How is knowledge spread and made compelling?

Our friend over at the Open Society blog republished one of our pieces. He “edited out some of the bit about right-left brains.” And we were fine with that, as we understood his reasons. He said that, “I think this sort of dichotomy causes more misunderstandings for the average person than it clarifies.” And, “in order to keep this piece accessible to everyone, it’s better not to get into ongoing technical neuroanatomy debates here.”

We have no dispute with his choice of editing. It was just information and we like to share information, but it wasn’t even a part of the central text of what had been written. Still, it was important in a general sense, as background knowledge and explanatory context. In another comment, he brought up scientific illiteracy and the sorry state of (un-)education in this country. And we couldn’t disagree with any of that. But we responded back with some lengthy comments clarifying our position.

It’s not my first instinct to edit myself, as might be apparent to anyone reading my blog. I’m not always known for my concision. The idea of changing what I write based on the presumed level of knowledge of prospective readers isn’t exactly my style, not that I don’t understand the purpose of doing so. It’s not as if I never consider how others might read what I write, something I always try to keep in mind. I do want to communicate well. I’m not here to merely talk to myself. But thinking about it made me more self-aware of what motivates me in wanting to communicate.

We’re talking about not only knowledge but, more importantly, understanding and meaning, what forms our sense of shared reality and informs our sense of shared purpose. It’s an interesting and worthy topic to discuss. By the way, we felt like speaking in the plural for the introduction here, but the comments below are in first-person singular. These are taken from the Open Society blog with some revision. So, we’re republishing our comments to the republishing of our post. It’s almost like a conversation.

Before we get to our comments below, let us share some personal experience. When we were young, we had regular conversations with our father. He would always listen, question, elicit further thoughts, and respond. But what he never did was talk down to us or simplify anything. He treated us as if we were intellectual equals, even though obviously that wasn’t the case. He was a professor who, when younger, had found learning easy and rarely studied. He had obvious proof his intellectual abilities. We, on the other hand, always struggled with a learning disability. Still, our father instilled in us a respect for knowledge and a love of learning.

That is how we strive to treat all others. We don’t know if that is a good policy for a blog. Maybe that explains why our readership is so small. One could interpret that as a failure to our approach. If so, we fail on our own terms. But we hope that, in our good intentions, we do manage to reach some people. No doubt we could reach a larger audience by following the example of the Open Society blog. That blog is a much more finished product than the bare-bones text on offer here. So, maybe all my idealism is moot. That is an amusing thought. Then again, Open Society has republished other posts by us. So that is some minor accomplishment. Maybe those edited versions are an improvement. I’ll leave that for others to decide

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Sadly, you’re probably right that science education is so pathetically deficient in this country that discussion of even something so basic as the research on brain hemispheres likely “causes more misunderstandings for the average person than it clarifies.” I wish that weren’t true.

Still, I’d encourage others to look into the science on brain hemispheres. I’d note that the views of Iain McGilchrist (and Julian Jaynes, etc) have nothing to do with the layman’s interpretation. To be honest, there is no way to fully understand what’s going on here without some working knowledge in this area. But the basic idea comes across without any of the brain science. Maybe that is good enough for present purposes.

I’m not entirely opposed to making material more accessible in meeting people where they are at. But hopefully, this kind of knowledge will become more common over time. It is so fundamental that it should be taught in high school science classes. My aspiration for my blog is to inspire people to stretch their minds and learn what might at first seem difficult or strange, not that I always accomplish that feat. Instead, I’m likely to talk over people’s heads or simply bore them.

It can be hard to express to others why something seems so fascinating to me, why it’s important to go to the effort of making sense of it. I realize my mind doesn’t operate normally, to put it mildly. But even with my endless intellectual curiosity, I have to admit to struggling with the science at times (to be honest, a lot of the times). So, I sympathize with those who lose interest or get confused by all the differing and sometimes wrongheaded opinions about brain hemispheres or whatever.

* * *

Scientific illiteracy is a problem in the US. And it’s an open secret. I’ve seen plenty of discussion of it over the years. It would help if there was a better education system and not limited to college. Remember that three quarter of Americans don’t have any college education at all. That is why educational reform would need to start with grade school.

Still, I don’t know what is the main problem. I doubt the average American is quite as ignorant as they get treated, even if they aren’t well educated. For example, most Americans seem to have a basic grasp of the climate crisis and support a stronger government response. It’s not as if we had more science classes that we’d finally get politicians on board. The basic science is already understood, even by those politicians who deny it.

Saying the public is scientifically illiterate doesn’t necessarily tell us much about the problem. I was reading a book about the issue of climate change in one of the Scandinavian countries. They have a much better education system and more scientific literacy. But even there, the author said that it’s hard to have an honest public debate because thinking about it makes most people feel uncomfortable, depressed, and hopeless. So people mostly just don’t talk about it.

Part of it goes back to cognitive dissonance. Even when people have immense knowledge on a topic, there remains the dissociation and splintering. People can know all kinds of things and yet not know. The collective and often self-enforced silencing is powerful, as Derrick Jensen shows. The human mind operates largely on automatic. By the way, the science of brain hemispheres can explain some of why that is the case, a major focus of Jaynes’ work.

What we lack is not so much knowledge about the world as insight and understanding about our own nature. We have enough basic working knowledge already to solve or lessen all of the major problems, if we could only get out of our own way. That said, we can never have too much knowledge and improving education certainly couldn’t hurt. We’re going to need the full human potential of humanity to meet these challenges.

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Here is a thought. What if underestimating the public is a self-fulfilling prophecy? Paralyzing cynicism can come in many forms. And I know I’m often guilty of this. It’s hard to feel hopeful. If anything, hope can even seem naive and wrongheaded. Some argue that we’re long past that point and now it’s time for grieving lost opportunities that are forever gone. But even if we resign ourselves to mere triage, that still requires some basic sense of faith in the future.

I’m not sure what I think or feel about all of this. But what does seem clear to me is that we Americans have never fallen into the problem of overestimating the public. Instead, we have a disempowered and disenfranchised population. What motivation is there for the public to seek further knowledge when the entire system powerfully fucks them and their loved ones over and over again? What would inspire people to seek out becoming better informed through formal education or otherwise?

Knowledge matters. But the larger context to that knowledge matters even more. I don’t know what that means in practical terms. I’m just thinking the public should be given more credit, not so easily let off the hook. Even when public ignorance appears justified based on a failed education system or a successful non-education system, maybe that is all the more reason to hold up a high standard of knowledge, a high ideal of intellectual curiosity, rather than talking down to people and dumbing down discussion.

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t try to communicate well in knowing our audience. On many topics, it’s true that general knowledge, even among the elite, is limited at best and misinformed at worst. But the worst part is how ignorance has been embraced in so many ways, as if one’s truth is simply a matter of belief. What if we stopped tolerating this willful ignorance and all the rationalizations that accompany it. We should look to the potential in people that remains there no matter how little has been expected of them. We should treat people as intellectually capable.

Education is always a work in progress. Still, the American public is more educated today than a century ago. The average IQ measured in the early 1900s would be, by today’s standards of IQ testing, functionally retarded and I mean that literally (increases in IQ largely measure abstract and critical thinking skills). Few Americans even had high school degrees until the Silent Generation. Society has advanced to a great degree in this area, if not as much as it should. I worry that we’ve become so jaded that we see failure as inevitable and so we keep lowering our standards, instead of raising them higher as something to aspire toward.

My grandfather dropped out of high school. You know what was one of his proudest accomplishments? Sending two of his kids to college. Now kids are being told that education doesn’t matter, that college is a waste of money. We stopped valuing education and that symbolizes a dark change to the public mood. To not value education is to denigrate knowledge itself. This isn’t limited to formal education, scientific literacy and otherwise. I failed to get much scientific knowledge in high school and I didn’t get a college degree. Even so, I was taught by my parents to value learning, especially self-directed learning, and to value curiosity. I’ve struggled to educate myself (and to undo my miseducation), but I was inspired to do so because the value of it had been internalized.

The deficiency in education doesn’t by itself explain the cause. It doesn’t explain why we accept it, why we treat mass ignorance as if it were an inevitability. Instead of seeing ignorance as a challenge, as a motivation toward seeking greater knowledge, American society has treated ignorance as the natural state of humanity or at least the natural state of the dirty masses, the permanent underclass within the Social Darwinian (pseudo-)meritocracy. In this worldview, most people don’t merely lack knowledge but lack any potential or worth, some combination of grunt workers and useless eaters. What could shift this toward another way of seeing humanity?

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I was wondering where knowledge is truly lacking, where curiosity about a topic is lacking, and where it matters most. Climate change is one topic where I do think there is basic necessary level of knowledge, most people have a fair amount of interest in it, and it obviously is important. What’s going on with the climate change ‘debate’ has to do with powerful interests controlling the reigns of power. If politicians did what most Americans want, we’d already be investing money and doing research to a far greater degree.

Ignorance is not the problem in that case. But it’s different with other topics. I’ve noticed how lead toxicity and high inequality maybe do more fall victim to ignorance, in that for some reason they don’t get the same kind of attention, as they aren’t looming threats in the way is climate change. In one post, I called lead toxicity a hyperobject to describe its pervasive invisibility. Temperature can be felt and a storm can be watched, but lead in your air, water, and soil comes across as an abstraction since we have no way to concretely perceive it. Even the lead in your child’s brain shows no outward signs, other than the kid being slightly lower IQ and having some behavioral issues.

Nonetheless, I’m not sure that is a problem of knowledge. Would teaching about lead toxicity actually make it more viscerally real? Maybe not. That’s a tough one. If you asked most people, they probably already know about the dangers of lead toxicity in a general sense and they already know about specific places where there are high rates, but they probably don’t grasp how widespread this is in so many communities, especially toxicity in general such as with toxic dumps. I don’t know what would make it seem more real.

Lead, as tiny particles, doesn’t only hide in the environment but hides in the body where it wreaks havoc but slowly and in many small ways. Your kid gets into a fight and has trouble at school. The first thought most parents have is simple concern for treating the behavior and the hurt the child is expressing. It doesn’t usually occur that there might be something damaging their child’s brain, nervous system, etc. All the parent sees is the result of changes in their child’s behavior. Knowledge, on the personal level, may or may not help that parent. Lead toxicity is often a larger environmental problem. What is really needed is a change of public policy. That would require not only knowledge, as politicians probably already know of this problem, but some other force of political will in the larger society. But since it’s mostly poor people harmed, nothing is done.

It’s hard to know how knowledge by itself makes a difference. It’s not as if there haven’t been major pieces on lead toxicity published in the mainstream media, some of them quite in depth. But the reporting on this comes and goes. It’s quickly forgotten again, as if it were just some minor, isolated problem of no greater concern. There definitely is no moral panic about it. Other than a few parents in poor communities that live with most severe consequences, it isn’t even seen as a moral issue at all.

That is what seems lacking, a sense of moral outrage and moral responsibility. I guess that is where, in my own thinking, self-understanding comes in. Morality is a deeper issue. Some of these thinkers on the mind and brain (McGilchrist, Jaynes, etc) are directly touching upon what makes the heart of morality beat. It’s not about something like brain hemispheres understood in isolation but how that relates to consciousness and identity, relates to the voices we listen to and the authority they hold. And, yes, this requires understanding a bit of science. So, how do we make this knowledge accessible and compelling, how do we translate it into common experience?

Take the other example. What about high inequality? In a way, it’s a hot topic and has grabbed public attention with Thomas Picketty, Kate Pickett, and Richard Wilkinson. Everyone knows it’s a problem. Even those on the political right are increasingly acknowledging it, such as the recent book Alienated America by the conservative Timothy Carney who works for a right-wing think tank. The knowledge is sort of there and yet not really. Americans, in theory, have little tolerance for high inequality. The problem is that, as the data shows, most Americans simply don’t realize how bad it’s gotten. Our present inequality is magnitudes beyond what the majority thinks should be allowable. Yet we go on allowing it. More knowledge, in that case, definitely would matter. But without the moral imperative, the sense of value of that knowledge remains elusive.

As for brain hemispheres, I suppose that seems esoteric to the average person. Even most well-educated people don’t likely take it seriously. Should they? I don’t know. It seems important to me, but I’m biased as this is an area of personal interest. I can make an argument that this kind of thing might be among the most important knowledge, since it cuts to the core of every other problem. Understanding how our brain-mind works underlies understanding anything and everything else, and it would help to explain what is going so wrong with the world in general. Knowledge of the brain-mind is knowledge about what makes knowledge possible at all, in any area. I suspect that, as long as our self-knowledge is lacking, to that degree any attempt at solving problems will be impotent or at least severely crippled.

Would discussing more about brain hemispheres and related info in the public sphere help with the situation? Maybe or maybe not. But it seems like the type of thing we should be doing, in raising the level of discussion in general. Brain research might not be a good place to start with our priorities. If so, then we need to find how to promote greater psychological and neurocognitive understanding in some other way. This is why I’m always going on about Jaynes, even though he seems like an obscure thinker. In my opinion, he may be one of the most important thinkers in the 20th century and his theories might hold the key to the revolution of the mind that we so sorely need. Then again, I could be giving him too much praise. It’s just that I doubt the world would be worse off for having more knowledge of this variety, not just knowledge but profound insight.

All in all, it’s a tough situation. Even if Jaynes’ book was made required reading in every school, I don’t know that would translate to anything beneficial. It would have to be part of a larger public debate going on in society. Before that can happen, we will probably need to hit a crisis that reaches the level of catastrophe. Then moral panic will follow and, assuming we avoid the disaster of authoritarianism, we might finally be able to have some serious discussion across society about what matters most. I guess that goes back to the context of knowledge, that which transmutes mere info into meaning.

* * *

Here is an interesting question. How does knowledge become common knowledge? That relates to what I mentioned in another comment. How does knowledge become meaning? Or to put it another way: How does the abstract become concretely, viscerally, and personally real? A lot of knowledge has made this shift. So much of the kind of elite education that once would have been limited to aristocracy and monks has now become increasingly common. Not that long ago, most Americans were illiterate and had next to no education. Or consider, as I pointed out, how the skills of abstract and critical thinking (fluid intelligence) has increased drastically.

We can see this in practical ways. People in general have more basic knowledge about the world around them. When Japan attacked, most Americans had little concept of where Japan was. We like to think American’s grasp of geography is bad and it may be, but it used to be far worse. Now most people have enough knowledge to, with some comprehension, follow a talk or read an article on genetics, solar flares, ocean currents, etc. We’ve become a scientific-minded society where there is a basic familiarity. It comes naturally to think about the world in scientific terms, to such extent that we now worry about scientific reductionism. No one worried about society being overtaken by scientific reductionism centuries ago.

Along with this, modern people have become more psychologically-minded. We think in terms of consciousness and unconsciousness, motives and behavior, cognitive biases and mental illnesses, personality traits and functions, and on and on. We have so internalized psychological knowledge that we simply take it for reality now. It’s similar with sociology. The idea of race as a social construction was limited to the rarified work of a few anthropologists, but now this is a common understanding that is publicly debated. Even something as simple as socioeconomic classes was largely unknown in the past, as it wasn’t how most people thought. My mother didn’t realize she was part of a socioeconomic class until she went to college and was taught about it in a sociology class.

That is what I’m hoping for, in terms of brain research and consciousness studies. This kind of knowledge needs to get over the hurdle of academia and spread out into the public mind. This is already happening. Jaynes’ ideas influenced Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials which has been made into an HBO show. His ideas were directly discussed in another HBO show, Westworld, and caused a flurry of articles in the popular media. He also influenced Neal Stephenson in writing Snow Crash, also being made into a show, originally planned by Netflix but now picked up by HBO. I might take the superficial view of brain hemispheres as a positive sign. It means the knowledge is slowly spreading out into the general public. It’s an imperfect process and initially involves some misinformation, but that is how all knowledge spreads. It’s nothing new. For all the misinformation, the general public is far less ignorant about brain hemispheres than they were 50 years ago or a hundred years ago.

Along with the misinformation, genuine information is also becoming more common. This will eventually contribute to changing understandings and attitudes. Give it a generation or two and I’m willing to bet much of what McGilchrist is talking about will have made that transition into common knowledge in being incorporated into the average person’s general worldview. But it’s a process. And we can only promote that process by talking about it. That means confronting misinformation as it shows up, not avoiding the topic for fear of misinformation. Does that make sense?

Noam Chomsky (2): On the Lesser of Two Evils

Noam Chomsky: “So let’s go to the Bible. That’s–you can find the model that Trump is following in the Bible. It’s King Ahab, the evil king, the epitome of evil in the Bible; he called the prophet Elijah to him, and condemned the prophet Elijah because he doesn’t love Israel enough. In fact, he’s a hater of Israel, the proof he was condemning the acts of the evil king. So loving a country, from Trump’s point of view, is follow its policies; whatever its policies are, you got to support them. That’s loving a country. So Trump and Ahab, the evil king, agree on that. The prophet Elijah and the ones who Linfield is attacking, they agree, no, you don’t support the policies. What you do is if you care about a country, it’s like caring about a friend. If you have a friend who’s doing something to harm himself, and to severely harm others, you don’t say, Great! I support you all the way. You try to change what the friend is doing.

“And in the case of a state, you first have to dismantle the cloud of propaganda and myth that every state constructs to justify what it’s doing. And when you do that, then what do you find? You go back to the early seventies, which actually is the point she emphasizes. At that point, Israel had a fateful decision. Namely, is it going to pursue expansion or security? That was very clear. On the table, there were very clear options for negotiation and political settlement.

“Linfield, incidentally, lies about this like a trooper. I actually described it with exact precision, and she claims I made it up by the clever technique of avoiding every single thing I said about it, OK, which happened to be exactly accurate. What happens is this. First of all, in 1971, Gunnar Jarring, international mediator, presented proposals to Egypt and Israel for a political settlement, pretty much in line with the international consensus. Egypt accepted it; Israel rejected it. In 1976 the Security Council debated a resolution calling for a political settlement, two-state settlement, on the international border with guarantees for the rights of each state, Israel and a Palestinian state, to live in peace and security within secure and recognized borders.

“It was vetoed by the United States; Israel was hysterical. The Israeli ambassador Chaim Herzog, later president, claimed that the PLO had written this as a device to destroy Israel, which of course was complete nonsense. The PLO kind of tacitly supported it, but certainly didn’t write it. The resolution, crucially, was supported by the three Arab confrontation states: Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. That was ’76. That’s a tough one for people like Linfield who support Israeli policies, so what she does is just lie about it, OK, in the way that I mentioned. But it was real, and there were other options, and it continues like this.

“Now, if you care about Israel, what you tell them is you’re sacrificing security for expansion. And it’s going to have a consequence. It’s going to lead to moral deterioration internally, and decline in status internationally, which is exactly what happened. You mentioned that people who used to be one or another form of Zionist are now very critical of Israel. It’s much more general than that. You go back to the 1970s, Israel was one of the most admired states in the world. Young people from Sweden were going to Israel to see the wonderful social democracy, and so on. Now it’s a pariah state. What’s happened? It’s not–the same that’s happened in the United States. Support for Israel used to be based in basically liberal democrats; that was support for Israel. No longer. Most of them support the Palestinians. Support for Israel now is in the Christian evangelical community and ultranationalists.

“That reflects the changes that have taken place. Is this good for Israel? I don’t think so. It’s turned Israel into, as I said, a pariah state which is declining–internally, morally–and it’s horrible for the Palestinians. So I think the ones who were following the path of Elijah were correct. You don’t love a state and follow its policies. You criticize what’s wrong, try to change the policies, expose them; criticize it, change it. And exactly what was predicted in the seventies has happened.”

O Society

Robert Scheer interviews Noam Chomsky (part 2) edited by O Society Jan 18, 2020

Robert Scheer: 

They all started out as kind of sympathetic to some notion of Zionism. And a lot of it informed by the Holocaust, the tragedy that had occurred for Jews, and the feeling maybe there could not be assimilation, or a place for Jews in the world. We know those arguments.

The people attacked in this book, From Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky: Did the Left Get Zionism and Israel Totally Wrong?, are all attacked for daring to raise questions about the performance of this state and the Zionist experiment, particularly in its relation to the Palestinians and notions many of us, myself included, who are Jewish thought were built into a kind of universalism of the Jewish experience, and a concern for the other, and so forth.

And we are at a moment…

View original post 5,246 more words

The Madness of Drugs

There is always a question of what is making the world so crazy. And it’s not exactly a new question. “Cancer, like insanity,” Stanislou Tanochou wrote in 1843, “seems to increase with the progress of civilization.” Or go back earlier to 1809, the year Thomas Paine died and Abraham Lincoln was born, when John Haslam explained how common had become this concern of civilization going off the rails: “The alarming increase in Insanity, as might naturally be expected, has incited many persons to an investigation of this disease.” (For background, see: The Crisis of Identity.)

Was it changes of diet with the introduction of sugar, the first surplus yields of wheat, and a high-carb diet in general? If not the food itself, could it be the food additives such as glutamate and propionate? Was it the pollution from industrialization such as the chemicals in our food supply from industrial agriculture and industrial production, the pollution in the air we breathe and water we drink, and the spikes of toxic exposure with lead having been introduced to new products? Was it urbanization with 97% of the world’s population still in rural areas at the beginning of the 19th century followed by the majority of Westerners having moved to the cities a few generations later? Or was it the consequence of urbanization and industrialization as seen with increasing inequality of wealth, resources, and power that put the entire society under strain?

I’ve entertained all those possibilities over the years. And I’m of the opinion that they’re all contributing factors. Strong evidence can be shown for each one. But modernity saw another change as well. It was the era of science and that shaped medicine, especially drugs. In general, drugs became more common, whether medicinally or recreationally, even some thing so simple as the colonial trade of sugar and tobacco. Then later there were hardcore drugs like opium and cocaine that became increasingly common over the 19th century.

The 20th century, of course, pushed this to a whole new level. Drugs were everywhere. Consider the keto diet that, in the 1920s, showed a promising treatment or even cure for epileptic seizures, but shortly after that the drug companies came up with medications and the keto research dried up, even though those medications never came close to being as effective and some of them caused permanent harm to the patient, something rarely admitted by doctors (see the story of Charlie Abrams, son of the Hollywood produce Jim Abrams). Drugs seemed more scientific and modern humanity had fallen under the thrall of scientism. Ascie Dupont’s advertising slogan went, “Better Living Through Chemistry”.

It was irrelevant that most of the drugs never lived up to the hype, as the hype was endless. As research has shown, the placebo effect makes each new pharmaceutical seemingly effective, until shortly later the drug companies invent another drug and unsurprisingly the old drug stops showing the same benefits it did previously. Our hopes and fantasies are projected onto the next equivalent of a sugar pill and the placebo effect just goes on and on, as does the profit industry.

That isn’t to dismiss the actual advancements of science. But we now know that even the drugs that are beneficial to some people, from antidepressants to statins, are overprescribed and may be harming more people than they are helping. Part of this is because our scientific knowledge has been lacking, sometimes actively suppressed. It turns out that depression is not a neurotransmitter deficiency nor that cholesterol is bad for the body. Drugs that mess with the body in fundamental ways often have severe side effects and the drug companies have gone to extreme lengths to hide the consequences, as their profit model depends upon an ignorant and unquestioning population of citizen-consumers.

This is not a minor issue. The evidence points to statins making some people irritable to the point of violence and there is a statistically significant increase of violent death among statin users. That is on top of an increase of neurocognitive decline in general, as the brain requires cholesterol to function normally. Or consider how some painkillers might also be disrupting the physiological mechanisms underlying empathy and so, heavy regular usage, might contribute to sociopathy. It’s unsurprising that psychiatric medications can change behavior and personality, but no one expects such dire consequences when going to the drugstore to pick up their medication for asthma or whatever.

We are living in an era when patients, in many cases, can’t trust their own doctors. There is no financial incentive to honestly inform patients so that they can make rational choices based on balancing the benefits and harms. We know the immense influence drug companies have over doctors that happens through legal forms of bribery, from paid vacations to free meals and supplies. It’s related to not only why patients are kept in the dark but so are most doctors. It just so happens that drug company funding of medical school curriculum and continuing education for doctors doesn’t include education for effective dietary and lifestyle changes that are inexpensive or even free (i.e., no profit). This is why most doctors fail a basic test of nutritional knowledge. That needs to change.

This problem is just one among many. As I pointed out, there are many factors that are throwing gasoline on the fire. Whatever are the causes, the diseases of civilization, including but not limited to mental illness, is worsening with every generation and this is a centuries-old trend. It’s interesting that this has happened simultaneous with the rise of science. It was the hubris of the scientific mindset (and related technological industrialization) that has caused much of the harm, but it is also because of science that we are beginning to understand the harm we’ve done and what exactly are the causal mechanisms behind it. We must demand that science be turned into a tool not of private interest but of public good.

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The medications that change who we are
by Zaria Gorvett

They’ve been linked to road rage, pathological gambling, and complicated acts of fraud. Some make us less neurotic, and others may even shape our social relationships. It turns out many ordinary medications don’t just affect our bodies – they affect our brains. Why? And should there be warnings on packets? […]

According to Golomb, this is typical – in her experience, most patients struggle to recognise their own behavioural changes, let alone connect them to their medication. In some instances, the realisation comes too late: the researcher was contacted by the families of a number of people, including an internationally renowned scientist and a former editor of a legal publication, who took their own lives.

We’re all familiar with the mind-bending properties of psychedelic drugs – but it turns out ordinary medications can be just as potent. From paracetamol (known as acetaminophen in the US) to antihistamines, statins, asthma medications and antidepressants, there’s emerging evidence that they can make us impulsive, angry, or restless, diminish our empathy for strangers, and even manipulate fundamental aspects of our personalities, such as how neurotic we are.

In most people, these changes are extremely subtle. But in some they can also be dramatic. […]

But Golomb’s most unsettling discovery isn’t so much the impact that ordinary drugs can have on who we are – it’s the lack of interest in uncovering it. “There’s much more of an emphasis on things that doctors can easily measure,” she says, explaining that, for a long time, research into the side-effects of statins was all focused on the muscles and liver, because any problems in these organs can be detected using standard blood tests.

This is something that Dominik Mischkowski, a pain researcher from Ohio University, has also noticed. “There is a remarkable gap in the research actually, when it comes to the effects of medication on personality and behaviour,” he says. “We know a lot about the physiological effects of these drugs – whether they have physical side effects or not, you know. But we don’t understand how they influence human behaviour.” […]

In fact, DeRubeis, Golomb and Mischkowski are all of the opinion that the drugs they’re studying will continue to be used, regardless of their potential psychological side-effects. “We are human beings, you know,” says Mischkowski. “We take a lot of stuff that is not necessarily always good in every circumstance. I always use the example of alcohol, because it’s also a painkiller, like paracetamol. We take it because we feel that it has a benefit for us, and it’s OK as long as you take it in the right circumstances and you don’t consume too much.”.

But in order to minimise any undesirable effects and get the most out of the staggering quantities of medications that we all take each day, Mischkowski reiterates that we need to know more. Because at the moment, he says, how they are affecting the behaviour of individuals – and even entire societies – is largely a mystery.

The Link Between Individualism and Collectivism

Individualism and collectivism. Autonomy and authoritarianism. These are opposites, right? Maybe not.

Julian Jaynes argued that humans, in the earliest small city-states, lived in a state he called the bicameral mind. It was a shared sense of identity where ‘thoughts’ were more publicly experienced as voices that were culturally inherited across generations. He observed that the rise of egoic consciousness as the isolated and independent self was simultaneous with a shift in culture and social order.

What was seen was a new kind of authoritarianism, much more brutally oppressive, much more centralized, hierarchical, and systematic. As the communal societies of the bicameral mind entered their end phase heading toward the collapse of the Bronze Age, there was the emergence of written laws, court systems, and standing armies. Criminals, enemy soldiers, and captives were treated much more harshly with mass killings like never before seen. Social order was no longer an organic community but required top-down enforcement.

One evidence of this new mentality was the sudden appearance of pornographic imagery. For thousands of years, humans created art, but never overtly sexual in nature. Then humans apparently became self-conscious of sexuality and also became obsessed with it. This was also a time when written laws and norms about sexuality became common. With sexual prurience came demands of sexual purity.

Repression was the other side of rigid egoic consciousness, as to maintain social control the new individualized self had to be controlled by society. The organic sense of communal identity could no longer be taken for granted and relied upon. The individual was cut off from the moral force of voice-hearing and so moral transgression as sin became an issue. This was the ‘Fall of Man’.

What is at stake is not merely an understanding of the past. We are defined by this past for it lives on within us. We are the heirs of millennia of psycho-cultural transformation. But our historical amnesia and our splintered consciousness leaves us adrift forces that we don’t understand or recognize. We are confused why, as we move toward greater individualism, we feel anxious about the looming threat of ever worse authoritarianism. There is a link between the two that is built into Jaynesian consciousness. But this is not fatalism, as if we are doomed to be ripped apart by diametric forces.

If we accept our situation and face the dilemma, we might be able to seek a point of balance. This is seen in Scandinavian countries where it is precisely a strong collective identity, culture of trust, and social democracy, even some democratic socialism, that makes possible a more stable and less fearful sense of genuine individuality (Anu Partanen, The Nordic Theory of Everything; & Nordic Theory of Love and Individualism). What is counter-intuitive to the American sensibility — or rather American madness — is that this doesn’t require greater legal regulations, such as how there is less red tape in starting a business in Scandinavia than the United States.

A book worth reading is Timothy Carney’s Alienated America. The author comes from the political right, but he is not a radical right-winger. His emphasis is on social conservatism, although the points he is making is dependent on the liberal viewpoint of social science. Look past some of the conservative biases of interpretation and there is much here that liberals, progressives, and even left-wingers could agree with.

He falls into the anti-government rhetoric of pseudo-libertarianism which causes him to be blind to how Scandinavian countries can have big governments that can rely more on culture of trust, rather than regulations, to enforce social norms. What Scandinavians would likely find odd is this American right-wing belief that government is separate from society, even when society isn’t outright denied as did Margaret Thatcher.

It’s because of this confusion that his other insights are all the more impressive. He is struggling against his own ideological chains. It shows how, even as the rhetoric maintains power over the mind, certain truths are beginning to shine through the weakening points of ideological fracture.

Even so, he ultimately fails to escape the gravity of right-wing ideological realism in coming to the opposite conclusion of Anu Partanen who understands that it is precisely the individual’s relationship to the state that allows for individual freedom. Carney, instead, wants to throw out both ‘collectivism’ and ‘hyper-individualism’. He expresses the still potent longing for the bicameral mind and its archaic authorization to compel social order.

What he misses is that this longing itself is part of the post-bicameral trap of Jaynesian consciousness, as the more one seeks to escape the dynamic the more tightly wound one becomes within its vice grip. It is only in holding lightly one’s place within the dynamic that one can steer a pathway through the narrow gap between the distorted extremes of false polarization and forced choice. This is exaggerated specifically by high inequality, not only of wealth but more importantly of resources and opportunities, power and privilege.

High inequality is correlated with mental illness, conflict, aggressive behavior, status anxiety, social breakdown, loss of social trust, political corruption, crony capitalism, etc. Collectivism and individualism may only express as authoritarianism and hyper-individualism under high inequality conditions. For some reason, many conservatives and right-wingers not only seem blind to the harm of inequality but, if anything, embrace it as a moral good expressing a social Darwinian vision of capitalist realism that must not be questioned.

Carney points to the greater social and economic outcomes of Scandinavian countries. But he can’t quite comprehend why such a collectivist society doesn’t have the problems he ascribes to collectivism. He comes so close to such an important truth, only to veer again back into the safety of right-wing ideology. Still, just the fact that, as a social conservative concerned for the public good, he feels morally compelled to acknowledge the kinds of things left-wingers have been talking about for generations shows that maybe we are finally coming to a point of reckoning.

Also, it is more than relevant that this is treading into the territory of Jaynesian thought, although the author has no clue how deep and dark are the woods once he leaves the well-beaten path. Even the briefest of forays shows how much has been left unexplored.

* * *

Alienated America:
Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse
by Timothy P. Carney

Two Sides of the Same Coin

“Collectivism and atomism are not opposite ends of the political spectrum,” Yuval Levin wrote in Fractured Republic, “but rather two sides of one coin. They are closely related tendencies, and they often coexist and reinforce one another—each making the other possible.” 32

“The Life of Julia” is clearly a story of atomization, but it is one made possible by the story of centralization: The growth of the central state in this story makes irrelevant—and actually difficult—the existence of any other organizations. Julia doesn’t need to belong to anything because central government, “the one thing we all belong to” (the Democratic Party’s mantra in that election), 33 took care of her needs.

This is the tendency of a large central state: When you strengthen the vertical bonds between the state and the individual, you tend to weaken the horizontal bonds between individuals. What’s left is a whole that by some measures is more cohesive, but individuals who are individually all less connected to one another.

Tocqueville foresaw this, thanks to the egalitarianism built into our democracy: “As in centuries of equality no one is obliged to lend his force to those like him and no one has the right to expect great support from those like him, each is at once independent and weak.

“His independence fills him with confidence and pride among his equals, and his debility makes him feel, from time to time, the need of the outside help that he cannot expect from any of them, since they are all impotent and cold.”

Tocqueville concludes, “In this extremity he naturally turns his regard to the immense being that rises alone in the midst of universal debasement.” 34

The centralizing state is the first step in this. The atomized individual is the end result: There’s a government agency to feed the hungry. Why should I do that? A progressive social philosophy, aimed at liberating individuals by means of a central state that provides their basic needs, can actually lead to a hyper-individualism.

According to some lines of thought, if you tell a man he has an individual duty to his actual neighbor, you are enslaving that man. It’s better, this viewpoint holds, to have the state carry out our collective duty to all men, and so no individual has to call on any other individual for what he needs. You’re freed of both debt to your neighbor (the state is taking care of it) and need (the state is taking care of it).

When Bernie Sanders says he doesn’t believe in charity, and his partymates say “government is the name for the things we do together,” the latter can sound almost like an aspiration —that the common things, and our duties to others, ought to be subsumed into government. The impersonality is part of the appeal, because everyone alike is receiving aid from the nameless bureaucrats and is thus spared the indignity of asking or relying on neighbors or colleagues or coparishioners for help.

And when we see the state crowding out charity and pushing religious organizations back into the corner, it’s easy to see how a more ambitious state leaves little oxygen for the middle institutions, thus suffocating everything between the state and the individual.

In these ways, collectivism begets atomization.

Christopher Lasch, the leftist philosopher, put it in the terms of narcissism. Paternalism, and the transfer of responsibility from the individual to a bureaucracy of experts, fosters a narcissism among individuals, Lasch argued. 35 Children are inherently narcissistic, and a society that deprives adults of responsibility will keep them more childlike, and thus more self-obsessed.

It’s also true that hyper-individualism begets collectivism. Hyper-individualism doesn’t work as a way of life. Man is a political animal and is meant for society. He needs durable bonds to others, such as those formed in institutions like a parish, a sports club, or a school community. Families need these bonds to other families as well, regardless of what Pa in Little House on the Prairie seemed to think at times.

The little platoons of community provide role models, advice, and a safety net, and everyone needs these things. An individual who doesn’t join these organizations soon finds himself deeply in need. The more people in need who aren’t cared for by their community, the more demand there is for a large central state to provide the safety net, the guidance, and the hand-holding.

Social scientists have repeatedly come across a finding along these lines. “[G]overnment regulation is strongly negatively correlated with measures of trust,” four economists wrote in MIT’s Quarterly Journal of Economics . The study relied on an international survey in which people were asked, “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?” The authors also looked at answers to the question “Do you have a lot of confidence, quite a lot of confidence, not very much confidence, no confidence at all in the following: Major companies? Civil servants?”

They found, among other examples:

High-trusting countries such as Nordic and Anglo-Saxon countries impose very few controls on opening a business, whereas low-trusting countries, typically Mediterranean, Latin-American, and African countries, impose heavy regulations. 36

The causality here goes both ways. In less trusting societies, people demand more regulation, and in more regulated societies, people trust each other less. This is the analogy of the Industrial Revolution’s vicious circle between Big Business and Big Labor: The less trust in humanity there is, the more rules crop up. And the more rules, the less people treat one another like humans, and so on.

Centralization of the state weakens the ties between individuals, leaving individuals more isolated, and that isolation yields more centralization.

The MIT paper, using economist-speak, concludes there are “two equilibria” here. That is, a society is headed toward a state of either total regulation and low trust, or low regulation and high trust. While both destinations might fit the definition of equilibrium, the one where regulation replaces interpersonal trust is not a fitting environment for human happiness.

On a deeper level, without a community that exists on a human level—somewhere where everyone knows your name, to borrow a phrase—a human can’t be fully human. To bring back the language of Aristotle for a moment, we actualize our potential only inside a human-scaled community.

And if you want to know what happens to individuals left without a community in which to live most fully as human, where men and women are abandoned, left without small communities in which to flourish, we should visit Trump Country.

Trillions Upon Trillions of Dollars

Trillions upon trillions of dollars. It adds up, year after year. Corporate subsidies, environmental damage, pollution-caused disease, defense spending, and on and on. An ever increasing national debt with benefits going to those getting the tax cuts. It’s socialism for the rich. A few trillion a year for subsidies to the oil industry, a few more trillion a year somewhere else, and so it goes. Throw in no-bid contracts, crony capitalism, revolving door politics, regulatory capture. Let’s start another war to defend some corporate interest or another.

It’s not a net benefit for society. We aren’t talking about an investment that somehow trickles down in benefitting Americans and the global population. It doesn’t float all boats. If anything, large numbers of boats are taking on water and sinking. A UN report found that entire industries, when environmental costs were added back in, were a net loss to society. The benefits are being privatized while the costs externalized and socialized.

Take the oil industry that receives those trillions of dollars of subsidies every year and, at the same time, causes trillions of dollars of harm to the health of people and ecosystems. And it’s not just money, as this represents suffering and lives lost. The tragedy is compounded a thousandfold as our entire military-industrial complex is built on this altar of endless human sacrifice. We send off our sons and daughters to fight and die to protect oil fields, ports, and trade routes to guarantee continuing profits for big biz.

The rich get richer, as inequality grows more vast. But how about a fraction of the wealth and resources stolen from the public instead being used for the public good? We couldn’t do that. We can’t afford it! Really? Americans should be shocked by this theft, this corruption. But lost in cynicism, they are not shocked at all. Why not? Trillions… It’s just a word. It’s incomprehensible and unimaginable. When someone says trillions of dollars, at best it feels like an abstraction and at worst it sounds like hyperbole. But it is a real number that represents actual reality.

A plutocracy doesn’t just happen. It takes immense stolen wealth to create it, to pay for it. And in America, we have the most expensive plutocracy the world has ever seen. That is  way beyond the wealth that would be required to house, feed, educate, and give medical treatment to every US citizen. And with such a generous (i.e., liberal) social democracy or even democratic socialism, there still would be hundreds of trillions of dollars left over to save for a rainy day. Why do we tolerate such waste, such cruelty?

* * *

Old School Progressivism

I’ve had a suspicion for a while and some statements by Trump’s adviser, Steve Bannon, seem to confirm it. Bannon said that he isn’t a white nationalist, rather an American nationalist and economic nationalist, and that if they do things right even minorities will support them. He talked about concrete policies like a trillion dollar infrastructure project. The Trump administration apparently is trying to revive old school progressivism. I find it interesting that liberal Democrats no longer recognize it, even as it smacks them upside the head — they viciously attacked economic populism as if it were a dangerous invader when it showed up in their own party.

Public Health, Public Good

The reality is that the US is the wealthiest country in the world. In global capitalism, the public wealth and resources regularly given away and wasted for private interests is easily in the trillions of dollars on a yearly basis. It might be trillions in just considering the direct benefits corporations have on US land and waters. The precise amount has never been calculated because the corporatist don’t want to know or rather don’t want the rest of us to know, although I’m sure they have a good sense of the approximate amount of what is being sucked out of the system. Whatever the exact amount, it’s guaranteed that it could pay for healthcare for every US citizen, along with so much else.

Get on board or get out of the way!

The intellectual elite over at Reason Magazine, the propaganda rag for the Koch Robber Barons with numerous corporate front groups as the funding sources (SourceWatch, Reason Foundation), want to help us understand the error of our ways: “Tens of trillions of dollars in new taxes are likely to prove a bit of a hurdle for Americans who want lots of new goodies from the government only if they’re entirely free” (J. D. Tuccille, More Americans Want Bigger Government—If It’s Free).

Trillions? Such a big scary number. Really, asshole? I think I’ve seen where the trillions go. We can’t afford ‘socialism’, you say. Well, I suspect most Americans would agree with me in thinking that we can’t afford kleptocracy, socialism for the rich (Americans Can’t Afford Kleptocracy). Just look at one small part of one industry over a single year, and it still would be an underestimation because most of the wealth, resources, and other benefits given away goes uncounted: “fossil fuels enjoy $5 trillion in direct and indirect subsidies” (Brian Kahn, Building All the Fossil Fuel Projects Already in the Pipeline Would Wreck the Climate). Multiply that by the other areas of big energy such as nuclear and coal. Then multiply that by the numerous other industries that suck at the government teat: big tech, big ag, etc. And finally multiply that over the many decades that have bled the American public dry. Just over the past decade alone, we could be talking about the equivalent of hundreds of trillions of dollars of public wealth being stolen and stuffed into the pockets of the already rich. Now think about the incomprehensible amount of wealth that has disappeared into the private sector over our lifetimes, most of it probably having been diverted into foreign investments and secret bank accounts or wasted in financial gambling and conspicuous consumption.

All that money stolen and wasted, not to mention externalized costs on top of that. According to a study sponsored by the United Nations, “The report found that when you took the externalized costs into effect, essentially NONE of the industries was actually making a profit. The huge profit margins being made by the world’s most profitable industries (oil, meat, tobacco, mining, electronics) is being paid for against the future: we are trading long term sustainability for the benefit of shareholders. Sometimes the environmental costs vastly outweighed revenue, meaning that these industries would be constantly losing money had they actually been paying for the ecological damage and strain they were causing” (Michael Thomas, New UN report finds almost no industry profitable if environmental costs were included; also see An Invisible Debt Made Visible). So, not only are industries like that of big energy taking trillions of dollars of corporate welfare as part of plutocratic socialism for they are simultaneously, on the other side of the equation, offloading trillions of dollars of costs onto the public. And we have no way to measure the further costs externalized through pollution and ecological destruction. It is an incomprehensibly large net loss for all of society, in the United States and across the world.

We are told that we can’t afford a few trillion to ensure most Americans don’t suffer and die from preventable and treatable health concerns, some of it caused by the very costs of pollution externalized on the public, especially the poor who are more likely to live in industrial toxic zones.

The United States of Inequality

George Lakoff, Moral Politics, pp 194-6:

Liberals like to think of Ronald Reagan as stupid. Whether he was or not, those around him certainly were not. While constantly attacking liberals as big spenders, the Reagan and Bush administrations added three trillion dollars to the national debt by drastically increasing military spending while cutting taxes for the rich. They could count; they saw the deficit increasing. They blamed the increases on liberal spending, but Reagan did not veto every spending bill. Moreover, Reagan’s own actions accounted for much of the deficit increase. Had financial responsibility and the lessening of spending been Reagan’s top priorities, he would not have allowed such an increase in the deficit, simply by not cutting taxes and not pushing for a military buildup far beyond the Pentagon’s requests. . .

Adding three trillion dollars to the deficit actually served a moral purpose for Ronald Reagan. It meant that, sooner or later, the deficit would force an elimination of social programs. He knew perfectly well that the military budget would never be seriously cut, and that a major increase in tax revenues to eliminate the deficit would never be agreed upon. In the long run, the staggering deficit would actually serve Strict Father morality – conservative morality – by forcing Congress to cut social programs. From the perspective of Strict Father morality, Ronald Reagan looks moral and smart, not immoral and dumb as many liberals believe.

National Debt, Starve the Beast, & Wealth Disparity

Increases in the National Debt Chart

Bill Clinton steadily reduced the debt increase while he was in office, thanks largely to the 1993 Debt Reduction Act* that was OPPOSED BY EVERY SINGLE REPUBLICAN IN CONGRESS, led by Newt Gingrich! The Republicans claimed that the Debt Reduction Act would result in HIGHER deficits and also result in an economic recession during President Clinton’s term. Obviously, with hindsight they were completely wrong. Republicans don’t seem to be very good at math, or economics.

Now, after 20 years of huge Republican deficits and Republican recessions, the National Debt has increased from $937 Billion — LESS than $1 Trillion — the day Ronald Reagan took office to ALMOST $10 TRILLION!!! The Debt has increased more than TEN TIMES what it was when Ronald Reagan promised to reduce the National Debt by 1983! We and our children and their children will be paying off the debt added by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush for the next 100 years and more! For what !?!? Services have been cut across America. Police and Fire Departments haven’t grown nearly as fast as our population. Even the number of troops in the military has been cut while military spending has skyrocketed!

Re: Poor investments

Poor investments
by Shay O’Reilly

. . . Even on a purely monetary scale, the money lost to Solyndra is overwhelmed by the amount spent on other failed causes. The money squandered on Solyndra is measured in hundreds of millions, but a Brown University study released earlier this year puts the total cost of our “War on Terror” at $4 trillion — nearly one-third of the national debt.

Investing in Violence and Death

US Budgetary Costs of Wars through 2016: $4.79 Trillion and Counting Summary of Costs of the US Wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan and Homeland Security
by Neta C. Crawford, Watson Institute

As of August 2016, the US has already appropriated, spent, or taken on obligations to spend more than $3.6 trillion in current dollars on the wars in Iraq,  Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria and on Homeland Security (2001 through fiscal year 2016). To this total should be added the approximately $65 billion in dedicated war spending the Department of Defense and State Department have requested for the next  fiscal year, 2017, along with an additional nearly $32 billion requested for the Department of Homeland Security in 2017, and estimated spending on veterans in  future years. When those are included, the total US budgetary cost of the wars reaches $4.79 trillion. . .

In addition, any reasonable estimate of the costs of the wars includes the fact that each war entails essentially signing rather large promissory notes to fulfill the US obligations for medical care and support for wounded veterans. These future obligations will total approximately an additional $1 trillion in medical and disability payments and additional administrative burden through 2053.

Post-9/11 Wars Have Cost Nearly $5 Trillion (and Counting)
by Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams

What’s more, a recent Inspector General audit report found a “jaw-dropping” $6.5 trillion could not be accounted for in Defense spending.

The results of Crawford’s report, released last week, follow previous estimates by prominent economists like Nobel Prize-winning Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes, whose 2008 book The Three Trillion Dollar War made similar claims.

Crawford’s report continues: “Interest costs for overseas contingency operations spending alone are projected to add more than $1 trillion dollars to the national debt by 2023. By 2053, interest costs will be at least $7.9 trillion unless the U.S. changes the way it pays for the war.” . . .

War on Terror Could Be Costliest Yet
by Andrew Soergel, U.S. News

$4.79 trillion total exceeds spending on any single war the U.S. has ever fought.

The Congressional Research Service, for example, estimates the U.S. spent $4.4 trillion on World War II, when adjusted for inflation and converted to 2016 dollars. The Vietnam War is estimated to have cost $789.5 billion, while the Korean War cost $364.8 billion.

Even in terms of noncombat government expenditures, Crawford’s multitrillion-dollar price tag is daunting. The Interstate Highway System is believed to have cost $500 billion to construct, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. The Project Apollo missions that first sent men to the moon cost more than $135 billion in 2016 dollars. Digging the original Panama Canal is believed to have cost a little more than $9 billion. […]

But even if the U.S. stopped spending on war at the end of this fiscal year, interest costs alone on borrowing to pay for the wars will continue to grow apace,” she said. “Interest costs for overseas contingency operations spending alone are projected to add more than $1 trillion dollars to the national debt by 2023.”

Evil Empire

Seeing Our Wars for the First Time
by Tom Engelhardt

Who could be surprised that such a “war” has been eating American taxpayer dollars at a rate that should stagger the imagination in a country whose infrastructure is now visibly crumbling? In a separate study, released in November, the Costs of War Project estimated that the price tag on the war on terror (with some future expenses included) had already reached an astronomical $5.6 trillion. Only recently, however, President Trump, now escalating those conflicts, tweeted an even more staggering figure: “After having foolishly spent $7 trillion in the Middle East, it is time to start rebuilding our country!” (This figure, too, seems to have come in some fashion from the Costs of War estimate that “future interest payments on borrowing for the wars will likely add more than $7.9 trillion to the national debt” by mid-century.) . . .

Horrors Wrought On The World Since 9/11
by Nicolas Davies, Popular Resistance

Since 2001, the U.S. has borrowed and spent $3.3 trillion in additional military spending to pay for the largest unilateral military build-up in history, but less than half the extra funding has been spent on current wars. (See Carl Conetta’s 2010 paper, “An Undisciplined Defense”, for more analysis of the Pentagon’s “spending surge.”) . . .

90% of All Deaths In War Are CIVILIANS
by WashingtonsBlog

U.S. military spending dwarfs all other countries:
“The United States is responsible for 41% of the world’s total military spending. The next largest in spending are China, accounting for 8.2%; Russia, 4.1%; and the United Kingdom and France, both 3.6%. . . . If all military . . . costs are included, annual [US] spending amounts to $1 trillion . . . . According to the DOD fiscal year 2012 base structure report, ‘The DOD manages global property of more than 555,000 facilities at more than 5,000 sites, covering more than 28 million acres.’ The United States maintains 700 to 1000 military bases or sites in more than 100 countries. . . .”

Capitalism as Social Control

World’s top firms cause $2.2tn of environmental damage, report estimates
by Juliette Jowit

The cost of pollution and other damage to the natural environment caused by the world’s biggest companies would wipe out more than one-third of their profits if they were held financially accountable, a major unpublished study for the United Nations has found. […]

The study, conducted by London-based consultancy Trucost and due to be published this summer, found the estimated combined damage was worth US$2.2 trillion (£1.4tn) in 2008 – a figure bigger than the national economies of all but seven countries in the world that year.

The figure equates to 6-7% of the companies’ combined turnover, or an average of one-third of their profits, though some businesses would be much harder hit than others. […]

The biggest single impact on the $2.2tn estimate, accounting for more than half of the total, was emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change. Other major “costs” were local air pollution such as particulates, and the damage caused by the over-use and pollution of freshwater.

The true figure is likely to be even higher because the $2.2tn does not include damage caused by household and government consumption of goods and services, such as energy used to power appliances or waste; the “social impacts” such as the migration of people driven out of affected areas, or the long-term effects of any damage other than that from climate change. The final report will also include a higher total estimate which includes those long-term effects of problems such as toxic waste. . .

Hitting toughest climate target will save world $30tn in damages, analysis shows
by Damian Carrington

Achieving the toughest climate change target set in the global Paris agreement will save the world about $30tn in damages, far more than the costs of cutting carbon emissions, according to a new economic analysis.

Most nations, representing 90% of global population, would benefit economically from keeping global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, the research indicates. This includes almost all the world’s poorest countries, as well as the three biggest economies – the US, China and Japan – contradicting the claim of US president, Donald Trump, that climate action is too costly. […]

The research, published the journal Nature, is among the first to assess the economic impact of meeting the Paris climate goals. Data from the last 50 years shows clearly that when temperatures rise, GDP and other economic measures fall in most nations, due to impacts on factors including labour productivity, agricultural output and health.

The scientists used this relationship and 40 global climate models to estimate the future economic impact of meeting the 1.5C target – a tough goal given the world has already experienced 1C of man-made warming. They also assessed the long-standing 2C target and the impact of 3C of warming, which is the level expected unless current plans for action are increased.

“By the end of the century, we find the world will be about 3% wealthier if we actually achieve the 1.5C target relative to 2C target,” said Marshall Burke, assistant professor at Stanford University in the US, who led the new work. “In dollar terms, this represents about $30tn in cumulative benefits.”

The estimated cost of meeting the 1.5C target is about $0.5tn over the next 30 years,” he said: “So our evidence suggest the benefits of meeting the targets vastly outweigh the costs.”

“We also calculated what’s going to be the additional economic cost if we hit 3C instead of 2C. This will cost the globe an additional 5-10% of GDP, relative to 2C; that is tens of trillions of dollars. These are very large numbers,” he said.

The researchers acknowledge there are significant uncertainties in their economic modelling, but said they are confident that keeping climate change to 1.5C is very likely to benefit the vast majority of the world’s people.

Americans Can’t Afford Kleptocracy

“. . . In addition, fossil fuels enjoy $5 trillion in direct and indirect subsidies, and there’s ample infrastructure to extract and burn them. . .”

. . . What disturbs me is that the US ruling elite throw around trillions of dollars as if it were chump change. That is trillions of dollars every year (quite possibly an undercount at that, as not only is wealth given away but resources, opportunities, and access are given away before they are measured as wealth in any accounting, all of it defended and enforced by a military empire that is costly beyond imagination, costly also in terms of lives and human potential callously sacrificed). And we are talking about only one industry. They also waste trillions of dollars in selling other natural resources below market prices, in no-bid contracts for the defense industry, in all that goes into big ag, and much else. A few trillion here, a few trillion year, and on and on, in every sector of the economy every year, repeat ad nauseum for decades and generations on end. Yet we are told we don’t have enough money for basic needs of survival for Americans, that we can’t afford even to raise minimum wage for those who don’t earn enough to pay the bills, despite working multiple jobs. There are millions of Americans without affordable healthcare, sometimes without homes even, and going without food on a regular basis. But we can’t afford to ensure the public good. Well, I’m pretty sure those trillions upon trillions multiplied over a lifetime or longer could have gone a long way in investing in housing for all, universal healthcare, good schools even for the poor, clean water that is free of lead, and on and on.

Ralph Nader: . . . “These are trillions and trillions of dollars that come from people who work hard every day, but have not received what they should have received given their earned effort. . . And that’s why they’re huge polls supporting a lot of Sanders and Warren’s measures and they include quite a few conservative voters. You can’t have 65, 70, 75 percent vote for cracking down on corporate abuses, for a living wage, for universal health care unless you have quite a bit of conservative voters as well, right?”

Corporate Veganism

“This Poison Cartel of companies,” writes Vandana Shiva in reference to the corporate alliance behind EAT-Lancet, “have together contributed up to 50% Green house gases leading to climate change, and the chronic disease epidemic related to chemicals in food, loss in diversity in the diet, industrially processed junk food, and fake food.” The Lancet Journal itself, from a new report, is now warning of us the exact same thing, in that many corporate sectors (including those backing EAT-Lancet) receive $5 trillion in government subsidies: “Big Food’s obstructive power is further enhanced by governance arrangements that legitimize industry participation in public policy development” (Swinburn et al, The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change).”

Climate Change Worsening Faster Than Expected

A warming Arctic could cost the world trillions of dollars
by Stephen Leahy

Companies Expect Climate Change to Cost Them $1 Trillion in 5 Years
by Sara Harrison

The Bank of England lays bare the “very real” trillion-dollar risks of climate change
by Akshat Rathi

Arctic Warming Will Cost At Least $24 Trillion More Than We Thought, Study Finds
by Becky Ferreira

The $70-Trillion Climate Bill Coming Our Way
by Tim Radford

A 99’er Welcomes Death

A Disillusioned 99’er Shares His Disappointment With The American Dream, Welcomes Death

Since the end of 2008, when corporate America began enjoying the resumption of growth, profits have swelled from an annualized pace of $995 billion to the current $1.66 trillion as of the end of September 2010. Over the same period, the number of non-farm jobs counted by the Labor Department has slipped from 13.4 million to 13 million — there is no recovery for the unemployed and main street. We taxpayers have handed trillions of dollars to the same bank and insurance industry that started our economic disaster with its reckless gambling. We bailed out General Motors. We distributed tax cuts to businesses that were supposed to use this lubrication to expand and hire. For our dollars, we have been rewarded with starvation, homelessness and a plague of fear — a testament to post-national capitalism.

Freedom From Want, Freedom to Imagine

40 Acres and a Mule Would Be at Least $6.4 Trillion Today—What the U.S. Really Owes Black America
by Tracy Loeffelholz and DunnJeff Neumann

How to Save the Environment.

“The next president must be more Lincoln and FDR than Obama or Clinton.

“Both Lincoln and FDR asserted powers that rush right into the realm of tyranny or dictatorship – to the dismay of both conservatives and liberals.

“The threats they faced required, and in fact demanded it.

“The first step must be to articulate the brutal truth of the threat we face and to name those responsible.

“The next president must be a radical relative to the centrism and tyranny of the system.”

The Violent Ink

“Can’t see nothin’ in front of me
Can’t see nothin’ coming up behind
Make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed
On my back’s a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile of line

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight…”

— Bruce Springsteen, The rising.

A few weeks ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger said that as the energy companies have known for decades about the effects of their product on the environment, they are guilty of murder, and a set of interconnected crimes.

He’s correct but does not go far enough.

They are guilty of ecocide which should be a crime against humanity and should land…

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The Sickness of the Sick Care System

“Today medical schools in the United States offer, on average, only about nineteen hours of nutrition education over four years of medical school. Only 29 percent of U.S. medical schools offer the recommended twenty-five hours of nutrition education. A study in the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health assessed the basic nutrition and health knowledge of medical school graduates entering a pediatric residency program and found that, on average, they answered only 52 percent of eighteen questions correctly. In short, most mainstream doctors would fail nutrition.
~Dr. Will Cole, Ketotarian (quoted here), 2018

Burnout has become an increasing problem among physicians. A recent Medscape survey found high rates of burnout among medical practitioners, including 42% of psychiatrists and mental health professionals. Depression is also extremely common in physicians, who have a suicide rate higher than that of the general population, and even higher than that of other academics. There is also a high suicide rate in psychologists, with some studies suggesting that close to 30% have felt suicidal and nearly 4% have made a suicide attempt. One study of more than 1000 randomly sampled counseling psychologists found that 62% of respondents self-identified as depressed, and of those with depressive symptoms, 42% reported experiencing some form of suicidal ideation or behavior.
~Batya Swift Yasgur, Challenging Stigma: Should Psychiatrists Disclose Their Own Mental Illness?, 2019

“Researchers Rubén Díaz and Carlos Rodríguez, explored the burnout prevalence of mental health professionals in Panama (where I live and work) and found that about 36 percent of its community has suffered from burnout syndrome at one point or another of their careers… While it’s not shocking to learn that mental health professionals also struggle with mental health issues—given that we’re human and all—it’s disconcerting to see research show that mental health care professional are hesitant to seek help. In the aforementioned study, about 43 percent of psychologists “struggle to see the presentation of mental illness and psychological distress within themselves,” and one in five psychologists withholds information about their emotional difficulties.
~Mariana Plata, Therapists Need Therapy, Too, 2018

Probably no single fact illustrates the frequency of this disease [neurasthenia] more impressively than this, that at all times while on duty, I have a number of physicians, who are themselves sufferers in this way, under my care. Many of these medical patients have been affiicted for years, without ever reaching the true diagnosis of the condition, and in not a few instances, the real debility and distress are heightened and intensified by fear of impending disablement. Overworked and overworried physicians are quite apt to develop this disease, and for reasons elsewhere stated… are also more likely to develop at the same time hypochondria or pathophobia. At least one of every ten of those who consult me for neurasthenia are physicians.
~Dr. George Miller Beard, A Practical Treatise On Nervous Exhaustion (Neurasthenia), 1884

“Perhaps he is best known for the establishment of his rest cure, a method of treatment for patients, especially women, who suffered from hysteria and neurasthenia. The cure became the standard treatment for many decades, particularly in England… On a visit to Paris, Mitchell sought out the great Jean Martin Charcot (1825-1893) for help without revealing his name. Where was he from? “Philadelphia?” Then said Charcot: “You should consult Weir Mitchell; he is the best man in America for your kind of trouble.”
~Whonamedit? Biographical Dictionary, Silas Weir Mitchell

“Heard joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor…I am Pagliacci.”
~Alan Moore, Watchmen, 1987

What Are The Powers That Be Distracting You From Right Now?

“Until yesterday I had always been quietly sceptical of those who claimed that Julian’s treatment amounted to torture – even of Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – and sceptical of those who suggested he may be subject to debilitating drug treatments. But having attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture, and having worked with survivors from Sierra Leone and elsewhere, I can tell you that yesterday changed my mind entirely and Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness.

“I had been even more sceptical of those who claimed, as a senior member of his legal team did to me on Sunday night, that they were worried that Julian might not live to the end of the extradition process. I now find myself not only believing it, but haunted by the thought. Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable. Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later. The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern. […]

“The campaign of demonisation and dehumanisation against Julian, based on government and media lie after government and media lie, has led to a situation where he can be slowly killed in public sight, and arraigned on a charge of publishing the truth about government wrongdoing, while receiving no assistance from “liberal” society.

“Unless Julian is released shortly he will be destroyed. If the state can do this, then who is next?”

O Society

Assange in Court

by Craig Murray edited by O Society October 24, 2019

I was deeply shaken while witnessing yesterday’s events in Westminster Magistrates Court. Every decision was railroaded through over the scarcely heard arguments and objections of Assange’s legal team, by a magistrate who barely pretended to be listening.

Before I get on to the blatant lack of fair process, the first thing I must note was Julian’s condition. I was badly shocked by just how much weight my friend has lost, by the speed his hair has receded and by the appearance of premature and vastly accelerated ageing. He has a pronounced limp I have never seen before. Since his arrest he has lost over 15 kg in weight.

But his physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration. When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to…

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Which Way Out of Neoliberalism: Fascism or Socialism?

A new generation of black misleadership, Symone Sanders and Jay-Z, seeks to take the place of Oprah and Bill Cosby. These are the pawns the fascist plutocracy has long used to maintain oppression.

They turn one race against another, as they turn the middle class against the poor, which means the entire population is not just divided but splintered. There can be no populist revolt for justice and fairness if there is no shared sense of being a public, a single people.

The attack on poor blacks has always been key to this strategy. And that has required the telling of lies so often that they are taken as truth. But let’s be clear. The attack on poor whites has been equally important. The purpose is to keep the masses from realizing they have shared interests and shared enemies.

The Myth of Weak and Broken Black Families
Black Families: “Broken” and “Weak”
Structural Racism and Personal Responsibility
Working Hard, But For What?
Whose Work Counts? Who Gets Counted?
Racism Without Racists: Victimization & Silence

O Society

“The next time you’re bombarded with over-the-top claims about how our country is doomed or the world is coming apart at the seams, brush off the cynics and fearmongers. Because the truth is, if you had to choose any time in the course of human history to be alive, you’d choose this one. Right here in America, right now.”
~ Barack Obama

by Danny Haiphong edited by O Society October 14, 2019

Without self-determination, socialism becomes an economist demand which fails to account for imperial rule.

“Neoliberalism leaves workers competing against each other in a great race to the bottom.”

The conditions of decline which characterize the neoliberal stage of capitalist production worldwide no doubt led to a growth in the scope and influence of fascism in the Western world. In the U.S., fascism manifests as a bipartisan consensus advocating war and austerity, as well as the rise of politically right-wing…

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