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

Peter Singer.jpg

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

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:

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Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” W.H. Auden

Barlow

“ON JULY 28, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly adopted an historic resolution recognizing the human right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as “essential for the full enjoyment of the right to life.” For those of us in the balcony of the General Assembly that day, the air was tense. A number of powerful countries had lined up to oppose it, so it had to be put to a vote. The Bolivian ambassador to the UN, Pablo Solón, introduced the resolution by reminding the assembly that humans are composed of about two-thirds water and that our blood flows like a network of rivers to transport nutrients and energy through our bodies. “Water is life,” he said.

Then he laid out the story of the number of people around the world who were dying from lack of access to clean water and quoted a new World Health Organization study on diarrhea showing that, every three and a half seconds in the developing world, a child dies of waterborne disease. Ambassador Solón then quietly snapped his fingers three times and held his small finger up for a half-second. The General Assembly of the United Nations fell silent. Moments later, it voted overwhelmingly to recognize the human rights to water and sanitation. The floor erupted in cheers.

The recognition by the General Assembly of these rights represented a breakthrough in the struggle for water justice in the world. It followed years of hard work and was a key platform of our global water justice movement for at least two decades. For me personally, it was the culmination of many years of work, and I was proud and grateful to all who had helped make it happen.

But our work is far from over. Recognizing a right is simply the first step in making it a reality for the millions who are living in the shadow of the greatest crisis of our era. With our insatiable demand for water, we are creating the perfect storm for an unprecedented world water crisis: a rising population and an unrelenting demand for water by industry, agriculture, and the developed world; over-extraction of water from the world’s finite water stock; climate change, spreading drought; and income disparity between and within countries, with the greatest burden of the race for water falling on the poor.

Barlow 3
“Suddenly it is so clear: the world is running out of fresh water.” These were the opening words of my 2002 book, Blue Gold: The Battle Against Corporate Theft of the World’s Water (co-written with Tony Clarke), which warned of a mighty contest brewing over the world’s dwindling freshwater supplies. As water became the oil of the twenty-first century, we predicted, a water cartel would emerge to lay claim to the planet’s freshwater resources. This has come true. But so has our prediction that a global water justice movement would emerge to challenge the “lords of water.”

Barlow 2In my 2007 book, Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water, I described the growing water cartel and its relentless drive to find ways to take control of the world’s water supplies. I also reported on the amazing work of the environmentalists, human rights activists, indigenous and women’s groups, small farmers, peasants, and thousands of grassroots communities that make up the global water justice movement fighting for the right to water and to keep water under public and democratic control. In the six years since Blue Covenant was published, much has been accomplished. Reports on the crisis are commonplace in mainstream media and the classroom. Books, films, and music move millions to action. The United Nations, other global institutions, and many universities are also sounding the alarm. A movement has coalesced to provide water and sanitation to the urban and rural poor, with mixed, but hopeful, results.

Yet in those same years the water crisis dramatically deepened. It is now accepted that, with the unexpected growth in both population and new consumer classes in almost every country, global demand for water in 2030 will outstrip supply by 40 percent. A report from the U.S. global intelligence agencies warns that one-third of the world’s people will live in basins where the deficit is more than 50 percent. Five hundred scientists from around the world met in Bonn in May 2013 at the invitation of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and sent out a warning that our abuse of water has caused the planet to enter a “new geologic age.” They likened this “planetary transformation” to the retreat of the glaciers more than 11,000 years ago. Within the space of two generations, the majority of people on the planet will face serious water shortages and the world’s water systems will reach a tipping point that could trigger irreversible change, with potentially catastrophic consequences. Already, the world-renowned scientists said, a majority of the world’s people live within 50 kilometres of an impaired water source — one that is running dry or polluted.

The stage is being set for drought on an unprecedented scale, for mass starvation and the migration of millions of water refugees leaving parched lands to look for water. All the justice and awareness in the world cannot stave off this future if the water is not there.

Open any textbook on water and you will see the numbers: how many children die every day; where the water tables have dried up; how aquifers are being depleted. Yet we continue to extract from our precious rivers and lakes and pump our groundwater, using the last of a finite supply of water that will be needed if future generations and other species are to survive.

Amazingly, most of our political leaders ignore the water crisis and create policy. decisions as if there were no end to water supplies. They continue to be captives of an economic framework that promotes unlimited growth, unregulated trade, and bigger and more powerful (and increasingly self-governing) transnational corporations, all of which hasten the destruction of our supplies of fresh water. Somewhere between the hard truths about the world’s water crisis and this perplexing denial on the part of political and corporate leaders, millions — soon to be billions — struggle to deal with disappearing watersheds.

The story does not need to end in tragedy. There are solutions to our water crisis and a path to a just and water-secure world. To get to this place, however, we must establish principles to guide us and help us create policies, laws, and international agreements to protect water and water justice, now and forever. This book puts forward four principles for a water-secure future. Principle one, “Water Is a Human Right,” addresses the current reality of water inequality and lays out a road map to fixing the problem. Principle two, “Water Is a Common Heritage,” argues that water is not like running shoes or cars and must not be allowed to become a commodity to be bought and sold on the open market. Principle three, “Water Has Rights Too,” makes the case for protection of source water and watershed governance and the need to make our human laws compatible with those of nature if we are to survive. The fourth principle, “Water Can Teach Us How to Live Together,” is a cry from the heart to come together around a common threat — the end of clean water — and find a way to live more lightly on this planet.

The grab for the planet’s dwindling resources is the defining issue of our time. Water is not a resource put here solely for our convenience, pleasure, and profit; it is the source of all life. It is urgent that we clarify the values and principles needed to protect the planet’s fresh water. I offer this book as a guide.”

MAUDE BARLOW, Blue Planet. Introduction.
DOWNLOAD E-BOOK: http://bit.ly/1wPQJc

Maude_Barlow-2013-Photo-by-Wolfgang-Schmidt


HOW MONEY WORK$ – By Raj Patel in his book “The Value of Nothing”

raj-patelThe late Oxford philosopher Jerry Cohen conceived a though experiment that helps us to understand how money works: imagine that we live in a world where we have little tickets distributed at random. On these tickets are rights – the right to go visit your sick mother, the right to cross a particular road, the right to live somewhere, the right to eat a steak, the right to treatment of disease and so on. (…) If you try to do something for which you have no ticket, the law intervenes. The tickets map out the degree to which you are free (or not free) to do something – they are a complete accounting of your liberties. The more tickets you have, the freer you are.

So here’s the twist: Money is just like these tickets. What, after all, does money offer in a market society if not the ability to buy liberty, to afford health care, decent food, housing, the security of not working in retirement, insurance against accident or unemployment? Those without money are as unfree as those whithout tickets. Without cash in a market society, you’re free to do nothing, to have very little and to die young. In other words, under capitalism, MONEY IS THE RIGHT TO HAVE RIGHTS.

The gap between what people earn and the cost of their freedoms means that, for more and more Americans, freedom is just another word for nothing they can afford. (…) In developing countries, of course, the situation has long been dire, and the global recession is pushing millions more into poverty, but in both cases, this poverty has deepened under a system that offered progress, prosperity and development for the poorest, and has delivered its opposite – a yawning inequality gap, less happiness and a dogged persistence of diseases and afflictions to which we have long known the cures.

In the land of the free, the market delivers few choices to those who cannot afford them. In the U.S. health care system, for example, the value of life is famously defined by the market. Michael Moore’s film Sicko shows the U.S. health care industry’s profit-driven approach at its nadir, with stories of patients asked by their insurance company to choose which of their fingers they’d like to save…”

PATEL, R. The Value of Nothing.
1st Canadian Edition.
Toronto: Harper Collins, 2009. Pgs. 112-113.

WATCHERS OF THE SKY (Directed by Edet Belzberg – 2014 – 120 minutes) #HotDocs

Watchers of the Sky

“Love despite difference, 
Or rather because of difference.”

Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959)

ABOUT THE FILM

WATCHERS OF THE SKY interweaves four stories of remarkable courage, compassion, and determination, while setting out to uncover the forgotten life of Raphael Lemkin – the man who created the word “genocide,” and believed the law could protect the world from mass atrocities. Inspired by Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem From Hell, WATCHERS OF THE SKY takes you on a provocative journey from Nuremberg to The Hague, from Bosnia to Darfur, from criminality to justice, and from apathy to action.

http://www.watchersofthesky.com/about-the-film

MOVIE INFO

With his provocative question, “why is the killing of a million a lesser crime than the killing of an individual?” Raphael Lemkin changed the course of history. An extraordinary testament to one man’s perseverance, the Sundance award-winning film Watchers of the Sky examines the life and legacy of the Polish-Jewish lawyer and linguist who coined the term genocide. Before Lemkin, the notion of accountability for war crimes was virtually non-existent. After experiencing the barbarity of theHolocaust firsthand, he devoted his life to convincing the international community that there must be legal retribution for mass atrocities targeted at minorities. An impassioned visionary, Lemkin confronted world apathy in a tireless battle for justice, setting the stage for the Nuremberg trails and the creation of the International Criminal Court. Inspired by Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Problem From Hell, this multi-faceted documentary interweaves Raphael Lemkin’s struggle with the courageous efforts of four individuals keeping his legacy alive: Luis Moreno Ocampo, Chief Prosecutor of the ICC; Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Ben Ferencz, a former Nuremberg prosecutor still tenaciously lobbying the UN for peace, and Rwandan Emmanuel Uwurukundo, UN Refugee Agency Field Director in Chad. Alternating live interviews with rare archival footage and striking animation, Watchers of the Sky illuminates the compassion and bravery of these humanitarians and powerfully demonstrates the ability of global activism to give a voice to the silent victims of genocide.(C) Music Box

REVIEW BY TORONTO’S NOW MAGAZINE

Rating: N N N N N (5 stars)

“A bracing and heart-wrenching look at genocide over the past century, Edet Belzberg’s documentary could become a vital instrument of change.

Bouncing back and forth between the story of Raphael Lemkin, who in the 1940s tirelessly tried to get the UN to amend its definition of war crimes, to first-hand witnesses to ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Rwanda, Argentina, Germany and Darfur, Belzberg paints a comprehensive picture of history depressingly repeating itself due to a lack of proper legal deterrents to these atrocities.

Belzberg’s thesis is solidly backed up and needs no dramatic embellishment. It stands alongside The Act Of Killing as one of the best films made on such a delicate subject.”

NOW Magazine (Toronto, Canada)

OTHER REVIEWS

Rotten TomatoesRoger Ebert

TRAILER

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The Act of Killing - DOWNLOAD TORRENT.

The Act of KillingDOWNLOAD FILM (TORRENT). The Act of Killing is an award-winning documentary that examines a country where death squad leaders are celebrated as heroes. The filmmakers challenge the killers to reenact their real-life mass murders in the style of the American movies they love.  Director: Joshua Oppenheimer. Executive Producers: Werner Herzog and Errol Morris.

RECOMMENDED BOOKS TO KNOW MORE

A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

SAMANTHA POWER – A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. Download FREE EBOOK at libgen.org in MOBI or EPUB format [3 mb each].

“As I surveyed the major genocides of the twentieth century, a few stood out. In addition to the Bosnian Serbs’ eradication of non-Serbs, I examined the Ottoman slaughter of the Armenians, the Nazi Holocaust, Pol Pot’s terror in Cambodia, Saddam Hussein’s destruction of Kurds in northern Iraq, and the Rwandan Hutus’ systematic extermination of the Tutsi minority. Although the cases varied in scope and not all involved the intent to exterminate every last member of a group, each met the terms of the 1948 genocide convention and presented the United States with options for meaningful diplomatic, economic, legal, or military intervention. The crimes occurred in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The victims covered a spectrum of races and religions – they were Asian, African, Caucasian, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim.

The perpetrators operated at different stages of American might: The Armenian genocide (1915-1916) was committed during World War I, before the United States had become a world leader. The Holocaust (1939-1945) took place just as the United States was moving into that role.The Cambodian (1975-1979) and Iraqi (1987-1988) genocides were perpetrated after the Holocaust but during the Cold War and after Vietnam. Bosnia (1992-1995) and Rwanda (1994) happened after the Cold War and while American supremacy and awareness of the “lessons” of the Holocaust were at their height. U.S. decisionmakers also brought a wide variety of backgrounds and foreign policy ideologies to the table. Every American president in office in the last three decades of the twentieth century – Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton – made decisions related to the prevention and suppression of genocide. Yet notwithstanding all the variety among cases and within U.S. administrations, the U.S. policy responses to genocide were astonishingly similar across time, geography, ideology, and geopolitical balance…

A grant from the Open Society Institute enabled me to travel to Bosnia, Cambodia, Kosovo, and Rwanda, where I spoke with victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. I also visited the international war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague in the Netherlands, as well the UN court for Rwanda, located in Arusha, Tanzania.

People have explained U.S. failures to respond to specific genocides by claiming that the United States didn’t know what was happening, that it knew but didn’t care, or that regardless of what it knew, there was nothing useful to be done. I have found that in fact U.S. policymakers knew a great deal about the crimes being perpetrated. Some Americans cared and fought for action, making considerable personal and professional sacrifices. And the United States did have countless opportunities to mitigate and prevent slaughter. But time and again, decent men and women chose to look away. We have all been bystanders to genocide. The crucial question is why.

In exploring a century of U.S. reactions to genocide, I asked: Were there early warnings that mass killing was set to commence? How seriously were the warnings taken? By whom?

In 1915 Henry Morgenthau Sr., the U.S. ambassador in Constantinople, responded to Turkey’s deportation and slaughter of its Armenian minority by urging Washington to condemn Turkey and pressure its wartime ally  Germany. Morgenthau also defied diplomatic convention by personally protesting the atrocities, denouncing the regime, and raising money for humanitarian relief. He was joined by former president Theodore Roosevelt, who went a step further, calling on the administration of Woodrow Wilson to enter World War I and forcibly stop the slaughter. But the United States clung to its neutrality and insisted that Turkey’s internal affairs were not its business. An estimated 1 million Armenians were murdered or died of disease and starvation during the genocide.

Watchers of the Sky 3

Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew and international lawyer, warned about Hitler’s designs in the 1930s but was scoffed at. After finding refuge in the United States in 1941, he failed to win support for any measure to protect imperiled Jews. The Allies resisted denouncing Hitler’s atrocities, granting refuge to Europe’s Jewry, and bombing the railroad tracks to the Nazi concentration camps. Undaunted, Lemkin invented the word “genocide” and secured the passage of the first-ever United Nations human rights treaty, which was devoted to banning the new crime. Sadly, he lived to see the genocide convention rebuffed by the U.S. Senate. William Proxmire, the quixotic U.S. senator from Wisconsin, picked up where Lemkin left off and delivered 3,211 speeches on the Senate floor urging ratification of the UN treaty. After nineteen years of daily soliloquies, Proxmire did manage to get the Senate to accept the genocide convention, but the U.S. ratification was so laden with caveats that it carried next to no force.

A handful of U.S. diplomats and journalists in Cambodia warned of the depravity of a sinister band of Communist rebels known as the Khmer Rouge. They were derided by the American left for falling for antiCommunist propaganda, and they failed to influence a U.S. policy that could not contemplate engagement of any kind in Southeast Asia after Vietnam. Pol Pot’s four-year reign left some 2 million Cambodians dead, but the massacres elicited barely a whimper from Washington, which maintained diplomatic recognition of the genocidal regime even after it had been overthrown.

Peter Galbraith, a staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, drafted punishing legislation for his boss, Senator Claiborne Pell, that would have cut off U.S. agricultural and manufacturing credits to Saddam Hussein in retaliation for his 1987-1988 attempt to wipe out Iraq’s rural Kurds. The sanctions package was defeated by a determined White House, State Department, and U.S. farm lobby, which were eager to maintain friendly ties and sell rice and wheat to Iraq. And so Hussein’s regime received generous American financial support while it gassed and executed some 100,000 Kurds.

Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian major general who commanded UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda in 1994, appealed for permission to disarm militias and to prevent the extermination of Rwanda’s Tutsi three months before the genocide began. Denied this by his political masters at the United Nations, he watched corpses pile up around him as Washington led a successful effort to remove most of the peacekeepers under his command and then aggressively worked to block authorization of UN reinforcements.The United States refused to use its technology to jam radio broadcasts that were a crucial instrument in the coordination and perpetuation of the genocide. And even as, on average, 8,000 Rwandans were being butchered each day, the issue never became a priority for senior U.S. officials. Some 800,000 Rwandans were killed in 100 days.

No U.S. president has ever made genocide prevention a priority, and no U.S. president has ever suffered politically for his indifference to its occurrence. It is thus no coincidence that genocide rages on…”

SAMANTHA POWER A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.

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SYSTEM OF A DOWN’s Screamers doc:

“By her words and deeds, the brave education rights activist Malala Yousafzai proved that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword,” said Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Pakistan Researcher.

Malala

Amnesty International: Arrest of 10 people in Pakistan suspected of the attempted assassination of Malala signifies the need for better protection of human rights defenders. http://bit.ly/1tRAZIb