Israel’s public actions explain its plan: A state policy of disenfranchisement, apartheid, settlement building and war which has and will continue to result in the death, removal and expulsion of all Palestinians from territories which Israel is illegally occupying.
How else to explain the accompanying map which shows how Palestinian lands and hopes have been disappeared?
“We want the nations of the world to know…….and they should be ashamed” Ben Gurion explaining rationale for Eichmann’s trial [i]
“The triumph of the S.S demands that the tortured victim allow himself to be led to the noose without protesting, that he renounce and abandon himself to the point of ceasing to affirm his identity. They know that the system which succeeds in destroying its victim before he mounts the scaffold…..is incomparably the better for keeping the whole people in slavery”[ii]
Hannah Arendt (henceforth HA), philosopher, writer, academic of Jewish heritage, who studied under such luminaries as Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger in pre-war Germany, went to Jerusalem in 1961 to cover the trial of Eichmann, one of the actors in the Final Solution, for the New Yorker magazine. Her account of the trial regularly published in the magazine at the time, later became a basis for the book, “Eichmann In Jerusalem: A report on the banality of evil”.
It is obvious from reading the book that HA’s account of the trial in the book transcended the culpability of the single individual, and in fact implicated the whole of western society in the crimes committed.
HA’s penetrating analysis in the book furnishes insights both into the mind of the perpetrators, and the overall societal mindset they were embedded in, which made these horrendous acts possible without any weight on their conscience. It provides a template for studying all such acts of barbarity by the organized and brute force of the state, with full complicity of the overwhelming population, against people who are made stateless either in the sense of being deprived of the state they had hitherto lived in or are forced to live as stateless wards of occupying power.
It is precisely the later scenario that we are confronted with in Gaza, where an occupying power is conducting a pogrom and slaughter of the stateless, defenseless and caged population under its occupation. It is true that the scale of murder in Gaza is not comparable to the manufacturing of death on industrial scale and with industrial efficiency as happened during Holocaust, the period dealt in the book, nevertheless there are certain elements of the current situation and wider Palestinian suppression which make the comparisons, and hence the insights, not totally irrelevant. This is borne out by none other than the granddaughter of Holocaust survivor herself, when protesting against FIDF (Friends Of IDF), she remarked in a choked voice that the reason she was there was that her grandparents taught her that “this should never happen to any other people again, whether Jews or not”.
The elements of relevance are not only the unequal nature of the contest – with the most powerful army of the Middle East, backed to the hilt by the most sophisticated military might the world has ever seen (USA) arrayed against mainly defenseless population in congested urban setting, with all paths of exit and ingress shut , hence unsuitable for protracted guerilla warfare) – but also the apparent complicity and almost cheerleading attitude of the populace of the oppressor and the invader in the conflict and its powerful backers and abettors in the western media and government. The fact that all this is happening in this age of global information, and it is almost impossible to avoid images of innocent children and women being blown to smithereens, hospitals and even morgues and graveyards bombed and destroyed, makes the complicity of the population or their indifferent silence, both in Israel and its main supporter United States and to lesser extent Western Europe, all the more criminal and callous. For one who has read HA’s work, it is impossible not to see in this almost ubiquitous silence and complicity of the western seats of political and media power, echoes of what HA characterized as the “moral collapse of the respectable western society” in the face of irrefutable and hard to ignore evidence about mass murders happening close by. In Nazi Germany and its occupied and allied countries, the collapse manifested as “hear no evil, see no evil”, averting of the face from the horror if it all, if you will, and here in the US in the Israeli-Palestinian context it manifests as knowingly arming the murderer to its teeth, and then providing the fig leaf of diplomatic support and biased media coverage to hide and obfuscate the deed both from the domestic and international audience.
It is remarkable that in spite of the huge difference in scale, the psychological and societal factors underlying the brutal onslaught of these declared racist regimes against their captive and largely defenseless populations bears close resemblance. Not only that, USA, without whose total and unconditional support Israel cannot carry out any of its criminal acts, bears many marks of institutional mind control and propaganda so eloquently exposed by HA in her book.
So here are the those elements delineated clearly in HA’s expose of Nazi regime and its murderous acts that one finds reflected in the murderous acts of Israel and its main supporter, United States.
Self-Deception, Lies And Stupidity
“The German society of eighty million people had been shielded against reality and factuality by exactly the same means, the same self-deception, lies and stupidity that had now become ingrained in Eichmann’s mentality” [iii]
“He was incapable of uttering a single sentence that was not a cliché”..HA on Eichmann [iv]
It has almost become a cliché to say that in this age of mass communication and social media, winning the media battle is almost as important as winning the actual, physical one. Nazis were the first to realize the importance of mass propaganda in a modern state, and created one of the most effective propaganda machines the world had ever seen, which presided over a campaign of self-deception, lies, distortions, mind control of unprecedented effectiveness and magnitude. The underlying philosophy was to sway the people through grandiose lies and distortions, making them feel as part of something grand and big. Hence, they were told that it was a struggle for the “destiny of the German people”, such as would pave the way for a thousand years Reich. As Himmler said that they were fighting a battle, which the future generations did not have to fight for another thousand years. For Hitler it was a struggle for the very soul of European civilization against the eastern barbarism, exemplified by Bolshevism. One finds almost parallel distortions and propaganda in Israeli official mythology of the “Promised Land”, and they, Jews, being the rightful heirs of the land of Israel in spite of their almost two thousand years sojourn in the west. All this self-elevating and grandiose mythology goes hand in hand with demeaning Palestinian people as a historical fiction – for instance, when Netanyahu said that there had never been a Palestinian state, never been a Palestinian nation and they were just migrants from neighboring Arab countries. Both the mythology and distortion are critical to Zionist project, as one cannot be carried one without the other. And both require erecting a virtual, alternate reality, based on massive dismissal of actual history. But it must be admitted that there is crucial difference between totalitarian Nazi ideology and official Zionist one, at least in the way they operated in their respective bases. The Nazi totalitarianism obliterated all opposition to it and became the only acceptable narrative in the state, the Zionist narrative could never achieve that monopoly in Israel, and thanks to the courage and integrity of people like Uri Avenry and Levy Gideon, there is a counter narrative, not confined to some nooks or banished to concentration camps, but is expressed through very mainstream organs like Haaretz and other Jewish progressive groups.
But one of the greatest ironies of the whole conflict is that it is not in Israel, one of the main protagonists pf the conflict, but in USA, its distant and arch supporter, that this propaganda based on lies, distortions and self-deception has met its total and unchallenged triumph yet. The success of this campaign is such that no less a person than the former President of the United States is forced to admit publicly that, “it is easier to criticize Israel in Israel than in the United States”.
From Alan Dershowitz’s fabrication of alternate history of Palestine (debunked by all serious scholarship on the subject) as an apology and defense of Israel and its peddling on all respectable US channels to the latest abominable rant “Israel has a right to defend herself” on Fox Channel, it is hard to imagine where to start when one considers the total complicity of US media in Israeli crimes. Just a recent episode in ABC’s coverage of the Gaza bombing highlighted both distortion and stupidity. It was a clear distortion when a Palestinian home, with Palestinian woman clad in traditional Muslim head gear in front wailing, was shown as an Israeli woman whose home was destroyed by Hamas’s rockets. But it also relies on the egregious ignorance and stupidity of the audience to mistake an obviously Palestinian woman for an Israeli one!
As far as the self-deception goes, it ranges from the ludicrous, “they hate us because of our liberties”, to the insidious, as in the recent column in NY Times[v] where the writers have turned the logic on its head, making this preposterous claim that the reason US public supports Israel is because of the failure of Arab spring! Not because of what NY Times writes and CNN, FOX spews day in and day out, but because of the failure of Arab spring! In the annals of self- deception by the so called literati of any society, this has to have the pride of place!
It is not an understatement to say that all mainstream media channels in USA are reduced to a point where they have become mere conduits for the continuous regurgitating of official Israeli talking points, without taking Israeli apologists and official up on even the most obviously absurd ones. It seems that like Eichmann, they are incapable of thinking except in official clichés! Take for example, this oft repeated Israeli assertion, blurring the boundaries between sane and insane, that Hamas is using civilians as human shields or putting their rockets near the civilian places, as justification for the high civilian casualties. Forget the obvious fact of Gaza being one of the most densely populated areas in the world, forget even that the so called warning to crammed homes and shelters is given minutes before the real lethality if at all and there is neither place or time to run to, forget all that, and still should not a fair journalist challenge the Israeli position on the ground that the targeted population has no army , air force and navy to fight the mightiest army of the Middle East, and it is Israel which makes sure that not only they don’t get any comparable weapons , but even the basic weapons to fight so that Israel does not have to find itself in this, in their own words, unenviable position of fighting an enemy indistinguishable from the civilians? Does any journalist try to raise the question as to what desperation the people would be reduced to, if they could be killed with almost impunity from thousands of feet above the ground, and they had no means of hitting back? It is morally bankrupt to even raise the question of Hamas using civilians without first asking how come they can’t put tank against tank, a helicopter against helicopter and an aircraft against aircraft, and a uniformed soldier, armed to the hilt with modern gadgetry, against uniformed soldier. The reality and logic of the situation, obvious to any astute observer, is that it is not Hamas but on the contrary Israel which is using civilians, its own, for a human shield. It is so because with all the sophisticated weaponry that Israel possesses its soldiers can kill from a distance with almost no fear of being hit back except in very close combat situations that Israel religiously avoids, but the only way Palestinians in Gaza can retaliate is by firing inaccurate and primitive and almost toy like rockets indiscriminately into Israel, that has the probability of hitting only civilians, if at all, not soldiers. Hence the very nature of this asymmetric power equation dictates that when Hamas retaliates it can only do so by hitting the civilians, and Israel does everything in its power to maintain that asymmetry, depriving Hamas the capability of fighting on equal terms. It is like one party to a duel stealing the other party’s pistols and then complaining that instead of firing shots they are throwing stones that can hit the bystanders!
The impact of all this media blitz in favor of Israel is that you can never ask an average American, who probably has a hard time recognizing Gaza on the map, about the current conflict without getting an automatic, almost knee jerk clichés about terrorism, destruction of Israel and her right to defend herself. The proof is in the pudding, and even Dr. Goebbels would have been envious of this efficacy of US media propaganda for Israel! It is after all he who famously said that a lie should be repeated often and with confidence and from the higher pulpit for it to be accepted as the truth. He has found the most loyal disciples of his craft in mainstream US media.
Dostoevsky, as HA pointed out in her book, recalled from his experience in Siberia that he never met a criminal there who was repentant of his crimes. HA offered an explanation for this in the self-re-enforcing closed environment of the gang the criminals were embedded in, which shielded them from contact with the reality. The American media is playing the same role of shielding American public from its culpability in Israelis crimes by embedding them in this reality created out of lies, half-truths, fabrications, and distortions.
Blaming The Victim
“Fuhrer as promised the Jews a new homeland……..if you build there will be a roof over your heads. There is no water, the wells all around carry disease……If you bore and find water, you will have water”[vi]
HA in her book tells the story of a German literary critic, Heinz Beckmann, who blamed a certain Jewish intellectual for deserting them at “the outbreak of barbarism”, conveniently forgetting that he was expelled by the Nazis, and did not desert. From this minor example of self-serving and self-righteous attitude of Nazis to their more fictional characterizations of Jews as responsible for Germany’s defeat in the Great war to their delusional beliefs of actually helping the Jews with forced emigrations, at least the Zionists, in their project of “finding the ground under their feet”, as Eichamann puts it, it was always the victim who has brought it upon himself. In a similar vein, in the eyes of Israelis it is always the Palestinians who were responsible for their ghetto like existence in Gaza, and for the bombs killing their babies. Just a sample of it was presented the other day, when an Isareli Ambassador to US, Mr. Ron Dermer, was talking to a radio show host and claimed that the reason for shortages in Gaza was that Palestinians used all the resources – millions of dollars – for building tunnels! Given that Mr. Dermer’s government was involved in preventing through violence even a peaceful flotilla carrying food and medicines to Gazans let alone the brutal siege, it requires monumental audacity of shamelessness to make such an assertion. But he was assured that even if he had asserted that Palestinians were directly getting aid from Martians and Anti-Christ in league to destroy Israel, he would not be called upon by the interviewer! So, it is the victim, it is the Palestinians who are offering their children as sacrifices so that they could “enjoy” the sight of Israelis being humiliated in the court of world opinion in the comfort of their tunnels!
It is the psychological and logical compulsion of a society based on notions of racial exclusivity and superiority to regard the other, especially if the others are the inhabitants of the land they want to grab, as untermensch, as lesser humans. Nazis’s policy of lebensraum, the land in the east, had to regard Slavs as untermensch as the Zionist policy of land grab and theft from Palestinians has to regard them as not “people like us”!
Moral Collapse Of The Respectable Society
“Dr. Servatius, I assume you made a slip of the tongue when you said that killing by gas was a medical matter”[vii]
“The net effect of this language system was not to keep these people ignorant of what they were doing, but to prevent them from equating it with their old, normal knowledge of murder and lies”[viii]
“Yes, he had a conscience, and his conscience functioned in the expected way for about four weeks, whereupon it began to function the other way around”[ix]
“From the accumulated evidence one can only conclude that conscience as such has apparently got lost in Germany”[x]
For me the most telling image of the current Gaza massacre is not one of death and destruction, of carnage, and torn limbs, and mutilated bodies of children. It is one of the regular Israeli onslaughts in last few years, and we have become numbed to these sights and they are telling us the same tragic story with only faces changed. For me the most telling image is a peaceful, quiet image, almost serene, but containing within it the bottomless depths of the “heart of darkness”. It is an image of Israelis, men, children and even toddlers, in an almost picnic like atmosphere with drinks and barbecue watching the carnage unfolding before their eyes from the safety of their perch on the mountaintop. One Israeli critic of Zionism in a remarkable address called the last invasion of Gaza by Israel at the peak time of children’s getting out of their schools in the streets as the darkest day in the history of Judaism. No sir, I respectfully disagree. The darkest day in the history of Judaism was the day when a few people, no matter the numbers, flaunted their inhumanity in broad daylight, and were accepted by the majority either tacitly by staying quiet about it, or out rightly condoning it. This is the dangerous moral collapse which HA was alluding to, which Nazism, because of its creed of racism and naked power, brought about in the “respectable European society”. And God knows what monstrosities it led to. In HA’s incisive analysis, Eichmann was not a monster, neither was he legally insane, nor he was oblivious of the consequences of his actions. He was quite ordinary and commonplace, and hence the banality of it all. But he was caught in an ideology and the system that made him accept and commit those unspeakable horrors with relative equanimity. The respectable opinion, according to his testimony, never questioned or challenged his conscience. It was normally human to be inhuman in that atmosphere. He was embedded in a system which made such humanity almost seemed normal; in fact, alleviated it to the level of duty. That is what HA meant by the moral collapse of the “respectable western society”. It is a version of this moral collapse that was on display on that mountain top the other day: the moral collapse of “respectable Israeli “society.
Equally telling and matching the moral collapse of the ones doing the killings and their immediate cheerleaders was the moral collapse of the distant ones giving them the weapons and all the support of “soft power” they required. The moral bankruptcy on the top of hill in Israel was matched by moral bankruptcy on top of another hill, Capitol hill, namely, the shameless unanimous passing of resolution 480 by Senate, giving unconditional and full support to Israel’s Gaza offensive and yes, believe it or not, calling upon Hamas to separate itself from the unity government! Those who always blamed Hamas for its violence and non-acceptance of Israel, were baying for its blood when it officially , albeit in an indirect way, it did renounce violence by joining and accepting PA’s leadership which has recognized Israel’s right to exist! All those senators, without exception, with all their pretensions and protestations of peace were at that moment of endorsement of naked aggression were standing there themselves naked, without clothes, in their obeisance to the amoral God of power. Those champions of fairness and fair play and justice, Elizabeth Warrens, Al Frankens, Bernie Sanders of the world, totally exposed, with the whole world knowing, if they cared to look, that the only difference between them and John Boehners , Lindsy Grahams, Sarah Palins of the world is only in the choice of which Gods they prostrate themselves to. It is a difference of calculation not of principles. So much for the moral left in the US political system!
Influential media and government, there is nowhere one can turn to for any justice or even fair hearing in the case. Is this the moral collapse of the society we are witnessing here? Yes, there is , God bless her, Amy Goodman, there is this towering figure of Noam Chomsky, almost like an old Testament prophet, there is Chris Hedges and so on. Yes, there is a growing BDS movement and increasing awareness of Palestinian cause in Europe, and there is a strong anti-Zionist strand within Israel, and these are signs that prevent one from total despair or do they? Probably no society ever in history has totally collapsed morally, since even in the depths of it there is a Dietrich Bonhoeffer, there is a Lichentberg (a Catholic priest who joined the Jews in their journey east and perished with them). Perhaps, the moral collapse of the greatest supporter and abettor of the crimes of Israel is not that deep or total. Perhaps!
Moral Collapse of the Victim
“Jewish Council Of Elders were informed by Eichman or his men of how many Jews were need to fill each train, and they made out the list of dportees” [xi]
“There can be no doubt that without the cooperation of the victims, it would hardly have been possible for a few thousand people ..to liquidate many hundreds of thousands of people”[xii]
“And the acceptance of privileged categories…..had been the beginning of the moral collapse of respectable Jewish society”[xiii]
“It was a general practice to allow certain exceptions in order to be able to main general rule all the more easily” [xiv]
“Theresienstadt, from the beginning , we designed by Heydrich to serve as a special ghetto for certain privileged categories of Jews”[xv]
One of the lesser talked and known aspect of Eichmann’s trial is how it reveals quiet poignantly the victims of the Holcaust turning, by the force of circumstances, into the willing instruments of their own mass execution. Nazis cleverly and quite cynically orchestrated what HA calls the “moral collapse of respectable Jewish” society, by holding out some avenues of escape in an otherwise hopeless situation. In the early phases before the unleashing of Final Solution, it was a policy of favoring one Jewish group over the other. For example, Nazis support for Zionism chimed, at this early, with their method of seeking the solution to Jewish problem through forced emigration. They isolated and look down on the assimilationists and praised Zionists, as Eichmann puts it, as idealists. They also created a special camp at Theresienstadt for the “privileged” category of Jews as a showcase to the world where Red Cross inspections could take place. In the later stages of mass executions, when the situation has become desperate, it is the pure animal instinct for survival and hope of saving some at the cost of many that led Jewish elders and councils to co-operate with the Nazis. For Nazis, it was much economical and convenient for the victims to handle the dirty police work themselves. Also, by creating categories for respectable Jews – those who fought in the previous war, for example – they soothed the conscience of folks at home who knew at least one “decent Jew”.
The moral of all this is to show that the people living under conditions of hopelessness and despair and made to fight for their survival and identity could be easily manipulated by the controlling authority holding power of life and death over them, into a seemingly self-destructive behavior and betraying their own people. It is exactly the same calculus that is at work in cynical Israeli policy of bringing about the moral bankruptcy of occupied Palestinian society by reducing sections of it to be willing policemen of their own captivity. The role of Palestinian authority and the corruption of its leadership must be seen in the light of this Israeli policy of finding venal partners for its illegal enterprise. The example of Jewish Council of Elders, and the co-operative police work in rounding up of Jews and policing the ghettos provides a template for this kind of control.
By reducing Palestinian authority to a glorified police force in the west Bank tasked with ensuring control and peace as Israel never ceased building illegal settlements on their land, and reducing Gaza to an open air prison a la Warsaw ghetto , Israel wanted to divide and conquer the Palestinian opposition to it. Not only that, by arranging things so that only the most rabid, and extreme opposition remains as the only viable opposition to Israel, which can then be castigated as fanatic and bundled with other radical muslim jihadi outfits, it wanted to control the narrative and tone of opposition to its oppression. Hence the rage of Israeli Prime Minister, when Hamas joined the Palestinian authority and began to take steps to undercut this narrative! How dare Hamas relinquished the armed struggle and vows to destroy Israel for the peaceful struggle and co-existence! That is not what is in the script, and hence Hamas must be punished for it. This is and only this explains the latest flare up in Gaza!
There is one more aspect to this moral collapse of the victim as it relates to the surrounding Arab states. It is not an accident that I am using the word victim for the surrounding Arab states, and not what comes obviously to mind, especially as regards Saudi Arabia and Egypt, accomplices in the crime. They are victims in so far as their situation is analogous to the Nazi occupied countries of Europe such as Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and so on. Here the occupation is not a direct one by Israel, but indirect one by its biggest supporter United States, and not through direct occupation, but by supporting and installing the puppet, corrupt and tyrannical regimes. It is through these regimes that massive resources and policies of these regimes are controlled, and their populations kept educationally, culturally, and technologically backward. The moral collapse is reflected in the decadence of the ruling class and their conspicuous consumption and apathy of the masses to this situation. Even when attempts are made to rectify, they run up against the stone wall of US supported entrenched opposition. To this monarchical and tyrannical petro dollar driven regimes and consumption, is now deliberately added the lethal dimension of sectarian hatred in order to always keep the pot boiling and to provide channels for frittering away radical tendencies into self-destructive and divisive endeavors. All this is heaven sent for Israel, which not only sees in it an almost endless gold mine of propaganda to taint the opposition in the most unflattering and now the almost universal bogey of political or radical Islam, but also an enemy self- immolating in the fires of old, atavistic, sectarian hatreds. The upshot of all this is that both the sectarian battles, the fears of sundry caliphates and petro-dollar driven tyrannies are going to stay there for a while, since they suite both Israel and its arch supporter United States, in the wider scheme of things. But for the middle eastern Muslim society, they are the most potent expression of their “moral collapse”.
Hammad Said is an IT consultant and lives in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at hammad_said@hotmail.
[i] Hannah Arendt: Eichmann In Jerusalem, A Report In The Banality Of Evil: page 10, penguin addition
[ii] David Russet, a former inmate of Buchenwald quoted by Hannah Arendt: Eichmann In Jerusalem, A Report In The Banality Of Evil: page 11, penguin addition
[iii] Hannah Arendt: Eichmann In Jerusalem, A Report In The Banality Of Evil: page 52, penguin addition
[iv] Hannah Arendt: Eichmann In Jerusalem, A Report In The Banality Of Evil
[vi] Eric Rajakowitsch, in charge of deportation of Dutch Jews: Hannah Arendt: Eichmann In Jerusalem, A Report In The Banality Of Evil: page 75, penguin addition
[vii] ”Judge Halevi, asking the defense counsel of Eichmann to clarify his shocking statement about gasing: Hannah Arendt: Eichmann In Jerusalem, A Report In The Banality Of Evil: penguin addition
[viii] Hannah Arendt: Eichmann In Jerusalem, A Report In The Banality Of Evil: page 86, penguin addition
[ix] Hannah Arendt: Eichmann In Jerusalem, A Report In The Banality Of Evil: page 95, penguin addition
[x] Hannah Arendt: Eichmann In Jerusalem, A Report In The Banality Of Evil: page 103, penguin addition
[xi] Hannah Arendt: Eichmann In Jerusalem, A Report In The Banality Of Evil: page 115, penguin addition
[xii] R. Pendorf, quoted by Hannah Arendt: Eichmann In Jerusalem, A Report In The Banality Of Evil: page 117, penguin addition
[xiii] Hannah Arendt: Eichmann In Jerusalem, A Report In The Banality Of Evil: page 131, penguin addition
[xiv] Louis De Jong , quoted by Hannah Arendt: Eichmann In Jerusalem, A Report In The Banality Of Evil: page 132, penguin addition
[xv] Hannah Arendt: Eichmann In Jerusalem, A Report In The Banality Of Evil: page 80, penguin addition
Members of Britain’s parliament say industry-funded research is compromising the fight to save pollinators
Here’s one way to keep us from finding out once and for all whether pesticides are contributing to the mysterious and catastrophic collapse of the world’s bee colonies: let the people manufacturing the pesticides fund the studies. That’s the charge being leveled against Britain’s government by the Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee in a report published Monday, which contends that corporate funding is compromising the integrity of its scientific research.
The good news, amidst a sea of bad news, is that hardly anyone’s arguing that the we have a serious bee problem on our hands. In the U.S., about 23.2 percent of honey bee colonies were lost over winter 2013-2014 — an improvement from the even more disastrous winter that came before it, but a rate that the U.S. government nonetheless calls “economically unsustainable.” The White House, in pledging $50 million to address the problem, calls the losses a “genuine threat to domestic agriculture.”
A number of factors are likely contributing to bee declines here and abroad; among them are invasive parasites, along with the rise of monocultures — acres and acres of fields dedicated to one crop and one crop only — and the resulting loss of bee-supporting flowers. But a growing number of independent studies are pointing to a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, concluding that they, if not the sole driver of declines, are nonetheless heavily implicated. (To take just one example, they’ve been shown to compromise bees’ immune systems, making them that much more susceptible to the viruses being carried by said parasites.) The voices most loudly insisting that there’s no link between pesticides and bee die-offs belong, unsurprisingly, to industry representatives, who continue to insist that the science is inconclusive.
When it comes to addressing the pesticide factor, the E.U. is way ahead of the U.S. While the EPA says it won’t complete its scientific review of the role neonicotinoids, a certain class of pesticides implicated in recent die-offs, until 2018, and won’t consider taking any action until that time, the European Commission decided to adopt a better-safe-than-sorry approach. Last year, it enacted a two-year, continent-wide ban on three neonicotinoids that the European Food Safety Authority decided were posing the greatest threat. The British government, however, was one of the hold-outs. Right now, it’s convening a group of experts to review the available evidence, which will form the cornerstone of a new National Pollinator Strategy and help inform the government’s decision about whether to support the ban, which is up for review next year.
According to the Parliament committee, there’s no question that it should. Since the ban was first passed, the report argues, “new studies have added weight to those that indicated a harmful link between pesticide use and pollinator populations.” The government, the report insists, is failing to protect the bees, and, in the process, letting industry interests get in the way of sound science.
Letting manufacturers fund research into the impacts of their own products “testifies to a loss of environmental protection capacity in the Department responsible for it,” said Joan Walley, the committee’s chair, in a statement. “If the research is to command public confidence, independent controls need to be maintained at every step.”
Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email email@example.com.
By Patrick Martin
29 July 2014
A report issued last week tabulating the results of the first 25 statewide primary elections held in the United States this year found that voter turnout was the lowest in history, at least since the primary system became the norm after the Second World War.
Only 14.8 percent of eligible citizens have voted in the primaries held so far, a decline of 3.5 percentage points from the turnout in the same 25 states in 2010. This is less than half the postwar record turnout of 31.9 percent set in 1966.
In raw figures, the mass abstention is even more staggering. Of the 122.7 million citizens eligible to vote in the first 25 primaries this year, only 18.2 million actually went to the polls, while 104.5 million declined to participate in choosing Democratic and Republican nominees for the November 4 election.
Given the enormous media coverage of the primary campaigns and the record expenditures by both parties and a myriad of corporate-financed groups established to influence the outcome of the voting, the mass abstention is a stark reflection of the disillusionment and alienation of the broad mass of working people from the American two-party system.
Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate (CSAE) at American University and author of the report, made observations along this line in his analysis of the figures.
He wrote: “Many decades ago citizens turned out to vote out of a sense of civic duty and because of an allegiance to one or other major party. That motivation has largely been lost. The numbers in this report reflect how deeply citizens are turning away from political engagement and from positive feeling about one or another major political party.”
The CSAE report documents the obstacles to popular participation in elections, including voter registration procedures so cumbersome that 61 million eligible citizens are not registered and therefore cannot vote. To this could be added the exclusion of former prisoners from the voter rolls in many states, particularly in the South, and the spread of laws requiring photo IDs, enacted to reduce the percentage of voting by the poor, who have greater difficulty obtaining the necessary identification.
However, Gans noted that a slew of procedural measures established to make voting easier, including same-day registration, expanded mail-in voting, and early voting, showed no long-term effect. California, where two-thirds of the votes are cast by mail, and Oregon, which is entirely a mail-in procedure, both posted record low primary voting.
He concluded: “The core problem of participation does not reside in the realm of procedure, but rather in motivation. Contributing factors to the decline in motivation are not hard to find: campaigns that are run on scurrilous attack ads that give the citizen a perceived choice between bad and awful; one major party situated far to the right of the American center and the other without a clear and durable message; a decline in faith that government will address major societal need…”
This considerably understates the nature of the political dilemma confronting working people. It is not just the Republican Party that is “situated far to the right” but the Democratic Party as well.
Both parties adhere to the political consensus prevailing within the financial aristocracy, supporting imperialist war, attacks on democratic rights, and savage austerity measures that undermine working class living standards and public services. They seek to obscure the political monopoly exercised by corporate America with conflicts over secondary and tertiary issues, or by whipping up divisions along the lines of race, gender, sexual orientation and religion to conceal the fundamental class questions.
The figures presented in the CSAE report are worth considering in some detail, since they demonstrate that the great mass of the American people have become so alienated from the two-party system, and particularly the Democratic Party, that there exists an enormous political vacuum in the country.
Of the 25 states holding primary elections prior to mid-July, 15 showed record low overall voter turnouts. Only three showed an increase in turnout from 2010 to 2014. Democratic turnout was higher in only four states, while Republican turnout was higher in six states. Democratic Party turnout hit record lows in 15 of the 25 states.
Republican primary turnout, at 8.2 percent of eligible voters, was down from the 2010 level of 9.6 percent, but only slightly below the average of 13 midterm elections over the last half-century, where the average Republican primary turnout was 8.9 percent.
The historical decline is thus in large measure due to declining participation in Democratic Party primaries—significant because for decades the Democratic Party was the main vehicle for the subordination of the working class to capitalist politics, with the AFL-CIO unions peddling illusions that Democratic candidates were “friends of labor.”
Popular participation in Democratic Party midterm election primaries hit its post-World War II high in 1970—a year of mass antiwar activity and popular radicalization that the unions and organizations such as the Communist Party and Socialist Workers Party sought to divert behind supposedly antiwar candidates within the Democratic Party. This culminated in the 1972 presidential campaign of George McGovern.
In 1970, 20.9 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Democratic Party primaries. This year, that figure is down to only 6.4 percent of eligible voters. In other words, popular participation in Democratic midterm primaries has fallen by 70 percent over the past 44 years. Participation in Republican midterm primaries has fallen by 38 percent over the same period.
Voter participation in Democratic primaries has fallen for 11 consecutive midterm elections, from 1974 to 2014. (Because voter participation is generally much higher in presidential years like 2008 and 2012 than in non-presidential years like 2006 and 2010, the study compares 2014 only with other “midterm” elections, when only congressional and state offices are on the ballot).
The experience of the Obama administration represents a definite turning point in this long-term process of decline. Democratic turnout increased significantly in both the 2006 congressional elections and the 2008 presidential election, with record numbers of black and other minority workers going to the polls.
But whatever the initial illusions that the first African-American president would produce a positive change in the conditions of life for working people, the right-wing, pro-Wall Street record of the Obama administration has produced a historically unprecedented collapse in popular support for the Democratic Party, culminating in a 29 percent decline in participation in Democratic mid-term primary elections between 2010 and 2014.
The figures presented in the CSAE report strongly suggest that millions of working people are fed up with the Democratic Party and are looking for an alternative to oppose the reactionary policies of the financial oligarchy promoted by both the Democrats and Republicans.
The power of lonely
March 6, 2011
You hear it all the time: We humans are social animals. We need to spend time together to be happy and functional, and we extract a vast array of benefits from maintaining intimate relationships and associating with groups. Collaborating on projects at work makes us smarter and more creative. Hanging out with friends makes us more emotionally mature and better able to deal with grief and stress.
Spending time alone, by contrast, can look a little suspect. In a world gone wild for wikis and interdisciplinary collaboration, those who prefer solitude and private noodling are seen as eccentric at best and defective at worst, and are often presumed to be suffering from social anxiety, boredom, and alienation.
But an emerging body of research is suggesting that spending time alone, if done right, can be good for us — that certain tasks and thought processes are best carried out without anyone else around, and that even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities, and be capable of focus and creative thinking. There is even research to suggest that blocking off enough alone time is an important component of a well-functioning social life — that if we want to get the most out of the time we spend with people, we should make sure we’re spending enough of it away from them. Just as regular exercise and healthy eating make our minds and bodies work better, solitude experts say, so can being alone.
One ongoing Harvard study indicates that people form more lasting and accurate memories if they believe they’re experiencing something alone. Another indicates that a certain amount of solitude can make a person more capable of empathy towards others. And while no one would dispute that too much isolation early in life can be unhealthy, a certain amount of solitude has been shown to help teenagers improve their moods and earn good grades in school.
“There’s so much cultural anxiety about isolation in our country that we often fail to appreciate the benefits of solitude,” said Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at New York University whose book “Alone in America,” in which he argues for a reevaluation of solitude, will be published next year. “There is something very liberating for people about being on their own. They’re able to establish some control over the way they spend their time. They’re able to decompress at the end of a busy day in a city…and experience a feeling of freedom.”
Figuring out what solitude is and how it affects our thoughts and feelings has never been more crucial. The latest Census figures indicate there are some 31 million Americans living alone, which accounts for more than a quarter of all US households. And at the same time, the experience of being alone is being transformed dramatically, as more and more people spend their days and nights permanently connected to the outside world through cellphones and computers. In an age when no one is ever more than a text message or an e-mail away from other people, the distinction between “alone” and “together” has become hopelessly blurry, even as the potential benefits of true solitude are starting to become clearer.
Solitude has long been linked with creativity, spirituality, and intellectual might. The leaders of the world’s great religions — Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Moses — all had crucial revelations during periods of solitude. The poet James Russell Lowell identified solitude as “needful to the imagination;” in the 1988 book “Solitude: A Return to the Self,” the British psychiatrist Anthony Storr invoked Beethoven, Kafka, and Newton as examples of solitary genius.
But what actually happens to people’s minds when they are alone? As much as it’s been exalted, our understanding of how solitude actually works has remained rather abstract, and modern psychology — where you might expect the answers to lie — has tended to treat aloneness more as a problem than a solution. That was what Christopher Long found back in 1999, when as a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst he started working on a project to precisely define solitude and isolate ways in which it could be experienced constructively. The project’s funding came from, of all places, the US Forest Service, an agency with a deep interest in figuring out once and for all what is meant by “solitude” and how the concept could be used to promote America’s wilderness preserves.
With his graduate adviser and a researcher from the Forest Service at his side, Long identified a number of different ways a person might experience solitude and undertook a series of studies to measure how common they were and how much people valued them. A 2003 survey of 320 UMass undergraduates led Long and his coauthors to conclude that people felt good about being alone more often than they felt bad about it, and that psychology’s conventional approach to solitude — an “almost exclusive emphasis on loneliness” — represented an artificially narrow view of what being alone was all about.
“Aloneness doesn’t have to be bad,” Long said by phone recently from Ouachita Baptist University, where he is an assistant professor. “There’s all this research on solitary confinement and sensory deprivation and astronauts and people in Antarctica — and we wanted to say, look, it’s not just about loneliness!”
Today other researchers are eagerly diving into that gap. Robert Coplan of Carleton University, who studies children who play alone, is so bullish on the emergence of solitude studies that he’s hoping to collect the best contemporary research into a book. Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert, a leader in the world of positive psychology, has recently overseen an intriguing study that suggests memories are formed more effectively when people think they’re experiencing something individually.
That study, led by graduate student Bethany Burum, started with a simple experiment: Burum placed two individuals in a room and had them spend a few minutes getting to know each other. They then sat back to back, each facing a computer screen the other could not see. In some cases they were told they’d both be doing the same task, in other cases they were told they’d be doing different things. The computer screen scrolled through a set of drawings of common objects, such as a guitar, a clock, and a log. A few days later the participants returned and were asked to recall which drawings they’d been shown. Burum found that the participants who had been told the person behind them was doing a different task — namely, identifying sounds rather than looking at pictures — did a better job of remembering the pictures. In other words, they formed more solid memories when they believed they were the only ones doing the task.
The results, which Burum cautions are preliminary, are now part of a paper on “the coexperiencing mind” that was recently presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference. In the paper, Burum offers two possible theories to explain what she and Gilbert found in the study. The first invokes a well-known concept from social psychology called “social loafing,” which says that people tend not to try as hard if they think they can rely on others to pick up their slack. (If two people are pulling a rope, for example, neither will pull quite as hard as they would if they were pulling it alone.) But Burum leans toward a different explanation, which is that sharing an experience with someone is inherently distracting, because it compels us to expend energy on imagining what the other person is going through and how they’re reacting to it.
“People tend to engage quite automatically with thinking about the minds of other people,” Burum said in an interview. “We’re multitasking when we’re with other people in a way that we’re not when we just have an experience by ourselves.”
Perhaps this explains why seeing a movie alone feels so radically different than seeing it with friends: Sitting there in the theater with nobody next to you, you’re not wondering what anyone else thinks of it; you’re not anticipating the discussion that you’ll be having about it on the way home. All your mental energy can be directed at what’s happening on the screen. According to Greg Feist, an associate professor of psychology at the San Jose State University who has written about the connection between creativity and solitude, some version of that principle may also be at work when we simply let our minds wander: When we let our focus shift away from the people and things around us, we are better able to engage in what’s called meta-cognition, or the process of thinking critically and reflectively about our own thoughts.
Other psychologists have looked at what happens when other people’s minds don’t just take up our bandwidth, but actually influence our judgment. It’s well known that we’re prone to absorb or mimic the opinions and body language of others in all sorts of situations, including those that might seem the most intensely individual, such as who we’re attracted to. While psychologists don’t necessarily think of that sort of influence as “clouding” one’s judgment — most would say it’s a mechanism for learning, allowing us to benefit from information other people have access to that we don’t — it’s easy to see how being surrounded by other people could hamper a person’s efforts to figure out what he or she really thinks of something.
Teenagers, especially, whose personalities have not yet fully formed, have been shown to benefit from time spent apart from others, in part because it allows for a kind of introspection — and freedom from self-consciousness — that strengthens their sense of identity. Reed Larson, a professor of human development at the University of Illinois, conducted a study in the 1990s in which adolescents outfitted with beepers were prompted at irregular intervals to write down answers to questions about who they were with, what they were doing, and how they were feeling. Perhaps not surprisingly, he found that when the teens in his sample were alone, they reported feeling a lot less self-conscious. “They want to be in their bedrooms because they want to get away from the gaze of other people,” he said.
The teenagers weren’t necessarily happier when they were alone; adolescence, after all, can be a particularly tough time to be separated from the group. But Larson found something interesting: On average, the kids in his sample felt better after they spent some time alone than they did before. Furthermore, he found that kids who spent between 25 and 45 percent of their nonclass time alone tended to have more positive emotions over the course of the weeklong study than their more socially active peers, were more successful in school and were less likely to self-report depression.
“The paradox was that being alone was not a particularly happy state,” Larson said. “But there seemed to be kind of a rebound effect. It’s kind of like a bitter medicine.”
The nice thing about medicine is it comes with instructions. Not so with solitude, which may be tremendously good for one’s health when taken in the right doses, but is about as user-friendly as an unmarked white pill. Too much solitude is unequivocally harmful and broadly debilitating, decades of research show. But one person’s “too much” might be someone else’s “just enough,” and eyeballing the difference with any precision is next to impossible.
Research is still far from offering any concrete guidelines. Insofar as there is a consensus among solitude researchers, it’s that in order to get anything positive out of spending time alone, solitude should be a choice: People must feel like they’ve actively decided to take time apart from people, rather than being forced into it against their will.
Overextended parents might not need any encouragement to see time alone as a desirable luxury; the question for them is only how to build it into their frenzied lives. But for the millions of people living by themselves, making time spent alone time productive may require a different kind of effort. Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, argues in her new book, “Alone, Together,” that people should be mindfully setting aside chunks of every day when they are not engaged in so-called social snacking activities like texting, g-chatting, and talking on the phone. For teenagers, it may help to understand that feeling a little lonely at times may simply be the price of forging a clearer identity.
John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, whose 2008 book “Loneliness” with William Patrick summarized a career’s worth of research on all the negative things that happen to people who can’t establish connections with others, said recently that as long as it’s not motivated by fear or social anxiety, then spending time alone can be a crucially nourishing component of life. And it can have some counterintuitive effects: Adam Waytz in the Harvard psychology department, one of Cacioppo’s former students, recently completed a study indicating that people who are socially connected with others can have a hard time identifying with people who are more distant from them. Spending a certain amount of time alone, the study suggests, can make us less closed off from others and more capable of empathy — in other words, better social animals.
“People make this error, thinking that being alone means being lonely, and not being alone means being with other people,” Cacioppo said. “You need to be able to recharge on your own sometimes. Part of being able to connect is being available to other people, and no one can do that without a break.”
Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
28 July 2014
All three major US stock indexes fell Friday, capping the largest weekly decline in US stock markets in nearly two months. The catalyst for Friday’s sell-off was a very weak series of sales figures and projections from three corporations tied to consumer spending: Amazon, the largest online retailer; Wal-Mart, the largest brick-and-mortar retailer; and Visa, the credit and debit card transaction company.
More broadly, the stock market tremors reflect growing concern within the ruling class that share values, which have doubled, and in some cases tripled, since their 2009 lows, are on the verge of another historic collapse.
The open secret of the US economy is that the extraordinary rise in the stock markets is entirely disconnected from the process of production. While US economic growth was only 1.8 percent last year, below the average of the previous three years, the S&P 500 stock index shot up more than 20 percent. In the first quarter of this year, as the economy contracted at a rate of nearly three percent, all three US stock indexes continued to rise.
The stock market rally is based on two interconnected elements: the systematic transfer of wealth from the working class to the financial elite, and the provision of an essentially unlimited flow of cash into the financial system by the Federal Reserve.
The stock market bubble has facilitated mergers and acquisitions designed to inflate corporate stock prices by mass layoffs and cost cutting, further choking off economic growth. Such mergers and acquisitions are up by some 50 percent over the past year. A case in point was Microsoft’s announcement this month of 18,000 worldwide layoffs in the aftermath of its $7 billion acquisition of Nokia’s mobile division.
Corporate profits as a share of US GDP were higher last year than any year on records going back to the late 1940s. A measure of the speculative fever that has once again gripped corporate America: companies are using these profits not for investment, but rather to swell executive pay, raise dividends, and buy back their own stocks. Stock buybacks reached their second-highest level on record in the first quarter of this year, behind only the second quarter of 2007, just before the financial meltdown.
The fact that the stock market rally is clearly unstable has generated murmurs of concern from some quarters. Earlier this month, Fitch Ratings Agency warned of an “increasing anxiety among investors that valuations reflect too much money chasing too few income-producing assets.” The rating agency added, “Investors feel they have little choice but to invest in whatever comes to market, despite the continuing fall in yields and coupons.”
One commentator warned this month in the New York Times of an “Everything Bubble” in which “there are very few unambiguously cheap assets.” These warnings echoed concerns raised by the Bank of International Settlements, which concluded late last month that “it is hard to avoid the sense of a puzzling disconnect between the markets’ buoyancy and underlying economic developments.”
The most categorical warning comes from John P. Hussman, a former University of Michigan professor and current investment fund manager who published a memo this week entitled, “Yes, This Is An Equity Bubble.” He concluded, “Make no mistake – this is an equity bubble, and a highly advanced one. On the most historically reliable measures, it is easily beyond 1972 and 1987, beyond 1929 and 2007, and is now within about 15% of the 2000 extreme.” He concludes, “The Federal Reserve can certainly postpone the collapse of this bubble, but only by making the eventual outcome that much worse.”
Soaring corporate profits and stock values have accompanied an enormous decline in social conditions for the vast majority of the US population. According to one recent study, the inflation-adjusted net worth of a typical US household has declined by 36 percent between 2003 and 2014. Median household income in the US plummeted by 8.3 percent between 2007 and 2012, and the number of people using food stamps has increased by 70 percent since 2008.
The enormous social retrogression of American society is summed up in one statistic: one in four children in the United States live below the official poverty line, while one in five are at risk of going hungry.
The 2008 collapse nearly brought down the entire world financial system and sparked a global recession, with no recovery. The Fed has lowered interest rates to essentially zero, where they have stayed for nearly six years, allowing banks access to cash for free. Through a variety of asset purchasing programs, the Fed has tripled the size of its balance sheet since 2008. This policy has been mimicked internationally, coupled with ever more brutal austerity measures directed at the working class.
This game cannot go on forever. Ultimately, the valuations of financial assets must come crashing down. The consequences of the coming crash will be even more dramatic than those of the 2008 financial meltdown.
The US ruling elite has reached a historical dead end. It staggers from crisis to crisis, trying to put out fires with gasoline. This pragmatic, shortsighted and parasitic approach to the crisis of the US economy is expressive of the basic physiognomy of the financial elite. This is a social layer that has amassed its wealth not through productive activity, but through the looting of society: raiding pension funds, slashing wages, shutting down industrial facilities and laying off workers.
This internal socioeconomic crisis of American capitalism is a significant factor in US foreign policy, the extraordinary recklessness with which the ruling class and its representatives in the political and media establishment stoke conflict all over the world.
Facing an economic and political disaster at home, the US ruling elite seeks through war a desperate means to shore up its position in the global economy and deflect social anger at home into wars and interventions abroad. Each stage of the economic crisis has been accompanied by an every greater paroxysm of imperialist violence.
The policy of the American ruling class is, in a profound sense, insane. However, it is a socially conditioned insanity, an insanity that expresses a bankrupt economic system and a social order on the eve of revolution.