Friday, April 28, 2017

I Gotta Pull Weeds This Weekend

I have greatly appreciated the readership and kind and appreciative comments I have received over the last few months.  Those of you who blog regularly know that quality blogging can be very hard work.  In my writing, I strive for a semi-academic style, and I like to put a lot of research into my posts.

Unfortunately, the grass in the backyard has grown almost to the point that my cats can hide in some of the tallest patches, and there's a bunch of other stuff "in realspace" (namely, around the house and elsewhere) which I need to take care of this weekend and next.  So I probably won't have a new post this weekend.  I may have a Spanish translation of one of my most recent posts online by the following weekend, God willing.  After that, I hope to resume regular blogging.  See you in a bit.  Keep fighting the good fight!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Tactics of Polarization

This last week, I listened to a video lecture presentation from the 2016 Fletcher Summer Institute of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.  The title of the lecture was "Nonviolent Discipline and Violent Flanks," and was presented by Dr. Erica Chenoweth and by Philippe Duhamel.  I learned a few rather disturbing things, the first of which is that, although the record of successes in nonviolent mass civil resistance campaigns had been growing steadily from 1900 to 2006, the percentage of nonviolent campaigns that succeed has been dropping steeply from 2010 onward.  (However, there is good news: the number of nonviolent campaigns that succeed is still quite high, and nonviolent mass campaigns, which were over two times as likely to succeed as violent campaigns during the 20th century, are now more than three times as likely to succeed.)

Fortunately, Dr. Chenoweth (who presented these statistics) also presented a number of possible explanations for this decline in effectiveness, such as the fact that oppressive adversaries have learned how to adapt and react to nonviolent campaigns, or that nonviolent movements are not learning the right lessons from each other.  But she also stated a hunch she has that the reason for the decline in nonviolent campaign effectiveness is that "...a growing proportion of nonviolent mass campaigns seem to be willing to tolerate or even endorse violent flanks that are existing alongside them..."  She defined a "violent flank" as "...a group of people attached to the movement and who engage on a routine basis in some form of violence," where violence is defined both as destruction of other people's property and as harming or threatening to do bodily harm to an opponent.  To bolster her hunch, she showed a graph which displayed the percentage of nonviolent campaigns per year that had no violent flank compared with those campaigns in which a violent flank coexisted with the nonviolent movement.

Sure enough, the graph line showing the number of movements which had both a nonviolent campaign and a violent flank began to increase around 2010.

Dr. Chenoweth then presented evidence of the detrimental effect of the presence of violent flanks on the nonviolent campaigns with which they coexist, presenting her own research and the data set which she built in the process of writing her book on nonviolent resistance.  However, she also presented evidence from studies I had not heard of before, studies which backed up her assertion that violent flanks in a mass civil movement drastically hurt the chances of success for the movement.  (Her slide, "Negative Violent Flank Effects," is quite relevant - especially the references she cites.)  Interestingly, in the NAVCO data set which was constructed by Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, most of the violent flanks in movements which occurred between 1900 and 2006 did not arise in the movements to which they attached themselves - rather, like unwelcome house guests or body lice, these violent flanks sprang up independently and then claimed to be part of these movements.

As Dr. Chenoweth described how violent flanks decrease mass societal participation in a civil resistance campaign she said something very striking: "Violence is by definition a tactic of polarization."  That statement is so important that I will repeat it again:
Violence is by definition a tactic of polarization.
In her words, "Polarization means dividing a society into very discrete camps that support or oppose a certain idea..."  Therefore, tactics of polarization effectively discourage diverse groups within a society from coming together to work for the common good, or from uniting against a common predatory threat.  Thus the emergence or presence of a violent flank in a nonviolent resistance movement does not help the movement - but it does help the oppressor against whom the movement has organized.

This perspective helps to interpret the events described by Philippe Duhamel in the second part of the video.  Duhamel is an activist who was instrumental in several anti-"free trade" protests in Canada and the U.S. from 1999 onward, and he described how, in the majority of the protests, the organizers held extensive training sessions for participants before each protest action.  Yet they began to find that as time passed, their protests were being increasingly infiltrated by members of the "Black Bloc," groups of young adults, usually men (and usually white), who attended protests in order to commit vandalism, assault other protesters, and attack police.  (See this, this, this and this also.)  The increasing presence of these Black Bloc vandals at mass protests has begun to reduce the effectiveness of sustained mass protest in presenting the genuine grievances of marginalized and threatened populations.

An interesting question, then, is, where the violent flanks have come from in the nonviolent campaigns that have been waged especially in North America and Europe from 2010 onward.  For the oppressors who are the targets of civil resistance have now known for a long time that the presence of these violent flanks actually helps the oppressive regimes against which these violent flanks fight.  In fact, there are concrete historical examples which demonstrate that if a mass nonviolent movement remains nonviolent, the oppressive regime it opposes will try to manufacture violent incidents in order to polarize the nation's population and bolster support for the regime, as happened in the Philippines when President Ferdinand Marcos ordered his forces to set off a number of bomb explosions around Manila.  The bombs were set to give Marcos a credible reason to declare that the country was under threat and that he was therefore justified in imposing martial law.  (See Why Civil Resistance Works, Chenoweth and Stephan, pages 148-150.)  It might be prudent to ask who is funding, supporting and growing the Black Bloc.  Who guides its recruitment efforts?  What similarities exist between the Black Bloc and the global far right?

(A larger question, one which hopefully will be studied by the academics at the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, is the study of false flag operations by oppressive regimes who are under threat from popular uprisings.  How, particularly, does an observer detect whether a violent incident is a false flag attack?  I think especially of the shooting of a police officer in France last week, supposedly by a "member of ISIS".  How, er, convenient - just a few days before the French presidential election, in which an anti-immigrant candidate is one of the front-runners.)

In closing, I am reminded of Vaclav Havel's essay, The Power of the Powerless, in which he says that "...a future secured by violence might actually be worse than what exists now; in other words, the future would be fatally stigmatized by the very means used to secure it."  He also implied that oppressive regimes appeal to their oppressed populations by making them believe that the only alternative to the regime is chaos, as made clear by his statement that "Every aberration from the prescribed course of life is treated as error, license, and anarchy."  One way a nonviolent resistance movement can disarm such an appeal is by being orderly and maintaining strict nonviolent discipline.  Another way is by building orderly "parallel institutions" by which people can get their needs met in an orderly way that is superior to what the existing system currently offers.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Ontogenic Battle

Ontogeny: "The development of an individual organism," Wiktionary.  "The origination and development of an organism," Wikipedia.  "The development of an individual," Online Etymology Dictionary.  "...The process through which each of us embodies the history of our own making," (Gingrich, Fox, et al, 2002)

Ontogeny.  An interesting subject, no?  I am especially struck by the last definition quoted, ontogeny as "the process through which each of us embodies the history of our own making."  Taken together, these definitions indicate that this history is a function of our development as individuals.  In other words, our development is meant to beget a certain kind of story.  Are there clues to the kind of story we are to embody, the intended goal of our development?

Before I give you my answer to this question, let me warn you in advance that this will be another blatantly spiritual post.  And now, let's look at a particular Scripture:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men,
instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires
and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,
looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,
who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed,
and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
(Titus 2:11-14, NASB)

Breaking this down, we can make a few immediate observations.  First, the intention of our Creator is that we should be rescued from living useless lives, lives characterized by uncontrolled and degrading passions and addictions.  Second, our lives are to be disciplined and purposeful, with our wits and faculties fully engaged in serving that purpose.  Third, our lives are to be beautiful by virtue of being characterized by good works.  The word "good" in Greek is the word καλός ("kalos").  According to Strong's Concordance, this word καλός means, "beautiful [emphasis added], as an outward sign of the inward good, noble, honorable character; good, worthy, honorable, noble, and seen to be so."  So our lives are to be full of beautiful deeds, works whose beauty is a direct reflection of the goodness of these works.  And the letter to Titus is full of appeals to those who call themselves Christians to engage in these beautifully good works, whose purpose is, among other things, to meet the pressing (or urgent) needs of their fellow human beings  (Titus 3:14).  

The Scripture indicates that this purposeful life can only be fully experienced through the transformation that results from genuine faith in Christ.  And yet every human being has at times experienced a desire for this sort of life, a longing to fulfill this sort of ontogeny.  Proof of this can be obtained by asking any five or six year old kid what he or she wants to be when he or she grows up.  Unless a kid has been severely and/or persistently traumatized, you will never hear the kid answer that he or she wants to be trash or wants to be nothing.  Kids naturally tend to want to be something beautiful, something noble, something good when they grow up.

However, the human twisted-ness which is the result of original sin has resulted in people who are often confused as to how they may fulfill their ontogeny.  Such people frequently make the mistake of believing that they cannot rise unless they push other people down, that they cannot shine unless they make others dim, that they cannot fulfill their drive to be beautiful unless they trash and dehumanize their fellow human beings, that they cannot fulfill their ontogeny unless they deprive others of the right and ability to fulfill their ontogeny.  

This twisted-ness is seen in the role played by the nineteenth-century British government in protecting and expanding the flow of opium through China, to the enrichment of Britain and the detriment of Chinese society.  (It is interesting to note that the Chinese attempted to eradicate the opium trade when they saw the devastating effects of opium addiction on Chinese society, and these attempts provoked a military response from the British empire.  It is also interesting to note that before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2002, the rulers of that country had eliminated the Afghan opium trade - yet that trade re-appeared after the invasion.)  Another example is the passing of laws in various states of the 18th and 19th century U.S. which made teaching African slaves to read or write a criminal offense.  In fact, many people may not know this, but slave states and slave owners tried to prevent their slaves from learning the Bible, from being evangelized, or becoming Christians, fearing that such enlightenment might help the slaves assert their humanity in the face of their white "owners."  These and other examples illustrate the perversity of people who try to fulfill their own ontogeny by breaking other people, who seek to achieve their highest purpose by turning their fellow humans into prey.

For the oppressed, then, the seeking of the fulfillment of their own ontogeny becomes a central aspect of their nonviolent resistance against their oppressors.  And because the oppressors are in the business of trying to prevent this fulfillment, the oppressed cannot expect any help from the oppressive society in which they live.  After all, the oppressors' self-interests are best served by keeping the oppressed in a condition of constant brokenness.  If, then, the oppressed are to fulfill their ontogeny, they must develop the sort of parallel institutions which, outside of the control of the oppressors, equip the oppressed in their full development as human beings.  Since a fulfilled ontogeny results in people who are characterized by beautifully good deeds, a key component of parallel-institution building must be centered on the building of parallel arrangements for the education of the oppressed.  This education must equip the oppressed with the skills and tools needed for beautiful deeds.  (Titus 3:14 - "And let our people also learn to engage in good deeds...")

Examples of parallel institutions for education include the illegal slave schools of the American antebellum South.  They also include the Polish "flying universities," which appeared during at least three periods of Polish history, corresponding to the 19th-century partition of Poland by Prussia, Austro-Hungary, and Imperial Russia; the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany in World War Two; and the struggle against Soviet domination in the mid-to late 20th century.  In the first two cases, the occupiers of Poland sought to dehumanize the Polish population by denying Poles (especially women) access to higher education.  In both cases, these underground flying universities were instrumental in building and preserving a cadre of Polish intellectuals who could rebuild Polish society when the time was right.  (Many may not know this, but Marie Curie, the discoverer of radium, was a graduate of a Polish flying university.)  Present-day examples include the burgeoning homeschooling phenomenon among African-American parents.  

And I have a personal example, namely, the tutoring collective to which I belong, which visits a low-income apartment complex three times a month to teach math and basic science to the kids who live there.  I can see how badly our services are needed when I ask nine and ten year old kids what 8 times 7 is and I see many of them start drawing eight circles so that they can put seven dots in each circle and count the dots, and I can only think that the public schools to which these kids go are guilty of a fearful waste of these kids' time.

The education of which I speak is therefore not mere vocational training, but giving students a complete suite of tools to navigate this earthly life, and to provide in an honorable way to meet their own needs and the needs of others by means of beautifully good works in any situation they are likely to encounter.  It is the oppressed themselves who must take charge of providing themselves with this education.

When oppressed peoples make a coordinated effort to fulfill their ontogeny in the way I have described, they can expect a backlash from their oppressors, as was the case with the followers of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (also known as Bacha Khan).  During the early 20th century, Bacha Khan organized a large number of Pashtuns in the Northwest Province of Afghanistan.  He built a number of schools for his fellow Pashtuns in order to educate them in the improvement of their society.  The British held imperial control over that region, and they deeply resented his work.  Thus, they arrested him and his elderly father in 1919, which was the first of a series of arrests and imprisonments.  In spite of British police action, he was able to organize a large Pashtun "nonviolent army" devoted to the improvement of Afghan society.  For his troubles, the British army and police committed a massacre of hundreds of Pashtuns during a nonviolent Pashtun protest in 1930.  The British fired their guns at the unarmed resisters for over three hours.  (Information taken from Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization and Governance In the Middle East, Chapter 8, by Maria Stephan, et al.)

That incident, while gruesome and tragic, illustrates a powerful point.  That is, that by this kind of pursuit of ontogeny - by the pursuit of the kind of self-education needed for living a life of beautifully good works - an oppressed people can mount a powerful nonviolent rebuke to their oppressors.  For the beautiful, skillful, purposeful, useful lives which result from this education have a powerful effect on the oppressors, namely the unwanted lessening of social distance between oppressor and oppressed, as the oppressor is forced against his will by the beautiful deeds he sees to recognize the humanity of those he wishes to oppress.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Emotive Effects of Saturday Night Wrestling, Part 2

If Donald Trump had hoped for some long-lasting boost to his approval ratings from last week's missile strike against a mostly abandoned Syrian airbase, he has another think coming.  The official narrative about the missile strikes and the supposed new animosity between Trump and Putin is unraveling faster than a cheaply made sweater in the paws of a bunch of kittens stoned on crystal meth.

Here's what we now know:
  • The Trump administration's warning of the impending attack gave Russian and Syrian troops plenty of time to move personnel and equipment out of the way before the attack.  The Russians and Syrians took advantage of this warning to get out of harm's way.  (But there was no protest from Russia after they had received the warning - only expressions of what appear to be feigned outrage and surprise after the attack had concluded.)
  • The attack did very little damage.  (See my previous post.)
  • The drama of last week's events occurred against the backdrop of mounting pressure on the Trump administration because of its ties to the Russian government.
  • The Trump administration has admitted that the Trump administration never intended to hurt or displace the Assad regime, and that the U.S. remains committed to working with Russia and the Syrian government to "defeat ISIS."  (See this and this.)
What we saw last week seems to be a typical tactic when the personality-disordered center of some train wreck tries to deflect the proper placing of blame by causing drama.  Trump's version of drama seems to involve causing big explosions.

But I'm tired of analyzing his actions just now.  My next post will be on the subject of ontogeny.  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Emotive Effects of Saturday Night Wrestling

Looking back, I realize that when I was an adolescent, there were many times when my mom possessed the patience of a saint.  One such time seemed to occur every Saturday night, when me and my next youngest brother would park ourselves in front of the TV in the living room to watch Saturday Night Wrestling.  What inevitably happened was that for 45 minutes or so, we would fill the house with the noise of our screaming and shouting at the TV as we watched the good guys we had been told to root for as they were being beaten half to death by some Scary Big Bad Guys.  My mom never got into the screaming and shouting, nor did she ever watch Saturday Night Wrestling, as far as I know.  But she did sometimes poke fun at the emotive action-adventure shows we liked to watch.  (I particularly remember her stand-up parody of someone being shot by a phaser - but I digress.)

You see, by the time me and my brother discovered Saturday Night Wrestling, my mom had become in many ways a hard-edged realist.  It wasn't until much later that I myself began to reflect on some of the "pro wrestlers" I had seen and began to realize that even though they seemed to get the living daylights kicked out of them every Saturday night, they kept coming back week by week.  None of them died from wrestling, although several of them died from cardiovascular disease, and one of them suffered a fate worse than death - he became a state politician.

I was thinking about Saturday Night Wrestling and its connection to fights which are highly dramatized, even though the combatants don't do any real damage to each other.  For instance, take Trump's order to fire cruise missiles at a Syrian air base last week.  The Tomahawk cruise missile is supposed to have the capability for a high degree of accuracy, and the United States has a number of intelligence assets which could have been used to augment their accuracy - yet last week's missile strike did almost no damage.  (See this also.)  Second, take the fact that Trump informed the Russians of the impending strike before the first missile was launched.  (That means that Russian expressions of "surprise" at the missile strike are in fact disingenuous.)  Third, take the fact that before last weekend, Trump was in definite political danger in the U.S., and Putin was becoming increasingly unpopular in his own country.  Lastly, take the questions which have been raised by a number of commentators on whether or not Syria actually still has any remaining stocks of chemical weapons.

If you consider all these points, you may conclude, as I have begun to conclude, that last weekend's little show was an international version of Saturday Night Wrestling.  (Although I really do believe someone did use chemical weapons to kill innocent Syrians.  It always stinks when innocent bystanders are dragged against their will into someone else's TV show.)  If last weekend's action really was the beginning of a rift between Trump and Putin, I would expect to see long-term, deep, irreversible effects to manifest themselves - in such things as the cash flows between Trump and his Russian business contacts, or long-term adjustments or revisions to American economic policy toward Russia.  Absent that, I might be forced to conclude that last weekend's drama was about as real as the injury done to a pro wrestler who is body-slammed onto the mat, yet gets back up again for more action.

Maybe Trump and Putin should dress up in wrestling tights when they hold news conferences.  It would not hurt their credibility in my eyes, since Trump never had any credibility to begin with, and as far as Putin, one of his lackey mouthpieces once wrote that "a reputation is something you lose only once."  Putin has lost his.  Take this whole fight against terror, for instance.  Russia waged an information war accusing the U.S. of manufacturing ISIS in order to provide a pretext for military intervention in the Mideast.  Yet Russia has now been intervening in the same way in the same region for over a year, and by now should have destroyed ISIS itself - yet we keep hearing of ISIS attacks, in Egypt, and now in Germany.  What if ISIS is a convenient sock puppet for the Russians also, to aid their implementation of a Duginist agenda in Europe - an agenda which involves making Europe an unsafe place for any non-European person or Muslim to live?

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Playing Catch With Fire

Last week's strikes by U.S. missiles against a Syrian air base have provoked a lot of commentary from various pundits inside the United States.  Some are saying that the U.S. action represents "the Trump doctrine not to follow doctrine."  Others are saying that the strikes are sending "a clear message" to Russia (and to the world).

I am quite a bit more cynical.  It is well known that Russia played a very large role in getting Donald Trump installed as the President of the United States.  It is also very well known that FBI investigations of the Russian role have uncovered a lot of dirt on Trump and his dealings with the Russians.  This dirt has been gleefully reported by a large number of American journalists who are frankly disgusted by Mr. Trump.  It is also well known that Russia has been caught in a very bad light lately, due to Vladimir Putin's repression of peaceful anti-corruption protests which took place over the last few weeks.  The ties between Putin and Trump are a liability which could have provided an easy opening to removing Trump from office.

Mr. Trump has closed that opening a bit by his actions against Syria.  Indeed, I believe this is the chief and sole reason for his order to attack Syria with cruise missiles.  It seems a devilishly clever bit of political calculus, and it seems to have worked for the present - but it is quite risky.  I am reminded of a quote from The Hunt For Red October: "The hard part about playing chicken is knowing when to flinch."

Make no mistake. In the present contest between the U.S., the Assad regime, and Russia, there are no good guys. None at all. The best way to look at what's going on right may be to compare these events to the Bible story set forth in Judges 9. I am thinking especially of the curse which Jotham pronounced against Abimelech and the men of Shechem. Maybe our present international crisis will end with a бабушка dropping a piece of an upper millstone on the head of a head of state. Кто знаете?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

A Resistance Way Of Life

I'd like to make a post out of a few very good comments to my discussion of frugality as a means of nonviolent resistance.  Thanks to Aimee and CZBZ for your input.

Aimee's recommended ways to be subversive in modern America:

1) Maximize your food independence. For some of us, that means growing a lot of food or raising animals. For others, it means learning how to cook from scratch. If you are buying raw materials from your local farmers at the farmer's market, you maximize support of your individual neighbors and minimize your support of the giant agribusiness companies. You also save money and eat better.

2) Buy secondhand. Everything you possibly can. In this way you avoid encouraging the extraction of raw materials and extend the useful life of products. The embedded energy cost in, say, a new car or a new set of dining room furniture - even a new winter coat! - can be stretched over a greater time period and made to serve a greater number of people. For me, buying secondhand clothing is an ethical decision to avoid supporting the sweatshop industry. A subclause to this recommendation is: repair things that can be repaired. Get your fridge fixed a few times before you get a new one. Learn to mend clothes. When was the last time you saw a kid wearing jeans with knee-patches on them, unless they were sold that way to begin with? Take good care of your car. Do all the scheduled maintenance. Learn to do it yourself! Or ask your neighbor.

3) Maximize your energy independence. There are so many ways to do this - we brew biodiesel for our cars. But you might do it with solar panels or windmills, depending on where you live. Or do it by not owning a car and biking instead. Or by living in a smaller house and super-insulating. The sky's the limit.

4) Know your neighbors. Make friends. Develop mutually beneficial networks. Support each other. Lend your tools. Pool your resources. Why should every small-farming family along the same stretch of road own its own haying equipment, for example? That's absurd. Or its own tractor, even? Why shouldn't three or four families get together to buy one tractor instead of four? Does every household really need a chainsaw? No, not if you are on good terms with Bob down the way. And not if you are willing to lend his wife your sewing machine.

5) Most important of all: take charge of your education! Be informed! Get your information from diverse sources. Use your brain. Teach your kids. Go to museums and libraries while they still exist! Buy books (secondhand, of course!). Do not default on your obligation to educate your children, or yourself. It's too important. You can't leave it to the public school system alone. Talk about important issues with your spouse, your neighbor, your kids, your in-laws, your city councilman, your state senator!

6) For the love of God, VOTE!

CZBZ's Contributions:

1) Join families under one roof. This challenges communal skills and nourishes spiritual growth. Save landfills by purchasing one washing machine for four adults. My sister and her son moved in with me and now my adult daughter lives with me. That would be four washing machines (dishwashers, refrigerators, etc.) if we lived apart.

2) Find a church and fill your inner void with something meaningful rather than zombie shopping, what my daughter calls "retail therapy". Each of us has shopped-til-we-dropped and that's why we know how 'empty' it is---like an addiction.

3) Buy second-hand furniture or better yet, learn to build it yourself. Self-esteem grows as carpentry skills increase and there's nothing as wonderful as knowing your nephew almost cut his finger off making a bookcase for your second-hand books.

4) I love cooking from scratch (make my own yogurt and have saved thousands of plastic containers from the landfill). However, I don't judge people who lack the time to cook from is very time-consuming but gives me a sense of purpose now that I'm old. (grin) And nothing brings community together quite like having a good cook in the family.

5) Save all the bones and table scraps for day-long boiled broth but don't tell your guests that you were gnawing on the chicken a few days ago. 

6) Learn to be thankful.

And here's an additional contribution of my own: a link to an article in Sojourners Magazine on the virtue of buying used (when you have to buy at all).  Also, if anyone wants to add to these lists, feel free to leave me a comment.

Have a good week!

Friday, March 31, 2017

When Counting to 100 is Not Enough

The Kremlin is finding itself in a bit of a sticky situation this week.  You know how some people advise that if something makes you mad, or you smash your thumb while doing work, you should count to 100 before you say anything?  Waiting before talking is supposed to increase the chances that whatever does eventually come out of your mouth won't reflect badly on you.  But such advice doesn't always work.

After the "illegal" anti-corruption protests in Russia this weekend conducted by predominantly youthful demonstrators, Putin waited...and waited...and then said some things that added a great deal to the evidence that he is, in fact, a dictator and not a democrat.  According to one source, he accused "political forces" of using the issue of Russian government corruption for their own benefit.  He also compared the weekend protests to the Arab Spring protests that began in 2010, and hinted that if such protests were allowed to continue in Moscow, the result would be "chaos."

After these remarks, there were attempts both in Russian media and in sympathetic Western media (such as this) to deflect some heat away from Putin by suggesting that the real target of protesters' anger was Dmitry Medvedev.  One polling agency suggested that most Russians are not actually angry with Putin - believing instead that Putin is trying to fight corruption, but that he may not be successful.  And Putin also professed his dedication to fighting corruption, saying that "Personally, I am in favor of having questions about the fight against corruption always at the center of public attention."

So - if it's so that Mr. Putin is in favor of placing the fight against corruption at the center of public attention - why the crackdown on last weekend's protests?  Why have Russian prosecutors moved to block Internet calls for more protests?  Why were many protesters beaten while being arrested?  Why were even bystanders arrested?  Why did Putin show solidarity with Medvedev afterward?  Why is participation in "unsanctioned gatherings" punishable by up to five years in prison under Russian law?  (For that matter, if a man won a U.S. presidential election fair and square, and was himself the living embodiment of American democratic ideals, why would he be afraid of a vote recount?  But I digress.)

Honest people have a very powerful way of showing their honesty: namely, by allowing free and open examination of their deeds, including constructive criticism by others as necessary.  If Mr. Putin is really a champion of honesty and the elimination of corruption, how could he possibly be hurt by a free and open discussion of corruption in Russia - a discussion that included free, unconstrained, nonviolent protest?  Instead, what Russia is doing is seeking to "cure" the wave of protest by state-sponsored education about the Russian government's anticorruption efforts.  At least one Russian teacher is taking this "education" to a whole new level.  You can watch a video of this teacher here.

Problems that are constantly swept under a rug eventually become a tripping hazard.  One of the ways that tripping hazard may grow in Russia could be that the civil resistance that manifested itself last weekend begins to move beyond the methods of protest and persuasion to the methods of non-cooperation (especially economic non-cooperation), and to the methods of nonviolent intervention - including beginning to construct parallel institutions.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Resistance Heats Up In Russia

I had been thinking a lot about Russia last week, as shown in my last post. But today I just found out that there were massive anti-Kremlin protests in Russia over the weekend. (See this also.) The vast majority of protesters were youths from middle school age to early adulthood. Как сказать, “Things are getting rather interesting in Russia!” по-русский?

The recent history of Russia is punctuated by several periods of civil resistance, such as the three-year wave of protests that erupted in response to Putin "winning" the 2011 Russian elections under circumstances that smell about the same as the circumstances under which President Chump won the recent U.S. elections. The trouble now is this: it is not very easy for Putin and company to claim that last weekend's protests were the work of some "Deep State" bogeyman, as they have seemingly captured the one nation that could have been blamed for harboring such a "Deep State" - namely, the U.S.A. Yet they have been making the claim that the demonstrators against the Kremlin were paid by outside agents, as some Kremlin mouthpieces also made claims over the last month or so that this "Deep State" is trying to sabotage Chump. But a person who has bad body odor and no manners shouldn't blame a conspiracy for the fact that people don't want to be around him. Will Russian leaders be willing to engage in frank and open dialogue about the grievances of their citizenry? Or will they resort to scapegoating as they have so often?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

No Strangers to Самовлюбленность

We humans all have a common tendency, namely, the desire to arrange our surroundings to our liking and personal tastes.  The trouble comes when two or more of us disagree over the extents of "our surroundings."  For instance, I don't have a TV in my house because I don't want a TV in my house, and I don't think people should be watching TV in my house.  However, by and large, most members of many modern societies would acknowledge that I don't have the right to dictate whether people in houses other than mine should be allowed to own or watch a TV.  Most members of such societies would say that only a sick or pathological person would strive to gain the kind of control over his neighbors that would allow him to tell them whether they could have a TV, or what kind of grass they could grow in their yards, or whether or not their kids should be allowed to ride a skateboard, or whether they could have peanut butter with their jelly.  Most such people would say that there would be only a very few justifiable reasons for any human being to be allowed to exercise that sort of control over people who were independent of him.  I can think of only two such reasons:
  • That the circumstances are so extraordinary that the person who wants to exercise such control is justified in wanting that control.  For instance, you may or may not be a smoker, and if you are a smoker, you may be a proud smoker.  However, if you are next to an operating gasoline pump at a gas station owned by me, I have a perfect right to tell you not to smoke.
  • That the person who wants to exercise such control is such an extraordinary person that he has an intrinsic right to arrange every aspect of the lives of us ordinary people.   He might claim to be (or who knows, he may actually be) a prophet or saint.
I am a Christian; therefore, I believe in a Deity Who has a perfect right to dictate the proper arrangement of each of our lives.  However, under the New Testament, that Deity has "limited" Himself in that He is at present asking for our voluntary obedience, rather than forcing that obedience.  One consequence of my belief is that there are many aspects of our lives for which I do not believe that any mortal man or woman has a right to force us to conform to their wishes.  The times are not extraordinary enough, nor are there any people now alive who are extraordinary enough to warrant allowing one mortal human being to force his or her wishes on every aspect of his or her neighbors' lives.  In other words, there is a barrier where my surroundings end and my neighbor's surroundings begin.

I think there are many people who would agree with me.  However, we still see that there are people in the world who think that their surroundings include all of their neighbors and all of their neighbors' business.  Some of these ambitious people eventually do rise to the level of gaining control over their neighbors and their business.  They do this often by claiming both that the times are  extraordinary enough to demand an extraordinary leader, and that they themselves are the extraordinary people who should have extraordinary powers over their neighbors' business.  Once they gain that control, they usually manage to mess up their neighbor's business like nobody's business.

Some of these people become leaders of empires.  For while there are strong economic, political or military motivations which drive people to found empires, one of the frequently overlooked motivations for empire-building is the psychic need some people have to arrange their "surroundings" to their personal liking - combined with a serious confusion of mind over the limits of those "surroundings".  The imposition of their will over as many of their neighbors as possible fulfills a psychic need in these imperialists, who usually also bolster the enjoyment of their power by a cultural imperialism - that is, the trashing and disparaging of the individual cultures, languages, customs, and personal histories of those hapless victims who become part of the empires of these imperialists.  So the subjects of these empires are taught to despise their own souls, and are taught instead to long to emulate the imperialists.

This has been the history of the Anglo-American empire, from the time when it was run strictly by the British to the time of its present leadership under the United States.  To be sure, there were economic motivations for that empire - from the vast unconquered lands of the Americas in centuries past to the mineral wealth (and free labor!) of the African continent to the petroleum deposits of the Mideast.  And the masters of the Anglo-American empire were so convinced of their own specialness that they were quite happy to go to other lands in order to murder and enslave the peoples who were the rightful inhabitants of those lands.  In order to quiet their consciences, these imperialists also waged a war against the souls of the people they conquered - a war which had its own propaganda to justify the things that were done to other peoples.

Now an empire that behaves this way soon makes itself widely known as a royal pain in the - uh, er, neck.  Thus this empire quickly begins to generate a crowd of critics.  Some of these critics choose to document as carefully as possible the evils and misdeeds of the existing empire.  Many others rise up to undermine the existing empire by civil resistance or by other means.  And some try to put themselves forward as a righteous, healthy alternative to the existing empire.  But what if, among those critics putting themselves forward as "alternatives" are people who want to start their own empire, and who are criticizing the current empire in order to eliminate the competition?

That's how certain events of the last three or so years seem to me, as I have examined the contest between the United States and Russia.  Truly there has been no shortage of reasons for criticizing the U.S. in recent years - like the 2003 pre-emptive invasion of Iraq which killed over a million Iraqis for the sake of eliminating non-existent WMD's, and the rampant and increasing income inequality in the U.S., and the continued egregious oppression and terrorizing of nonwhite U.S. citizens, and the use of threat of military force in order to maintain dollar hegemony, and the revelations of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, and the fatal tendency of the U.S. to try to bolster civil uprisings in other nations by turning them into armed struggles in order to install regimes favorable to U.S. interests.  In all the criticisms of these things, some of the loudest critical voices were coming from Russia back in 2013 and 2014.  I think especially of the pieces that aired on Russia Today which criticized killings of unarmed African-Americans by racist cops in the U.S.  It was only natural that many of us Americans began to be very sympathetic to the Russian point of view to which we were being exposed, for we thought that Russia was one of the lone agents standing for decency and humanity in the world.

But in 2015 and 2016, the Arab and North African refugee crisis was occurring, and there was a fascist, far right element in the U.S. and in Europe which was saying that these refugees should be forcibly excluded from Europe and the U.S.  Their message was, "Let them drown! Or let them freeze to death!  But do not let them come into our bastion of cultural purity and pollute it!"  And I was mildly (but not altogether) surprised to hear many Russian voices join this chorus, including those who tried to capitalize on a number of false-flag incidents designed to inflame anti-refugee sentiment in Europe.  ("Что?! Это борщ странный!")  As I perused the site to which I have linked in the previous sentence, I also discovered that the Russian central bank had been financing various far-right fascist political organizations over the years, including Marine Le Pen's National Front.  Then the 2016 election season was upon us, and I found that almost the entire Russian media establishment had come out in support of the candidacy of President Chump.  

Needless to say, this led to a great deal of cognitive dissonance in my brain as well as a bad case of indigestion.  This is also what led me to the research that resulted in my post on the occult roots of empire.  And this led to a revised view of Russia - a Russia that I now see as afflicted by a strongly racist element, a nation whose president is not the democrat he was made out to be, but who has moved in recent years to increasingly stifle voices critical of his rule.  It turns out that Russia is also a nation with its own imperial ambitions.  As Trump has his Bannon, Putin has his own fellow traveler and ideologue: a man named Aleksandr Dugin, who is the chief architect of Russian geopolitical strategy.  And Dugin seems to have his own very strong preference for how he wants the world to be arranged.  The trouble is that a lot of us who have done nothing to Dugin and just want to be left alone would suffer greatly under his proposed "arrangement."  ("Stop the Empire's War on Russia," you say?  Лицемер!)

To me, it seems that the chief propaganda weapon employed by Russia over the last few years has been a portrayal of Russia as an ideal construct, an immaculate conception, a nation of supermen ruled by a nearly omniscient ruler.  (A jiu-jitsu expert!  A master chessman!)  But behind the grandiose self projected by Russia, one can frequently find, er, contradictions - like the empty hypodermic syringes and pills that enabled certain strength athletes to cheat their way to Olympic gold medals.  This is a nation whose leaders would have us to believe that it is All That And A Bag of Chips, a nation that cannot stand the thought that the rest of the world might regard it as a collection of rather ordinary, everyday человеки. 

The truth is that behind its Potemkin Village facade is a nation that has for years suffered a crisis of youth suicides (see this and this also), a nation whose death rate has once again begun to exceed its rate of live births (see this, this and this), a nation in which over 600,000 women a year suffer domestic violence, a nation whose government is aiding and abetting the stripping of its assets by wealthy interests for personal gain, as seen in the battles of the Russian environmental movement to try to preserve national forests and parks from commercial development (see this and this).  In other words, this is a nation of ordinary, fallen people in need of a Savior, Who is quite willing to save - as long as the people in need of saving are willing to engage in open, honest dialogue, including the open confession of sins.  (Even a frank discussion with a team of decent mental health professionals would do a lot of good.)  Yet this is the very thing that the leaders of Russian society seem unwilling to do, because such a dialogue would threaten the positions, prestige and image of people who currently enjoy positions of power in that society, and would force the leaders of that society to abandon their image of perfection.  Case in point: for years, there has existed a women's rights movement in Russia which pushed for stronger legal protections for women endangered by domestic violence.  They even managed to win some seeming victories.  However, in this year, 2017, Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill drafted by the Russian Duma to de-criminalize domestic violence except in cases of injury requiring a hospital stay.  That de-criminalization was pushed by the Russian Orthodox Church, by the way.

This is the nation which in our last U.S. election set about to re-arrange the United States according to its own liking, and threatened the lives of people like me in the process.  Mr. Putin and Mr. Dugin, please get out of my living room.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Big Feet In Little Shoes?

A few weeks ago, I listened to a stimulating and informative lecture from the 2013 Fletcher Summer Institute of the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict.  The title of the lecture was "Economic Self-Organization By Movements," by Tufts University Professor Kim Wilson.  Professor Wilson described in detail the risks and dangers that await indigenous peoples in developing countries when they are enticed by pushers of Western models for financing family, group or village economic ventures.  She also described the innovations which have been created by indigenous peoples for creating secure ways to pool their savings.

But she also gave her audience a warning, namely that Western corporations and NGO's have co-opted some of these innovations and have used them as means of continuing to rob indigenous populations of their savings, or as means of continuing to bring these populations into financial indebtedness to the West. 

Her warning was brought again to the forefront of my attention this week, as I heard about an Arizona-based cooperative called Anyshare, which seeks to help people throughout the United States connect with each other to form "sharing communities" - for a small fee, of course.  It's nice that they call themselves a "cooperative."  But I think that many of the social advantages of a cooperative - including an effective say in the direction of the cooperative - are best realized when the so-called cooperative is truly local (as in, an organization whose members don't have to travel more than a few miles to physically touch each other's hands).  This also ensures that the number of members in the cooperative does not drastically exceed Dunbar's Number.  Thus, if I want to form a "sharing community", I am much more likely to walk down the street to talk to my neighbors than I am to rely on an organization that is based in a state over 1,000 miles from where I live.  (I don't live in Arizona.)  The trouble I see with Anyshare or any other organization that seeks to capitalize on a social movement is that once that organization grows beyond a certain size, it stops looking like a homey, affectionate, well-worn collective of friends, and starts looking like...a corporation... (Sorry, REI.) 

I think Professor Wilson's warning is especially relevant in these days, in which many people are beginning to build alternative or parallel institutions as part of a campaign of nonviolent resistance to the regime currently in Washington.    Those who want to watch her lecture can see it here:

Those who are involved in building parallel institutions should beware of middlemen who "wanna get big" at the expense of the people whom they are supposed to be helping - especially when the middlemen are far away from the people they are trying to help.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Coalescing Resistance

This post will have to be short.  I've been very busy over the last few days, and things are starting to move rather fast.

A number of nonwhite engineers and other degreed professionals (including myself) in my area have gotten together to start a volunteer group engaged in building parallel institutions.  We had our first meeting this weekend.  The initial focus of our group will be on providing a parallel option for educating low-income youth in our area.  It will be an all-volunteer, self-funded venture, provided free of charge.  As we are able to be successful in this venture, we intend to branch out into other ventures, such as helping low-income neighborhoods become more economically self-reliant.  We will be creating a blog in the next few months or so to document our efforts.  Although we the volunteers are nonwhite, our offerings will be available for all low-income people, regardless of color or national origin.

I have also discovered other resistance groups in my area, and we will be getting together next month for a series of presentations on nonviolent resistance.  And I have discovered a volunteer group which recently put on a presentation designed to help people who have to live outside.  (That's the homeless population, in plain English.)  They also provided resources on health care options for the homeless.  I intend to network with this group and have an idea exchange with them.

Lastly, in the next few weeks I will hopefully develop a flyer titled, "The Resistance Lifestyle," containing tips on how people can develop their own networks of self-reliance while withdrawing as much as possible from the formal economy.  (Thanks very much, Aimee and CZBZ for your frugal living tips.  I will incorporate some of them into the flyer.)  And I and others will be handing out these flyers in as many places as possible.

That's all for now.  (Speaking of self-reliance, I have to run and buy a half yard of compost for my garden.)  Have a good week!

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Recovery of Subversive Virtue

About eight or nine years ago, a social movement came into existence in the United States.  It was not a particularly political movement, nor was it strategically planned, or even intentional.  Its birth was simply the result of the economic conditions which prevailed at that time, namely, very disruptive energy prices, a real estate bubble, and an overload of personal debt, especially among recent college graduates and other young people.  One word characterized that movement, namely, frugality.  This movement spread, not only by word of mouth, but by many websites and blogs, such as the Festival of Frugality blog ring, "How to Survive on $12,000 a Year," and "How I Live on Just $12,000 a Year," along with news articles such as "The Secret to Living Well on $11,000 a Year," "Living on $10,000 a Year Requires A Certain Ingenuity," and "How to Live on $10,000 A Year."

Evidently this movement grew to such an extent that it attracted the serious attention of the holders of concentrated wealth and economic power at the top of the economic heap.  For a number of op-ed pieces started coming out in major media outlets which warned Americans that frugality was a "threat to the economy" and a "threat to recovery."  I won't give you an exhaustive list, but there were such pieces as, "Frugal Americans Hurt Economic Recovery" (courtesy of Fox News, of course!), "How Shopping Is Good for The Economy - And Your Soul" (I kid you not!), "Frugality Is Bad For The Economy," and "Consumers Turn Frugal, But Economy Could Wither." There was also another, sideways attempt to derail the frugality movement by re-defining what frugality actually means.  Namely, it was an attempt to change the definition of frugality from "living only on that which you need" to "saving as much money as possible in your purchases - by taking advantage of coupons, promotions, sales, etc."  Many supposed promoters of frugality thus switched from warning people to stop buying stuff they didn't need, to trying to get as much stuff as possible via coupons and other means.  (For a present-day example of re-defining "simple living," you might try looking here.)

The fact that the owners of major media outlets felt the need to spend print space and air time trying to discourage frugality says something about the power of frugality as a threat to the current established economic order.  And as I have recently been thinking over the details of this movement, I have been struck by certain observations.  Firstly, that frugality, along with other social virtues, has been a particular threat to Western societies from the time of the Roman Empire.  I think of the Christian Church from the first century to the third, and I see how the peaceful, nonviolent obedience to the commandments of Christ must have threatened such a cruel military empire as that which the Romans had built.  Indeed, in his book Subversive Virtue: Asceticism and Authority In the Second-Century Pagan World, author James Francis lays out this threat, and describes how the leaders and academics in charge of defending Roman values ridiculed such Christian virtues as asceticism, voluntary poverty, and communalism.  (They also attacked non-Christian ascetics.)  Of course, even a casual reading of the New Testament would reveal the roots of the radical values embodied by the proto-Church - as seen especially in the Lord's encounter with the rich young ruler, the Lord's denunciation of the Pharisees, the radicalism of Luke 14 and Luke 16, and the denunciation of the rich in James 5.

However, the Roman Empire succeeded in co-opting key elements of the Christian community, and one of the casualties of that co-opting was frugality and the rejection of materialism.  (For a look into how this happened, you might try looking here.)  Other virtues that died by the way were pacifism (the outright rejection of violence) and communalism.  I don't have time to describe the entire arc of the ensuing battle between materialism and voluntary simplicity since those times, but I do want to focus on another period in the history of the Church in which the recovery of New Testament virtues threatened to shake an existing social order.

That period began with the conversion of Peter Waldo to Christianity during the mid to late 12th century.  He founded a group within the Catholic Church who came to be known as the Waldenses or Waldensians, and they took the Scriptures seriously enough to actually try to live by the New Testament.  Among the elements of their fundamentalism were the following:
  • The priesthood of all believers
  • The need to give the Scriptures to people in their common language instead of a language (Latin) which most people could not understand
  • The need to live a life of voluntary simplicity, also known as voluntary poverty.
Just about all of the Waldensian doctrine and practices got them into hot water with the Catholic Church.  But the voluntary poverty of their preachers was a particularly troubling thing to deal with, because it made the wealth of the Catholic clerics look very bad by comparison.  The Catholic Church met the nonviolent threat of the Waldensians with violent repression.

What has been described above is not confined only to societies that have been exposed to Christianity nor to people who act solely from Christian values.  Frugality continues to be regarded as a terrifying threat to those who hold concentrated economic power in a society based on buying and selling.  It is only fitting that in these days, frugality should be revived as a subversive virtue.  I am glad to see that there are Christians who have been in the forefront of this revival, as seen in "Toward The Revival and Reform of The Subversive Virtue: Frugality," by James Nash.  (One of the subsections of his paper is titled, "Frugality As Economic Subversion."  (I like that!)  There is also "Voluntary Simplicity and Voluntary Poverty: Alternatives To Consumer Culture" by Malgorzata Poks. 

Frugality, or voluntary simplicity, or voluntary poverty - no matter what you call it, the widespread practice of such a way of living can shake a murderous, materialist society to its core.  (See this, this, and this, for instance.)  Therefore, it is an especially relevant way of living just now - in a world in which the majority of the world's people are now being ruled by greedy strongmen, including the regime of our 45th President.  The mass adoption of frugality by a society can bring down dictators who rule that society and the wealthy corporations that put those dictators in power.  And here's the good news: you don't have to sell everything and move to a gold-plated off-grid doomstead in Montana to live a frugal life.  It can be done right where you are, if you know how to think strategically about your situation.  In fact, the chances are good that over the next months and years, you will be forced to live such a life whether you want to or not.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Vulnerability of Oil

During the last century, Western culture imported from Asia a number of Oriental concepts of physiology which have influenced our understanding of medicine, analgesia and hand-to-hand combat.  One of these is the concept of "pressure points."  These points, identified by Asian medical practitioners and martial artists over several hundred years, have been held to be points on a human body where the skillful application of pressure or force could produce widespread bodily effects - for good or for ill - even over organs which did not seem to have a direct connection to the point on the body where external pressure or force was being applied.  The efficacy of the use of these pressure points has been debated between Eastern and Western practitioners of medicine and martial arts, as well as the mechanisms by which such points are supposed to work.  (For an interesting take on the subject, please see this.)  Nevertheless, it can no longer be disputed that there are localized regions of the human body where the application of external pressure or force can produce dramatic effects throughout the entire body.

The body is an integrated whole made of many, many individual cells.  And in the same way, human societies function as integrated wholes made of many, many people.  It is therefore not surprising to discover that entire societies have points where the application of force or pressure can produce widespread effects for good or for ill.  Moreover, as time passes, one or more of those pressure points may become especially sensitive to pressure.

Take a society's energy supplies for instance.  (And here I am getting back to the roots of this blog.)  When those supplies of energy (or other limiting natural resources) are abundant and easy to extract, it is possible for a society's economy to grow, and for its wealthiest members to grow ever richer as long as the rate at which they increase their riches is not so great that they impoverish everyone else in the society.  But suppose the supplies of energy become scarce or the cost of extracting those supplies grows to such an extent that it becomes a significant fraction of the total amount of energy contained in the supplies that are extracted.  Then there is the possibility of significant - er, ahem, drama - depending on how dysfunctional the wealthiest members of the society are.

For instance, the holders of concentrated wealth (and hence, of economic and political power) at the top of the society might be reasonable, moral, decent people.  In that case, they might choose to inform their society of the change in conditions, and to consciously lead their society toward a healthy, righteous, realistic adaptation to the changed conditions - an adaptation which was designed to be as healthy as possible for as many people as possible.

But suppose the people at the top of this society were disturbed and dysfunctional.  Then they might try to play a zero-sum game on everyone else in their society by continuing to try to increase their wealth and power at everyone else's expense.  And they might try to cover up the root cause of their society's impoverishment by scapegoating segments of their population in order to divide the lower rungs of their population against each other.  They might also try to mislead their population into believing that there was some magical formula which could make the good times of consumption and material excess last forever.  But while they continued to waste valuable time on these maladjustments to reality, that reality would continue to take ever-bigger bites out of their daily life.  In the end, they might wind up like the Norse who tried to colonize Greenland several hundred years ago.  (For a couple of perspectives on those Norse, you can refer to this and this.)

That seems to be the society we live in right now in the U.S.  We have a President who heads a regime of asset-strippers, most of whom also are enthusiastic in their support of our President's trashing of the environment and scapegoating, stereotyping and threatening of various nonwhite ethnic groups in the U.S. and abroad while they strip the assets of an entire nation right under our noses.  And among them are voices insisting that they have a magical formula that will return us to the good times of consumerism and material excess if only we follow their formula.  Some of those voices belong to the biggest players in the market of Big Oil, who have insisted that the U.S. can achieve "energy independence" if only this nation removes all environmental restrictions that stand in the way of maximum profits for Big Oil.

But is this claim reasonable?  Even as far back as 2013, the German Energy Watch Group had stated that the worldwide peak of conventional oil production had already happened by 2008, and this agency predicted that the global peak in total petroleum liquids production would have passed by 2016.  (What they say about the picture for coal production in the U.S. is also not very comforting.)  Moreover, a curious thing has happened throughout the world, and especially in the U.S.  Because of the huge amount of debt overloading the global financial system - especially in the U.S. - the ability of increasing numbers of the population to afford high-priced petroleum products has decreased, even as the costs of extracting petroleum have risen.  Some analysts indeed say that the costs which oil companies must pay to extract oil have risen above the level at which most consumers can afford to buy the products made from oil.  One such analyst used some rather colorful language last year to describe what was happening to oil producers when oil prices were between $20 and $30 a barrel.

Now we live in a time in which oil prices have recovered to the range of $53 to $55 per barrel, due primarily to OPEC announcements of production cuts.  However, oil inventories remain very high, and U.S. production has increased, moderating the effect of OPEC cuts.  In addition, there are signs that Russia is not complying with the OPEC agreements to cut production to prop up prices.  The factors which have been causing oil producers (including nations that depend on resource extraction for their revenue) to start bleeding to death in a time of low oil prices are still present.  (See this also.)  And there are signs that the current oil price rally will not last.  The problem is that oil producers cannot meet their obligations to stockholders (for private oil companies) or citizens (for resource extraction-dependent nations), or pay down the principal and interest on their debts, or cover their extraction costs, for anything under $45 to $50 per barrel.  This is why the oil producers cannot cut their production by very much even at low prices, for production cuts mean revenue cuts for these producers.

Which leads to a bit of a problem for these producers, many of whom were instrumental in bringing about a Trump presidency.  They might despise the economic status, environmental policy, language, or skin color of a great many people in the U.S., but there is one color they do like:

Many of us who are among scapegoated groups or who are on the lower rungs of American society or who don't want our environment destroyed have pieces of paper that look like this.  We may not have as many as the asset strippers at the upper rungs of society - but they need our pieces of paper in order to prop up their claims to wealth.  We can withhold this paper if we choose, and if we are willing to do the work needed to live without certain things.  How would things be if U.S. petroleum demand were to continue to decline in 2017 - not only because of the factors listed above, but also because the people at the top of American society had made the rest of us angry enough to engage in massive economic non-cooperation?  Let's say that the majority of us traded tire rubber for shoe leather for the majority of our trips, and that we worked out our anger by striding energetically down sidewalks instead of driving.  The oil majors were among the entities who helped to transform the United States from a one person, one vote society into a one dollar, one vote society.  How much pressure could we exert on these people by taking away a few of their dollars in order to sway some of their votes?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Resistance Languages

I have a general theme that I began in my last two posts, but this week I feel the need to digress a bit.  In my recent writings I have covered the various categories of nonviolent resistance tactics as outlined by Dr. Gene Sharp.  These include the categories of protest and persuasion, noncooperation and nonviolent intervention.  Nonviolent protest and persuasion is usually the weakest of the three categories of resistance, with the other two categories being much more powerful when skillfully executed.  However, sometimes one comes across methods and tactics which are able to skillfully and effectively express all three categories of resistance.

I'd like to present two such methods in this post.  The hostility of the Trump regime to nonwhite peoples and cultures is very well-known.  Trump represents the naked id of a certain fascist, supremacist element of the Global North.  This element is characterized by a desire to destroy all other cultures and their peoples.  This element feels intolerably threatened by the existence or close proximity of people with dark skin who speak a language other than English (or Russian or German or French if you happen to live in those countries).   Unfortunately, all three branches of the U.S. Federal Government are now controlled by members of this fascist element, who also control many of the largest corporations in the world.

So...what if those in the U.S. who are part of the resistance to this regime decided to learn some of the languages of the oppressed?  What if they decided to use these languages as their main way of talking with each other?  What if the resistance began to learn some of the cultures of the oppressed and to deliberately adopt these cultures?  What if, for instance, those in the U.S. who oppose the Trump regime learned Spanish, or Arabic, or Vietnamese, or Hindi, or Korean, or Chinese, or Swahili?  What if they began to talk publicly to each other in one of these languages instead of English?  What if they used one of these languages instead of English when writing emails, memos, and letters (o entradas de blog)?  What if, for instance, researchers and academics at universities and labs started writing technical articles primarily in Spanish or Swahili?  That's not nearly as far-fetched as it sounds.  Spanish is very well suited for technical writing.  (In fact, the Latin American School of Medicine, which trains some of the best primary care physicians in the world, does all of its teaching in Spanish.)  And for the last four decades, the use of Swahili for technical and academic writing has been growing.  (See this and this also.)  The same things can be said of the other languages I have listed.

Imagine how well such actions would serve as a means of both nonviolent protest, social (and potentially economic) noncooperation, and nonviolent intervention!  For one thing, if you and your friends started speaking and writing in one or more of the languages of the oppressed, you would annoy the living daylights out of any bystanders who happened to be bigots.  For another thing, if anyone wanted to join in the conversation, he or she would have to have the humility needed to learn another language - thus also learning to see the world from another point of view.  Seeing things from new points of view is frequently very good for people.  A third benefit is that you would drastically increase the costs which the State would have to pay in order to do surveillance on you.  A fourth benefit is that you would make a whole new set of friends - people now demonized by right-wing media would suddenly become more human in your eyes by your learning to speak their language, as the social distance between you and them was reduced and you began to see them as they truly are.  Lastly, by speaking and thinking in one of the languages of the oppressed, you would be declaring your withdrawal from the dominant oppressive culture and your intention to be part of an alternative to that culture.  Who wants to learn with me?

There is something else resisters can do as well.  The Trump regime has been breathing fire about deporting massive numbers of Hispanics from the U.S., and of drastically expanding the grounds for deportation.  Many of the targets of his deportations have been adults with small children or spouses who are American citizens.  At this time, we can reach out to the families who have been bereaved of one or both parents by deportation - by providing food, care (including foster care) and other material resources to them.  And when they are sent to deportation hearings, we can volunteer to walk with them, to go with them to their hearings, to document what is done during those hearings, and to report it to the world.  This too achieves more than one resistance goal, as it is both a method of nonviolent protest and a method of nonviolent intervention.

Over the next few months, I will begin writing about some technical, volunteer-based initiatives that I am organizing in my community to help people who are currently without help.  I will be describing in technical terms some of the approaches we are trying, and documenting the results.  When I publish these posts, I will try to publish them first in one of the languages of the oppressed.  (I know people who can translate for me.)  A few days after publishing each of these posts, I will also post an English version.  Mira este espacio.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Road Between Before And After

Most people in America have been exposed to Before and After ads - ads designed to make you dissatisfied with the "You" of the present moment.  These ads usually contain Before and After pictures - the "You" before your desired change, before you send away money to get the thing (exercise equipment, exercise plan, financial advice book, space in an addiction treatment center, prayer cloth, etc.) that will transport you effortlessly from Before to After; and the "You" all glamorous and happy after your "change."  But there's one small catch.  Because most of these Before and After solutions don't force you to  fundamentally change yourself, your stay in the land of After is usually short.  It doesn't take long before you wind up back in "Before."

The lesson in this example is that a permanent relocation from Before to After requires a personal change - often a deep and permanent change - in the way you live your life.  Usually that change is costly.  So is the change of an oppressed people from a condition of oppression to a condition of freedom, the change of a dictatorially run society to a society free of oppression.  That change requires some necessary first steps, such as:
  • Strengthening oneself and one's people to be self-reliant
  • Creating your own, personally owned alternatives to the oppressive system that is destroying you
  • Withdrawing your support from the oppressive system by ceasing to rely on it
These steps are exactly the same sort of steps that a battered woman must take to free herself of her batterer.  For as long as she relies on him in any way, she makes herself vulnerable to further battering.  As the steps listed above constitute the necessary first steps of "going No Contact" with an abusive intimate partner, they are also the necessary first steps an oppressed people must take in destroying the hold exercised over them by a dictatorial government.  To quote Gene Sharp:
"Under the dictatorship the population and civil institutions of the society have been too weak, and the government too strong. Without a change in this imbalance, a new set of rulers can, if they wish, be just as dictatorial as the old ones."  
"Dictatorships usually exist primarily because of the internal power distribution in the home country. The population and society are too weak to cause the dictatorship serious problems, wealth and power are concentrated in too few hands. [Emphasis added.]  Although dictatorships may benefit from or be somewhat weakened by international actions, their continuation is dependent primarily on internal factors."
That second quote accurately describes what has happened, not only in the United States, but throughout the developed world.  Those who have power over the global industrial economy revised the rules of predatory capitalism to such an extent that they were able to concentrate an overwhelming percentage of that economy's wealth wealth in too few hands.  Then they started buying governments and began changing those governments into tools for lining their own pockets even further.  And they bought most of the world's media and turned it into a pulpit for preaching the propaganda that the government as a guardian and promoter of the common good was an evil thing.  The results of this include such things as the Citizens United verdict by the Supreme Court, which was the last step in turning the United States from a "one person, one vote" society into a "one dollar, one vote" society.  The results also include the presidency of Donald Trump.

What then does it look like for ordinary people to start the first steps of breaking free from a dictatorship?  Let's examine each of these steps in turn.

Strengthening yourself and your people to be self-reliant first requires the willingness to look long and hard at your situation.  It requires the willingness to do a thorough strategic assessment of your situation and the threats that you face.  You must put as much effort into this assessment as a wise general would put into the assessment of battlefield conditions before he send his troops into the fight.  Then you must have the willingness to make yourself as smart and as capable as possible in order to deal with the challenges you face.  The future does not belong to the stupid!  You've got to hit the books and learn such things as math, basic sciences (including biology), principles of engineering, and techniques of crafts and skilled labor.  You must also learn the history, strategies and tactics of nonviolent struggle - a method of struggle which is both much more complex than armed warfare and much more effective when skillfully executed.  Even the great Chinese general Sun Tzu recognized the value of being able to win without fighting.

Part of your initial assessment of your situation should consist of figuring out how much of the oppressive system you can do without, and learning to need as little as possible from that system.  Then you will be able to create alternatives to that system that are within the means of yourself and your people.  If you now believe you need as much bling as your money can buy, you may want to re-think that.  Do you really have to drive everywhere by yourself?  Do you really need a big-screen TV that can play movies and be turned into a gaming console?  Do you really have to eat out all the time?  Would it not be more sensible, rather, to live as frugally as possible so you can pay down your debts as fast as possible?

Having strengthened yourself and your people thus, you are now prepared to create your own, personally owned alternatives to the oppressive system that is destroying you.  Here I must warn you that those alternatives will require more personal time and work from you than the current system seems to require.  And they will require you to physically work with other human beings.  But they will cost you less in actual terms.  One of the attractive parts of the current system is that it is so convenient to use, and you can use it without having to interact with other people.  Indeed, one of the ways the current system induces you to depend on it is by making you addicted to "convenience."  But what if, say, instead of driving everywhere by yourself, you took public transit? Or, say that you lived in a place which did not have a good public transit system or was not easily walkable, and yet you made friends with your neighbors so that you could carpool and combine errands that required driving?  Or, say, instead of driving several miles to take your kids to basketball camp, you started a basketball league in your own neighborhood?

And these things are but baby steps compared to some of the things you could do - especially if you were willing to rub shoulders with neighbors and with people you would not normally associate with, if you were willing to reduce the atomization and social distance that separates you from your fellow humans.  (I saw a good example of social distance and atomization recently - a sign next to the front door of a not-quite-McMansion which read,


Nice neighbor, eh?!  I wonder if he's ever threatened to shoot anybody.)

Creating alternative systems which reduce social distance between diverse participants is one of the required steps in building a successful movement of nonviolent struggle.

By taking the first two steps, you are automatically taking the third step, which is withdrawing your support from the current system by ceasing to rely on it.  What might this look like?  Maybe like a group of neighbors, each of whose households has devised a strategy for living on $1000 a month or less, who rely on each other to meet as many of their collective needs as possible without relying on money, and who decide that they like such an arrangement so much that they are willing to live this way for the long haul.  (And there are a number of resources available, both on line and in many communities, for people who want to learn to live cheaply.  But be warned - cheap living will require a permanent attitude adjustment.) Groups of such people who had extra funds left over each month would be in an ideal position to help groups of people who are struggling, thus strengthening the resilience of their entire community.  They would also be in an ideal position to to begin applying what Gene Sharp calls the methods of nonviolent noncooperation and nonviolent intervention - methods which are much more powerful than nonviolent protest in waging nonviolent struggle.