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Archive for the ‘Civilisation Building’ Category

An Islamic State fighter in Raqqa, Syria, 2014. Photograph: Reuters

Just over a week ago, an interesting piece appeared in the Guardian exploring the issue of fanaticism and terrorism from a somewhat different angle, factoring in what the writer, Olivier Roy, calls nihilism. Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.

Biographies of ‘homegrown’ European terrorists show they are violent nihilists who adopt Islam, rather than religious fundamentalists who turn to violence.

There is something new about the jihadi terrorist violence of the past two decades. Both terrorism and jihad have existed for many years, and forms of “globalised” terror – in which highly symbolic locations or innocent civilians are targeted, with no regard for national borders – go back at least as far as the anarchist movement of the late 19th century. What is unprecedented is the way that terrorists now deliberately pursue their own deaths.

Over the past 20 years – from Khaled Kelkal, a leader of a plot to bomb Paris trains in 1995, to the Bataclan killers of 2015 – nearly every terrorist in France blew themselves up or got themselves killed by the police. Mohamed Merah, who killed a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, uttered a variant of a famous statement attributed to Osama bin Laden and routinely used by other jihadis: “We love death as you love life.” Now, the terrorist’s death is no longer just a possibility or an unfortunate consequence of his actions; it is a central part of his plan. The same fascination with death is found among the jihadis who join Islamic State. Suicide attacks are perceived as the ultimate goal of their engagement.

This systematic choice of death is a recent development. The perpetrators of terrorist attacks in France in the 1970s and 1980s, whether or not they had any connection with the Middle East, carefully planned their escapes. Muslim tradition, while it recognises the merits of the martyr who dies in combat, does not prize those who strike out in pursuit of their own deaths, because doing so interferes with God’s will. So, why, for the past 20 years, have terrorists regularly chosen to die? What does it say about contemporary Islamic radicalism? And what does it say about our societies today?

The latter question is all the more relevant as this attitude toward death is inextricably linked to the fact that contemporary jihadism, at least in the west – as well as in the Maghreb and in Turkey – is a youth movement that is not only constructed independently of parental religion and culture, but is also rooted in wider youth culture. This aspect of modern-day jihadism is fundamental.

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A good friend alerted me to this illuminating article on conflict resolution. It sheds such a useful light on the problems of conviction that I’ve just been exploring it was a no-brainer to post it now. Below is a short extract: for the fill article see link.

We can all play a role in helping defuse even the most bitter conflicts. Veteran negotiator William Ury shares his hard-won insights.

My passion in life is helping people and societies to move from no to yes. As a negotiator, mediator and cofounder of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard University, I’ve spent more than four decades traveling the world and getting involved in some of the most difficult conflicts of our time, from the Cold War to the Middle East.

One of my favorite negotiation stories is about a man who leaves his herd of 17 camels to his three sons as their inheritance. To the first son, he leaves half the camels; to the middle son, he leaves a third of the camels; and to the youngest son, he leaves a ninth of the camels. The three sons get into an intense negotiation over who should get how many, because 17 doesn’t divide by two, or by three, or by nine. Tempers become strained, so in desperation they consult a wise, old woman. She listens to their problem and says, “Well, I don’t know if I can help you, but if you want, at least you can have my camel.” Now they have 18 camels, so the first son takes half of them, or nine camels; the middle son takes his third, or six camels; and the youngest son takes his ninth, or two camels. Nine plus six plus two adds up to a total of 17 camels. There is one camel left over, so the brothers give it back to the woman.

Many of our negotiations and conflicts today are like those 17 camels — they seem impossible to resolve, with no apparent solution in sight. What we need to do is step back from the situation, look at it through a fresh lens, and come up with an 18th camel. Finding that 18th camel in the world’s conflicts has been my life’s work.

If you think about the human predicament today, we are a bit like those three brothers, because we are one human family. Thanks to technology, all the tribes on the planet can, for the first time, get in touch with each other. And the big question facing us is: How do we deal with our deepest differences, given the human propensity for conflict and the human ability to devise weapons of enormous destruction?

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An oil field in North Dakota, US. Photograph: Les Stone/Les Stone/Corbis

Just following up on last Monday’s post with this link from 2015 concerning an issue we ignore at our peril.

I have embarked on sequences of new posts which examine a number of ideas from books I have recently read. These ideas relate to where our society is heading and what we as individuals might be able to do about that. I will be posting links to related topics as and when I find them as this sequence of posts unfolds. Below is an extract from an article on the Guardian website which came out earlier this month: for the full post see link. It relates to my last week’s posts which dealt with  our entropy problem in the light of Jeremy Rifkin’s Empathic Civilisation.

The coming debate is about two things: what governments can do to attempt to regulate, or otherwise stave off, the now predictably terrifying consequences of global warming beyond 2C by the end of the century. And how we can prevent the states and corporations which own the planet’s remaining reserves of coal, gas and oil from ever being allowed to dig most of it up. We need to keep them in the ground.

There are three really simple numbers which explain this (and if you have even more appetite for the subject, read the excellent July 2012 Rolling Stone piece by the author and campaigner Bill McKibben, which – building on the work of the Carbon Tracker Initiative – first spelled them out).

2C: There is overwhelming agreement – from governments, corporations, NGOs, banks, scientists, you name it – that a rise in temperatures of more than 2C by the end of the century would lead to disastrous consequences for any kind of recognised global order.

565 gigatons: “Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by mid-century and still have some reasonable hope of staying below 2C,” is how McKibben crisply puts it. Few dispute that this idea of a global “carbon budget” is broadly right.

2,795 gigatons: This is the amount of carbon dioxide that if they were burned would be released from the proven reserves of fossil fuel – ie the fuel we are planning to extract and use.

You do not need much of a grasp of maths to work out the implications. There are trillions of dollars worth of fossil fuels currently underground which, for our safety, simply cannot be extracted and burned. All else is up for debate: that much is not.

And how we can prevent the states and corporations which own the planet’s remaining reserves of coal, gas and oil from ever being allowed to dig most of it up. We need to keep them in the ground.

. . . . We will name the worst polluters and find out who still funds them. We will urge enlightened trusts, investment specialists, universities, pension funds and businesses to take their money away from the companies posing the biggest risk to us. And, because people are rightly bound to ask, we will report on how the Guardian Media Group itself is getting to grips with the issues.

. . . . We begin on Friday and on Monday with two extracts from the introduction to Naomi Klein’s recent book, This Changes Everything. This has been chosen because it combines sweep, science, politics, economics, urgency and humanity.

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For source of image see link

For source of image see link

Tomorrow’s post will be looking at a recent critique of economics. This 2015 extract from an article by David Langness on Bahá’í economics therefore seems timely: for the full post see link.

The Baha’i Faith, unlike most other Faiths, offers the world a specific set of economic principles. Designed to promote justice, fairness and unity, those spiritual Baha’i principles do not advocate any of the currently existing economic models of capitalism, socialism or communism. Instead, the Baha’i economic ideals combine the best and most workable features of those systems with a balanced, spiritual approach that endeavors to deeply diminish the impact of the human struggle for existence.

In the modern world our lives have come to depend on struggle and competition, rather than unity and cooperation. Driven by the fear of hunger and poverty, many people suffer when their souls perceive the world’s predominant law as a Darwinian struggle for existence, rather than a harmonious and loving human unity.

The Baha’i teachings say that humanity can better organize its economic systems to minimize our struggle and attain our unity. Rather than a harsh and absolute dependence on the theory of the survival of the fittest, we can look to the spiritual aspects of our nature and find ways to reduce and eliminate the suffering that comes from dire need:

The fourth principle or teaching of Baha’u’llah is the readjustment and equalization of the economic standards of mankind. This deals with the question of human livelihood. It is evident that under present systems and conditions of government the poor are subject to the greatest need and distress while others more fortunate live in luxury and plenty far beyond their actual necessities. This inequality of portion and privilege is one of the deep and vital problems of human society. That there is need of an equalization and apportionment by which all may possess the comforts and privileges of life is evident. The remedy must be legislative readjustment of conditions. The rich too must be merciful to the poor, contributing from willing hearts to their needs without being forced or compelled to do so. The composure of the world will be assured by the establishment of this principle in the religious life of mankind.

Abdu’l-BahaThe Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 107.

This primary Baha’i economic teaching, repeated in many places and contexts by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha, asks humanity to work together to eliminate the extremes of poverty and wealth. Such a voluntary redistribution of resources does not envision just a simple legislative remedy or coercive, mandatory economic adjustments, however. Instead, it envisions a spiritual reformation of the relationship between the rich and the poor, a new sense of unity and fellowship and interaction, a realization that we are all one human family.

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 An eclectic take on the history of socialist thought … Paul Mason. Photograph: Emma Lynch

An eclectic take on the history of socialist thought … Paul Mason. Photograph: Emma Lynch

Another 2015 post seems relevant to re-publish given that Monday’s post will look at a recent book’s critique of economics as an accurate model.

A review in Saturday’s Guardian by of Paul Mason’s latest book Post-Capitalism: A Guide to Our Future suggests it is well-worth a read.

Mason’s book, though it has its limitations as I am beginning to discover as I move into its fourth fascinating chapter, is a stimulating analysis of what he sees as the key problems and their possible solutions. I suspect, from what I have read so far, that he underestimates the value of organisation and totally discounts spirituality, let alone religion. Runciman has a list of reservations of his own.

None the less I am finding it an exciting read that raises exactly the sort of questions we all should be seeking to discover some kind of answer to. Some of the detailed economics is a bit above my head, but I am enjoying the basic flow of his argument. Below is a short extract: for the full review see link.

The digital revolution has made many things real that once seemed to belong to realms of science fiction. Self-driving cars are almost here, telepathic communication may not be far off, newspapers with pictures that move and talk are so commonplace as to pass without notice (in the Harry Potter books, the last of which was published just eight years ago, moving newsprint belonged to the world of witches and wizards). Now Paul Mason argues that the internet is bringing another quaint and fantastical idea within the scope of the achievable: socialism.

By socialism, he doesn’t mean the tame social democracy that emerged in the second half of the 20th century, with its emphasis on moderating inequality and championing workers’ rights. He doesn’t even mean the spikier version currently associated with Corbyn and Syriza. He means the real deal, going right back to the utopians of the early 19th century and their eventual successors, Marx,  Luxemburg  and Lenin. This is socialism as a root-and-branch challenge to capitalism, the market and the very idea of private ownership. Still, Mason is no orthodox Marxist. His is an eclectic take on the history of socialist thought. From the utopians, he gets the idea of unfettered choice and radical social experimentation, which the internet can deliver in spades. His Marx is not the author of Capital so much as the author of an obscure text called “The Fragment on Machines”, which argued that information overload would ultimately destroy capitalism by dispersing knowledge among the workers. Lenin and Luxemburg appear as the prophets of monopoly capitalism, now being reproduced in the era of Facebook and Google.

. . . . .

Like many opponents of capitalism, Mason appears unable to decide whether the system will have to get even worse so it can finally change or will have to change so as not to get even worse. At one point, he suggests that the Republican party in the US, with its ideological commitment to doubling down on neoliberal capitalism, could take the system past the point of no return if given a free hand. But a Republican administration would also undermine any progress on climate change, without which, Mason insists, none of us has a long-term future. The digital revolution has put extraordinary new powers in the hands of the workers but it has empowered bankers as well, not least by giving them the ability to create money almost out of thin air. New technology generates as many fresh illusions as it punctures old ones. We still need politics to sort out the resulting mess. . . . .

. . . . he has bitten off more than he can chew. But that is a big part of the appeal of this deeply engaging book. Mason doesn’t have the answers – he is not even close –, but he is asking the most interesting questions, unafraid of where they might lead. What’s more, he writes with freshness and insight on almost every page. PostCapitalism is full of memorable turns of phrase. To survive, 21st century capitalists “would have to treat people kissing each other for free the way they treated poachers in the 19th century”. Marginalist economics is a theory of society that is “bigger than accountancy but smaller than history”. Touché. I can’t remember the last book I read that managed to carve its way through the forest of political and economic ideas with such brio. A lot of the time Mason doesn’t seem to know where he is going, but that is part of the pleasure.

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Wakeup Time v4

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Dead fish clog the Rodrigo de Freitas lake in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Scientists claim that the fish were starved of oxygen because of pollution. A holistic approach would look closely at the environmental impacts - such as a fish die-off - of economic activities Photograph: Fabio Teixeira/Pacific/Barcroft

Dead fish clog the Rodrigo de Freitas lake in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Scientists claim that the fish were starved of oxygen because of pollution. A holistic approach would look closely at the environmental impacts – such as a fish die-off – of economic activities
Photograph: Fabio Teixeira/Pacific/Barcroft

Monday will see a post on this blog which discusses a critique of economics, which makes re-publishing this post from 2015 seem a logical step to take.

There is an interesting article by Jo Confino on the Guardian website detailing a recent report from the Capital Institute. How could I resist something that includes the following?

Ultimately, the report argues, a holistic perspective emphasizes that we are all connected to one another and to the planet, and therefore need to recognize that damaging any part of that web could end up harming every other part.

Below is a short extract: for the full article see link.

A holistic approach to the economy is necessary to avoid social, environmental and economic collapse, according to a new report by the Capital Institute.

To avoid social, environmental and economic collapse, the world needs to move beyond the standard choices of capitalism or socialism. That’s the conclusion of a new report released Wednesday by US think tank Capital Institute.

The non-partisan think tank argues that both systems are unsustainable, even if flawlessly executed, and that economists need to look to the “hard science of holism” to debunk outdated views held by both the left and the right.

Jan Smuts, who coined the term “holism” in his 1926 book, Holism and Evolution, defined it as the “tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts”. For example, in the case of a plant, the whole organism is more than a collection of leaves, stems and roots. Focusing too closely on each of these parts, the theory argues, could get in the way of understanding the organism as a whole.

Viewed through this perspective, the capitalist tendency to isolate an economic process from its antecedents and effects is fundamentally flawed. The Capital Institute, created by former JP Morgan managing director John Fullerton, says that society’s economic worldview has relied on breaking complex systems down into simpler parts in order to understand and manage them.

For example, this traditional economic view might view automobile manufacturing separately from the mineral mining, petroleum production and workers on which it relies. Moreover, this view might also not acknowledge the impact that automobile manufacturing has on the environment, politics and economics of an area. Holism, on the other hand, would view the entire chain of cause and effect that leads to – and away from – automobile manufacturing.

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