Posts tagged ‘politics’

October 31, 2012

Paying for property rights

The more money one has, the easier it becomes to accumulate even more. The poor can barely keep hold of the little they have, so easily it slips through their fingers. Unchecked, wealth gravitates into ever fewer and larger piles. There must be some way to reverse this trend.

What if we were only taxed on the proportion of society’s wealth to which we laid claim? What if we forfeited all rights to whatever we refused to declare?

(In a country where the government spent 6 trillion and the top 1% of a population of 300 million owned 50% of the nation’s money and property, those 3 million would pay on average 1,000,000 in taxes, the other 99% would pay approximately 10,000 each, some more and many almost nothing, of course.)

June 30, 2012

Think of the economy as the unconscious, government as the superego, and the ego as something that does not yet exist.

January 26, 2008

alain badiou on evil

I like what Alain Badiou says in this interview about evil not being something that can be derived from nature, but i wonder about his solution, making it all a mater of subjective perspective. His book on the subject (which i havent read yet) is Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (Amazon). From the interview:

that the natural state of the human animal has nothing to do with Good or Evil. And I maintain that the kind of formal moral obligation described in Kant’s categorical imperative does not actually exist. Take the example of torture. In a civilization as sophisticated as the Roman Empire, not only is torture not considered an Evil, it is actually appreciated as a spectacle. In arenas, people are devoured by tigers; they are burned alive; the audience rejoices to see combatants cut each other’s throats. How, then, could we think that torture is Evil for every human animal? Aren’t we the same animal as Sencea or Marcus Aurelius? I should add that the armed forces of my country, France, with the approval of the governments of the era and the majority of public opinion, tortured all the prisoners during the Algerian War. The refusal of torture is a historical and cultural phenomenon, not at all a natural one. In a general way, the human animal knows cruelty as well as it knows pity; the one is just as natural as the other, and neither one has anything to do with Good or Evil. One knows of crucial situations where cruelty is necessary and useful, and of other situations where pity is nothing but a form of contempt for others. You won’t find anything in the structure of the human animal on which to base the concept of Evil, nor, moreover, that of the Good.

But the formal solution isn’t any better. Indeed, the obligation to be a subject doesn’t have any meaning, for the following reason: The possibility of becoming a subject does not depend on us, but on that which occurs in circumstances that are always singular. The distinction between Good and Evil already supposes a subject, and thus can’t apply to it. It’s always for a subject, not a pre-subjectivized human animal, that Evil is possible. For example, if, during the occupation of France by the Nazis, I join the Resistance, I become a subject of History in the making. From the inside of this subjectivization, I can tell what is Evil (to betray my comrades, to collaborate with the Nazis, etc.). I can also decide what is Good outside of the habitual norms. Thus the writer Marguerite Duras has recounted how, for reasons tied to the resistance to the Nazis, she participated in acts of torture against traitors. The whole distinction between Good and Evil arises from inside a becoming-subject, and varies with this becoming (which I myself call philosophy, the becoming of a Truth). To summarize: There is no natural definition of Evil; Evil is always that which, in a particular situation, tends to weaken or destroy a subject. And the conception of Evil is thus entirely dependent on the events from which a subject constitutes itself. It is the subject who prescribes what Evil is, not a natural idea of Evil that defines what a “moral” subject is. There is also no formal imperative from which to define Evil, even negatively. In fact, all imperatives presume that the subject of the imperative is already constituted, and in specific circumstances. And thus there can be no imperative to become a subject, except as an absolutely vacuous statement. That is also why there is no general form of Evil, because Evil does not exist except as a judgment made, by a subject, on a situation, and on the consequences of his own actions in this situation. So the same act (to kill, for example) may be Evil in a certain subjective context, and a necessity of the Good in another.

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January 24, 2008

Jim Wallis on the new christianity

Jim Wallis (wikipedia), a non-right-wing intelligent evangelical christian (no joke), was on the Daily Show (video) talking about how (his) religion needs to refocus on the environment, peace (Darfur) and ethics.  Refreshing. From the Friendly Atheist.

January 14, 2008

“the evolutionary aspects of non-reproducing humans”

standing on E. O. Wilson’s broad shoulders, Brandon Keim wonders if, like the bees and the ants, humans aren’t a eusocial species, with homosexuality being the pinnacle of our other-oriented (ie non-reproducing) evolution:

So with all necessary caveats against reductionism and misappropriation, we can ask: should human societies conceive of themselves in terms of  group-level selection? Have we already developed aspects of eusociality? And — just to make matters really interesting — could non-reproducing humans, such as (most) gays and lesbians, as well as heterosexuals who choose not to have kids, actually be a manifestation of this emergent eusociality?

from wired.

January 7, 2008

On the defects of current religions

What are some of the major defects of current religions?

Ossified metaphysics. In Christianity, for example, we have a trinity, a god-man, sin, creation ex nihilo, all of which are non-negotiable elements, which cannot be jettisoned or replaced no matter how unfit they have become to describe our current world (surprisingly enough it is perhaps only creation ex nihilo that still makes sense – in a quantum sort of way). If religions are to remain relevant and not require ever further sacrifices of the intellect, then they must regain some of their initial flexibility and start reworking from the ground up the entirety of their so-called worldviews.

Individual salvation. Be it Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism or Islam (this doesn’t apply to Judaism), all of these religions preach salvation, but they preach it first and foremost to the individual. You can be saved/save your soul without having to worry about anyone else, let alone your surrounding ecosystem. This is probably what killed the dinosaurs. And it is certainly not helping to prevent our new species’ impending doom.

Disregard for the body/world. Most major religions are “soul-religions” in the sense that what ultimately matters is not our current bodies, but some immaterial self that will survive beyond whatever happens to your body and this universe. This doesn’t mean all religious people are either too fat or overly emaciated; but it does probably contribute to a certain je-m’en-foutisme (i-don’t-careism), wether or not we go all the way to blowing our bodies, or the world, up.

Future Salvation. This is the counterpart to the “soulishness” of current religions and is just as damaging to our current health.

Exclusiveness. Though Buddhism often claims to embrace all other religions, it does so exclusively on its own terms. Christianity and Islam are notorious us-versus-them religions, with the belligerent consequences we know too well. Of course, this is in great part due to an ossified metaphysics.

Impractical. Religions just don’t seem able to help us solve our current problems. They were probably pretty good at solving whatever was wrong back when they sprung up, three to five half-centuries ago, but as far as current wars, pollutions, poverties and other bad stuff go, they have nothing to offer.

Ossified institutions. Who isn’t bored to death in church? What are monks still doing running around? Why can they still not marry? What is the deal with that big black thing in mecca?

Politically passive. Finally, the current crop of old, grey-haired, mostly decrepit religions is remarkably … inactive. Of course, telling people they need only worry about the future of their souls doesn’t help. But at least they could do a bit more than preach and set up a few orphanages. Today doesn’t need personal, but rather global, institutional salvation.

January 5, 2008

reason, islam and the west

From Ayaan Hrsi Ali’s review of Harris’ new book:

I was not born in the West. I was raised with the code of Islam, and from birth I was indoctrinated into a tribal mind-set. Yet I have changed, I have adopted the values of the Enlightenment, and as a result I have to live with the rejection of my native clan as well as the Islamic tribe. Why have I done so? Because in a tribal society, life is cruel and terrible. And I am not alone. Muslims have been migrating to the West in droves for decades now. They are in search of a better life. Yet their tribal and cultural constraints have traveled with them. And the multiculturalism and moral relativism that reign in the West have accommodated this.

Harris is correct, I believe, that many Western leaders are terribly confused about the Islamic world. They are woefully uninformed and often unwilling to confront the tribal nature of Islam. The problem, however, is not too much reason but too little. Harris also fails to address the enemies of reason within the West: religion and the Romantic movement. It is out of rejection of religion that the Enlightenment emerged; Romanticism was a revolt against reason.

I can agree with her on this point. However, i too would wonder with Harris if Reason is
the solution to the problem. Or at least we need to distinguish between two types of reason: The wise and pragmatic reason of those trying to find a solution and willing to consider religious and other non-enlightenment solutions; over against the attempt to enforce “our” reason upon the “unreasonable”. Using reason in the former sense is certainly necessary and perhaps sufficient. The second type of imperialistic reason can only fail.

I know a fair number of muslims, though mostly well-educated ones who’ve moved to Europe. Some remain religious, most have jettisoned religion. All remain more or less attached to Arab culture (food, family structure, language). And all eschew violence. They have, all accepted the necessity of reason and (something akin to) non-violence. Their ultimate strength however, lies in their ability to distinguish between culture, religion and violence. Not to crassly oppose islam and reason.

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January 5, 2008

books on islam

the NYT has a new Books Update out all about islam (and Mary Magdalene). Some of the Highlights:

Books Reviews: 

‘The Suicide of Reason’ By LEE HARRIS Reviewed by AYAAN HIRSI ALI

“Arguing that the West’s “fanaticism of reason” is no match for the fanaticism of radical Islam.”

‘American Crescent’ By HASSAN QAZWINI Reviewed by RASHID KHALIDI:
“From his mosque in Michigan, a cleric argues that Muslims can be integrated into national life.”


An essay by Fouad Ajami entilted The Clash: “I doubted Samuel Huntington when he predicted a struggle between Islam and the West. My mistake.”

thx ed.

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January 3, 2008

islamophobia and the holocaust

From religionnewsblog:

When teaching Holocaust studies to Dutch Muslim teenagers in Amsterdam, Mustafa Daher says he first has to defuse his pupils’ own hostility toward Jews and Israel. “If I don’t capture their interest, then I have done nothing. So I use the rising Islamophobia to help them connect to the persecution of the Jews,” the seasoned educator says.

Somehow this seems incredibly wise.

December 13, 2007

talking religion in politics

Good old Habermas (and yes, he’s 77 years old) is intent on us purifying our political talk of any religious vocabulary. He wants people to find non-religious arguments for every one of their political ideas. For one, I don’t think that is possible: too many people feel too deeply about religious matters. That means that for many people religious vocabulary is their primary thinking tool and they cannot easily switch to non-religious equivalents. For another, i don’t think that secular-only talk is desirable.

Let me explain. Religion is not something that can be reduced to ethics for all political intents and purposes. Rather, ethics is a type of religion. This means that arguing from religion is no different than arguing from Kant or Darwin, on moral/political matters. Let people make the arguments they want, however weak or dubious you might find them yourself. Because (a) they in turn find your arguments just as weak and (b) the point is not to be right in some absolute/scientific sense but only to convince (this is politics after all!).

The same argument from The Free Thinker commenting on a commenter named Tom:

“If there are pragmatic reasons… use those reasons; don’t give me quotes from the bible.”  But it is a very common practice in political discourse to quote a respected source.  I might quote an expert– an economist, or a scientist– as evidence of the soundness of a policy which we don’t have the time to elaborate the technical case for, or aren’t qualified to make the technical case for, or don’t think our audience could understand the technical case for.  I might quote a widely-admired figure, say, Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln, to inspire the courage or patriotism of my hearers and/or to show that greater minds that mine have agreed with what I am saying.  Tom implicitly insists that political discourse consist only of “pragmatic reasons,” which is an absurd restriction.  And the call for “pragmatic reasons” begs key questions.  Are “pragmatic reasons” the only appropriate reasons in politics?  Are ethics always inappropriate?  It seems to me that pragmatic reasons pertain to means, but what about ends?  How are those to be determined?  If Tom assumes that only utilitarian ends– more pleasure, less pain– are appropriate, he will have to find a way to disenfranchise most of his fellow-citizens, for most of them are not utilitarians.  What are we to do with the thirty, or forty, or, who knows, maybe sixty or eighty percent of the population for whom the Bible, more than any other book, illuminates man’s purpose in this world?