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Featured: American Socrates by Chris Hedges

In biology, education, government, history, philosophy, politics, society on June 16, 2014 at 14:51

Featured: American Socrates by Chris Hedges, Common Dreams, https://www.commondreams.org

Noam Chomsky speaks to the media at a friend’s house in Amman, Jordan, in 2010. (AP/Nader Daoud)

Noam Chomsky speaks to the media at a friend’s house in Amman, Jordan, in 2010. (AP/Nader Daoud)

 

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Noam Chomsky, whom I interviewed last Thursday at his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has influenced intellectuals in the United States and abroad in incalculable ways. His explications of empire, mass propaganda, the hypocrisy and pliability of the liberal class and the failings of academics, as well as the way language is used as a mask by the power elite to prevent us from seeing reality, make him the most important intellectual in the country. The force of his intellect, which is combined with a ferocious independence, terrifies the corporate state—which is why the commercial media and much of the academic establishment treat him as a pariah. He is the Socrates of our time.

 

 

We live in a bleak moment in human history. And Chomsky begins from this reality. He quoted the late Ernst Mayr, a leading evolutionary biologist of the 20th century who argued that we probably will never encounter intelligent extraterrestrials because higher life forms render themselves extinct in a relatively short time.

“Mayr argued that the adaptive value of what is called ‘higher intelligence’ is very low,” Chomsky said. “Beetles and bacteria are much more adaptive than humans. We will find out if it is better to be smart than stupid. We may be a biological error, using the 100,000 years which Mayr gives [as] the life expectancy of a species to destroy ourselves and many other life forms on the planet.”

Climate change “may doom us all, and not in the distant future,” Chomsky said. “It may overwhelm everything. This is the first time in human history that we have the capacity to destroy the conditions for decent survival. It is already happening. Look at species destruction. It is estimated to be at about the level of 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the earth, ended the period of the dinosaurs and wiped out a huge number of species. It is the same level today. And we are the asteroid. If anyone could see us from outer space they would be astonished. There are sectors of the global population trying to impede the global catastrophe. There are other sectors trying to accelerate it. Take a look at whom they are. Those who are trying to impede it are the ones we call backward, indigenous populations—the First Nations in Canada, the aboriginals in Australia, the tribal people in India. Who is accelerating it? The most privileged, so-called advanced, educated populations of the world.”

If Mayr was right, we are at the tail end of a binge, accelerated by the Industrial Revolution, that is about to drive us over a cliff environmentally and economically. A looming breakdown, in Chomsky’s eyes, offers us opportunity as well as danger. He has warned repeatedly that if we are to adapt and survive we must overthrow the corporate power elite through mass movements and return power to autonomous collectives that are focused on sustaining communities rather than exploiting them. Appealing to the established institutions and mechanisms of power will not work.

“We can draw many very good lessons from the early period of the Industrial Revolution,” he said. “The Industrial Revolution took off right around here in eastern Massachusetts in the mid-19th century. This was a period when independent farmers were being driven into the industrial system. Men and women—women left the farms to be ‘factory girls’—bitterly resented it. This was also a period of a very free press, the freest in the history of the country. There were a wide variety of journals. When you read them they are pretty fascinating. The people driven into the industrial system regarded it as an attack on their personal dignity, on their rights as human beings. They were free human beings being forced into what they called ‘wage labor,’ which they regarded as not very different from chattel slavery. In fact this was such a popular mood it was a slogan of the Republican Party—‘The only difference between working for a wage and being a slave is that working for the wage is supposed to be temporary.’ ”

The galloping militarisation of Eurasia by Neil Melvin

In Asia, politics, sociology, war on June 16, 2014 at 14:38

From: The galloping militarisation of Eurasia by Neil Melvin, openDemocracy, www.opendemocracy.net

Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the deployment of up to 40 000 troops on Ukraine’s border to support the actions of pro-Russian separatist forces, has been widely identified as a turning point in the ‘post-Cold War’ European security system. But Russia’s militarised policy towards Ukraine should not be seen as a spontaneous response to the crisis – it has only been possible thanks to a long-term programme by Moscow to build up its military capabilities.

To be a ‘great power’ – which is the status that Moscow’s political elite claim for Russia – is to have both an international reach and regional spheres of influence. To achieve this, Moscow understands that it must be able to project military force, and so the modernisation of Russia’s armed forces has become a key element of its ‘great power’ ambitions. For this reason, seven years ago, a politically painful and expensive military modernisation programme was launched to provide Russia with new capabilities. One of the key aims of this modernisation has been to move the Russian military away from a mass mobilisation army designed to fight a large-scale war (presumably against NATO) to the creation of smaller and more mobile combat-ready forces designed for local and regional conflicts.

Nearly 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a new, highly militarised climate is being created that threatens peace amongst the Eurasian countries, and is substantially changing societies there. At its simplest, the change can be seen in the rising defence expenditures and the modernisation of armed forces across the region. But behind these trends are deep-seated political and social developments. Building on the popular support for security approaches to resolving issues with neighbouring countries, the states of the region are looking to roll back the liberal reforms of the past two decades, and to re-militarise state-society relations.

In these conditions, a wholly security-focused response to the Ukraine crisis by the ‘transatlantic community’ risks further entrenching hardliners in Moscow, and reinforcing the dangerous trends towards militarisation. At the same time, a narrow diplomatic approach focused only on Ukraine will not address the broader drift towards militarism in the region. In seeking a response to the Ukraine conflict and to Eurasia’s growing instability, the ‘Western community’ needs to craft a comprehensive regional approach that looks to address the sources of militarism. This will involve increased efforts to find peaceful solutions to Eurasia’s protracted conflicts, and the enmity that has built up around them. It will also require the establishment of a renewed security dialogue between Russia, its allies and the ‘transatlantic community’ to counter perceptions of insecurity and threats in the region, notably in the Caucasus and Caspian regions. Moreover, countries such as Britain might like to reconsider their arms deals with countries such as Russia, which can only further exacerbate instability. Such measures just might help slow down the galloping militarisation of Euraisa.

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Reposted with permission from: openDemocracy

How to Navigate the Murky Waters of Workplace Friendships by Maria Popova

In art, ethics, philosophy, society on June 16, 2014 at 13:55

From: How to Navigate the Murky Waters of Workplace Friendships: Wisdom from Adam Smith and Aristotle by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, http://www.brainpickings.org

Vernon, who echoes Rilke’s memorable words and notes that “the value of asking about friendship lies in the asking, not necessarily in coming to any incontestable conclusions,” argues that one of the defining characteristics of friendship is its inherent ambiguity — unlike social institutions of belonging like marriage or the workplace, it doesn’t operate by clear social norms or contractually defined roles, it comes with “no predetermined instructions for assembly or project for growth.” In fact, it can’t even be automatically derived from within these other social contracts — a marriage, Vernon notes, may or may not foster true friendship, and even more so a workplace. He laments:

Is not mistaking relationships for what they are not — that is being blind to their ambiguity — arguably the greatest cause of disappointment and failure? … The corollary of friendship’s ambiguity is that it is packed with promise and strewn with perils.

That ambiguity gets especially perilous, Vernon argues, at work, where our relationships with colleagues may take the guise of friendship but are ultimately shaped by other forces — forces that often have an implicit power dynamic. It’s a modern predicament especially poignant in our culture where “productivity often counts for more than perspicacity, the professional touch more than the personal touch, being praised more than being praiseworthy.” What this produces is an air of “pseudo-intimacy” between colleagues, whose relationships, at the very core, are premised on their usefulness to one another. That utilitarian basis, Vernon argues, is the “fundamental source of the ambiguity of many friendships at work”:

People’s utility at work extends way beyond just being a welcome distraction or even performing a role or a function. It goes to the heart of the working environment, underpinning why people are there at all. They work to do something, for a client, for a team, for a boss. And work is not without one key utility to the employee, namely, the paycheck. Ideally the work is rewarding, doubly so when there’s a sense of achieving something with friends. And if you receive what you believe you are due that generates friendly feeling too.

One of the trickiest workplace “friendships” is that between a boss and her employee, where there is an implicit imbalance of power, money, and status. Vernon turns to Aristotle, perhaps our civilization’s greatest philosopher of friendship, who divided such relationships into two parts — contractual, based on the terms of employment and the respective expectations regarding responsibility, time, and compensation, and goodwill, “the human bit of the working relationship, or the extent to which you’re prepared to gift your talents free of charge to the boss.”

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Reposted with permission from: Maria Popova

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