Monday, January 25, 2010

"Life isn't fair." But it can be.

Possibly the most infuriating phrase I've ever heard—the most ridiculously stupid, dismissive argument in the world—is "life isn't fair." I've heard it all my life, from when I was a four-year-old wanting a Barbie doll, to now, when I suggest a fairer socioeconomic system. No, life is not fair; but there is absolutely no point whatsoever in saying that phrase. In fact, I don't believe I've ever said it seriously to another person since I was a child, reiterating my parents' poor excuse for wisdom.*

Of course I'm not suggesting that wanting a Barbie is in any way similar to wanting a fairer socioeconomic system. My point is simply that the phrase gets nowhere. You see, I think life should be fair, and can be much fairer than it is today.

If I wanted a Barbie, and my parents said no, I would say "that's not fair." The question in their minds, at that point, should not have been "does it matter if it's fair?" because it does matter if it's fair; but rather, "is she it really not fair to deprive her of a Barbie?" Given the situation—the fact that my parents couldn't afford to keep buying me Barbies, and the fact that they didn't want me to be influenced by such a disgustingly misogynistic toy in the first place—I would say that it was entirely fair to deprive me of a Barbie. In suggesting that they were being unfair, I was posing an ethical question about what fairness was. By saying that life was not fair (instead of saying that my request wasn't fair), they were suggesting that my need for a Barbie was legitimate, and that in a perfectly fair world I would receive such a toy.

Now, to be serious. Regardless of whether wanting a Barbie is fair, being deprived of a Barbie is not something that could have a severe negative impact on my life. But because we grow up hearing, "life isn't fair" from our parents, and we legitimise the phrase by repeating it over and over again until we feel we own it, we start to apply the philosophy to some very serious situations. For example, people who work three full-time jobs and barely have enough money for food. Apparently, some time in our lives, we decided that starvation is the equivalent to being deprived of a toy. Or at least, it is the equivalent as far as we care. Nowhere did we question the evolution of this phrase from simple childhood banter to politics; from plastic merchandise to food and shelter.

I remember arguing (online, of course) with a conservative person about welfare and socialism. He whined about people taking away (and I quote): "...MY hard-earned money, that I deserve every penny of..." (emphasis his). When I suggested that there may be people who need some of his money more than he, he said, "life isn't fair." Ignoring (hard though it may be) his insane hypocrisy, and simply focusing on his last statement, we see that he was entirely okay with allowing things to continue the way they were, where people starved. Yes, he thought that somehow, the people who were starving weren't working as hard as he was, or didn't deserve every penny that he did. But in addition, he thought that it was okay for people to starve. Regardless. And this is the problem we have to deal with to create a fair society.

We must get rid of the idea that some people aren't deserving of life and the basic things that would sustain their life, regardless of whether they're working or not. By simply being a living, breathing human being, they deserve to live and to survive.

I have written other times, and will write again, about how actually when a human is faced with starvation, they are incapable of being lazy. But that is not my point at this time. My point is that even if people can be lazy, we cannot be psychopaths and let them die. If it is within our power to keep them alive, then we cannot claim that it's all up to them, it's their "choice."

Yes, life can be much fairer. But we must be willing to make it fairer, instead of leaving it the way it is now, with a dismissive shrug and a stupid cliché. Because that is true, dangerous laziness.
*I love my parents dearly, and I think they'll agree nowadays that the "life's not fair" cliché is really unhelpful.

Look inward, and nowhere else

Years ago, I stopped referring to myself as a liberal. This was because I started to see what the term really meant—not according to conservatives—but according to radicals, and according to me. I won't go into detail about all of the qualities that liberals have that I don't, because that's not what this post is about. This post is about a specific liberal quality that drives me absolutely up the wall.

Do not play the blame game. As a recent post articulated on the liberal site that I belong to, Care2:
...We want to fix something that we perceive as terribly wrong. When this happens we look immediately to find someone to blame. But in doing so, we sidestep taking responsibility.

Really? As I stay up-to-date with the current events of this world, I see people in power, politicians and corporate executives, fucking over people and communities. I do not see it because I am attempting to put blame on someone besides myself. I see their actions first, and realise that those actions have an effect. And that effect is bigger than the effect my actions would have, simply because I am not as powerful an individual as a politician, and my community isn't as powerful as an entire government or corporation.

This isn't the first time I have heard this type bullshit from liberals. Liberals are not as individualistic as conservatives, but they still have some very individualistic beliefs. The view about blame is very similar to another view that I despise, which is far more "spiritual" in nature: You must fix yourself before you can help anybody else in the world. As if the two aren't connected. As if helping others doesn't also help fix you as well.

Everybody, especially everybody who has been born into privilege, does have a certain amount of responsibility. But a lot of our responsibilities lie in the fact that we allow a corrupt system to continue. That is not the same as making a system even more corrupt.

If activists are trying to stop an organisation from polluting the air, it is because they are blaming that corporation for polluting the air. Should the activists instead leave that organisation alone and allow it to continue polluting, all because they don't want to place any blame on anybody but themselves?

Basically, my point is that it is possible to blame more than one person or group of people for a problem. But it is a good idea to put things into perspective, and understand who is most responsible for causing what problem. In other words, in order to find a solution to anything, it is important to understand cause and effect. If you refuse to blame anyone for causing the problems of this world, regardless of whether or not they actually did, you are ignoring a crucial step towards remedying those problems.

Stupid philosophical arguments

The following is an excerpt from The Barefoot Bum:
Anarchism is a curious topic. Its linguistic roots mean literally "no rule". But by these roots no self-described anarchist can impose a definition of anarchism...

Taken to the logical extreme of its roots in a non-vacuous sense, anarchism would entail absolutely no coercion whatsoever...

Locking your front door or physically hanging onto your wallet is coercive: you are using physical force to prevent a person from doing what he wants to do.

(Bold emphasis mine)

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

1. "No rule" means "no imposition/coercion." The Barefoot Bum concludes that "no rule" means "no imposition." This step in his argument is already false. "No rule" means exactly that—no rulers. Generally, most anarchists are more specific in saying that anarchism means "no government" or "no state." Most, including me, will stop at that.

No government doesn't even mean no governance; governance is the act of administering policy and decisions. If an anarchist society were divided up into syndicates (as it probably would be, since this is the most practical application of anarchism), each syndicate might elect a representative who would then speak to the representatives of other syndicates. The leadership could be rotational, the decision-making could be through consensus, but whoever carries out a decision, even if it is agreed upon by all, is practicing governance.

2. "No coercion" means you cannot lock your doors or keep your wallet/shirt. As I have already demonstrated that the "no imposition/coersion" assumption is false, I don't really need to go on, but I will anyway. Even if "no rule" did mean "no coercion," it wouldn't necessarily be logical to push the argument even further down the slippery slope to "no locked doors/ no personal belongings."

The Barefoot Bum uses the argument that someone (George) cannot hang on to his own shirt*, because if someone else (Sue) wants the shirt, George would have to use physical force to keep Sue from taking it. But by that same logic, Sue would be using physical force to take George's shirt, if he doesn't want her to. By The Barefoot Bum's own arguments, both parties are using coercion, simply depending on what either person wants. These wants cancel each other out, once again rendering The Barefoot Bum's argument moot.

In the real world, including the anarchist world, the desires of the person who wears the shirt are more important than the desires of the person who wants to take the shirt (assuming everyone has enough clothing, which they would in a libertarian socialist society). Anarchism does not prohibit possession (not to be confused with private property), nor should it, even if there were no form of governance in that society. Forcing somebody to do something they don't want to do, which would have an adverse affect on them physiologically/psychologically, is very different from e.g. forcing a toddler to share his toy. Yet both are technically forms of coercion. One form of coercion (the form The Barefoot Bum was talking about) cancels itself out easily using simple logic. The other doesn't.

What I hate about these slippery-slope arguments is that they are so abstract and philosophical, they have no bearing on the real world except that they distract people from it, and convince people with poor reasoning skills that the argument made is actually valid. As I explained to The Barefoot Bum, a similar argument could be made about socialism:
Socialism is about equality. Therefore, it's about 100% equality. Therefore, nobody can have or do anything that anybody else can't have or do. If anybody is in a wheelchair, everybody has to be in a wheelchair. If anybody is blind, all have to cover their eyes. And if there are any women in a socialist society, all men have to make themselves bleed for five days out of the month.

I have seen that argument made seriously by right-Libertarians, and I can tell you, it's a poor argument. Simply the fact that it's made by right-Libertarians should point to that obvious fact.

Here's another one:
Monarchy means "rule of one." Therefore, only one person can rule. Therefore, if anybody but the monarch has any influence whatsoever on a policy, that policy must be scrapped. If the monarch chooses to change a policy based on his/her popularity or what the populace thinks about him/her in general, that policy cannot be changed. But then it has to be changed, because it was indirectly influenced by the populace.


Perhaps this is why I hate philosophy, in the "I have a degree in Philosophy" sense. Don't get me wrong, my closest friends in college were philosophy majors. But a lot of it is plain intellectual masturbation (sorry, guys).

One (especially a philosopher) can take any idea or even political philosophy and render it useless if one has enough wanking time. I'm personally surprised that The Barefoot Bum didn't just say something to the tune of:
Anarchism literally means 'no rule.' But what does 'rule' mean? And what does 'no' mean? Isn't 'no' the ultimate negative statement? Should any system based on such a negative exist? Could it? And what does 'it' mean? I don't know. Who am 'I?' What am 'I?' Who am I to claim to know what 'I' am...perhaps somebody else know more what it is like to be 'me' than 'I' do...?

...And so forth. I used to have these existential debates inside my head when I was eight.
* I chose to use a shirt instead of a wallet in the example so as not to bring money into the equation.

No conspiracy needed

People these days are obsessed with conspiracy theories. From the global warming "hoax" and 9/11, to UFOs, the New World Order and the "socialist agenda," loud people on the internet love to get their panties in a knot about whether or not some ginormous cover-up is happening. It's as if a conspiracy is the most terrifying and disturbing thing that anyone can imagine.

Damn socialist

Well, I've got news for you. The real world is seriously fucked up, and massive conspiracies are (at least mostly) not to blame. Who needs secrecy when our entire global socio-economic system is set up to benefit those in power already? What I am appalled by is how blatantly obvious some governments and organisations are about all the horrific shit they're up to. Murdering over one hundred thousand people in Iraq wasn't a cover-up. It was just labeled "war," and was therefore justified in our sick, twisted minds.

There's no cover-up involving world hunger; it is well-documented that empires raped and pillaged the land and the people of the Third World long ago, and forced them to focus on cash cropping (now called "exports-based agriculture") instead of feeding themselves. The IMF and World Bank proudly boast their monstrous policies as "aiding" poor countries, by offering them loans that they couldn't possibly pay back on conditions (such as the privatisation of public sectors) that destroy entire economies.

Some of this pride is also passed on to the public. The cries against "socialism," the hatred of those less fortunate, and the reverence of individualistic greed (disguised as "personal responsibility" and "rational self-interest") are all endorsed by the masses, most of whom would benefit greatly from socialist, pro-poor policies. We have been taught very well how to hate ourselves.

More terrifying than any conspiracy, more devastating than any government cover-up, is the fact that we are aware of the horrors that those in power create, and we passively perpetuate that status quo.

Perhaps we should focus on promoting public awareness of things that are already technically known.

A question for climate change deniers

Just a question for deniers, since the science is already out there - What empirical "proof" would you need to convince you that global warming is getting worse, and is anthropogenic? Would the sky have to burst into flames? Perhaps we find a gigantic cauldron in middle of the US? Or, okay, how about this:

  • Severe drought in Africa and Australia?

  • Acidification of the oceans due to absorption of CO2?

  • Hundreds of millions of climate refugees?

  • Extinctions of species due to severe climate variation?

  • Increased spread of tropical diseases and insects?

I know, I know, you can counter my evidence with the fact that "Wisconsin is really friggin' cold right now." I suggest that all those of you who actually think that is an argument against antrhopogenic climate change leave RIGHT NOW, so that people who actually understand science (at least from a primary-school level) can continue this conversation.

Why I unsubscribed from the Huffington Post

I found the Huffington Post through one of my favourite teachers from high school. He posts there occasionally and I enjoy what he has to say. He is thoughtful, articulate (of course—he was my English teacher), and a true progressive. For some strange reason, I assumed that the HuffPost was truly progressive too.

I enjoyed reading other writers as well, including celebrities like Alec Baldwin and Scarlett Johansson. I was okay with navigating around Deepak Chopra's woo-woo crap, as long as the political posts were good. I decided to subscribe to the politics section there.

My first warning sign was when I was surfing the site and came across a post where you could—I kid you not—rate which celebrities had the best boobies. This struck me as the same form of cynicism that led PETA (People for the Exploitation of Tits and Ass) to put naked women in their ad campaigns. I'm sure it increased HuffPost's male misogynist readership exponentially.

TwiHards for nudity
This was in a Huffington Post article

This BS continued. More celebrity gossip (Fergie: I'm Bisexual, Husband Josh Is "Well Endowed") and grossly anti-feminist eye candy (Eva Mendes Is Unbuttoned, Braless!) continued to spew forth from the website's pages. And I continued to my version of ignoring it (quietly stewing and gagging). But then, on the politics page, came this article:

A Marred Holiday for One Arab American Vet

Sounds like the harrowing story of yet another Arab-American getting shit for his ethnicity due to the Fort Hood shootings, right? Well, not quite. This man felt so guilty for what Al Qaeda did on 9/11 that he started helping assist in interrogations. I had trouble feeling sorry for him:
One day Rajai's team went into a house and was greeted by an old man and his two sons. "The man was so nice. He served us tea and no topic was off limits. We discussed politics and shared family pictures," Rajai [Hakki] recalls. As they left the house, a commander came and ordered them to go back and arrest the two sons because this was a "target house". Rajai had no option but to obey orders. He returned and placed bags over the sons' heads and led them away, as their father looked on in silence.

"That kind of thing was always tough," Hakki told the Huffington Post.

Really? Tough? Bagging human beings for torture is tough?! So I assume he can handle working at Guantanamo Bay then?
Hakki recently returned from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he'd spent five months working for a contractor as an Arabic translator.

Oh, nice. He's got quite a resume there. Anyway, that wasn't the worst part. I scrolled down to look at some of the comments:
Rajai...You have NOTHING to be ashamed of. You are a true, brave American. Just because you come from the Middle East and your family practices Islam, doesn't make you responsible for any of the deeds carried out by those who have hijacked your religion. You make us all proud.


Maybe we need to take a lesson from the Chinese American Buddhist monks in the Los Angeles area who subscribe to the philosophy that we are ALL ONE people when they describe themselves as Americans.


Stand proud brave American. You are judged for your actions not the actions of others.
Peace and prosperity to you.

Actually, that comment was quite fitting for how I feel. He is judged by his own actions. So I wrote a comment. It was censored and deleted. I assumed it was probably because I put the f-word in there (their policy is against "excessive swearing"), so I tried again:
Wow...that's some serious moderation there.

What I was saying before was that I'm frankly shocked that this article is not about one of the many regular Arab-American soldiers out there. It's about a man who participates in "interrogation," a euphemism for torture.

This man is not responsible for what happened on 9/11—nor should he feel that he is–but he is responsible for his own actions in response to 9/11. I have never seen another article at the Huffington Post that paints an interrogator as a patriot, and never seen so many comments that commend an interrogator for being a "brave American." If such an article had been posted in the past, the people here would be pissed.

My next comment was in response to another comment, and went like this:
And by the way, I can't think of any other industrialised country in the world where people actually put that much pride in where they happened to be born. Americans are "all one people?" How about humans? Wow, moving to New Zealand has really opened my eyes to the culture of self-congratulation in the United States.

That one passed moderation. The previous comment didn't. Why? Because I was offering a dissenting opinion of the actual topic of the article? It appears that arguing with another commenter is fine, as long as I don't argue with the point of the article.

I have seen the Huffington Post move more and more towards the mainstream, and it's making me feel ill. I have lost all respect for the site, and I invite others to comment or send them messages regarding their recent move toward the right...and their apparent transformation into a tabloid. And now they're censoring dissenting views?! Needless to say, I have unsubscribed, and I hope others will too.

Note: I later learned that my second comment was in fact posted; for some reason there was a 20 second delay, which usually does not happen. So no, HuffPost does not censor as much as I thought they did.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Joy of Sweatshops

A historically-challenged anarcho-capitalist (okay, that should go without saying) decided to take some of his precious time trying to educate me about the real world and why unregulated capitalism is soooo wonderful. I would like you to especially take note of this "Libertarian's" laughably insincere concern for the poor sweatshop-less people of Cambodia.
Okay--now that you've had your say, will you listen to a staunch anarcho-capitalist? If yes, I would like to start you off with a great article from (of all places) Nick Kristof at the New York Times, entitled "Where Sweatshops Are a Dream." Watch the video attached, read the article, and ask me questions if you wish.

But just remember a few maxims underpinning libertarian thought: 1) Poverty cannot be cured through force of arms or government decree--only by independent business. 2) Wealth is the foundation for all businesses except multinational conglomerates with sweet government contracts. Redistribution hurts everyone _except_ the Monsantos and Halliburtons. 3) The only power governments have military, and the only money they have is other people's money. 4) Subsidizing an enterprise with 'government' money is no different than when identity thieves buy jet-skis with your credit card--it's theft, pure and simple.

Next time you want to talk about capitalism being about "controlling and hurting other people," remember that capitalism is the only thing keeping you from living a terribly harsh subsistence-agrarian lifestyle, such as the vast majority of humans on this planet must endure. Perhaps if the mother of that article had been in a more capitalist country, her son wouldn't have been backed over by a garbage truck looking for scrap plastic. It's rather hypocritical to mock the very thing that allows you and I to maintain such an expensive and comfortable existence, isn't it?

This is my response.

Thank you for taking the time out of your day to educate me on the harsh reality (which apparently you inhabit 24/7) outside of my little utopian fairytale. I have a few humble comments about your enlightening and historically-accurate interpretation of how the world works. First, I'll start with your list:

1) Poverty cannot be cured through force of arms or business—which continue to exacerbate it—or government decree, though that can make a huge difference. Poverty can only be cured by local communities taking responsibility for their people's welfare.

2) Wealth is the foundation of all businesses. Period. Multinational conglomerates may have sweet government contracts, but that is still wealth. The problem with our system isn't whether or not businesses are founded on wealth; it is that wealth in this economy is based on wage labour and the exploitation of the poor. Redistribution doesn't "hurt" anyone. If I tell a child to share a toy with their friend, is that hurting them?

3) The only power that Objectivists want governments to have are through the military and criminal law. These are the two reasons why governments are so dangerous in the first place. Take away the military and criminal law, and all they can do is serve the people. You essentially have an anarchist society.

4) Subsidizing an already enormous enterprise through government money is completely unnecessary, but that's what gets subsidies. Subsidizing a small business gives them the leverage they need in a competitive environment. Otherwise, the most ruthless competitors (AKA the ones that exploit humans and the environment the most) would have the upper hand…as they do today. So wouldn't taking subsidies away from large corporations even the playing field? Yes, in the same way that cutting my hair would me closer to the height of an infant.

Aww yes, those poor people living in landfills. That must be because they aren't working in wonderful sweatshops! Please learn a little history. Have those people been living in landfills for hundreds of years? Are they the People of the Landfill, whose simple culture has been waiting forever for a chance to work sixteen hours a day absorbing toxins through the air and passing out from exhaustion? Or is it perhaps related to the industrial revolution, or Western countries ravaging Third-World nations' resources at the expense of the majority of the people on Earth? Such a simplistic view of labour is reserved only for the economist (who is taught from a young age to have tunnel-vision and accept economics as a "hard science"), and the Objectivist (who agrees with Rand that Native Americans deserved to be destroyed due to their primitive economic systems). That's exactly how this mess started: Westerners destroyed the land that other societies lived on, and massacred indigenous people, so now they cannot hunt and gather or develop small farms; instead they must become intentional slaves.

Perhaps if you wish to understand the real reason why Cambodians are in such a bad way they're willing to work in sweat shops, you will read this.

And now for my favourite: Capitalism is keeping us from living a "terribly harsh" subsistence-agrarian lifestyle. Let's look at that for a second, shall we? People who live subsistence lives tend to be the happiest, most fulfilled people in the world. If African nations still used subsistence agriculture, they wouldn't have any of the problems they have today (as a result of their subsistence lifestyles being forcefully transformed into cash-cropping and exports-based agriculture). No, the harsh existence that most people on this planet endure is directly caused by capitalism and imperialism, and is due to the fact that subsistence living has been all but destroyed globally. I hope that one day everyone will realize that the only way to combat poverty and environmental destruction is to grow your own food.

By the way, I live in an ecovillage community. We grow our own food here. We look after each other. And—whaddaya know!—we like it.

A betrayal of hope

My father wrote this letter to various media outlets, and I thought it was better than my previous post about Van Jones.

The Attack on Van Jones—a Betrayal of Hope

The first time I met Van Jones he gave a talk to my group of high school students. His talk, accompanied by a video about the way black youth are systematically treated, was addressed to a group of young white kids at an environmental action weekend in Marin County, California. The kids found him exciting and inspiring. You may be wondering what the question of black youth has to do with environmental action. To Van, the connection was complex but clear: In order to effectively address one critical issue we could not simply ignore another, equally critical one. The Environmental and Civil Rights movements are two of the most vital, powerful forces in the US. Imagine what could be accomplished if they worked together. True, not all black kids see the point of environmentalism—they are often more concerned with police harassment and their chances of having a meaningful career. And not all white kids understand racial profiling and injustice, what might be called the Skip Gates factor. White people just don’t have to deal with that, at least not directly.

Van saw, continues to see, the urgency of connecting the two. That is exactly what the “Green Economy” is: an attempt to solve both the economic crisis, which was already severe in the inner city before the current recession, and the environmental crisis, which threatens to drown us all in climate disaster. Train young people, including a fair proportion of those traditionally left out of these opportunities, as green collar workers. Produce and set up wind turbines, solar panels, composting systems, comprehensive recycling, local food production. Train and hire urban youths to carry out the jobs that will save both their communities and the planet.

Van’s vision is clear and compelling enough that it got the ear of Senator Obama, and once the Senator was elected President it got Van a job as White House Green Jobs advisor. His vision is clear and compelling enough that the Green Party co-leader of New Zealand—halfway around the world—raised it as an inspiration in his address last summer (US winter), mentioning Van by name.

Now Van Jones has resigned, in order to avoid becoming a distraction from the pressing national issues of climate change and health care reform. Van is a very smart man. He knows what he’s doing here. He also knows that he was the victim of a “vicious smear campaign” (his words) by the extreme right. The extreme right in this case takes the form of a national “news” program on Fox TV. Glenn Beck, the prime mover behind the campaign, fires a daily barrage of lies and hate at the Obama administration. Beck sees Obama as someone with “a deep seated hatred for white people”—this from a “news” caster who recently told a 7-year old girl to go back to Africa and offered to buy her a ticket there.

It doesn’t take a lot of insight to figure out who it is that has “a deep seated hatred”, and for whom. But it is very important that we understand: this is not just an attack on Obama. This is an attack on us. The extreme right has taken out a lead voice for both civil rights and the environment in one blow. And the purpose of this attack is to make all of us fear to lift our voices for social justice and the environment. It is wrong, very wrong, for Obama not to have stood up from the beginning and said to Fox News, over and over, as often as it takes: “You are wrong. You are a bully, and we stand against bullies. Your program is not news at all, but systematic personal attacks. Van stands for civil rights and the environment. The American people and I support him in that.” Bullies and abusers should not be ignored, because it only encourages them to more bullying and abuse. They must be exposed for what they are.

President Obama has communicated to us through his inaction that he will not provide effective leadership on these issues. But we do not require his leadership to act. The Color of Change, a civil justice group co-founded by Van Jones, has organized a very effective boycott of Fox News. Even conservative retail giant Walmart has withdrawn their advertising support for Beck’s program.

Van Jones has not resigned in disgrace. He has returned to the same civil society where he started such effective groups as Green for All and Color of Change. Van is one of us again. Let us stand with him for justice and against abuse.

A Visionary is Beaten—Temporarily

Van Jones, one of my role models and strong promoter of environmental justice, has just resigned from his position of Green Jobs Advisor to President Barack Obama, due to incessant bullying by Glenn Beck and his ilk. I have heard time and again that these right-wing lunatics are only fringe, and they do not represent the majority of Republicans. If that is the case, I'm fucking terrified. That is one powerful fringe. To give you an idea on how beyond conservative these wackos are, here is an actual conservative blog post defending Jones.

That fringe has already penetrated Congress, since GOP Senator Kit Bond (R-Mo.) called a congressional hearing on Jones; he wanted to discuss the fact that Jones was liberal and how to prosecute him for it.

I have so far showed my support by signing a petition to call Beck out on his bullshit, posting several tweets about Van Jones, and becoming a fan on Facebook. Please go here for more information.

I also wrote him a note on his fan page on Facebook to show my support (below). I hope enough people can mobilise to do something productive about this blatant censorship.
Hi Van.

I have been a huge supporter for years, saw you talk a couple times, and supported the Ella Baker Center. You are one of my role models. I know if I had been bullied the way you were, I would have resigned a thousand times over. I was so excited to see you appointed as an advisor to Obama, and it hurts me deeply to see a visionary like you being attacked in this day and age. My disillusionment with the USA is one of the reasons I moved to New Zealand, I'm afraid.

But I hope to come back soon, because the US is my home and I am one of the more privileged (middle-class) people. We must use the power we have to stop injustices in this world. I will use my power to support you.

All the best,


A pricelessly arrogant picture

From chimp-like animism to human monotheism and atheism

I found this picture at

As you might imagine, I have found a couple problems with this picture:

  • It shows a visual manifestation of humans getting better and more upright, connecting changes in our physiology with “advances” in our belief systems.

  • Monotheism is depicted as a necessary step towards atheism

  • Tribal animism is depicted as the least “evolved”

  • All four creatures in the picture have penises (unless those are supposed to be our vestigial tails?) *I know that's the "M" but seriously, I'm sure this artist is capable of better.

What this tells me:

  • The person who drew the picture was a man

  • He connects his sex with the generic depiction of a human being

  • He also connects the creation of Western civilisation with “evolution”

  • He considers a category of religion that is responsible for millions of deaths, oppression, imperialism, and violence, to be more evolved than a category of spirituality that is grounded in respect for human and all other life

Let me be more specific. He quotes Dawkins, whom I respect a great deal, along with a man named Ibn Warraq, a secularist and active critic of Islam. Though I assume Dawkins would acknowledge that "evolution" does not by any means equal progress, Dawkins specifically refers to a progression from animism, to polytheism, to monotheism, and then onto atheism.

This is an obnoxiously presumptuous attitude that I have to say I'm a bit surprised by. Our global culture may have moved in that specific direction, but I would argue that our evolution towards monotheism was quite a regression. We started with a universal spirituality that respected all living beings, and saw symbolic spirits in observable natural phenomena (e.g. wind, water, trees...). We then "progressed" to a category of cults and superstitions completely devoid of any reason and separated from the physical world. Monotheistic deities even made a point to no longer be on this earth, but rather to be in some intangible place in the sky; in other words, we dissociated ourselves from our world and went off into la-la land. And at the same time, we—surprise!—separated ourselves from each other. We began dominating the earth, and each other. We oppressed other humans from other cultures that we regarded as weak or inferior and we treated women and children differently from men.

Now for Warraq. He has the unimpressive and simplistic idea that “monotheism is in its turn doomed to subtract one more God and become atheism.” It is just as difficult to subtract one god from a monotheistic religion as it is to subtract millions from a polytheistic one. Actually, I would argue it's more difficult. And it is a million times simpler to move from animism to atheism. I would consider myself an animist, a pantheist, and an atheist. Animism is the belief that everything living (or even everything in existence) has a "spirit." This does not have to be superstitious, unlike with polytheism and monotheism. It is rather like pantheism, the belief in god or gods as nature itself. We do not attribute supernatural abilities to nature; we simply revere it as it is; an amazing thing with awesome power. The relationship between both biotic and abiotic elements of an ecosystem is fluid, lifelike, changing, and worthy of reverence; yet none of it goes beyond the scope of the scientific method.

As for polytheism: gods in polytheistic religions and spiritualities are much more down-to-earth than the Judeo-Christian God could ever hope to be. In most polytheistic religions, gods represent certain aspects of nature itself, though usually with a supernatural slant. In Hinduism, Brahma is the god of creation, Shiva the god of destruction, and Vishnu the god of preservation; together they balance each other out. They each come to earth regularly and interact with the physical world. In Greek mythology, Gaia is the goddess of the earth itself. You do not need to look up into the sky and speak to a God whose whereabouts are never actually known; if you wish to speak to Gaia, she is right there beneath your feet.

Then came the monotheists. A group of people wandered the desert and became weary from their lack of resources. Everything seemed cruel to them; life seemed cruel. So they changed their gods to fit the cruelty they saw. They developed a philosophy of cruelty that involved more self-involvement and survival instinct and less interest in the good of all creation. They pushed their gods away from the earth and their minds left as well. They became disoriented and dissociated from reality, soon their gods formed a mass of one omniscient, omnipotent, abstract God beyond human comprehension. That is the culture that created our highly-evolved monotheistic culture today; a random group of unlucky people who succumbed to the cruelties of an arid climate. Now we must all pass on the abuse of this culture: their feelings of futility—that things are the way things are because God wants it that way; their fear—that God is judgmental and cruel and you must walk on eggshells around Him; and their self-hatred—that God loves and forgives you despite the fact that you were born into sin beyond your control. And don't forget their hatred of others—that God does not forgive those who do not believe the same things, or act the same way that his followers do.

Yes, I can see why that God—the one that has always been at odds with science, reason, and empiricism—that God was a necessary step towards atheism: a lack of superstition, lack of futility, lack of fear, and lack of hatred.

Just because a culture is powerful does not mean it is best. Just because a culture dominates and destroys all others does not mean it is part of progress in any sense.