Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Can Fear be a Useful Tool for Progressives?

David Roberts thinks not.
We will build nothing, create nothing, inspire nothing of worth while in the grip of fear.

It is often said that violence 'sends a message' to this or that recipient. Often the alleged message is about the firmness of our resolve -- 'we really mean it!' We send messages of this nature to the Middle East fairly regularly these days; its inbox is full. Israel sends the message to Lebanon. Russia sends the message to Chechnya. Indonesia sends the message to its separatists. And so on.

This is bullshit of the most pernicious possible sort.

Violence sends no message. This is not merely some kind of moral disagreement or metaphor: Violence has no semantic content. Modern civilization has become expert at laying layer after layer of verbiage atop its violence, but it is all rationalization and justification. At root, everything violence 'says' is captured in the famous words of the Incredible Hulk: 'Hulk smash!'

Victims of violence do not sit back and contemplate what they may have done to prompt it. They do not reconsider or learn lessons. They fight back, or they flee. As I said in earlier posts, fear and anger pull us away from ratiocination. They are the affective equivalent of the fetal position, reducing us to pure ego, pure self-preservation.

Excerpt from the fourth part in a five-part series on Fear and Environmentalism. Long, but worth a read.

Filed Under: reflection

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Muslim malaise

One of the strangest aspects of the post-9/11 world is that, despite all the talk about Muslim terrorism, there is hardly any exploration of the complex causes of Muslim rage. Muslims are in a state of crisis, but their most daunting problems are not religious. They are geopolitical, economic and social — problems that have caused widespread Muslim despair and, in some cases, militancy, both of which are expressed in the religious terminology that Muslim masses relate to.
More articles by Haroon Siddiqi

More on Religion, Politics and reflection.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Iraq: War Profiteers and Misinformation

IRAQ FOR SALE: The War Profiteers documentary is soon to be released. Screening in Toronto on October 15th, 2006 and worldwide during the week of October 8-14th.

"Iraq for Sale uncovers the connections between private corporations making a killing in Iraq and the decision makers who allow them to do so." The war in Iraq is a huge money-making opportunity for soulless corporations in a system that puts profit before people. I guess making some bucks is well worth the death of between 30,000 and 100,000 Iraqis. Sick, Sick , Sick.

The director of Iraq for Sale, Robert Greenwald, has already brought us such brilliant pieces as Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (see the walmart parody here) and Outfoxed, the excellent exposé of Fox News' propaganda machine.

Speaking of Fox, the misinformation at Fox is so overwhelming and often ridiculous we progressives often ignore it. Millions of Americans don't. The lies are truly making their way into the popular consciousness, as shows in this podcast(free mp3) by The Rational Radical, which directly links Fox to the Harris poll that showed 50% of Americans think Saddam had WMD. Fox news viewers were most likely of all to have the most such misconceptions in several areas.

Other news stations are not exempt, by the way. Fox just happens to lead the way. For detailed coverage of media misinformation, visit

Filed under: Film | War in the Middle East | Media

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

UK "Terror Plot" too Convenient

From Democracy Now!:

Meanwhile NBC News has learned that U.S. and British authorities had a significant disagreement over when to move in on the suspects of the alleged plot. A senior British official said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner. The British official suggested the attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. Some did not even have passports.

More Detail from Craig Murray:

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

(Thanks to Left I on the News)

Even if it was a real and dire threat, Pierre Tristam puts it in perspective:

Terrorism is by definition a spectacular one-time event, sometimes serialized, always limited by its very strength: it’s only as effective as its intended target permit it to be. Short of nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, the downing of planes, the suicide explosions, the hostage-taking is all as immediately disturbing as it is ultimately no more consequential than accidental tragedies that end lives in myriad other ways, but without altering democratic institutions and the constitutional functioning of society.

Ze Frank agrees.

It is not a crime to hate the US, or Israel, or to wish George Bush was dead (heck the CIA "wishes" Castro was dead) and it is terribly irresponsible to suggest everyone should be constantly afraid and give away hard-earned freedoms because "they" hate "us". Who's instilling the terror in the population? Is it the terrorists or is it the governments and media (because "be afraid" sells more papers than "go about your business")? In whose interests is a terrorized citizenry? Don't forget the desire for order and security in a frightening, lawless world is the main reason people vote right wing.

It is simpler to think "they" are evil and hate us, than to look at the extremely complex situation. Simplification of reality is highly marketable, as it also provides a sense of security. People like the tidiness and are often willing to sacrifice the reality. As written by Buber in I and Thou:

Man's world is manifold, and his attitudes are manifold. What is manifold is often frightening because it is not neat and simple. Men prefer to forget how many possibilities are open to them.

They like to be told that there are two worlds and two ways. This is comforting because it is so tidy. Almost always one way turns out to be common and the other one is celebrated as superior.

Those who tell of two ways and praise one are recognized as prophets or great teachers. They save men from confusion and hard choices. They offer a single choice that is easy to make because those who do not take the path that is commended to them live a wretched life.

Sorry to be so long-winded today, but sometimes there's just a lot to say!

More on the "War on terror" and other reflections

Monday, August 14, 2006

Grab Bag - From Iran to the "Dark" Continent

Interesting articles in the Toronto Star this week.

Iran's unseen art:

"Tabibzadeh pointedly satirizes the hypocrisy of an outwardly Islamic society wracked by sexual promiscuity and heroin or opium addiction. In one painting, a completely nude figure is covered by a headscarf — mandatory for women in Iran in all public spaces." Here's more art by Golnar Tabibzadeh and other Iranian artists.

Despite AIDS, Africa endures by James Travers:
The great kaleidoscope of lands, languages and peoples sweeping north and east from Cape Town to Cairo is now synonymous with Stephen Lewis's pandemic, the corruption of kleptocrats and the mad, jumped-up generals who fight their wars with stolen children.

It's true that much of that is true. Most of the 49 years since Kwame Nkrumah led Ghana and sub-Saharan Africa to independence were lost to suffering, Big-Man greed and boundless hostility over limited resources.

That's Africa's history, not its present or future. And it's certainly not the continent's character.

Beneath all the horrors roils a remarkable spirit. Despite the death and palpable despair, Africa is bursting with energy, the determination to turn nothing into something and, yes, hope.

Outsiders usually miss it. Overwhelmed, they see slums, not rudimentary industry, huge failures, not small successes, and victims, not the resilient.

"The fact that they survive on a $1 a day makes them the greatest entrepreneurs in the world," says Farouk Jiwa.

The `development of underdevelopment': Excerpt, How Western progress created African misery:
How do we talk about how to develop a meaningful political process in societies that have been fractured by colonialism and violence? What, indeed, does progress mean in societies that were systematically dismantled by the West in the pursuit of progress?

More on Art, and Africa

Friday, August 11, 2006

Bush Pilot

The Bush pilot himself reports about his job and the obstacles involved. From Homo Ludens who says: "this explains a lot". Very well done. Worth a watch.

More Fun Stuff

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

More on the Israel/Lebanon Conflict

Israel responded to an unprovoked attack by Hizbullah, right? Wrong: "The assault on Lebanon was premeditated - the soldiers' capture simply provided the excuse. It was also unnecessary"

read more from today's Guardian or on

Oh, and condemning the Israeli government/army actions is not the same as condemning the Israeli people, many of whom want peace too (such as these women). A handful of authoritarian, militaristic individuals have a disproportionate amount of power there, just as in most countries. And, as usual it is the people, on both sides, who suffer.

From Democracy Now's Headlines yesterday:
5,000 Israelis Protest in Tel Aviv Against Attacks
In Israel, over 5,000 protesters marched in Tel Aviv on Saturday to condemn the attack on Lebanon. The protest was one of the largest in Israel since the attacks on Lebanon began. Demonstrators called on Israel to negotiate with Hizbollah.

Filed Under: War in the Middle East

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Spinoza - Reason in an Age of Religious Intolerance

Philosophers do have some very relevant things to say. For example, a very easy and interesting read perfect for the layperson, is Making Sense: Philosophy Behind the Headlines by Julian Baggini. He dissects a handful of contemporary issues such as abortion, euthanasia, cults vs religion, and even the Clinton Lewinsky affair (public vs. private sphere).

Spinoza's reaction to the religious intolerance he saw around him was to try to think his way out of all sectarian thinking. He understood the powerful tendency in each of us toward developing a view of the truth that favors the circumstances into which we happened to have been born. Self-aggrandizement can be the invisible scaffolding of religion, politics or ideology.

Against this tendency we have no defense but the relentless application of reason. Reason must stand guard against the self-serving false entailments that creep into our thinking, inducing us to believe that we are more cosmically important than we truly are, that we have had bestowed upon us — whether Jew or Christian or Muslim — a privileged position in the narrative of the world's unfolding.Spinoza's system is a long deductive argument for a conclusion as radical in our day as it was in his, namely that to the extent that we are rational, we each partake in exactly the same identity.

Spinoza's faith in reason as our only hope and redemption is the core of his system, and its consequences reach out in many directions, including the political. Each of us has been endowed with reason, and it is our right, as well as our responsibility, to exercise it. Ceding this faculty to others, to the authorities of either the church or the state, is neither a rational nor an ethical option.

Found here

I wish we'd see a lot more reason and a lot less extremism and intolerance. Want to listen to an interesting program about religion? Is Religion Dangerous?

More Philosophy & Reflection, Religion