Water being brought ashore from barges for the parched island of Tokelau in the South Pacific

According to this news report, new research published at the World Water Congress in Brazil has shown that there’s more than enough freshwater in the world to meet the needs of the massively expanding human population of 21st century Earth.

This has been treated as good news, as a sign that the challenge of surviving the current ecological crisis is going to be a bit easier. It’s easy to see why you would think that when confronted with the prospect of a war in Libya that is at least partly about control of water resources; reports that show that not only developing world megacities face water crises in the near future, but that shortages could affect cities as close to the heart of global wealth and power as New York and Los Angeles; and the news that South Pacific nations have declared a state of emergency due to the fouling of their supply by the saltwater of rising sea levels.

The research would seem to fly in the face of masses of scientific studies that all show that the majority of the world’s population is going to have difficulty in accessing fresh water in the coming decades. But in fact, this report seems to be just yet another example of how mainstream scientific opinion by experts in all kinds of fields, when assessing the problems faced by humanity, and followed through to their logical conclusions, are profoundly at odds with the dominant social and economic organisation of global society. Alain Vidal of the Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF), argues.

“Yes, there is scarcity in certain areas, but our findings show that the problem overall is a failure to make efficient and fair use of the water available in these river basins. This is ultimately a political challenge, not a resource concern.”

There’s no denial here of the real water crisis affecting the world; just a simple acknowledgment of its roots causes. Like most of the different strands of the intertwined global economic/ecological crisis, water scarcity is a result of the way we organise our society on this planet, through capitalism and militarised imperialism. With global co-operation and a commitment to fair and equitable sharing of resources, there’s enough water on Earth to sustain many more humans than are now alive; just like we could feed that many people too under different socio-economic conditions. Researcher Dr. Simon Cook argues:

“[There’s] complete fragmentation of how river basins are managed amongst different actors and even countries where the water needs of different sectors — agriculture, industry, environment and mining — are considered separately rather than as interrelated and interdependent…In many cases, we need a complete rethink of how government ministries take advantage of the range of benefits coming from river basins, rather than focusing on one sector such as hydropower, irrigation or industry.”

Add to that the fact that competing powers view water resources as strategic assets to be controlled and denied their enemies, and you begin to see the need for major changes to the structure of planetary civilisation in order to survive.

One of the key issues for any movement to save human civilisation from collapse is not allowing the global elite, the rich minority of the human race, to set the terms of understanding the crisis. Water shortages are an issue of inequality on a global scale, not overall supply – don’t let those eating most of the pie tell you there’s not enough to go around.

France, with a government whose neo-Napoleonic ambitions have spearheaded the conquest of Libya by the Euro-American powers, is one of the world’s countries most dependent on nuclear energy. Around 78% of French electricity is generated in nuclear plants.

More generally, in the last 10 years the market price of uranium (the required fuel of nuclear reactors) has increased dramatically, as more and more countries submit to the nuclear industry’s attempt to position itself as the saviour from climate change and fossil fuels (an idea which I am highly sceptical of, but that’s a post for another time.) There are pessimistic and optimistic scenarios about when the world will reach peak uranium, but, just the same as oil, uranium is a finite resource. That means there will come a point where we have reached the maximum possible global production of it, and after that production will decline to the point where we’re expending more energy to get it out of the ground than we’re gaining in nuclear energy.

Some of the more pessimistic scenarios argue that the peak was already reached in the early 1980s and that production has declined ever since. It’s certainly the case that there are far fewer new uranium mining projects waiting to be opened up, meaning that it’s harder for the market to respond to higher prices by increasing production. This inelastic price structure helped contribute to a price bubble for uranium in 2007, and although the price has gone down since then it hasn’t returned to the levels seen in the 90s, remaining at an elevated level.

Uranium mining is already unable to supply the 65,000 tonnes needed by the world’s nuclear reactors every year, meeting only about 70% of that demand. The shortfall is made up by re-using supplies from other sources, including decommissioned nuclear warheads. This is obviously a solution with a limited shelf life. Pessimistic estimates argue that there will be a serious problem for uranium supply by the 2040s.

Now, an interesting but little known fact is that Col. Gadaffi’s Libya has for decades been interested in the suspected large uranium deposits on the fringes of its territory, in sparsely inhabited desert regions whose control has been disputed between Libya and its neighbour Chad.

Gadaffi had a long-standing interest in nuclear technology. Obviously he wished to see Libya taken seriously as an important power, and the ultimate way to do that is to develop nuclear weapons. Numerous attempts were made by the Libyan government to pursue this, including a mission to China to try and buy them off the shelf, and even contact with the Austrian engineer who led the team that developed modern nuclear centrifuges. Libya as also had a long standing interest in nuclear power plants, and has had several different agreements with foreign powers to try and develop its capacity. Recently it was reported (although of course we should take any reports coming out of Libya in the mainstream media with a pinch of salt) that the pro-NATO rebels in Libya had discovered large stores of uranium yellow cake.

Chad, Libya and the Aozou Strip

Libya may not have much in the way of uranium resources on its own territory as is now internationally recognised. But from 1978 until 1987 it was actively involved in trying to conquer territory from Chad that is believed to have significant uranium reserves. The Chadian-Libya conflict involved Libya backing political factions in the north of Chad, who provided infantry that was matched by Libyan air support and armour. At its highpoint, this strategy allowed Gadaffi to cut Chad in half, and deny control of the north to the government in N’Djamena.

Libya was eventually driven out of Chad after a last intense phase of fighting known as the ‘Toyota war’ , so-called because of the use of pickup trucks with mounted machines guns and missiles by highly mobiles Chadian forces. (Many news sources noted the strategy of just buying pickup trucks en masse and using them as military vehicles by the Libyan government in their conflict with the rebels, and remarked on it as an innovative idea, ignorant of the fact that it had already been used to inflict a defeat on Gadaffi.)

Prior to this French special forces had provided vital support to expel Libya from the Tibesti mountains in Chad, also believed to have significant uranium reserves. The final victory, which evicted Libya from Chadian territory altogether, and crucially the desert border region between them known as the Aozou strip, would not have been possible without significant military support from France and the US. The Reagan provided Chad with much more effective weaponry, including the same Stinger anti-air missiles they gave to their future enemies in Afghanistan. The US had more far reaching ambitions in the conflict, seeing Chad as a weapon that could be used to unseat Gadaffi altogether.

Since the late 80s the conflict has been ostensibly resolved, with Libya defeated and Chadian control over the disputed territories internationally recognised. However, Libyan interest in Chadian politics has not waned, with Gadaffi repeatedly attempting to court Chadian leaders as part of his greater efforts to bring about African unity with himself in a leading position.

The Tibesti mountains seen from the international space station

As I noted in a previous post, France retains a huge interest in controlling its former colonies in Africa, including Chad. Chadian uranium is a major strategic concern for an imperialist power so dependent on nuclear energy. The fact that France, the guiding hand behind Chadian forces, was involved in a proxy conflict with Libya for decades is not well known. The whole episode was a war which I had never heard of before I began looking into the causes of the current conflict. Given the fact that Libya renounced many of its nuclear ambitions as part of its deal to regain the support of the west a few years ago, and that it was defeated in Chad, uranium is not a plausible single cause for the conflict between Libya and the Euro-American powers. However, if we look at the constellation of factors and strategic interests that came to make Libya the next target for their war machine, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the existence of a state that’s strong financially and militarily, and is not controlled by the western powers, on the border of Chad is something that wasn’t long-term tolerable for the imperial masters of Paris.

Posted by: Jack | August 19, 2011

Algorithms as nature

If you’re like me (a little bit allergic to maths), the idea of watching a video about algorithms might not grab you, but this is well worth watching. It’s a great and thought provoking talk about the role that complex computer based maths has taken in shaping our society, most prominently the financial markets, but also all kinds of aspects of our lives, from the physical shape of cities to which movies get made, based on mathematical attempts to predict mass taste.

The most important part of what Kevin Slavin talks about in this video is the role of such complex algorithms in facilitating the financialisation of the economy. In a world with completely subjected to globalised capitalism, there’s very few places left to squeeze profit from, and in recent decades that has meant that the finance sector has been used to develop increasingly arcane methods of moving capital around in lieu of more productive economic activity (you know, like making stuff.) This has in part been possible because there are now these incredibly complicated pieces of machine maths to try and calculate risks precisely, allowing banks to lend to people they wouldn’t have considered a safe bet before (when humans made the decisions.) Of course they are not all-knowing full proof systems, and the consequences of this are ultimately felt in the continuing financial crisis and recession.

There’s one part of the talk where I think Slavin distills an essential truth about the anti-human nature of capitalism. He talks about how, in order for these algorithms to maximise the profits they can generate, these algorithms need to be as few micro-seconds as possible away from communication with the rest of the world via the internet. So in New York, skyscrapers that happen to be near the exchange are being hollowed out of anything needed by humans, and replaced with infrastructure for servers running financial algorithms. . .

“. . .because you, inch for inch and pound for pound and dollar for dollar, none of you could squeeze revenue out of that space like the Boston Shuffler could.”

Of course it’s tempting to see in this humanity being totally eclipsed by some kind of financial SkyNet. There are definitely real concerns to be aired about the leaving of so much decision making to machines. However, it’s important to see the big picture. These algorithms behave unpredictably, and maybe you could even say they evolve, but they are not self-aware. They are ultimately the product of design by humans, in the service of a human designed system, capitalism. The algorithms are in fact advanced forms of programming, and the author of the programme is globalised, financialised capitalism.

The problem is that capitalism is a system that doesn’t value human life, or things that you or I might find to be important priorities in life. The only things that have value in our existing system, a system that is violently collapsing in front of our eyes under the weight of its own contradictions, are those that can be expressed in terms of their exchange value. In the last days of capitalist Earth, it’s fitting to see that human beings are now transforming the face of the planet itself to better to allow non-human mathematical systems work their occult money squeezing procedures just a little bit faster, and that this has been prioritised as a human activity against the innumerable more important things we could be doing with ourselves, and with our complex machines. To do that we need to re-programme the underlying system, and re-value human beings and the world they live in.

Bonus: This is the website for Epagogix, one of the companies referred to briefly in the talk. They use algorithms to try and analyse stories, and predict which films are going to be financially successful. Platinum Blue is a company that does the same thing with music. They attempt to analyse mathematically all the elements that can be measured in a narrative or a song, and then try and reduce works of art to what will be maximally profitable. Seemingly, their systems work fairly robustly – the computers correctly predicted that Norah Jones would make hit records, and she was pushed by her corporate record company accordingly. However, does this mean that we get better works of art? Or do we get ones that are computer designed to be most profitable, rather than something that is subjecticely beautiful to human appreciation? Maybe have a look at how many even tolerable big Hollywood movies in recent years for your answer.

If you’re reading this I’m assuming your world weary enough to know that our government hasn’t been part of the war on Libya for coming on six months out of the goodness of its heart.

The powers of the Atlantic world, both European and North American launched yet another assault against a state that was not sufficiently under their control back in March. The official reason for the war, accepted with little voice of opposition in the attacking countries, is that its necessary to protect Libyans from a crazy government bent on wiping them out. Of course, the fantasy that the governments of the Euro-American powers as humanitarian crusaders is hard to believe when you take a look at the real ways these wars are carried out.

So why, at a time when the financial and social collapse of European countries is painfully obvious, are their governments spending millions of dollars every day to try and kick Col. Gadaffi out of power? As is usually the case, there isn’t a single overriding cause for the war. For example, despite the truth of saying that Iraq was a war for oil, in many ways it was as much about what money would be used to trade Iraq’s oil.

The natural reaction of many may have been that maybe Libya is about oil as well. Libya produces only 2% of the world’s oil. That’s not unimportant, especially considering that oil supplies anywhere are only going to get more difficult to find and expensive in the next few decades, and the world’s powers are already jostling for who controls the supply to the others. But it’s not as decisive a factor as it would be in a country like Iraq, where there’s much more vast reserves to be exploited. Below are five factors you might not have considered about why we’re at war in Libya:

5) Satellites and telecommunications. Until relatively recently, the African continent was dependent on its former rulers in Europe for access to satellite communications. Western companies like Intelsat used their monopoly position in space technology to fleece Africa for basic communications, collecting $500 million a year by making the most expensive place on Earth to make a phone call.

From 1992 onwards, African governments decided to actively try and extract themselves from such a blatant scam by putting up their own communications satellite. But western banks and the IMF failed to provide loans to make it possible. The project needed $400 million as a one off payment to save African countries more than that every year, meaning they would easily be able to pay it back. But with international lenders protecting the profits of European satellite companies, the project was stuck.

The logo of Regional African Satellite Communication

That is until Gadaffi stepped in with the cash, putting $300 million up to launch Africa’s first ever communications satellite in 2007. Although it was built and delivered by a European company, it’s not under their control. What’s more is that it has opened the door to African use of space, with established space powers such as Russia and China sharing technology and providing launch facilities for African countries. Algeria is now aiming to have the first satellite built and launched from African soil by 2020.

African countries have historically been divided from each other by state borders, infrastructure systems and communications networks that had been designed with the needs of colonial powers to extract resources in mind, rather than the needs of Africans themselves. Access to cheaper telecommunications is helping for the first time to connect people all over the continent by phone, broadcasting and internet. Even in rural areas people have access to distance learning, and practical information on sustainable technology and agriculture. The growth of African communications can have a transformative aspect that’s unimaginable for someone living in a post-industrial advanced capitalist country.

The west probably would have funded the project in the end, but only through extortionate loans that would have stuck African countries for interest for decades afterwards, effectively wiping out the savings they were making and continuing dependence on former colonial powers. So by putting up the cost, Gadaffi was not only depriving European satellite companies of $500 million per year, but also in the long term meant western banks missed out on potentially billions in debt repayments that would have kept coming for a long time.

4) Immigration and racism. For years Libya and the European powers were engaged in a pretty sick and inhuman diplomatic game with human lives as the chess pieces. Huge numbers of people from throughout Africa head north every year to try and escape the effects of centuries of European exploitation by getting into Europe itself. Many of them travel across the sea from Libya. The Libyan government controlled the flow of people making it across, and made deals with Italy to accept migrants they expelled (as you can imagine, they don’t have the greatest conditions when they get to Libya). In return, they used this leverage to get economic concessions out of the European powers. Just last year, Gadaffi notoriously traveled to Italy to declare Europe should give him 5 billion Euros to prevent Africans from reaching Europe.

The reason why this is important is racism plain and simple, the anti-immigrant politics that is powerful throughout the EU that fears being “swamped” by Africans. Gadaffi exploited these fears expertly, claiming that if Libya didn’t intervene

“Tomorrow Europe might no longer be European, and even black, as there are millions who want to come in . . . We don’t know what will happen, what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans. We don’t know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions.”

Gadaffi with the equally awful Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi last year

Gadaffi with the equally awful Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi last year

His attitude has never been anything but cynical, seeing African people willing to risk their lives to escape poverty as a bargaining chip with the European powers. In seeking a more compliant and easily controlled Libyan government, one of the objectives is to get a regime in place that will regard rounding up poor Africans and keeping them out of Europe as the duty of a responsible western ally, and not something they are willing to trade for concessions.

3) Water. Part of the multi-faceted crisis facing global capitalist society is due to the collapse in supply of many vital natural resources. Pretty much the most fundamental of all is fresh water. Human beings everywhere cannot survive without freshwater, but we are increasingly depleting its availability throughout the world through pollution of the supply, growing urbanisation and irrigation intensive capitalist agriculture. Just like they want to get their hands on oil fields and pipelines, any world power that doesn’t want to be dominated by others in the 21st century is gearing up to grab water sources as well. This is the reason Israel has no intention of giving Syria back any of the territory it grabbed in the 60s in the Golan Heights; and why nothing short of a global nuclear war is ever going to convince China to give up Tibet.

The UN Environmental programme warns that within the next 50 years around 3 billion people are going to be chronically short of water. This is particularly a problem in the Middle East, which has 5% of the world’s population but just 1% of its water supply. If you ever doubted that global society has pushed itself to the brink of collapse through ecological stupidity, consider that we already live in a world where wars are taking place for control of water sources; and Libya is one of them.

Epic scale: pipes being laid in the Sahara

Col. Gadaffi is the type of leader who sees himself as one of history’s greats, a “look on my works ye mighty and despair” type guy. He wants there to be a legacy of his rule that will be remembered for centuries. And in the Great Man Made River project, he may just have found one.

Underneath the Libyan desert is the world’s largest aquifer of fossil water – that is, water that built up underground and has been sealed there since the last ice age. The Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System was discovered in the 50s during oil exploration. When Gadaffi came to power he started preparing for a mega-project to exploit this resource, which began construction in 1984. The Great Man Made River Project is the largest network of underground pipes and aqueducts in the world, with 1,300 wells that are mostly more than 500 metres deep. It delivers six and a half million cubic metres of water to thirsty Libyan cities every day, and there’s enough water there to keep doing so for the next 1000 years. But it wouldn’t have been accessible without the massive infrastructure investment of the Libyan government.

The ultimate aim of the project is to allow Libya to become agriculturally self-sufficient (currently 20% of its imports are food) by mass irrigation and reclaiming areas from the desert. Such a huge supply of water is important not just for Libya, but even more so for neighbouring countries, and many of their leaders attended its opening ceremonies. Libya has a population of just 4 million, whereas Egypt has 55 million crowded into a narrow strip around the Nile, which is becoming increasingly taxed by its overuse for water and agriculture. Gadaffi has previously talked of allowing Egyptians to migrate to Libya and being opening up areas of the desert to farming with water from the project.

The powers attacking Libya today are extremely worried about the outcome of the revolutions taking place througout the Arab world. There is no guarantee that countries such as Egypt and Tunisia will end up with governments that are easily controlled enough for the liking of Europe and the US. But if millions of Egyptians were dependent on a water infrastructure that the west could control following the conquest of Libya, then there’s a serious limit to the amount of opposition a future Egyptian government could mount to western control.

Of course, any mega-project of engineering is prone to unforeseen consequences, and the fossil water under Libya is a non-renewable resource that won’t last forever. Extracting the world’s largest aquifer of its kind could have serious geological consequences. But it’s impossible to ignore that the Great Man Made River is one of the greatest feats of engineering humans have ever completed, and cost more than the Three Gorges Dam or the large Hadron Collider (a cost that was met entirely by the Libyan state, see below). Control of it may be something the European powers think worth fighting for.

2) Banks. Finance and international aid has been the means by which the former colonial powers in Europe and the new one in the US have controlled African countries since they became independent. Western banks loan them money which must be paid back at insane interest, and which comes with conditions attached – that governments must give up control over their own economies, privatising and outsourcing the running of their economies, which in practice means handing them over to foreign companies.

Libya is an African country that has managed to maintain a higher level of independence from the west because it has kept its Central Bank under state control, and retains the power to issue its own money. This stands in stark contrast to, for example, the many former French colonies that use a currency that was created during colonial times and continue to be guaranteed by the French Treasury.

Irrigated land in the Libyan desert, visible from space

Coupled with the profits of the oil industry, this has allowed Libya to economically independent, guarantee a fairly high standard of living for its citizens, with people guaranteed basic subsistence, subsidised food, free education and free healthcare, leading to the highest lifespan in Africa. The Libyan state has substantial cash reserves, as opposed to the massively indebted governments that are attacking it. The level of economic independence that Libya enjoys from international finance is not something the global capitalist order was likely to tolerate for long.

The Libyan government’s wealth has not only benefited Libyans, and on top of the already mentioned support for the satellite project there’s the hugely economically important support for financial integration of African countries. They were providing significant funds towards the establishment of an African Monetary Fund and an African Central Bank, leading towards an African single currency.

These organisations are planned to replace the role of the international financial institutions controlled by the US and Europe, and have barred non-African countries from becoming members. By doing so, Africa would perhaps begin to finally get some measure of independence from the foreign powers that have dominated and exploited their economies for centuries. That would be intolerable for the western financial system and European powers.

Indeed, as an article in Asia Times notes, one of the first things the Libyan rebel forces did back in March was to create a central bank, not usually something that is top of the list of things you need to get done in a revolution. Robert Wenzel wrote in the Economic Policy Journal:

I have never before heard of a central bank being created in just a matter of weeks out of a popular uprising. This suggests we have a bit more than a rag tag bunch of rebels running around and that there are some pretty sophisticated influences.

And CNBC senior editor John Carney, asked,

“Is this the first time a revolutionary group has created a central bank while it is still in the midst of fighting the entrenched political power? It certainly seems to indicate how extraordinarily powerful central bankers have become in our era.” (Both quotes from Asia Times).

The rebels declared that their central bank was the only one with legitimacy over monetary affairs in Libya, and they are clearing preparing the way for surrendering Libya’s financial independence to the conquering Euro-American forces and their banks if they manage to take power.

1) Geopolitics. What these different strands add up to is that the west is unhappy with the degree of independence Libya under Gadaffi has been able to exercise from their control. Without his government being indebted to him they can’t use economic levers to control his politics. That financial independence has allowed Libya to become something of a power in Africa, driving forward processes of integration that could start removing the continent from colonial control. The model to emulate is the integration of Latin America pioneered by Venezuela, meaning that many countries there are escaping from foreign dominance. The structures of a united African continent that Libya backs are opposed to many smaller regional groupings such as ECOWAS in the west or the SADC in the south that are funded and controlled by the European Union. He’s also forged economic alliance with the emerging economic world powers of BRICS, particularly China.

One of the reasons that the US has left most of the actual war fighting in Libya to Britain and France (apart from the obvious ones that they’re skint and already busy in a bunch of other places) is that North Africa is somewhere that is accorded greater geo-strategic importance in Europe than the US. France in particular, has never ceased seeking to dominate its former colonies through undermining governments and economic dependency. Both Britain and France have a long history of interest in the region that Libya is in, a fact that that became vividly clear to me when I realised that British forces are now fighting over places where my Grandfather fought in the Second World War.

The European powers regard North Africa, and the African continent generally, as their legitimate sphere of influence, and their continued domination of the continent was threatened by the projects underwritten by the Libyan government may fatally undermine that. Their model for this war, as they explicitly say themselves, is Kosovo. A war for “humanitarian reasons” in fact is an all-out assault on a non-compliant government, aimed at replacing it with one that will give over control of the economy to western banks and allowing its territory to become a massive western military base. Such an easily controlled regime would be particularly useful given the uncertainty over what will happen in neighbouring countries such as Egypt and Tunisia.

None of this is meant to imply that I think the Libyan government is fantastic or that I’m cheering for the continued rule of Col. Gadaffi. His crazy pronouncements make him one of the most hilarious leaders of a state (easy to say when I don’t live there I know) in the world, with his bizarre sci fi visions of the future, his development of the world’s safest car, and his declaring himself “the king of kings of Africa.” The point about Gadaffi is that he’s the type of leader that the world’s global Euro-American powers don’t tolerate any more if they can possibly avoid it – a strong man great leader who retains a state apparatus with independence from the global market and able to allow Pharaohnic feats that demonstrates its power, such as the Great Man Made River.

Any war takes place for a complex web of reasons, and while this list might not be exhaustive, if we want to have any understanding of this latest military adventure by our bankrupt governments, it’s time to look at what Libya has actually done to attract the wrong kind of attention.

Posted by: Jack | February 14, 2011

Haters Gonna Hate

The views expressed below are not meant to represent anyone except me. You are of course free to agree with me.

There’s been yet another paucity of posts on here since the start of the month. This time I have a decent excuse though – I’ve been taking part in the unbelievably awesome occupation at Glasgow University that has given rise to the Free Hetherington Research Club.

Down the bottom I’ve put a little piece I wrote earlier in the occupation about my feelings about this unique liberated space we’ve collectively created here. It remains something I’m incredibly proud to be part of. This post however is not about that.

This post is how I am disgusted by the actions of a minority of students. A vocal but unrepresentative group who claim to speak on behalf of others, and in doing so harm the interests of their fellow students. I’m talking about these haters.

On Saturday, a group of students in Glasgow were the latest to express their disgust at the conduct of National Union of Students President Aaron Porter. Porter is an odious Labour careerist of the highest order. His only interest is in using his position as a springboard for a future sinecure as a Labour MP, following in the footsteps as other such NUS luminaries as the noted racists Phil Woolas and Jack Straw.

This is what a real kettle looks like Aaron

The fact of the matter is that nobody would have every heard of Aaron Porter if it weren’t for the fact that students took direct action against the headquarters of the Tories last November. His name was made by his own unforgivable betrayal of those students, when he called for them to be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” This of course was badly out of step with the reaction of working class people and ordinary students around the UK, who were delighted to see someone finally taking some radical action after the initial months of the ConDem assault on the welfare state.

In a Guardian piece the day after Millbank, Porter claimed that he would “make no apology for condeming the mindless violence of a few that tried to undermine the cause of a great many.” Except that, soon enough, he would. As November wore on he began to realise just how badly out of step he was with the mood among students. In another interview with the Guardian, he apologised for his own “spineless dithering”, and pledged to give material support to student occupations. A promise which, of course, he reneged on.

Following the initial demonstration that led to Millbank, the NUS under Porter’s leadership completely failed to organise any kind of coherent opposition to the raising of tuition fees for English students. While bodies like the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts were regularly putting tens of thousands of people on to the street, and here in Glasgow we were outrunning police in our hundreds to show our opposition, the NUS was organising a “candlelit vigil” against the government, and refusing to endorse the mass collective action of anti-cuts students.

More importantly, while these same students were being beaten in the streets by the cops, while children were being illegally held in the freezing cold for hours in kettles, the so-called leader of the student movement was not only silent, but was boasting of how proud he was to have “worked closely with the police.” Lest we forget, these are the same cops that hit Alfie Meadows over the head, requiring emergency brain surgery, and hauled Jody McIntyre, who has cerebral palsy, from his wheelchair and dragged him across the road. To remain silent in the face of such state sanctioned abuse goes beyond “spineless dithering” and becomes a knife in the back of students from our supposed leader. This man has forfeited any claim to speak on our behalf. And yet he continues to do so, shamelessly appearing in the media frequently as if he represented our views. He does not, he is an out of touch sell out.

Having shot to notoriety through such ridiculous behaviour, Porter now finds himself to be a not entirely popular figure among student activists. In Manchester he was chased through the streets by hundreds of angry students, and was escorted away by his good pals, the cops. This was the same incident were he and his people disgracefully tried to falsely accuse protesters of racism. When greeted with the chant “Aaron Porter, shame on you, you’re a fucking Tory too,” he tried to claim that in fact the last line had been “Tory Jew”. This claim was dutifully picked up and reported by the right wing press, principally the Telegraph.

"We've got your back just like you've got ours."

At the time he announced over Twitter that he would “not bow to racist abuse.” Another claim that he would later row back on, recently claiming that he had never said he’d heard anti-Semitic chants (a flat out lie.) The greatest problem with this incident wasn’t the appalling smear that he made against fellow students (although this was of course reprehensible), but the fact that it devalues the ability of real anti-racists to call out anti-Semitism when it really happens. It was a cynical exploitation of the very real problem of racism and anti-Semitism for personal political gain. Not unlike the Queen Margaret Union magazine’s ridiculous comparison of our occupation to Vichy France, it is frankly offensive to anyone who takes these issues seriously.

(Incidentally, Aaron Porter is not Jewish, but as part of his campaign of lies he was happy to let people think he is.)

Porter now finds himself in the position that, as a result of his disgusting scab sell-out behaviour, he faces oppostion and protest wherever he appears in public. Last Saturday he was at Glasgow University for a young Labour conference. Of course, he wasn’t here to express support for the Free Hetherington, one of the most astonishing and inspirational of all the current wave of student occupations. He made no public statements about the devastating cuts to a swathe of Glasgow’s most successful courses, which are going to impact Scottish culture and society as a whole. No, he was here to act, yet again, as a careerist politician. Fortunately, not without opposition.

A group of us waited outside the lecture theatre where he was to greet him. After lots of dithering by the flummoxed party hacks on the door, they took the decision to offer him up as a sacrificial lamb to avoid any of the other conference goers having to cope with the awful sight of real student activists expressing their opinion.

As he came out of the door, our minds went blank with the shock that we were confronting the sell out himself in the flesh. He made his intentions clear by moving away from us as rapidly as possible – he had no real intention of engaging with us, but intended instead to run away from any kind of debate. As he got outside we caught up with him, and started a piece of symbolic non violent direct action. We joined hands and surrounded him in a circle (not making any physical contact with him), and chanted “Aaron Porter, shame on you, now you’re in a kettle too,” whilst others let him know exactly how we felt about his behaviour over recent months.

The only person that carried out anything that could remotely be compared to an assault during this incident was Porter, who pushed us (as stated, we weren’t touching him), and tried to slap one person’s camera out of their hand, breaking the strap. He eventually ducked under our arms and did a comedy bolt, in a shite Benny Hill style escape up the steps by the QM and away. Any attempts to pursue were made impossible by all protesters being doubled over with laughter at his bizarre antics.

This small action has led to an outburst of faux outrage by the right at Glasgow University that is truly beyond satire. Apparently the two undergraduate unions intend to release a statement condemning those who took part, and allegedly some figures from their boards have in fact called for our immediate removal from the HRC and disciplinary action to be taken. They have also engaged in a personal campaign of abuse and hate mail via Facebook private messages.

Let’s be clear right now about one of the key issues here – the action was not decided on collectively by the whole occupation, but was an autonomous one by some of the folk who are here. The deliberate attempt to conflate the protest with the Free Hetherington occupation belies an agenda, an agenda by those who have been waiting for an excuse to attack the occupation.

I absolutely respect people’s right to disagree with the action that some students took. Indeed, we have offered people the right to come and voice their concerns in person at the occupation, rather than abusing us over the internet. Of course, they haven’t had the courage of their convictions to express themselves to our faces, but instead jumped straight into issuing ignorant statements and setting up Facebook groups.

But using it as a pretext to try and deprive others of their degree is disgusting. When QMunicate has published disgusting misogynist columns that do real harm to women, we haven’t called for the authors to be kicked out of uni. When GUU members smashed up the QM a couple of years back I didn’t go crying to the Principal.

The fact of the matter is that these people, having completely ignored the occupation in the first couple of weeks, have now seized this incident in an attempt to manufacture a moral panic false controversy in order to attack the occupation. As one commenter on Facebook succinctly and accurately put it, “The aspiring political class don’t like it when you attack one of their own.”

The people behind this right wing attack on the protesters are people who aspire to be our future political leaders. They, like Aaron Porter, must play the game. That means keeping the terms of political debate strictly within defined limits, and squashing any dissent outside of these self imposed boundaries. The extent to which they are threatened by the initiative being seized by the Free Hetherington is revealing.

Some of the haters have questioned the use of the chant “You’re a fucking Tory too” at a Labour Party member. But the confinement of political debate within the narrow neoliberal consensus in the UK doesn’t end with student politics. The Labour Party have completely failed to put up any serious opposition to the government, because if they were now in power they would be cutting just as hard. Ed Miliband won’t even march against cuts, let alone support strikes and direct action. Labour is in power at a local level throughout Scotland, where they refuse to defy Tory cuts and use their position to implement them. To be truly anti-cuts, you have to oppose all who implement them, whichever of the four main political parties implement them.

That’s not to mention the much more immediate question of Aaron Porter conducting secret negotiations with the Tories, with the publication of emails in which he encouraged them to cut bursaries and grants as an alternative to raising fees, a new low even for this sell out merchant.

Then there’s the criticism that we are hypocrites for condemning kettling and then using the tactic ourselves. This comment could only be made by people who have no idea what they’re talking about, either with regards to the action at the weekend, or simply from the point of view that they have never themselves been in a kettle. Those of us who have know the reality of being held for hours in the freezing cold with no food or water or toilet access, and what it’s like to be assaulted by police when we try to leave. Aaron Porter doesn’t know anything about this, because he’s failed to take part in the mass protests of the last few months that have been kettled. Our symbolic, theatrical action aimed to make him try and get a glimpse of what it’s like, but it was very far from the reality. We never touched Porter when he tried to push free, as opposed to what the police would have done – battered fuck out of him. He was held for less than 5 minutes while we made our point.

Others have asked what we hoped to achieve by this action, claiming some kind of open debate with Porter would have been more effective. Leaving aside the issue of how much we’d like to debate with someone who wants us “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”, Porter isn’t interested in any kind of real debate, ignoring the messages he’s been sent, and running away from anyone who opposes him.

What we hoped to achieve was to conduct a stunt that would help the world to know that Aaron Porter is completely unrepresentative of the views of ordinary students. Some who condemned us said:

“It is a particularly black day for democracy when people are attacked, harassed and hounded simply for being on our campus and attending political meetings. This behaviour is a direct assault on political freedom and is indefensible. I believe one of the proudest boasts of Glasgow Uni is that it has stood resolutely as a centre of tolerance and debate in a world where these things are all too frequently disdained.”

This is a completely false claim. Aaron Porter of course has the right to express his views. So do those who are truly against the marketisation of education. The difference is that he has the full force of the mass media to express his out of touch opinions, pontificating as if he represented anything. We don’t, which is why we’re forced to take to the streets to get our views expressed in non violent direct action. Aaron Porter wasn’t no platformed at the weekend – we didn’t disrupt the Labour conference. We spent 5 minutes of Porter’s time letting him know we feel. To characterise this as anti-democratic or an assault is a travesty.

The real question for these people is what are their priorities and when are they going to get a grip. Their actions speak volumes about their lack of political understanding. At a time when Glasgow University are destroying the future of arts and humanities education at our university, this is their priority. Where were they when students were being assaulted by cops up and down the UK? Where are their statments of condemnation of the police for undertaking political attacks on their fellow students?

At the mass meeting in the QM last week to discuss the cuts, the QM President, when asked a direct question about whether he would support staff taking strike action, fobbed off the audience with a non-answer that he “didn’t know”, and that he “wasn’t familiar with the issues.” This led to his justifiable heckling by lecturers from Slavonics and Anthropology who’s jobs are on the line, the most pointed shout being “These are student representatives?!”

I would suggest the time spent falsely accusing protesters of assault would have been better spent looking into the issues and wising up. In other words Mr. President, do your job. Having been silent and inactive on the real issues facing students, the Glasgow Uni bureaucrats choose now to make an intervention, over something that is trivial and irrelevant compared to the unconscionable cuts we are facing. They are the ones creating division within the student movement, and their actions will threaten their very own positions as the uni begins cutting the funding of student services.

The one positive thing from the unions’ joint statements is that it calls on people to protest uni management’s actions on Weds 16th. This is a semblance of having some kind of correct political instincts, unfortunately overshadowed by their ridiculous claims and grassing in of fellow students. It’s time they got a grip.

For more background on the Free Hetherington, read more after the jump.

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Col. Stinkeye: Gadaffi thinks the internet is ripping the piss out of him. And we are.

In amongst the inspiring news of what might be the first ever modern popular revolution in Tunisia, it would be easy to miss the words of the world’s most conspiracy-believing heads of state.

The botox injecting Col. Gadaffi, who has been the de facto leader of Libya for going on 42 years, is a man given to making amusing pronouncements. He’s of the opinion that there’s a coming era in which the world will recognise the Jamahiriyia (the term he invented for the Libyan state) as the ideal form for all other states. This will of course follow the imminent collapse of the US dollar due to its being successfully forged by anarchists, as well as the development of super bioweapons by terrorists. I have eagerly been awaiting these apocalyptic developments ever since I first heard him promise them 10 years ago, but they’ve mysteriously yet to materialise.

As well as inventing his own conspiracy theories, he’s got in other peoples’ as well, such as his claim to the UN that the H1N1 flu virus was created by a foreign military, and that JFK was assassinated by Israel. He also famously claimed to have invented the “world’s safest car.” More recently, he’s teamed up with another guy who you can’t quite believe is in charge of a country, Silvio Berlusconi, as part of a crusade to keep Africans out of Europe.

Now he’s spoken out on the revolution in Tunisia, in which he sees one of the most intricate conspiracies yet – US ambassadors deliberately making stuff up in diplomatic cables which they knew would be leaked, in order to create chaos!

The deposed Tunisian President, Zine al Abidine Bin Ali, was an ally of Gadaffi, as well as being a thug who ran a country for his own personal enrichment. But Gadaffi told TV audiences that he was “pained” by his fall.

He said that Bin Ali was the only man to lead Tunisia, and that Tunisians should have been patient and waited until 2014 when Bin Ali claimed he would stand down. However, he made clear that in his own view Bin Ali should be President “not just until 2014 but for life.”

“Tunisia now lives in fear. Families could be raided and slaughtered in their bedrooms and the citizens in the street killed as if it was the Bolshevik or the American revolution,” he claimed.

But the best part was where he put the blame for all this on WikiLeaks. He said that leaked cables, which revealed US diplomats’ private disgust at the corrupt Tunisian regime which they publicly supported, were “written by lying ambassadors in order to create chaos.”

One aspect of what he had to say was his constant references to WikiLeaks as “Kleenex.” This is the name he uses to refer to the site throughout his speech. I’ve looked quite a bit but I’ve yet to see anyone explain the reference, and I just don’t get the joke. Am I missing something obvious? Could it be a pun in Arabic? Some kind of joke about leaky noses? If you know please enlighten us in the comments.

Anyway, he’s what he had to say about the notorious imperialist internet tissues:

Even you, my Tunisian brothers. You may be reading this Kleenex and empty talk on the Internet.

This Internet, which any demented person, any drunk can get drunk and write in, do you believe it? The Internet is like a vacuum cleaner, it can suck anything. Any useless person; any liar; any drunkard; anyone under the influence; anyone high on drugs; can talk on the Internet, and you read what he writes and you believe it. This is talk which is for free. Shall we become the victims of “Facebook” and “Kleenex” and “YouTube”! Shall we become victims to tools they created so that they can laugh at our moods? . . . This world wide web Internet is laughing at us and damaging our countries; it is tearing up our clothes; and killing our children for it.

Of course, it’s actually pretty offensive and arrogant for us to assume that Tunisians, who had lived under the regime of Bin Ali and his 100,000 strong security services since 1987. They knew fine well what their government was like. It is possible to argue that social networking sites and youtube helped spread the news of the incident that did really spark the revolution – the suicide of a young man who was running a fruit and veg stall to survive after it was smashed up by the cops. The background, of course, is massive poverty and youth unemployment. Not what US diplomats have to say.

But that doesn’t make it any less funny to see the Colonel not getting the internet. In a sense he is of course right: I often use the internet while being a drunkard under the influence in order to laugh at others – and Gadaffi gives me plenty of material.

Posted by: Jack | January 24, 2011

Truths learned from ants

“We do for self like ants in a colony/organise the wealth into a socialist economy.” Dead Prez, ‘Police State.’

Above is an amazing documentary about ants that really made me think about being a socialist.

The lyric I’ve quoted above originally made me uncomfortable, because my vision of socialism is one in which is the opposite of the stereotypical idea of the individual crushed under the weight of a collective apparatus or overbearing state. To me, socialism means freedom, and that includes the freedom for individuals to develop autonomously in ways that have never been possible before.

It seemed to me that comparing a socialist human society to ants played into the idea that what we want is to convert people into robots, drones on behalf of a hive society. More than that, it’s wrong to project on to animals characteristics of humans and our societies that just aren’t there.

But I now think that looking at the incredible achievements of ants is an argument for socialism in a different way. Of course there’s no way we could, or should want to, use the way ants live as any kind of a model for ourselves. But what the achievements of ants do show profoundly is the power of co-operation and sociality. As Bert Hoelldobler, the ant expert in the documentary, puts it:

“The evolutionary transition from a solitary life to a social life occurred in only 3-5% of all animal species, including our own species, Homo Sapiens. But this minority plays an overwhelmingly dominant role in almost all land habitats.”

Individually ant bodies are incredible in their strength and endurance, as is often demonstrated in the film by the somewhat bizarre tests they endure, such as running on a treadmill or holding on to their surface in a centrifuge. But as they argue in the film:

“Their success lies not in their abilities or strengths as individuals, but in the organisation of their societies.”

Co-operation,the organisation of ants into a society, allows them to achieve incredible things. Their colonies are incredibly complex structures, carefully designed to regulate air flow and temperature. They practice their own form of agriculture, managing fungi and smaller creatures such as aphids. In the film, we see how their combined power allows them to compete with humans and cattle as the dominant form in the South American pampas.

The incredible structure of an ant city

One particularly fascinating part for me was the demonstration, in the lab based artificial nest, of how foraging scout ants communicate the information they’ve found on food sources. As they search, they leave a dotted chemical scent trail behind them for others to follow. Once they find something, they gorge themselves, to fill up their “social stomach”, a part of their bodies where they store food to take back to the colony and share with others to demonstrate what’s out there. On their way back they leave a continuous trail, meaning that the scent is stronger. When they give others a taste of what’s in their social stomach, they will follow the trail themselves, reinforcing it as they go.

The result is what they call in the documentary a “chemical democracy.” No overseer directs the work, there is no management. The ants, by their combined individual efforts, rapidly find the quickest routes to the best food sources. The food sites are chosen collectively by the community on the strength of the chemical trails – like a peer to peer network, it works through co-operation. Ants circulate food through a colony very efficiently – unlike our societies where there are some who eat too much while others go hungry. Their sharing of food allows ants to judge the needs of the colony through how they feel as individuals – if they are hungry it means the whole colony is hungry.

I remember being blown away a couple of years ago to learn (from reading Stephen Jay Gould) that not all social insects had evolved from a common ancestor. In fact sociality in insects has evolved multiple times, and is an example of convergent evolution. When something is an obvious, efficient solution to a problem an organism faces, it can evolve separately several times. Eyes are a great example of this – there are many creatures on Earth that have eyes that evolved them separately, because they are simply the best way to see.

The fact that time and again evolution has driven insects to live together in societies to me demonstrates just how revolutionary a development it is, and just what an advantage it gives to the animals who develop it. The fact that ants are able to construct cities that dominate their surrounding regions and practice agriculture is a testament to that.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we should idealise their society – they are capable of engaging in brutal warfare with each other (although, it should be noted, war is also a feat of organisation), and they take the young of their enemies captive to use as slaves (although it’s now been observed that as well slavery ant societies also have slave rebellions.)

One of the most important myrmecologists, E.O. Wilson, who was also one of the founding figures of sociobiology, famously once said: “Karl Marx was right, socialism works, it’s just that he had the wrong species.”

Why doesn’t it work in humans? Because we have repro­ductive independence, and we get maximum Darwinian fitness by looking after our own survival and having our own offspring. The great success of the social insects is that the success of the indivi­dual genes are invested in the success of the colony as a whole, and especially in the reproduction of the queen, and thus through her the reproduction of new colonies.

This was I think one of the main contributions of the idea of kin-selection. We now understand quite well why most species of social insects have sterile workers, and therefore can have communist-like systems. In which the colony is all, the individu­al is only a part of the colony, and the success of the whole community is what counts far above the success of the individual. The behavior of the individual social insect evolved with refe­rence to what it contributes to the community, whereas the genetic fitness of a human being depends on how well it can individually use the society. We have become insect-like only by extreme contrac­tual arrangements.”

But of course, this image of the evolution of human society ignores how we have achieved what we have as a species. All the continents of Earth were colonised by humans living in small, egalitarian bands that could only do what they did (including incredible feats like crossing the Pacific on rafts to make uninhabited islands human homes) through co-operation. Its just false to see humans as most successful when we selfishly use society and others for the advantage of ourselves and our offspring. It’s also contradicted by looking at the real operation of numerous human societies.

A squad of leafcutters working together

Human development has seen more and more of our collective labour power organised collectively. For much of history that’s been under hierarchical systems of control, directed by rulers, managers and bosses. But the more we do socially, the more we are capable of. When I watched the “chemical democracy” collectively decide on its food sources it reminded me of the vision of the emerging socialism of information outlined in the article in my last post. Decentralised co-operation is a model that has worked for life in so many different contexts, and human society is now on the verge of maximising the advantages to be gained from sociality and co-operation.

But to do that, for the collective intelligence and power of billions of humans to become its own superorganism, obviously requires effective, decentralised means of communication, which are in the process of being developed. But fundamentally we must eradicate inequality, and work collectively to ensure that all humans have what they need for survival. It means rejecting the model of society posited by Wilson above. For us to develop freely and fully as individuals means we change our society so that “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

Posted by: Jack | January 18, 2011

Wikileaks, Karl Marx and you

(I’m reposting this article from Liberty and Solidarity because I think it completely sums up my own views about the fact that capitalism is now completely out of date when it comes to dealing with information and culture. It’s essential reading for socialists imho The corporate culture industry and copyright holders desperately trying to hold back the floodgates are just like feudal lords watching their social base crumble in the face of industrialisation – their time has passed, it’s now about the struggle to finish them off.

Incidentally, I would like to point out that I am not one of the people that thinks simply because Julian Assange has done important work with wikileaks means that he should have immunity for being investigated when serious accusations are made against him. My views on that whole situation are pretty well represented by this post on SSY. Fortunately, this article is about the broader implications of movements like wikileaks, and doesn’t tie their success into the personal qualities of one man.)

Despite blanket media coverage of Wikileaks and Julian Assange, there has been little discussion of the fact that Assange is merely one leader within a large and complicated social movement. The better analyses have found it interesting that the Swedish Pirate Party are aiding Wikileaks; some note links to the German Chaos Computer Club. But only “geeks” and “hackers” (technology workers) are aware that all of these organisations are members of the same movement.

This social movement, which has been termed the “free culture movement”, has a thirty year history. It incorporates elements reminiscent of earlier workers’ movements: elements of class struggle, political agitation, and radical economics. The movement’s cadre, mainly technology workers, have been locked in conflict with the ruling class over the political and economic nature of information itself. As Wikileaks demonstrates, the outcome will have implications for all of us.The free culture movement exists as a consequence of the internet’s political economy. Personal computers have radically transformed the economic nature of information. Before the 1970s, a given piece of information was tied to a physical object – a piece of paper, an LP, a roll of film. Entire industries were built on selling paper, LP’s and rolls of film with particular bits of information on them. Then the personal computer arrived and suddenly information of all kinds could be duplicated infinitely at minimal cost – and distributed by the internet to a global audience. Every human could have a copy of every piece of art ever created for the cost of a broadband connection.

In the terms of capitalist economics, every good has a marginal cost, which is the cost of producing one more item. Computers reduce the marginal cost of information to zero, and the internet makes distribution, legal or otherwise, trivial. Information has become “non-excludable” (copying cannot be prevented) and “non-rivalrous” (if I give you information, I keep my copy of that information). In this situation, it is almost impossible to treat information as a commodity – as capitalist economics would have it, information is a public good, like roads or national defense.

As a result, there is a contradiction within capitalism. The most obvious source of profit, the very reason for a capitalist society to invest in information technology, is to extract value by selling information as a commodity. Meanwhile information technology has steadily undermined the practicality of treating information as property.

Read More…

Posted by: Jack | January 18, 2011

I wish I could talk in Technicolor

Above is some amusing archive footage of the days when it was still possible for scientists to basically give people a bunch of acid and see what happens. It’s from a TV documentary about mental health from 1956.

The scientist doing the experiment, Dr. Sidney Cohen, was trying to ascertain the possibility of using LSD as a mental health treatment, and also worked on it as a way of dealing with alcoholism. He was part of a group of people who believed in the potential of LSD to help people, which also included the philosopher Gerald Heard who’s interviewed at the end of the video.

Directly inspired by the book ‘The Doors of Perception‘, and his contact with the author Aldous Huxley, Heard had begun experimenting with LSD in the 50s. His 1960s writings perhaps can be said to show a sign of its influence (from Wikipedia):

“In 1963, what some consider to be Heard’s magnum opus, a book titled The Five Ages of Man, was published. According to Heard, the prevalent developmental stage among humans in today’s well-industrialized societies (especially in the West) should be regarded as the fourth: the “humanic stage” of the “total individual,” who is mentally dominated, feeling him- or herself to be autonomous, separate from other persons. Heard writes (p. 226) this stage is characterized by “the basic humanic concept of a mankind that is completely self-seeking because it is completely individualized into separate physiques that can have direct knowledge of only their own private pain and pleasure, inferring but faintly the feelings of others. Such a race of ingenious animals, each able to see and to seek his own advantage, must be kept in combination with each other by appealing to their separate interests.”

In modern industrial societies, a person, especially if educated, has the opportunity to begin entering the “first maturity” of the humanic “total individual” in his or her mid teens. However, according to Heard — based on his decades of studies, his intuition, and his many years of reflection — a fifth stage is in the process of emerging: a post-individual psychological phase of persons and therefore of culture. According to Heard, the second maturity can be one that lies beyond “personal success, economic mastery, and the psychophysical capacity to enjoy life” (p. 240)

Heard termed this phase ‘Leptoid Man’ (from the Greek word lepsis: “to leap”) because humans increasingly face the opportunity to ‘take a leap’ into a considerably expanded consciousness, in which the various aspects of the psyche will be integrated, without any aspects being repressed or seeming foreign. A society that recognizes this stage of development will honor and support individuals in a “second maturity” who wish to resolve their inner conflicts and dissolve their inner blockages and become the sages of the modern world. Further, instead of simply enjoying biological and psychological health, as Freud and other important psychiatric or psychological philosophers of the “total-individual” phase conceived, Leptoid man will not only have entered a meaningful “second maturity” recognized by his or her society, but can then become a human of developed spirituality, similar to the mystics of the past; and a person of wisdom.

But collectively and culturally we are still in the transitional phase, not really recognizing an identity beyond the super-individualistic fourth, “humanic” phase. Heard’s views were cautionary about developments in society that were not balanced, about inappropriate aims of our use of technological power. He wrote: “we are aware of our precarious imbalance: of our persistent and ever-increasing production of power and our inadequacy of purpose; of our critical analytic ability and our creative paucity; of our triumphantly efficient technical education and our ineffective, irrelevant education for values, for meaning, for the training of the will, the lifting of the heart, and the illumination of the mind.””

Official Gerald Heard website.

Posted by: Jack | January 17, 2011

The Kraken Wakes

So. Over 2 years is a long time to wait for a new post.

This site was my first attempt at blogging. I abandoned it when I re-entered higher education and stopped having a meaningless desk job with internet access and employer’s time to burn. Since then, I set up a more music oriented blog, which I also abandoned. I found it difficult to be consistent, and to find the motivation to maintain the things I’d started.

After being a two time blog failure, I was a bit reticent about having my own site again, and you’d have every right as a reader to be sceptical as well. But in the intervening time between these projects I became a regular poster on the Scottish Socialist Youth blog, a site which I’m immensely proud to be part of. It’s essential reading nearly every day. Being part of the collective that wrote it taught me a hell of a lot about blogging, and just being a more interesting writer. When I finally got too old to keep participating in SSY last November, I made my last post an outline of the reasons why I think SSY and its blog is a vital contribution to the future of Scotland.

So for the past couple of months I’ve found myself without a venue to foist my opinions and interesting things I’ve found on others, and I’ve given a lot of thought to my blogging future.

Besides my own personal blogging inconsistency, another reason I was hesitant to start a personal blog again was because I really appreciated being part of a writing collective. It takes the pressure off one individual (me) to make sure there’s a regularly updated site that people think is worth checking back on. It meant that there was a real diversity of voices, of which I was just a part. But more than that, there was a point to my writing beyond just sharing my opinions – it served a purpose of trying to attract people into action. Maybe through some of the stuff I wrote people would feel encouraged to become active in the struggle to save civilisation from extinction. If I’m going to keep writing like this, then that surely is one of my aims.

To keep up politicised blogging, a project I’m hoping to help with over the next few months is a newly revitalised website for the Scottish Socialist Voice, the Scottish Socialist Party’s print newspaper. There’s a hugely talented pool of writers around the SSP, and I think if the Voice (which is currently the only regular socialist paper produced in Scotland) took the big step into blogging it could have a major impact with a powerful collective of contributors.

However, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to realise I’d like an outlet to talk about things that wouldn’t fit in on something that was primarily focused on real world politics and practicalities. The reason I’ve taken the decision to relaunch this blog is so that I have somewhere to be a bit more idiosyncratic and eccentric with the things I post. As I say, I’ve learned a lot about being disciplined and organised in my blogging in the last couple of years. I’ve also learned that not everything requires a somewhat lengthy article explaining it. The world is full of interesting things that I can simply take from elsewhere and present to you as is. Which doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be pieces of analysis from me, but there’ll also be a lot more short stuff than there used to be.

And there’s going to be a lot more of the odd things I’m into to go along with the politics. Keep checking back over the coming weeks and you’ll see what I mean.

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