Afraid of dying

Don’t worry Jack, it’s a very human condition. The day comes when we can no longer say “I am” but that’s one of the things that makes us human.

Plenty of speculative literature has explored the idea of living forever or for a very long time, I’m reading something right now which uses that premise. I guess it’s a property of being, when we develop the capacity to say “I” it seems to contain something like what is commonly termed the will to live, or the desire to keep on saying “I am”. But not long after we become self aware we also become conscious of the fact we all die, someday. That seems to be a fairly fundamental condition that defines us, that is we want to live forever subjectively but objectively we realise we don’t. Perhaps children help and maybe some build things hoping that too will last but perhaps the best we can hope is that life in general goes on.

Anyway Jack’s concerns about mortality reminds me of another faded star, one Rolf Harris and it underlines the supeficiality of human stardom. The world may not have real super heroes like Superman or Wonder Woman but it seems necessary to have lesser gods that we create. Often we bestow on these mere mortals some special ability or insight that can elevate them above the teeming masses. Make them famous and rich and somehow that serves a purpose, perhaps the purpose is merely to distract us from things we would rather not think about, like dying. It seems trivial to add “alone” since that particular plaintive expression seems rather peculiar. I mean no one says “born alone” possibly because birth involves at least two people but it’s possible that baby factories will exist someday. Maybe then the truth will be that we not only die alone but are truly born alone as well. However my problem with Jack’s “dying alone” is as opposed to what? A group die-in? Dying in company? Maybe he could have a big dinner party and arrange to die as everyone eats desert.

No, I get it. I’m old enough to get Jack’s drift. When we say goodbye and go raging into the dying light we would like someone to witness it, perhaps somehow that idea might be the ultimate comfort, the idea that someone knew we once existed, they were present. Perhaps like our mothers were present when we were born. And if we were lucky, maybe others as well.

Anyway, it’s only Monday FFS and the sun is shining!

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Let’s hope it gets better

There is something about the “new year” that I am constantly at odds with.

You see we get the media message, like “what are your new year’s resolutions” or whatever and how these hopes somehow conveniently wash away any doubts that last year we didn’t actually manage to tick off one of the previous resolutions but what the hell we might do it this year…

Actually there isn’t anything wrong with that idea since our eyes are always looking forward, if we want to see where we’ve been we need to stop and turn around and boom, there goes our forward momentum. Onward, upward hip hip hooray.

So I’m not surprised that my fifteen year old doesn’t want to watch this historical documentary but what can we do? I mean getting fooled once is bad enough but getting fooled repeatedly, that seems to be a recipe for something else. Maybe it’s cynical but really it seems that we don’t really want the right thing or the best, we just don’t want to have to think about it.

That’s why hope is so important in managing the human condition. Hope is the close sibling of anything’s possible, you too can be one of the 1% if you work hard and get lucky. Maybe, after all it is not IMpossible.

But why then do the really rich corporations in the world spend so much time measuring and counting and calculating? They are protecting their profits and they don’t do that by “hoping” things will get better or maybe some vague new year’s resolutions. They do it by focussing on facts, like how much does it cost to fight a war and how can they make a profit from it?

We used to think the cigarette companies were the bad guys, but really they are just the apprentices. I saw a figure of $4 trillion mentioned for the Iraq war which seems ludicrous but let’s just ask what did we get for that tidy little sum.

Oh look just yesterday January 1, New Years Day. 66 killed adding to 206,000 civilian deaths.

Or perhaps, there’s the Lancet study which puts the figure at over 500,000 or another estimate at over a million. We will never know.

What we do know is Iraq has a lot of oil and Haliburton is perhaps the biggest oil company in the world. And the connections between the Bush family and Haliburton are too much to even think about. It seems astonishing that Obama didn’t string the lot of them up, but I guess he wasn’t really change, just more of the same hope.

I think we seriously need to stop mainlining the hope junk and start using the intelligence we have been gifted with to count and to calculate, to measure and decide based on the facts. Companies do it to make money, we could give it a try too. But we will probably stick our heads in the sand and hope the tide doesn’t come in.

iraq war

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Anti-Politics fails to define

A popular term these days is anti-politics. Ask left wing blogger and psychiatrist Dr Tad who, along with the mega personality Russell Brand seem to profess some special insight into what this term is all about. It’s supposed to be an expression that conveys the sense of public disaffection with politics or the professional political class, our political institutions and so on. But is our retreat from politics ultimately self defeating? It seems more likely that a massive public disengagement from the “political system” leaves a vacuum which will attract charismatic personalities perhaps reminiscent of Plato’s five regimes where tyranny is the offspring of democracy.

For argument’s sake, I’m inclined to agree certain mainstream political institutions seem to be problematic and people may well be tempted to say the political system has failed but such superficialities only beg greater questions such as what is the political system or even more deep, what is politics?

One big problem with representative politics such democracy is the failure of our representatives to actually represent us. Too often they seem to only represent the views of the vocal or most numerous. We see an almost endless procession of “professional” politicians who gifted with the latest political theories and populist charm can attach themselves to one of two dominant political machines and be “elected” as our representatives. But how does one individual represent the diverse views and wishes of fifty or one hundred thousand voters? And on what subjects? The notion clearly rests on some sort of idea that we collectively have certain common concerns, but the what if these concerns don’t easily fit into the theoretical framework or mindset of our elected representatives? Simply put, they are too easily ignored. At best, representative politics represents a tiny fraction of our personal preferences and is far from representative of us as whole. Just look at how the sex ratio of our elected politicians for starters.

Representative democracies are one example but there are others where people are supposed to represent the views of a large number, trade unions for example. Success seems to come not because a particular point of view they are supposed to represent is overwhelmingly dominant within a certain community but rather they posses a certain charismatic charm or are perhaps “well connected”. The machine or process looks after itself by ensuring the winning candidates are products of a professional class of political agents something that seems to ensure a natural conservatism in the product of such a process. Ultimately the process itself seems to be more important than the ideal of representing various and diverse points of view. Little wonder our houses of representative debate degenerate into personal attacks and political stunts rather than places where ideas are debated and our future options are examined.

There are plenty of other representative systems that seem faulty but the problem with the anti-politics idea is it solves nothing, it isn’t a remedy or even a description of a problem. It seems to be akin to a bunch of people all gathered around a house fire watching it burn down and criticising the lack of a fire brigade, which doesn’t exist because they can’t agree on how it’s organised.

The critical problem with our political system is it is failing when we need it most. What we need are ways to help most of us deal with the problems heading our way, but for some these problems are a threat to a comfortable middle class existence. Climate change is one challenge we will need to deal with but I suspect a far greater challenge is how we will respond to the rise in machine workers. A chaotically warming world is one problem but a growing army of unemployed poor is something else entirely. Historically speaking, the failure of institutional politics suggests that our our peaceful options for solving or avoiding the ramifications of both of these challenges are virtually non-existent. We are left just hoping things work out or praying for a messiah.

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The problem with “free”

Have you heard of freecycle? It’s a community run thing that uses the free newsgroup emailer service provided by Yahoo to advertise stuff people are giving away or wanting. It works by someone posting an email offering something in a certain place and people emailing or phoning in reply. It’s a bit of a lottery but hey it’s free and people seem happy with that. sure you get some gripes occasionally about hey I wanted that or why didn’t I get something but generally it seems like a fairly friendly scene.

Let’s face it, getting stuff for free is pretty good. Some of our most cherished institutions in the west are things like free education. Free education isn’t of course free of all financial considerations, but at least by and large it is free for the kids that need it. At least in principle anyway. And then there’s free beer, or free stuff that’s given to you when you do something or buy something else, like the new LED screen that comes with ‘free’ Netfix of Fox TV for 12 months. Finally there’s the internet, the last bastion of freedom, the final frontier of the techno wild west where information roams free on the open source.

Set against the obvious appeal of free is the very sensible notion that the user pays. In sense this really grounds the whole market based approach to free enterprise, if Jane Smith wants something then she jolly well should pay for it, one way or another. This transactional view of how the world works could be viewed in terms of means and ends, with money being the universal numerator of value. This kind of allows ordinary people to discriminate, I would rather a loaf of bread over a pint of beer and so on. But as economies stutter and societies groan under increasingly inequitable distributions of wealth that limit our material wealth, free has become even more appealing, since not only does free mean you can have your cake without paying for it but it also means the evil capitalistic bastards who bought up you favourite chain of cake makers are losing out, bring closer the day when the teetering capitalistic edifice comes crashing down.

The other day a charity rep knocked on my front door and while it was a worthy cause I declined to give him my credit card despite some very persuasive arguments. I mean yes, I do agree that child poverty is appalling and yes I think we should do something about it but part of me is also wondering, if this is such a worthwhile thing to engage with, why should it have to be up to charities to do it? Let me explain.

Say the cause here is a general one, say ending child slave labour. There are some very good arguments from a moral perspective why we should do that and possible some very good economic reasons why we should act, but if those arguments are so good and so persuasive, then why doesn’t Google or GE or Shell or any number of hugely rich multinational companies step up to the plate and chip in. Surely if it is in my interests to do something, then it must also be in the interests of others, since a better world is something that benefits all of us. But no, charities still have to beg and foreign aid budgets are slashed, meanwhile the multinationals still get increasingly rich.Yes Bill Gates might pledge a few million if they use PC’s loaded with his software, but only because it then looks like the rich care about the poor. Let’s be clear, all the problems associated with poverty could be addressed if there wasn’t such a huge discrepancy between ultra rich and dirt poor. However this isn’t about wealth distribution, rather it is about how this state of affairs persists and why it is tied in with the difference between free and user pays, or more precisely how the idea of money overwhelms other human values.

I glossed over an important detail in the earlier example of freecycle, namely just how people decided who to give stuff to. Now there are some guidelines published by the originators of this idea, things like having fun with deciding who should get stuff, do they seem worthy or maybe it’s just first come gets the stuff. Similarly askers are advised to make requests for stuff seem worthwhile, like this will really help me build a cubby house for my economically disadvantaged niece. It actually doesn’t really matter in the end, because the really important criteria is that our usual criteria for deciding such things, how much it costs or what it’s worth, is not present. So not only is the stuff free but people are free to make up whatever rules suit them about how to behave in this recycling environment, provided they keep money out.

Now I’m thinking wouldn’t this be good if we applied this idea, keep money out, to other things and it seems we do have a few areas left where moral or aesthetic values prevail. The problem with these “money free” zones is they are seriously under siege and worse still, it’s seems like the reason and will to contest the invasion of money into our lives is withering. Actually, in the west and in most of the world to varying degrees it seems that rule of money is actually the prevailing order as opposed to the rule of law. I think it’s fair to claim that rather than law and order being the basis for civil society, our societies are now (if they weren’t already) ordered by money. Superficially there is plenty of evidence to support this in terms of economic efficiencies, price signals and “free” markets being the best way to regulate human activity but at a deeper level, money also distorts and even annihilates other value systems.

The argument about whether money is the best way to organise humanity is unfortunately pointless since any theoretical argument crashes into the brick wall of reality but this is exactly where I diverge from the idealistic notion that things like freecycle or free internet or in fact free anything is some sort of counterpoint to a world ruled by money. The idea that free anything is going to bring about a new world order is surely one of the most futile beliefs anyone can have. Here’s why.

We exist collectively, socially in relation to others. My world doesn’t stop where your world starts and the boundaries between us are extremely porous. No one is Robinson Crusoe. I cannot live a money free life if you don’t. Together we might build some fences and try to keep money out of some parts of our lives, but sooner or later the pair of us will have to interact with the wider world, back to money. Alternatively if I had enough money maybe I could rise above the grimy material world and pursue a life based on alternative values but I’m still going to have interact with a world ruled by money. Having enough still doesn’t change the way the world works, and worse my pool of money is working to keep itself going. Maybe I could do a Ghandi but while that might work short term, I suspect it has a limited lifespan and even less appeal to others. The bottom line is that money totally permeates our relationships to each other and the world around us. I think it is tied in with the process of alienation that Marx refered to. It is also a factor in Derrida’s notion of the stranger who is alien to us and definitely underpins our “christian” view of the world as ours to exploit.

It’s simply nowhere near enough to simply say no to money because when we do, we lose our agency in deciding what things we want to have or the way they are ordered. On a macro level, an example of this is the way certain trust funds are divesting out of fossil fuel and into renewable energy companies. But on a personal level, in an age where we are told how powerless we are to change things, the prospects for responsible use of money are almost unlimited. Every choice we make to buy something or spend money is ours to make. We can buy free range eggs, even if they are more expensive because we think keeping chickens in tiny wire cages is totally unacceptable. Not only do we support the alternative, we also deprive the dominant player a sale; it’s sort of reverse price signal to say collectively we don’t think we should do this. Another classic example is music, these days provided almost free by the internet of things. The effect of internet technology on the music industry is documented here but again, we can always choose to buy music other than from iTunes. It seems that most people have accepted they must do as they are told by the media and by whatever prevailing consumer trend is currently in vogue.

But free has another deeper and insidious problem. Free is exceptional since money is the rule and therefore we tend to evaluate something “free” as a bonus the money system provides or more precisely, the value of something “free” isn’t some intrinsic value in the object, rather it is the fact it is free and doesn’t require money which we value. Getting it for free when we might have ordinarily paid for something is a win, a piece of luck or testimony to our persuasive powers. When the thing we get for free has long since been paid for by someone else, in the case of something recycled on freecycle, we can appreciate utility is an important value but in other situations the absence of a price signal blinds us, renders us incapable of appreciating what we are getting for free. We end up taking it for granted, something we deserve. Just like the free music or art on the internet, it’s something we are entitled to. Because we are deserving, or special or important.

Taking something for free when it’s offered might seem like a good thing but it’s just a leftover instinct that’s been cultivated by our consumer culture. Just as buy one get one free encourages you to in fact buy anything, getting free stuff is another way alternative values are sublimated. The creative and cultural forces that might underpin the things we take for granted as “free” are eroded when they have no monetary value, ultimately these forces are simply exploited as a free resource in much the same way as the natural world is seen as an unlimited resource to be exploited. It seems obvious but the slow process of deprivation when meaning and intrinsic value are denied and something is free is part of the inexorable rise in a money only value system.

Perversely, paying for something when you might otherwise be able to get something for free is a way of exercising our agency in the world. It’s the point of transaction or interaction where we can say yes, I choose to pay, not because I have to but because there is something here I value and money is simply the vehicle that brings us together. It may well be preferable to have another system, another rule but the very least we can do is to be aware of our choices and actively engage in the world if we want to change it.

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Does the radical left have a better idea?

So the dust has settled with the G20 in Brisvegas but a inkstain in your favourite Murdoch rag and I’m wondering about the smorgasbord of analysis on offer, ranging from a typically anti-Abbott portrait by Ben Eltham to this communist comment from comrade Dave over at The Word from Struggle Street.

There’s plenty more but I am really taken by Ben’s perseverance and some logical inconsistencies Dave offers.

Ben’s problem is he has to write something and he has to write it for his audience. That’s not to say what he’s written is bad, but it smacks of superficiality. Yes our beloved Tone fucked up and reinforced the suspicions of most that he really isn’t up to the job, his subsequent fawning over China’s Xi even too much for the radical right’s motor mouth Alan Jones, but that’s not really the issue. In a sense that’s just the charade of politics and how it is examined. That doesn’t make it less newsworthy but it does continue more or less normal political commentary.

On the other hand, Comrade Dave cuts to the chase. The G20 is about the capitalist order and the lack of anything substantial emerging from it tells us the capitalist system hasn’t found its mojo despite the abundant navel gazing. But I have some problems with the songbook Dave and Dr Tad seem to reference, our so-called alienation from others in the form of capitalism’s exploitative hierarchical social relations. Just to be clear, I think there is something of merit in the argument that identifies the root of capitalism in the way social relations are structured, for instance Naomi Klein makes a similar claim vis-a-vis our disconnect from natural world. For Klein, humanity’s relationship with the planet mirrors the exploitative dominating attitude capitalists seem to express towards the rest of humanity. Klein, in my view, correctly locates the origin of this worldview in the western christian tradition where the Garden of Eden is given to Adam and Eve so they may exploit and prosper. Alternative worldviews such as aboriginal myths around the globe support the idea that the Christian exploitative relationships both to the planet and each other are but one way we can relate to others, or even one express our selves as human beings.

So my problem with any Marxist analysis is this. Basically it seems that a Marxist view remains in the social domain, the Marxist world is the form that emerges from a different set of social interaction compared with say the existing liberal democratic model that is the form of capitalist interactions. However, imagining a anti-capitalist world seems fraught with certain contradictions.

There is firstly the problem of revolution which as Derrida observes, carries within the seed of the next hierarchic order or state. It is tempting to believe a revolution grounded in communist values may negate or avoid the self imposed contradictions of a capitalist system but two recent examples, the USSR and China seem to suggest that the communist order is no more successful over time than its opposite. Again, the more durable example seems to be the older indigenous order with a somewhat submissive relationship with the natural world and decentralised power, reminiscent of a cellular structure as opposed to the west’s obsession with pyramids.

The second problem I have is this notion of so-called anti-politics. I fail to see how the struggles of non mainstream activists operating outside the traditional institutions of state politics is anything but politics in a different place. The old feminist motto, the personal is the political should be sufficient to explain this phenomenon but it seems the Marxist left are somewhat incapable of accepting a widespread social expression of shared values can transcend the limited scope imposed by Marx. Yes our personal relationships ground the social but the world is more than the sum total of our relationships with each other, it is also a product of our relationship to the animal within and without.

How we get there peacefully, en masse and with the planet intact is perhaps the single biggest challenge humanity has ever faced.

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Outrageous public boo Prime Minister #itstime

Oh dear, the right honourable our PM, Mr Abbott and his preceeding neoliberal footsoldier Little Johnny Howard got booed when they turned up to Whitlam’s funeral. Clearly these people haven’t been reading the Daily Telegraph long enough to know their lines. Don’t these disgusting filth realise Australia needs Tony?


Just in case you aren’t getting the message, here’s how the “tele” covered the funeral


And just to make sure, they are running this insightful bit of journalism somewhere.

Take a bow Rupert. I wouldn’t piss on you if you were burning.

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White Male Republicans take back what is rightfully theirs

So US midterm election results have given the Republicans the senate but I could not help but notice in the two fotos appearing in the age a certain commonality. The pointed raised finger it isn’t, nor the red ties. Rather I was rather taken by the fact that in both pictures you have a confident middle aged white male flanked by a gaggle of mostly young white women.

White Man #1White Man #2
This is traditional hetro family values written large but also quite obviously, white family values. The story says something about Obama’s lack of popularity but I’m getting the impression this result is a taste of the barely contained racial divide that seems to be such a feature of US politics.

And it’s worth noting, the Keystone XL pipeline is big on the Republican agenda.

Republicans capture control of Senate in US midterm elections.

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Two steps backward

Today Australia has a new government policy on carbon reduction, Direct Action.

You might think that’s a good thing, Direct Action is after all what is required to meet the greatest challenge we humans face in the foreseable future but before you get to excited the Direct Action policy legislated last night is anything but direct or action. Like most names politicians give things, it sounds good but is undoubtably far removed what you might think is meant by the terms “direct” and “action”.

The idea is this, funds will be set aside to pay individuals, groups or companies that can come with ways to reduce or capture carbon emmissions. Planting lots of trees for example, improving carbon capture by the soil, paying inefficient coal stations to modernise and presumably continue operating for another 25 years, the list of possibilities is almost endless. The government will kick in $3 billion over a few years to make this possible and expects to get a 5% reduction in carbon emmissions for the money. Paying polluters not to pollute or farmers to plant trees, yay!

Now depending on how worried you might be about global warming, this might seem quite reasonable and prudent or alternatively it might sound a little bit sus or even outrageously inadequate. Australia used to have a price on carbon, it’s now gone, presumably because it was bad for business. Now we have another plan which is presumably good for business because it removes a tax on their bottom line. Good for the planet, who cares? Let us not forget, Coal is Good for humanity.

Maybe the government listened to the scientists, oh I forgot this government doesn’t think we need a department for science. Maybe they don’t really believe the science anyway and there’s plenty of proof that denial lives large in parts of the Liberal National Party government.

Even one of their senior ministers once described Direct Action as a fig leaf. Pretty big fig leaf, one that hides the awful truth that this country is firmly in the pocket of the coal industry whose continued existence and growth is the very thing we should be working against. For our own sakes, because after the storms rage and the ice caps melt there will still be a planet but there might not be any humans.

Direct action would be to close the coal mines and the coal fired power stations, put in place a 100% commitment to renewable energy over the next decade and commit this country to getting off its lazy arse and doing something positive. I’m sure it would upset a few people like Gina and Clive but them’s the breaks folks, a few losers and lots of winners. I think most people understand that.

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Amanda, the gift that keeps giving

Bless her socks, Amanda Vanstone is a GEM! The Age must be tickled pink by their star recruit.

First, her latest article of faith inspired 677 comments, more than twice the number cheering Our Tones as he goes mano a mano with Vlad the impaler in the battle of shirtless men. But then there is some big money in Vlad’s corner so maybe Tone was wise to back down while he could. On the other hand the best the Age could do was summon up some lefty gook economist from the Oz Institute to respond to Amanda’s insightful prose.

The second observation about Mandy is she seems to be gifted with the rare talent to ignore the blindingly obvious and steadfastly maintain that black is indeed white. Such vision is rarely seen in someone so esteemed in this country although I am told it is more common over in the US and elsewhere in the World according to Rupert.

Amanda will not suffer the fools who assert sheeplike the communistic mantra that inequality is a bad thing. It is about time someone came to the defence of the poor beleaguered rich folk who want nothing more than a quiet night at home and to help their fellow man in times of trouble. People like the late great Kerry Packer who single handedly built the greatest TV empire known to mankind, dragged himself up from the gutter to become a leading light to those aspiring to the sort of social mobility Mandy so rightfully defends. The late Kerry’s philanthropic deeds are only matched by his son’s great passion for investing in such job creating wealth distributing enterprises as the Melbourne Casino. Like the poor downtrodden Gina who had to suffer such terrible deprivations under the previous Labor government, these people are only ever thinking of what they can do for AUSTRALIA! The hundreds of druggies and commies frothing at the mouth who vented there rage at Amanda for daring to call it how it is should really just take a chill pill and thank their lucky stars we have such noble spirits doing their bit to keep this great country great.

Sure, Gina might be a bit inclined to ask her hard working book keeper to make sure she gets her tax return right, but just like the late great Kerry, Gina probably thinks it’s her patriotic duty to make sure the gubberment isn’t ripping her off to pay the bleeding heart dole bludgers to skive off and smoke cones all day. It’s no wonder we acknowledge such nationalistic endeavor with state funerals, it sets the bar high for personal achievement and gives the rest of us something to look up to.

Oh poor Amanda to be so cruelly misunderstood, to think she has even be called “a political hyena who takes delight in attacking society’s most vulnerable” when all she is trying to do is stand up for those who shun the limelight and avoid the rewards they so richly deserve.

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Instructions from Rupert

I think the front page headlines that assault you in the supermarket or newsagent are a good snapshot of what we are supposed to be preoccupied with as we go about our daily business. Remember this gem…

Well Australia this is apparently what we needed Tony for…


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