End of Corporate Personhood and Citizenship

Awkward! The idea of ‘corporate personhood’ relies on the same Amendment that gives birthright citizenship
by Mark Ames
(from REAL Democracy History Calendar: August 27 – September 2)

“[M]ost of the GOP candidates want to change the 14th Amendment to deny birthright citizenship to children born here to foreign parents…

“But beyond the twisted racist dementia fueling this, there’s another problem for these GOP candidates: Section One of the 14th Amendment, granting birthright citizenship to anyone born in the US, is also the same section of the same amendment interpreted by our courts to grant corporations “personhood”…

“So to repeat: GOP candidates from Trump and Bush down the line to Silicon Valley’s boy-disrupter Rand Paul want to revoke citizenship to living humans born in the US to foreign parents; but they support granting citizenship rights and guarantees to artificial persons –corporations – which are really legal fictions granted by the states, allowing a pool of investors legal liability and tax advantages in order to profit more than they otherwise would as mere living humans”…

“And here we are today—where we have an Amendment meant to protect vulnerable and abused minorities now under attack from Lincoln’s party, who at the same time want to use the same section in the same amendment to protect fictitious artificial persons and allow them greater rights and powers than even those of us born here to American parents.”

Now That We’re Talking About Citizenship, Let’s Revoke Corporate Personhood
by C. Robert Gibson
(from REAL Democracy History Calendar: August 20 – 26)

“Thanks to Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, the media is now entertaining discussion on the idea of revoking citizenship for human beings, to the point where the media is calculating the cost of these insane and unconstitutional proposals. If Trump wants to revoke the citizenship of people who are using up all of our resources and not paying taxes, and if the media really wants to have the conversation, let’s start with multinational corporations…

“A constitutional amendment that explicitly states that corporations aren’t people, and that money is not speech would do the trick. The organization Move to Amend is doing just that, and have roughly 535 resolutions that have either been passed at the local/state level or are currently in progress. State legislatures in Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, Montana, Vermont, and West Virginia have already passed such resolutions.

“Donald Trump has been able to shift the Overton Window of acceptable political discourse far to the right in just a matter of weeks, to where the media is now entertaining discussion on the idea of revoking citizenship for human beings. The left must be just as willing to push the discussion toward revoking corporate citizenship due to the harm they’ve caused to our political process, as well as our public programs that have been slashed to the bone due to corporations avoiding billions in taxes.”

“…we can’t pretend they don’t exist anymore.”

James Bridle (from YouTube transcript):

But the other thing, the thing that really gets to me about this, is that I’m not sure we even really understand how we got to this point. We’ve taken all of this influence, all of these things, and munged them together in a way that no one really intended. And yet, this is also the way that we’re building the entire world.

We’re taking all of this data, a lot of it bad data, a lot of historical data full of prejudice, full of all of our worst impulses of history, and we’re building that into huge data sets and then we’re automating it. And we’re munging it together into things like credit reports, into insurance premiums, into things like predictive policing systems, into sentencing guidelines. This is the way we’re actually constructing the world today out of this data.

And I don’t know what’s worse, that we built a system that seems to be entirely optimized for the absolute worst aspects of human behavior, or that we seem to have done it by accident, without even realizing that we were doing it, because we didn’t really understand the systems that we were building, and we didn’t really understand how to do anything differently with it.

There’s a couple of things I think that really seem to be driving this most fully on YouTube, and the first of those is advertising, which is the monetization of attention without any real other variables at work, any care for the people who are actually developing this content, the centralization of the power, the separation of those things. And I think however you feel about the use of advertising to kind of support stuff, the sight of grown men in diapers rolling around in the sand in the hope that an algorithm that they don’t really understand will give them money for it suggests that this probably isn’t the thing that we should be basing our society and culture upon, and the way in which we should be funding it.

And the other thing that’s kind of the major driver of this is automation, which is the deployment of all of this technology as soon as it arrives, without any kind of oversight, and then once it’s out there, kind of throwing up our hands and going, “Hey, it’s not us, it’s the technology.” Like, “We’re not involved in it.” That’s not really good enough, because this stuff isn’t just algorithmically governed, it’s also algorithmically policed. When YouTube first started to pay attention to this, the first thing they said they’d do about it was that they’d deploy better machine learning algorithms to moderate the content.

Well, machine learning, as any expert in it will tell you, is basically what we’ve started to call software that we don’t really understand how it works. And I think we have enough of that already. We shouldn’t be leaving this stuff up to AI to decide what’s appropriate or not, because we know what happens. It’ll start censoring other things. It’ll start censoring queer content. It’ll start censoring legitimate public speech. What’s allowed in these discourses, it shouldn’t be something that’s left up to unaccountable systems. It’s part of a discussion all of us should be having.

But I’d leave a reminder that the alternative isn’t very pleasant, either. YouTube also announced recently that they’re going to release a version of their kids’ app that would be entirely moderated by humans. Facebook — Zuckerberg said much the same thing at Congress, when pressed about how they were going to moderate their stuff. He said they’d have humans doing it. And what that really means is, instead of having toddlers being the first person to see this stuff, you’re going to have underpaid, precarious contract workers without proper mental health support being damaged by it as well. And I think we can all do quite a lot better than that.

The thought, I think, that brings those two things together, really, for me, is agency. It’s like, how much do we really understand — by agency, I mean: how we know how to act in our own best interests. Which — it’s almost impossible to do in these systems that we don’t really fully understand. Inequality of power always leads to violence. And we can see inside these systems that inequality of understanding does the same thing. If there’s one thing that we can do to start to improve these systems, it’s to make them more legible to the people who use them, so that all of us have a common understanding of what’s actually going on here.

The thing, though, I think most about these systems is that this isn’t, as I hope I’ve explained, really about YouTube. It’s about everything. These issues of accountability and agency, of opacity and complexity, of the violence and exploitation that inherently results from the concentration of power in a few hands — these are much, much larger issues. And they’re issues not just of YouTube and not just of technology in general, and they’re not even new. They’ve been with us for ages.

But we finally built this system, this global system, the internet, that’s actually showing them to us in this extraordinary way, making them undeniable. Technology has this extraordinary capacity to both instantiate and continue all of our most extraordinary, often hidden desires and biases and encoding them into the world, but it also writes them down so that we can see them, so that we can’t pretend they don’t exist anymore.

We need to stop thinking about technology as a solution to all of our problems, but think of it as a guide to what those problems actually are, so we can start thinking about them properly and start to address them.

“Everything is Going According to Plan”: Being an Activist in the Anthropocene

“Everything is going according to plan. I don’t know whose plan it is, and I think that it’s a really stupid plan, but everything is going according to it anyway.”
— Dmitry Orlov


“What If It’s Already Too Late”

I had a terrible thought recently …

“What if it’s already too late?”

Actually, this idea has been haunting me, hovering on the boundary between my conscious and unconscious mind, for some time.

In 2016, Bill McKibben, founder of the climate activist organization 350.org, came to speak at a rally at the BP tar sands refinery in my “backyard” in the highly industrialized northwest corner Indiana.  The occasion was a series of coordinated direct actions around the world against the fossil fuel industry, collectively hailed as the largest direct action in the history of the environmental movement.

What struck me about McKibben’s speech, though, was its tone of … well, hopelessness. Here’s how he concluded his 10 minute speech:

“I wish that I could guarantee you that we’re all going to win in the end, the whole thing. And I can’t, because we…

View original post 4,471 more words

“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

This social order, this political system, this economy — it is the best we can hope for, some claim. The best of all possible worlds. Or else the best under present conditions. Good enough for the time being. Be grateful for what we have. It could be a lot worse. Accordingly, what we should accept: A little less suffering is good even if not confronting the cause for the time being, as pain management for the symptoms is better than nothing at all. Let’s moderate and reform a bad system, small steps toward small changes. We’ll deal with the real issues and hard problems later on… after the next election… after the next crisis…

Just don’t rock the boat or we might capsize. Radical ideals and revolutionary aspirations are dangerous. Let’s settle for compromise, no matter how imperfect, no matter how often it fails, no matter how bad it gets. We need to be reasonable and practical, to be patient and accept the lesser evil. After all, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Keep our dreams manageable. Because if you shoot for the stars, you might crash and burn. It’s better to stay safe and succeed at low standards. These are dangerous times and we are fighting a rearguard action. This is not time for big talk. The barbarians are at the gate. Let’s just hunker down and hope the storm passes.

And on and on.

Bullshit! That isn’t good enough, not for those suffering and oppressed. These are the excuses of fearful children cowering before abuse, of the comfortable classes trying to soothe their own guilty consciences while they look the other way.

On this day in 1936, David Lummis was born. And on the same date a little over a quarter century later in 1963, W.E.B. Dubois died. The former said that, “The spirit of democracy appears now and then in history, at those moments when people fight for it. If you try to achieve democracy by waiting for it, you will wait forever.” And the latter had similar sentiments: “Call back some faint spirit of Jefferson and Lincoln, and when again we can hold a fair election on real issues, let’s vote, and not till then. Is this impossible? Then democracy in America is impossible.” (see REAL Democracy History Calendar: August 27 – September 2)

Those are words not intended for the faint hearts of good liberals with their good intentions. These aren’t calm and compliant voices. Instead, the sentiment expressed is that of immediacy and urgency. There is no time like the present, and it will only get worse and harder as time goes on. This attitude of social responsibility and moral courage is nothing new. It’s what our country was founded upon, what the greatest of the revolutionaries hoped for us later generations — in the words of Thomas Paine, the most democratic of the founders, on more than one occasion:

“I prefer peace. But if trouble must come, let it come in my time, so that my children can live in peace.” And: “If we fail to act, we’re self-deceiving cowards condemning our children to tyranny and cheating the world of a beacon of liberty.” And: “let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.” And another:

“As parents, we can have no joy, knowing that this government is not sufficiently lasting to ensure any thing which we may bequeath to posterity: And by a plain method of argument, as we are running the next generation into debt, we ought to do the work of it, otherwise we use them meanly and pitifully. In order to discover the line of our duty rightly, we should take our children in our hand, and fix our station a few years farther into life; that eminence will present a prospect which a few present fears and prejudices conceal from our sight.”

Paine’s only child was lost earlier in his life when his wife died in childbirth. It didn’t stop him from caring about the children of others, from being willing to sacrifice his own personal benefit for the sake of future generations. He had many opportunities to have settled down and lived an easy life. Yet it wasn’t in him to remain silent before injustice and bow down before oppression. Yes, he was quite capable of being an asshole and a troublemaker but more important he did it with moral righteousness. Having watched The Young Karl Marx, I realized much of the same could describe Marx as well, someone who like Paine refused to back down from what he knew was right.

Without righteous assholes pushing for change, there would have been no revolutionary era, no progressive reform, no abolition of slavery, no labor movement, no universal suffrage, and no United States as a battleground for justice and fairness. Paine for certain was ahead of his time and, in many ways, he is ahead of our time as well (such as his having advocated for the equivalent of a basic income). What are we waiting for to finally live up to the vision and ideals our country was founded upon? If the time has never been quite right for fully functioning democracy in more than two centuries of American history, the time will never be right. Otherwise, we have to accept that the time is always right when what needs to be done is before us, a lesson hammered home by the fiery sermonizing of Martin Luther King, jr:

“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”

The thing is the American public knows this. They feel the urgency in the everyday experience of their lives, as the chasm of inequality grows. Americans feel stressed and anxious, often desperate in not knowing what is coming next. This isn’t a stable situation that will last much longer. Maintaining the status quo and seeking gradual reform is not an option at this point. Either we collectively make major changes that transform our society or revolution will follow, probably sooner than later.

None of this is a secret. The population is getting restless and, as long as freedom and justice is denied, we’ll keep getting demagogues like Donald Trump and eventually an authoritarian far more dangerous. Most Americans have lost faith in public institutions and, realizing how it is rigged by dark money and hidden influences, have stopped voting in most elections. This leaves the field open for the worst elements in our society. If the ruling elite keep this up, they might as well point a gun at their own heads because that is essentially what they’re doing. All of their power-mongering will harm themselves in the end.

The public has made clear what they are demanding. The problem is the public, short of revolution, has no power to enforce their demands. Still, the demands remain and the pressure continues to build, as the American public shifts further to the left of the political establishment… and in reaction, the political establishment pushes further right.

For example, the Clintons and Obama only came out in support of same sex marriage a few years ago, long after the majority of Americans had already declared being in favor. This same pattern is seen on numerous popular and important issues, from abortion rights to free college tuition. Also, consider the fact that most Americans have long wanted healthcare reform far to the left of anything Democratic politicians were willing to fight for and their corporate backers were willing to allow. Even now, the Washington cronies of the DNC won’t back the radical healthcare reform that the public is demanding, despite the majority of Republicans having joined the majority of Americans in supporting Medicare for all. The same is establishment failure is seen with net neutrality, as 83% of voters and three out of four Republicans are in support). And I could list many other examples.

The DNC follows, doesn’t lead.

Pause for a moment, take a deep breath, and let that sink in. On issues like this that could decide elections, the DNC is to the right of the average Republican. That is mind blowing! Claims of lesser evil that again and again leads to ever greater evil? No thanks and fuck you! And Democratic ignoramuses pretend to act surprised by how Donald Trump, in having made promises reminiscent of the New Deal (e.g., infrastructure rebuilding), won the presidency. Maybe it has something to do with their own candidates being neck-deep in corruption and cronyism, not to mention their pockets overflowing with dirty money. The American public isn’t so stupid as to not realize that the Clintons are full of shit and a danger to our society. There was no lesser evil but instead two greater evils, one a blunt force trauma to the skull that was an immediate shock to the body politic and the other a putrid gangrenous rot that will kill more slowly.

The polarization isn’t between conservative and liberals but between the powerful and disfranchised, the rich and the poor, the comfortable and desperate, those against self-governance and those for it (this has been true for centuries, going back to the American Revolution: “we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”). A century ago, popular conservative politicians made powerful conservative arguments for economic populism and corporate regulation: “The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth,” as it was put by Theodore Roosevelt (New Nationalism speech), a born plutocrat who was no friend of left-wingers but smart enough to know the only sustainable path into the future was social democracy. Here we are after generations of hard fighting and what do we have? Supposed ‘liberals’ like the Clinton Democrats are in the back pocket of big money (of big tech, big banks, etc) with their backroom deals, closed door talks, and games of pay-to-play. This has given covering fire for Republicans to go far right-wing and so given a platform for the most radical of reactionaries.

The ruling elite keeps talking about moderation and centrism. But we the American public don’t want moderation toward the center of the ruling elite. What we want is fairness and justice, pure and simple. If democracy is allowed, most Americans would love to have it. Failing that, there are darker paths we could go down. That would be a sad fate for a country that began with so much promise. We shouldn’t allow that to happen, not without a fight. Instead, let us choose democracy and commit to it with every fiber of our being. No matter how dark it gets, it’s never too late to do the right thing. Now is the time.

“…just order themselves.”

“Walking through the Montreal airport, my 10-year-old observes: “It’s interesting how people, without any signs or directions, just order themselves. It’s almost like they mindlessly work together.”” That was shared by Corey Robin, on Twitter (ignore the fact that airports do have signs and directions, the point being that people who regularly take flights at a particular airport don’t consciously need to pay attention to the signs and directions, as a driver on familiar roads can get to their destination on mental automatic mode). To which David Crespo responded that it “reminds me of what Herbert Simon said about complex behavior coming more from the complexity of the environment than the complexity of the agent.”

Crespo then points to a passage (from The Sciences of the Artificial), ending with this conclusion: “We watch an ant make his laborious way across a wind- and wave-molded beach. He moves ahead, angles to the right to ease his climb up a steep dune let, detours around a pebble, stops for a moment to exchange information with a compatriot. […] It is a sequence of irregular, angular segments — not quite a random walk, for it has an underlying sense of direction, of aiming toward a goal. […] He has a general sense of where home lies, but he cannot foresee all the obstacles between. He must adapt his course repeatedly to the difficulties he encounters and often detour uncrossable barriers. His horizons are very close, so that he deals with each obstacle as he comes to it; he probes for ways around or over it, without much thought for future obstacles. It is easy to trap him into deep detours. Viewed as a geometric figure, the ant’s path is irregular, complex, hard to describe. But its complexity is really a complexity in the surface of the beach, not a complexity in the ant.” That is to say behavior exists within environmental constraints. A simple but profound observation. And often forgotten.

Let me put it into a different context. The ego-mind with its thick isolating boundaries of hyper-individualism, the post-bicameral Jaynesian consciousness of self-authorization (“…just order themselves,” as Robin’s kid observed) — this has never fully taken hold. It’s more of a story we tell ourselves than anything else, not to dismiss the power of stories in constructing social reality nor to dismiss the potent realism of its all too real consequences.

The closest we have to self-aware willpower might be Benjamin Libet’s veto power, that is the inhibition of volition. Not free will but free won’t. Still, that doesn’t tell us the source of inhibition, even as an action being vetoed elicits what is subjectively experienced as consciousness. A point not to ignore is that consciousness doesn’t seem to emerge until that moment of volitionary crisis, when two aspects of self come into conflict. Most of the time, this isn’t an issue. We simply go along, following our routines and scripts, automatons of learned behavior and heuristics.

It’s easy to miss the significance of this. We have no way of pulling back the curtain of our own mind to see what, if anything, is acting behind the scenes. Even probing into the brain can’t pull us up by the bootstraps into this aspirational ideal of self-understanding. Libet simply points to the moment of consciousness as it emerges, in medias res. If nothing else, this demonstrates what we are not, whatever it may or may not say about what we are. The mystery remains (see Conal Boyce, “Recovering from Libet’s Left Turn into Veto-as-Volition“).

We are in the territory of embodied mind and extended mind, of situated cognition. We live in a world of hyper-objects that are cast as shadows by collective hyper-subjectivity, a reminder of other modes of being (such as what Timothy Morton calls entangledness: “Knowing more about hyperobjects is knowing more about how we are hopelessly fastened to them.”), modes of being that if not acknowledged become demonic as forces of nature (e.g., climate change). We are immersed, not standing outside peering in. Some of this is discussed by Patrick Grim in his lecture “Thinking Body and Extended Mind”, as part of The Great Courses’ Mind-Body Series:

“The core of [J.J.] Gibson’s theory of perception is that we don’t perceive objects and don’t operate cognitively in terms of representations. What we perceive, what any animal perceives, are what Gibson terms affordances.

“Squirrels don’t see trees, represent them internally, and calculate how to climb them. What they see is something more immediate and more action-oriented than that. They see a way up. That way up, the thing Gibson says they really see, isn’t an object, but an affordance.

“We don’t see a door hinge to the right, a knob, and calculate that we can get out of the room by turning the knob. We see something much more immediate and much more action-oriented than that. We see a way out. That way out isn’t an object, but an affordance. For Gibson, a mind in the world operates in terms of those performances…”

Ah, a way out. That is a funny phrase, one that caught my attention in a book by Anke Snoek, Agamben’s Joyful Kafka. Although already familiar with Franz Kafka’s fiction, Snoek gave me new perspective (Kindle Locations 358-375):

“Kafka’s ideas on imprisonment, catastrophe, freedom and ways out are not as simple as they might seem on the first reading of, for example, The Trial . The short story ‘A Report to an Academy’ provides further insight into the type of freedom that Kafka had in mind. The hunting expedition of the Hagenbeck Company captured an ape. To train him, they put him in a very small cage on the company’s steamboat, a cage that was too low for him to stand up and too small for him to sit down. At the same time the sailors tormented him. The ape realizes that if he wants to live he has to find a way out. But he does not contrast his distressing situation with freedom: ‘No, it was not freedom I wanted. Just a way out; to the right, to the left, wherever ; I made no other demands ’. 24 The way out is not directed so much to a specific goal, i.e. freedom or return, but is simply a way out.”

This relates to Giorgio Agamben’s notion of ‘gesture’. A gesture is not freedom but a confounding of systems of power and oppression. It’s important to be reminded that, according to Julian Jaynes, post-bicameral consciousness is not only the ground of individualism but authoritarianism as well. Once humans were shook loose from the bicameral mind, new systems of control came to the fore, both in controlling others and controlling the self.

This brings us back to what is doing the controlling. I’d suggest that the divine voices that once directed Bronze Age humans still direct us. The difference is that we internalized them and, in the fashion of Stockholm Syndrome, came to identify with one of our captors, a singular and monolithic egoic tyrant who rules the seat of our soul — that is to say we have been possessed and enthralled ever since. We aren’t free and can’t hope to be free, at least not on the terms of the demiurgic ego-mind. The best we can do is offer a gesture or rather become a gesture, the closest approximation to Libet’s veto power.

Maybe the only way to become truly aware of the self is by becoming aware of the world that surrounds us. The kind of culture and language, social order and environmental conditions, lifeworld and mazeway, reality tunnel and ideology —- however you wish to describe the world we are thrown into by circumstances of inheritance and birth — shapes who we are and how we think, what choices we perceive and how we act. As with the ant, we live moment to moment, not seeing the trajectory of our path from where we came from to where we are going. We are like the river defined by the contours of the land, meandering this way and that, damned up here and flowing over that way, but always heading in a particular direction.

Rather than simplifying down the human to the manageable size of ant-like, maybe this viewpoint has ended up revealing how complex we are in our immensity — far beyond isolated bodies and individual egos. The negative space between confining boundaries is not who we are. Instead, as water is shaped by what contains and directs it, we are the world around us; and as the water seeps into the earth, we are intimately a part of it and embedded within it. This doesn’t make us lesser but greater. The functioning of an airport is no less impressive than the building of a pyramid. Be amazed that we make it seem so simple in our mindlessly working together, somehow getting to where we are going.

* * *

Related Posts:

“Beyond that, there is only awe.”
Edge of the Depths
On Being Strange
Dark Matter of the Mind
Bundle Theory: Embodied Mind, Social Nature
Radical Human Mind: From Animism to Bicameralism and Beyond
The Psychology and Anthropology of Consciousness
Reading Voices Into Our Minds
Lock Without a Key
“How awful for you! By the looks of it, you’ve developed a soul.”
Pacifiers, Individualism & Enculturation
Making Gods, Making Individuals
Spoken Language: Formulaic, Musical, & Bicameral
Music and Dance on the Mind
The Group Conformity of Hyper-Individualism
Delirium of Hyper-Individualism
Individualism and Isolation
Incentives of Individualism

Health From Generation To Generation

Traveling around the world, Weston A. Price visited numerous traditional communities. Some of them hunter-gatherers and others agricultural, including some rural communities in Europe. This was earlier last century when industrialization had yet to take hold in most places, a very different time in terms of diet, even in the Western world.

What he found was how healthy these people were, whether they consumed more or less meat, dairy or not — although none were vegetarian (the typical pre-agricultural diet was about 1/3 to 2/3 animal products, often a large part of it saturated fat). The commonality is that they ate nutrient-dense foods, much of it raw, fermented, or prepared traditionally (the singlemost nutrient-dense food is organ meats). As a dentist, the first thing Price looked for was dental health. A common feature of these traditional societies was well-developed jaws and bone structure, straight uncrowded teeth, few cavities facial symmetry, etc. These people never saw a dentist or orthodontist, didn’t brush or floss, and yet their teeth were in excellent condition into old age.

This obviously was not the case with Price’s own American patients that didn’t follow a traditional diet and lifestyle. And when he visited prisons, he found that bone development and dental health was far worse, as indicators of worse general health and by implication worse neurocognitive health (on a related note, testing has shown that prisoners have higher rates of lead toxicity, which harms health in diverse ways). Between malnutrition and toxicity, it is unsurprising that there are so many mentally ill people housed in prisons, especially after psychiatric institutions were closed down.

Another early figure in researching diet and health was Francis M. Pottenger Jr, an American doctor. While working as a full-time assistant at a sanatorium, he did a study on cats. He fed some cats a raw food diet, some a cooked food diet, and another group got some of both. He also observed that the cooked food diet caused developmental problems of bone and dental structure. The results were worse than that, though. For the cats fed cooked food, the health of the next generation declined even further. By the third generation, they didn’t reach adulthood. There was no generation after that.

I was reading about this at work. In my normal excitement about learning something new, I shared this info with a coworker, a guy who has some interest in health but is a conventional thinker. He immediately looked for reasons for why it couldn’t be true, such as claiming that the generations of cats kept as pets disproves Pottenger’s observations. Otherwise, so the argument goes, domestic cats would presumably have gone extinct by now.

That was easy to counter, considering most pets are born strays who ate raw food or born to parents who were strays. As for purebred cats, I’m sure breeders have already figured out that a certain amount of raw food (or supplementation of enzymes, microbes, etc that normally would be found in raw food) is necessary for long term feline health. Like processed human food, processed pet food is heavily fortified with added nutrients, which likely counteracts some of the negative consequences to a cooked food diet. Pottenger’s cats weren’t eating fortified cooked food, but neither were the cats fed raw food getting any extra nutrients.

The thing is that prior to industrialization food was never fortified. All the nutrients humans (and cats) needed to not only survive but thrive was available in a traditional/natural diet. The fact that we have to fortify foods and take multivitamins is evidence of something severely wrong with the modern, industrialized food system. But that only lessens the health problems slightly. As with Pottenger’s cats, even the cats on a cooked food diet who had some raw food added didn’t avoid severely decreased health. Considering the emerging health crisis, the same appears to be true of humans.

The danger we face is that the effects are cumulative across the generations, the further we get from a traditional diet. We are only now a few generations into the modern Western diet. Most humans were still consuming raw milk and other traditional foods not that long ago. Earlier last century, the majority of Americans were rural and had access to fresh organic food from gardens and farms, including raw milk from pastured cows and fertile eggs from pastured chickens (pastured meaning high in omega-3s).

Even living in a large city, one of my grandfathers kept rabbits and chickens for much of his life and kept a garden into his old age. That means my mother was raised with quite a bit of healthy food, as was my father living in a small town surrounded by farms. My brothers and I are the first generation in our family to eat a fully modern industrialized diet from childhood. And indeed, we have more mental/neurocognitive health problems than the generations before. I had a debilitating learning disorder diagnosed in elementary school and severe depression clearly showing in 7th grade, one brother had stuttering and anxiety attacks early on, and my oldest brother had severe allergies in childhood that went untreated for years and since then has had a host of ailments (also, at least one of my brothers and I have suspected undiagnosed Asperger’s or something like that, but such conditions weren’t being diagnosed when we were in school). One thing to keep in mind is that my brothers and I are members of the generation that received one of the highest dosages of lead toxicity in childhood, prior to environmental regulations limiting lead pollution; and research has directly and strongly correlated that to higher rates of criminality, suicide, homicide, aggressive behavior, impulse control problems, lowered IQ, and stunted neurocognitive development (also many physical health conditions).

The trend of decline seems to be continuing. My nieces and nephews eat almost nothing but heavily processed foods, way more than my brothers and I had in our own childhoods, and the produce they do eat is mostly from nutrient-depleted soil, along with being filled with farm chemicals and hormones — all of this having continuously worsened these past decades. They are constantly sick (often every few weeks) and, even though still in grade school, all have multiple conditions such as: Asperger’s, learning disorder, obsessive-compulsion, failure to thrive, asthma, joint pain, etc.

If sugar was heroin, my nephew could be fairly called a junky (regularly devouring bags of candy and on more than one occasion eating a plain bowl of sugar; one step short of snorting powdered sugar and mainlining high fructose corn syrup). And in making these observations, I speak from decades of experience as a junkfood junky, most of all a sugar addict, though never quite to the same extreme. My nieces too have a tremendous intake of sugar and simple carbs, as their families’ vegetarianism doesn’t emphasize vegetables (since going on the paleo diet, I’ve been eating more organic nutrient-dense vegetables and other wholesome foods than my brothers and their families combined) — yet their diet fits well into the Standard American Diet (SAD) and, as the USDA suggests, they get plenty of grains. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or all of them already has pre-diabetes and likely will get diabetes before long, as is becoming common in their generation. The body simply can only take so much harm. I know the damage done to my own body and mind from growing up in this sick society and I hate to see even worse happening to the generations following.

To emphasize this point, the testing of newborn babies in the United States shows that they’ve already accumulated on average more than 200 synthetic chemicals from within the womb; and then imagine all the further chemicals they get from the breast milk of their unhealthy mothers along with all kinds of crap in formulas and in their environments (e.g., carcinogenic fire retardants that they breathe 24/7). Lead toxicity has decreased since my own childhood and that is a good thing, but thousands of new toxins and other chemicals have replaced it. On top of that, the hormones, hormone mimics, and hormone disruptors add to dysbiosis and disease — some suggesting this is a cause of puberty’s greater variance than in past generations, either coming earlier or later depending on gender and other factors (maybe partly explaining the reversal and divergence of educational attainment for girls and boys). Added to this mix, this is the first generation of human guinea pigs to be heavily medicated from childhood, much of it medications that have been shown to permanently alter neurocognitive development.

A major factor in many modern diseases is inflammation. This has many causes from leaky gut to toxicity, the former related to diet and often contributing to the latter (in how the leaky gut allows molecules to more easily cross the gut lining and get into the bloodstream where they can freely travel throughout the body — causing autoimmune disorders, allergies, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, etc). But obesity is another main cause of inflammation. And one might note that, when the body is overloaded and not functioning optimally, excess toxins are stored in fat cells — which makes losing weight even more difficult as toxins are released back into the body, and if not flushed out causing one to feel sick and tired.

It’s not simply bad lifestyle choices. We are living in unnatural and often outright toxic conditions. Many of the symptoms that we categorize as diseases are the bodies attempt to make the best of a bad situation. All of this adds up to a dysfunctional level across society. Our healthcare system is already too expensive for most people to afford. And the largest part of public funding for healthcare is going to diabetes alone. But the saddest part is the severe decrease in quality of life, as the rate of mood and personality disorders skyrockets. It’s not just diet. For whatever reason (toxins? stress?), with greater urbanization has come greater levels of schizophrenia and psychosis. And autism, a rare condition in the past, has become highly prevalent (by the way, one of the proven effective treatments for autism is a paleo/keto diet; also effective for autoimmune conditions among much else).

It’s getting worse and worse, generation after generation. Imagine what this means in terms of epigenetics and transgenerational trauma, as nutritional deficits and microbiotic decimation accumulates, exacerbated by a society driven mad through inequality and instability, stress and anxiety. If not for nutrients added to our nutrient poor food and supplements added to our unhealthy diet, we’d already be dying out as a society and our civilization would’ve collapsed along with it (maybe similar to how some conjecture the Roman Empire weakened as lead toxicity increased in the population). Under these conditions, that children are our future may not be an affirmation of hope. Nor may these children be filled with gratitude once they’ve reached adulthood and come to realize what we did to them and the world we left them. On the other hand, we aren’t forced to embrace fatalism and cynicism. We already know what to do to turn around all of these problems. And we don’t lack the money or other resources to do what needs to be done. All that we are waiting for is public demand and political will, although that might first require our society reaching a point of existential crisis… we are getting close.

The stumbling block is that there is no profit in the ‘healthcare’ industry for advocating, promoting, incentivizing, and ensuring healthy diet and healthy conditions for a healthy population. Quite the opposite. If disease profiteering was made illegal, there would be trillions of dollars of lost profit every year. Disease is the reality of capitalist realism, a diseased economic system and social order. This collective state of sickliness has become the norm and vested interests will go to great lengths to defend the status quo. But for most who benefit from the dysfunctional and destructive system, they never have to give it much thought. When my mother brought my nephew to the doctor, she pointed out how he is constantly sick and constantly eating a poor diet. The doctor’s response was that this was ‘normal’ for kids (these days), which might be true but the doctor should be shocked and shamed by his own admission. As apathy takes hold and we lose a sense of hope, low standards fall ever lower.

We can’t rely upon the established authority figures in seeking better health for ourselves, our families, and our communities. We know what we need to do. It might not be easy to make such massive changes when everything in society is going against you. And no doubt it is more expensive to eat healthy when the unhealthiest foods (e.g., high fructose corn syrup) are being subsidized by the government. It’s no accident that buying off the dollar menu at a fast food is cheaper than cooking a healthy meal at home. Still, if you are willing to go to the effort (and it is worth the effort), a far healthier diet is possible for many within a limited budget. That is assuming you don’t live in a food desert. But even in that case, there is a movement to create community gardens in poor neighborhoods, people providing for themselves what neither the government nor economy will provide.

Revolutions always begin from the bottom up. Or failing that, the foundations of our society will crumble, as the health of our citizenry declines. It’s a decision we must make, individually and collectively. A choice between two divergent paths leading to separate possible futures. As we have so far chosen suicidal self-destruction, we remain free to choose the other option. As Thomas Paine said, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

* * *

Primal Nutrition
by Ron Schmid, ND
pp. 99-100

Parallels Between Pottenger’s and Price’s Work

While the experiments of McCarrison and Pottenger show the value of raw foods in keeping animals remarkably healthy, one might wonder about the relevance to human needs. Cats are carnivores, humans omnivores, and while the animals’ natural diet is raw, humans have cooked some foods for hundreds of thousands of years. But humans, cats, and guinea pigs are all mammals. And while the human diet is omnivorous, foods of animal origin (some customarily eaten raw) have always formed a substantial and essential part of it.

Problems in cats eating cooked foods provided parallels with the human populations Weston Price studied; the cats developed the same diseases as humans eating refined foods. The deficient generation of cats developed the same dental malformations that children of people eating modernized foods developed, including narrowing of dental arches with attendant crowding of teeth, underbites and overbites, and protruding and crooked teeth. The shape of the cat’s skull and even the entire skeleton became abnormal in severe cases, with concomitant marked behavioral changes.

Price observed these same physical and behavioral changes in both native and modern cultures eating refined foods. These changes accompanied the adoption by a culture of refined foods. In native cultures eating entirely according to traditional wisdom resulted in strength of character and relative freedom from the moral problems of modern cultures. In modern cultures, studies of populations of prisons, reformatories, and homes for the mentally delayed revealed that a large majority of individuals residing there (often approaching 100 percent) had marked abnormalities of the dental arch, often with accompanying changes in the shape of the skull.

This was not coincidence; thinking is a biological process, and abnormal changes in the shape of the skull from one generation to the next can contribute to changes in brain functions and thus in behavior. The behavioral changes in deficient cats were due to changes in nutrition. This was the only variable in Pottenger’s carefully controlled experiments. As with physical degenerative changes, parallels with human populations cannot help but suggest themselves, although the specific nature of the relationship is beyond the scope of this discussion.

Human beings do not have the same nutritional requirements as cats, but whatever else each needs, there is strong empirical evidence that both need a significant amount of certain high-quality raw foods to reproduce and function efficiently.

Class Anxiety of Privilege Denied

There were yet more outraged upper middle class people at work last night. It’s not an isolated incident, working as I have in a parking ramp for the past two decades. I see all types and it’s not as if working class and minority people never get upset, but never quite so often or to the same degree.

This particular couple was so angry that, if it were a cartoon, steam would have been blowing out their ears. They were screaming and honking their horn. They got out of their car a couple of times. I was starting to fear violence and made sure the doors were locked to my booth. It goes without saying that I don’t normally fear for my life while cashiering.

Fortunately, several large muscular police (all of them white) showed up and set these people straight. It’s nice when the police have your back, as a fellow city government employee. It might help that I’m a white guy and so, even as working class, I get some amount of privilege. I’d probably be more worried if I wasn’t white, as there is a history of systemic racism in this town (one of the highest racial disparities of drug arrests in the country; not to mention the last time a well off white guy started a fight with a poor black guy, it was the poor black guy defending himself that the police shot — see below*).

This couple was yelling at me not just because of some abstract notion of privilege, as so much about our society promotes that sense of privilege with concrete results. No doubt they are used to telling people what to do and getting their way. It’s at such times that I’m glad I’m unionized because I have no doubt they will contact my boss and try to get me fired (this is why every worker should be a union member and every workplace should be unionized). What they don’t understand, in their privilege, is that I don’t back down from rich assholes. Then again, neither do I treat anyone differently no matter their socioeconomic class. If someone is nice to me, I’ll do my best to be nice to them. I didn’t care that they have privilege in our society, not in and of itself or not anymore than privilege in general bothers me, but I do care that they flaunted their privilege in trying to intimidate me into submission.

After the incident, I was thinking about why they were so angry. I hadn’t seen anyone that angry in a long time. Even most upper middle class white people are perfectly fine. I rarely have trouble with any customers. Still, why is it that when there is conflict it disproportionately involves those with privilege? What does privilege mean in a high inequality society such as the United States? People like this are among the few who are socially, economically, and politically secure in American society. They have few worries. Paying the 23 bucks for a lost ticket is nothing to them (filling the gas tank of their SUV would cost far more than that). But being treated like a normal person felt like a threat to their entire sense of reality. And indeed it was a threat because without entitlement their identity of superiority can’t be maintained. Probably at stake, in their minds, was the very social order and their place within it.

Few poor minorities would dare to escalate a situation to that level. That is because they have proper respect for the police showing up. This couple, however, had no concept that any and all authority figures wouldn’t automatically take their side no matter what. And they knew that no matter how much trouble they caused the police were unlikely to shoot them or arrest them, as they might do to a poor minority. I intellectually understand that. Yet what really is at the bottom of that fuming outrage? It’s such a strange thing to observe. And I don’t even take it personally. From my view, they really are no different than any other customer. As a unionized government employee, I take it all in stride because I’ve seen it all before. It’s just another day on the job.

I considered the possibility that they had a really bad day for a thousand different possible reasons. Or maybe they had been drinking. But that doesn’t really explain anything. Unhappy drunks and unhappy people in general are as common as they come. Most people, no matter what is going on in their life and no matter their state of mind, don’t have public tantrums that lead to altercations with the police. It was plain weird. I could sense how shocked, flabbergasted they were that they couldn’t get me to do what they told me to do. I do what my employer tells me to do, not what a rich asshole tells me to do. That is how capitalism works. Now if my employer were a rich asshole, that would be a different situation.

This reminds me of Keith Payne’s The Broken Ladder. He explains how high inequality stresses out everyone, including the rich. It creates a social condition of pervasive anxiety, divisiveness, conflict, aggressiveness, short-term thinking, etc. That last one applies here, since it wasn’t only anger but an inability to think of consequences. That couple was completely lost in the all-consuming moment of blind rage to the point of an apoplectic fit. I’d argue that their behavior was morally wrong, at least according to standards of basic humanity, but more than anything their behavior was supremely stupid. That is a point Payne makes, how as inequality worsens so does decision-making ability.

What stands out is that such relatively wealthy people would argue over such a small sum of money, as if they were poor people and I was trying to take away their last dollar. Payne explains this, in demonstrating how people feel poor and act poorly in a high inequality society, even when no poor person is involved in any given situation. The sense of class conflict and status insecurity is a shadow that looms over the lives of us all, rich and poor alike.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to inequality or rather not only to socioeconomic inequality, as there are many forms of disparity between individuals and groups. Any stressor will have similar consequences, but few stressors are likely to have much impact without one kind of inequality or another already being present. It is the differences and divides of inequality that transforms an individual stressor into large-scale and pervasive social stress. This among much else, as Payne explains, leads to the clinging of social identity — from race to politics, but often class. And that is how we come to see our neighbors and fellow citizens as potential threats, as enemy others to be fought and defeated or to go down trying.

In such a state of anxiety and fear, every incident can become a perceived existential threat. But the seeming point of contention focused upon, whether a ramp charge or a political argument, is rarely if ever the real issue. What matters most is how this cuts to the heart of identity and, in these reactionary times, turns the mind toward the reactionary — it not being all that relevant what is being reacted to. Lots of heat, little light.

* * *

The Broken Ladder
by Keith Payne
pp. 2-4 (see earlier post)

As they discovered, the odds of an air rage incident were almost four times higher in the coach section of a plane with a first-class cabin than in a plane that did not have one. Other factors mattered, too, like flight delays. But the presence of a first-class section raised the chances of a disturbance by the same amount as a nine-and-a-half-hour delay.

To test the idea another way, the researchers looked at how the boarding process highlights status differences. Most planes with a first-class cabin board at the front, which forces the coach passengers to trudge down the aisle, dragging their baggage past the well-heeled and the already comfortably seated. But about 15 percent of flights board in the middle or at the back of the plane, which spares the coach passengers this gauntlet. As predicted, air rage was about twice as likely on flights that boarded at the front, raising the chances of an incident by the same amount as waiting out a six-hour delay.

This air rage study is revealing, but not just because it illustrates how inequality drives wedges between the haves and the have-nots. What makes it fascinating to me is that incidents of rage take place even when there are no true have-nots on a flightSince an average economy-class ticket costs several hundred dollars, few genuinely poor people can afford to travel on a modern commercial airplane. Yet even relative differences among the respectable middle-class people flying coach can create conflict and chaos. In fact, the chaos is not limited to coach: First-class flyers in the study were several times more likely to erupt in air rage when they were brought up close and personal with the rabble on front-loading planes. As Ivana Trump’s behavior can attest, when the level of inequality becomes too large to ignore, everyone starts acting strange.

But they do not act strange in just any old way. Inequality affects our actions and our feelings in the same systematic, predictable fashion again and again. It makes us shortsighted and prone to risky behavior, willing to sacrifice a secure future for immediate gratification. It makes us more inclined to make self-defeating decisions. It makes us believe weird things, superstitiously clinging to the world as we want it to be rather than as it is. Inequality divides us, cleaving us into camps not only of income but also of ideology and race, eroding our trust in one another. It generates stress and makes us all less healthy and less happy.

Picture a neighborhood full of people like the ones I’ve described above: shortsighted, irresponsible people making bad choices; mistrustful people segregated by race and by ideology; superstitious people who won’t listen to reason; people who turn to self-destructive habits as they cope with the stress and anxieties of their daily lives. These are the classic tropes of poverty and could serve as a stereotypical description of the population of any poor inner-city neighborhood or depressed rural trailer park. But as we will see in the chapters ahead, inequality can produce these tendencies even among the middle class and wealthy individuals.

What is also notable about the air rage study is that it illustrates that inequality is not the same as poverty, although it can feel an awful lot like it. That phenomenon is the subject of this book. Inequality makes people feel poor and act poor, even when they’re not. Inequality so mimics poverty in our minds that the United States of America, the richest and most unequal of countries, has a lot of features that better resemble a developing nation than a superpower.

* * *

*Let me note one thing, for sake of fairness.

Even with the proven history of racial bias around here, I have to admit that in my personal experience the Iowa City Police are quite professional. Blacks living here very well might have different experience than my own, of course. All I can say is that I’ve observed no police bias, racial or class, in my years as a city employee. Maybe the police are more careful these days about biases, as it does seem they’ve sought to increase diversity of officers.

They dealt with this white upper middle class couple with a calm but firm authority, effectively de-escalating the situation. But I’ve seen them do the exact same thing with a black guy in my cashier lane some years ago. In neither case, did they threaten the customer nor did they have to resort to arresting them. The police here don’t seem to look for trouble, even when the problematic individual is looking for trouble.

I wanted to give credit where it is due. The police handled the situation well. Of the times police have showed up when I was dealing with a customer, I can only think of one time where the officer in question was less than helpful. It’s nice to be able to expect a professional response from the police, considering that evidence implies that isn’t always the case with police departments in some other cities.

Reactionary Revolutionaries, Faceless Men, and God in the Gutter

First there was revolution. And then there was counter-revolution. Therefore, reaction follows what it is reacting to.

This is a simple analysis and, I’d argue, overly simplistic. It is the narrative reactionaries have been telling about themselves for a couple of centuries. It is also the narrative that Mark Lilla repeats in his recent work, The Shipwrecked Mind, which is a useful survey, summary, and synthesis of modern ideological history but not essentially original in framing.

The problem is the reactionary mind is not a modern invention. Many arguments could be made about when it first emerged. For example, I’d place it firmly in the Axial Age or, better  yet, in that earliest of dark ages when the Bronze Age civilizations collapsed and the Jaynesian bicameral mind was lost.

By the time Plato came up with his authoritarian republicanism as a reaction to Athenian democracy, the reactionary mind had already been developing for some time. That was the era when, as Julian Jaynes points out, lament rang out across many populations of the silence, loss, or abandonment of the divine. Nostalgia in one of its most potent form was born.

As with Corey Robin, Mark Lilla is right to mark out nostalgia as an expression of the reactionary. But focusing too much on that can be a red herring. Robin is better than Lilla in pointing out that reactionaries can co-opt almost anything, even radical utopianism or revolution itself.

That is where my own thoughts come in. The modern reactionary mind initially took shape not after the early modern revolutionary period but during it — maybe before it, depending on when one defines the beginning of that period. The reactionary mind as a modern phenomenon was well on its way at least by the English Civil War, what some consider the first modern revolution, although some consider the Peasants’ Revolt an incipient form of this societal shift through conflict and class war.

The point is that the French Revolution was late to the game. That reactionaries finally found their voice following that is not entirely relevant to understanding the reactionary mind and its historical development. What the French Revolution does help us with is in showing another example of how reaction arose within the revolution itself, co-opting it as happened with the American Revolution (related to the rarely acknowledged fact that the American Revolution was a precedent for what followed, including large-scale destruction and violence).

Thomas Paine demonstrates the connections well, but his example also serves to show the complex relationship of reaction to revolution. He was a radical in the American Revolution and his radicalism was profound in its democratic vision. When he was welcomed into the French National Assembly during the French Revolution, he actually sat on the right side with the moderate reformers. It was actually his radicalism for democracy that made him moderate or aligned with more moderate forces.

What Paine specifically advocated was a democratic constitution and leniency to the king, rather than violent despotism and violent vengeance. The Jacobins are called radicals but in reality they were reactionaries or at least the leadership was. They were using the same means that the monarchy had used in enforcing power and silencing opponents. So, the Jacobins, as is typical with reactionaries, wanted to create a new and improved version of the old order by ensuring a rigid hierarchy remained. They weren’t interested in democracy, that is for sure.

That is what Mark Lilla misses. The French reactionaries, like the American reactionaries, took over the revolution through political coup — and this happened during the revolution itself, not afterwards. In France, it happened by the Jacobins seizing power. But in the United States, the Federalists did it through an ironically unconstitutional Constitutional Convention and then afterward they crushed the ongoing revolution.

The relationship between revolution and reaction is entangled. If this isn’t understood, it is likely that the reactionary mind itself can’t be understood. This creates a trap for the mind, in not understanding history we dangerously don’t understand ourselves.

Reactionaries aren’t limited to those other people, Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”. The potential for reaction exists within all of us. A surprising number of Marxists, socialists, communists, and anarchists fell under the sway of early 20th century fascism. The same pattern is seen today with left-wingers who almost unconsciously become fascinated with or drawn toward reactionary thought, often with the rationalization of studying the enemy but it is clear with some that it is more than mere curiosity. The reactionary mind is dangerous for the very reason we see it as something other.

The confusion in all of this is that the reactionary mind is chameleon-like. I’ve come to call them Faceless Men, based on Game of Thrones. Reactionaries rarely present themselves as reactionaries. That means that anyone, under the right conditions, can get pulled into the mindset without realizing it. Reaction is simply an expression of fear an anxiety, once it fully takes hold. The human mind gets weird under high levels of stress (Keith Payne examines one angle on this by way of inequality, in his book The Broken Ladder). It really is that simple.

We need to develop intellectual, ideological, and psychological defenses against the reactionary mind. None of us are born with an immunity. But before we can do that, we have to learn how to identify the pattern of thought and behavior, to discern its incipient forms and the development that follows, to recognize the conditions and causes that make it possible.

This leads to me to another thought. Philip K. Dick has the notion of God in the Gutter. Let me decontextualize it from the monotheistic tradition of deus absconditus. Any powerful ‘god’ that rules over us, over our minds our society, such a ‘god’ is always hidden. And its ability to remain hidden is what I call symbolic conflation, a method of deception, obfuscation, and most importantly misdirection. That is the source of its power. That is also what makes it hard to analyze. Someone like Mark Lilla is taking the reactionary mind at face value, how it presents itself. That is problematic for obvious reasons. Corey Robin is more effective in peeling away the mask to see what is behind.

That is what we all need to be doing in these reactionary times. Lets start rummaging around in the gutter, looking below our normal line of vision, looking through the garbage or what appears to be garbage. But let’s do so with great care.

Reactionary Neo-Imperialism

Neoliberals want a strong oppressive state to keep the masses controlled as cheap labor and consumers, not to mention as submissive imperial subjects that are occasionally useful as cannon fodder. But they more importantly want a hidden form of international neo-imperialism that controls nation-states like puppets on a string. This allows the capitalist class full freedom to do what they want by disallowing anyone else to have enough freedom to conflict with or challenge their interests.

The plutocracy have dual citizenships with bank accounts, real estate, factories, investments, etc in numerous countries. They can move about as they wish. They evade taxes and put their money in offshore accounts. And they move their business dealings wherever it is convenient at the moment with no sense of loyalty and patriotism, duty and pride, responsibility and prudence. But the average worker and middle class professional remains trapped within restrictive laws, regulations, and certifications. The unrestrained flow of the neoliberal market only applies to the filthy rich who do as they please.

This isn’t a new phenomenon exactly. Those in power have always sought freedom for themselves, including the freedom to deny the freedom of others. The only difference is that the corporation and its related institutional forms (lobbyist organizations, think tanks, corporatist trade organizations, along with various nefarious shadowy groups) operate as a new form of government that pretends it isn’t a government. Power in the past never had to remain hidden in this way. This indicates the fundamental weakness and instability of neoliberalism — the neoliberals like to play this off as a dynamic system, since they don’t care about foreboding collapse as long as they have an escape route and a well-stocked bunker.

Interestingly, even the neoliberal attempt to silence economic debate is nothing new. What made the Enlightenment so shocking, specifically during the revolutionary era, was that economic debate became mainstream. Before that, economics was privately dealt with in closed rooms and wasn’t a topic of politics and public debate. As such, neoliberalism is just another reactionary form longing to rebuild a rigid hierarchy like the ancien regime, not exactly the same for it needs to be improved to stop another revolutionary era from ever happening again.

This is why the godfather of neoliberalism, Friedrich Hayek, would defend the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. As with many others, fascism specifically and authoritarianism in general was seen as useful, despite it contradicting everything that neoliberals claimed to believe. Neoliberalism is another one of those non-ideological ideologies, which is to say the true ideology is kept obscure, the Achilles’ Heel of the precarious social order (protected by symbolic conflation). The trick is to force this out into the open. Neoliberalism has no defense against the transparency and scrutiny of democracy, the reason that democracy is always the first target of neoliberal schemes.

As a concluding note, this is what makes the Democratic establishment so dangerous in its offering cover for the neoliberal attack on democracy (e.g., the pay-to-play of the Clinton Foundation) — this is made clear in Paul Krugman’s defense of the greatness of American Imperialism against the threat of President Trump’s undermining of neoliberal hegemony (see Liberalism and Empire by Nathan J. Robonson). The pseudo-liberal reactionaries of the liberal class are the useful idiots who take their marching orders from the corporatocratic party bosses and the corporatist media oligopoly. There would be no neoliberal order without them.

* * *

Neoliberalism’s World Order
by Adam Tooze

Faced with this shocking transformation, neoliberals set out not to demolish the state but to create an international order strong enough to contain the dangerous forces of democracy and encase the private economy in its own autonomous sphere. Before they gathered at Mont Pèlerin, von Mises hosted the original meetings of the neoliberals in the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, where he and his colleagues called for the rolling back of Austrian socialism. They did not think that fascism offered a long-term solution, but, given the threat of revolution, they welcomed Mussolini and the Blackshirts. As von Mises remarked in 1927, fascism “has, for the moment, saved European civilization.” Even in the late 1930s, Wilhelm Röpke, another leading neoliberal, would unabashedly declare that his desire for a strong state made him more “fascist” than many of his readers understood. We should not take this as a light-hearted quip.

The neoliberals were lobbyists for capital. But they were never only that. Working alongside von Mises, the young Friedrich Hayek and Gottfried Haberler were employed in empirical economic research. And it was the networks of interwar business-cycle research that drew key figures from Vienna to Geneva, then home to the League of Nations. The Swiss idyll is the site for much of the rest of Slobodian’s narrative, giving its name to the brand of globalist neoliberalism he labels the “Geneva school.” In the 1930s the League of Nations was a gathering place for economic expertise from across the world. But as Slobodian shows, what marked the Geneva school of neoliberalism was a collective intellectual crisis. In the face of the Great Depression, they not only came to doubt the predictive power of business-cycle research, they came to see the very act of enumerating and counting “the economy” as itself a threat to the order of private property. It was when you conceived of the economy as an object, whether for purposes of scientific investigation or policy intervention, that you opened the door to redistributive, democratic economic policy. Following their own edicts, after crushing the labor movement, the next line of defense of private property was therefore to declare the economy unknowable. For the Austrian neoliberals, this called for reinvention. They stopped doing economics and remade themselves as theorists of law and society. […]

It was in the 1980s that the neoliberals’ long march through the institutions of global economic governance finally carried the day. In this Slobodian agrees with the more familiar narrative. But rather than concentrating on national programs of monetarism, privatization, and union-busting, Slobodian focuses on the transnational dimension: the EU and the WTO. The protagonists of his story are people you have never heard of, second-generation students of the original Austro-German founders, trained as lawyers, not economists—men like Ernst-Joachim Mestmäker and Ernst-Ulrich Petersmann, who shaped the agenda in Brussels and helped to steer global trade policy.

It is a measure of the success of this fascinating, innovative history that it forces the question: after Slobodian’s reinterpretation, where does the critique of neoliberalism stand?

First and foremost, Slobodian has underlined the profound conservatism of the first generation of neoliberals and their fundamental hostility to democracy. What he has exposed, furthermore, is their deep commitment to empire as a restraint on the nation state. Notably, in the case of Wilhelm Röpke, this was reinforced by deep-seated anti-black racism. Throughout the 1960s Röpke was active on behalf of South Africa and Rhodesia in defense of what he saw as the last bastions of white civilization in the developing world. As late as the 1980s, members of the Mont Pèlerin Society argued that the white minority in South Africa could best be defended by weighting the voting system by the proportion of taxes paid. If this was liberalism it was not so much neo- as paleo-.

If racial hierarchy was one of the foundations of neoliberalism’s imagined global order, the other key constraint on the nation-state was the free flow of the factors of production. This is what made the restoration of capital mobility in the 1980s such a triumph. Following in the footsteps of the legal scholar and historian Samuel Moyn, one might remark that it was not by accident that the advent of radical capital mobility coincided with the advent of universal human rights. Both curtailed the sovereignty of nation states. Slobodian traces that intellectual and political association back to the 1940s, when Geneva school economists formulated the argument that an essential pillar of liberal freedom was the right of the wealthy to move their money across borders unimpeded by national government regulation. What they demanded, Slobodian quips, was the human right to capital flight. […]

The overwhelming stress on the priority of “the economy” and its imperatives leads many on the left to adopt a position that mirrors Hayek’s. Following thinkers like Karl Polanyi, they criticize the way that “the economy” has assumed an almost godlike authority. Nor is it by accident that the libertarian left shares Hayek’s distaste for top-down economic policy, what the political scientist James Scott has dubbed “seeing like a state.” As the neoliberals realized in the 1930s, the nation-state and the national economy are twins. If this remains somewhat veiled in the histories of countries like France and the United Kingdom, the conjoined emergence of state power and the developmental imperative was stamped on the face of the postcolonial world.

Such critiques can be radically illuminating by exposing the foundations of key concepts of modernity. But where do they lead? For Hayek this was not a question. The entire point was to silence policy debate. By focusing on broad questions of the economic constitution, rather than the details of economic processes, neoliberals sought to outlaw prying questions about how things actually worked. It was when you started asking for statistics and assembling spreadsheets that you took the first dangerous step toward politicizing “the economy.” In its critique of neoliberalism, the left has challenged this depoliticization. But by failing to enquire into the actual workings of the system, the left has accepted Hayek’s injunction that economic policy debate confine itself to the most abstract and general level. Indeed, the intellectual preoccupation with the critique of neoliberalism is itself symptomatic. We concentrate on elucidating the intellectual logic and history of ideologies and modes of government, rather than investigating processes of accumulation, production, and distribution. We are thus playing the neoliberals at their own game.

The Creed of Ancel Keys

A popular documentary out right now is The Magic Pill. It’s about the Paleo diet with some emphasis on ketosis (low-carb consumption causing fat to be primary energy for cellular metabolism). There are several varieties of the Paleo diet, as there was much diversity in ancient dietary patterns, but there are some key commonalities.

Earlier humans ate little if any grains or beans, often even well into the agricultural period (hunting and gathering remained a mainstay of the American diet for many up into the early-to-mid 20th century, such as my mother’s family when she was growing up). In the distant past and continuing into about a century ago, it was typical to eat lots of raw, fermented, and cultured foods — including meats.

And of course, animal fats with plenty of saturated fats have always been a major food component until the past few generations. It turns out some of the healthiest populations on the planet, including the Mediterranean people, traditionally ate high levels of saturated fats. The Masai, for example, are about as carnivorous as a population can be with heavy emphasis on saturated fats and their health is amazing:

“The Masai are almost pure carnivores, eating mostly milk, blood, and meat. A Masai man drinks up to a gallon of whole milk daily, and on top of that he might also eat a lot of meat containing still more saturated fat and cholesterol. Mann expected the Masai to have high blood cholesterol but was surprised to find it was among the lowest ever measured, about 50 percent lower than that of the average American.”
(Real Food by Nina Planck, p. 61)

Interestingly, Americans too used to load up on animal-related foods and saturated fats, also with a ton of raw whole milk, cheese, and butter. It was only after decades of decline in this earlier diet that Americans began having high rates of all the major diseases that now plague us: obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc.

This leads us to Ancel Keys, the many who promoted much of the present mainstream dietary myths. More than a half century ago, he did some research comparing diets in different regions of the world, but he did so by cherry-picking what fit his preconceptions and ignoring all else (great analysis can be found in numerous videos, articles, and books by Sally Fallon Morell and Mary Enig and at the Weston A. Price Foundation). In Nourishing Diets, Morell writes that (pp. 124-5),

“Critics have pointed out that Keys omitted from his study many areas of the world where consumption of animal foods is high and deaths from heart attack are low, including France — the so-called French paradox. But there is also a Japanese paradox. In 1989, Japanese scientists returned to the same two districts that Keys had studied. In an article titled “lessons fro Science from the Seven Countries Study,” they noted that per capita consumption of rice had declined, while consumption of fats, oils, meats, poultry, dairy products and fruit had all increased. […]

“During the postwar period of increased animal consumption, the Japanese average height increased three inches and the age-adjusted death rate from all causes declined from 17.6 to 7.4 per 1,000 per year. Although the rates of hypertension increased, stroke mortality declined markedly. Deaths from cancer also went down in spite of the consumption of animal foods.

“The researchers also noted — and here is the paradox — that the rate of myocardial infarction (heart attack) and sudden death did not change during this period, in spite of the fact that the Japanese weighed more, had higher blood pressure and higher cholesterol levels, and ate more fat, beef and dairy foods.”

About the Mediterranean diet, Morell considers the historical context to Keys’ study:

“The question that the believers haven’t asked themselves is this: was the lean, so-called Mediterranean diet they observed after World War II the true Mediterranean diet? Or were they observing the tail end of deprivation engendered by half a decade of conflict? Were the inhabitants of Crevalcore and Montegiorgio abandoning the traditional diet, or were they taking it up again? And did Keys miss the sight of Italians enjoying rich food in the early 1950s because Italians had never done such a shameful thing, or was the visiting professor too poor at the time to afford anything more than plain pizza in a sidewalk cafe?” (pp. 157-8)

Morell then goes on to look at numerous books, including cookbooks, from the region. All the evidence points to the traditional Mediterranean diet consisting largely of whole fat dairy products, meat products (lots of sausage), oils and animal fats, and eggs. As emphasized in the paleo diet,

“Italians love their vegetables for sure, and that’s because they know how to make them taste good. They know that salads taste better with a good dressing of aged vinegar and olive oil; and cooked vegetables blossom when anointed with butter, lard or cream” (p. 160).

Keys didn’t really understand the societies he was studying, much less the societies he chose to ignore. Yet he was charismatic and, though other contemporary research contradicted his data, he was able to promote his views such that they became adopted as mainstream ideology. This new belief system was enforced by the US government and by corporations, often in heavy-handed ways. Adelle Davis was a biochemist and nutritionist who was inspired by Weston A. Price’s research on traditional diets. In response, as described Joann Grohman, “The FDA raided health food stores and seized her books under a false labeling law because they were displayed next to vitamin bottles” (Real Food by Nina Planck, p. 30). “I find it dismaying that,” Planck says in another section (p. 201),

“the dangers of trans fats were known for sixty years. Weston Price cited 1943 research that butter was better than hydrogenated cottonseed oil. In the 1950s, researchers guessed that hydrogenated vegetable oil led to heart disease. Ancel Keys, the proponent of monounsaturated fat, showed in 1961 that hydrogenated corn oil raised trigydcerides more than butter. Year after year, the bad news piled up. [So, even Keys ultimately knew that saturated fat wasn’t the real culprit.]

“One dogged researcher, Mary Enig, helped get the word out. The author of Know Your Fats, Enig waged an often lonely battle. I’m afraid her efforts were not always welcomed with bouquets of roses. In 1978, Enig wrote a scientific paper challenging a government report blaming saturated fat for cancer, in which she pointed out that the data actually showed a link with trans fats. Not long after, “two guys from the Instituted of Shortening and Edible Oil — the trans fat lobby, basically — visited me, and oh boy, were they angry,” Enig told Gourmet magazine. “They said they’d been keeping a careful watch to prevent articles like mine from coming out and didn’t know how this horse had gotten out of the barn.”

“The stakes were high. “We spent lots of time, and lots of money and energy, refuting this work,” said Dr. Lars Wiederman, who once worked for the American Soybean Association. “Protecting trans fats from the taint of negative scientific findings was our charge.””

That sounds a lot like the corporatist defense of profits as happened with the decades of lies, spin, and obfuscation pushed by the tobacco and oil companies. Another more recent example is given in The Magic Pill documentary. In South Africa, the government put a doctor on trial for daring to give dietary advice that was in line with millennia-old traditions of human eating habits — fortunately, the doctor won his case but only after the government spent immense amount of taxpayer money trying to destroy him.

Dominant paradigms die hard and only after an immense fight, backed by the full power of the government and millions of corporate dollars. But that is only one part of what slows down change. Ideologies as worldviews hold on so long because they become entrenched in our minds and cultures. As often is noted, old scientists (along with old doctors, professors, bureaucrats, etc) don’t change their minds but eventually die and are replaced by a new generation with new ideas.

This was demonstrated with Michael Pollan’s latest documentary, In Defense of Food (transcript). In it, the professor of nutrition Marion Nestle adds a note of caution: “And it should be written on every single epidemiological study, ‘Red flag, association does not necessarily mean causation.’” Does that stop Pollan from basing conclusions on Keys problematic research? Nope. Instead, he promotes the belief that Keys’ conclusions are still valid: “But based on the strong association Keys saw in his data between heart disease and saturated fat, he advised people to eat less of it.” Not a single mention of any doubt or criticism.

It might be noted that Pollan was born in 1955. That was right in the middle of this now dominant ideology coming into ascendance. He reached adulthood as Keys’ ideology was being promoted by the USDA and as it became the new creed in mainstream thought. Now in his sixties, he is one of the older generation still clinging to what they were taught growing up. Yet, as a Boomer, his influence is still at its peak. Despite all the Western ailments, conventional medicine has allowed people to live longer and that means ideologies will remain entrenched for longer.

It’s going to be an uphill battle for younger generations to challenge the status quo. But the shift is already happening. From a personal perspective, this time lag of common knowledge creates a sense of disorientation, as it will take at least decades for official advice and public opinion to catch up with the research that has been accumulating over this past century.

This point was emphasized for me in reading a book published two decades ago in 1998, The Fats of Life by Caroline M. Pond — the author, a mainstream academic and researcher, notes that, “Heart attacks are thus seen as arising from a deficiency of polyunsaturated fatty acids rather than from an excess of saturates of cholesterol” (p. 293). This is far from being new knowledge. Pond doesn’t mention Weston A. Price, but she does discuss “the Oxford physician and biochemist, Hugh Sinclair (1910-1990), who studied the diet and habits of the Eskimos in northern Canada in 1944. Sinclair noted that Eskimos rarely suffered from the heart disease or strokes in spite of a very high-fat diet that included reindeer meat.” She goes onto say that, “The Masai people of Kenya eat large quantities of ruminant milk and meat, and Jamaicans eat saturated fats in coconut oil, but few of them die from heart attacks.”

In The Magic Pill, it is pointed out that Americans have been following the USDA Food Pyramid in eating less meat, fats, and oils while eating more grains, vegetables, and fruits. More Americans have been eating as they were told. What has resulted of this drastic dietary change? All the diseases this diet is supposed to prevent have gotten worse. This stark reality has yet to sink in because it would require thousands of officials and authority figures to not only admit they were wrong but that they caused immense harm to so many.

But why do others continue on with the sham? We’ve known much of this info for a long time now. Why are we still debating it as if the conventional view still has any relevance?