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Via facebook my friend and yours JDRyan posted a link to the UK Guardian piece “Haiti and the Rules of Generosity: Why do people give generously to earthquake victims, but not to prevent the much larger number of deaths caused by poverty?“. As JD said in his facebook posting, a good question (not to mention a long-winded article title, something which I support).
The answer, something I’ve eluded to and spoken to quite often here, is liberalism. Specifically, in a society in which even those who do not benefit at all by the dominate economic systems and relations have internalized the logic of said system, an authentic and meaningful challenge to the status quo is exceedingly difficult. At its most glaring, liberals feel compelled more by a desire to maintain a system in which their basic needs are met (never mind whether or not they’re met in an efficient or healthy manner) than any genuine desire for social justice, equality, or fairness and thus syphon resources to aid the spectacle rather than towards any serious effort to combat the socio-economic conditions which contributed to said spectacle, let alone towards meaningful systemic changes which could elevate real suffering.
The piece rightfully notes the role the mass media plays, and above I intentionally used the word “spectacle” for just this reason. As the Guardian piece points out,
Media saturation obviously makes a critical difference. Scenes from Hurricane Katrina, the Asian tsunami, and now the Haitian earthquake were shown over and over again on all television news broadcasts…. The daily deaths of children in poor countries from diarrhoea, measles, and malaria are part of the background of the world we live in, and so are not news at all.
Which, of course is insane. To say (and frighteningly enough, to say rightfully) that the daily deaths of children due to easily curable diseases and conditions is “not news at all” is to point out that in modern society our experience is not one of authentic human relationships to each other, but rather of relationships through images and representations of life itself.
Which brings us to Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle. In that incredibly important work, Debord points out a modern society in which authentic social life is increasingly replaced by its mere representation. Through a confluence of the State, advanced capitalism, and the mass media of each our lives cease to be authentic human experiences, our relationships cease to be between each other, but instead all is replaced by images and the mere representation of actual experiences and relationships. From the surprisingly articulate wikipedia post on it:
In his analysis of the spectacular society, Debord notes that quality of life is impoverished, with such lack of authenticity, human perceptions are affected, and there’s also a degradation of knowledge, with the hindering of critical thought. Debord analyzes the use of knowledge to assuage reality: the spectacle obfuscates the past, imploding it with the future into an undifferentiated mass, a type of never ending present; in this way the spectacle prevents individuals from realizing that the society of spectacle is only a moment in history (time), one that can be overturned through revolution.
Indeed. Because in general we lack the knowledge to understand the causes (global capitalism, class divisions, colonialism) of poverty we lack an awareness of the means to alleviate such problems and human suffering; with no clear solution to systemic problems we gravitate towards the momentary tragedy instead- the spectacular images of which we are bombarded with by the mass media, furthering our own anxiety’s over the suffering of others in what we might call the last remnants of our instinctual drive for authentic, meaningful human relations.
As per the thinking of Peter Kropotkin over 100 years ago, as well as that of contemporary integral theorists today, UC-Berkley gives us this:
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are challenging long-held beliefs that human beings are wired to be selfish. In a wide range of studies, social scientists are amassing a growing body of evidence to show we are evolving to become more compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive.
In contrast to “every man for himself” interpretations of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist and author of “Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life,” and his fellow social scientists are building the case that humans are successful as a species precisely because of our nurturing, altruistic and compassionate traits.
They call it “survival of the kindest.”
“Because of our very vulnerable offspring, the fundamental task for human survival and gene replication is to take care of others,” said Keltner, co-director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. “Human beings have survived as a species because we have evolved the capacities to care for those in need and to cooperate. As Darwin long ago surmised, sympathy is our strongest instinct.”
In the most recent issue of Science, biologist Samuel Bowles of the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico offers research that suggests not only what many integral thinkers already understand in a broader sense, but indeed what set Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin apart from the crowd way back in the Nineteenth Century: that social conditions play a role in our individual evolution and may be responsible, over time, for developments in consciousness such as the advent of human altruism. From the UK Independent:
Samuel Bowles, of the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, said: “Warfare was sufficiently common and lethal among our ancestors to favour the evolution of what I call parochial altruism, a predisposition to be co-operative towards group members and hostile towards outsiders.
“Biologists and economists have doubted that a genetic predisposition to behave altruistically – to help others at a cost to oneself – could evolve, excepting the help extended to close genetic relatives.”
In his study, published in the journal Science, Dr Bowles takes on the proponents of the selfish-gene theory of human evolution by suggesting that natural selection worked on groups of people co-operating together, rather than just individuals.
Ruth Mace, an anthropologist at University College London, said Dr Bowles’ study went against the accepted idea of the selfish-gene theory which long ago rejected the proposal that natural selection worked at the level of the group rather than the individual.
“Recent literature on social evolution has reopened the debate, arguing that in some circumstances group selection might be important, especially in a cultural species like humans,” she said.
What was that? Hard-wired to cooperate? Mark that as a point for socialism and real (left) libertarianism and one difficult blow for capitalism.
People aren’t greedy by nature folks- we’re greedy because of want and social dis-order. The absurd notion of a social species which by nature is anti-social (individually greedy to the detriment of the larger group) is poppy-cock. And now science is making its way around to reiterating what Peter Kropotkin already observed and wrote about around 150 years ago.
A great piece is up at the TC IMC by someone named Kirk James Murphy, MD (he says in the piece he’s a psychiatrist). His point, I think, is well taken and worth the quick read. Most of it is reprinted bellow, the entire thing is here.
“Jason was tased seven times on the street, while completely unresisting. We just heard from him-he’s still pulling copper out of his hip from the taser gun, has a long, deep laceration in his leg that is still untreated, was beaten up badly and has a black eye, a hurt mouth and many lacerations, but says he’s doing great. Elliot Hughes, a sweet, nineteen year old who came to our day camp, was badly beaten when the cops knocked him off his bicycle. They stepped on his chest, and he was coughing blood all night but received no medical treatment.The guards were calling him ‘Princess’ and making homophobic remarks. We heard from Jason that last night, Elliot was making noises to protest not receiving any food for more than twelve hours. Twelve officers entered his cell. Screams were heard for over five minutes. He was tasered three times, maced, and beaten, then removed and the men were told he was being taken to a restraint chair.” [Starhawk]
To put it bluntly, uniformed “law” enforcement in St. Paul and Ramsey County:
- torture with electroshock weapons (Tasers)
- torture with chemical weapons
- stomp on a young man’s chest
- cruelly (perhaps fatally) deny medical care to a victim spitting up blood (the fancy medical name is hemoptysis) from thoracic trauma
- respond to calls for food with torture by beating, Taser, and chemical weapons: the same chemical weapons known to cause respiratory arrest and death in victims with pulmonary disease. “Spitting up blood” is a symptom of pulmonary disease so severe as to require emergency medical evaluation.
- then tie up the victim in “restraint chairs” known to exacerbate pre-existing breathing difficulties in some victims of thoracic trauma.
The Ramsey County Jail officials did this in plain earshot of other detainees: that’s a pretty strong sign they don’t see anything to hide. Which—when one’s been doing the same thing over and over for years—is a common assumption.
Does the torture inflicted on Elliot Hughes sound strange and alien to you? Not me. In the mid-90’s the Humboldt County Sheriffplanned and carried out torture of three groups of non-violent forest activists by painting their eyes with the chemical weapon known as “pepper spray”. The “law” enforcement officers who did this thought it was such a good idea they made training videos. Those training videos, when they hit national news, provoked immediate revulsion, and helped turn public opinion against the brutal “policing” then the norm in California’s “Deep North”. Ultimately, the forest protectors won their Federal civil suit against their torturers.
After I wrote articles about that use of chemical weapons for torture of restrained detainees (the forest defenders were locked to one another, to huge machines, or to one another around a large stump), I was deluged by requests from attorneys in the forested counties along the coast of northern California and central/southern Oregon. They all described clients who — while already restrained — were repeatedly sprayed with chemical weapons (“mace” or “pepper spray” or “tear gas”). Over and over, the attorneys reported the victims were tortured in this manner to punish speech: their clients had said something the “law” enforcement officers didn’t like.
Apparently a great many people who go to work in uniform with guns on their belts have such sensitive dispositions that when they hear speech they find disagreeable, they need to skip the charges, trial, jury, and judge: so they can torture the speaker with fists, electroshock weapons, and chemical weapons.
The first attorney to call me represented a client with permanent brain damage. He’d suffered lack of oxygen to the brain due to respiratory arrest. He suffered the respiratory arrest when the notoriously brutal Josephine County Sheriffs bravely strapped him into a “restraint” chair and repeatedly attacked him with chemical weapons.
Just as Ramsey County Jail “law” enforcement officials did to Elliot Hughes last night.
I couldn’t help the attorneys: they needed forensic pulmonologists and neurologists, not a psychiatrist.
Over at Strange Blue Planet, a site I recently came across thanks to the really good leftlibertarian.org (“Left libertarian views from around the web”), there’s a very intriguing piece which argues that all of human society as we know it in a collective pathological state of Stockholm Syndrome. As I’ve been trying to work on my own personal tendency to be entirely brash with my judgments- far too often entirely writing off or enthusiastically embracing one idea or another- I’m going to say that there are aspects of the article that I agree with and some that I’m not so sure about, but it’s certainly an interesting read and the piece’s author just may be onto something.
Read Stockholm Syndrome Society here.