SOPHIE SCHOLL: The fire within (by Zen Pencils)

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ZEN PENCILS

Sophie Scholl (1921-1943) was a German activist who is famous for speaking out against the Nazi regime. Scholl was a member of a protest group called The White Rose, which was formed by her brother Hans, and some of his university friends. The group mainly consisted of students in their early twenties who were fed up with the totalitarian rule of the government. The Nazis controlled every aspect of society – the media, police, military, judiciary system, communication system, all levels of education and all cultural and religious institutions. The White Rose distributed leaflets urging their fellow Germans to oppose the regime through non-violent resistance.

On 22nd February 1943, after the release of the sixth White Rose leaflet, Sophie, Hans and fellow member Christoph Probst were arrested by the Gestapo and convicted of treason. They were executed that same day by guillotine. Sophie was 21 years old.

UPDATE: The source of this quote has been disputed. It’s been sourced on Wikiquote, but on further investigation by some readers, it can’t be 100% confirmed. It could have originated from a 1991 play about Scholl written by Lillian Garrett-Groag.

– Thanks to Elise for submitting this quote.

– In case you missed it last week, someone made a short film based on one of my comics.

Un-linking Ethics & Religion: Peter Singer’s “Pratical Ethics”

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From Practical Ethics, by Peter Singer

“Religion was tought to provide a reason for doing what is right, the reason being that those who are virtuous will be rewarded by an eternity of bliss while the rest roast in hell. (…) Not all religious thinkers have accepted this argument: Kant, a most pious Christian, scorned anything that smacked of a self-interested motive for obeying the moral law. (…) Our everyday observation of our fellow human beings clearly shows that ethical behaviour does not require belief in heaven and hell.” (Cambrigde Press, p. 4).

LECTURES

I ) Ethics & Living Ethically, at New College of the Humanities

II) The Christian God

Dirt! The Movie

Dirt! The Movie

Dirt! The Movie is a 2009 American documentary film directed by filmmakers Gene Rosow and Bill Benenson and narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis. It was inspired by the book Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan. The film explores the relationship between humans and soil, including its necessity for human life and impacts by society. Dirt! The Movie was an official selection for the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and won several awards, including the best documentary award at the 2009 Visions/Voices Environmental Film Festival and the “Best film for our future” award at the 2009 Mendocino Film Festival. (Wikipedia)

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Dirt shiva1

“Floods, drought, climate change, and even war are all directly related to the fate of humble dirt. Made from the same elements as stars, plants, and human beings, dirt is very much alive. One teaspoon of dirt contains a billion organisms working in balance to sustain a series of complex, thriving communities that are invisibly a part of our daily lives. DIRT! The Movie tells the story of Earth’s most valuable and underappreciated source of fertility — from its miraculous beginning to its tragic degradation. This insightful and timely film tells the story of the glorious and unappreciated material beneath our feet.

Narrated by Jaimie Lee Curtis and inspired by William Bryant Logan’s acclaimed book Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, DIRT! The Movie introduces viewers to dirt’s fascinating history. Four billion years of evolution have created the dirt that recycles our water, gives us food, and provides us with shelter. But humanity has endangered this vital living resource with destructive methods of agriculture, mining practices, and urban development, with catastrophic results: mass starvation, drought, and global warming.

The filmmakers travel around the world to capture the stories of global visionaries who are discovering new ways to repair humanity’s relationship with soil, checking in with Dr. Vandana Shiva to discuss her fight to prevent world hunger by preserving biodiversity in India, and documenting the tree planting work of renowned photographer Sebastião Salgado and his wife Lélia in Brazil. From farmers rediscovering sustainable agriculture and scientists discovering connections with soil to inmates learning job skills in a prison horticulture program and children eating from edible schoolyards, DIRT! The Movie brings to life the environmental, economic, social, and political importance of soil and suggests ways we can create new possibilities for all life on Earth.” = PBS INDEPENDENT LENS

PRECIOUS POETRY: “The Song of Hiawatha” by Henry Wadsworth LONGFELLOW (1807 – 1882)

“The Song of Hiawatha”
by Henry Wadsworth LONGFELLOW (1807 – 1882)

Photogaph by Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) in Public Domain

Longfellow’s photo by Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) in Public Domain

WIKIPEDIA – “The Song of Hiawatha is an 1855 epic poem, in trochaic tetrameter, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, featuring a Native American hero. In sentiment, scope, overall conception, and many particulars, Longfellow’s poem is a work of American Romantic literature, not a representation of Native American oral tradition. Longfellow insisted, “I can give chapter and verse for these legends. Their chief value is that they are Indian legends.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Song_of_Hiawatha

THE SONG OF HIAWATHA (Longfellow)

Should you ask me, whence these stories?
Whence these legends and traditions,
With the odors of the forest
With the dew and damp of meadows,
With the curling smoke of wigwams,
With the rushing of great rivers,
With their frequent repetitions,
And their wild reverberations
As of thunder in the mountains?
I should answer, I should tell you,
“From the forests and the prairies,
From the great lakes of the Northland,
From the land of the Ojibways,
From the land of the Dacotahs,
From the mountains, moors, and fen-lands
Where the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
Feeds among the reeds and rushes.
I repeat them as I heard them
From the lips of Nawadaha,
The musician, the sweet singer.”
Should you ask where Nawadaha
Found these songs so wild and wayward,
Found these legends and traditions,
I should answer, I should tell you,
“In the bird’s-nests of the forest,
In the lodges of the beaver,
In the hoof-prints of the bison,
In the eyry of the eagle!
“All the wild-fowl sang them to him,
In the moorlands and the fen-lands,
In the melancholy marshes;
Chetowaik, the plover, sang them,
Mahng, the loon, the wild-goose, Wawa,
The blue heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
And the grouse, the Mushkodasa!”
If still further you should ask me,
Saying, “Who was Nawadaha?
Tell us of this Nawadaha,”
I should answer your inquiries
Straightway in such words as follow.
“In the vale of Tawasentha,
In the green and silent valley,
By the pleasant water-courses,
Dwelt the singer Nawadaha.
Round about the Indian village
Spread the meadows and the corn-fields,
And beyond them stood the forest,
Stood the groves of singing pine-trees,
Green in Summer, white in Winter,
Ever sighing, ever singing.
“And the pleasant water-courses,
You could trace them through the valley,
By the rushing in the Spring-time,
By the alders in the Summer,
By the white fog in the Autumn,
By the black line in the Winter;
And beside them dwelt the singer,
In the vale of Tawasentha,
In the green and silent valley.
“There he sang of Hiawatha,
Sang the Song of Hiawatha,
Sang his wondrous birth and being,
How he prayed and how be fasted,
How he lived, and toiled, and suffered,
That the tribes of men might prosper,
That he might advance his people!”
Ye who love the haunts of Nature,
Love the sunshine of the meadow,
Love the shadow of the forest,
Love the wind among the branches,
And the rain-shower and the snow-storm,
And the rushing of great rivers
Through their palisades of pine-trees,
And the thunder in the mountains,
Whose innumerable echoes
Flap like eagles in their eyries;–
Listen to these wild traditions,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
Ye who love a nation’s legends,
Love the ballads of a people,
That like voices from afar off
Call to us to pause and listen,
Speak in tones so plain and childlike,
Scarcely can the ear distinguish
Whether they are sung or spoken;–
Listen to this Indian Legend,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
Ye whose hearts are fresh and simple,
Who have faith in God and Nature,
Who believe that in all ages
Every human heart is human,
That in even savage bosoms
There are longings, yearnings, strivings
For the good they comprehend not,
That the feeble hands and helpless,
Groping blindly in the darkness,
Touch God’s right hand in that darkness
And are lifted up and strengthened;–
Listen to this simple story,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
Ye, who sometimes, in your rambles
Through the green lanes of the country,
Where the tangled barberry-bushes
Hang their tufts of crimson berries
Over stone walls gray with mosses,
Pause by some neglected graveyard,
For a while to muse, and ponder
On a half-effaced inscription,
Written with little skill of song-craft,
Homely phrases, but each letter
Full of hope and yet of heart-break,
Full of all the tender pathos
Of the Here and the Hereafter;–
Stay and read this rude inscription,
Read this Song of Hiawatha!

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The Threat of Totalitarianism Today – Or Why Hannah Arendt Still Matters

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Philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), photographed in Paris, 1935.

THE THREAT OF TOTALITARIANISM TODAY

(OR: WHY ARENDT STILL MATTERS)

By Eduardo Carli de Moraes @ Awestruck Wanderer

It’s an obvious fact that the books of great philosophers survive the physical existence of the philosophers themselves: their thought is alive for decades or centuries after their deaths, ideas kept safe, like a treasure in a trunk, in the books they’ve written. Even tough they are no longer among the living, we are still under their influence, and our thought and judgement can be expanded and enriched by their legacy. A dead philosopher may have a long future after the brain that used to act inside his or her skull has vanished from the world. Looked in this perspective, it’s perfectly legitimate to ask, for example: “what would Arendt have to teach us about Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror? What would Arendt say, if she was alive today, about the danger of totalitarian horror happening again in the future? And nowadays, where would Arendt recognize a totalitarian regime in action, here and now? “

Similarly, one might ask: what would Nietzsche have to say about the III Reich and the Nazi’s “Final Solution”? What opinions would Spinoza nurture about the Enlightenment thinkers or the French Revolution? Would Plato agree with Jesus Christ if they had ever met? And what about Hannah Arendt, if she was living today, would she criticize some of our societies as totalitarian regimes? This sort of questions, in which one tries to figure out what some thinker would consider about historical events or people he or she didn’t live to witness, may seem to many of us some sort of absurd anachronism. Some may argue that this line of questioning may have its value only as an intellectual exercise, but can never achieve truthfulness because it relies too much on speculation and conjectures; it’s just philosophy acting in science-fiction-mode, right?

27388_hannah_arendt_olgemtlde_heidemarie_kull_copyrigt (1)Well, Hannah Arendt’s case is interesting to adress, in this context, because she seems to be one of the alivest of all dead philosophers. And scholars, researchers, political theorists and journalists keep invoking Hannah Arendt’s thought to explain recent stuff, such as the Abu Ghraib scandal, which brought to light the wide-spread use of torture as the U.S. Army’s “interrogation method” at the detention centers for suspects of terrorism. An excellent doc about it is Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure (2008)

In an article published by New Internationalist Magazine, for example, Sean Willcock evokes Arent’s très celèbre “the banality of evil” to explain Abu Ghraib’s mixture of terrible disrespect for basic human rights, combined with the banality of soldiers who took “selfies” with smiling faces, aparently stupidly unaware of the crushed dignity of those fellow humans they were humiliating, torturing and killing.


Also recommended: Standard Operating Procedure, a documentary by Errol Morris

Hannah_Arendt_Film_PosterIn our technologically connected “global village”, philosophers can also be brought back from their graves by other means than books, of course. Recently, Hannah Arednt was summoned from the tomb to appear as protagonist of Margaret Von Trotta’s bio-pic. Even tough it’s mainly an historical and biographical film, mostly about the Eichmman case, I feel there’s a lot to be found in the film to enlighten us nowadays (see, for example, this excellent article about the film @ “MantleThought.org).

I deeply agree with Celso Lafer when he argues: “Arendt is a classic in Bobbio’s meaning of the word: an author whose concepts, even tough developed in the past, still serve us to understand the world of the present.” There’s good fruits to be gained by trying to re-think and re-actualize Arendt’s thought, instead of treating it as fixed: wouldn’t it be better to deal with her works in a dynamic way, expanding it and adapting it to serve as tools for our understanding of new occurences? Of course this sort of thinking is based on what I’d call imaginative speculation, dangerously on peril of betraying a writer when transplanting him – or his ideas – to another era. But doesn’t the merit of a certain thinker lie also in what he has to say to posterity, what can be learned in his books by those who came afterwards?

In her book Why Arendt Matters, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl mobilizes Hannah Arendt concepts and theories in order to understand events that happened after Arendt’s death in 1975. What would Arendt have to teach us, for example, about suicide bombers on a jihad against “the West” and who hope to be rewarded in Afterlife by Allmighty Allah? And what would she teach us about the “War on Terror”, the military invasion of Afheganistan, Iraq and Pakistan, which were unleashed after the September 11th attacks in 2001?

Arendt’s inspiring intellectual courage, I think, lies in her ability to go beyond simple moral outrage. She tries to understand things that most people are so horrified of that they’d rather not even try to understand them. Instead of being paralysed in horror in front of such terrible realities – Hiroshimas and Auschwitzes, gulags and atom bombs… – Arednt confronts these realities and tries to judge them, understand them, put them in historical context, portray a web of relations inside which they occur. That’s why Arendt’s procedure, whether she analyses imperialism or anti-semitism or totalitarian societies, can be used by us today in order to enhance our understanding of our current geopolitical landscape.

9780300120448The Nazi concentration camps, those “factories of death”, made the most horrendous criminal acts into a day-to-day process. Trying to understand an era of genocide in industrial scale, Hannah Arendt never acts with simplistic demonization of the Nazis, for example. It would be narrow-minded and deranged to say that Hitler or Goebbels or Eichmann were “possessed by the Devil”, or have been born with innate evilness. Hannah Arendt tries to understand the emergence of “a new type of criminal, the consequence-blind bureaucrat, agent of a criminal state, so unconcerned for the world – or alienated from it – that he could help lay waste to it.” (YOUNG-BRUHEL: 5)

After carefully watching Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem, Arendt was surprised to discover not a devilish man, but rather a dumb fellow, blindly obedient to his superiors in the hierarchy. Eichmann’s triking characteristic was, in Arendt’s eyes, his “thoughtlessness”, his stupidity.

“Thoughtlessness – the headless recklessness or hopeless confusion or complacent repetition of ‘truths’ which have become trivial and empty – seems to me among the outstanding characteristics of our time.” (ARENDT, The Human Condition, Prologue).

 Dr. Martin Luther King reminds us, when he says “everything that the Nazis did was legal”, that Justice (as a value, as a virtue) is not necessarily the same as the Law. There are plenty of unjust laws – based on racist discrimination or ethnical cleansing, for example. Eichmann, inside Nazi society, was a lawful agent. In a land were genocide is not outlawed, a mass killer is also a law-abiding citizen. If we are really to understand how did the terribles tragedies of 20th century’s happened, includin the “World Wars”, with its Holocausts and Atom Bombs, we need to understand how much evil can arise from blind obedience, from lack of thought and atrophy of judgement. Hannah Arendt provides us a path to follow if we wish to understand how could this horrors happen. Arendt enlightens us by providing a way to understand our tragedies in which there’s no explanation of evil as a pact-with-the-devil or the result of innate-bad-genes. Stupidity can become criminal:

“After listening to Eichmann at his trial and reading the pretrial interviews with him, she concluded that he had no criminal motives but only motives – not criminal in themselves – related to his own advancement in the Nazi hierarchy. (…) He was a man who, conforming to the prevailing norms and his Führer’s will, failed altogether to grasp the meaning of what he was doing. He was not diabolical, he was thoughtless. The word “thoughtlessness” is used by Arendt for a mental condition reflecting remoteness from reality, inability to grasp a reality that stares you in the face – a failure of imagination and judgment. (…) No deep-rooted or radical evil was necessary to make the trains to Auschwitz run on time.” (YOUNG-BRUEL, p. 108)

It reminds me of that famous experiment by Stanley Milgram, in which he tested how far can people go in the art of inflicting pain unto others. Milgram came up with a test to check how people would act when asked to approve the use of electrical shocks of increasing voltage; he wanted to see how wicked could a human being act just because a certain authority ordered it. The 20th century teachs us that hierarchy (and blind obedience to it) has much more relation with tragedy of epic proportions than the principles and actions of anarchists.

 Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, it seems to me, is also a reflection upon the evils that follow from conformity to unquestioned authority. The Origins of Totalitarism, I believe, can and should be read and understood with the aid of classics of social psychology such as Erich Fromm’ Fear of Freedom or Wilhelm Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism. The shocking fact about the III Reich is that those crimes were commited by law-abbiding citizens, who were only following the orders and honouring the Führer’s will. One of the psychological factors that made it possible for so many Germans to participate in the mega-machine of mass-murder was the notion that Hitler assumed all responsability, and those who worked in the concentration camps, those who operated the trains to the death fields, those who released the poisonous and deadly Zyklon B, could all excuse themselves by saying: “I was merely following orders.” Which reminds me of Howard Zinn’s often quoted statement, somewhat inspired by Thoreau, that civil obedience is in fact a danger far greater than civil disobedience:

Howard Zin (1922-2010)

Howard Zin (1922-2010)

Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. And our problem is that scene in All Quiet on the Western Front where the schoolboys march off dutifully in a line to war. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem. We recognize this for Nazi Germany. We know that the problem there was obedience, that the people obeyed Hitler. People obeyed; that was wrong. They should have challenged, and they should have resisted; and if we were only there, we would have showed them. Even in Stalin’s Russia we can understand that; people are obedient, all these herdlike people… (ZINN, Howard. Here.)

 When Hannah Arendt writes about crimes against humanity, and relates them to an evil arising from thoughtlessness and lack of judgement, she seems to be praising the individual’s potential for autonomy. Blind obedience to leaders or to established laws, unthinking conformity to the status quo, can lead to disaster. According to Young-Bruehl, who also wrote one of the most comprehensive biographies about Hannah Arendt, “she had always written out of solidarity with the victims of such crimes, with the conviction that telling their story for the sake of the future was her life task.” (YOUNG-BRUEHL, op cit., p. 209). This, also, we can learn from Arendt: solidarity with those who are, nowadays, the victims of crimes against humanity – for example, the detainees in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay, or the pakistanis killed by drone attacks. The U.S.A.’s War on Terror, even tough it justifies itself as a crusade of Freedom against Terror, utilizes “totalitarian methods”, argues Young-Bruehl, and such methods can be traced back to the Cold War era:

One of the most threatening ways that adopting totalitarian methods to fight totalitarianism helped shape the current world order  was in the practise adopted by U.S. governments during the Cold War period of sponsoring Islamic fundamentalists as agents of opposition to Soviet communism. This began on a small scale during Eisenhower’s presidency with support for the Muslim Brotherhood led by the Egyptian Hassan al-Banna… In Washington it was originally hoped that the political Islamists would help prevent the Communist ideology from infecting Arab states, but the policy of support became progressively aimed more at promoting Arab supranationalism and funding middle-ground wars. U.S. support of Arab supranationalism (with its own ideology, Wahhabism) focused on the reactionary Saudi monarchy, which was encouraged to create a network of right-wing Arab states using the Muslim Brotherhood as its agent. The Saudis also built on the Brotherhood’s violent opposition to Egypt under Nasser, who was considered a revolutionary nationalist in Washington and posed a direct challenge to U.S. and British oil interests in the Gulf… The CIA, in the most portentous instance, supported the Afghan fighters  in their resistance to the Soviet Union’s imperialist invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. At that time, the CIA helped Osama bin Laden build a network of ‘Afghan Arabs’, the forerunner of Al-Qaeda…(YOUNG-BRUEHL, p. 57)

 It gets me wondering what Hannah Arendt would have to teach us about the 21st century. Abu Ghraibs and Guantanamo Bays would very likely seem to her as dangerously similar to nazi concentration camps or soviet gulags, places where people lose their basic human rights and become victims of dehumanizing humiliation and torture. What about State Surveillance, a current reality denounced by whistleblower Edward Snowden? Isn’t it a dangerously totalitarian method, George Orwell’s Big Brother finally realized in mass scale? I’m quite sure Orwell never meant 1984 to be an Instructions Manual! And what to say about a country whose nuclear arsenal is huge, and who goes to war against Iraq claiming that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction in his hands? As if the United States of Atom Bombs hadn’t weapons of mass destruction also! And what to say about the thousands of americans who, misled by demagogy, blinded by patriotism, bound to their “duty”, marched straight to war, dropped bombs, launched drones? Now, of course, the damage is done and the thousands of dead bodies pile up as yet another reminder of human folly and of the dangers of thoughtlessness and blind obedience.

In her thought-provoking article A Lying World Order – Political Deception and the Threat of Totalitarianism, Peg Birmingham investigates if totalitarianism is a threat today.  She answers with conviction – “yes it is!” – and argues with Hannah Arendt that the danger is co-related to the problem of political lies, of ideological deception. Historians can’t cease to be amazed by the re-occurence, in Human History, of mass credulity in ideologies and leaders. Humanity may seem ludicrous and ridiculous when we take a look back and discover the scale in which lies were massively believed in, with the outcome of radical evil of colossal proportions. How not to be flabbergasted with the fact that millions could believe Hitler’s racist lies about ethnical cleansing and the Jewish Plague, or believe W. Bush’s pious lies about Saddam’s nuclear bombs? It’s a scenario to make us bemoan the fate of this planet in a time, to remember Shakespeare’s King Lear, “when madmen lead the blind.” (SHAKESPEARE, King Lear, Act 4, Scene 1)

In her essay “The Seeds of a Fascist International” (1945), Hannah Arendt wrote: “It was always a too little noted hallmark of fascist propaganda that it was not satisfied with lying, but deliberately proposed to transform lies into reality. For such a fabrication of lying reality, no one was prepared. The essential characteristic of fascist propaganda was never its lies, for this is something more or less common to propaganda everywhere, and of every time. The essential thing was that they exploited the age-old occidental prejudice which confuses reality with truth, and made that true which until then could only be stated as a lie.” (ARENDT, 146-147) For example: if Mr. X makes a statement such as “my aunt is dead”, but then Mrs. Y contradicts him with “No, this ain’t true, I saw your aunt just a moment ago at the market”, all Mr. X needs to do to mutate his statement from a lie to a truth is “to go home and murder his aunt” (BIRMINGHAM, P. 74.) 

Winter Soldier

In Winter Soldier (1972), an excellent documentary about the Vietnam War, built upon statements from the soldiers who were there and witnessed it all, a man who fought with the U.S. Army gives us an example of the Political Lie in action: when civilians were killed (military leaders, then and now, call this “collateral damage”), the U.S. Army ordered that those people  were to be labeled as gooks, written down in the “official reports” as if they were vietcongs. Kill first, then label the murdered person a devil, a filthy gook, an unworthy-to-live commie. That’s the strategy. Every dead Vietnamese, even tough he might have been a pacifist, is suddenly turned into a dangerous and murderous communist terrorist.

We still live in such a world where the Terrorist Menace is constantly evoked, and in its name are justified colossal measures of war, emprisonment and mass surveillance. If there’s a threat of totalitarianism in the world today, it certainly lies in the way governments are dealing with the so-called Terrorist Menace. The established powers, the status quo, the ruling elites, label as terrorists those who oppose their crushing powers. In India, the “terrorists” are the maoists who oppose Hindu nationalism and Free Trade Capitalism (check Arundhati Roy’s brilliant report Walking With The Comrades); in Mexico, the “terrorists” are the Zapatistas of Chiapas’s jungles who defend the rights of indigenous people against the pillage of big business; in the U.S., the “terrorists” are Islamic jihadists threatening to re-enact September 11th; in Brazil, “terrorists” are those citizens who take to the streets to protest against banks and corporate power, and refusing pacifism in their Black Bloc techniques or Anarchistic tendencies. And so on and so on… The “terrorist danger” is what justifies massive investments in police, it’s what governenmets use to justify the use of repression and mass incarceration. Welcome to “Democracy”, the best one that money can buy.

The danger of totalitarianism lies entangled with the threat of mass-belief in political lies:

The problem of ideology is, for Hannah Arendt, the problem of political deception. Ideology is the mutation that establishes the lying world order, by replacing reality with an ironclad fiction. In other words, ideology is the ‘most devilish version of the lie'”; these are Hannah Arendt’s words, and we should hear her claim that the banality of evil is, at its very heart, ideology. With both its hellish fantasies and its clichés, the ‘banality of evil’ is characterized by a strident logicality – a logic through which the whole of reality is thoroughly and systematically organized, according to  a fiction with a view to total domination.” (BIRMINGHAM, P. 77.) 

I wonder if our totalitarian threat may reside, today, also in the Market, or in what many specialists call “The Economy”. Aren’t we endangered by the “Free Trade” totalitarian ideology? In which every means are acceptable in order to enforce the holy end of “Free Markets”? Including the drone-attacks against Pakistan, the war of aggression against Iraq, the pious crusade of genocidal proportions against Afeghanistan? Who is naive enough to believe it was all made for the sake of Freedom and Democracy, when it actually resulted in a massive pile of corpses?  Not to mention, in previous decades, how Free Trade capitalism, Yankee-style, forced its way all around the globe with the aid of the military dictartorships and coup d’états imposed by U.S. interest in South and Central America. We, Latin Americans, can never forget what happened in Chile in September 11th, 1973. Not to mention the military interventions in Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.), justified as Anti-Communist measures.

The political lie, the fascist twist of propaganda to be discerned here, I would argue, lies in the preposterous idea that “Free Trade = Freedom and Justice”. That’s a lying and deceiving equation: if we take a closer look at the ideology of Free Trade, of the theories so dominant in today’s capitalism and that call themselves “liberal” and “neo-liberal”,  we’ll discover that they have a tendency to increase mass incarceration and police repression, for example. The U.S. currently has 25% of all the world’s prisoners. When prison become a business, that can be run for profit (with the aid, of course, of strick laws of prohibition against illicit drugs), neoliberal capitalism shows its true face: that of nasty greediness, mounting inequality, resulting in a dystopic society in which millions and millions of its citizens are behind bars, while an elite hides away, locked inside comfortable bunkers, with obscene accumulations of capital in protected by Hi-Tech Security.

To enforce capitalism, the preachers of Free Trade, with their billions – which could be invested to end global hunger or treat curable diseases in all continents! – uy themselves an immense apparatus of military repression and aggression. Remember Seattle, 1999. Remember Québec City, 2001. Remember Genoa, 2008. Remember Toronto, 2010. Remember Brazil’s World Cup, in 2014, in which neo-liberal interests where defended with military police and national Army, throughout the streets, programmed to silence and crush all dissidence and protest to FIFA’s money-making machine…

As Arundhati Roy reminds us, everytime that the world’s Capitalist Elites try to join for their summits, their G8 meetings, their WTOs and Free Trade congresses, they are only able to do it spending millions in what they call Security – another political lie, ideological fiction, that masks the fact that “Security” is based on agression, repression, and incarceration of political prisoners (it’s been done for centuries: put in prison your oponents, then justify yourself calling them “terrorists”). The so-called Liberal Democracy in the U.S. spends so much in War and Prisons that it shows to the world its true face, behind the masks and the fake twinklings of ideological propaganda. Look at Detroit, once America’s pearl, one of the wealthiest metropolis on Earth, now reduced to a wasteland; Detroit, who could be photographed nowadays in order to illustrate Mike Davis’s book Planet of Slums. Remember New Orleans when Katrina hit: the same country who spends billions with its Wars and who lets profits run wild with “free trades” such as that of Guns and Ammunitions, leaves its own citizens in abandonment while they face one of the worst climate disasters of American History…

Why, if a mandatory evacuation was issued, ordering that everybody should leave New Orleans before Katrina hit, the U.S. government didn’t provide the means for this evacuation to happen? Money, you always tell me, is not a problem in the U.S., The Land of Profit. When the poorest of people in New Orleans, who couldn’t afford a bus or plane ticket to a safe area, who couldn’t afford renting a hotel room in a Hurricane-free town, the least you’d expect from a sensible government is help. Perhaps they were too busy doing war in the Middle East, or spying on people’s private lifes in search of potencial terrorists, or torturing political prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, to ready be able to listen as New Orleans’ cried for help while drowning out in one of the crudest of the ecological turmoil’s of our “anthropocene” era. Rapper Kanye West, witnessing this, couldn’t do nothing but to speak on National TV: “George W. Bush doesn’t care for black people”. Neither he does care for Muslims. While the U.S. Army was bombing and torturing Muslims, in New Orleans it left off, unatended to, abandoned to their luck, those American Citizens who were still in town when the Hurricane came. As Naomi Klein shows in her The Shock Doctrine, after the disaster the authorities in charge of defending Free Trade capitalism took an interest in New Orleans: they saw that in Disaster there was Opportunity. What used to be Public service, in New Orleans, could now be refashioned to attend Private Interests. This is another reason why Arendt still matters: because Free Trade ideology wants to erase the notions of Public Space and of Common Good, in order to enforce its society of private interests and individualistic consumerism, protected by military force and crowded prisons.

In 1972, in a conference at the Toronto Society for the Study of Social and Political Thought (York University), Hannah Arendt said (and it remains for me inspirational stuff): “If we really believe – and I think we share this belief – that plurality rules the earth, then I think one has got to modify this notion of the unity of theory and practice to such an extent that it will be unrecognizable for those who tried their hand at it before. I really believe that you can only act in concert and I really believe that you can only think by yourself.” (pg. 305) Arendt matters because she can teach us a lot about thinking for ourselves (instead of accepting fixed truths that rain from above in the hierarchy…) and because she can teach us how to act in concert to criticize, dismantle and fight the threats of totalitarism today. 

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REFERENCES

ARENDT, Hannah. “The Seeds of a Fascist International”. Pgs. 146-147.

———————-. The Human Condition, Prologue.

BIRMINGHAM, Peg. “A Lying World Order – Political Deception and the Threat of Totalitarianism”In: Thinking in Dark Times, New York: Fordham University press.

YOUNG-BRUEHL, Elisabeth . Why Arendt Matters. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2006.

SHAKESPEARE, William. King Lear. Act 4, Scene 1.

ZINN, Howard. Zinn Reader. Seven Stories Press, 1970.

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SOME VIDEOS:

hannah08

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)

“SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL – ECONOMICS AS IF PEOPLE MATTERED” [by E. F. Schumacher]

Small is Beautiful

Notes inspired by:

“SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL – ECONOMICS AS IF PEOPLE MATTERED”

[by E. F. Schumacher]

If we are all born good, how come there’s so much wickedness? And if we’re born wicked, where does all the goodness come from? To follow Nietzsche’s lead into a realm Beyond Good And Evil, let’s try to meditate upon our current systems of production with no condemnation or praise. Even though historian Howard Zinn states that “it’s impossible to be neutral on a moving train”, let’s try for some minutes to practice some neutrality. Let’s take, for instance, capitalism: there’s no shortage of criticism, home-made bombs and armed guerrilas rising against it all throughout History, but there’s no shortage neither of its lovers, its praising servants, its devoted and faithful idolizers.

Who doubts that lots of moral indignation, or revulsion at immorality, has led many Marxists to mobilize their dialectics and their parties and their revolutions against Capitalism, Imperialism, Colonialism etc.? What are the grounds in which “leftists” dare to criticize the capitalist system of production by claiming it’s “morally monstruous” (to quote Miss Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, note #1 )? How do we practise neutrality in the field of history and politics, where the struggles for power and moral considerations are to be found everywhere we look?

I’ll suggest that we try, as a means to attempt to arrive at neutrality, as a raft who might take us there, an exercise in de-humanization: let’s look at things as if we weren’t humans. Maybe then we’ll be able to reach the standpoint of wisdom, which in Lucretius’s poem The Nature Of Things is described with a well-known metaphor: the wise one – which Lucretius, of course, identifies with his Greek master, Epicurus – is the one who stands serene, with full lucidity, at firm ground, watching the folly of ships at sea.

The wise one in the mountain witnesses and meditates upon the human condition at the same time as many humans are on their troubled ships at sea, thrown around by furious waves, involved in bloody fratricidal naval battles, or filled with vendetta ambitions like Ahab’s against Moby Dick. The sea of uncontrolled passions and thriving irrationality is the one Lucretius invites us to leave behind us, in order for us to reach the serenity of wise neutrality and lucid contemplation.

The trouble is, the “Western mind” has been conditioned to believe that Nature is inferior to Man, that nature can and should be exploited and extracted by ease by us, its masters and conquerors. This is how F.A. Schumacher puts it in the first paragraphs of Small is Beautiful: 

“Modern man does not experience himself as a part of nature but as an outside force destined to dominate and conquer it. He even talks of a battle with nature, forgetting that, if he won the battle, he would find himself on the losing side. We are estranged from reality and inclined to treat as valueless everything that we have not made ourselves. Even the great Dr Marx fell into this devastating error when he formulated the so-called ‘labour theory of value’. Far larger is the capital provided by nature and not by man – and we do not even recognise it as such. This larger part is now being used up at an alarming rate, and that is why it is an absurd and suicidal error to believe, and act on the belief, that the problem of production has been solved. Let us take a closer look at this ‘natural capital’. First of all, and most obviously, there are the fossil fuels. No-one, I am sure, will deny that we are treating them as income items although they are undeniably capital items. If we treated them as capital items, we should be concerned with conservation: we should do everything in our power to try and minimise their current rate of use…” [SCHUMACHER, note #2]

We have a tendency to think of capital as something created by humans, by labour we impose upon the materiality of nature, but Schumacher invites us to take a look at the wealth of nature without mankind in it. Petroleum is natural capital, then, because it wasn’t created by mankind, it’s the outcome of billions and billions of years in which the organisms dead remnants gathered below the earthly garden. We could even say, to communicate this with the more poetically inclined, that this stuff we today call fossil fuels are materialized death. It also contains a lot of energy, gathered by organisms who lived perhaps millions of years prior to the ascent of a primate such as ourselves. We have been burning the remnants of death like crazy in our car-junkie meat-devouring highly-consumptive and madly-extractive lifestyles.

It’s sufficient to take a peek at our rivers and seas, depleted of fish and poisoned by toxic waste; at our decapitaded forests and smoggy polluted skies; it becomes clear that the “Westernization” of the whole world, known as Globalization, has ecological consequences of mega-magnitude, and it’s increasingly becoming clear and well-known, to millions and millions worldwide, that the “Free Market” path is simply a suicidal one. Speaking about “Westerners” in they continued dependency on fossil fuels, un-reneable energy source, Schumacher states:

“We are not in the least concerned with conservation: we are maximising, instead of minimising the current rates of use; and, far from being interested in studying the possibilities of alternative methods of production and patterns of living – so as to get off the collision course on which we are moving with ever-increasing speed – we happily talk of unlimited progress along the beaten track of ‘education for leisure’ in the rich countries, and of ‘the transfer of technology’ to the poor countries…”  [SCHUMACHER, note #3]

One way to wake up from the Matrix of Western capitalist mentality is suggested by Buckminster Fuller [note #4] when we talks about us as 7 billion passengers of the same ship, Spaceship Earth. We’re all earthlings – that’s something we can easily agree upon. Going beyond parochialisms and egotisms and ethnocentric neuroses, we can arrive at true cosmopolitanism: we are all flying together with our bodies glued by gravity to this revolving planet, this celestial body who dances around a star with almost un-ending energy…

Let’s get back to the ground with economics, this very earthly example: in Toronto, where I lived for a year, there was an array of options in the market area I could reach by foot in the Runnymede neighbourhood: at the corner, I could buy fresh vegetables, juicy fruits, sold by a small-scale Vietnamese shop (“small is beautiful”), side by side with a huge PetroCanada station (a symbol of Canadian big oil biz). I’d rather give my money to small-and-beautiful Vietnamese shop-keepers, refugees from the U.S. led war back in the sixties and seventies, than to fall on my knees to the power of Big Petro Companhies. But I know that, sadly, small is being slaughtered by huge in our world of big multinational corporations and oil-junkie plutocrats…

The gas station, besides, changes the urban landscape in such a way that I could daily witness an endless procession of cars filling up their tanks in order that they could run wild, drunk on petroleum… To which of these two shops should I pledge allegiance? I’d rather be on the side of the Vietnameses’ potatoes and brocolli… What I mean by all this is: betweend food and petroleum, what is the order of priority? Which such come first? Of course, we need to eat first and foremost, and it’s better if it’s GMO-free, and sadly, in our Spaceship, we still got more than 1 billion human earthlings being eaten alive by hunger and thrown into early death by unfulfilled basic needs.

  We are “inclined to treat as valueless everything that we have not made ourselves”, writes Schumacher, and he probably means that our self-adoration, through the praise of our wonderful Technology, is a bit egotistical, cause it treats the man-made as superior to the natural. Most I-Phone users, clicking their ways through bus rides and metro stations, are unaware both of the process of production of that technological gaget and of its ecological consequences. This is not willfull ignorance, self-imposed blindness, but the result of the media system who conditions us to never question the hidden hands and fists of the Market. We are asked to enjoy ourselves in the Marketplace, by which they mean: we should spend a lot of cash and this will heat up the economy, everybody’s gonna win with our high consumption frenzies. We’re supposed to get all horny for hamburguers at the sight of a big yellow M in red background in the urban landscape that’s filled with the mind-mines and fly-traps of advertised bullshit.

What struck me as awesome while I was reading Small is Beautiful for the first time is how Natural Capital is described by the author as something much bigger, vaster, wealthier, than every Human-created Capital. This means, in other words, that Nature is way above the G8 countries, way above the IMF and the World Bank, in its wealth. Nature is rich and mighty, and humans are poor arrogant fools, who’ll pay the price for their húbris in the form of ecological catastrophes. The danger is to believe that Nature, cause she’s awfully rich, wouldn’t mind a bit if we humans plunder it and exploit for centuries and centuries. Perhaps we should wise up and respect that Nature in which we are permanently rooted, cause whatever we do to Nature’s web-of-life, we do it to ourselves as parts of it.

“We did not weave the web of life, we are merely strands in it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves.” ― Chief Seattle.

Cheers, fellow earthlings!

This Awestruck Wanderer now retreats again into silent wonder and worried plans of action.

Chief Seattle's Web of Life by Trina Yelensky
Chief

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

1. KLEIN, Naomi.  This Changes Everything.

2. SCHUMACHER, E.F. Small Is Beautiful. Chapter 1.

3. Op. cit.

4. FULLER, Buckminster. The World of Buckminster Fuller (Documentary).

THE PREACHER TO THE SLAVE: “YOU’LL GET PIE IN THE SKY WHEN YOU DIE.”

Joe Hill

THE PREACHER AND THE SLAVE
Lyrics: Joe Hill

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Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
But when asked how ’bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

The starvation army they play,
They sing and they clap and they pray
‘Till they get all your coin on the drum
Then they’ll tell you when you’re on the bum:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

Holy Rollers and jumpers come out,
They holler, they jump and they shout.
Give your money to Jesus they say,
He will cure all diseases today.

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

If you fight hard for children and wife —
Try to get something good in this life —
You’re a sinner and bad man, they tell,
When you die you will sure go to hell.

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

Workingmen of all countries, unite,
Side by side we for freedom will fight;
When the world and its wealth we have gained
To the grafters we’ll sing this refrain:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

You will eat, bye and bye,
When you’ve learned how to cook and to fry.
Chop some wood, ’twill do you good,
And you’ll eat in the sweet bye and bye.

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Joe HIll 3RAMBLE ON:

Don’t Mourn, Organize! The Songs of Joe Hill

Joe Hill 4

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