Archive for political philosophy

Bernie Sanders: socialism, anarchism, corporatism and democracy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2015 by jtoddring

I support Senator Bernie Sanders in his candidacy to become the next US president. I would very much like to see him win, and I think he very may well. Now, some people will say, but Bernie Sanders is a self-declared democratic socialist. I see no problem with that. And 49% of Americans, and a larger percentage of people in most nations today, also have no problem with that. And the percentage who do have a problem with that continues to shrink, virtually every day. This is not 1955, and the McCarthy era is over. Let’s try to live in the 21st century.

Bernie Sanders, for a start, is no more socialist than the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. – whom the great majority of Americans revere, and rightly so. And he is less socialist than Jesus, whom the majority claim to revere. We should look at the contradictions here, and give them some serious thought.

Bernie Sanders has been called the second most popular socialist in America, after Jesus, and I think that is a fitting and accurate statement.

Bernie Sanders is not radical. Peter Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist socialist philosopher, scientist, evolutionary biologist, and peer, or superior, to Darwin, was radical – radical in a positive sense, from the original meaning of the word, which is derived from the Latin, radus, meaning root, and meaning, to get to the root of. But Bernie Sanders is not radical. He is simply sensible. Let’s try to keep things in perspective here.

If Bernie had said, let’s take over all the factories and corporate farms in America, and turn them into worker owned democratic co-ops, through revolution, that would be radical. Seeking election to office in order to remove big money from politics, is not radical, it’s just sensible and honest politics – which is something we haven’t had for a very long time, so it seems shocking to some.

Supporting Bernie Sanders’ presidency should not be alarming; it should be a matter of common sense. What would be alarming would be to vote for any other candidate, and to allow the de facto corporate rule of the political process, the government and the nation to continue. That would be shocking, that would be alarming, and that would be unconscionable, as well as frankly insane.

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Am I a socialist? Yes – an anarchist socialist, and one who would settle, in the short term, for democratic socialism, but yes, a socialist. Of course I am a socialist – what else would a thinking, feeling, person of conscience be? But first and foremost, I am a democrat.

I supported Ron Paul, though I disagree with him on major points, because he took a strong stand against the dominance of Wall Street over the political process and the government. I support Bernie Sanders for the same reason, and with the same qualifications. I don’t agree with either of these two men on everything, but I agree on the central thing, which is that the power has to be returned to the people, and taken back from the corporate elite who have stolen it and who have effectively taken over.

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All the indications are that mixed economies work very well. The Nordic and Scandinavian countries are a good example. They have free markets and a capitalist economy, but they also have socialist elements in the society and the economy as well – such things as health care and education being publicly owned and publicly controlled, through the democratic process, and freely available to all.

In terms of key indicators, the Nordic countries of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland, with their mixed economies and democratic socialist traditions, lead the world in terms of meeting UN Sustainable Development Goals, and are far ahead of most nations. The US ranks near the bottom, along with Egypt, Chile, Mexico and Greece.

The US figures on homelessness, hunger, poverty and infant mortality also rank it with Third World nations. So something is clearly going wrong, especially considering the US is the richest nation in history, and yet, it lets its people go hungry and homeless, and go without proper health care.

There is something deranged, even pathological, with this picture. Yes, you are your brother’s keeper. The professed Christian values, along side a callous and cold-hearted set of policies, in numerous regards, and shocking levels of poverty and inequality, rapaciousness, violence, militarism and greed, materialism, narcissism, vanity and consumerism, simply appall the world. The people of the US need to be aware of this fact; and more and more of them are, and wish to change it.

Civilized nations, as leading trend analyst, Gerald Celente has said, have universal health care for all. Civilized countries have dikes to keep flood waters out, and serious disaster relief when disaster does strike, and exceeds our capacities to cope with it.

Civilized countries do not let their people die in the streets, from hunger or cold, or leave them to fend for themselves in the face of disaster, as the US government did, in the face of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

The US is in a disgraceful state, and most Americans know it, and want the situation changed. And this time, they don’t want hollow speeches about change, that amount to nothing.

In terms of human happiness, the global polls continue to show that the Nordic countries, with their mixed economies, their universal public health care, free education, several weeks of yearly paid vacations, much higher minimum wages, excellent pensions, paid sick leave and parental leave, rank as the best places in the world to live. And again, the US is far, far below. So clearly, there is much to be said for a mixed economy.

The lesson applies to the United States as well.

The United States is not a pure capitalist society. In fact, as Chomsky has pointed out, a purely capitalist society would disintegrate in no time, and is completely self-annihilating. There is a corporate welfare state that protects and serves and supports big business, as it has always done, but only more so in recent years. Instead of having the state intervene to benefit the rich and the corporations, however, the state could be used, through democratic means, to protect and serve all of the people, and not just the rich and the large corporations. This is what Senator Sanders is seeking to do.

For example, Bernie Sanders is proposing to bring in, not only universal public health care, but universal free education, up to and including college and university, and also, to re-invest in America, and rebuild the economy and the infrastructure, both of which are in tatters, and create jobs for all.

How would that be paid for? By making the richest 1% and the large corporations pay their fair share of tax. Right now, they pay little or no tax, which means a loss of hundreds of billions of dollars in revenues a year. Add to this the massive subsidies, which total hundreds of billions of dollars more per year, and the bailouts and “stimulus” packages, which together have handed $20 trillion to the big banks from the Treasury and the public purse, and you can easily see how such programs that benefit the people could be funded: end the corporate welfare system, make the rich and the big corporations pay a reasonable level of tax, say 30, 40, or 60%, end the enormous subsidies to big business, and stop bailing out the “too big to fail” banks. If they’re too big to fail, then, as Bernie says, they’re too big to exist – break them up. The money is there. It is simply being misspent. Or rather, it is being stolen by the criminals on Wall Street, and their accomplices in the White House, Congress and the judiciary.

Bernie is here to cast the money changers from the temple. There are good precedents for that, and it is needed again today.

And as far as the US being a mixed economy, as I say, it already is, but in limited ways, and in highly distorted ways, due to the excessive corporate dominance over the political process and the government. But already, the US has many elements of socialism, and the great majority of the people like it that way: public schools, public libraries, public roads, sewers, bridges, water treatment, fire departments, colleges and universities – few people would want to do away with these things, and these things are socialist.

Other countries which are democratic and capitalist, also have mixed economies, but with higher levels of socialist elements within those capitalist-democratic societies. Britain, France and Germany, for example, have universal public health care, as does most of Europe. Bernie Sanders is simply proposing that the US enter the civilized world, and bring in universal public health care, like every other civilized nation, and is proposing relatively modest increases in the socialist elements that exist within the basic framework of US capitalist democracy. I do not think that is unreasonable. And more importantly, the great majority of the people in the US are in support of Bernie Sander’s proposed policies.

So we can put the Red Scare terror aside, because under a Sanders administration, the economy would simply become more fair, and would be rebuilt, but the basic framework of the capitalist-democratic system would remain intact.

The main thing that Bernie would help to accomplish, is to get big money out of politics – which is something that 78% of Americans, including the great majority of both Republicans and Democrats, strongly support. In fact, it is the single hottest issue in the nation, and Bernie Sanders is the only major candidate who is seriously addressing it – which is why he is so immensely popular, and why his grassroots support is rising exponentially, every day. We now even have the phenomenon of Republicans For Bernie Sanders. He is taking the country by storm.

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I believe in democracy – which is to say, to be clear, constitutional democracy, and not simple majority rule, and constitutional democracy with guaranteed rights and freedoms for all people. And I believe, more over, that democracy has been evolving for a long time, and is still evolving. It was not born a finished work, but a work in progress.

Initially, only the rich, white, male land owners could vote or share in political power. Then women and people of colour won the right to vote. Now, we need to wrest democracy from the big money interests who have taken it over, and restore democracy.

And beyond that, once we have restored democracy, we can further evolve democracy. Part of that evolution of democracy is to apply it, not just to the political realm, but also the economic realm. If we believe in democracy, then we should also have economic democracy. This is the next logical step in the evolution of democracy.

But first things first: first we must recapture and reclaim our democracy from the corporate elite who have stolen and high-jacked it. It’s time to take the power back.

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Right now, we have what is in reality, not democracy, but oligarchy. We have a plutocracy, or rule by the rich; or oligarchy, rule by the few. What we have is a neo-feudal corporatism, which, as Mussolini himself said, is the proper term for fascism, for it is the merger of business and the state. Now, you may say what you will about democracy, but it is certainly preferable to fascism, and it is certainly preferable to an oligarchy run by bankers and billionaires and other corporate elites.

Let’s not miss the forest for the trees here, or divide ourselves unnecessarily. We need to take our democracy back. That is step one. And that is something that Bernie Sanders can help us in doing. He deserves our support – whether we are socialists, anarchists, liberals, conservatives, progressives or libertarians, because the alternatives are far worse: Clinton and Trump represent Wall Street and the agenda of the billionaire class. Bernie represents the other 99% of the people. At this time at least, these are the only sides, and the only battle lines, that truly matter.

Democrats and Republicans alike, along with independents and Greens – and anyone who wishes to see power returned to the people, and Wall Street and big money removed from political power, should vote for Bernie Sanders in 2016. It is important, and I do believe he can win. More over, there is simply no other choice.

Don’t worry – Bernie Sanders is not going to abolish capitalism. Some will be angered by this fact, some relieved, but it is a fact. What a Sanders presidency would do, is to begin to restore the power to the people, within the context of a capitalist-democracy, and to make the system more fair for everyone, so that it is not just the top 1% who benefit, or who have power, but all the people. And while this is far from utopian, it is a good first step, and it simply needs to be done.

There are those who believe that Bernie cannot win, or worse, that no real change is possible. I say, let us avoid the iron cage of cynicism, which turns a great many otherwise intelligent people into functional idiots, and set aside, for a moment, our disbelief. If we do so, there is the very real possibility that we will be pleasantly surprised. But as Chomsky has said, if we assume that nothing can be done, then we have created our own self-fulfilling prophecy, and nothing will be done.

But above all, let’s be clear about the choices at hand. It’s Bernie or Wall Street in 2016. Let’s make the right decision.

Vote, and vote in your interests, not against them. Bernie’s got your back. Clinton and Trump want simply to be on it.

Follow the money. Clinton has the backing of Wall Street and corporate America, and is awash in their money – and that is because they know she is going to continue to work for them. Bernie Sanders has raised more money than any other candidate – and he’s done it through half a million small scale donations, averaging $31. This says everything.

The corporate media are clearly favouring Clinton and Trump, and grooming them for power. That should tell us all we need to know about who is the true ally and friend of the people. It is Bernie Sanders.

J. Todd Ring,
October 17, 2015

Chomsky on Socialism

Chomsky on the Soviet Union – which was anything but socialist

Naomi Klein on Neoliberalism and Mixed Economies

Tony Benn: A 10 minute lesson on neoliberalism, socialism and democracy

Big Ideas That Changed The World – The History of Democracy, with Tony Benn, BBC

A sinking world, and sane responses to it

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2015 by jtoddring

My country is sinking like a rock (for reasons of corporate oligarchy, neoliberalism, corporate rights agreements, and an addiction to oil revenues and the politics of a resource extraction-based economy, and the thorough corporate domination of the political process), though the great majority of my fellow citizens do not realize it, lost in a stupor of denial as they are (I can think of twelve countries in the Western hemisphere which are either moving in a positive direction, or at least showing some fight – and Canada is not one of them); and so too is the greater part of the world descending, and rapidly so, into a morass of injustice and ecological suicide, to say nothing of concerns for freedom, human rights and democracy, (as well as a pervasive malady, and an epidemic, of economic fundamentalism, neoliberalism and neoconservatism being the primary, and reigning, quasi-religious orthodoxies, along with other forms of ideological and even “scientific” fundamentalism, which are widespread, and far more influential today than their mirror image, which is religious fundamentalism, and an even worse epidemic of illusions of powerlessness, as well as an epidemic of apathy, denial, conformity, and undue and excessive, and frequently mad obedience to power) with only a handful of countries as the exception. How am I not to be distressed, if not anguished, and even furious, or all of the above?

All of the greatest minds and greatest spirits have echoed the same thoughts about the modern world. As David Suzuki has recently said (paraphrasing from memory), “There has never been a better time for being scared and angry….. We should get mad as hell, and then fight like hell.”

Where is the fight in us? And why should we be ashamed of being distraught with a world that is on a collision course with both tyranny and collective ecological suicide, as well as being steeped in war, violence, rampant injustice, inequality, poverty and a culture of voyeurism, vicarious living, materialism, consumerism, and a pathological aversion to the real?

As the great sociologist Erich Fromm said (again, paraphrasing from memory), “Normal only exists in relation to a profoundly abnormal norm.” “The fact that there is neurosis [or psychological strain and distress] is a good sign. It is a sign of a healthy individual, an individual that is still struggling to be fully alive, and by necessity, is struggling against a society that wishes to turn him or her into an atomaton.”

As the saying goes, “If you can keep your head when everyone around you is losing theirs – you’re not paying attention.”

Calm is good. Heart-break for the state of the world is natural. And action is vitally needed – and urgently so.

Let’s see more action, and the heart-break will fade into a memory of times past, and lessons learned.

JTR,
October 7, 2015

Essential reading:

(A few among many other great books that could be included in such a list)

A Brief History of Progress – Ronald Wright

The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies – Richard Heinberg

When Technology Fails – Matt Stein

Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein

A Game As Old As Empire – John Perkins

The End of America – Naomi Wolf

Necessary Illusions: Thought Control In Democratic Societies – Noam Chomsky

Year 501: The Conquest Continues – Noam Chomsky

Escape From Freedom – Erich Fromm

The Ecology of Freedom – Murray Bookchin

The Chalice and the Blade – Rianne Eisler

World As Lover, World As Self – Joanna Macy

Ancient Futures – Helena Norberg-Hodge

Brave New World Revisited – Aldous Huxley

Roads To Freedom – Bertrand Russell

Wisdom of the Elders – David Suzuki

Walden – Henry David Thoreau

On Civil Disobedience – Henry David Thoreau

The Discourse On Voluntary Servitude – Etienne de la Boite

Mutual Aid – Peter Kropotkin

Peter Kropotkin Was No Crackpot – Stephen Jay Gould, Natural History, June, 1997

The Hero With A Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell

A few thoughts on empathy in human beings, and other living creatures

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2015 by jtoddring

Empathy is natural in human beings, as Jeremy Rifkin has pointed out – and with strong backing by recent scientific findings. Some human beings have more and some less; and some are sociopaths – roughly 1% (and usually, the ones who gravitate to positions of wealth and power, unsurprisingly) – who have a near total absence of natural empathy, or, more accurately, a learned callousness, which is always bred from fear. Most people are somewhere in the middle between saintly and sociopathic, and leaning strongly toward a basic good-heartedness, and, as Chomsky put it, having “basically decent impulses.” And most animals are also highly empathic by nature.

That doesn’t mean that carnivores won’t eat you for dinner if they’re hungry – if you’re not considered part of their kin – but they are naturally empathic. And as Kropotkin pointed out – the great Russian scientist who was at least the peer and equal of Darwin, and probably a more important evolutionary biologist – mutual aid and peaceful coexistence are more the norm in nature than are competition and aggression.

(Kropotkin’s great work, Mutual Aid, should, by the way, be read by everyone over the age of twelve, along with Bookchin’s, The Ecology of Freedom, in order to correct a pathological and highly disastrous, and wide-spread misunderstanding, of nature, human nature, and history. This point cannot be stressed enough.)

In any case, most animals clearly have empathy, and we can learn a great deal from them, and draw out our own natural empathy to further degrees by that experience of animal companionship.

Misanthropy is a disease of the mind, although it is widespread now, and, unfortunately, rising. Speciesism and anthropocentrism represent the opposite extreme, and are equally delusional. We should respect ourselves, and we should respect other animals and living creatures as well. We are all kin in the end.

To have empathy is to be truly alive, and to truly live. We should cherish this natural human trait, and nourish it in ourselves and others. To have empathy does not mean that we are weak – in fact, it is our greatest strength. Alone and isolated, we have limited powers – and alone in nature, few would survive at all – but joined together in solidarity and community, we are extraordinarily powerful, and there is little that we cannot do. And animals can help us to see and value that trait of natural empathy all the more, if we allow it.

As Einstein said, “widening the circle of compassion,” along with the search for truth, is, or should be, the central human project. This is what it means to live a meaningful life.

JTR,

October 2, 2015

On Civil Obedience

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2015 by jtoddring

“Laws control the lesser man…

Right conduct controls the greater one.”

– Mark Twain

Never be obedient. Obedience is for dogs. No offence to dogs – I love dogs, and dogs are very admirable, as well as lovable, and there is much that we can learn from dogs. But we are not dogs, and we should not behave like dogs – or cattle, or sheep. Be cooperative, yes – at least, when it is intelligent to do so, and when it does not compromise our integrity or our principles – but never be obedient.

Be respectful, be compassionate, be cooperative when and where it is ethical and intelligent to do so, but never be obedient. The world is filled with obedient men and women, and it is because of this, that the world is also filled with horrors and terrible acts, committed by a few individuals who are mad with greed, hate, ego mania or power-lust. It is precisely the apathy, and the obedience of the many, that allows the sociopathic few to get away with murder – and often literally so.

“Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”

~Albert Einstein

Stop being obedient. Never be obedient. First, be a man, be a woman, be human – then decide for yourself how to act.

Obedience is deadly. Sever all habits of it, and now. To paraphrase Thoreau, our first loyalty should be to our own conscience. All else follows from that, and not before.

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To be clear, I am talking here about adults being overly obedient to whatever powers happen to be dominant or ruling in a given society at a given time, not children, who do not yet have enough awareness to make every decision for themselves. If children were allowed to decide their own meals, for example, they’d be eating chocolate bars and pizza-pops all day long; so clearly, children need guidance. But adults being overly obedient to authority is a problem. I would say that it is due to such an undue obedience to authority that it took so long, for example, to abolish slavery, or child labour, or to bring in the universal right to vote, or end racial segregation or apartheid. And I would say it is because of an excess of obedience and conformity that the severe social and ecological problems which we still face today, are not being resolved at anywhere near the speed they need to be. This is a very serious problem. This obedience may cost us our survival as a species.

It is worthwhile here to quote Henry David Thoreau, On Civil Disobedience, for there has never been a more lucid essay or literature of any kind on the subject of obedience to authority versus obedience to one’s own conscience.

I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto, — “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — “That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have…..But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.

– Henry David Thoreau, On Civil Disobedience

Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. – Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience

Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power. – Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience

The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others, as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders, serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it. – Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience

I think we would do better if we were more obedient to our own conscience, and less obedient to social authorities. In that, I side with Thoreau, and his great essay, On Civil Disobedience – which inspired Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement, the movement to end the war in Vietnam, the environmental movement, and other, very positive social movements, right up to today.

Einstein said it best: “The world is a dangerous place, not because a few people do terrible things, but because millions of people let them.” The great sociologists C. Wright Mills and Erich Fromm would agree, as would Aldous Huxley, Chomsky and Orwell. Many people are rebellious in foolish ways, in ways that lead nowhere, but are passive and timid and deferential, and excessively obedient, when and where it counts. That, I think, is a real problem.

There is a time for casting the money changers from the temple. And sometimes, that means challenging, and even defying, authority. And we have good precedents and examples to follow in that.

J. Todd Ring,

September 18, 2015

For further reading, see:

The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, by Etienne de la Bottie

On Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau

And my recent book, Enlightened Democracy: Visions For A New Millennium, on Amazon now.

Corporatism, capitalism and real alternatives: On the power to choose our destiny

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2014 by jtoddring

Corporatism is simply a more virulent form of capitalism – or a late stage of capitalism: it is what happens when capitalism is left unchecked, to run its own course. First comes the tendency towards ever-increasing concentrations of money, resources and economic power under a capitalist economy, as Marx rightly predicted; then comes crony capitalism, as politicians are corrupted by big money interests; then comes the merger of business and the state, which is corporatism, and which is the very definition of fascism, as Mussolini himself said, which is the final culmination of unchecked capitalism, as the business elite or oligarchs simply co-opt or take over the government and the state, turning the capitalist economy and nominally democratic societies into a neo-feudal order of brutal and anti-democratic, tyrannical oligarchy, or rule by the business elite.

This latter stage of capitalism, by the way, the merger of business and the state, or the birth of corporate fascism, is what we are now entering, and that will be our dreadful fate if we do not act to change it, and now.

In either case, it is fair to say that either capitalism or corporatism are bad ideas; and yes, there are not only theoretically possible alternatives, but proven alternatives that offer far better results in terms of human well-being, actual functioning democracy, economic prosperity and stability, real freedom, empowerment of the people, justice, equality, peace and environmental sanity.

One example is the Mondragon co-op, which is a network, federation, or co-op of co-ops, where the workers own the businesses directly – not the state, under the control of mandarins, bureaucrats or political elites, and not corporate oligarchs or shareholder elites, but the workers directly, at the local level – and where the workers elect their managers and directors at an annual general meeting, and decide democratically what will be produced and how, and where the profits and revenues will be allocated. It’s not a perfect system, but it is vastly superior by every reasonable standard or measure, to any form of capitalism or corporatism, and it is vastly superior to what we have now.

Is there an alternative to capitalism? Of course there is. In fact, there are a number of alternatives which are not only theoretically possible, but already proven. The Mondragon Co-op has proven one successful alternative to an economy and a society run essentially by and for the rich.

And as an aside, if anyone wants to know what left libertarianism, or libertarian socialism, means or might look like, here is one version or example of it – Mondragon. And it has not only worked, but thrived, for over fifty years now.

We do not have to be daft. We can simply lift our heads and look around. Yes, there alternatives. Are they perfect? Not likely. Are they better than the system or regime we currently live under? Unquestionably, and by a wide margin.

But before anyone gets their knickers in a knot because we have gone too far in challenging the ruling orthodoxy and presumptions of our time, let us say that we have perhaps gotten a bit ahead of ourselves in discussing alternatives to our currently reigning social order. The immediate challenge we face is the take-over by big business of politics, the global economy, the financial system, the media, and effectively, the world. You can be pro-capitalist if you like, although I would not recommend it; but if we are at all sane, if we have any idea as to what is going on, then we must, in all cases, oppose and resist and actively challenge the corporate take-over of human society.

Oligarchy is not freedom, and oligarchy is not democracy. The most immediate and urgent question facing human beings today, is whether we prefer freedom and democracy, or whether prefer rule by a global business elite, and a neo-feudal order. Everyone of sound mind should find this question easy to answer. The next question is, of course, what are we going to do about it.

The question is, whether we will drift along with the current trajectory, and be led, or rather, pushed and corralled, into a kind of neo-Dickensian, neo-feudal global corporatist order, where a handful of billionaires rule the world, the middle class is destroyed and liquidated, and the vast majority of the people are reduced to peasants, serfs or slaves, with a very bleak future in a very dark age; or whether the people will reclaim their power and change course, and make the world anew.

The power is in our hands to choose. But if we choose not to choose – that is, if the people continue to drift with the tide – then our choices will be made for us, and our future will be nothing short of a nightmare.

Stand now. The power is in our hands. And we most definitely do have alternatives to choose from. Only the ignorant and the deceitful will tell you otherwise.

J. Todd Ring,
April 29, 2014

– For more thoughts on this and other subjects, see my newly released book, Enlightened Democracy: Visions For A New Millennium, available world-wide now on Amazon.com.

What can be done?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2014 by jtoddring

What can be done? How can we help others? How can one person make a difference? Well, there are many ways, of course. Most people in modern Western society, and in many parts of the world, feel powerless today. They feel that they can’t do anything to help – they can’t do anything to change things. This is an illusion. We are never powerless. We always have some degree of power. There is always something, however large or small, that we can do.

How can we help others? We can offer a smile, a warm hello, a hand shake, a bow, a kind word, a shoulder or an ear. That may sound like very little, but it can make a world of difference. If someone is hungry, we can give them a sandwich, buy them lunch or make them a meal. And if we are enlightened, we can lead others to enlightenment. I’m not enlightened – that’s clear! – but a few people are. And in between the smallest acts of kindness and the greatest, there are many, many things that we can do.

If we are an artist, writer, musician, actor or performer, then we can lift people’s spirits, make them laugh, nourish their minds or their hearts, or give them food for thought which may be helpful. If we are a doctor or health care professional, we can heal people when they are sick – or better, help them to stay healthy and become even more healthy, vibrant, vital and alive.If we know how to build things, whether it is building homes or building a business, building organizations or building a heavenly lasagna, or building something else, then we can build things that can bring some happiness, some comfort, some peace or some joy to others.

And there is also local community activism, social activism, economic activism, share holder activism and political activism; and given the troubles and problems facing the world today, I would say that this is an important area for us to engage in as well – in our own way, in whatever way inspires us, or fits with our unique talents or disposition. Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.

Ralph Nader has said that if just 1% of people took up activism as a hobby, and spent just one hour a week on it, the world would be transformed in  short order, and I think he is probably right.

Generally speaking, people are not uncaring, they’re not stupid, they’re not lazy, and they’re not ignorant – but they do tend to feel powerless, and this must be overcome. Getting together with others, and realizing how powerful we are when we work together, is part of the answer. Another part of the answer is simply to begin – get active, overcome the inertia, and simply dive in.

The great majority of people, as Chomsky has said, have basically decent impulses. Kropotkin, Rifkin and others have documented and proven the point amply, with clear and overwhelming scientific evidence. People do care – empathy and compassion are natural to human beings. It is only the few who are deeply callous, and only a rare few who are truly sociopathic and unfeeling.

The great majority of people also have a very good idea of what is going on, and human beings are possessed of a natural intelligence, an innate common sense. Common sense may seem uncommon in this age, but that is because so many people choose to follow the norm and follow the crowd, or obey authority and do as they are told without question. It is not that they lack in intelligence – it is that they choose not to use their intelligence, because they have been trained and conditioned to obey authority and follow the herd. They are more than intelligent enough to see what needs to be done, and in any event, the problems we face are really not all that complicated. We make things complicated by sticking to ways of doing things that no longer work, or that never really worked in the first place. So yes, most people know what is going on, and together, we have more than enough basic common sense and natural intelligence to deal with the problems we are facing. Again, the central problem is the pervasive illusion of powerlessness.

Sometimes, before we can help others more, or be more empowered to work for positive social change, we have to devote, at least a little time to nourishing ourselves. So with that being said, here are some thoughts on that subject, for anyone who may be interested.

I can get bogged down by worries, or by money issues, or the state of the world, but when I remember to do it, I find that a few things make a world of difference. Just simply going for a walk – getting outside, getting some fresh air, some sunshine, a bit of exercise and a change of scenery can really lift my spirits – especially if I walk in green spaces or near the water.

Going to the gym and working out, or having a steam bath or sauna, makes an enormous difference, and the YMCA is not all that expensive, and has subsidized rates. It’s worth it, believe me. Any kind of exercise will bring blood to the brain and to all organs and tissues, along with nutrients and oxygen, soothing stress and renewing our energy. Fifteen to thirty minutes a day of moderate exercise should be the norm, as a minimum, if we want to feel our best.

Yoga and meditation have been the most powerfully healing things I have ever experienced, and they have probably literally saved my life. I have never experienced anything that is as powerful, and yes, anyone can do it, if you have the willingness.

Cycling is wonderful, and you can sometimes find used bikes really inexpensively, so this is an option for just about anybody who is physically able to ride a bike, and its a lot cheaper than psychotherapy or a weekly massage! The latter can be very helpful too, of course. Or acupuncture, or a whole array of holistic health therapies, including herbal medicine, which is also extremely powerful, safe and effective.

Laying on my back, looking up at the sky – day or night – helps me to put things into perspective, somehow, and lightens the load on my mind and brings me peace. Getting into nature, and getting a break from the noise and bustle and stress of modern urban life, has helped enormously.

Eating healthy food, and learning to love cooking, has been very therapeutic for me. It doesn’t have to be fancy – it can be cheap and simple, just rice and beans and a few vegetables, but it nourishes my spirit as well as my body. And if I cook for others, then it’s even better, and even more satisfying. (Nigella and Jamie, you rock, by the way!)

Listening to uplifting or soothing music is a great help – especially classical, for me. This weekend, I really felt worn down and not in the best of moods, and my favourite jazz station, Jazz FM 91, along with my cats, writing and reading, got me through it.

Practicing appreciation for every little good thing in my day or in my life, can ease the worry and the pain, and sometimes, very often in fact, turn my mood right around, and put me in a state of sheer joy, or at least bring me some peace.

Learning to be patient with myself and compassionate with my faults and limitations has been vital, and has made a big difference; and learning to be more patient and forgiving with others, even when they are annoying or rude, has helped greatly too.

Sometimes, simply taking a long hot bath with Epsom salts, makes me feel relaxed and renewed – or just sitting in the sun, or looking out the window, and having a hot cup of tea.

If stress is very high or depression is a problem, herbal medicine can help greatly. I really don’t like taking pharmaceuticals, due to risks and side-effects, but fortunately, German studies have found that St. John’s wort, an herb you can take as a tea or in capsules, is as effective in treating depression as pharmaceutical serotonin re-uptake inhibitor anti-depressants – of course, you’d never hear that on the mainstream media, but it is a fact. Motherwort and Solomon’s seal are excellent for reducing stress and also for enhancing mental clarity, as is gotu kola. And meditation has actually been found to be more effective than pharmaceutical drugs. Meditation or herbs are safe and certainly won’t hurt anybody in any case, so it wouldn’t hurt to try. And for energy, Siberian ginseng and fo ti (shu wu in Chinese, or polygonum multiflora) are extremely helpful, especially in high doses. 5-30g a day of Siberian ginseng packs a powerful punch, and the same for fo ti. Russian scientists have done an enormous amount of research into the health benefits of Siberian ginseng, and it is known in Russia to be so powerful, that not a single Russian astronaut has gone into space without taking Siberian ginseng.

Oh, I almost forgot! Great books! Great books have been a life-line. When all seemed lost, so many times, a good book turned my mood around, gave me new hope or new perspective, or simply eased the pain and soothed my soul.

But maybe above all, what has helped the most, is simply doing things that are important or meaningful to me, and just taking whatever small steps I can – no matter how small – every day.

So what can we do? Nourish ourselves, body, heart, spirit and mind; connect with others; get active and stay active; and trust our own natural intelligence. Things will take a turn for the better, and sometimes very rapidly, if we will simply make the choice to do this.

It makes me think of the wonderful story by Dr. Seuss, The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better – it’s not.” I know, it’s a children’s book, but the point remains valid. If only more books that are written for adults had such honesty, straight-forwardness and wisdom.

If we assume that things are hopeless, and nothing can be done, then we will ensure our failure. But if we think, well, maybe there is a slim chance that things can change for the better, at least in some measure – then there is hope. Then real change becomes a possibility.

There was a cartoon I saw that depicted a whole crowd of people. Each one had a little thought bubble above their heads, and each one was quietly thinking to themselves, “What can one person do?” A whole crowd of people, each caught up in their own little worlds, and each one thinking, “What can one person do?” The irony is clear. We are not alone. We are only alone if we make ourselves alone. With few exceptions, it is in our power to connect with others, and together, we have tremendous power, and everything becomes possible. This is the reality of our human existence, and you have to work very hard to deny it, and to cling to a stubborn cynicism or fatalistic stance.

But these are just some thoughts that came to mind this evening. Think for yourself. You have all that you need to make your own life decisions. We all do. Trust yourself, do what you can, and try to take joy in that, and be at peace with that. Tomorrow is another day, and there is more day yet to dawn.

JTR,
March 7, 2014

 

No more excuses

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2013 by jtoddring

We are tiny little specks, living on a tiny little speck we call the earth, which is revolving around a tiny little speck we call the sun – which is revolving around the centre of a tiny little speck of a galaxy, in a vast universe of hundreds of billions, if not trillions of galaxies in an unimaginably vast universe. If we destroy ourselves, it will be little more than the briefest flicker in one infinitely tiny little corner of the infinity of space – but it will be a great tragedy nonetheless. Let us hope we are not so foolish, nor so callous toward our fellow human beings and other living beings on this planet, to allow such a thing to come to pass.

The warning call has been sounded, as to the destruction of our only home on earth, and was made widely known by Rachel Carson, in the 1960’s – half a century ago. By the end of the 20th century, everyone knew we were in trouble. There is simply no excuse for denial or apathy now. And we know the hour is late. It is time for action.

Stephen Hawking has said that global warming is the greatest threat to human beings on earth at this time, far surpassing terrorism, for example. Terrorism kills roughly 20,000 people a year. Global warming threatens the very existence of the human species – and is already killing far more people than terrorism, through the increase in frequency and severity of storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, crop failure, wild fires, heat waves and other extreme weather patterns. It’s time for a reality check.

Yet, despite the reality of our present situation, and the clear indications of where the real dangers lie, the sirens sound day and night, screaming out the “war on terror” propaganda – which is really a war on democracy, a war of empire, a class war that is being waged by the richest fraction of a percent of the global population against the other 99.99% and upon the earth.

Reflect on these figures for a moment.

Annual deaths globally from terrorism: 20,000

Deaths per year from auto accidents: 40,000, or one death every 13 minutes – in the US alone.

Globally, automobile accidents cause 1.2 million deaths per year – more than 60 times the death toll from terrorism. But do we see a full-out war on the private automobile, and a giant, concerted push toward mass public transit and rail? Of course not. Why? Because the big oil runs the show, along with the banking and other corporate elites, and they want maximum short-term profits for themselves – the people and the environment be damned.

We are being manipulated and lied to, to state what by now should be obvious and undeniable to all.

Deaths per year due to global warming, due to increasingly frequent and severe storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, crop failures, wild fires, heat waves and other extreme weather patterns: this figure is difficult to estimate, but we know the toll is rising fast, and it already dwarfs the death toll from terrorism, by a very wide margin.

(I realize that in the United States, unlike every other country on the planet, there is still the appearance of a “debate” as to the reality of anthropogenic global warming, and a minority of Americans still do not believe it is real. I will leave that tiny fraction of the earth’s population for others to address. Here, we will speak only to those who are not quite so lost in illusions and corporate-spun lies, and who are capable of rational thought on the subject.

It should also be noted that there is a battle being waged behind the scenes, among the world’s ruling power elite, on a number of fronts. Some of the elite want to address and combat global warming, and acknowledge publicly that it is a very real and great danger. Others among the elite, including, unsurprisingly, those with deep stakes and vested interests in big oil, want to lie and conceal the facts, for the sake of short-term personal profit and gain, presumably with the belief that their money will protect them from the coming cataclysm which they themselves are helping to ensure comes to pass.

At present, unfortunately, it is the latter group who are holding the greater power, despite the views and wishes of the global citizenry. As Naomi Klein has said, in her brilliant book, The Shock Doctrine, disaster capitalism still reigns. The big money, or a large and dominant faction of it, is seeking to profit in ways that they know very well will lead to unprecedented disaster – and then they plan to profit from the ensuing disaster as well. They are quite literally making a killing, and that seems to be just fine with them, sociopaths as they clearly are.

There are a few people, including otherwise intelligent observers and commentators, who loudly and vociferously and even rabidly assert that anyone who says that human-caused global warming is real, must be a paid-for hireling of the globalist corporate oligarchs. But both logic as well as the overwhelming body of evidence, leads us to exactly the opposite conclusion. The only scientists who have taken a stand to say that anthropogenic global warming is not real and is not happening, have been shown to have ties to the oil industry. The facts speak for themselves, for any who care to look at them.)

The Guardian reports that an estimated 150,000 people are currently dying from the results of global warming every year, and states further that this estimate is probably highly conservative, and the death toll is likely much higher. The former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan estimates the present and climbing death toll at 300,000 a year.

But even this does not adequately convey the gravity of the situation. We are quite simply destroying the basis of human life on earth – through global warming, deforestation, unintentionally causing the mass extinction of species, soil erosion, soil depletion, aquifer depletion, and the poisoning of the land, air, water and soil. We are rapidly bringing ourselves to the very brink of extinction, which the World Bank and other sources estimate may well occur in as little as fifty years or less, if we do not immediately alter our course.

And what is more, if we continue in this fashion, through our poisoning and degradation of our environment, we will make life unbearable for ourselves and for our children, long before we finally drive ourselves over the cliff and go extinct.

The “war on terror” is a smoke screen to hide the real nature and motives for the drive for a police state at home, to protect the interests of the ruling business elite against the increasingly discontent, disenfranchised and economically sinking masses; and to provide a cover for wars for oil and other resources abroad. The war on terror is a grand and truly nefarious deception, as the BBC documentary, “The Power of Nightmares,” and many other clear and honest voices, have amply illustrated.

Meanwhile, the greatest threat to human life is left unchecked, and in fact, we press ahead – at an accelerating pace – with suicidal plans to build more oil pipelines, drill more fracking wells, burn more tar sands and coal, and further enrich the corporate elite who are swimming in money from their rape and pillage of the earth and their wantonly destructive behaviour. Something has to change, clearly.

This is madness. But we cannot simply blame corrupt and inept politicians, or short-sighted, self-serving, parasitically greedy business elites – no matter how truly sociopathic their behaviour has become. We must take responsibility as well, for our part in the harm or healing done to this world – and the responsibility increases, the greater the power, or privilege, that we have.

To put things into context, we should consider this. According to UN stats, if you sleep in a bed, have clothes, no matter what condition they are in, have a phone, and have a fridge and a bank account, even if they are both empty, then you are in the top 8% of the world’s richest people. Yes, the world is a mess, and the majority of the people who will most likely read this, live within the top 20% of the richest people on the planet, whether or not they believe or can comprehend this fact, or accept it.

A few dozen countries, mainly the “leading” industrialized nations, along with Russia, India and China, produce the overwhelming majority of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming – along with producing most of the waste, and consuming most of the resources on the planet. What is wrong with this picture?

The aristocracy of the “middle class,” along with the upper aristocracy of the wealthy few, and the tiny, stratospherically rich power elite above them, together make up the richest 20% of the people on the planet – the same 20% who consume over 80% of the wealth globally, and produce over 60% of the pollution and waste. We should stop and think about this for a moment – or more than a moment: for long enough for that horrifically unjust and insanely unsustainable reality to fully sink in.

Something clearly has to change, and the problem is not primarily one of population, nor the “developing” or “under-developed” nations. The problem is a severe case of affluenza, and a serious and highly dangerous disconnection from reality, which, aside from being grossly unethical, will without question come home to haunt us if we do not return to our senses, and very soon.

Whether it is out of compassion and a sense of responsibility to our fellow human beings and other living beings on earth; or a sense of responsibility to our children and to future generations; or whether out of simple enlightened self-interest, we must come to recognize that avoidance of reality is always more dangerous than facing the truth of the matter, and we simply must change our course. We must overcome our addiction to speed, to quantity of material goods over quality of life, and the self-deceiving belief in our powerlessness and the resulting addiction to escapism, voyeurism and a chronic state of distraction and denial – so that we can live better as well as more wisely and more humanely, and so that we have a future worth living at all.

There is no question: this generation will be held responsible for our actions, and even more, for our inaction. Apathy, complacency and denial are morally unacceptable. In fact, at this time in human history, when we are racing toward an ecological holocaust of our own making, they constitute nothing less than complicity in the worst of collective atrocities. We must act now. There are no more excuses.

J. Todd Ring,
November 12, 2013