/* Added by TWP, 10/12/2012 */ /* End of addition */

One of the live oaks that bless my home

Friday, June 2, 2017

Is It Just Idiocracy?

OK, I am furious, so furious that words can't pass through my throat that dried up from anger. You'd expect me to take an easy path and lash out at President Trump. But this would too self-serving and wrong.

Let's rewind a little. Idiocracy is a 2006 American science fiction comedy film that tells the story of two perfectly average people who take part in a top-secret military hibernation experiment, only to awaken 500 years later in a dystopian society where centuries of negative genetic selection combined with advertising, pornography, commercialism and cultural anti-intellectualism.  The stunning outcome is the really, really dumb people with lifestyles that are devoid of common human attitudes we take for granted today.

Today, we think that one should be educated, develop independent judgement, and be able to reach conclusions that are based on facts and logic.  One should know something practical, like how to water plants or hold a wrench.  One should understand the difference between good and evil.  One should hold political leaders responsible for their actions and not be willingly duped into dumb submission.

Fast forward 10 years to 2016, and an Idiocracy-style regime took root in Washington DC, in my dream country, the United States of America. It took a short brilliant election campaign with a little help from the Russian friends to dupe those without to vote for Mr. Trump who has it all, except for education and moral compass.

President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (left), sorry, I meant President Donald John Trump (right), is a TV star. He governs by slick TV appearances building up those tense expectations in us, the lesser idiots, and then releasing them like Starbucks 500 years hence (please see the movie) by telling us how he values America.

Here is a quote, call it a tweet, from President Camacho:
Shit. I know shit's bad right now, with all that starving bullshit, and the dust storms, and we are running out of french fries and burrito coverings. But I got a solution.
Does this tweet ring a bell?  If not, please see this.

Idiocracy is derived from two Greek words, idiotes and demokratia. Idiot is a word derived from the Greek ἰδιώτης, idiōtēs ("person lacking professional skill", "a private citizen", "individual"). In Latin the word idiota ("ordinary person, layman") preceded the Late Latin meaning "uneducated or ignorant person." Democracy comes from the Greek word δημοκρατία, dēmokratia, and means the "rule of the people" a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. Democracy requires active participation, not just sleep-walking with a smart phone in hand and earphones that shout out the wind and those pesky birds.

The fascinating book Demography of Roman Egypt, reports the results of Roman censuses of the Egyptian population carried out every 14 years or so for tax purposes. The surviving meager samples were taken between the early first century and late third century A.D. These censuses identified atechnos (men with no skills), idiotes (men incapable of independent judgement) or argos (the bright, shining men). Thus identified citizens of mostly two municipalities were few in numbers, and likely were not indigent unemployed but rather were men of leisure, living off accumulated wealth, just like the Trump family.  I leave it to you to pick a Roman census category you'd assign to the Trumps. In summary, being an atechnical idiot, common nowadays in the U.S. because of the disappearing education at all levels may be new, but being identified as one has a long history.

But I digressed.  It would be improper to call Trump the king of fools, because he is not. Two other bad things happened before the time of Trump.

First, inequality has dramatically increased in the U.S. Since I travel a lot, I can assure you that the ever bigger swaths of my shiny country resemble poor, neglected and hopeless undeveloped countries. This abject poverty and lack of hope have been growing over the last thirty years, ever since Reagan unleashed the "market forces" on the unsuspecting, naive Americans. But Reagan's lies were just the beginning. The American elites then went on a rampage of lies and into self-denial to cover up the ever-deepening injustice and alienation of the millions of fellow citizens. The world was flat then, as Thomas Friedman would explain to his feel-good liberal readers. It is injustice, not general poverty, that fires up revolutions.  In the good old times, the working class would raise up violently, but today workers are atomized, alienated and impotent.

And then the second bad thing happened. There came an amoral, unscrupulous conman and hustler, brutish and boorish, but good with 75 crude words and violent images. He knew how to play on desperation like a virtuoso plays a violin. And thus the conman got elected by the desperate, abandoned and angry people, who bestowed all their hopes on a walking lie.

But Mr. Trump the liar remembers that he needs to keep alive an illusion of truthfulness so that "his" people continue to believe in him. He also understands all too well that the rest of the political and financial world is as corrupt and lying as he is. Only they never speak openly about how morally bankrupt they are and cover up their misdeeds in beautiful literate words. Our brutal liar tears into them like a hungry wolf into a lamb, and exposes the hypocrisy and cynicism of the civilized and cultured, but otherwise corrupt politicians around the world, and especially in Europe.

To believe that the Paris climate agreement will change the world you need to live in San Francisco. I don't. People change the world, not the worthless reams of bureaucratize. The Paris agreement is a little more than the heart-felt declarations of an alcoholics anonymous focus group. What happened in Paris in 2015 was as useless as all the previous such agreements, starting from the Earth Summit in Rio deJaneiro in 1992. Quoting the United Nations:
The parties to the convention have met annually from 1995 in Conferences of the Parties (COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was concluded and established legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the period 2008-2012. The 2010 Cancún agreements state that future global warming should be limited to below 2.0 °C (3.6 °F) relative to the pre-industrial level. The Protocol was amended in 2012 to encompass the period 2013-2020 in the Doha Amendment, which - as of December 2015 - had not entered into force. In 2015 the Paris Agreement was adopted, governing emission reductions from 2020 on through commitments of countries in ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions. The Paris Agreement entered into force on November 4th, 2016.
The sad truth is the global capitalist amoeba must continue to devour the planet for as long as it can. China cannot anymore, because they ran our of breathable air, drinkable water and non-poisoned soil. So they are cutting down emissions over the motherland, while invading the rest of the world to export their pollution and environmental destruction to far away places, like Africa, and South and Central America. China is following in our footsteps, for the Europeans and Americans have had an intricate system of exporting our shit to the unseen and helpless victim countries for the last 600 years.

Because of Trump, some of our shit will now stick at home and soil it rather badly. I and many other liberals will be very unhappy, but for once we will pay directly for our lifestyles. Also because of natural gas and more efficient cars, the U.S. has lost some of its zeal to pollute and coal is not coming back. At least not anytime soon.

In the long run, when our zeal to pollute does come back, we will have already been a Mordor-like mining planet and I will be happily dead.

P.S. (06/04/2017) I stand corrected. I thought that the Paris agreement was merely garbage and a cynical smoke screen to do as little as possible, and preferably nothing. But people believed in it and now people make emission reductions happen regardless of the cynical politicians. What a wonderful development! The Hegelian dialectic impact of Trump may be that he will finally get the atomized Americans to organize. I can even see my old Solidarity emerging in my new country.

P.S.P.S.  (6/10/2014) It occurred to me that many readers may not know that the Paris agreement is just that, a voluntary agreement to do not more but preferably less environmental damage. Each country tries to be on their best behavior, and the only sanctions available are to shame the countries that don't do what they say they do. Yes, you got that right, we have agreed to shame the offenders. And meet in five years.  Therefore the power of this agreement is not in what is written, but what came into being outside of the governments. It is the power of the people who now say they want to inflict less damage on the Earth.

P.S.^3 (6/12/2017)  A fuller story on idiots as they were recognized by ancient Greeks.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Now What?!

If you are like me, you may read, watch and listen to what is happening around you with disbelief. But should we be incredulous? Perhaps not...

By chance, I looked at "What on earth are we doing?," a sad commentary on human condition I wrote 6 years ago, and this passage caught my attention:

Our Society
“In order for us to maintain our way of living, we must, in a broad sense, tell lies to each other, and especially to ourselves. It is not necessary that the lies be particularly believable. The lies act as barriers to truth. These barriers to truth are necessary because without them many deplorable acts would become impossibilities. Truth must be at all costs avoided. When we do allow self-evident truths to percolate past our defenses and into our consciousness, they are treated like so many hand grenades rolling across the dance floor of an improbably macabre dance party. We try to stay out of harm's way, afraid that they will go off, shatter our delusions, and leave us exposed to what we have done to ourselves and to the world, expose us as the hollow people we have become. And so we avoid these truths, these self-evident truths, and continue the dance of world destruction.”
Derrick Jensen, A Language Older Than Words, Context Books, New York, 2000, Silencing, page 2.

People all across the world are scared, angry and disoriented, and their governments routinely fail to explain the very basics of what is going on. Why is that?

Perhaps for the first time in modern western democracy, our leaders and leading intellectuals are relying in an essential way on keeping people confused.  This puts us on the opposite side of the moon from the attitudes of John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and so on, who did their best to explain their thinking clearly to all. When these great men lived, the Earth surely seemed infinite, but she is very small today.  Here is the kicker: To pretend nowadays that the Earth is infinite, as most of us effectively do, and is capable of feeding our runaway economy ad infinitum requires some serious self-delusion.

In fairness to our leaders, they lie and we eagerly consume their lies, because otherwise we would have to change from within, and for most people change is genetically impossible.  Generally we leave change to political campaign slogans which are so obviously lies that we do not have to do anything. So, this is how it goes. Someone lies about an economic recovery which is just around the corner; someone else lies about the banks that must be saved at any cost with our money because they are too big to fail; and yet somebody else professes that converting over half of our fossil-fuel driven food to a fossil-driven biofuel is good for all.  And we all listen to these empty lies and eagerly try to believe them, for what else we can do.  That is a good question, isn't it: What else can we do? Can you think about a thing or two you could change on your own?

I guess I was prescient.

Today, I could follow up with this argument and quit:

The world runs on a high-rate flow of energy (power) through our societies. This fast flow of power keeps our societies from collapsing altogether. Of all power sources, crude oil and liquid transportation fuels are closest to societal blood. As excess energy obtained from oil production decreases, so does the maximum achievable rate of blood flow, and the societal metabolism slows down. Natural gas, coal, uranium, and renewable energy sources cannot be produced and deployed without oil. Coal, in addition, is very polluting. What we see everywhere around the world are the first difficulties with the global metabolic slowdown just at the time when those who have not benefited from the fast flow of fossil blood are shouting loudly, we want our share too! That's it, and we have wars, conflicts and populism everywhere.  Joe Tainter and I have explained this complex oil metabolism in our book.

To understand better why global elites have lost touch with reality, let's start from the beginning, skipping the inevitable Adam Smith and Karl Marx. As Matthew Steward wrote in The Management Myth:
Management theory came to life in 1899 with a simple question: “How many tons of pig iron bars can a worker load onto a rail car in the course of a working day?” The man behind this question was Frederick Winslow Taylor, the author of The Principles of Scientific Management and, by most accounts, the founding father of the whole management business.
In the spring of 1908, Taylor met with several Harvard professors, and later that year Harvard opened the first graduate school in the country to offer a master’s degree in business. It based its first-year curriculum on Taylor’s scientific management.

The rest is history and the world would never be as whole as it would have been had the Harvard School of Business never existed.  The efficiency lies in support of greed and wishful thinking changed everything everywhere, and magnified current global crisis.  Of course, I am oversimplifying here, but you get my drift.  The runaway global capitalism has been devouring the whole world to the benefit of some - including me -, but leaving most behind.  Now the forlorn masses are speaking out, but it is too late for them to join in the past gluttony.

Last week, I took a taxi from the Central Station in Warsaw to the airport Marriott.  The driver of a brand new Mercedes limousine taxi was a man in his early fifties, but with the snow white hair.  I asked him about economic situation in Poland and this is what I heard:
Life will never be really good in Poland, because capital is insufficient, but the current [Law&Justice] government is just and tries to alleviate poverty among the ordinary people.  It gave 500 PLN per month to young women for each child after the first one, and reduced poverty among children of really poor people who also get 500 PLN/mo for the first child.  
 Then the driver calmly observed that
The criminals [politicians and neoliberal economists], who over the last 20 years have sold every good factory, company and bank that Poland had to foreign countries and corporations ought to be hanged from the lamp posts, not by the neck, but by hooks in their ribs so that they would suffer longer.  The EU subsidies to Poland, while significant and helpful, have not replaced the real wealth and know-how Poland lost due to the buyouts.  In recent years, two million young people have left Poland to work elsewhere, because there are no job perspectives for them. 
He was a hard-working simple guy, who might have lived in Detroit, Pittsburgh, or Manchester.  He could not care less that the country was transformed and a huge new infrastructure built.  His pride and dignity were deeply wounded and he would have nothing to do with integration, free-trade, and immigration.

Therefore, when the well-educated, rich people from both coasts in the U.S. discount President Trump with a slight of hand, I shiver. How little you know, my dear New York Times fellow travelers.

On the other hand, the poor wretches who voted President Trump in - and are sticking with him - will see their lives going down in flames even faster and more completely than otherwise.  It is getting awfully late for the oil metabolism aerobics with ever more human participants...

P.S. 2/26/2017.  And the list of countries that are failing or collapsing outright is getting longer by the month: Brazil, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Greece, Honduras, Libya, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, etc.

P.S.P.S. 3/3/2017. More on the same theme from the New York Times:
It wasn’t Mr. Kvachkov’s acquittal that was remarkable about the case. It was his line of defense. On one hand, he denied a role in the crime; on the other, he argued that Mr. Chubais was an enemy of the Russian people and deserved to be killed. It’s unclear which argument proved more persuasive to the jury, but probably the second. Popular opinion in Russia holds Mr. Chubais responsible for the poverty that set in as a result of the neoliberal economic reforms, and at various times both the left and the nationalist opposition have condemned him. Mr. Kvachkov’s right-wing nationalist supporters deployed two mutually contradictory arguments: “He did not shoot; he’s not guilty” and “if he had shot, he would have been right to do so.” If the first argument saved the man from a prison term for attempted murder, the second made him one of the leaders of the radical nationalist movement.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Why Did You Have to Leave, Wise Ancients?

We are on the island of Sicily, near Syracuse, one of the five Corinthian colonies that also included the island of Ortygia nearby. Old people still remember that Leto gave birth on Ortygia to Artemis, the first of her twin god children with Zeus. Leto was a daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe. She was an early and favorite lover of Zeus. Soon after birth, Artemis helped Leto flee Hera's wrath and escape to Delos, where the other twin, Apollo, was born. Or was it the same island, because in ancient times Ortygia was also called Delos? Who knows?
The fearless warrior and archer, Artemis, is my favorite goddess of nature and hunting. She protects all plants and animals. She is also an eternal virgin, and the goddess of the moon. This is her statue from Pompeii.  Photo by T. W. Patzek, 01/06/2017.

Arethusa means "the waterer." She was a gorgeous nymph, who left her home in Arcadia beneath the sea and became
A victim of the river god’s lust
She’d tried to flee; yet even hidden
By Artemis, first in a cloud then
Caverns of the sea, she learned that haven
And safe place from Alphaeus there was none
Unless as water. 
And, thus, merciful Artemis turned Arethusa into a fresh water fountain on Ortygia.
Arethusa fleeing Alphaeus is being saved by Artemis. This fountain in Ortygia commemorates Arethusa's rescue nearby, widely reported by the ancient sources. Photo by T. W. Patzek, 01/03/2017.

This is how the Roman poet, Ovid, retold Arethusa's story much much later:
‘I (Arethusa) was one of the nymphs, that lived in Achaia,’ she said ‘none of them keener to travel the woodland, none of them keener to set out the nets. But, though I never sought fame for my beauty, though I was wiry, my name was, the beautiful. Nor did my looks, praised too often, give me delight. I blushed like a simpleton at the gifts of my body, those things that other girls used to rejoice in. I thought it was sinful to please. 
 ‘Tired (I remember), I was returning, from the Stymphalian woods. It was hot, and my efforts had doubled the heat. I came to a river, without a ripple, hurrying on without a murmur, clear to its bed, in whose depths you could count every pebble: you would scarce think it moving. Silvery willows and poplars, fed by the waters, gave a natural shade to the sloping banks. Approaching I dipped my toes in, then as far as my knees, and not content with that I undressed, and draped my light clothes on a hanging willow, and plunged, naked, into the stream. While I gathered the water to me and splashed, gliding around in a thousand ways, and stretching out my arms to shake the water from them, I thought I heard a murmur under the surface, and, in fear, I leapt for the nearest bank of the flood.
If you want to imagine what happened next to the beautiful frightened Arethusa, read here (Bk V:572-641 Calliope sings: Arethusa’s story).

Our story of the twin gods of Ortygia or Delos does not end here. Apollo had a son, Asclepius, literally the god father of human medicine. Apollo and Asclepius, shared the noble epithet Paean ("the Healer").
Photo by T. W. Patzek, 01/06/2017.

This Pompeian fresco shows the wise centaur Chiron, who invented medicine, as he stood between Apollo on the left and Asclepius on the right. Chiron taught both how to be doctors and heal patients, and Asclepius carried this knowledge to the mortals.

Asclepius had four daughters.  Their names were Hygieia  (the goddess of health, cleanliness, and sanitation); Iaso (the goddess of recuperation from illness); Aceso (the goddess of the healing process); Aglæa (the goddess of beauty, splendor, glory, magnificence, and adornment); and Panacea (the goddess of universal remedy).   These gods and their daughters tirelessly helped the sick humans in exchange for respect and offerings that flowed from the heart.

Heart in medical healing has now been largely forgotten in exchange for technology and cool profits. As I write these words, a small gang of mostly aging, rich white men with hearts of stone is trying to kill the first comprehensive medical care program in my country.  This program attempted, however inadequately, to advance my country into an elite group of states with comprehensive medical care, such as Cuba for example.  
How does this miserable sickly mortal, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and the majority leader, dare to challenge Apollo, and Asclepius and his daughters?
We already know what Appolo's cousin, Nemesis, does to people who drip with hubris and usurp powers of the gods.  I am counting on her reminding these men, who really rules the world and what the price of hurting millions of people is.

And how exactly does Mr. McConnell hope to prevail upon this youthful powerful god of medicine, arts, music, poetry, archery, sun, light and, yes, the plague?  Odysseus himself tells us how swiftly Apollo shoots his deadly arrows when he is enraged by the greedy mortals.

P.S. 03/14/2017. With the inevitability of a Greek tragedy, the Republican plan to help the rich and hurt the poor is rolling ahead.  The painful tension in ancient Greek tragedies was that viewers knew the outcome, but actors on the theater scene did not.  On November 6, I knew that this fast growing deadly cancer posing as the new U.S. administration would really, really hurt everyone, and I certainly am only a mortal. I feel so sorry towards everyone who is not a millionaire and still voted for Mr. Trump. But what's done is done, and now it is time to reap the rewards of a grand delusion that entranced millions of Americans. America now has a leader we collectively deserve, but I still weep over our national blindness. Please, Nemesis and other gods, do what you have to do, and return sound minds to these poor, poor, crazy people. When you believe lies, you are essentially crazy, because you see things that no one else can, Harry Frankfurt has taught us in his essay, "On Truth." Read it!