Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

2013 Will Probably Suck

September 30, 2012

Climate change is helping to change the world in many ways. Aside from the obvious natural catastrophes of millions dead, it is aiding the cutting of the thin strings that hold the world together. This stems from one of the most critical factors climate change assaults; food. Shortage of food cause humanitarian disasters, but it is also the catalyst of something more profound: revolutions. Many things have led to revolutions throughout the ages, but food is the factor that above all increases the chance of them happening, people who can’t afford, or can barely afford anything but food not surprisingly having less to lose. Therefore, I think it is likely that quite a few parts of the world could mimic the Arab Spring.

The background is that extreme weather effects give worse harvests all over the world. The US has broken the heat record from the dust bowl days of 1936, and has the worst corn harvests in six years, despite also a record amount of corn being sown. Russia and Ukraine has a similarly poor wheat harvest. India battles with low monsoon rains. Italy, Australia, Brazil, Argentina and lots of other places have similar problems. This, combined with the unscrupulous speculation on food on the financial markets will contribute to very high food prices come 2013.


Graph from this study

What countries in particular are in the risk zone? Well, as it relates to food there are two factors in particular:

  • The amount of money spent on food per household, as shown here. Risings in price will affect them more, especially since they already buy the cheapest possible food.
  • Net food importers. Food exporters can shield themselves by stopping exports, while importers are at the mercy of the global market.

This change in climate has more consequences besides food alone, of course. The hare-brained scheme of corn-to-ethanol will ensure ethanol prices rise, and other types of energy, such as shale oil, has been affected by the scarcity of water. It probably will have other, more indirect effects, which I don’t know much about. In any case, 2013 will be one hell of a year.

Why Is Doping Bad?

July 26, 2012

Let me just state that I find the Olympic Games to be on the same level of fun as listening to casette-recorded bingo games, and about as exciting as looking at the number plates on cars. I would have more stimulation doing [insert random house chore here]. As I watch Let’s Play, I keep in mind that hating OG on this basis alone is probably quite hypocritical, but the incredibly irritating sponsorships and vomiting-induced commercial jippo surrounding, as well as themes of nationalism and machoness is enough to gain my hatedom. If it weren’t for the millions watching the games it would be akin to making a post about the aesthetics of Bratz, but they do, so let’s get to it. Let’s look at the usual concerns.

I’m going to quote from an old shame of mine:

The sport events known as Olympics has had a long affair with doping. Some substances can signficantly increase the capability of athletes, at least in the short-term. These substances are banned, however. Ignoring the potentially harmful effects of certain drugs, why? If the whole point of Olympics is to be the fastest, jump the highest and so on, why wouldn’t people be able to use these substances to aid them? The answer would be something along the lines of that the athlete should derive his results through committed training and dedication, not “cheating”. In other words, it’s deemed to be too much of an unfair advantage.

Harmfulness

Pointing out the possible harms from doping is a quite valid point, yet it seems it is not the overriding concern for the Olympic committee. Nevertheless, the question should perhaps be rephrased as “If Doping Wasn’t Harmful, Why Would Doping Be Bad?” I’ll also point out that being a professional athlete is a harmful profession in the first place, due to the injuries seemingly inevitably befalling them.

Unfair Advantage

In Sweden, there is a network of non-profit clubs and associations, which contribute to churning out an awful amount of top athletes, especially if they have been instructed by an “old legend”. Being a full-time athlete requires money, and is not as available across classes and countries. Public utilities are crucial in the number of top athletes. The list goes on – obtaining performance-enhancing drugs are absurdly insignificant compared to socio-economic conditions. And, obviously, genetics. In fact, looking at the big picture, this concern is more or less absurd.

Unnaturalness

This is, I’d say, the greatest concern of the Olympic committee. Looking at this concern we might see some of the ideological underpinnings of what is considered “natural”. Consider this (paraphrased) statement from a radio programme:

It is important to have a natural body and train.

What is a natural body, and why is it natural to train? Think about this question. Why I doubt that the “natural body” even exists is due to the plethora of tools that are a part of us. The rake we us to gather leaves, the books we read, our means of transportation, the chemicals we ingest that help form our body. Why the all-natural ingredients of performance-enhancing drugs would cause a body to go from natural to unnatural is beyond me.


Some people are never AFK

BONUS: The Paralympic Games exists, and is supported by the Olympic committee. I wonder why it has more reason to exist than any of the following:

* People with average sport genes-lympic
* People with bad sport genes-lympic
* People of average socio-economic background-lympics
* People of bad socio-economic background-lympics
* Handicapped people not using unnatural implements like wheelchairs-lympics

Etc.

OPEC Numbers: A Strange Dissonance

June 14, 2012

Going to repeat my habit of reposting what others have written in forums/comment pages:

The OPEC Monthly Oil Market Report came out yesterday with the production numbers for May. (Page 45 of the PDF) OPEC, in previous years has never reported what they themselves produced. They always posted production numbers and stated they were “According to Secondary Sources”. However three months ago they started reporting both data from their Secondary Sources and just below that data they say are from “direct communication”. In other words they get data from Platts or perhaps an average of the numbers from other sources, then they poll the OPEC producers themselves and asked them how much they produced last month.

The numbers for some countries are very similar but for they are quite different. For instance Venezuela has for years claimed they are producing almost half a million barrels per day more than OPEC’s Secondary Sources say they actually produced.

OPEC production according to Secondary Sources crude only in thousand barrels per day

	 2010	 2011  Change 10 to 11	April	May    Change from April to May
Algeria	1,250	1,240	   -10		1,217	1,197	-20
Angola	1,783	1,664	  -119		1,769	1,730	-39
Ecuador	  475	  490	    15		  489	  499	 10
Iran	3,706	3,621	   -85		3,210	3,138	-72
Iraq	2,401	2,666	   265		2,994	2,952	-42
Kuwait	2,297	2,538	   241		2,789	2,858	 69
Libya	1,559	  462	-1,097		1,394	1,452	 58
Nigeria	2,061	2,111	    50		2,175	2,126	-49
Qatar	  791	  794	     3		  778	  757	-21
Saudi	8,271	9,268	   997		9,877	9,917	 40
UAE	2,304	2,517	   213		2,587	2,578	 -9
Venez	2,338	2,380	    42		2,362	2,378	 16
Total  29,236  29,751	   515	       31,640  31,582	-58

OPEC production according to Direct Communication crude only in thousand barrels per day

	 2010	 2011  Change 10 to 11	April	May    Change April to May
Algeria	1,184	1,173	   -11		1,220	1,206	-14
Angola	1,691	1,618	   -73		1,769	1,762	 -7
Ecuador	  475	  500	    25		  500	  498	 -2
Iran	3,544	3,576	    32		3,758	3,760	  2
Iraq	2,358	2,653	   295		2,942	2,915	-27
Kuwait	2,312	2,660	   348		3,007	3,000	 -7
Libya	1,487	  462	-1,025		1,504	1,552	 48
Nigeria	1,968	1,896	   -72		1,882  *1,834	-48
Qatar	  733	  734	     1		  733	  732	 -1
Saudi	8,166	9,311	 1,145	       10,102	9,807  -295
UAE	2,324	2,565	   241		2,716	2,383  -333
Venez	2,779	2,795	    16		2,831	2,826	 -5
Total  29,020  29,942	   922	       32,964  32,275  -689

*Nigeria did not report for May so I estimated their data based on the 48.5 kb/d drop that the Secondary Sources reported.

Noticed that Secondary Sources says Iran is down, in May, about half a million barrels per day from their average of 2010 and 2011. However Iran says their production is up about 200 kb/d from their 2010 and 2011 production.

But the main thing I wanted to point out is what Saudi Arabia and the UAE reported in May. OPEC’s Secondary Sources says Saudi was up 40 kb/d from April to May but Saudi themselves reported they were down 295 kb/d. And OPEC’s Secondary Sources says the UAW was down 9 kb/d April to May but the UAE themselves say they were down a whopping 333 kb/d in May.

[…]

Oil Settles Lower Ahead of OPEC Meeting

OPEC’s output decisions are influential in setting global oil and fuel prices. The group produces around a third of the world’s oil supply and holds more than 80% of global proven oil reserves.

I find this very strange. OPEC says they have 80 percent of the world’s proven reserves and everyone believes them. OPEC says they reduced production by almost 700,000 barrels per day and no one seems to believe them. Not a ripple in the mainstream media about that dramatic one month decline. Everyone believes the word of others about OPEC production rather than “Direct Communication” with OPEC about their production. Why is their word taken as truth in one instance and as a blatant lie in another case?

Capitalism Money Can’t Buy

April 17, 2012

“For many ages to come the old Adam will be so strong in us that everybody will need to do some work if he is to be contented. We shall do more things for ourselves than is usual with the rich to-day, only too glad to have small duties and tasks and routines. But beyond this, we shall endeavour to spread the bread thin on the butter-to make what work there is still to be done to be as widely shared as possible. Three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week may put off the problem for a great while. For three hours a day is quite enough to satisfy the old Adam in most of us!” – John Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren (1930)

I read “Exponential Economist Meets Finite Physicist” over at Do The Math recently, and the comments to the blog post quite intrigue me. As shown here, the original Limits To Growth from 1972 has withstood the test of time despite attempts to discredit it. The tendency towards denial and excuses is not the focal point of this post here, but rather the tendency among some capitalist fan boys to grant that yes, we are running up against energy and resource limits, but it won’t be much of a problem; the global economy will keep trucking along fine anyway. However, it appears dangerously out of touch with the way the world works.

First up is the general observation that capitalism has always been about capital accumulation. While the plasticity of capitalism has proven to be tremendous, it has been about keeping capital accumulation going. Keynes was a liberal, after all. And this command to accumulate is universal, because if you don’t, you’re out of the game. CEOs may be nice people, but the shareholders want to see results. This command has had led to many beneficial developments, but has also led to many dubious ones (see planned obsolescence) and a callousness towards destroying commons and exploiting natural resources.

This brings us from a more general observation about the inner workings of capitalism to a more specific one: that of the vast majority of money being debt-based. I recommend watching Money As Debt for an easy to understand explanation for how fractional reserve banking works. Since money is debt, more money must be made in order to pay the debt, and so it goes on. At some point the contradiction of massive debt and increasingly shrinking growth must collide. Since the more benign, planned policy of debt forgiveness would appear to be politically impossible, it seems more likely this contradiction will be solved in the unplanned manner of bankruptcies, probably leading to extremely deleterious effects on the global economy.

This also helps explains the political priorities of countries and municipalities. Economists can claim all they want that economic growth actually isn’t about GDP growth, but something more abstract like “utility”. This is at odds with the decision-making processes of almost all countries in the world. The term “capitalist realism” captures this spirit. So-called “jobs” are becoming less and less about useful human activity and more a goal in itself. Public utilities are increasingly about putting place X on the map, with other benefits being secondary. Now, I’m unsure whether a country, or municipality for that matter embarking on a journey towards another economic paradigm would be truly that detrimental in the short term, it’s just that politicians (and their voters, for that matter) are so stuck in that paradigm that it doesn’t even exist on their mental map. Hence why I don’t think much will happen until it’s very apparent that business as usual won’t pan out very well.

We could take the USSR as an example. Achieving developed country status, had economic growth as a lynchpin, and not doing much about its internal contradictions until it was too late, it could serve as a reflection of “our” world. The Stalinist purges and Nazi invasion had produced a political consensus where, while it was a quite inhuman place to live (which I guess the current consumerist wasteland will also look like in hindsight), people were content just so long as things kept improving. And they did, but just a little bit less every year. Going a strong ten percent growth during the 50’s, slowing down to 5% during Khrushchev, 3% during Brezhnev and finally 1%. And then a plateau. Economy is a lot about psychology; if there is no faith in the economic system, it will collapse.

If people realize things aren’t going to improve, their actions will be different. Of course, it’s debatable how strong one could really compare the USSR and any developed country today. Dmitry Orlov however, Soviet-American engineer of some repute, compares the “collapse readiness” of the USSR and the US with each other (most famously here, though he has also written a book about it called Reinventing Collapse about it) and comes to the conclusion that the USSR was far more prepared.

We’re on uncharted waters here, and what worked as a solution in the past (Keynesianism being the most prominent example I can think of, especially because many on the left still embrace it) won’t work in the future. Things seen as good today could turn into a millstone around the neck tomorrow. The original Limits To Growth, written in 1972, predicted economic collapse in the first few decades of the 21st century. While laughed at then, it is increasingly looking more and more like reality.

The Grand Stagnation

August 22, 2011

It has been said that things are going very fast lately. Perhaps it can be said that, equally, there is a slowing-down effect, a stagnation. Things don’t seem to be going very well for the world economy lately, but I am nevertheless tempted to say that this one of the “happy” periods of capitalism. One of the reasons why is that a financial crisis does not necessarily weaken capitalism as a mode of production, it can indeed serve to strengthen it in the long-term. Not even individual capitalists seem to be particularly worse off – the number of millionaires just keep growing.

The primary reason I can say it is a happy period for capitalism, though, is through looking at history – and the emphasis on class struggle. World War Two is usually said to have had a knock-off effect on labour strengthening its position. But as James Heartfield writes in the article World War as Class War the war served to weaken it. The economical growth in the 50’s was tremendous, mostly due to the technological knock-off effects from the war. There was a lot of stagnation in the “social” field, though, with the glass roof ever-present and the Cold War environment hampering the development of commons.

The thing with how society worked in the West (the state capitalist USSR not deserving much of a mention) is the strong position labour nevertheless came to have, due to the craftskill of each individual worker and the general shortage of labour, giving great negotiation power. This was most visible in Sweden, which was the least effected by the privations of war. A high minimum wage and great security of the worker forced companies to constantly innovate. A turning point would perhaps be the wild strikes and general social upheaval of the ’68 revolutions.

The Oil Crisis, when the oil-producing countries of the Middle East used their oil as a political weapon could perhaps obfuscate matters here, since it happened in 1974, very close to ’68. I am not sure if they excacerbated the tendencies I shall elaborate upon next or not. The artifical oil shortage did push innovation in alternative energy sources, only for them to be mostly discarded once the crisis was over.

Anyway, this turmoil forced capital to renew itself, try to shake off the dependencies of the worker, or the strong unionized one of the West at least. Note that this way of looking at the developments of capitalism differs from how the worker is often painted as a passive subject of the reshaping of capital. Labour-saving technology was invested in – contrary to the trumpeting of technology as requiring more poly-technical skill – as part of the so-called “knowledge society” – these machines defanged the worker as it required less skill to use. Requiring less people overall to use made capital less vulnerable to labour shortage, and unemployment levels worsen the position of the working class overall.

After, and as this went on, capital also found another weapon in its struggle against labour. Letting production happen overseas, especially in Far East Asia, where labour standards are worse and the cost of production markedly lower, despite the distance. This pushed countries in the West to carry out the seemingly foolish action of disestablishing its own industrial base.

There’s a conundrum for capital here, of course, one which has been present in capitalism as a way of production from the very beginning, and which Karl Marx has written about in great detail. Overproduction. This way of breaking the position of labour through labour-saving technology and outsourcing has the obvious effect of pressing wages down, and thus leaving fewer to actually buy the products being produced. A  way to try to combat this has been the increased financialization of the economy. Simplified, the people in the West are the consumers which the global economy hinges on, and the way to try to keep their consumerism going has been through increasinly indebting these. The current crisis could be seen to be partly caused by this specific type of action. Heck, even the Eastern countries have fallen prey to this, as debt keeps increasing behind the bureaucratic walls of China.

Capitalism thus have the wheels burrowed in the mud again, and looks to be needing a push. Capitalism has the odd ability of being able to die, but to keep going as a zombie, but we need to dezombiefy it and ensure it’s actually living and… OK, I’m not sure where I’m going with these metaphors, but try to misunderstand me correctly. Commons can serve as an alternative to capitalism. Voluntary labour between free people on the basis of “from each according to ability, to each according to need” can compete directly with capitalism, mayhaps forcing it to reshape as it always has done. The thing is to try to keep pushing until it dies. And stays dead. “The shortening of the working day is its basic prerequisite”, as Karl Marx put it.

Blind Liberalism

June 6, 2011

There were theologians working in the Islamic world during the Middle Ages who thought that they were living in the best possible of worlds. The same appears to be true of liberal theologians – even though they tend to worship “progress” they have a very technocratic conception of what this “progress” is. What I think is most depressing is the incredible sense of triumph they seem to have, history is over and all that. But I just have to wonder why they are so happy about they way things are going. My hidden assumption here is that they actually believe in liberal values.

The background of this post is the so-called “globalization party” which a liberal think-tank called Timbro is arranging. They mention the struggles going on during the early noughties, in Gothenburg, Genoa and Seattle. Elin Grelsson writes in reply “you dance on our grave”:

But yesterday I read this open invitation to a “globalization party” the 15th of June and for me there stopped being some sort of feeling of OK towards Timbro. Ten years after the Gothenburg demonstrations of police harassments, suspension of law and sharpshooting against demonstrators Timbro celebrates that the movement for global justice (what they call “the anti-globalization movement”) went into the grave and history got a happy ending with a global, hypercapitalist system. One gets an international buffet, champagne and a globalization anthology. All is stringently decorated by a cobblestone-throwing demonstrator.

You know how people write in social media write that they cry or their “tears flow” because of some link? I always wonder if it’s for real. Sit and cry at any moment because of some cute animal or sad story. Few things bring me to tears. But this event was the last drop and I cried.

On day I would like to read the stories of those who took part in these riots. It’s the first time since Ådalen 1931 where police have shot at demonstrators. It can be a good idea to look at this wikipedia article for a general outline of what it is. I was admittedly only nine years old at the time, and I’m not even sure if I was aware of what had happened at that time. Anyway, I believe that 2001 will go down in infamy as the year when political liberalism really started dying.

If we look at World Values Survey there appears to be a greater loss of faith for democracy in the young generation. Of Swedes between 18 and 29, 23% don’t think it matters very much if they live in a democracy or not. 26% think it would be quite, or very good if Sweden was ruled by a “strong leader which doesn’t have to care about the parliament or elections”. 21% are willing to change parties for a smaller amount of money. World Values Survey also ranks Sweden as one of the, if not the most individualistic country in the world.

Rights are not things that come down from nature or God. They are things which must be fought for. Through the struggle of our ancestors we have managed to gain things which we now take for granted. But the thing about these rights is that if the glow of struggles wane, the tide will turn and the things that have been fought for starts to be disassembled. Herein I think the very nature of liberalism lies: it arrogantly appoints itself as the protector of these rights, but it is like a parasite, slowly killing them. It has been very obvious how the truncheon liberals throughout Europe and the US has continued this trend of slowly killing everything we hold dear.

And remember that saying of Winston Churchill’s, “democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried” one has to wonder about what one is measuring. Is it economical performance, as many liberals are wont to do? As I have mentioned previously on the blog, China I think is very interesting. Through its “capitalism with Asian values”, ie authoritarian capitalism they are currently doing capitalism the best in the world. For those who put equality marks between capitalism and democracy China must be a bit of a conundrum, to put it mildly. While the Chinese are now more enthusiastic about capitalism than ever, the interest in democracy is mild at best.

The economic policies of the sad excuses which set Europe’s agenda is finally twisting the knife in the wounds of the public sector. In the name of “tightening of the belts”, in the name of realism, Western “democracy” is finally starting to dig its own grave. Not surprisingly, fascist and populist movements are starting to gain ground. The whole thing is starting to seem pretty dark. China seems to be the most realistic country in the world.

When we look back later, I think the early 21st century will be remembered as pretty dark age. But all is not said and done quite yet. Once again the radical left will have to pick up the slack, and the revolutions that have shaken North Africa can possibly be repeated in Europe as well, and in other places. This is not the end, and the end is not yet. This I am convinced of, however: Whatever liberals be – be they useful idiots, extreme hypocrites, or just the sort who think freedom is the freedom to exploit in any manner they can – they don’t have anything to offer to global justice. Not an ounce.

Happiness Redux

May 27, 2011

You remember that blog post I wrote about happiness? No? Anyway, I wrote a forum post today which was more or less a continuation of it. Being too lazy to write a proper blog post, here it is.

———-

On a bit of a different note, the whole good emotions, bad emotions thing sounds a bit like hedonism. It’s not something I know much about, but to my understanding it says that the attainment of pleasure and happiness is what to strive for, and to avoid pain. I think that idea may have been around for a while. I also wonder about this whole culture of happiness thing I’ve heard a little bit about- apparently people prize happiness, and being happy is seen as priority. Happiness as a goal… not something that’s unheard of, but perhaps something that’s not too healthy. Again, it might be a matter of the individual.
Ah, the word “happiness” can be a bit confusing, because the English language has two somewhat similar, yet very different concepts as homonyms. Using the two Swedish words can clear up some linguistic entanglement: glädje and lycka. Glädje is an emotion; it makes me happy to pet a cat, for example. I do not believe that lycka, the sort of happiness baked into for example the phrase “the pursuit of happiness”, is an emotion, however. I believe it can be construed as, at its heart, contentment.

When yet more governments come out and say that this “happiness” should be the true goal, and not GDP (I’m very sceptical about GDP as well, though, which is hardly controversial). Bhutan would be the clearest example, but we’ve also got the Tories in Britain and of course China – which have a vision about what they call “Harmonious society”. Basically, it’s about having a “good leader, a good mother and a good worker”. Which of course sounds very similar to corporative fascism.

Now, while it’s easy to drag up “Godwin’s Law”, I don’t think this is merely guilt by association, it has a strong basis in fascist “thinking” (if that word can be used). What we must conceive of here is fascism ‘more radical than Hitler’ – ultra right as opposed to extreme right. What strikes me is how similar these “ultra right” fascists are with what we might call the hippie movement. There’s this same obsession with Eastern mysticism and paganism, the same conception of this mythical ‘nature’, Mother Earth, which is supposedly in balance, as opposed to the chaotic civilization (never mind that there have been five so-called “super extinctions” – which are just what they sound like). There was even a Swiss health resort in the interwar which was like a fascist hippie haven. It’s not strange that Hitler had a copy of Bhagavad Gita with him wherever he went.

Now, what’s significant about all the major non-Abrahamic religions/philosophies is their conception of a hierarchical society, everyone having their place in the organic whole, and the conception of time as cyclical, as opposed to linear. What’s significant about early Christianity is its radical rejection of this. We can take the book of Job as an example, by far the most awesome story in the Bible. Some have said it’s a story about the infinite ways of God, but it should be seen as a story about the impotent god. We have Job being told three different theories about why God would test him, only for God to turn up by the end of the story and basically tell him that there was no reason for it. What appears here is the conception of that of things actually not always happening for a reason – all that talk about it raining in the desert, even when there’s no one around and all that. By this incredible impotence of God, it lies the crown on the humans – the basic message is that a clean slate, radical change possible, the choice lies in your hands.

How Christianity is actually conceived of and practiced is very different in the present of course, but I believe this paved the way for much of its success. Speaking of hedonism, I’d say deontological morality is basically hedonism, in a round-about way. It lies down a set of rules which should be followed, and beyond that everything is permitted. The oft-quoted saying attributed to Fjodor Dostojevsky (actually something Sartre made up in a letter) of “If there is no God, everything is permitted” is false. To quote Jaques Lacan instead: “If there is no God, everything is prohibited. In the utter lack of objective meaning morality must be “made up”. Somewhat incisively, it can be said that the only true Christian is an atheist.

TLDR; Happiness sucks.

 

 

Asexuality and Anti-Capitalism

May 8, 2011

I read a blog post about asexuality and psychiatry which I found interesting. This blog post is not about that (it’s worth a read though), it’s about a comment which I read:

Asexuality is pathologized because it is anti-Capitalist. Asexuality is a lack of desire; desire is what drives the economy. In particular, sexual desire really is what drives the economy, as the vast majority of things we buy are either advertised WITH sex and/or purchased in the hopes of obtaining it. As my friend mentioned, asexuals and their former friends tend to drift apart, even if they are accepted, for reasons relating to this.

Basically, being asexual is an assault on the philosophies of the market and desire, and is in turn an attack on the inner “life of spectacle” that advanced capitalism has created. This “life of spectacle” exists in the subconscious of every member of the advanced capitalist society, and when it is threatened, the person in question feels similarly threatened. Wanting sex isn’t just a basic fact of life, it is one of the basic mechanisms by which our entire economic system works. I think people, whether they are aware of it or not, are tuned in to that fact enough to sense it being challenged.

Personally, I support that challenge wholeheartedly

I find the implication that if everyone didn’t want sex (which is slightly different from being asexual, though for obvious reasons they tend to overlap) capitalism would collapse quite ridiculous. The sex part of modern capitalism as seen in advertising could be argued to be a response to the sexual revolution – but it would be just that, a response, not particularly contingent with the plasticity of capitalism. This blog post, the latter part, which I wrote earlier might with some modifications be an indication of a world where noone desires sex (or raising children).

Though desires as such might be a central part of the capitalist system, and it would stop if there were no desires, it would stop because nobody has a desire to live and, well, dies. As such, I am not sure what asexuality as a concept would offer people. It is simply an orientation: nothing more, nothing less.

Acapitalist practices create acapitalist desires. There are many things that could serve as “escape lines”, but asexuality as such isn’t one of them. We should try to make a common, a practice, regarding what is sometimes referred to as “love, sex and companionship”. I think relationship anarchy fits into this. I believe that through the mindset of relational anarchy, we can go a long way towards a new manner of living. While capital could spread its tentacles to incorporate this as well, it has a great potential nevertheless. If creating acapitalist desires is impossible, then I dare say that the revolution is doomed from the start. I would like for it to be possible.

The Penultimate Result

May 6, 2011

This blog post is about something that has been weighing heavily on my mind for quite a while, and which reflects my very greatest fear. Criticism is welcome, for I would like to be proven wrong.

Hans Rosling has been a doctor working in the poorest parts of Africa, and also a professor of international health at Karolinska Institutet. The above TED talks video has made him a bit of a celebrity, and he has been dedicated to deconstructing people’s mental “Tintin” image of the world. His ambitions are admireable, but there is something about his thinking that I’m very sceptical of: his general disregard of environmental factors.

From a radio interview with him:

I was four years old when we got a washing machine. I belong to the group of people who have seen my mother wash clothes and blankets by hand. It was completely fantastic when we got a washing machine. And dad took me on a trip to Järlåsa outside of Uppsala and showed me the power lines, “here comes the electricity from Harsprånget, it’s what driving the washing machine”. That was how we got there, now we have time to do something. So mom put in the clothes in the washing machine and said “now we can go to the library and loan books”. […]  Tanzanian families should [also] have access to washing machines.

One must understand how hard it was [in Sweden] 1850, 1880 and how fantastic it was to get to 1920 and 1950. That’s what Tanzania is currently trying to do.

That strikes at the heart of any Swede – after all, we were relatively late to industrialize compared to the countries down on the continent, and the difference between 1920 and 1970 cannot be understated. I recall my grandmother mentioning that the washing machine were one of the new things she was happiest about. Still, comparing Tanzania to Sweden in the latter half of the 19th century can be misleading. Tanzania has 43 million people and is projected to become 80 million in a couple of decades. However, they have no North America to emigrate to.

On a direct question on whether 10 billion people in Earth would be sustainable Hans replies:

Well, it’s what we must plan for. Because I would never consider the possibility of killing 2-3-4 billion people I think the question is pretty weirdly put. […] We will become 9 billion and we must plan for that. The alternative would actually be… to just ask that question is to start planning a mass-murder we have not seen in modern times. So we can forget about that.

Speaking of “overpopulation” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more than just the amount of people, it’s about the carrying capacity of these people. Now, while the UN estimates that population growth will level by 2050 or so, it is also clear that Asian countries have started to catch up on the West, and Hans also wants Africa to do so. It is also clear that Hans is a friend of economical growth, not only in Africa but everywhere, even the West. The results of that can be shown with a hypothetical scenario. Say the world 6000 years ago until this day experiences a growth of a mere 0.1%, and that the material possessions of that world can be represented by a meter. That can be expressed with this mathematical equation:

1 * 1.1^6000 =  2.3^263

Check it out on your calculators. The average distance to the moon, by comparison, is 3.8^8 meters. The sheer vastness of the number 2.3^263 is so great that it is very hard to imagine it. Theoretically growth could go on forever, if the world was infinite. But the world isn’t infinite. What that means is that compound growth is fundamentally unstable, yet it is also a fundamental part of the global economy, both for poor and rich countries.

To quote Kurt Cobain:

Most economic justice work is currently premised on the view that greater economic equality requires continued economic growth.

As such, those operating under this view assume that the natural resources required to attain the needed growth will continue to be available in the quantities required at prices that will make such equality possible. In other words, the seemingly politically impossible task of redistributing wealth will be sidestepped in favor of redistributing current income from future growth. This constitutes a wholehearted embrace of a cornucopian future; it recognizes no limits to growth that are implied by climate change, world peak oil production, and the rapid depletion of other resources including metal ores, water, soil and fish. And, if any of these limits are acknowledged, the resulting problems are assigned to the “technology will save us” category.

This quest for economic growth in developing countries, no matter at what costs, counter-intuitively also worsens the food situation for a whole slew of countries. A lot of it is because African countries simply can’t compete with the subsidized farms of Europe and the US, thus having to instead sell cash crops or biodiesel. Lots of land has been bought, too. Daewoo Logistics in South Korea has negotiated a 99-year lease of land of about 50% of the arable land on Madagascar, and plans to have about 75% of the land growing corn and 25% palm oil. “Food security” is an alien concept (except possibly as it applies to them):

although Daewoo plans to export the yield of the land, […] it plans to invest about $6 billion over the next 20 years to build the port facilities, roads, power-plants and irrigation systems necessary to support its agribusiness there, and that will create thousands of jobs for Madagascar’s unemployed. Jobs that will help the people of Madagacar earn the money to buy their own food – even if it is imported.

It is widely considered that Malthusianism has been disproven by the “Green Revolution”. I would say that this is not true. In fact, the agriculture of the green revolution is actually unsustainable, as it depends on resources that will soon be limited. It has been remarked that industrialized farming is a way of converting petroleum into oil, and there is much truth to that. Arguing that African countries should adopt this method of farming – as Hans Rosling has recently done – is to head in the wrong direction.

If African countries should have any chance at all of avoiding a Malthusian catastrophe, then they must adopt ecological farming on a large scale. Only that way can they build a sustainable agriculture. Food on the table, running water and electricity wouldn’t then be so uncontroversial. However, material affluence on the level of current OECD countries?

The sad truth is that it’s not possible. This affluence has been built on the systematic plunder of natural resources from poorer countries. The imperialism which developed in the late 15th century is what made Europe rich. What I’m saying is that for poorer countries to truly flourish, to be improved, then some of the standards of the rich countries must be lowered. This may not be necessarily bad; perhaps it could be put as “more with less”. There is after all enough food in the world to feed everybody, it’s just that it’s inequally shared, and that’s why people are starving.

To really solve our problems, I believe that a grand plan, something along the lines of Plan B 3.0 (avaliable here) is needed. And that is optimally done through a democratically planned economy. Though Tim Jackson who wrote Prosperity Without Growth argues at the end that capitalism could restructure itself to deal with this, I would argue that it would be just as difficult to change the Business As Usual model to that than a democratically planned economy.

Unfortunately, those who would profit from the inequities of this world have quite a different mind, and the forces who truly want to change the world break against the wall of the status quo like a wave towards the beach. It goes completely against the cultural narrative which has been set up. As Dick Cheney once said: “The American way of life is non-negotiable”.

To reply to Hans Rosling regarding mass-murder: it’s not going to be a particularly “planned” one. Food prices are going to go up, and it has already caused starvation in places such as Ethiopia and Haiti. Since the market will have it so that everything is grown in the mythical “somewhere else” it is the poorest, the damned of the Earth, which will be without a chair when the music stops playing. This could have effects on political stability:

Perhaps there is no better case than Rwanda of state killing in which colonial history and global economic integration combined to produce genocide. It is also a case where the causes of the killing were carefully obscured by Western governmental and journalistic sources, blamed instead on the victims and ancient tribal hatreds.

A country the size of Belgium, with a population of 7 million people (overpopulated according to most reports but Belgium supports over 10 million people), Rwanda experienced in 1994 one of the worst genocides of the twentieth century. Some 800,000 people, mostly but not exclusively Tutsis, were slaughtered by the Hutu-run state. Contrary to media and many government reports, the genocide was the result of Rwanda’s political and economic position in the capitalist world system. It involved such monetary factors as its colonial history, the price of coffee, World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies, the global interests of Western nations, particularly France, the interests of international aid agencies, and Western attitudes towards Africa (Shalom 1996.

If nothing is done, expect to see more things like that over the next fifty years. It will overshadow the Holocaust and the Holomodor. Our descendants will look back to this time period with disgust, because they will be disgusted by how egoistical and passive we were They will be appalled to learn about how people ran cars on biodiesel grown in the Third World while people were starving. The history books will brand the 21st century even darker than the 20th. Hopefully they would also learn from our mistakes, and try to work together more.

Volvo Chases the Yuan

April 20, 2011

I will attempt not to sprinkle this blog post with too many profanities.

Background: Yesterday I sat down and managed to read a book I had procured, and whose title could perhaps be translated as Overdrive. Lars Henriksson, the author, has been working for Volvo since the 60’s, and is a member of the Socialist Party. It’s packed with numbers, statistics, history and personal experiences, and gives a car hater such as myself plenty of high octane fuel in the tank. I’ll probably have reason to return to this book in future blog posts.

The most interesting part of the book for me is that Lars Henriksson proposes that the car industry could play a pivotal role in a change towards a more sustainable society. I hadn’t really thought about the future of the car industry, to be honest. Lars claims that the car industry is an incredibly flexible mechanism, and that it would be very bad to just let them die and hope that something better rises from the ruins, because a lot of know-how has been accumulated in for example Volvo over the years. Lars gives the example of how the Allies were able to transform their car industries to making bomb planes instead. The assembly lines’ step from car to train or solar panel could be quite short.

With that in mind, I am highly alarmed by the fact that today Geely (a large Chinese car company, which is the new owner of Volvo) has decided that Volvo is going to aim for the production of luxury cars. The new Chinese middle class likes big, gas-guzzling cars, as it is a sign of wealth. Not particularly good considering that peak oil is around the corner, and it is an incredible waste of resources. I feel that Volvo is spitting us in the face. But I suppose they’re only acting according to their capitalist motives, which is to make profit. And the Chinese are simply following in the footsteps of the West, surely we cannot blame them for emulating our societies? Still, this enrages, and scares me a whole lot. Revolution out of nowhere, sudden aftershock of the financial crisis, right now I feel that anything would be good to stop this development…

I’ll end with a quote from the book:

The Mafia

The large auditorium was packed to the brim with foremen, bosses and lower union representatives. It was close to the launch of the car which would soon begin production in the factory and we would be enthusiastic by taking part of a first sample and receive some of the underlying philosophy.

It was not so much a car which was presented to us. A few snapshots of details whose design had been tested in various customer surveys and which would make this particular car stand out from the competitors. Of course it wasn’t mentioned that this car, which billions [of SEK] had been put on development, did exactly the same thing as the last model and like the competitors: provide a number of people with the possibility of transportion between different places. But this basic quality is so obvious that it’s not possible to compete with that as an argument.

Instead it was a nearly religious message the bosses in charge gave to us. This little brotherhood, so fulfilled by their own importance that they without presentation called themselves Hasse, Nisse and Bosse, didn’t present a car – it was more of a religious experience, a lifestyle and an identity which would soon come to us. Because all cars are driveable it was the idea of the car and not its tedious material manifestation which was presented and would be used in marketing.

“By buying this particular car the client shows that he, or possibly she, is a person with clear values”, said Hasse (or was it Bosse? or Nisse?). “A person that cares but still has taste and wants to show it. Through the choice of his car he makes a statement, about who he is and what he stands for”, explained Hasse-Bosse-Nisse.

What we would soon weld, paint and screw together was as such not as much a modern but quite ordinary motor vehicle, but more a lifestyle which would be revealed to humanity. Something many wait for without knowing it.

Because the enthusiastic evangelium perhaps didn’t light the life spirits enough in the hot and oxygen-poor building but seemed to go over the head on the gathering one of the prophets (Hasse? Nisse? Bosse?) felt moved to leave the presentation’s script and of biblical pattern explain himself with a simile.

“Take Moscow”, he said. “If one drives around there with a Mercedes it suggests that one belongs to the mafia. And then we have an alternative for those who want to express something else.”

Then he suddenly fell silent and stared, hit by an insight, out into nothing. In the lack of a script he lost himself in a new thought and began to speak, if not in tounges, at least without thinking.

“Though of course, it’s the mafia who has the money…”

He let his words hang in the air too long. During a few seconds and angel went through the room and I imagined that onehundred and fifty people thought the same thing as I:

“And who is it that you want to buy the cars if it’s the mafia who has the money? And is it on average, in the world, ‘the good guys’ who have the cash?”

The illusion of lifestyle, consideration and values burst and the raw economy’s real and not particularly pleasing face appeared for a moment. Production happens neither to express values or fulfill needs. The only thing that counts is buying power needs, people with money to put it simply. And how they got the money is actually not very interesting for the one with something to sell.

Before the silence and the thoughts that grew in it became too pressing, Nisse (Bosse? Hasse?)  got to his senses, shook his head a bit and said:

“Well, we should at least have an alternative”, and returned to the script of today’s preaching.

In time Volvo’s city jeeps became quite popular in Russia. When I drive one of them out of the factory and park them on the Russia row I often wonder who it is which has ordered the car.