Category Archives: society

Two Thousand and Nein

The Germain Cabal of Germans has officially declared 2009 the year of nothing. That’s right, the year of nothing. I mean, it makes sense doesn’t it? I mean, just look at the economy, it is moving in the direction of less, not more. What does that mean? It’s moving towards nothing! Will it achieve nothingness, or will it fail along the way?

What about the relationship between Michael Jackson and Michael Bloomberg. Oh, that’s right, THERE ISN’T ONE. Zoiks, the Year of Nothing works its mysterious magic again. And don’t even get me started on the Chicago Cubs this year.

In accordance with tradition, of which there is none, the GCG encourages all other Discordians and those that aren’t to pay special observance to the Year of Nothing by choosing the nothing to do of their choice. This can be quite challenging for some, especially anyone with any compulsion to do stuff. Spread the word to your friends and family and postal workers. Okay, well maybe not the postal workers, but everyone else.

Good day and other such pleasantries.
-Rev. What’s-His-Name? official fill-in spokesman for the GCG


Over at Chaos Marxism, a cunning plan has been hatched.

I’m down with this.  God knows, all I do every day is read political theory texts and blogs anyway, it would be nice to engage myself somewhat more critically with the whole process.  I have also been taking notes from TV Tropes, for my own attempts of fiction, once I start writing fiction again (in between searching for jobs, reading, blogging and contributing to several internet fora – sooner or later, something will give, most probably me).  Should those come to fruition, I’ll probably spend days getting people to read them, so no doubt you will all know when it happens.

Anyway, I know a couple of peeps from PD, such as Cramulus, have also expressed potential interest in this project, and board members always have tons of hosting space lying around, doing nothing (for some bizarre reason).  Hopefully, enough people will register interest to get a viable site going once I get to pitch the idea to the members.  Worst comes to worst, I’ll dump the ideas on a free blog until someone less in debt and more technically competent than me gets a Wiki on the project started.

Edit: NlhasdAJHLgkgli.  Seriously, that’s what the inside of my head feel’s like.  I tried, but my mind is so fried right now I can’t express myself the way I want.  I need a proper night’s sleep.

Robert Gilpin on hegemonies and economic crises

I was reading Fifty Key Thinkers on International Relations earlier this week and ran across this interesting quote:

Essentially, Gilpin believes that all hegemonies are transient because the costs of maintaining them rise more quickly than the resources available to do so. On the one hand, the hegemon is unable to prevent the diffusion of its economic skills and technique to other states. On the other hand, the hegemon must confront the rising expectations of its own citizens. Over time, they will privilege consumption over production and resist further sacrifices in order to maintain the supremacy of the hegemon on the international stage. The combination of internal and external factors leads to what Gilpin calls ‘a severe fiscal crisis’ for the hegemon.

It then has a limited choice of options. If it wishes to maintain its power, it can either confront its internal obstacles and reverse the tendency towards complacency, or it can attack rising powers before they mount a challenge of their own. Alternatively, it can seek to reduce its overseas commitments and promote strategic alliances with other states. Gilpin illustrates the former with reference to imperial China, while in the 1930s, Britain attempted the latter course of action. Gilpin is sceptical about the lessons of history, however. While each of these options has been pursued with varying degrees of success in the past, neither has been able to prevent the onset of war to resolve the disequilibrium of global power. In the late twentieth century, such a conclusion raises urgent questions about contemporary stability in the international system and the need to discover means other than war for managing the process of change, as the next ‘systemic’ war is likely to be the last in the context of nuclear weapons.

Now, while this is unsettling reading, I don’t actually think it applies in this case, for one particular reason.  Namely, under current conditions, the economic crisis is globalized.  While the USA is indeed suffering, other nations who could become peer competitors to the US have been hit just as hard, if not harder.  And as we know, a broad economic base is essential to build the military muscle necessary to leap to hegemon status.

However, should one of those potential peer competitor nations recover while the US is still mired in trouble…when then there could be a real recipe for trouble.  It doesn’t seem likely, but it should not be discounted.

Some might suggest this analysis may be too state centric, however I very much doubt any of the current 4GW using organizations either have the capacity to create nuclear weapons in sufficient quantity, or the manpower and economic muscle to fight anything more than a guerrilla war.  In a systemic conflict, such groups would be wiped out with extreme prejudice.

Burn baby burn

Increasing complex systems have a tendency to collapse in more catastrophic ways.  Hence, when George Soros and Nassim Nicholas Taleb say that this economic crisis will be worse than the Great Depression, I am not surprised at their appraisal.

However, what does a Depression actually mean, in our current socio-political economic condition?  No doubt, circumstances across those three areas of analysis do differ from the 1930s and so we have to ask ourselves, what does that mean for us?  The only viable mass movements of the moment seem to be, at least in the American contexts, religious ones.  In the UK, I don’t think even that is possible.  While I think the worries about fascism, at least in parts of the Third World, are valid, platforms explicit about such a program are rejected, and not just because of the negative connotations of such labels.

And how will the internet affect such a Depression, as well?  Will we see spontaneous protests, or even peaceful urban takedowns, orchestrated via Facebook and Twitter?  Or will the net become a talking shop, the modern day equivalent of a soapbox, where gripes and despair about our current conditon are aired but little else is actually done?

Obviously, my thoughts turn to recent graduates and attempts to get jobs, for personal reasons.  Will unemployment and the lack of prospects lead to, as it did in Italy in the 60s, a militant intellectual movement who felt they had more in common with the proletariat than their (usually) middle class backgrounds?  Or could it breed a new class of cosmopolitan guerrilla entrepreneur, an anti-Davos man if you will.

I could really do with a team of sociologists and cultural theorists right now.

Charles Darwin: Great Biologist, or GREATEST Biologist?

This was originally written for the Darwin Day celebration on the 12th. Subsequently I was urged to put it on the blog, and so I have.

Today is the 200th aniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday, and this year is the 150th aniversary of the first edition of On the Origin of Species.

For many people, its easy to write Darwin off as a nobody who just happened to stumble on to the greatest revolution the biological sciences have ever seen, to write him as a clergyman who couldn’t do anything, a wannabe doctor that couldn’t stand the sight of blood right so he took a voyage on a ship named after a breed of dog and stared at some finches for a while, thus having a eureka moment.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Darwin was not just some guy who by chance founded evolutionary biology, he was a biological genius. He was the Issac Newton of the biological sciences. Darwin knew everything that had been written about biology back then. He was an equal to the best of the best in geology, botany and ornithology. He was a world expert on coral reefs, bees, beetles, carnivorous plants, pigeons, earthworms, orchids, and especially, ESPECIALLY, he was the world expert on barnacles. He was also a prolific writer, having many publications and over 20000 non published papers. Darwin also had an excellent memory and the sort of mind that found the perfect question to ask. This, all this, from a non academic who dropped out of medical school from the fear of blood, a failed clergyman, and a person who suffered from sickness (possibly chaggas disease) through out the the later portion of his life, allowing him to be active no more than 2-3 hours a day.

When you read On the Origin of Species carefully (first edition or WAYSA?), the genius of this person is so obvious. There is hardly a page where he does not anticipate some future aspect of biology or ecology, many of those 100 years ahead of his time. He does it so casually too, throwing short summaries of experiments he conducted which are so profound yet he gives so little time to. In a page he discovers mutualism, or anticipates the concept of a niche, or island biogeography, or population models. He was SO CLOSE to grasping the mechanism of inheritance; you can see him just out of reach throughout the text, and he died before he could discover Mendel’s work on peas and allele crossing.

So, as a biologist this is a great day for a great human, the greatest biologist, the founder of so many sciences, but I think it is also a day for all people to remember and recall our biology, our ancestry, the history of our planet and the processes of life which abound everywhere.

You see, even if he induced natural selection from four obvious observable facts (summary: inheritable variation, overproduction of offspring and selective deaths) of nature (which he figured out in part by studying Malthus more than his grandfather, Lamarck*, Lyell, or anyone else), HE FREAKIN INDUCED NATURAL SELECTION. Okay? And not only did he induce it he had the REAMS OF EVIDENCE to back it up. He spends one chapter in On the Origin actually laying out Natural Selection and spends the rest of the book lining, nay, PILING up evidence for his claim. Wallace, on the other hand, wrote a 6 page document; what did he think he was going to achieve with so little evidence?  He had to convince the western world to turn away from 2000 years of belief in platonic forms. He made a leap of logic that is so antithetical to Aristotelian philosophy. He was the greatest mind in biology ever, and also the humblest, because unlike Carol von Linne, he didn’t want glory. He was a seeker. If we could have brought him here today and showed him the world he brought about through his amazing mind

he would back away in humility, and say “The evidence spoke for me.”

For knowing so much, understanding so much, for asking the right questions and finding the right answers, even if he leaped off of the shoulders of giants, THAT is why he deserves every ounce of credit he gets.

*For goddsakes people, quit putting down Lamarck already. He was a brilliant man, so similar to Darwin in many ways. There was so much he wrote that feels it could have come from Darwin’s own writings, and yet we are left with this cartoonish image of him because the only thing anyone ever remembers or writes about is the giraffe neck stretching.

Some Lamarck quotes:

“time and favorable conditions are the two principal means which nature has employed in giving existence to all her productions. We know that for her time has no limit, and that consequentily she always has it at her disposal.”

“Do we not therefore perceive that by the action of the laws of organization…nature has in favorable times, places and climates multiplied her first germs of animality, given place to developments of their organizations,…and increased and diversified their organs? Then…aided by much time and by a slow but constand diversity of ciercumstances, she has gradually brought about in this respect the state of things which we now observe. How grand is this consideration, and especially how remote is it from all that is generally thought on this subject!”

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride…

For some unthinkable reason, I was not invited to Technoccult’s roundtable on the future of the nation-state.  Probably because they’ve never heard of me, Wes and Edward aside, but I won’t let that get in the way of some good snark.  Besides, I can now claim to be a renegade renegade futurist, which justs adds to my edgy appeal.  Or something.

Anyway, good question.  The whole viability/decline of the state has become a very interesting question in light of the credit crunch.  And I have more than a passing interest in social organization in the past and present, in no small way due to reading John Robb for the past three years or so.

Continue reading Always the bridesmaid, never the bride…

Reaping a whirlwind of trouble, and why smuggling is the new boom industry

This Financial Times blog outlies the reasons why Gordon Brown’s British Jobs for British Workers probably qualifies as the most stupid thing one could promise, especially when there was a financial downturn on the cards.  To whit:

In the UK, prime minister Gordon Brown is reaping the protectionist storm he sowed with his infamous protectionist and xenophobic call for “British jobs for British workers”.  What was he thinking?  Follow the logic: ‘British jobs for British workers’,’Scottish jobs for Scottish workers’ (along with ‘It’s Scotland’s oil’), ‘Welsh jobs for Welsh workers’ and ‘English jobs for English workers’.  Why not London jobs for London Workers, or London jobs for native-born London workers, or even London jobs for white Christian native-born London workers?

How divisive can you get?  British workers are demonstrating against workers from elsewhere in the EU – Italian and Portuguese workers are currently at the centre of a rather disgusting series of altercations at UK oil refineries, gas terminals and power stations, following a dispute at Total’s oil refinery at Killinghome in Lincolnshire, where an Italian engineering company was bringing its own staff from Portugal and Italy for a egnineering construction project.

This is already being exploited by fascist organizations such as the BNP, notably through their front organization British Wildcats – if you doubt this is the case then the Ministry of Truth details the evidence.

In addition to providing propaganda to fascists, gratis no less, the other main beneficiary of protectionism will be those operating in the black market.  John Robb outlines the details, basically stating that it just increases the range of goods such groups can provide and thus improving their economic standing.  Or, if you like, the Law of Eristic Calculation.  Not to mention that stoking such nationalism, at the expense of foreign countries, will only hamper efforts to cut down on such markets.

So yeah, nice going Gordo.  I’ve always wanted to live in a third world country, complete with pointless ethnic strife, a booming illegal industry, corruption, a lowered standard of living and de facto IMF control via “economic structural adjustments”.  No, really.

Attention Must Be Paid

In 3 and a half hours from now, the United States of America will welcome its 44th President.  President Barack Obama.  And a new era will begin, hopefully.

No, I’m not talking about some touchy-feely, bleeding-heart-liberal, MLKjr, kinda era.  I’m talking about a new era for us in the peanut gallery.  That is, the era of paying attention. 

George W. Bush had something going for him his last term.  Those who hated him had written him off.  There was no need to pay attention to what he was doing because everything he was going to do was going to be steeped in failure.  By the time this recent Presidential Election got started, he only had the hearts and minds of 1/5th of the country.  And one has to assume that many of those are probably party loyalists who feel it is their sworn duty to support ANY Republican President.  It seemed like somewhere along the way, a majority of Americans, though they loathed W’s performance as a President, decided, “Meh, we’ll just wait him out”, and then tuned out in favor of Dancing with the Stars.

So now we have this new guy coming in.  And in some sense, he still is a relative unknown, when you compare him to the typical life-span in DC politics.  It’s clear that there are many who desperately want him to succeed.  I suspect even some of the fifth who still like W, would love to see Obama succeed, thought they’d be loathe to admit it in public.  There is a collective weight on our shoulders in the form of this failing economy.  We desperately want someone to come along and lift it.  We want someont to come along and succeed in lifting it.

But the key will be remembering that this is our burden to share with him.  The biggest role we have is to support his efforts.  That is, to support them by paying attention.  We cannot allow this “Hope for Change” to become insulation.  We cannot put so much trust in Obama that we stop paying attention.  Holding his feet to the fire when he walks astray will be our best contribution.  And we know the fifth will do that anyway.  The rest of us need to represent the rational and reasoned response. 

At least, that’s how I see it.  – Reverend What’s-His-Name?

Attention: Revolutionaries

Capitalism hasn’t failed. The people who run it have. While at a basic level, Capitalism comes down to “I have greed, and you have need. Let’s do a deal!”, we all know there is much more to it than that. Otherwise none of us would get worked up over Globalisation(tm)and workers rights and the like. There is obviously a social element to Capitalism, both from “our” point of view, and also “theirs”.

Given this very human element, there comes a time where dead wood needs to be cut out of the system – for it to run at maximum wealth-creating efficiency. We normally call these recessions. The weak fall, the strong and the innovative survive. When you postpone a recession with massive public borrowing, that’s all you are doing – postponing it. Artificially propping up the weak can only last for so long before they fall off, like balancing a ball on a very thin stick.

When you get a recession, every weak element in the system will be tested. If you’ve postponed it, they’ll be tested massively. And they’ll fail, epically.

So, I state again, the reason why everything is completely fucked now isn’t so much the system (as flawed and distasteful as it may be), but the people who have allowed 2 or 3 recessions to hit us at the same time. Any system you replace Capitalism with will still be run by pretty much the same people. Even if they have different faces, they’ll still have the same flawed ideas. And we’ll be fucked again.

Change the ideas, THEN the system, and you may be onto something.

The Great Unfolding

Only time will tell…

If you believe what you see on TV, then you are expecting a great New Dawn to occur around noon EST next Tuesday.  Of course, I imagine most of us HERE know better than that. 

The Republicans ridiculed the Hope and Change message from soon-to-be President Barack Obama.  It was endlessly lampooned and satirized.  But they attacked it from the COMPLETELY WRONG angle.  They framed it as an empty message.  A skeleton of an outline and a no-logic model.  Anyone who was paying attention clearly understands that Obama DID have a plan behind his message of “Hope and Change”.  His campaign website had pages, and pages of plans and initiatives.  So the Republicans totally screwed the pooch and really should’ve looked at it from a more pragmatic perspective.

That perspective being, “Do you really think you can do all this shit?”  Oh sure, a couple of the Conservatives tried it, but after George F. Will and the other Republican egg-heads dissed Palin, the rest of the movement ignored anything they said.  And this is the question Obama and the rest of us have to wake up to every morning.  I’m not naive enough to think that he is naive enough to think he can actually do EVERYTHING he promised on the campaign trail, much less what was on his campaign website.  Obviously, there isn’t a politician that has ever lived that has carried out all of their promises.  Okay, well maybe Hitler and Milosevic did, but I digress…

Now, we know how a large chunk of our compatriots operate.  We especially understand how they react to messages that come from the television and other “news” media outlets.  And as technology has advanced, every other Joe on the block has a “news” blog.  Yes, even THAT Joe.  I’m sure we all have also witnessed how the pending Obama Presidency has been sold by many of the “news” media outlets.  I think there is an expectation among many akin to that scene in The Two Towers, when it looked like Saruman’s hordes were about to totally obliterate the Rohirim at Helm’s Deep.  But lo, the sun breaks and there is Gandalf with some huge army he’s conjured up from the wastes.  Switch Gandalf with Obama and the army with economists and you have the expectations for what will happen on January 20th. 

And it’s hard not to empathize with that sentiment.  Desperation will cause a person to latch on to any glimmer of hope that may present itself.  It is human nature.  And it can seem cruel to temper that enthusiasm.  But one also doesn’t want to succumb to reverse paranoia, the idea that someone out there is going to save you from your economic ruin.  Or, that if it does happen, it’s going to happen next week, when in reality, we’re probably looking at the next decade. 

Indeed, only time will tell how successful President Obama is able to channel that Hope and process it into Change in the people’s pockets and Change in the people’s prospects.  The past has demonstrated that these troubled times do come to an end.  The question on the table is if it will happen WITH Obama’s interventions, or in spite of. 

Or at least, that’s how I see it.
-Reverend What’s-His-Name?