply cared about and know a lot about.

And fourth, I consider it rather likely this is not the last story about deceptive accounts and deceptive articles.

Indeed, here is an earlier article from The Guardian that has some more detail:

Finally, do I care? Yes, for I want true or at least probable information. But also
less so than others, and that is basically because I found it - when once trying to edit an obvious mistake - a rather bureaucratic organization, mostly run by anonymous people, which I simply will not and cannot trust, and do not want to work with.

I wish them well, but I only use them and do not contribute, and indeed never did, and never will.

3. Rising Progressive Leader in Britain Making Waves with His Plan Spread the Wealth 

The next article is by Ellen Brown on Alternet and originally on Web of Debt:

In fact, I reviewed an earlier article on the same subject of Ellen Brown on September 4, but I like Ellen Brown and I like this proposal, so here is the beginning of the present article:

Dark horse candidate Jeremy Corbyn, who is currently leading in the polls for UK Labour Party leadership, has included in his platform “quantitative easing for people.” He said in a July 22nd presentation:

The ‘rebalancing’ I have talked about here today means rebalancing away from finance towards the high-growth, sustainable sectors of the future. How do we do this? One option would be for the Bank of England to be given a new mandate to upgrade our economy to invest in new large scale housing, energy, transport and digital projects: Quantitative easing for people instead of banks.

As his economic advisor Richard Murphy further explains it:

People’s quantitative easing is . . . a highly directed process where the debt that is . . . repurchased has been deliberately created and issued either by a green investment bank or by local authorities, health trusts and other such agencies for the specific purpose of funding new investment in the economy at the time when big business and financial markets are completely failing to deliver the scale of investment that is needed to get the UK working again and to restore our financial prosperity.

I think the idea is sound (and that ordinary people deserve quantitative easing a whole lot more than anyway rich corporations, that have profited from it for quite a long time), but clearly there are many pro-rich English journalists who scream England will be like Zimbabwe if ordinary people get cheap credits. (Yes, they do: See the article.)

That is utter rot, as Ellen Brown explains well, but I refer you for more to her

4. The Pincer Movement Against Security

The next article is by Harmit Kambo on Common Dreams:

This is from the beginning of the article:

Two British journalists and their Turkey-based Iraqi translator working for VICE News were arrested last Thursday and charged with "engaging in terrorist activity". According to Turkish authorities, one member of the group had an encryption system installed on his computer that is often used by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The first 'Crypto War' was seemingly won a generation ago by privacy advocates. The US Government did not want the public - in the US or anywhere - to be able to encrypt data that the Government couldn't then decrypt. They rightly lost that battle, but the war does continue to this day. What has just happened in Turkey is just the latest in a recent set of salvos by Governments against encryption and user's ability to control who has access to their information. There are parallels with David Miranda's arrest in 2013 under the UK's Terrorism Act 2000. The partner of journalist Glen Greenwald, Miranda's alleged use of encryption to protect vital whistleblower revelations meant he could be arrested under terrorism legislation.

Arresting people for protecting their data is sending out a very disturbing message that people are guilty until they prove themselves innocent. Governments who are the most vociferous proponents of surveillance tend to be those those that treat everyone as a suspect.
Yes, indeed - and "All governments lie and nothing they say should be believed." as I.F. Stone very correctly said (and he did not say they always lie).

There is also this on the enormous benefits of encryption:

David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression argues that encryption “has posed few barriers to law enforcement, based on United States Justice Department statistics. In fact, in the digital age, law enforcement officials have all the tools of metadata collection, geo-location and traditional physical surveillance and police work to do their job well. The focus on encryption is often a canard that distracts from police and intelligence failures.”

Trying to control encryption will not stop criminals finding ways of communicating 'under the radar' but it certainly would limit everyone else's ability to protect themselves from crime and anyone with rudimentary technical capabilities and time.

Encryption is essential for everything from how we access our bank accounts online to how human rights activists can operate within repressive regimes. Using encryption is standard practice for many journalists, not to mention lawyers and others who need to work on sensitive issues with security, confidentiality and privacy. Patients need to communicate confidentially with their health care professionals to receive treatment and the prospect of such communications being available to others would inevitably prevent the disclosure of vital information.

But the governments want to see all of it, and if you protest you risk being arrested or are made out as if you are a terrorist, even if all you did and all you proposed was nothing more or less than protecting your mails as these once
were protected (with a few exceptions) when mail was send by paper.

Here is the last bit I will quote:

The case against encryption is just another example of a familiar yet very worrying doublespeak from Governments around the world. In the wake of threats to our security, they talk about upholding our freedoms. But the irony is that if we take steps to protect our own security we might be deprived of our freedom. Furthermore, the Chinese boogey man is often rolled out by many heads of state to highlight the cyber security issue. The governments of the world seem to want to have it both ways -anybody protect everyone from the bad guys but let the good guys in. Irrespective who the good guys and bad guys are at any given instant, security does not work that way.

It is encryption that will give us security and freedom. We need to vigorously defend the empowerment that encryption provides for all of us
Yes indeed - and if we can't encrypt our own data, fascism will be there, or indeed something worse, simply because the government will know everything
about anybody (and no one else will, and no one can control them).

And this is a good article.

5. I am not a story

The last item of today is by Galen Strawson on Aeon:

This starts as follows:

‘Each of us constructs and lives a “narrative”,’ wrote the British neurologist Oliver Sacks, ‘this narrative is us’. Likewise the American cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner: ‘Self is a perpetually rewritten story.’ And: ‘In the end, we become the autobiographical narratives by which we “tell about” our lives.’ Or a fellow American psychologist, Dan P McAdams: ‘We are all storytellers, and we are the stories we tell.’ And here’s the American moral philosopher J David Velleman: ‘We invent ourselves… but we really are the characters we invent.’ And, for good measure, another American philosopher, Daniel Dennett: ‘we are all virtuoso novelists, who find ourselves engaged in all sorts of behaviour… and we always put the best “faces” on it we can. We try to make all of our material cohere into a single good story. And that story is our autobiography. The chief fictional character at the centre of that autobiography is one’s self.’

So say the narrativists. We story ourselves and we are our stories. There’s a remarkably robust consensus about this claim, not only in the humanities but also in psychotherapy. It’s standardly linked with the idea that self-narration is a good thing, necessary for a full human life.

I think it’s false – false that everyone stories themselves, and false that it’s always a good thing. These are not universal human truths – even when we confine our attention to human beings who count as psychologically normal, as I will here.
There is quite a lot more in the article (also called "essay"), but while I quite agree with the above, I don't quite agree with much of the rest, which consists of quite a few quotes with learned, mostly philosophical, comments.

Also, it doesn't answer the question what I am or what one is, if one is not the narrative one tells about oneself. To start with, here is mine:

I am a living human body, and the I that says so is in fact a mostly unknown part of my living human brain. Also, while I think that most about my body and my I is either unknown or not fully known, parts are - more or less - known, by me or by others. And I do not think there is more to me than a human body, and I do think I will fully cease to be when my brain has died. [3]

In fact, most of the previous paragraph is fairly commonsensical materialism. If that is at present less popular (among intellectuals) this is mostly because of postmodernism, of which the above quoted first paragraph gives various examples, also if some of the narrators will deny they are postmodernists.

But I will leave postmodernism aside, and merely briefly explain why I am not a narrative:

Basically, firstly because I believe there is very much more and other than
texts - there is a whole world, a whole universe, consisting of trillions of things, and processes, and relations and events, only very few of which are directly and individually talked about, while most are not or only very partially known, and none of which are texts; and secondly because all texts are generated by natural things, which comprehend far more than merely texts.

It seems to me as if those who believe they are their narratives (for that is what they say) either believe there only are texts or are - at least - fundamentally confused about semantics, that is, the relations between symbols and symbolized, for what they say amounts to the thesis that there is nothing symbolized that is
not a symbol (which is why they are their stories).

Finally, there also is a third reason, which is truth (that postmodernists emphatically deny exists):

We are not "the narratives we tell"; not "a perpetually rewritten story";
not "the autobiographical narratives we tell"; not "the stories we tell";
not "the characters we invent"; and also not "the autobiographical stories
we are engaged in" simply bcause we are far more than mere texts, and because  our own stories about ourselves no doubt are partially false, partially uninformed, and partially personally biased, while the stories others tell about us may be less personally biased, but are nearly always much more uninformed about our lives and its conditions and circumstances.

But in the end, this is one common prejudice of the time I live in: That one is
the story one tells about oneself. It just is nonsense, an oxymoron - at least if there is more in the universe than mere text.


[1] In case you missed it: I never regarded the Soviet Union as "a socialist state" since I was 14, in spite of having communist parents who strongly believed it was "with all its mistakes and shortcomings", as they also often said.

[2] My main reasons are that "class" is both very vague and typically Marxist, and that while there are groups, and rich, and poor, and the interests of the poor and the rich are generally opposed (most of the rich are rich because the poor are poor), I don't think that "the class of the capitalists" or "the class of the proletarians" (here, and in Siberia a 100 years ago, and in South-America 30 years ago) add much more than unclarities about what is really meant.

[3] Incidentally, that I will fully cease to be when my brain has died is in fact (it seems to me) a rather humble hypothesis, if one compares the - literally - billions of men who believe (they say) that their God's love for them is so very great that they (but not those of other faiths, usually) will live infinitely long in Heaven.

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