June 2, 2010


me: On Politics


   " I am no politician, and still less can I be said to be a party-man: but I have a hatred of tyranny, and a contempt for its tools; and this feeling I have expressed as often and as strongly as I could."

     "I believe in the theoretical benevolence but practical malignity of man"

   -- William Hazlitt


1. Introduction
2. On Politics
3. P.S. + link

1. Introduction

I wrote yesterday that I would reproduce today the essay "On Politics" that I wrote 27 years ago. Two reasons to do so are that it is, so to say, "typically me", in style, tone, terms, values and ideas, and that I still mostly agree with it.

It follows below, in my own translation of two years ago, then also published in Nederlog, but that time in two parts, and I shall here and now only make some very brief remarks by way of introduction.

"On Politics" was written in the spring of 1983, after I had given up being 'a student leader', which I gave up because at the time I had ME; my common law wife had ME (*); we had no help whatsoever and lived from student loans; it was very difficult for my wife and for me to attend the courses we had to physically attend (fortunately only a small part); and I had been forced to write most of the stuff that my student-party used, without any help nor any ideas by the others - after which one of these others started to sanction my prose because I had written somewhere that rational science could help to gain a reasonable perspective on "derailed religions". This was a phrase I had no right of using, I was told, quite seriously, because "it showed disrespect" to religion, that I anyway was not entitled to, being an atheist myself.

Being also myself in my own inimitable way, upon hearing that levelled at me also, as it happened, physically in the University of Amsterdam, in a private meeting, my conclusion was that if that was the level of my followers - for most others had stood around, said nothing, and stared as if in deep thought at nothing at all, as if they were not there or had been hearing real, deep, serious thinking - I did not want them, and stood up, went home, wrote a letter to that effect, and immediately ceased to function voluntarily.

At the time - quite possibly now, if they recall - my erstwhile political supporters in university politics did not understand and also did not appreciate this at all, but it is quite typical for me: I am willing to do a good part of the work in a group, for the reason that it is quite obvious to me that I can do that better, faster and with fewer problems than others; I am also quite willing to accept criticism; but I do not accept the sanctioning of some perfectly sensible ideas and phrases by idiotic moralizing or totally stupid ignorant mock-arguments. People may think as they please, for the most part, as far as I am concerned, but they should not expect someone like me to lead them or work for them if they are ignorant fools who pretend that they have a right to speak, be heard and waste my time and good will on what I regard, and they should and could know I regard, as reprehensible idiocy or lunacy. (**)

Anyway... what follows is ''On Politics", written in June of 1983, handed out quite a few times in photo-copy to others in the nineteeneighties, but never published on paper, while it appeared on my site only two years ago in my own translation. (***)

On Politics

ONE: Political principles and practices shape, influence and rule men's actual lives and possibilities, and their hopes, imaginations, and desires: Always there have been rulers and ruling ideas; always people have, often violently, disagreed about the order, rights and duties imposed by their society or its rulers; always people have attacked "the powers that be" and striven for a better life and a brighter future; always people have contested the value or validity of the leading principles and ideological underpinnings of their society; and always the few who have ruled and owned have defended their power and wealth by force of arguments and of arms, and have competed amongst each other for prominence and further privilege.

You may be imprisoned or set free for political reasons; you may be killed or a killer for political reasons; you may be declared super- or sub-human for political reasons; you may starve or grow rich for political reasons; and if you do not and have never cared for politics, someone else's politics may annihilate you; for more people have been killed, repressed, tortured and persecuted for political reasons than by any other human invention or delusion.

So politics is of fundamental human importance and concerns everyone everywhere, factually, morally and intellectually.

Now, concerning anything of human importance there are always four fundamental questions

  • What are its key ideas?
  • What do we know about it?
  • What may we expect from it?
  • What should we do about it?

These are fundamental questions to pose about anything worth thinking about, and I shall attempt to answer them concerning politics, and start with the first.

TWO: Succesful communication requires the clarification of one's meanings and intentions. All problems ought to begin as problems of definition, for clear and unambiguous explanations of the intended meanings of one's vocabulary are always useful and often necessary.

Clear definitions are always important, but especially in politics, for political terms are often obscure in meaning, as they tend to be used with strong feeling or malicious intent: I am trying to tell you what I think, and I am trying to do so in as clear a way as I can, without hiding my ideas under a cloak of jargon or bad grammar.

I hope that my writing is clear enough for you to perceive my mistakes, unclarities and exaggerations, but I am well aware that even though we may sincerely try to understand and be understood, we may easily mislead ourselves and each other by our choice or appreciation of words, and as I am well awared that this may happen all the more easily with an emotional and important subject like politics.

But there is this question of the definition of "politics", and the sooner we're done with it, the better we know what we're talking about.

"Politics" as a subject for study is usually defined as "the science of government". This is not such a bad definition, but as it is hardly enlightening and somewhat narrow I shall try to improve on it by increasing its scope and precisision.

Clearly, the study of politics is not just limited to the study of governments, states or political parties: It is concerned with the practices, principles and people that rule or are intended to rule in any society of human beings.

Politics as a science, consequently, results from the study of power: The men, structures and institutions wherein resides the ability and organiation of decisions over the social events which control and influence (groups of) men; and the study of ideology: The ideas, theories and creeds by which men orient themselves in the world, and which say what the world is like (metaphysics) and what it should be like (ethics).

These two concepts, power and ideology, seem to me to be the key concepts for the study of society: What men are depends on what men think they are, on what they think the world is, and on what they think the world should be; and what men may be depends on who may or does make which kinds of decisions concerning whom.

The state of society depends on the state of men's minds and on the state of social organisation. The state of men's minds depends on the ways they have satisfied the most dominant human need: The need for an ideology.

Man is a rationalizing animal: He can only survive within some system of beliefs that explain to him what the world is like and what it should be like, which thus provides meaning and purpose to his life.

The state of men's social organisations depends on the ways they have satisfied the most dominant social need: The need for coordination.

Man is a political animal: He can only survive within some system of coordination that constrains and guides the actions of his fellows, and thus provides the backbone of social life and coherent social action.

Politics results from the interaction of ideas and ideals about man and society, and the ways the taking of social decisions have been organized.

Thus every society and every man knows politics, for every society is integrated, kept together and oriented by some form of ideology and some power structure.

THREE: This, then, I understand by politics, and it is with this explanation in the back of my mind that I seek to answer the remaining three questions I posed, which I shall now clarify somewhat.

The second question concerns our knowledge and beliefs, and may be expanded as: Which political beliefs are rational, that is, testable and adequate to the facts? Which political beliefs are reasonable, that is, practisable and adequate to our desires? Which of our beliefs and proposals are defensible on  factual and moral grounds against rational, acute and informed criticism?

The third question, which asks what one may expect from politics, can be answered only if the second has been answered, for it asks what the world would be like if our political are (approximately) true.

Naturally, wishes and facts tend to be opposed: What one wishes for is rarely true, and what is true is often undesirable. So here we have an opportunity to find out, if we honestly dare, to what extent our political beliefs square with all the available facts (instead of just with a biased collection of a handful facts, carefully selected for propagandistic purposes).

The fourth question finally inquires what we should do to realize our hopes and practise our principles, and what degree of success we might expect - here it makes sense to reflect that what we can do, what we are willing to do, and what we do do often falls radically short of what we ought to do: It is easier to preach than to practise; far more difficult to do than to dogmatize.

Questions such as these are very easily answered dogmatically, and very difficult to answer in a sensible way. As they are fundamental, I will, nevertheless, try to sketch some answers in as short a compass as is possible without being doctrinal or unclear.

Of course, complete answers, if possible at all, involve much more philosophy and social science than I am willing to enter into (and more than is good for nearly anyone as well), but what I have to say may be useful anyway, as I believe that most people who think about politics do not face these questions at all, or else do not face them well.

FOUR: The first thing to do is to make a clear distinction between facts and values, and to declare my own values and give my own assessment of the facts.

Everyone accepts that some statements about the world can be decided as true or false (in principle) by any competent observer, whatever his or her personal feelings concerning the subject-matter of the statement. Such statements are statements of (purported) fact.

Again, everyone accepts that some statements are not primarily about the intersubjectively accessible world - one man's utopia is another man's nightmare, even though they may agree completely on its blueprint. Such statements are statements of value.

It is often not easy to draw the line between factual, and moral or esthetical, in short: evaluative statements. In part this is due to intentional and unintentional abuse of language, and in part to the unavoidable emotional, moral and esthetical connotations most words have.

But I shall assume, firstly, that in any case the distinction between an assertion of fact (about the intersubjectively shared external world) and one of value (about our personal appreciation of events) may be drawn, and, secondly, that in argueing about politics it nearly always is important that that it is drawn - and with some precision and a cool head, for the same fact appears very different under differently loaded descriptions of it.

Even carefully phrased statements of facts tend to suggest values, and therefore it is of fundamental importance in the social sciences, in politics, and in many other situations, to state one's biases, values and purposes explicitly, rather than to suggest or insinuate them in between the lines, as is still common practice.

FIVE: My own moral desires may be summed up as follows:

I should like to live in a society in which

  1. all human beings may earn an income sufficient to provide for all their biological needs (food, housing, clothing, health);
  2. all human beings have similar chances and opportunities to education and to decide what to do with their lifes.;
  3. all human beings are free to say, believe and do what they please, provided they don't physically hinder others from doing likewise, and may organize themselves into groups to further their own interests and to realize their own ends;
  4. all human beings are equally protected by laws guaranteeing all equal rights and similar duties (barring inabilities); and
  5. the prime purposes of society are
    - the preservation and protection of human and natural life
    - the furthering of art and science, based on
    - free cooperation, mutual tolerance and the golden rule.

Of course, this list is neither complete nor precise, but it does state my biases sufficiently well, while it also gives occasion for some important remarks concerning these and any other set of political ideals.

Firstly, then, to my knowledge none of these points has ever been realized in any society of more than a few thousands of men.

Therefore, secondly, this is indeed a statement of my desires about human society, irrespective of its possibility of realization: Ideals are overstatements, just as ideas supporting ideals tend to be overbeliefs. Both points seem to me to be true of any set of political ideals.

Thirdly, to realize any of my political desires rather far-going changes in any of the known societies are required, for virtually every known society is based on inequalities of power, income and opportunity, and less concerned with art and science, or the preservation of life and nature, than with its own glory, war or money-making.

Fourthly, most persons happen not to share my desires. Most men tend to believe (whatever they may say in public) that their own group is somehow better than any other group, and that they deserve preferential treatment, special rights or special protection. And most men tend to feel that it is desirable that their opponents are repressed, shut up or "re-educated".

So for these and other reasons I do not believe that I will ever live in a society satisfying my desires, since most men don't share them, and I must depend on others to realize them.

Again, I believe that this does not only hold for me, but that this holds for virtually anyone, whatever his or her political ideals: No actual society has ever fitted anyone's ideals, and no large-scale attempt at social change has ever succeeded in realizing its aims: In terms of their originally declared ends, all revolutions have failed, whatever their blind or corrupt apologists have said.

SIX:  Now let's face some facts, and let's do so on a global scale, for we live in many ways in one world, where the wealth of one nation depends crucially on the starvation in another, and ideas developed on one part of the globe alter the course of events in another.

We live in a world in which wealth and economic opportunity are very unequally distributed: Even in the West the highest income may be 40 or more times as high as the lowest (I'm speaking of incomes, not of inherited wealth), whereas the lowest-paid Western worker is rich and prosperous compared to nearly all inhabitants of third-world countries.

Two out of three living persons suffer from specific or general malnutrition; about 50% of the world's population can neither read nor write; and every year millions upon millions starve to death.

Many countries don't have equal rights and no country provides equal chances or opportunities for all its inhabitants. In all countries some people are denied the right to express their opinion or profess their faith, and in most countries many political and religious groups are forbidden and persecuted.

Every year  millions of people are arrested without lawful reason and sentenced without fair trial, and in 65 countries (out of a total of 135) torture is regularly practised on political prisoners. In many countries civil wars, coups or regular wars go on and on for years, destroying many lives and large parts of civilization. 

Relative to the actual distribution of food the earth is overpopulated, and it will be overpopulated by any reasonable criterion within two generations at most.

The earth's natural resources are rapidly depleted; more and more species of plants and animals are exterminated at a still increasing rate, thus impoverishing nature's gene-pool and variety; every year many thousands of square kilometers of precious top-soil is eroded, changing wood or crop-land to desert; the air is poisoned by lead and industrial exhausts; acid rains destroy European forests, and marine life is seriously threatened by deposits of radio-active wastage, oil and industrial products.

The cultural life of the mass of mankind is virtually nil: Superficial American series and pop-muzak without the least intellectual content rule world-wide on TV and radio, and culture has become an industry for profit, which no longer seeks to educate or enlighten but aims to exploit people's desire for sensation and easy amusement. 

Most science and research money is tied up in research for war ("defense"), and considerable parts of the social sciences are futile, fraudulent or muddle-headed drivel, while large groups of the population, including many intellectuals (usually from the soft sciences) have turned away from science to all sorts of emotionally attractive delusions.

And everyone everywhere is every day subjected to political and economical propaganda, false information, lies and dishonest persuasion.

These seem to me to be some of the pertinent political facts of our time. No doubt they are inaccurately phrased; no doubt they reveal my personal biases, but they do square with what any intelligent reader can find out for himself from the leading papers and UNESCO reports.

And of course I've painted a one-sided picture: There are many social, cultural and scientific current events I could wax enthusiastic about. But they are, I feel, a small though brilliant minority against a dark background of worldwide misery and destruction.

SEVEN: There are two important points to be made concerning this sum-up of facts.

First, it has always been like this: Human history is by and large a history of exploitation, starvation and war. Only a small proportion of mankind has ever lived a long, peaceful, healthy and interesting life - most have lived miserably and died early and painfully.

Second, until recently much of this misery was unavoidable: There were no known means to check the plagues; there was no technology adequate to feed, clothe, house and heal everyone decently and sufficiently; and man's comprehension of nature and himself was altogether too poor to serve all of mankind.

Now, for the first time in history, the knowledge and the means are available to provide everyone's basic needs: To feed, house, heal and educate all of mankind. But it doesn't happen.

Aristotle defined man as the rational and political animal: The animal that is capable of systematic and abstract understanding of his environment, and which cooperates purposively to adapt himself and his environment to his needs and interests.

Why then do so many human attempts to think and cooperate result in misery and destruction? Why "homo homini lupus"?

There are many reasons, but the fundamental one seems to be the bad quality of most of the ideologies people have adopted to motivate and guide their lives.

Most ideologies have been, and are, false and misleading illusions, motivated by impractisable ideals.

Just consider the histories of christianity, of communism, of mohammedanism, of fascism: They have wrecked the lives of literally millions upon millions of people, and they are at the root of literally tenthousands of wars; literally millions of killings, tortures and enslavements.

The political history of the predominant human ideologies is a record of a horrific, nearly continuous series of slaughters, sanctified by impractisable ideals, embedded in fanatically held false dogmas.

Consider how people select their ideology: They are spoonfed or they are converted. In either case an ideology tends to be chosen not on rational but on irrational grounds: False information, unrealizable hopes, fear, ignorance, anger, envy, provably false ideals and implausible assumptions.

Nearly always a man adopts his world view to satisfy his needs or fancies, not his understanding or curiosity.

And consider how people retain and defend their ideologies: Once converted to an ideology (and nearly everyone has one, at least, for everyone is educated in some society, and every society is integrated, kept together and orientated by some ideology), once men have acquired a set of emotionally satisfying sophistries and illusions about what the world is like and should be like, the enormous human capacities we all have for wishful thinking, for blindness to unpleasant facts, for selfinterest and for fallacious reasoning, seem to make it virtually impossible for most men to think clearly, objectively and dispassionately about their chosen creed.

Most men find it very painful to doubt their dearest beliefs or even to hear them doubted, for this undermines their world(-view) and their sense of self and purpose, and nearly all men find consistent rational thinking very difficult.

Indeed, man is a rationalizing animal: He first selects what he desires to be true, and then proceeds to make it come true by bending the facts accordingly.

This may be sound practice, but it leads to bad thinking. Very few man, so far, have been able to look at all available facts while correcting consciously and honestly for their prejudices, their ignorance and their uncertainties: To dogmatize is always easy, and very pleasant to most people as it means that they can indulge in their dreams and desires. Also, the more complex something is, the easier it is to dogmatize about it, for about complex situations one may easily deceive or be deceived.

So with Hazlitt "I believe in the theoretical benevolence but practical malignity of man": Men are as they are because of their beliefs about what they are and about what the world is and should be. And by and large these beliefs are such, I am very sorry to say, that most men seem stupid, ignorant and negligent (the inital letters spell "sin"), for most men believe in some blinkering and false ideology, which keeps them from thinking the right thoughts, asking the right questions and doing the right things.

This is not due to inherent stupidity (at least, so I hope, for stupidity knows no cure, and society is remediable only to the extent men are remediable) nor is it necessary or wise to stipulate which thoughts are right, which questions sensible and which actions good: The quality of ideas does not only depend on contents but also on the methods by which they are reached, just as the quality of actions does not only depend on what is done but also on the intentions with which they are done. It is means and intentions, not ends, that count most in life.

EIGHT: Indeed, I am skeptical about doctrines and creeds.

Although I know of quite a few thinkers whose opinions on politics seem to me to be sound and often adequate to the facts, I do not know of any rational and reasonable political ideology.

That is, I do not know of any more or less systematical set of beliefs about and plans for a society, adopted by some group of men, which I consider scientifically sound, actually practisable and morally acceptable (and as I am a philosopher I should, at least, know of such an ideology if it exists).

There are many reasons for this sad lack of sensible political ideologies, but they may all be suggested by a question:

Who can say, without delusion and without lying: "I know and understand the various social philosophies and sciences; I have carefully weighed the different proposals, priorities and the available factual evidence: I, at least, have the rational right to claim that my theories and plans, if not true, are the best, the most plausible theories and best practisable plans a man in my circumstances could make?"

Not one in a million, for nearly all men tailor the available evidence to fit their prejudgments, turn a blind eye to any painful fact, and are ignorant of nearly all relevant theories and facts.

What determines men's political preferences tends to be their passions and preferences, not factual evidence or sound reasoning: In politics, at least, "Reason is the slave of the passions" (Hume).

So I will not answer my question about political knowledge by saying what is political knowledge: What is needed to think well and to come to an adequate understanding and evaluation of one's situation is not some set of supposedly "factual" beliefs someone else has prefabricated for you, but, firstly, methods of reasoning and insight into the fallacies of thinking we all so easily fall into, that is: A good grounding in logic and philosophy of science, and, secondly, (more) knowledge of culture, for we all depend on and are part of a very great intellectual and artistic heritage so deplorably few of us have more than a superficial knowledge of or appreciation for.

But if I cannot point to political knowledge I can, at least, give an answer to the question "When are beliefs about politics sensible?".

Indeed, this is the proper way to pose the question "What do we know about politics?", for the basic question is not for some list of dogmas but for a set of criterions to decide whether any set of political beliefs make sense.

In my view any political theory, whatever its purpose, whomever its adherents, must satisfy two types of criterions:

First, it should be rational: A political theory should be based on adequate empirical evidence; it should be argued clearly and logically, and it should be well supported by sound statistics and knowledgeable statistical reasoning.

Put negatively, a political theory should not be heavily philosophical or metaphysical; it should not be jargon-ridden, ambiguous, vaguely grandiose or illogical, and it should not be exaggerated, imprecize or improperly qualified in its factual claims.

Second, it should be reasonable: A political theory should clearly state its philosophical assumptions and moral desires; it should be based on a clear distinction between facts and values (the denial that such a distinction exists is a sure sign that someone wants to gloss over some painful facts or has an axe to grind), and it should link its theories with clear and practisable plans and proposals, that have a chance of realization that is considerable given the actual facts.

Again, put negatively, a political theory should not hide its presuppositions and principles; it should not confuse hopes and desires with purported facts; and it should not merely list or imply the desirability of utopian ends, but actually propose practisable and probable ways of reaching the ends one desires (for all too often the possible good done by some desired political end is far offset by the actual evil brought about by the means used for its realization).

I think these are the demands a political ideology should satisfy.

As a matter of fact, of course, political ideologies are based on wishful thinking, propaganda, false hopes, unpractisable ideals, biased reports and blind faith in principles, parties or authorities.

The fundamental fallacy which seems to underly all ideologies is that people let their hopes and desires dictate their version and appreciation of facts: Wishful thinking, self-induced blindness and all delusions and logical fallacies the human mind is capable of are at the roots of all creeds.

And in politics there seem to me to be two fundamental difficulties, one theoretical, the other practical:

In matters of theory all men are apt to believe false, deluded and harmful political ideologies; in matters of practice those who obtain power are apt to be incompetent and corrupt.

For truth is a singular raft adrift on an ocean roaring with falsehoods; competence requires an apparently rare combination of wit, skill and morals; and "all power corrups, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" (Lord Acton).

NINE: What does this entail for our second question: What will the world be like if, as I've said, nearly all men lived by false and harmful ideologies, and are ruled by incompetent and corrupt politicians? Evidently, I am not optimistic.

Of course, you may congratulate yourself on your civilization, your understanding and your human kindness, and you may feel optimistic about the potentials of mankind.

But consider: In terms of absolute and relative numbers this is a warring and dictatorial age: Hundreds of millions have fallen in wars; hundreds of millions have died for no better reasons than their being in the way of someone's political plans; and never has so much of the world been so effectively tyrannised by so few and so mad dictators: Hitler, more than 50 million killed; Stalin, more than 20 million killed; Mao, millions killed - and each, by his own light and by the lights of millions upon millions of their contemporaries, a superhuman genius, a man as good and as great as the world has ever seen. And then I have not even started to list monsters like Amin, Duvalier, Pol Pot, Somoza, Pinochet and many other dictators.

If we count what really counts: The scores of millions of human lifes destroyed for no reason but political fanaticism or "glorious war" or the scores of millions of needlessly starving small children, and if we try to "balance" this by recent products of science and art (the bomb? the TV? the motorcar? modern urban architecture? to mention a few things nearly everyone faces daily) we see that ours is not a civilized age but one of the most barbaric ages man has known - barbaric not only in stark numerical terms, but also in the sense that for the first time in history the knowledge and the means to prevent it all, and to feed, clothe, house, heal and educate all of mankind, are available but hardly used.

This provides some bitter consolation, of course, for it is good to know that what you desire is practisable. It doesn't console me much, though, for I perceive that, in fact, the opposite is happening:

More and more people starve; more and more people are persecuted or killed in wars; more and more of nature is destroyed every day; and the whole world is in continuous danger of atomic annihilation.

In stark figures, the world production of arms if averaged out over all men costs some 200 dollars per person per year, which also would have been sufficient to feed a person for a whole year in a third-world country.

Again, the explosive power of the assembled nuclear weapons if averaged out over all men, women and children is at present equivalent of 5 tons of TNT per person. And the production and sales of ordinary and atomic weapons is still rapidly increasing.

Of course, if nearly all men live by false ideologies and are ruled by incompetent and corrupt politicians this is more or less what one would expect.

Since I see little reason to believe that this state of affairs will rapidly or radically change for the better, I think this is what one should continue to expect: Misery for most; wealth for some; happiness for hardly anyone. Life, like nature, is both beautiful and horrible. To refuse to see both sides is stupid.

TEN: Finally, what should and what can one do in politics?

In all probability I have failed to convince you of my main points - that all political ideologies are dangerous and false delusions; that most men are rarely rational, and least of all as regards ideologies; that most men are rarely reasonable, and least of all when their interests are involved; that those who hold or desire power are normally incompetent, and that even if they are not, they seek power not for "the good of the people" but for their own good; that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely"; that more people have been killed, repressed, tortured and persecuted for political ideals than for any other human invention; and that political beliefs are often the most dangerous delusions man is capable of - and having failed to convince you, my answers to this question may very well fail to convince you also.

But it is not difficult to say what one should do: Distrust power; disbelieve ideologies; believe only what is rational; and support only what is reasonable.

Like most things this is much easier said than done, but it is also something everyone is capable of, even if few succeed.

To think rationally; to find and weigh all available evidence; to distinguish facts from values; to speak and write clearly; and not to deceive oneself and others are eminently human capacities very few humans know how to use well.

The reason is simple: It has never been fashionable to think. Plain, uncritical belief is appreciated everywhere, but rational belief, based on a hard, dispassionate and careful look at the pretense, the humbug and the idiocies all men are capable of is beloved by few, for few things are more pleasing to the human mind than dogmatic delusions.

Clear and sound thinking are necessary but not sufficient for intelligent action. To do something in a reasonable way one needs a clear and realizable aim; a plan to realize that aim; and a set of priorities.

If I limit myself to political ends, it seems to me that we all, whatever our specific political ideals, have or should have three fundamental aims:

  • The preservation of natural and human life;
  • the preservation of culture; and
  • the preservation of personal freedom.

These seem to me to be aims all men must subscribe to, whatever their plans for nature, society and culture, and whatever they want to use their freedom for, for life, nature, culture and freedom are necessary to realize any specific political ideal.

So I conclude that all men have the same interests if not the same ideals, and I perceive that these interests are seriously endangered by political dogmatists who are prepared to repress and persecute anyone who disagrees with them (or even those who just happen to be around, in the case of sundry terrorists); they are seriously threatened by incompetent rulers; and they are seriously threatened by the billions of decent, well-behaved citizens of good intentions and dubious mental facility, who are too stupid to see that the causes they believe in are illusions, and that the leaders whom they support are corrupt and incompetent.

What can be done about this?

In any fundamental sense not very much, I'm afraid, for I don't believe there is much any ordinary person can do about the state of the world, for lack of power, lack of knowledge and lack of opportunity: There are more men in the world than seconds in your life, so if your aim is to save (a large proportion of) mankind, you are pretty pretensious.

But if you want to do something in politics (and remember it is better to do nothing than to wreck havoc due to a false ideology), I think you should support organizations concerned with clear and specific moral issues, which concern your own life, which are realizable from the present situation, which are strifed for in a non-dogmatic, rational and reasonable spirit, and which preserve life, nature, culture and freedom.

Examples of such organizations, the activities of which are consistent with the contents of this essay, at the time of writing, are Amnesty International, Unesco, Greenpeace etc.

Do not support organizations like political parties the plans and proposals of which seem propaganda or difficult to realize, and do not support organizations which claim a unique insight into the truth: They are dogmatic.

Distrust power to the extent of its strength; disbelieve ideologies to the extent of their promises, and remember politics is only a means to an end, not an end in itself.

In the end it is to science, art and culture that I feel my strongest commitment, not to any doctrine or creed.

Intellectually and morally I only answer to myself, and guide myself by what I consider to be the ablest and best philosophers, scientists, writers and artists - men like Montaigne, Locke, Hume, Lichtenberg, Jefferson, Hazlitt, Tocqueville, Mill, Whitman, Thoreau, Peirce, James, Mosca, Russell, Miller (Henry), Orwell and Mills (Wright).

These men, and others like them (for I have limited myself here mainly to writers and philosophers), are, in my opinion, the great men Western culture has produced, and it is from them, I believe, that sensible answers and methods of reasoning, ways of orienting oneself in the world, do and should come, rather than from fashionable, ill-informed and superficial ideologies you meet with everywhere nowadays, and which will in all probability destroy many more lifes and much of civilization before men learn to be more rational and more reasonable than they are now.

June 14, 1983

P.S. + link:

1. I may eventually add some notes to the above, although it seems to me the above can and does stand by itself for any intelligent knowledgeable reader without need for clarifications.

Also, since I gave the day before yesterday a number of links concerned with the possible imminent collapse of society that I intend to discuss on this place, here is a briefer link to one version of the argument, as articulated by Cenk Uygur:

This is 10 minutes 36 seconds of clear and well-spoken verbal exposition - and in case you missed it: While I do believe there is rather a lot to be said for this line of argument (in brief: the world's financial institutions must be well regulated if another collapse is to be prevented - and if such a collapse comes soon, as well it may, what with still totally absent regulation, it will end in a collapse for lack of money, credit and resources), it is a speculative argument, based on quite a few ifs.

But that is the same for any argument about the future, and indeed the ifs are what I am most interested in, since I also have no personal means whatsoever to do anything against a social collapse.

2. In case you read Dutch, there is a piece with some Dutch clarifications and comments by me about "On Politics" here: Nawoordje bij "Over Politiek".

3. And a final remark, more or less incidental, and for those who might be interested in understanding something about the American political right, neo-conservatives, libertarians (of some forms), and especially conspiracy theories:

The day before yesterday I watched a video called "The Invisible Empire", which is an evident piece of rather hysterical and manipulative conspiracy-thinking such as seems to influence many Americans upon the political right, such as the Teabaggers and Glenn Beck (though in his case the final explanations are psychiatric).

Its thesis, when freed from a lot of collateral nonsense, is that world domination is imminent, in the form of A New World Order, by a collectivist elite, that have been working for just that since many decades, mainly through shady organizations like the Bilderberg group, where the political elites meet and engineer their bids for world dominance, that are made also by such apparent opponents like father and son Bush, Bill Clinton, David Rockefeller, and the Dutch Queen Beatrix.

As I said, I've sat through almost all of it, and it gets more and more sleazy and warped towards the end, where one gets suggestions that most Western political leaders, including Bush Jr., are in fact closeted homosexuals and may well be praying to the devil, all totally unlike the noble folks who made the video, who all have good democratic Christian democratic values, while being perfectly straight, for which reasons, next to the utter lack of evidence and the great amounts of innuendo, I have saved you the link.

Even so, it is mildly interesting as an example of a quite fargoing conspiracy theory without any evidence - through a lot of innuendo, unsupported suggestions and claims, of course - or indeed any rationality. It quite probably does fairly well express rather a lot of the thinking of the American political right, or at least of the more stupid, outspoken and active part of the American political right.

But it's interest is mostly only that: A hardly sane conspiracy theory of the more stupid part of the present American right - which does not make it less dangerous, for all its stupidity, for the folks it addresses and likes to convince are stupid or ignorant, and it is a safe bet that whatever will happen politically in the future, it will not be based on rational considerations.

As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

6. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7. Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)

Short descriptions:

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:
   "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon
     insufficient evidence
7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.

"Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!

No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven's ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!
     - (Shelley, "Prometheus Unbound") 

    "It was from this time that I developed my way of judging the Chinese by dividing them into two kinds: one humane and one not. "
     - (Jung Chang)

See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources

P.P.S. ME - Resources needs is a Work In Progress that hasn't progressed today.


(*) Here it should be said that my wife and I did not know the term "ME" or indeed the term "CFS" at all, neither did the tens of medical doctors and specialists we had seen over the previous four years of being ill, and that by then the common medical reception, usually quickly induced because my wife and I were quite clear about how many useless medical specialists we had seen, and quite clear about how stupid, pretentious and impolite we thought most of them, was that "it is psycho-somatic", which we both dismissed out of hand, and that indeed the more intelligent medical doctors also regarded as quite implausible, given our position, poor income, and obvious personal giftedness: We just had nothing whatsoever to gain from being ill: no dole, no pay for being ill, nothing. Even so, most of the medics we saw concluded, after having found nothing by some normal tests, that "therefore" - they clearly being omniscient medical geniuses, medical science having been completed also - "it must be psycho-somatic".

(**) In case someone missed it: This is also what happened on the Phoenix Forums. And then, in 1982, as recently, in May of this year, a considerable part of my reasons to throw in the towel is that I write such as I write while I am tired, in pain, and in poverty, while others in the same group, who may be, and quite often are, much better off physically and financially than I am, do not do anything useful whatsoever, but believe it quite justified to be taken quite serious in having taken intellectual or moral positions I consider totally irrational and ludicrous.

In fact, an important part of the reason this happened repeatedly to me is that common ordinary people are not sincere in the way I am: When doing politics, when partaking in any social event, they do not speak upfront and honestly, but are playing some personal game that aims at giving them chances they would not have otherwise. They are playing hypocritical roles while pretending they are not, and insisting that they and their lame arguments and false claims have a right to be heard and taken serious. As a rule, I do not debate flat earthers either, and I don't suffer fools and withdraw from their company, and from such companies that protect them.

And the reasons I tend to very rapidly clear out of such set-ups are that I have been abused before this way (I do most of the intellectual work, while those who are not capable of it are willing to indicate where I went wrong and to prescribe me how I should think and write: something very common in Holland, and possibly typically Dutch, as there certainly is a typically amd uniquely Dutch way and mode of levelling, that I very much despise because it is pure conscious deliberate hypocrisy), and that this is for me precisely not how I wish to interact in a human way or how I wish to cooperate with others.

(***) Since I still am reading Paulin about William Hazlitt, one of my most favourite authors, I should perhaps say that Hazlitt indeed - as Paulin argues - was a typical Whig in many ways, as was another of my most favourite authors, Lord Bertrand Russell, who also was an aristocrat, with pronounced aristocratic habits of thought and expression, although his aristocracy was for the most part intellectual too, as is mine: There simply are in any typically human endeavour a few who are better at doing that than others, and one who is rational and reasonable welcomes that as typically human, also - here enters whiggism - without inferring that one who is better in some respect is beter in all respects.

Hence, 'aristocratic whig' is a fairly good, partially ironical, term that covers many of my own values and attitudes quite well, and indeed I am, like Bertrand Russell was, in quite a few way more inclined to and influenced by the thinkers of the 18th Century, the Age of Reason as it is called, and especially in England (Defoe, Swift, Butler, Hume, Fielding, Smith, Sterne and others).

Finally, as to my epigraphs: Hazlitt's "I believe in the theoretical benevolence but practical malignity of man" happens to explain much of my life's experiences, what with ME: If only ordinary men would have the largesse of heart or mind to simply act as they publicly claim people should act, my own problems with ME, like those of millions of others, would have been far, far less. And the same for most other human problems: If human social existence is poor, brutish and painful, it is mostly because human beings in majority lack the qualities, the will, the character, the intellect, the courage to make it otherwise, for with modern science they do have the possibilities if only they had the mentality for it.

Maarten Maartensz

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