Prev-IndexNL-Next

Nederlog

December 11, 2015
Crisis: Exit Middle Class, Trump & Hitler, TPP+TTIP+TISA, Scientific Revolution
Sections                                                                                          crisis index                                                                                                                                                            
Introduction


Introduction

This is a Nederlog of Friday, December 11, 2015.

This is a crisis file. There are 4 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about an interesting article on Naked Capitalism, which shows the middle class is extinct or dying in the USA; item 2 is a somewhat oddly argued article about Donald Trump's readings (according to his ex), which gave me the reason to say a few things about fascism and the death (mostly) of the free press in the USA; item 3 is about a quite good video about the TPP, TTIP and TISA, that - when approved - will spell the death of democracies and national governments and national laws, to give all to the multi-
national corporations and their CEOs; and item 4 is not about the crisis but about
a recent book about philosophy of science.

1. Demise of the US Middle Class Now Official

The first item is by Yves Smith on Naked Capitalism:

This starts as follows:

The lead story at the Financial Times is based on a study by the Pew Research Center, on the dramatic decline of the US middle class. This is particularly noteworthy because while Pew plays straight up the center in its research on reporting, it is known among pollsters for skewing its questionnaires on economic issues to support conservative viewpoints (mind you, it’s subtle; Pew is no Rasmussen).

I have left it here because I am anyway only quoting the beginning of the article, which I think is quite interesting. Here is a summary of the facts that are discussed in the article:

The underlying data is so bad as to be beyond remedy by porcine maquillage. And even traditional conservatives may recognize that the rise of His Trumpness and the popularity of Bernie Sanders are telling them that conditions for most Americans are worse than they realize in their upper-income echelons, and it might behoove them to understand what is going on.

The Financial Times headline is uncharacteristically dramatic: America’s Middle Class Meltdown: core shrinks to half of US homes. And I find their infographic that charts the the shrinkage of the middle class cohort over time to be more informative than the Pew charts that presented the same information; we are partially replicating it by showing the starting and end shots:

Screen shot 2015-12-10 at 4.41.01 AM

Screen shot 2015-12-10 at 4.42.45 AM

I strongly urge you to read the article or at least the executive summary of the Pew report. If you look at both, you’ll see the Pew report makes an undue amount of effort to steer readers into the details in a way that reduces the focus on the losses for the once great middle. Hence the perhaps unusual emphasis on the Financial Times account. For instance, consider the pink paper’s lead paragrpah:

America’s middle class has shrunk to just half the population for the first time in at least four decades as the forces of technological change and globalisation drive a wedge between the winners and losers in a splintering US society….

Pew used one of the broadest income classifications of the middle class, in a new analysis detailing the “hollowing out” of a group that has formed the bedrock of America’s postwar success.

To put the two above graphics in my terms:

In the USA, the vast majority of those who earned up to $ 100,000 a year has lost about a third of their incomes, and these losses are balanced by the gains of a third to two-thirds (or much more, for those earning over $200,000) for the few who earned more than $ 100,000.

There is a lot more in the article, which is well worth reading, though you should keep in mind Yves Smith also discusses - I think well, but do no know enough to make this a firm judgment - the biases of Pew and the Financial Times (both of which I only very rarely read, though I read the Financial Times a lot for my work in the 1960ies - but that was in a rather different time).

2. Donald Trump Is Getting His Cues from Hitler? How the GOP Leader Is Following the Fuhrer's Recipe

The second item is by Steven Rosenfeld on AlterNet:

This starts as follows - and is here to show you some rather crazy speculations:

Donald Trump is an apparent fan of Adolph Hitler’s speeches.

That stunning but not entirely surprising revelation comes from his ex-wife Ivana, who told Vanity Fair in a 1990 interview that “from time to time her husband reads a book of Hitler’s collected speeches, My New Order, which he keeps in a cabinet by his bed.” The magazine said Trump confirmed he got it from a film industry friend, Marty Davis. “I thought he would find it interesting,” Davis said. “I am his friend, but I’m not Jewish.” 

Adolph Hitler’s My New Order is not just any book. It came after Hitler’s two volumes of Mein Kampf, which is German for “My Struggle” and came out in 1925 and 1926 before the Nazis rise to national power and World War II. It is not just a collection of excerpts from speeches Hitler made between 1918 and 1941; it is profusely indexed and filled with details about the speeches’ impact on the media and political establishment.

Kirkus Review, the American literary magazine founded in 1933, puts it this way: “Paralleling actual quotations from Hitler’s own utterances, he [the editor of the English edition] includes corresponding data showing the effect on the world press, and his own commentary relating the statements to doctrines previously presented in Mein Kampf… Section after section follows pattern-background, speech, press.”

I suppose the article is written because it contains the pair <Donald Trump, Adolf Hitler>. Well... I am not shocked. Here are some of my reasons:

First, I as well have tried to read some of Hitler's speeches and other writings, not because I am a fascist, but mostly because (i) Hitler was very effective (in ruining the German nation, and murdering 6 million Jews - but he was much more effective than nearly all other politicians) and because (ii) my father and my grandfather were among the very few Dutchmen who resisted the Germans and ended up, already in 1941, as prisoners in German concentration camps, where my grandfather was murdered.

Second, I did not read much because Hitler was simply not interesting and was quite delusional, which incidentally are properties he shares with very many other politicians, mostly also non-Nazis. (Though I agree that the delusions of non-Nazis tend to be rather different from those of Nazis.)

Indeed, there is this, by some non-identified reviewer who wrote in the Psychiatric Quarterly in 2013, about Hitler's My New Order:

“The elements of a delusional system are there,” it states. “This is not simply to say that the man is mad and so has plunged the world into chaos; but it is to say that there is overwhelming evidence in 19 years of his speeches that Hitler himself firmly believes many of his most absurd declarations, including some which are contradictory.”

I suppose one must be at least a doctor of psychiatry to be able to publish this (in Psychiatric Quarterly), but in fact it states nothing surprising about most professional politicians (like Hitler), indeed of any conviction, left, right or center:

The vast majority of professional politicians mostly believe that their own opinions and their speeches are mostly true - even if they know, or should know, that this is quite unlikely given the fact that nearly all do not have dictatorial powers, and only head majorities of those who elected them (which tend to be relatively small minorities overall).

I agree that Hitler was no ordinary politician, but in these respects he seems to have been quite like the others.

The article contains a lot more, including six points by Hitler about propaganda that indeed seem to me to be true and that were already then fairly widely known among sociologists and researchers of opinions: Good propaganda is simple-minded, addresses the masses on its own low level of intelligence and information, only stresses a few points, and leaves most other matters unmentioned. If you like
you can read them for yourself by clicking the last dotted link.

The article ends as follows:

One can only wonder as his campaign for the presidency continues if he’ll be propelled by a twenty-first century American version of what was called the “good Germans” who were seduced by Trump’s boasts, prejudice, blaming, war-mongering and authority. As Gustave Gilbert, the prison psychiatrist at the Nuremburg War Crimes tribunal after WW2 famously said, “The perpetrators showed no great deviation from the norm.”

Actually, Gustave Gilbert was not a psychiatrist but a psychologist, and since I am a degreed psychologist as well, I'd like to say that the differences are considerable. [1]

There are two points I want to make.

The first relates to Hitler, his many delusions, and the fact that he was admired, supported and elected by a majority of Germans, and in the late thirties a vast majority, of ordinary Germans: The "good Germans".

This is all true, and a good part of the explanation is Gilbert's mostly correct diagnosis that

“The perpetrators showed no great deviation from the norm.”
I think that is true, provided that you also take account of the fact that (i) the Nazis were organized militaristically and (ii) were fighting a World War from 1939-1945, while also (iii) they had been quite totalitarian from the start, which meant that ordinary Germans mostly could hear or read only what their Nazi government approved.

That is, part of the reason that the Nazis were quite successful the first 8-10 years is simply that their propaganda had convinced the majority that what they wanted was
fair and just (for Germans, not tainted by Jewishness or communism or liberalism).

The second is about a conversation that Gustave Gilbert had with Hermann Göring, that I have showed several times in Nederlog in a somewhat other format. Here is the conversation as it is relayed in the Wikipedia lemma on Gilbert:
Göring: Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.
Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.
Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
I'd say Göring was mostly right: This is how it will very probably go in a country without a real free press.

Also, personally I am much more worried by the radical decline of the free press in the USA than I am by Donald Trump's reading habits (according to his ex): The decline of the free press is quite frightening, and indeed may give a fool like Trump
a majority (though I must admit I still think this unlikely).

O, and it is no longer really true that Congress that declares wars: it is the government or the Pentagon, in practice. (This is illegal, but who cares?)

3. WikiLeaks – The US Strategy to Create a New Global Legal and Economic Order: TPP, TTIP, TISA

The third item is by Don Quijones on Rage Against The Bullshit:
There is no text, and only a video, but the video is quite good and recommended seeing:


Also, the TTP, TTIP and TISA are by far the most dangerous and most fascistic project I have ever heard of (including Hitler's insane plans).

They are fascistic because they want to give all power to the ISDSs, which are contrary to national and international laws, know no appeal, and are jugded by lawyers who work for the multi-national corporations.

And they are fascistic because they are secret and strongly pro-corporate:

Obama and his mates spin delusions and lies about these supppsed "free trade pacts" that will murder democracy, national law, national governments, and almost all or all human rights, and they can do so because these fascist plans are kept secret even for any elected parliamentarian, while the plans are open for the criminals who made them from the multinational corporations.


You are strongly recommended to watch the above video. (And no, it doesn't use the term "fascism" at all.)

4. A true scientific revolution: the triumph of mathematicians over philosophers

The fourth and last item is by Steven Poole on The New Statesman, and is in fact a review of
The Invention of Science: a New History of the Scientific Revolution by David Wootten:
Clearly, this is not about the crisis. But since I probably know more about philosophy of science than about any other academic subject, it is here for the few others who are interested in philosophy of science.

This starts as follows:

The moment it was accepted that Aristotle had not been right about everything was a crucial turning point in the history of science.

The early-modern Scientific Revolution is still in some populist quarters described as a triumph of experimental reason over religious superstition. It is one of the many virtues of David Wootton’s fascinating history that this canard barely merits a mention, let alone a tedious refutation. For, as he shows, many in the vanguard of the emerging order of the 16th and 17th centuries were religious; they took the new science to be a bulwark against atheism; and, as Wootton plausibly argues, Newtonianism would have been inconceivable without the tradition of belief in a creator God.

In Wootton’s telling, the revolution that created the tradition of science we recognise today was instead a victory of a different kind. The core story spans the long century from the astronomer Tycho Brahe’s first identification of a nova (as we would now say, an exploding star) in 1572, to Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity (1687) and Opticks (1704). Wootton describes it, in terrifically rich detail, as a revolt of mathematicians, wielding numbers and experiments, against philosophers, who assumed that Aristotle had been right about everything.

There is considerably more that I leave to your attention, but I will quote and comment on the end, which is as follows:
Despite Wootton’s protestations, very few people are still so “relativist” that they believe that scientific knowledge is nothing but socially constructed and that it is therefore impossible to say that quantum physics is superior to the theory of the four bodily humours. As few, or fewer, people imagine that scientific knowledge is a transparent window on the truth about the ultimate nature of reality. Wootton eventually concludes that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Which is, as he would no doubt happily admit, a view that Aristotle would long ago have endorsed.
I have no idea who Steve Poole (the writer of this article) is.

But I have been educated in the University of Amsterdam [2], that was from 1971 to 1995 formally in the hands of the students; who were the first 14 years mostly quasi-"marxists" and the other 10 years mostly postmodernists; and who all had the prejudice that
"everybody knows truth does not exist"
which was shared by the vast majority of students (most of whom eventually qualified, many of whom are the present professors and lecturers in the Dutch  universities) and also "shared" by the vast majority of professors and lecturers, not because they believed it, but because they wanted to hold on to their very well-
paying high status jobs with very few real duties. (Almost all did hold on; almost nobody protested. Also, the few who protested were dismissed if they did not leave themselves.)

In any case, what Poole does not mention is that the latter group - those who believed that "
scientific knowledge is a transparent window on the truth about the ultimate nature of reality" - generally at least knew philosophy and logic, and often also physics and mathematics, while the vastly more numerous groups of relativists, postmodernists and plain political intriguers were vastly more stupid, far less well academically prepared, not really interested in science, but only in politics, and in fact - while rarely honestly admitting this - were all competing to advance themselves to well-paying academic positions they were fundamentally unqualified for and also not interested in.

And most succeeded, certainly in Holland.

---------------------------------------------
Notes
[1] I studied in the 1980ies, and apart from one examination about a book of Freud's, psychiatry and psychiatrists were almost completely missing in the education I got, while the DSM-III, which is the - quite delusional but quite influential - psychiatric bible that was published in 1980 was not even mentioned, ever, in teaching courses by anyone.

The main reason for this was that psychiatry was simply not regarded as a real science by most psychologists, at least not by the majority who did not specialize in clinical psychology, and even there psychiatry was only one of quite a few approaches to madness and its problems.

And indeed I agree and agreed that psychiatry is not a science, and never was: They can't even rationally define madness.

[2] Where I got a straight A for my bachelors degree in philosophy, and then was removed from the faculty of philosophy for saying what I thought, briefly before my M.A., for which reason I took an M.A. in psychology, that also got a straight A.

Both degrees were also made while I myself and the woman I was living with were both seriously ill. You may protest, but the least you should have is an M.A. with only straight A's if you wanted to be taken seriously by me...

       home - index - summaries - mail