“It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on the Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing intelligence this is not correct. We have or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only.”
He heard about the drug trial from a friend in Switzerland and decided it was worth volunteering, even if it meant long, painful train journeys from his native Austria and the real possibility of a mental meltdown. He didn’t have much time, after all, and traditional medicine had done nothing to relieve his degenerative spine condition.
“I’d never taken the drug before, so I was feeling — well, I think the proper word for it, in English, is dread,” said Peter, 50, an Austrian social worker, in a telephone interview; he asked that his last name be omitted to protect his identity. “There was this fear that it could all go wrong, that it could turn into a bad trip.”
On Tuesday, The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease is posting online results from the first controlled trial of LSD in more than 40 years. The study, conducted in the office of a Swiss psychiatrist near Bern, tested the effects of the drug as a complement to talk therapy for 12 people nearing the end of life, including Peter.
Most of the subjects had terminal cancer, and several died within a year after the trial — but not before having a mental adventure that appeared to have eased the existential gloom of their last days.
“Their anxiety went down and stayed down,” said Dr. Peter Gasser, who conducted the therapy and followed up with his patients a year after the trial concluded.
The new publication marks the latest in a series of baby steps by a loose coalition of researchers and fund-raisers who are working to bring hallucinogens back into the fold of mainstream psychiatry. Before research was effectively banned in 1966 in the United States, doctors tested LSD’s effect for a variety of conditions, including end-of-life anxiety.
- I’m not surprised about this development. Why it has taken this long to bubble up to where it is considered a ‘serious’ threat is beyond me.
- To see why I say this, check out this article from April of 2009 on Samadhisoft.
- And, if you are wondering how far and how wide these sorts of threats go, then simply click here on the ‘cyber-chaos’ category here on samadhisoft to see all the stories we’ve published on this subject.
- And we have, I assure you, only touched the tip of the iceberg.
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Power companies are being refused insurance cover for cyber-attacks because their defences are perceived as weak, the BBC has learned.
Underwriters at Lloyd’s of London say they have seen a “huge increase” in demand for cover from energy firms.
But surveyor assessments of the cyber-defences in place concluded that protections were inadequate.
Energy industry veterans said they were “not surprised” the companies were being refused cover.
“In the last year or so we have seen a huge increase in demand from energy and utility companies,” said Laila Khudari, an underwriter at the Kiln Syndicate, which offers cover via Lloyd’s of London.
The market is one of few places in the world where businesses can come to insure such things as container ships, oil tankers, and large development projects and to secure cash that would help them recover after disasters.
For years, said Ms Khudari, Kiln and many other syndicates had offered cover for data breaches, to help companies recover if attackers penetrated networks and stole customer information.
Now, she said, the same firms were seeking multi-million pound policies to help them rebuild if their computers and power-generation networks were damaged in a cyber-attack.
“They are all worried about their reliance on computer systems and how they can offset that with insurance,” she said.
Any company that applies for cover has to let experts employed by Kiln and other underwriters look over their systems to see if they are doing enough to keep intruders out.
Assessors look at the steps firms take to keep attackers away, how they ensure software is kept up to date and how they oversee networks of hardware that can span regions or entire countries.
Unfortunately, said Ms Khudari, after such checks were carried out, the majority of applicants were turned away because their cyber-defences were lacking.
“In short, the Court ruled that the FDA has ultimate authority over pharmaceuticals in the US. And if the FDA says a drug is safe, that takes precedent over actual facts, real victims and any and all adverse reactions.”
- Corporate rights are clearly taking the ascendancy over citizen rights. How far can this trend run before things get wicked?
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July 7, 2013. Washington. In case readers missed it with all the coverage of the Trayvon Martin murder trial and the Supreme Court’s rulings on gay marriage and the Voting Rights Act, the US Supreme Court also made a ruling on lawsuits against drug companies for fraud, mislabeling, side effects and accidental death. From now on, 80 percent of all drugs are exempt from legal liability.
Drug companies failed to warn patients that toxic epidermal necrolysis was a side effect. But the Supreme Court ruled they’re still not liable for damages.
In a 5-4 vote, the US Supreme Court struck down a lower court’s ruling and award for the victim of a pharmaceutical drug’s adverse reaction. According to the victim and the state courts, the drug caused a flesh-eating side effect that left the patient permanently disfigured over most of her body. The adverse reaction was hidden by the drug maker and later forced to be included on all warning labels. But the highest court in the land ruled that the victim had no legal grounds to sue the corporation because its drugs are exempt from lawsuits.
Karen Bartlett vs. Mutual Pharmaceutical Company
In 2004, Karen Bartlett was prescribed the generic anti-inflammatory drug Sulindac, manufactured by Mutual Pharmaceutical, for her sore shoulder. Three weeks after taking the drug, Bartlett began suffering from a disease called, ‘toxic epidermal necrolysis’. The condition is extremely painful and causes the victim’s skin to peel off, exposing raw flesh in the same manner as a third degree burn victim.
Karen Bartlett sued Mutual Pharma in New Hampshire state court, arguing that the drug company included no warning about the possible side effect. A court agreed and awarded her $21 million. The FDA went on to force both Mutual, as well as the original drug manufacturer Merck & Co., to include the side effect on the two drugs’ warning labels going forward.
Now, nine years after the tragedy began, the US Supreme Court overturned the state court’s verdict and award. Justices cited the fact that all generic drugs and their manufacturers, some 80% of all drugs consumed in the United States, are exempt from liability for side effects, mislabeling or virtually any other negative reactions caused by their drugs. In short, the Court ruled that the FDA has ultimate authority over pharmaceuticals in the US. And if the FDA says a drug is safe, that takes precedent over actual facts, real victims and any and all adverse reactions.
With possibly hundreds of thousands of rape kits untested across the country, a number of states are proposing legislation to address backlogs that in at least one case dates back nearly three decades.
In Memphis, Tennessee, alone, there are more than 12,000 untested rape kits going back to the 1980s, according to the New York-based Rape Kit Action Project, which has been tracking the backlogs nationwide. In the entire state of Texas, there are about 16,000 untested kits collecting dust in police evidence rooms.
Tennessee is among at least 17 states with proposals that range from requiring law enforcement agencies to inventory their rape kits to analyzing them in a certain amount of time. Three states – Colorado, Illinois and Texas – have passed laws that mandate a statewide accounting of untested rape kits.
Most of the other states’ proposals favor the inventory measure that would require all law enforcement agencies that store rape kits to count the number of untested kits. Rape Project spokeswoman Natasha Alexenko estimates there are about 400,000 nationwide that fall into that category.
“Until we enact this kind of legislation where we’re counting them, we really have no idea,” said Alexenko, a rape victim whose rape kit was finally tested after nearly 10 years, and her attacker arrested after a match was found.
People ask me all the time why we don’t have a revolution in America, or at least a major wave of reform similar to that of the Progressive Era or the New Deal or the Great Society.
Middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, almost all the economic gains are going to the top, and big money is corrupting our democracy. So why isn’t there more of a ruckus?
The answer is complex, but three reasons stand out.
First, the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has.
In earlier decades, the working class fomented reform. The labor movement led the charge for a minimum wage, 40-hour workweek, unemployment insurance, and Social Security.
No longer. Working people don’t dare. The share of working-age Americans holding jobs is now lower than at any time in the last three decades and 76 percent of them are living paycheck to paycheck.
No one has any job security. The last thing they want to do is make a fuss and risk losing the little they have.
Besides, their major means of organizing and protecting themselves — labor unions — have been decimated. Four decades ago more than a third of private-sector workers were unionized. Now, fewer than 7 percent belong to a union.
Second, students don’t dare rock the boat.
In prior decades students were a major force for social change. They played an active role in the Civil Rights movement, the Free Speech movement, and against the Vietnam War.
But today’s students don’t want to make a ruckus. They’re laden with debt. Since 1999, student debt has increased more than 500 percent, yet the average starting salary for graduates has dropped 10 percent, adjusted for inflation. Student debts can’t be cancelled in bankruptcy. A default brings penalties and ruins a credit rating.
To make matters worse, the job market for new graduates remains lousy. Which is why record numbers are still living at home.
Reformers and revolutionaries don’t look forward to living with mom and dad or worrying about credit ratings and job recommendations.
Third and finally, the American public has become so cynical about government that many no longer think reform is possible.
When asked if they believe government will do the right thing most of the time, fewer than 20 percent of Americans agree. Fifty years ago, when that question was first asked on standard surveys, more than 75 percent agreed.
It’s hard to get people worked up to change society or even to change a few laws when they don’t believe government can possibly work.
You’d have to posit a giant conspiracy in order to believe all this was the doing of the forces in America most resistant to positive social change.
It’s possible. of course, that rightwing Republicans, corporate executives, and Wall Street moguls intentionally cut jobs and wages in order to cow average workers, buried students under so much debt they’d never take to the streets, and made most Americans so cynical about government they wouldn’t even try for change.
But it’s more likely they merely allowed all this to unfold, like a giant wet blanket over the outrage and indignation most Americans feel but don’t express.
Change is coming anyway. We cannot abide an ever-greater share of the nation’s income and wealth going to the top while median household incomes continue too drop, one out of five of our children living in dire poverty, and big money taking over our democracy.
At some point, working people, students, and the broad public will have had enough. They will reclaim our economy and our democracy. This has been the central lesson of American history.
Reform is less risky than revolution, but the longer we wait the more likely it will be the latter.
It’s likely to be a familiar story to my scientist colleagues in Australia, the UK, the US, and elsewhere around the world.
But if you’re not a scientist and are genuinely trying to work out who to believe when it comes to climate change, then it’s a story you need to hear, too. Because while the New Zealand fight over climate data appears to finally be over, it’s part of a much larger, ongoing war against evidence-based science.
From number crunching to controversy
In 1981, as part of my PhD work, I produced a seven-station New Zealand temperature series known as 7SS to monitor historic temperature trends and variations from Auckland to as far south as Dunedin in southern New Zealand.
A decade later, while at the NZ Meteorological Service in 1991-92, I revised the 7SS using a newhomogenization approach to make New Zealand’s temperature records more accurate, such as adjusting for when temperature gauges were moved to new sites. For example, in 1928, Wellington’s temperature gauge was relocated from an inner suburb near sea level up into the hills at Kelburn, where—due to its higher, cooler location—it recorded much cooler temperatures for the city than before.
With statistical analysis, we could work out how much Wellington’s temperature has really gone up or down since the city’s temperature records began back in 1862 and how much of that change was simply due to the gauge being moved uphill. (You can read more about re-examining NZ temperatureshere.)
So far, so uncontroversial.
But in 2008, while I was working for a NZ government-owned research organization—the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA)—we updated the 7SS. And we found that at those seven stations across the country, from Auckland down to Dunedin, there was a warming trend of 0.91ºC (1.63ºF) between 1909 and 2008.
NIWA’s raw data for their official temperature graph shows no warming. But NIWA shifted the bulk of the temperature record pre-1950 downwards and the bulk of the data post-1950 upwards to produce a sharply rising trend… NIWA’s entire argument for warming was a result of adjustments to data which can’t be justified or checked. It’s shonky.
Hide’s attack continued for 18 months, with more than 80 parliamentary questions being put to NIWA between February 2010 and July 2011, all of which required NIWA input for the answers.
The science minister asked NIWA to reexamine the temperature records, which required several months of science time. In December 2010, the results were in. After the methodology was reviewed and endorsed by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, it was found that at the seven stations from Auckland to Dunedin, there was a warming trend of 0.91°C between 1909 and 2008.
That is, the same result as before.
But before NIWA even had time to produce that report, a new line of attack had been launched.
Off to court
In July 2010, a statement of claim against NIWA was filed in the High Court of New Zealand under the guise of a new charitable trust: the New Zealand Climate Science Education Trust (NZCSET). Its trustees were all members of the NZ Climate Science Coalition.
The NZCSET challenged the decision of NIWA to publish the adjusted 7SS, claiming that the “unscientific” methods used created an unrealistic indication of climate warming.
The trust ignored the evidence in the Meteorological Service report I first authored, which stated that a particular adjustment methodology had been used. The trust incorrectly claimed this methodology should have been used but wasn’t.
In July 2011, the trust produced a document that attempted to reproduce the Meteorological Service adjustments, but it failed to do so, instead making lots of errors.
On September 7, 2012, High Court Justice Geoffrey Venning delivered a 49-page ruling, finding that the NZCSET had not succeeded in any of its challenges against NIWA.
Justice Venning described some of the trust’s evidence as tediously lengthy and said, “It is particularly unsuited to a satisfactory resolution of a difference of opinion on scientific matters.”
Taxpayers left to foot the bill
After an appeal that was withdrawn at the last minute, late last year the NZCSET was ordered to pay NIWA NZ$89,000 (US$74,000) in costs from the original case, plus further costs from the appeal.
But just this month, we have learned that the people behind the NZCSET have sent it into liquidation as they cannot afford the fees, leaving the New Zealand taxpayer at a substantial, six-figure loss.
Commenting on the lost time and money involved with the case, NIWA Chief Executive John Morgan said, ”On the surface, it looks like the trust was purely for the purpose of taking action, which is not what one would consider the normal use of a charitable trust.”
This has been an insidious saga. The trust aggressively attacked the scientists instead of engaging with them to understand the technical issues, they ignored evidence that didn’t suit their case, and they regularly misrepresented NIWA statements by taking them out of context.
Yet their attack has now been repeatedly rejected in Parliament, by scientists, and by the courts.
The end result of the antics by a few individuals and the trust is probably going to be a six-figure bill for New Zealanders to pay.
My former colleagues have had valuable weeks tied up in defending against these manufactured allegations. That’s time that could have profitably been used further investigating what is happening with our climate.
But there is a bigger picture here, too.
Merchants of doubt
Doubt-mongering is an old strategy. It is a strategy that has been pursued before to combat the ideas that cigarette smoking is harmful to your health, and it has been assiduously followed by climate deniers for the past 20 years.
One of the best-known international proponents of such strategies is US think tank the Heartland Institute.
Just to be clear: there is no evidence that the Heartland Institute helped fund the NZ court challenge. In 2012, one of the trustees who brought the action against NIWA said that Heartland had not donated anything to the case.
The Heartland Institute also has a long record ofworking with tobacco companies, as the letter on the right illustrates. (You can read that letter and other industry documents in full here. Meanwhile, Heartland’s reply to critics of its tobacco and fossil fuel campaigns is here.)
The world faces two potentially existential threats, according to the linguist and political philosopher Noam Chomsky.
“There are two major dark shadows that hover over everything, and they’re getting more and more serious,” Chomsky said. “The one is the continuing threat of nuclear war that has not ended. It’s very serious, and another is the crisis of ecological, environmental catastrophe, which is getting more and more serious.”
Chomsky appeared Friday on the last episode of NPR’s “Smiley and West” program to discuss his education, his views on current affairs and how he manages to spread his message without much help from the mainstream media.
He told the hosts that the world was racing toward an environmental disaster with potentially lethal consequence, which the world’s most developed nations were doing nothing to prevent – and in fact were speeding up the process.
“If there ever is future historians, they’re going to look back at this period of history with some astonishment,” Chomsky said. “The danger, the threat, is evident to anyone who has eyes open and pays attention at all to the scientific literature, and there are attempts to retard it, there are also at the other end attempts to accelerate the disaster, and if you look who’s involved it’s pretty shocking.”
Chomsky noted efforts to halt environmental damage by indigenous people in countries all over the world – from Canada’s First Nations to tribal people in Latin America and India to aboriginal people in Australia—but the nation’s richest, most advanced and most powerful countries, such as the United States, were doing nothing to forestall disaster.
“When people here talk enthusiastically about a hundred years of energy independence, what they’re saying is, ‘Let’s try to get every drop of fossil fuel out of the ground so as to accelerate the disaster that we’re racing towards,’” Chomsky said. “These are problems that overlie all of the domestic problems of oppression, of poverty, of attacks on the education system (and) massive inequality, huge unemployment.”
He blamed the “financialization” of the U.S. economy for income inequality and unemployment, saying that banks that were “too big to fail” skimmed enormous wealth from the market.
“In fact, there was a recent (International Monetary Fund) study that estimated that virtually all the profits of the big banks can be traced back to this government insurance policy, and in general they’re quite harmful, I think, quite harmful to the economy,” Chomsky said.
Those harmful effects can be easily observed by looking at unemployment numbers and stock market gains, he said.
“There are tens of millions of people unemployed, looking for work, wanting to work (and) there are huge resources available,” Chomsky said. “Corporate profits are going through the roof, there’s endless amounts of work to be done – just drive through a city and see all sorts of things that have to be done – infrastructure is collapsing, the schools have to be revived. We have a situation in which huge numbers of people want to work, there are plenty, huge resources available, an enormous amount to be done, and the system is so rotten they can’t put them together.”
The reason for this is simple, Chomsky said.
“There is plenty of profit being made by those who pretty much dominate and control the system,” he said. “We’ve moved from the days where there was some kind of functioning democracy. It’s by now really a plutocracy.”
Chomsky strongly disagreed with Smiley and West that he had been marginalized for his views, saying that he regretfully turned down dozens of invitations to speak on a daily basis because he was otherwise engaged.
He also disagreed that a platform in the mainstream media was necessary to influence the debate.
“If you take a look at the progressive changes that have taken place in the country, say, just in the last 50 years – the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, opposition to aggression, the women’s movement, the environmental movement and so on – they’re not led by any debate in the media,” Chomsky said. “No, they were led by popular organizations, by activists on the ground.”
He recalled the earliest days of the antiwar movement, in the early 1960s, when he spoke in living rooms and church basements to just a handful of other activists and they were harassed – even in liberal Boston – by the authorities and media.
But that movement eventually grew and helped hasten the end of the Vietnam War, and Chomsky said it’s grown and become so mainstream that antiwar activists can limit wars before they even begin.
He said President Ronald Reagan was unable to launch a full-scale war in Central America during the 1980s because of the antiwar movement, and he bitterly disputed the idea that antiwar activists had no impact on the Iraq War.
“I don’t agree; it had a big effect,” Chomsky said. “It sharply limited the means that were available to the government to try to carry out the invasion and subdue the population. In fact, it’s one reason why the U.S. ended up really defeated in Iraq, seriously had to give up all of its war aims. The major victor in Iraq turns out to be Iran.”
Despite these limitations, he said the Iraq War had been one of the new millennium’s worst atrocities and had provoked a violent schism between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that had sparked regional conflicts throughout the Middle East.
“The United States is now involved in a global terror campaign largely against the tribal people of the world, mostly Muslim tribes, and it’s all over. The intention is to go on and on,” Chomsky said. “These are all terrible consequences, but nevertheless they’re not as bad as they would be if there weren’t public opposition.”
- I’ve been a programmer and systems analyst most of my life. I started with computers the year before I graduated from university (1976) and I’ve loved the work ever since. Indeed, I threw over the career that my degree in Microbiology qualified me for to pursue the new (then) world of computers.
- I’ve been all around the block with this career, as you might expect, given the years I’ve spent in it. And I was lucky (or brash enough) to have found my self in widely disparate areas of the field ranging from applications, web-based and database work to the lowest levels of operating systems written in assembly language.
- But, no matter how much you’ve seen and how far down the rabbit hole you’ve wandered, there’s always more. The following article brought that home to me clearly.
- The Internet that we know is not the Internet that actually exists. Beyond what most of us have seen as either users or programmers, there’s still another entire world out there.
- Digital spelunking, anyone? I’ve posted links to two articles you may enjoy, below.
The creator of The Wire, David Simon, delivered an impromptu speech about the divide between rich and poor in America at theFestival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney, and how capitalism has lost sight of its social compact. This is an edited extract
America is a country that is now utterly divided when it comes to its society, its economy, its politics. There are definitely two Americas. I live in one, on one block in Baltimore that is part of the viable America, the America that is connected to its own economy, where there is a plausible future for the people born into it. About 20 blocks away is another America entirely. It’s astonishing how little we have to do with each other, and yet we are living in such proximity.
There’s no barbed wire around West Baltimore or around East Baltimore, around Pimlico, the areas in my city that have been utterly divorced from the American experience that I know. But there might as well be. We’ve somehow managed to march on to two separate futures and I think you’re seeing this more and more in the west. I don’t think it’s unique to America.
I think we’ve perfected a lot of the tragedy and we’re getting there faster than a lot of other places that may be a little more reasoned, but my dangerous idea kind of involves this fellow who got left by the wayside in the 20th century and seemed to be almost the butt end of the joke of the 20th century; a fellow named Karl Marx.
I’m not a Marxist in the sense that I don’t think Marxism has a very specific clinical answer to what ails us economically. I think Marx was a much better diagnostician than he was a clinician. He was good at figuring out what was wrong or what could be wrong with capitalism if it wasn’t attended to and much less credible when it comes to how you might solve that.
You know if you’ve read Capital or if you’ve got the Cliff Notes, you know that his imaginings of how classical Marxism – of how his logic would work when applied – kind of devolve into such nonsense as the withering away of the state and platitudes like that. But he was really sharp about what goes wrong when capital wins unequivocally, when it gets everything it asks for.
That may be the ultimate tragedy of capitalism in our time, that it has achieved its dominance without regard to a social compact, without being connected to any other metric for human progress.
We understand profit. In my country we measure things by profit. We listen to the Wall Street analysts. They tell us what we’re supposed to do every quarter. The quarterly report is God. Turn to face God. Turn to face Mecca, you know. Did you make your number? Did you not make your number? Do you want your bonus? Do you not want your bonus?
And that notion that capital is the metric, that profit is the metric by which we’re going to measure the health of our society is one of the fundamental mistakes of the last 30 years. I would date it in my country to about 1980 exactly, and it has triumphed.
Capitalism stomped the hell out of Marxism by the end of the 20th century and was predominant in all respects, but the great irony of it is that the only thing that actually works is not ideological, it is impure, has elements of both arguments and never actually achieves any kind of partisan or philosophical perfection.
It’s pragmatic, it includes the best aspects of socialistic thought and of free-market capitalism and it works because we don’t let it work entirely. And that’s a hard idea to think – that there isn’t one single silver bullet that gets us out of the mess we’ve dug for ourselves. But man, we’ve dug a mess.
After the second world war, the west emerged with the American economy coming out of its wartime extravagance, emerging as the best product. It was the best product. It worked the best. It was demonstrating its might not only in terms of what it did during the war but in terms of just how facile it was in creating mass wealth.
Plus, it provided a lot more freedom and was doing the one thing that guaranteed that the 20th century was going to be – and forgive the jingoistic sound of this – the American century.
It took a working class that had no discretionary income at the beginning of the century, which was working on subsistence wages. It turned it into a consumer class that not only had money to buy all the stuff that they needed to live but enough to buy a bunch of shit that they wanted but didn’t need, and that was the engine that drove us.
It wasn’t just that we could supply stuff, or that we had the factories or know-how or capital, it was that we created our own demand and started exporting that demand throughout the west. And the standard of living made it possible to manufacture stuff at an incredible rate and sell it.
And how did we do that? We did that by not giving in to either side. That was the new deal. That was the great society. That was all of that argument about collective bargaining and union wages and it was an argument that meant neither side gets to win.
Labour doesn’t get to win all its arguments, capital doesn’t get to. But it’s in the tension, it’s in the actual fight between the two, that capitalism actually becomes functional, that it becomes something that every stratum in society has a stake in, that they all share.
The unions actually mattered. The unions were part of the equation. It didn’t matter that they won all the time, it didn’t matter that they lost all the time, it just mattered that they had to win some of the time and they had to put up a fight and they had to argue for the demand and the equation and for the idea that workers were not worth less, they were worth more.
Ultimately we abandoned that and believed in the idea of trickle-down and the idea of the market economy and the market knows best, to the point where now libertarianism in my country is actually being taken seriously as an intelligent mode of political thought. It’s astonishing to me. But it is. People are saying I don’t need anything but my own ability to earn a profit. I’m not connected to society. I don’t care how the road got built, I don’t care where the firefighter comes from, I don’t care who educates the kids other than my kids. I am me. It’s the triumph of the self. I am me, hear me roar.
That we’ve gotten to this point is astonishing to me because basically in winning its victory, in seeing that Wall come down and seeing the former Stalinist state’s journey towards our way of thinking in terms of markets or being vulnerable, you would have thought that we would have learned what works. Instead we’ve descended into what can only be described as greed. This is just greed. This is an inability to see that we’re all connected, that the idea of two Americas is implausible, or two Australias, or two Spains or two Frances.
Societies are exactly what they sound like. If everybody is invested and if everyone just believes that they have “some”, it doesn’t mean that everybody’s going to get the same amount. It doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be people who are the venture capitalists who stand to make the most. It’s not each according to their needs or anything that is purely Marxist, but it is that everybody feels as if, if the society succeeds, I succeed, I don’t get left behind. And there isn’t a society in the west now, right now, that is able to sustain that for all of its population.
And so in my country you’re seeing a horror show. You’re seeing a retrenchment in terms of family income, you’re seeing the abandonment of basic services, such as public education, functional public education. You’re seeing the underclass hunted through an alleged war on dangerous drugs that is in fact merely a war on the poor and has turned us into the most incarcerative state in the history of mankind, in terms of the sheer numbers of people we’ve put in American prisons and the percentage of Americans we put into prisons. No other country on the face of the Earth jails people at the number and rate that we are.
We have become something other than what we claim for the American dream and all because of our inability to basically share, to even contemplate a socialist impulse.
Socialism is a dirty word in my country. I have to give that disclaimer at the beginning of every speech, “Oh by the way I’m not a Marxist you know”. I lived through the 20th century. I don’t believe that a state-run economy can be as viable as market capitalism in producing mass wealth. I don’t.
I’m utterly committed to the idea that capitalism has to be the way we generate mass wealth in the coming century. That argument’s over. But the idea that it’s not going to be married to a social compact, that how you distribute the benefits of capitalism isn’t going to include everyone in the society to a reasonable extent, that’s astonishing to me.
And so capitalism is about to seize defeat from the jaws of victory all by its own hand. That’s the astonishing end of this story, unless we reverse course. Unless we take into consideration, if not the remedies of Marx then the diagnosis, because he saw what would happen if capital triumphed unequivocally, if it got everything it wanted.
And one of the things that capital would want unequivocally and for certain is the diminishment of labour. They would want labour to be diminished because labour’s a cost. And if labour is diminished, let’s translate that: in human terms, it means human beings are worth less.
From this moment forward unless we reverse course, the average human being is worth less on planet Earth. Unless we take stock of the fact that maybe socialism and the socialist impulse has to be addressed again; it has to be married as it was married in the 1930s, the 1940s and even into the 1950s, to the engine that is capitalism.
Mistaking capitalism for a blueprint as to how to build a society strikes me as a really dangerous idea in a bad way. Capitalism is a remarkable engine again for producing wealth. It’s a great tool to have in your toolbox if you’re trying to build a society and have that society advance. You wouldn’t want to go forward at this point without it. But it’s not a blueprint for how to build the just society. There are other metrics besides that quarterly profit report.
The idea that the market will solve such things as environmental concerns, as our racial divides, as our class distinctions, our problems with educating and incorporating one generation of workers into the economy after the other when that economy is changing; the idea that the market is going to heed all of the human concerns and still maximise profit is juvenile. It’s a juvenile notion and it’s still being argued in my country passionately and we’re going down the tubes. And it terrifies me because I’m astonished at how comfortable we are in absolving ourselves of what is basically a moral choice. Are we all in this together or are we all not?
If you watched the debacle that was, and is, the fight over something as basic as public health policy in my country over the last couple of years, imagine the ineffectiveness that Americans are going to offer the world when it comes to something really complicated like global warming. We can’t even get healthcare for our citizens on a basic level. And the argument comes down to: “Goddamn this socialist president. Does he think I’m going to pay to keep other people healthy? It’s socialism, motherfucker.”
What do you think group health insurance is? You know you ask these guys, “Do you have group health insurance where you …?” “Oh yeah, I get …” you know, “my law firm …” So when you get sick you’re able to afford the treatment.
The treatment comes because you have enough people in your law firm so you’re able to get health insurance enough for them to stay healthy. So the actuarial tables work and all of you, when you do get sick, are able to have the resources there to get better because you’re relying on the idea of the group. Yeah. And they nod their heads, and you go “Brother, that’s socialism. You know it is.”
And … you know when you say, OK, we’re going to do what we’re doing for your law firm but we’re going to do it for 300 million Americans and we’re going to make it affordable for everybody that way. And yes, it means that you’re going to be paying for the other guys in the society, the same way you pay for the other guys in the law firm … Their eyes glaze. You know they don’t want to hear it. It’s too much. Too much to contemplate the idea that the whole country might be actually connected.
So I’m astonished that at this late date I’m standing here and saying we might want to go back for this guy Marx that we were laughing at, if not for his prescriptions, then at least for his depiction of what is possible if you don’t mitigate the authority of capitalism, if you don’t embrace some other values for human endeavour.
And that’s what The Wire was about basically, it was about people who were worth less and who were no longer necessary, as maybe 10 or 15% of my country is no longer necessary to the operation of the economy. It was about them trying to solve, for lack of a better term, an existential crisis. In their irrelevance, their economic irrelevance, they were nonetheless still on the ground occupying this place called Baltimore and they were going to have to endure somehow.
That’s the great horror show. What are we going to do with all these people that we’ve managed to marginalise? It was kind of interesting when it was only race, when you could do this on the basis of people’s racial fears and it was just the black and brown people in American cities who had the higher rates of unemployment and the higher rates of addiction and were marginalised and had the shitty school systems and the lack of opportunity.
And kind of interesting in this last recession to see the economy shrug and start to throw white middle-class people into the same boat, so that they became vulnerable to the drug war, say from methamphetamine, or they became unable to qualify for college loans. And all of a sudden a certain faith in the economic engine and the economic authority of Wall Street and market logic started to fall away from people. And they realised it’s not just about race, it’s about something even more terrifying. It’s about class. Are you at the top of the wave or are you at the bottom?
So how does it get better? In 1932, it got better because they dealt the cards again and there was a communal logic that said nobody’s going to get left behind. We’re going to figure this out. We’re going to get the banks open. From the depths of that depression a social compact was made between worker, between labour and capital that actually allowed people to have some hope.
We’re either going to do that in some practical way when things get bad enough or we’re going to keep going the way we’re going, at which point there’s going to be enough people standing on the outside of this mess that somebody’s going to pick up a brick, because you know when people get to the end there’s always the brick. I hope we go for the first option but I’m losing faith.
The other thing that was there in 1932 that isn’t there now is that some element of the popular will could be expressed through the electoral process in my country.
The last job of capitalism – having won all the battles against labour, having acquired the ultimate authority, almost the ultimate moral authority over what’s a good idea or what’s not, or what’s valued and what’s not – the last journey for capital in my country has been to buy the electoral process, the one venue for reform that remained to Americans.
Right now capital has effectively purchased the government, and you witnessed it again with the healthcare debacle in terms of the $450m that was heaved into Congress, the most broken part of my government, in order that the popular will never actually emerged in any of that legislative process.
So I don’t know what we do if we can’t actually control the representative government that we claim will manifest the popular will. Even if we all start having the same sentiments that I’m arguing for now, I’m not sure we can effect them any more in the same way that we could at the rise of the Great Depression, so maybe it will be the brick. But I hope not.
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