A recent article circulating on the internet demonstrates how completely out of balance the global economic system has become. The specific case discussed is the US, but few people would deny that similar problems occur elsewhere, although maybe to a lesser extent. The article discussed wealth inequality in the US: what people’s idealised position would be, what their perception was, and what the reality is.
The article showed a series of graphs which plotted the actual wealth of various sectors of society compared with where they stood in various categories of income: bottom (the bottom 20%), second, middle, fourth, and top (the people with the top 20% incomes). If wealth was completely equitably split you would expect the graph to be a rectangle (in which case the 5 partitions would have no real meaning) but, of course, it wasn’t even close to that shape.
There were three graphs presented: what the people surveyed thought would be an ideal distribution, what they thought it really was, and what it actually was.
The distribution the vast majority (92%) chose as ideal was a split ranging from the bottom 20% getting about 10% of the income and ranging up to the top getting 30%. Presumably this is to recognise that certain people make a bigger contribution to society and so deserve greater rewards (even this idea has problems, but more of that later).
Sadly, they also realised that the ideal situation was far from the truth. The graph which the same majority thought reflected the reality had the bottom 20% on about 5% of the wealth and the top 20% on almost 60%. Many people would find this situation quite abhorrent but it doesn’t even begin to cover the actual reality.
In the real graph the bottom 20% have a section on the graph so small that it’s invisible. In fact the bottom 40% section is barely visible. And it’s much worse than that because even adding in the “middle class” middle section only brings the total up to around 5%. So the bottom 60%, including most of the middle class, get 5% of the wealth.
But even that’s just the beginning. The “upper middle class” only get 10% of the wealth leaving the rich 20% with well over 80% of the wealth.
But where the whole thing moves from abhorrence to obscenity is when you consider the top 1%. Draw a graph with a typical middle class person’s bar one centimeter high and guess how high the bar for the 1% is? Is it 10 cm, or 50, or 100 centimeters high? No, it’s almost 10 meters high. The top 1% have more wealth than all of the poor, and all of the lower middle, and all of the middle, and all of the upper middle, and a good part of the rich all put together!
The true situation is as far beyond the perceived reality as the perceived reality is beyond the ideal situation. So not only is wealth distribution a total disgrace but people are barely aware of how bad it really is.
So no one can doubt that the situation is extreme. We must now move on to whether it is justified. As I said above, some people do make a greater contribution to society so it seems fair to reward them with a higher income. Few people would debate this idea and that is represented by the ideal graph being weighted towards the top 20%.
But there are two issues here: first, how much extra income do these people deserve, and second how should the determination of their contribution to society be made.
Many people will say let the market decide. There are huge problems with this though…
First, the market only exists through a series of essentially arbitrary laws and regulations enforced by governments. Change the rules and the market delivers a totally different result. Therefore the market is essentially arbitrary and often shaped by laws designed to benefit the richest sections of society.
Second, the market (as it is under current rules) tends to reward people who are good at making investments which might result in high returns without achieving anything beyond that. For example, a currency trader (who really does absolutely nothing of any value at all) can get a huge income where someone researching a cure for cancer gets nothing. So the market can easily reward exactly the wrong people.
Third, even if there was a single free market what guarantee is there that it will achieve a good result? After all, we have many laws to stop people murdering their enemies, stealing from others, and acting dangerously on the road. Why shouldn’t we have rules to control dangerous activity in the economy as well?
I think I know exactly where this attitude that the market can solve all our problems came from. It came from the top 1% obviously! But it’s not that simple because I know many people on much more modest incomes who also support the “market”. Why? Because of that seemingly reasonable appeal to freedom, progress, and entrepreneurship. But not only is that idealised outcome not real, but even if it was real it isn’t the answer we should aim for anyway.
So the propaganda machine being run by the rich has persuaded enough people to act against their own best interests and that is how the system has both maintained itself and gone on to even greater extremes. But it can’t last. All despotic regimes eventually come to an end and I think we are beginning to see the end of the current one.
It’s time we made the economy work for the majority of people, not the other way around. And it is happening in some areas, with Europe now making (some rather feeble) attempts to moderate the pay of perhaps the most corrupt section of society of all: the banks.
Even in the US there is the beginning of a swing back to more moderate policies. Because of changing demographics there it is unlikely that the Republicans can ever regain power unless they moderate their policies significantly. And a swing back towards the center there (even Obama is far right by most standards, despite the silly claims of him being a socialist) should trigger a global trend towards the same thing.
But looking at those graphs I do wonder how much longer the poor, and even a lot of the middle class, will have to suffer just so that the (in most cases) greedy, corrupt, and self centered can get even richer. How much is enough for these people?
One final thing: I do realise that there are a few rich people who do make a significant contribution to society, and there are a few who contribute to worthwhile causes (Bill Gates being the most famous example). This is OK but it doesn’t really affect the big picture. The system is rotten to the core and any small examples of good outcomes like that are swamped by the vast majority of bad.
The rich aren’t the solution, they’re the problem. As the classic line in HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy goes: they’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes. Bring on the revolution!
Most sensible people around the world were relieved when Barack Obama managed to narrowly win the US presidency last year. That was not necessarily because they thought he was the best person possible for the job, but more that he was a hundred times better than the alternative.
His first term as president shouldn’t be dismissed as a total failure although he certainly didn’t live up to the hopes of many more progressive people. I guess the big problem was that his emphasis at the time was cooperation and compromise in the hope of forging some sort of working relationship with the Republicans.
But you can’t create any sort of meaningful link with nutters whose primary purpose is your destruction whatever the consequences.
Not all Republicans are nutters of course, but a large proportion of them are, and at this stage of its evolution the party does seem to be under the control of some of its nuttiest members, especially fundamentalist Christians and ultra-conservatives.
The Republicans still control the House so Obama has major limits on what he can do and that has been a problem all along which has lead to the attempts at reconciliation. But those attempts have been ultimately harmful, I think, and it is now time for Obama to do what he has probably wanted to do all along: enact what in the American context could be called a liberal agenda (although in most other contexts it might be seen as fairly centrist).
Obama’s latest speech was full of signs that he intends to try to do what he originally promised: make some real changes. Of course all of this needs to been in perspective, by real change I mean doing the things that any reasonable society would make without any real thought.
Here are some of the changes I’m talking about: allowing government to participate in society in a positive way, avoiding war except as a truly last resort, trying to do something about the out of control gun culture in the US, giving gays the same rights as everyone else, and doing something about global environmental issues such as climate change.
All of those are reasonable and necessary yet his opposition opposes them for no real reason other than bigotry, ignorance, and superstition. How could anyone cooperate with a group so out of touch with what is really required in the 21st century?
Many might say that the Republicans control the House because they enjoy a lot of support, and remember that Obama did not win the presidential election by a big margin. Clearly those attributes I mentioned above (bigotry, ignorance, and superstition) are common in some parts of the US so it’s natural that leaders exhibiting those traits would be popular. But the tide is slowly turning and Obama gets more support from sections of the population which are growing so hopefully a more liberal agenda will continue to be supported in the future.
Whether the Democrats can win the House at the next election in just under 2 years time I don’t know but it would be great if it happened. Then Obama would have no excuse for not making some really positive changes.
But even if he is blocked by his opponents he must at least try to move ahead. The time for compromise is past. You don’t compromise with idiots or you’ll begin to look like one yourself!
The two biggest items in the news today were the disastrous tropical cyclone which is causing widespread destruction across the Pacific, and the latest in a whole line of massacres in the US. Both of these are not isolated incidents and both should be warnings demonstrating the problems with policies widely supported by the right. Those policies are lack of action against global warming and lack of action for gun control.
There always have been catastrophic events like Tropical Cyclone Evan and Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the Caribbean and Eastern US earlier this year, but most experts (and many non-experts as well) are beginning to see a trend of greater frequency and intensity of these storms which is most likely attributable to global warming. We all agree this is not certain but lack of 100% certainty should not be used as an excuse not to act.
It might already be too late to avoid some of the worst long term effects of climate change but unless we make some effort – and the earlier the better – the worst possible outcome is virtually certain. At the very least people should be prepared to accept that the phenomenon is real and they should stop hiding behind a ridiculous facade of denial. Of course, as the title of this entry suggests, climate change denial is primarily a right-wing defect.
The other item in the news is the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Every time this sort of thing happens (and it is happening more and more frequently) there is a renewed debate on gun control but the pressure groups, especially the NRA, always seem to have the last word and very little ever changes. We just wait a few months and then the cycle repeats. And yes, weak gun control is another right-wing favourite.
There are two arguments commonly used to support lesser controls on firearms: first, it is an issue of freedom that people should be allowed weapons if they want them and is supported by the second amendment; and second, if ordinary citizens didn’t have guns they would not be able to protect themselves against criminals who did have them.
I have even heard the suggestion that if more people carried guns they could stop the criminal and insane people who perpetrate these shooting rampages. But already there is almost one gun per person in the US. Since they are quite widely distributed you would expect that occasionally a private citizen might have managed to end one of these rampages, right? Well, according to my research it has never happened. Despite the widespread ownership of weapons there has never been an occasion where a shooting rampage has been stopped by an armed potential victim.
On the other hand there have been plenty of cases, including the latest one, where individuals of doubtful mental status have accumulated large collections of weapons and ammunition which have been far in excess of anything a person would need for self-defence.
There has also been clear evidence that lax gun laws lead to more violence, higher suicide rates, and much greater numbers of accidents. Even if self-defence could be used as a reason to support gun ownership it seems to me that on balance guns are undeniably bad.
But, of course, I should not have used the word “undeniably” because, as we all know only too well, certain groups in society will deny anything, including climate change (as I noted above) and the fact that guns are just inherently dangerous. I mean, this isn’t rocket science people: guns are specifically designed to kill and that’s what they do.
The more I think about it the more I see how exactly the same misinformation techniques are repeated over and over again in different areas of denial. Cigarette companies say people should have the freedom to smoke and many smokers aren’t affected by smoking, global warming deniers say the free market will sort out our issues and some areas of the world aren’t any warmer anyway, and the gun lobby say people should have the freedom to defend themselves and guns don’t kill people, other people do.
It’s all mindless rhetoric and most of it comes from the right wing crazies who would sacrifice anything just to support their warped idea of how the world should work. But surely every disastrous storm and every school shooting must weaken their position, just like the increasing death toll from smoking eventually had to be acknowledged by the tobacco companies. It seems that it really is a bad time for conservatives.
Often our politicians tell us that they are doing the best for the country even though many people would be doubtful of this claim. And we should be more suspicious when the politicians are dealing with negotiators from another country with their own agenda and when the negotiations are done in secret. As a specific example I would suggest the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership, or perhaps more appropriately I would propose “Totally Perverse Pretence”) trade negotiations which are currently causing some concern.
We are assured that our government will consider the best interests of the country and won’t agree to anything unless it is clearly in our favour, but can we really accept this assurance? There are at least two problems with it: first, this government has shown a clear tendency for pandering to the demands of large foreign corporations; and second, the negotiators for the other parties are likely to be at least as skilled – and possibly more skilled – than ours, so even if ours do their best it’s unlikely to be good enough.
There is another big warning sign too. That is that these negotiations are being held in strict secrecy, even though there have been several leaks already. If the process really is as good as we are told and is likely to produce such positive outcomes why all the secrecy? It seems that this type of negotiation, which is likely to affect everyone, should be a bit more open so that we can all at least get an idea of what is being negotiated, allegedly for our benefit.
The fact is that it is doubtful whether we can benefit much through this process. The US seems to be more interested in enforcing strict so-called intellectual property protection laws, in restricting our state owned enterprises so that foreign companies can take over, and in ensuring they have access to our economy while making less than a fully honest effort to open access to theirs.
And fair enough. Why shouldn’t they do what’s best for them? Just as long as we realise that this is not about fairness or openness or anything else. It’s about imposition of a particular economic ideology and trying to ensure big American corporates get even greater power than they already have, although ironically the corporate handouts New Zealand gave to Warner Bros for the Hobbit movie might not be possible as a result – but I guess that means the movie wouldn’t be made here either!
In fact reading through some commentary on the process in the US it is actually unlikely that the average American will come out ahead either. It seems as if the whole process is entirely for the benefit of big corporations, plus to advance the noble (not) cause of neo-liberalism of course (but that goes without saying, doesn’t it).
I’m not against foreign trade because clearly it is necessary in our modern society. But I am against secret negotiations which are likely to favour multinational corporations and to stifle alternatives to the conventional economic theories (or should I say dogma because saying economics has theories in the same sense as science is probably too generous) which have caused so much harm already.
Do we really want big foreign corporations suing our government if it passes laws which benefit the people of this country but might result in a loss of profit to the corporation? Do we really want foreign multinationals insisting we deliberately cripple government owned companies so they can “compete fairly”? Do we want corporations to have intellectual property rights to things they have no real right to? All of these things are likely to happen in the US gets its way.
We need negotiations affecting the public to be made more open, not more secret. We need less corporate power, not more. And we need to explore viable alternatives to pure capitalism and free markets, not entrench them even more in international trade deals.
The TPP is potentially a road to total disaster. The best outcome we can really hope for is that no decision will be reached and the whole corrupt process will be forgotten. But I suspect the real power behind these negotiations (there’s a conspiracy theory for you) will make sure that doesn’t happen.
Most people believe democracy is the best form of government. Or maybe, as Churchill said, it is the worst… apart from all the rest! I think I agree but there are many variations on the basic theme of democracy which give different types of results within the basic framework of the system.
Currently here in New Zealand we are debating changes to our proportional representation system. I think PR is firmly established here now and our particular form, MMP, while having well recognised faults, is a good system overall scoring highly on simplicity and fairness.
In the US, where the system isn’t proportional, the absurdity of how things currently work has become quite apparent. The election hinges on a few “swing states” and the rest of the country is largely irrelevant. In the past the US (as happened in New Zealand before MMP) has elected a president who got less of the total vote than his opponent. Is that fair?
I think it’s clear that proportional systems are fairer than non-proportional. They do have some problems as well: small parties might get a disproportionate amount of influence, PR is often more complex, and sometimes more representatives might be needed. But on balance I don’t think these are significant disadvantages.
It’s clear that in a system like the one the US has at the moment it is practically impossible for any new ideas to be introduced. And I’m not just saying that because the US clearly needs a party representing genuine liberal views, because the libertarian cause has also suffered in the past
Politicians in the US have less freedom because they are so obligated to their sources of campaign funding, which is mostly from corporates. Clearly this power behind the politics has no interest in changing things because they currently control both large parties. It’s unlikely that they will allow things to change like our politicians did in New Zealand where the major parties allowed the introduction of PR even though it was against their interests to do so.
I recently heard an interview about the lack of logic which governs democratic voting. It was with the author of the book “Democracy Despite Itself: Why a System That Shouldn’t Work at All Works So Well”. He discussed some interesting ways that voters make weird decisions and how they can be influenced in various ways which seemingly make no sense. But despite that and as the name of the book suggests he still thinks democracy works.
I will blog about this book in the near future because I found some of the experiments on voter behaviour he quoted quite bizarre and fascinating.
As I write this blog the US presidential election is under way and at this stage it looks like Obama will win. That is the result I would prefer because, as I have said in the past, although I’m no great fan of Obama the alternative is unthinkable!
So I’ll finish this blog with some relevant quotes about democracy…
First I will repeat Churchill’s because I think that is the most relevant of all: “Democracy is the worst form of government… apart from all the rest.” Yes it has many faults but on balance I can’t think of a better way to do things so let’s make the most of it.
Here’s another from Churchill (he was so witty): “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” I’ve said in the past that most people don’t deserve the vote because they are so ignorant over the issues they are voting on. But there is the “wisdom of crowds” phenomenon which might rescue the process in the long term. That’s a topic I might tackle in the future.
Woodrow Wilson said: “The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy.” If he noticed that 100 years ago so imagine how much worse it is now!
Then there is this: “The voter should not expect to be able to choose the best option, they should be happy with choosing the least worst.” I created that one – with deliberate bad grammar to emphasise my point – but it is based on the thoughts of many others, of course.
So in the end I guess we should all he happy to have ignorant voters make the least worst decision using a system which is the worst apart from the rest and is controlled by unseen forces in the background. When you think about it, it’s amazing it works as well as it does!
My waitress at lunch today was wearing an “I love Obama t-shirt.
I asked her if she could explain Obama’s wealth distribution plan to me.
She said, “It means that he will tax the rich and give it to the poor like me.”
I said, “No, it means … well, let me show you. Here is your tip. You worked for it – but I’m going to take it from you and give it to that sweet old woman over there to help pay for her lunch.”
I got up and walked over to the sweet old lady, gave her the money and left.
The waitress’ jaw was still hanging when I left.
How’s that for sharing the wealth !!!
That was a story (I presume I wasn’t expected to think it was real) I was sent from a “friend” who is a right-wing nut job. I don’t use that term lightly, this person really is a nut. He thinks global warming is a conspiracy, he thinks Obama isn’t an American, he thinks Obama is a socialist, all the standard drivel these half-wits seem to want to believe.
But is there a certain amount of truth in the story? Does it really represent the probable outcome of the Democrats’ wealth redistribution ideas? I don’t think so. Here’s another story which I made up (just like they did) which might represent reality a little bit better…
My waitress at lunch today was wearing an “I love Romney t-shirt.
I asked her if she could explain Romney’s wealth distribution plan to me.
She said, “It means he will tax everyone evenly. Those who work hard and make lots of money won’t have to give it up to the rest.”
I said, “No, it means … well, let me show you. Here is your tip. You worked for it – but I’m going to take it from you and give it to that fat middle aged man over there. Oh, and he doesn’t even need to pay a tip because he worked harder than you for his money. Do you know how I know that? Because he’s got more than you and if he’s got lots of money he must have worked hard.”
The waitress said, “but that’s not fair, he’s already got a lot more than I have.”
I replied, “Maybe so, but he clearly deserves it. Can’t you see that he makes a much greater contribution to society than you do? If we didn’t give him extra money he would probably want to live somewhere else.”
The waitress was surprised by this and said, “But he’s a drug dealer, he has numerous pushers who work for him and he supplies half the addicts in this city. People who criticise him tend to disappear and if his dealers don’t sell enough drugs they do too.”
I said, “So he’s an entrepreneur. He provides employment to many people and provides a service many people are prepared to pay for. He is perfectly within his rights to take reasonable action against those who don’t perform, isn’t he?”
I could see the waitress was beginning to see the point of my argument but she couldn’t admit I was right yet. She argued, “He does nothing all day except direct his drug dealers and hit men to do his dirty work for him. Anyone who tries to set up in competition usually gets an offer they cannot refuse!”
“Ah excellent”, I said, “that’s the capitalist system operating efficiently in a free market with fair negotiation between parties. You don’t want the government to come in an interfere with the enterprise he has set up using his own talent and money, do you? Or are you a… socialist!”
I could see she had no answer to this because no one wants to be a socialist. I took her tip and gave it to the fat man. He made a note and said he would expect regular payments from her in future. I think she finally saw how true business talent works!
The waitress’ jaw was still hanging when I left.
How’s that for sharing the wealth !!!
Imagine someone sets up an internet service which is used to store files and there is some reason to think that some of the users of the service store material which might be covered by copyright even though there is a clear mechanism to remove that material. What would be an appropriate response in this situation?
Would it be to use the existing mechanism to have the copyrighted material removed? Would it be to notify the operator that the material exists? Or would it be to plan an extensive international operation to have a heavily armed paramilitary force invade the owner’s house, threaten his staff and family, and steal his assets?
Apparently if you are the police in an allegedly democratic country like New Zealand and are approached by the FBI you choose the last option, especially when your government is determined to “suck up” to the Americans as much as possible.
I’m talking about the recent raid on Kim Dotcom obviously, an action which the New Zealand police are currently being severely criticised for in the media, and righty so because the whole thing is a total disgrace. Why use an armed anti-terrorism force (and we all know alleged terrorism is a standard excuse to persecute anyone the authorities don’t like) when a simple visit from a couple of cops would have done? Apparently because the FBI wanted to set an example to anyone else who dared challenge the corrupt monopoly big business has now.
It has become increasingly obvious that this is a political setup, driven by big business in the US, and that the New Zealand police have just been the puppets chosen to carry out this illegal, undemocratic, and immoral action. In some ways you have to feel a bit sorry for the police, and in others not so much.
At the very least there should be several resignations from the senior ranks of police who authorised this complete overreaction. And the police staff who actually carried out the unnecessarily violence should be fired, and possibly prosecuted too. Oh and let’s have the minister of police resign as well – I’ve never liked her!
I do concede that Dotcom has cleverly manipulated the situation to gain public support and I say good for him! The police never hesitate to resort to misleading propaganda to support their various causes so why shouldn’t the other side as well?
I do want to say that I think the New Zealand police are overall OK (yes, just OK, that’s as positive as I can be) and that this is an exceptional case, but it is getting to the point where I am more concerned about the potential harm from a corrupt police force than I am about criminal activity! That’s not a healthy situation and one we would never have thought possible here a few years ago.
The police are trying to excuse their actions by suggesting their “target” (yes they use that term in the audio) might have been armed and dangerous or had a “doomsday device” (what an emotionally charged and inappropriate description that is) which could erase the contents of his servers.
How long does a thorough erase of that much data take? A real secure erase is a very slow process and even after the arrival by helicopter there would have been plenty of time for Dotcom to have initiated it because it took police a while to find him even though they knew the layout of the house. Also, no such device was found. Is this another “weapon of mass destruction” which only exists in the minds of the US authorities?
According to Kim Dotcom in a recent tweet (yes, I follow him): “It sucks being a candlestick maker in an electric light world. Unless you get government to pass laws that attack electric lights.” This is an obvious suggestion that the attack on his service was simply to protect the existing big media companies. But that implies his service is a challenge to them which also implies there is illegal material on his servers. Or maybe the implication is this is conventional movie and music corporations versus the internet in general.
Whatever the facts regarding Dotcom’s guilt or otherwise in relation to hosting copyrighted material the New Zealand’s police conduct was inexcusable. They have either watched too many American action movies and see themselves as some sort of Antipodean Dirty Harry, or they just followed instructions from the FBI (henceforth known as the Federal Bureau of Intimidation) to make an example of Dotcom as a warning to anyone else who might dare to challenge the existing big business model no matter how irrelevant and immoral it has become.
I really hope that things will get embarrassing enough that some senior police managers will resign. That’s who the message really needs to go to. They need to stop wasting public money, stop intimidating innocent citizens, and stop pandering to big business.
We need to let the candlestick makers fail before electric light can succeed.
America confuses me. It’s like a country with two different populations. On one hand there are brilliant, innovative, and generally very friendly and interesting people; and on the other hand there are many mindless morons, unthinking, inflexible and unpleasant throwbacks to what would be considered the distant past in most developed nations.
I’m sure it takes little imagination to realise that when I refer to the “mindless morons” I am referring to ultra-conservatives, believers in extreme literal Christianity, and the totally inflexible and bigoted population who are most numerous in the southern states.
Of course politicians realise that there are many of these people who vote and they are a great way to gain power. The Republican Party has been very effective in telling this population what they want to hear to ensure they get their votes. The fact that these strategies rely on simple lies and gross oversimplifications of reality should be no surprise to anyone.
I recently heard an example of these outrageous tactics. In a political platform statement they released for Texas there is a phrase something like this: “We oppose the teaching of higher order thinking skills, critical thinking skills, and similar programs that are simply a re-labelling of outcome based education, which focus on behaviour modification and have the purpose of challenging the students’ fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”
Basically they are saying they want students to stop thinking. Of course they do because the modern conservative agenda could only appeal to someone whose thought processes have stopped, or to someone who realises the agenda has no real merit but is just a cynical way to gain power.
Please note that many people with extreme views on any subject and with any political agenda are likely to have stopped thinking and to be relying on a received ideology instead. But it’s never as overt as this. Only this group actively revels in being ignorant. It’s like a badge of honour to them.
What is so appealing about ignorance? Well the truth can be painful. Why would anyone want to accept the truth of evolution when there is the pleasant myth of creation instead? Why would they want to accept the harsh truths of history (such as separation of church and state) when an alternative history suits what they want to believe instead? Why would they want to be forced into accepting the need to move from a petroleum-based energy system to a renewable one when their state produces so much oil?
To these people the facts just aren’t convenient so they prefer to live a fantasy world where their God still exists, where there is unlimited oil with no consequences to its use, and where history agrees with their bigoted opinions.
That is bad enough but they take things a lot further. Not only do they want to remain ignorant themselves but they want to make sure that future generations are as ignorant as they are. So they don’t want evolution, climate change, certain real history, or some other true but inconvenient science taught in schools; and they don’t want students to be encouraged to think for themselves.
That’s why they oppose critical thinking. They think that it will lead to the imposition of a “liberal agenda”. Well if liberal agenda means teaching the truth instead of their brainless fantasy then yes, they are right, because knowing the facts will inevitably lead people away from ultraconservatism. It has nothing to do with liberalism, just accepting reality. If they equate thinking liberally with thinking logically then that is quite a compliment for liberalism, I would say.
Another of their strange beliefs involves morality. Where would they get the idea that morality has anything to do with blind belief in an old book? Some of the most dedicated believers are some of the most intolerant, inflexible, violent, unforgiving, uncaring people around. Do they really think that that is a good source of morality? Actually that question is meaningless because they just don’t think at all.
Ultraconservatives also have some odd thoughts about authoritarianism. They seem to reject it superficially, especially in regard to what they see as too much government control, but they think it’s OK for a church or a parent to act as an unquestionable authority. Apparently they cannot see the flaw in the argument that some things should be open to question but others not. Is it OK to question which things should be open to question?
The world has always changed and it always will. No one can stop the march of progress because as soon as one group stifles positive change someone else will come along and take over. It has happened to many civilisations in the past and it always will. I’m sure the last thing the American Christian Conservative movement wants is to sacrifice their country’s preeminent position in the world. But that’s exactly what they are doing.
Things really are getting interesting in politics around the world, I think. It’s odd the way I used to be so disinterested in this sort of thing – when I was a student I didn’t take the slightest notice of it. I still think a lot of politics is trivial and pathetic, but I also find it amusing to watch the battle lines, I appreciate the inherent humour, and am amazed at the incredible corrupt self-interest exhibited by many of our political leaders (although, as you will know, I have no greater admiration for business and many other leaders).
The three words in the title of this entry refer to three events I want to comment on here. The first, “ignorance” is in reference to the newly discovered (by the media) Conservative Part of New Zealand. The second “greed” refers to the Talleys company and possible ways to combat their incredible arrogance. And the third “liberalism” refers to the first sign that maybe Obama really does have some liberal tendencies (instead of those just imagined by his political opponents).
So let’s get started: ignorance. Well conservatism and ignorance are just about synonyms in many cases. People follow a particular political line for many reasons: habit, conformance, laziness, etc; but ignorance would be fairly high on the list for many. I don’t want to say that only conservative people are ignorant but I suspect if a study was done on political allegiance and knowledge of basic facts about the world a trend would emerge!
The leader of the Conservative Party in New Zealand has managed to get himself a bit into the news recently (which is quite impressive since the party has no representation in our parliament) but not always for good reasons. Even his natural ally, John Key, has distanced himself from this nutter. Of course, he doesn’t always seem as nutty as he really is and when he makes the effort he can seem quite reasonable, but like all conservative and religious people, in the end the crazy stuff comes out.
His latest blunder is a statement regarding how promiscuous New Zealand women are. Really? He chose this subject to make a comment on? To be fair, he did quote some real research but I have two problems with this: first, finding one piece of research which supports your preferred belief while ignoring other facts isn’t fair; and second, why do this at all? Even if it is true (I’m not saying it is) why would you even make this point? Didn’t he learn from what happened to that other crazy, Alasdair Thompson? (see my blog entry “Period Problems” of 2011-06-24)
So that’s the ignorance, what about the greed? Well you could take any big corporation and accuse them of this offence but in this case it is Talleys who have caused the most outrage. Like all companies they are not all bad: they employ a reasonable number of people, they contribute to our economy in general, and they produce some good products, but (contrary to the belief of most large companies) that doesn’t give them an excuse to treat their workforce unfairly (or abuse the environment, exploit their position to gain excess profits, or anything else).
Hone Harawira, the leader of the Mana Party (and a politician who I alternate between despising and admiring) has suggested a “Talley-ban” against the company because of the unfair way they are treating meat workers in the North Island. Good idea. I will certainly be taking part in that ban. I will avoid buying their products, even if they do relent on their current unfair treatment of unions. I’ve heard local people suggest that the Talley family are barely one step above criminals. Even if that isn’t technically true they are clearly immoral.
So moving on to liberalism. Barack Obama has recently announced his support for gay marriage. While I don’t really care too much one way or the other on this (who cares about marriage any more anyway?) it is a landmark issue and one where liberals and conservatives clearly disagree. It puts Obama into the more left-leaning camp where he should be. I know his opponents have labelled him a liberal or socialist in the past but that (unfortunately) has not really been true.
Maybe, assuming he wins the election, his next term as president might more represent the values the Democrats should be representing. Currently the US has a right wing party (the Democrats) and another party (the GOP) which is so far off in the distance of insanity that they can barely be described in any conventional political terms!
So these are interesting times and I haven’t even mentioned the victory of the left in France and the upcoming battle with the right in Germany (wow, that’s a scary image), the near anarchy in Greece, the decimation of the conservatives in the UK, the new tax regime in Australia, etc. And that’s ignoring the Middle East completely! Yes, things are getting interesting all right…
Imagine you are part of a military power in a foreign country as a result of your country invading it. Now imagine that while you are there your military is responsible for many civilian deaths and many well publicised acts of intolerance and disrespect. And to make matters even worse your country is the world’s greatest bastion of the dominant culture and religion and the country you are invading follows another religion. And the followers of that religion are extremely fanatical about defending it.
OK, if you have imagined all of that what would be the worst thing you could do (assuming you wanted peace and stability, of course)? Would it be to burn piles of the holy book of the culture you had invaded? Maybe there could be even worse things, but in a country which is fanatical about its beliefs that would have to be amongst the worst possible actions, wouldn’t it?
You would have to almost draw the conclusion that a mass burning of a holy book, without even an attempt at hiding the action, was a deliberate act of provocation… or maybe it’s just unbelievable incompetence. Which is worse?
I have little respect for holy books but I have even less respect for people who burn them (or any other book for that matter). I also have little respect for people who think having a few books burned is an excuse for embarking on an extended campaign of violence and murder. So in my opinion no one comes out of this sort of situation looking good.
Book burning has always symbolised repression and intolerance. Even if the reason a book is burned is logical and uncontroversial it still looks bad. And if you need to burn a holy book for practical reasons the least you could do is do it secretly!
If I followed a religion and its books were burned by my opponents I think I could use the situation in a positive way to enhance my own credibility. I would point out that my God is not bothered by the destruction of mere physical objects because he is above that. I would point out that it is the other group doing the burning who are the uncivilised barbarians. And I would say that I am a better person and will not sink to similar levels of uncivilised conduct.
But that’s not what usually happens, is it. On every side of the conflict: what were they thinking?