Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Why America Should Have Had the World’s Best Social Contract (Instead of Settling For the Worst)

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I worry about Americans. It seems to me that they just aren’t aware as they should be that they could and should have the world’s best working social contract (with vibrant, robust healthcare, education, income, savings, safety nets, media) instead of settling for the most dysfunctional broken one (after all, even nations like Costa Rica and Rwanda are developing basic public healthcare). Hence, it appears to me that Americans believe in a series of backward myths about themselves, the world, and society. Recited constantly, they keep them in the dark, which is why they settle for the worst.

Myth: Only small countries can have working social contracts 

One of the greatest ironies in the world to me is that the very opposite is true… big countries can have by far better ones. How? Think about insurance, the bigger a pool is, the lower the cost for each member. Now, what does that really mean?

Reality: People in bigger countries can enjoy (way) greater benefits from working social contracts than people in little ones 

A small nation like Denmark or Sweden or even a medium-sized one like France or Britain can’t realise the same economies of scale that a big one like America can… there are only 10 million people, each of whom pays more to insure one another. However, American has 300 million people. Yet, by a long way, American healthcare is the most expensive in the world and delivers the least benefits. Precisely the opposite could and should be true… as there are more Americans to insure one another, it could be the cheapest in the world, with the greatest benefits, by a very long way. However, it requires a true public healthcare institution, like an American Healthcare Service, to make that true. That same principle is true for every component of a social contract, whether education, media, or safety nets… more people share the high fixed costs, so they’re (way) cheaper for a bigger society like America than a small one like Sweden. Then, isn’t it funny that American thought doesn’t ever seem to consider that?

Myth: It’s impossible to build institutions for 300 million people, we wouldn’t know how to manage or run them

LOL. What do you think your local Apple store is? If Apple can do it for gadgets, why can’t we do it for healthcare? Wal-Mart, Google, Amazon, and the government already do it every day without breaking a sweat. We know how to do it in spades.

Reality: Building working public institutions, like an American BBC or NHS, is how to repair broken bonds, renew communities, and rebuild the economy one life and town a time 

Let’s say you’re a poor kid in West Virginia with no income, savings, mobility, opportunity, hope, life. You’ve seen your friends, in despair, with no futures, OD… you’re thinking about turning to drugs, too, but you harbour a great desire to help people like you, to be an abuse counsellor, only you have no idea or way to be one. Your only option is what capitalism can provide, insanely-expensive twelve step “rehab” programs that never address your severe trauma of living through collapse with real psychotherapy, not just “drug abuse counselling”, because that’s more costly than just putting you in a boot camp, so it goes untreated, and you cycle on and off drugs forever.

Now imagine that our AHS was there in your neighbourhood. It would need just such counsellors, right? Voila, supply and demand meet… you might get training for just the job they need… where they don’t right now because there’s a “market failure”, which is to say, a void. That broken town might come back to life. Now fast-forward five years into the future. That AHS needs managers, there you are… suddenly, and you have a career, and all it brought with it, opportunity, mobility, security, optimism, belonging, meaning purpose. How wonderful. Now multiply that by a thousand times, and ten million lives. How beautiful. That’s how a society and economy begins to heal, mature, and grow… when institutions, both public and private, allow lives to flourish.

Myth: Public institutions provide low-quality crap! It’s usually expensive! I don’t want to pay taxes for that… in fact, I don’t want to pay taxes at all! 

Look. You’re going to get taxed either way, by monopolistic corporations or a government, and if you really can’t abide that, if you don’t want, say, water and roads, be my guest and move to Somalia. The question is, which one is a better deal? Let’s consider the BBC. I pay about two hundred bucks a year. What do I get? I get three TV channels and six radio stations. I pay about two hundred bucks a month in the States for a billion channels. Now, here’s the irony that’s often impossible for American to understand… less, in this case, is infinitely more. I click around in the States and rarely find something to watch, I decline porn, cop and surgery shows, it’s all mostly catastrophe vaudeville about the victims of late capitalism. However, I can watch the BBC endlessly, and so do you, maybe you just don’t know it, because its shows are rebranded for Americans, Masterpiece Theatre and so on. For that BBC licence, I get Blue Planet, Civilisation, all those cop and detective shows, the Great Bake-Off, movies, soaps, and so on. Do you see the difference? I pay a tenth of what I do in the States, and I get infinitely higher quality. So much higher quality that most of the shows ripped off by American media come from the Beeb… The Voice, The Bake-Off, etc. The level of quality isn’t just high, it’s beyond what capitalism can give you, whole categories of shows like documentaries by famed academics and writers and artists and wildlife docs like Blue Oceans exist there that can’t in America, all those cute fun Bake-Off style shows you love watching on Netflix, films tackling tough social issues, and so on.

Reality: You’ll save (a lot of) money and have a better life by paying society way less for much higher-quality public goods, instead of trying to buy healthcare, media, education, and safety from capitalism, which it’ll never really provide well to begin with, and only give you at nosebleed high prices 

Now let’s think about it from the BBC’s side. It only needs a fixed amount to produce all that stuff, those three TV and six radio channels. Crucially, that amount doesn’t change depending on how many people are in a society, right? So again, a BBC would be way cheaper in America than it is in Britain, simply because there are more people to pay for it, a hundred bucks a year, not even two hundred. Are you telling me you wouldn’t pay a hundred bucks a year for a BBC, instead of a few thousand to Comcast, now that I’ve explained it to you? (If you want to do both, be my guest… I do.) Here’s the point, not only does a working social contract cost less, the benefits are way greater too, social institutions provide goods to a quality that capitalism is simply unable to even usually dream of.

Myth: We can’t afford a working social contract 

Have you followed me so far? If you have, we’ve learned that a working social contract is:

  • cheaper for a big country
  • a better deal for people than capitalism
  • offers quality that capitalism alone can’t ever really provide
  • the only thing that can repair a broken society, one town and one life at a time

A deficit doesn’t matter much when people are giving up on democracy because they don’t have decent lives of dignity, belonging, and purpose.

Reality: A working social contract isn’t what’s unaffordable, not having one is what’s unaffordable. That’s American decline’s fundamental lesson. 

I want to drive that home to you. Consider our poor West Virginia kid again. He gets addicted. His parents mortgage their home to pay for “rehab”… no AHS, remember? However, because there’s no AHS, too, “rehab” means a twelve-step program… all capitalism can provide … not real psychotherapy that addresses the profound trauma he’s lived through. Therefore, he cycles in and out of this subpar capitalist rehab. His parents are renting a little place now. He’s living on the streets. What was unaffordable for them… a working social contract or the lack of one? Multiply that by a million… what happens to a society? Now… people lose faith in the future, each other, and themselves. They give up and numb the pain away. Therefore, like any traumatised abused soul, they end up believing what’s backwards… what might save them is unaffordable, unattainable, and impossible, so going on this way, in this terrible suffering, is the only option that they have. Thus, democracy falls apart and people turn to authoritarianism… that’s the story of every falling empire, from Rome to the Reich.

How sad. How wrong. There are already millions of stories just like that. Imagine how different all these lives would and could be with a working social contract. America could and should have the world’s best one, as it’s one of the world’s biggest and richest societies. Nevertheless, Americans don’t quite understand that as their intellectuals, leaders, and thinkers have never explained it to them. Irony teaches us tragedy, and the tragedy of ignorance about the most fundamental lesson of all is the irony of American collapse… Americans settled for the worst social contract of all, but they could and should have had the best.

9 March 2018

Umair Haque

Eudamonia

https://eand.co/why-america-could-and-should-have-had-the-worlds-best-social-contract-instead-of-settling-for-the-17a153a39585

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Tuesday, 6 March 2018

How Social Darwinism Destroyed America From the Inside: Or, What Happens When the Average Person Believes in the Survival of the Fittest

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Whenever I look at the USA today versus its rich-world peers, an observation leaps out at me. America’s built a society on a kind of furious single-minded dedication to one idea… Social Darwinism (or the survival of the fittest). Let’s begin with the obvious. Its economy is modern history’s greatest machine for the survival of the fittest. The winners deserve extreme fame, fortune, and power… Elon Musks’ 55 billion USD (3.11 trillion Roubles. 348.83 billion Renminbi. 3.58 trillion INR. 71.42 billion CAD. 70.87 billion AUD. 44.58 billion Euros. 39.71 billion UK Pounds) bonus… but the losers don’t even deserve to live. Forget healthcare, savings, incomes, and so on. I step over them on my way to the café. Now, if you’re an average American, perhaps you don’t see the problem with all this. “So what?”

The problem is that Social Darwinism can’t build a healthy economy for the very people who believe in it, ever, period, full stop… even though I’d bet most Americans probably still think “survival of the fittest” is the best form of social organisation in history. Once you see how I also bet you’ll think it’s both funny and sad. What does “survival of the fittest” mean? It means an erosion or elimination of the average, doesn’t it? It means that only the top percentage (whether it’s 20 percent or 1 percent) of some population really makes it. However, the average person who believes in it so fiercely isn’t in there, he’s at the 45th, maybe 50th percentile, if he’s lucky. LOL. Funny and sad, no? Survival of the fittest comes back to haunt even the average person, the one who’s become, somehow, at least in America, its staunchest global advocate.

That’s precisely what’s beginning to happen in America now. The average person now has less than 1,000 USD (56,557 Roubles. 6,343 Renminbi. 65,036 INR. 1,300 CAD. 1,288 AUD. 810 Euros. 722 UK Pounds) in savings, a shrinking real income, a falling life expectancy, and no possibility of retirement, ever. They are going to live a shorter, harder, meaner, dumber, nastier life… than their peers elsewhere, or their grandparents. The survival of the fittest that Americans champion is working perfectly at destroying them. Social Darwinism is giving “survival” to the “fittest”, those at the very top (let’s say the top 10 percent), while punishing the very average, at the 50th percentile. The average person who thought, strangely, that being average wouldn’t somehow get him selected out. However, that’s what “survival of the fittest” does… select out the average. Hence, a middle class collapsing in three ways:

  • becoming a smaller part of society
  • a falling quantity of life
  • a falling quality of life

Survival of the fittest is annihilating the average person in America, even though that very average person seems to admire and long for it… that’s Social Darwinism’s ghastly revenge. In fact, seeing all but super-rich millennials struggle to have kids and make families, one might even say that Social Darwinism is working perfectly in taking away the reproductive chances of the weakest. However, I don’t think we need to be quite so reductive to say it’s a failed way to think about organising a society.

How is American Social Darwinism annihilating the chances of the average person? Well, American society is an arena for the survival of the fittest… it doesn’t protect the vulnerable. By design, there are no real safety nets, social systems, or public goods, while all America’s peers enjoy these things. For example, it ties healthcare to a “job”, and only then to a dwindling number, because if you aren’t productive, you don’t deserve to live. However, even if you’re productive, your income is stagnant. That’s Social Darwinism tuned perfectly… being productive or efficient is barely enough to hang on, it’s having just enough “fitness” to live at the edge of “survival”. Therefore, the survival of the fittest has kept America from building the basic systems and goods that the rest of the world’s rising quality of life depends on… healthcare, education, transportation, public media, welfare, and so on.

Why should the average person enjoy any kind of investment in him? Why should the poor? They aren’t fit. Therefore, they beg corporations and hedge funds to provide the basics of life, as they laugh at him. Meanwhile, the average person in America doesn’t really cry out for these things, because he still believes in the survival of the fittest, yet all the while, the problem is that he isn’t the fittest. Maybe, he’s at the 50th percentile of fitness… shouting that only those at the very top are fit enough to survive. How funny. How sad. How’s one to prosper, then? Well, who defines “the fittest”, anyway? The fittest do. Therefore, our socio-economic problem soon becomes a cultural problem. Let me put that more clearly. Is “fittest” the top 30 percent? The top 10 percent? Who decides? If it’s the top .01 percent, they’d keep “fittest” as small as possible, won’t they? That’s what happened in America… once, “survival of the fittest” might have meant the top 40 percent of society; now, it’s barely the top 10 percent. How does that kind of erosion even within Social Darwinism happen?

Everywhere in America, the élite tell the average that they must bow down to this terrible god of Social Darwinism. It’s the only god. It’s the best god, who’ll one day reward them with… what? Flying cars? Immortality? They dangle all manner of things before them. However, the reality is simpler… by definition, the average person can’t win these things, ever, for that’s what “survival of the fittest means”. Still, every single day, the American élite tell average Americans the same thing, in newspaper columns, cable news segments, books, films. Self-help, the prosperity gospel, stock tips, home flips, Reality TV shows about the rich and powerful, bootstraps, fame, money, glory… “Live your best life!” … “You don’t owe anyone anything!” What’s the common thread? What’s it all really saying? It just recapitulates Social Darwinism, isn’t it? Until people are more or less indoctrinated, American culture really says something like this:

Social Darwinism is the greatest ideology the world has ever known! Have faith! Your reward is coming, too… you too can be one of the fittest!

Therefore, the élite parade celebrities and tycoons before Americans, exhorting them:

Be more like this!

The first problem, obviously, is that 90 percent of people in society aren’t ever going to be the fittest. Nevertheless, here’s the problem inside that one. The élite are themselves winners of a contest of survival of the fittest. They tell people what worked for them, but that’s all. They have no incentive whatsoever to look past their own biases and say, “Social Darwinism isn’t working for anyone but us!” Why would they? Do you see the cultural issue? There is a contest in which the “fitness” one needs to “survive” rises and keeps rising. Once, it was maybe 30 percent of Americans; now, it’s maybe 10 percent. Now, you can hardly blame the poor average person for succumbing to this furious onslaught of propaganda, but he’s a fool… an average person believing in an ideology that says he himself shouldn’t survive. Therefore, he doesn’t. How funny all this is. How ironic. How tragic, too.

America is discovering the hard way what happens when the average person supports his own self-destruction, economically, socially, and culturally. Social Darwinism has resulted in America becoming something like the modern world’s grimmest dystopia… a place where kids massacre each other every few days and no one cares enough to lift a finger to help them. Why is that? You see, the endpoint of Social Darwinism brings us to the darkest place of all. Being a more savage predator than the next person is the only guarantee of “fitness”. However, a predatory society isn’t a very nice place to be, is it? That’s why the countries in which it was born, and then used… Britain, Germany, Italy… rejected it and consider Social Darwinism now a stain upon history. Will America ever outgrow Social Darwinism? I doubt it. The forces above are difficult to change. When the average person believes he himself is nothing but a ritual sacrifice to the gods, dark ages fall upon us.

17 February 2018

Umar Haque

Eudaimonia

https://eand.co/how-social-darwinism-destroyed-america-from-the-inside-7909acc6e099

Monday, 12 February 2018

Why Didn’t Americans Take Fascism Seriously Until It Was Too Late?

Make no mistake, Hillary Clinton is as much of a fascist as Trump is… perhaps, more so. She cackled with glee at the wars against Federal Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, South Ossetia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and the Ukraine. She’s a soulless bloodthirsty wench with less control than Trump has… she’d have us embroiled in another war by now, perhaps, even with Russia and China, which’d be nothing but a thermonuclear Ragnarok, given her unstable, ruthless, and narcissistic personality. There are degrees of fascism… some are far worse than Trump is.

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A question’s been echoing in my head. One I think that history will ask. “Why didn’t Americans take fascism seriously until it was too late?” Perhaps, that sounds harsh, maybe even absurd to you. So let me qualify it a little. “Fascism”. Friends, when a head of state wants to hold military parades… and not clapping is treason… LOL… is there another word, idea, or concept that fits better? Isn’t it then a wilful denial of reality to say that such a watershed moment in a nation’s history is, if not an outright atrocity, at least not the glittering spark of fascist implosion? “Until it was too late”. There are many ways it can be “too late”. Until we can do nothing about it… or, at least, until the phenomenon itself occurred. Here, I mean the latter. At last, Americans didn’t take fascism seriously until it (quite literally) paraded itself before their very eyes and demanded they applaud on pain of treason. Sieg Heil! Maybe, they still don’t. How funny. How strange.

Now that you understand my question, perhaps, it seems a little less extreme. On the other hand, maybe it still does. Maybe, that reflects the times we live in. “Why didn’t Americans take the possibility of fascism seriously until it trumpeted down Constitution Avenue, letting the whole world know it had arrived?” Either way, let us try to derive an answer. The first way a nation might fail to take fascism seriously is trivial: there was no one left to warn of its dangers. However, in America, at least a few of its thinkers did. They were sidelined, blacklisted, and deliberately erased. Therefore, the question then becomes, “Why did it become a taboo to even discuss the rise of fascism as a remote possibility … if not a likely probability?” Every single major media outlet spent all of the election year publishing pieces warning us not to use words like “fascism”, “authoritarianism”, “Hitler”, and “Mussolini”… when they weren’t doing puff pieces on sympathetic Nazis. Therefore, there was a problem not of a lack of information in America, but of a strange, bizarre, glib kind of wilful ignorance. A nation made itself blind, and now the authoritarians march and demand applause.

Why was that? Well, staying blind, we can go on believing our myths, which comfort and console us… that’s exactly what the élites were doing when they said things like, “You can’t call it fascism! Such a thing will never rise here! We are the best!” However, ironically, here’s the point, it’s the overweening belief in great myths that makes societies most vulnerable to fascism. America has long had a culture of hierarchy, obedience, and overt unforgiving social control. Break a rule… go to prison. Go to work… obey the boss. Go to school … recite the Pledge. And so on. Why? These are ways to enforce a kind of conformity, aren’t they? Not just in thought, but also in appearance, in speech, in behaviour. In that way, they make true believers of national myths.

Now, there isn’t a nation in history whose myths don’t say something like, “We are wonderful and great and noble!” That’s the point of myths… to create a sense of confidence in a tribe. Then, a person can give themselves over to the tribe’s goals, purposes, and uses… you, be a soldier, you, a doctor, you, a ditch-digger. Still, some nations have more grandiose myths than others do, don’t they? Some say, “Well, we’re pretty good”, and some say, “We’re the best in the world!”, and others say, “We’re the best in history! The best there ever was or will be!”

Now, what happens the more grandiose a myth gets? There’s less room left for dissent, for difference, for reflection, for thought at all. There isn’t even any room left for reason, empirical reality, or humanity… but those are harder things. Therefore, in this way, a society as dependent on myths as grandiose as America’s is always at risk of plunging into little fascisms. The dark side of “We’re the best!” is “Those filthy subhumans! They’re stopping us from attaining our God-given destiny! We must cleanse ourselves of them to be the best!” So what do a nation’s myths protect it from? They protect it from reality… from its very real shortcomings, flaws, mistakes, and catastrophes. They mythologise them away… they rationalise them away (“We had to do it!!”), they economise them away (“The benefits were greater than the costs!”), they erase them away (“That really happened?! It couldn’t have been as bad as that!”). The more grandiose its myths are the more detached from reality a nation can get.

What are such mistakes in American history? It’d be an error to label this as the only fascist moment in American history. There have been many such as anti-Chinese laws, Japanese internment, Italian discrimination, and anti-Semitism. Of course, that’s not to mention the many horrors of slavery, segregation, and native genocide, too. Those points make a trend; a leaning towards collapses into fascism, which might seem small relative to Nazi Germany, but assuredly weren’t to those living through them. There’s a distinct fascist tendency in American history that isn’t present elsewhere. This moment in American history isn’t an anomaly. Still, this moment feels special, doesn’t it? Why’s that? Because it isn’t just minorities at risk of fascism’s depredations, but the majority is, too. Do you see how a society that depends on myths can’t learn from its mistakes? Do you see how the societies that rely most on grandiose myths as forms of social control and cohesion are the most vulnerable to fascist implosions?

The more grandiose a nation’s myths, the more vulnerable it is to fascism … that’s why America’s history has been marked by fascist implosions. The more grandiose a nation’s myths, the more harsh and exploitative it must be too, just like any narcissist, who needs to defend his sense of specialness and destiny at any price. The more grandiose a nation’s myths, the less it can ever admit its mistakes. Therefore, the vicious cycle just goes on. Fascist implosions never stop. Progress slows to a halt. Life stops improving. Tribal takes hold. Cruelty becomes a way of life. Sound familiar, yet? So all this is, and I admit it’s hard to understand, come to grips with, get a feel for, the problem that America must face, in a deeper way. It’s reliance on grandiose national myths of greatness and exceptionalism shielded and protected it for too long from at least three aspects of reality. First, history… its tendency to implode into fascism. Second, economics… the failure to write a working social contract that all the above implies. Third, modernity… its inability to keep up with the rest of the advanced world in terms of basic quality of life since the 1970s or so. Unless it faces those three aspects, then, I think that America will be as vulnerable to fascist collapses as it has ever been.

Only America’s fascist collapses are likely to grow worse. Why is that? We have established that it’s now the majority at risk of fascism’s harms, not only the minority. What does that really mean? It means that America never built a working social contract. It was always necessary to exploit, enslave, or turn on someone for the economy to grind away. It’s true to say that much was true for every colonial empire, but it was distinctly not true after the waves of reform that swept the rest of the world from the late 1900s onwards, and established, for example, the NHS and BBC. Instead, America was too busy looking for the next group to exploit… once it had chewed up the last, natives, blacks, Asians, Latinos. Until, at last, there was no one left but poor whites themselves.

One can hardly blame them for turning to fascism, then. It’s much easier to believe in myths of especial greatness and nobility and destiny at the precise moment that they’re exploiting you than to ask yourself to see a terrible truth… they’ve failed you, just as they failed all those around. No one was special, above anyone else, or singular. All were victims of a broken way of life. Myths might liberate us in one way as they allow us to live lives filled with pride and belief, but they subjugate us in others. Pride soon enough becomes hubris and belief soon enough becomes ignorance. Therefore, the more grandiose a myth is, the harder the fall. Americans most need liberation from subjugation to hubris and ignorance. If that sounds harsh to you, I can only say this much… I mean it in a gentle way because the work of freeing one’s self is always difficult. Sometimes, too difficult to bear… especially, when there are pleasant fairy tales of your very own specialness and preciousness to be told, heard, and kept safe and pure. That’s why Americans didn’t see fascism coming until it was too late. They never do.

7 February 2018

Umair Haque

Eudaimonia

https://eand.co/why-didnt-americans-take-fascism-seriously-until-it-was-too-late-445d2e4c387a

Saturday, 10 February 2018

10 February 2018. My Take on Anti-Semitism

The Galician Uniate nationalists spewed anti-Semitism under the Nazis… they do so today. They’re fascists, too… fancy that…

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Usually, if you find anti-Semitism, you find fascism… they walk hand in hand. Likewise, if you find true brotherhood, socialism isn’t far behind. Don’t let the loud bleats of identity politics and racism blur your vision. The powers-that-be use them to split us… so beware.

BMD

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