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Is Sweden the promised land for sensible covid-policies? Reluctantly. 

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 19/10/2020 - 8:13pm in

Sweden is a rich, spacious country famous for IKEA, ABBA, dark cold winters, and its unique covid-policies. We escaped London for a few days to see for ourselves what the deal was with this Scandinavian country of 10 million. It is as rich and well-run as the statistics say it is: Stockholm is full of sporty Swedes, spacious parks, shiny public transport, cyclists, and prams. Getting to talk to Swedes requires alcohol and patience, but once they do talk, you find their English is excellent.

In terms of the statistics, Sweden has had a relatively good covid-experience. The number of covid-attributed deaths is 0.06% of the population, average for the EU, without the huge anxiety and mental health disaster befalling other countries. Also, their economy is now estimated to shrink by only 3% in 2020, with the government running a surplus in September. It did not give up civil liberties and had a well-publicised large glut of infections in April-July that got them close to herd immunity. Whilst measured infection rates are rising again in the autumn, there are very few new deaths, suggesting the vulnerable population is either already immune or by now well-protected in a voluntary manner. Did this relative ‘success’ reflect some unique Swedish attribute or was it just luck?

On the one hand, Stockholm is everything a Covista wants to see. You see virtually no masks, the full pubs have minimal distancing, the generations walk together outside, the theaters are open and sold out, children play in packs, and there is a relaxed vibe in the air with people reacting in horror when you tell them of the descent into authoritarianism elsewhere. The place also has quite a few covid-refugees from the rest of Europe who deliberately came to Stockholm to breathe in a bit of sanity and fun. But….

On the other hand, football stadiums are still closed, you see signs everywhere asking you to socially distance, the crowds in shops are not that huge, distancing is stricter outside of the capital, and the city employs hundreds of covid-marshalls who check on rule compliance in restaurants and pubs. So whilst we did manage to sing to live-bands and even managed to dance, we cant tell you where because venues are not supposed to allow this. It is hence a mixed bag.

You also see this mixed bag in opinion polls and in the election campaigning. Many Swedes work from home, would like to see stricter rules on movements, and are attracted to the narrative that the whole population should give up things to protect the elderly. Ericsson, one of the biggest employers, for instance just announced its employees should wear masks at work.

The Swedes are also about the most politically-correct people on the planet, calling themselves a moral superpower, exactly the types who in other countries are at the forefront of lockdowns. The shops sell organic ice cream and oatmilk cappuccinos, and their national history museum tries to claim that the slave business run by the Dutch and the English was actually the fault of the Swedes. I think if there had been a referendum in April, the vast majority would have been pro-lockdowns and even now, many companies and groups want things to be stricter.

So what explains that the Swedes have gone the herd immunity route? I think the honest answer is sheer luck and a willingness to stick to their previous resolutions on how to handle such crises.

The Swedes were lucky that the health authority charged with running things in a health emergency was a group wedded to the herd immunity idea. It wasn’t just Tegnell, but also Giesecke and others close to the agency: they had a group of scientists and public servants strongly committed to what they sincerely thought was the right thing to do, willing to ignore the large swing in opinion and behaviour among public health people elsewhere in Europe. They have had to hide their early expressed opinion that herd immunity was the sensible long-run strategy and simply stuck to the mantra that they needed to take a long-run view and could not justify the experiment of lockdowns.

The Swedes also got lucky with their constitution which I understand forbids the kind of compulsory social distancing and lockdown policies the other countries in Europe and America went for. The thing the Swedes can be proud of is that during the height of the panic, they stuck to their constitution whilst in other countries they did not: my current understanding is that many American governors and European governments have violated their constitutions, though it will take a while for that to be widely established by constitutional courts (several cases been lost already though by governments, such as in Germany and Pennsylvania).

In short, I think the Swedes are reluctant poster-children for the Covistance. Their policies are not as sensible as those of the Tanzanians or South Dacotans, but they are a shining example to the rest of Europe anyway.

The coming COVID science sh*tstorm: responding to the Great Barrington Declaration

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/10/2020 - 3:03am in

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‘Not again’ will be the first thought of many climate-change veterans. They will recognise in the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) echoes of the dispiriting and distracting climate-science wars. Released on 7 October, the declaration is a brief statement promoted by three eminent epidemiologists. It is highly critical of lockdown approaches to tackling COVID-19 and argues for a complete and immediate reopening of societies across the globe. Think Sweden’s strategy, but more (and also less, a point to which I will return). In responding to it, progressives should make sure not to fall into the same traps as they did over climate change, even though all the triggers are in place for them to do so. Differences over COVID strategies, as over climate change, are not mainly about science. Nor should they be.

The Great Barrington Declaration

The GBD advocates allowing herd immunity to the coronavirus to build up and do its disease-containing work. It calls for ‘life as normal’ to be resumed—travel, face-to-face learning, working from the office, sports and entertainment—with no restrictions in place. It argues that the negative health and other effects of lockdown are too great. Handwashing and staying home while sick should be encouraged ‘to reduce the herd immunity threshold’. Finally, it calls for ‘Focused Protection’ for those most at risk, such as the elderly, through measures such as using staff with acquired immunity in aged care , or the elderly getting their groceries delivered. Masks are not mentioned, nor is ‘test, track and trace’. Nor is it acknowledged that countries such as China and New Zealand have largely reopened, domestically, with infection rates seemingly under control. 

The brief declaration was released by three leading academic epidemiologists, Professors Jay Bhattacharya (Stanford), Sunetra Gupta (Oxford) and Martin Kulldorff (Harvard). Scientists, doctors and members of the public have been encouraged to sign up to it online. At the time of writing, more than 200,000 people have done so, although the public listing of additional signatories was placed on hold after it became clear that significant trolling of the process was occurring—Professor Mick E. Mouse, Dr Mad Scientist and so on.

The declaration says that it comes from ‘both the left and right’, but if so, it has certainly been loaded, perhaps deliberately, with triggers to arouse resistance in those of a ‘progressive’ inclination. Trigger 1: the release of the statement was the culmination of a workshop hosted by the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), a libertarian US think tank, funded by the Koch Foundation, with the self-proclaimed agenda of promoting ‘personal freedom, free markets, private property, limited government, and sound money’, and with a long record of attacking proponents of action on climate change. It’s like the Institute of Public Affairs in Australia, only older, bigger and more powerful. Trigger 2: following the declaration, the three professors were taken to the Trump White House, where they met Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Trump’s key COVID-19 adviser, Scott Atlas. Both welcomed the declaration. Indeed, Atlas was a participant in the meeting that drafted the GBD, and he pre-endorsed its publication.

Hard as it may be to do so, it is important to put these triggers to one side and acknowledge the validity of some of the key arguments made in the declaration. The differential age threat of coronavirus: ‘vulnerability to death from COVID-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young’; the reality that many lockdown-type strategies adopted have indeed produced ‘devastating effects on short and long-term public health’—vaccination programs, cancer screening, mental health and so on; and that ‘the underprivileged [have been] disproportionately harmed’. It is entirely legitimate to ask if, from a societal perspective, ‘the cure is worse than the disease’.

Taking the declaration seriously

But taking the declaration seriously is not the same as endorsing it. Three things struck me when I read the declaration.

1.      Sweden and ‘herd immunity’

First, there was neither acknowledgement nor discussion of the importance of social context and government financial support when deciding upon a COVID-19 health strategy. While anti-lockdown proponents have been mesmerised by the Swedish experience, the reality is that Sweden did impose some restrictions. It limited gatherings to fifty people. It shifted university and older schoolchildren to online learning. And it implemented a strict test-and-trace regime with strong quarantine requirements for entire households where anyone tested positive. The state pays for antibody tests and provides financial support for those required to quarantine. These restrictions were aimed at reducing social contact. They were indeed lighter than those of many other countries.

It has been widely noted that Sweden has also experienced a death toll ten times that of neighbouring Finland and Norway (although it may still be early days for making such reckonings). Its immigrant communities have been especially hard hit. There has been a greater contraction of GDP than for its Nordic neighbours that embraced stricter lockdown strategies. Arguably, the Swedish strategy, which had strong public support, rests on a foundation of high levels of trust in government, a sophisticated and competently managed public health system, strong social-security systems, and the world’s highest marginal tax rate. The GBD avoids these contextual issues entirely.

There may well be a public health case for fewer restrictions and more opening up. There is also a libertarian argument for doing so. But there is not a credible case for linking such calls to a small-government, low-tax ideology as espoused by the statement’s hosts, the AIER. Indeed, the lack of financial support for those needing to isolate, and decades of deregulation and encouraging casualised, insecure and portfolio work (especially in the care sector), have only exacerbated the spread of COVID-19. The GBD seems to want Sweden-plus (an immediate reopening and no restrictions) but also Sweden-minus (none of its social-democratic, economically interventionist state features).

2.      First World/Third World

A second observation: the GBD views the world through a First World lens. The GBD is purportedly a global call to arms, but its implicit understanding of the world seems to rest on a particular elite view from the Global North. To take one example only: it seems to assume that most of the elderly are either in care homes, or retired and living alone or with their spouses. It accepts the need for special measures for multigenerational households, although it does not specify what these measures might be. Trust us, it suggests: a comprehensive and detailed list of measures is ‘well within the scope and capability of public health professionals’. Perhaps they are. But for most of the world, multigenerational households are the norm, not the exception.

There is indeed a particularly strong case to be made against adopting harsh lockdown strategies in the Global South. In circumstances where housing is inadequate and overcrowded, where employment is overwhelmingly informal and insecure, where no substantial social transfer payments exist, where savings are few and food insecurity is a day-to-day concern, lockdowns have had devastating effects. They have exacerbated existing inequalities even more sharply than they have in most of the Global North. Countries in the Global South that have been most effective in combating COVID-19, such as Vietnam, have adopted innovative strategies suitable to their own circumstances. This has occasionally included short lockdowns. Importantly, the WHO does not advocate lockdowns as the primary means to control coronavirus. ‘The only time we believe a lockdown is justified’, argues WHO special envoy on COVID-19 David Nabarro, ‘is to buy you time to reorganise, regroup, rebalance your resources; protect your health workers who are exhausted’. Instead it strongly advocates test-and-trace strategies.

Indeed, it can be argued that countries in the Global South that enforced strong and poorly managed lockdowns did so because their elites overly identified with the interests of the rich. Their strategies have helped protect the health of the existing elite and middle classes at the expense of the 90 per cent, especially in urban areas. In India there is a case to be made that the cure has been worse than the disease, with the lockdown having serious negative effects, especially on the poor and on migrant workers, and very few health-protection upsides, if reported current infection and death rates are reliable. In South Africa, the lockdown strategy adopted at the outset, in March, and recommended by experts, imitated a First World European approach. It failed to take into consideration the reality of life for the majority: overcrowded homes with no space for anyone infected to isolate, internet insufficient to allow home schooling, insecure employment and a reliance on crowded public taxis to find daily piecework, and hungry citizens forced to gather in large crowds, without physical distancing, for what food parcels charitable bodies could provide. There is a case against lockdown strategies in much of the Global South, although they have had some success over short periods in China and other parts of Asia. The GBD case lacks this nuance and awareness of context.

20,000 people gather to receive food parcels in the Olievenhoutbos township of Midrand, South Africa. May 2020.

3.      Epidemiology

My third observation is: why epidemiology? The GBD relies on its audience (us and governments) accepting the expert authority of the three epidemiologists most publicly associated with the declaration. Of course, there are many other, equally expert, epidemiologists who do not share their views, and yet others who share some of their views but not all. I will return to the question of scientific authority in general. For now, we need to ask whether epidemiology is the core scientific discipline needed for guidance in tackling this pandemic. The experience of the past nine months suggests that it should not be. Of course epidemiology has much to say about pandemics and their likely progression, and many epidemiologists have front-line experience with other recent pandemics, such as Ebola and SARS. But other health disciplines also have much to contribute, from front-line health workers and physicians treating those infected, to virologists trying to understand the virus as it spreads and mutates, to experts in track and trace. We are also learning that treating COVID-19 as primarily a public health issue does not sit easily with our experience that it has become a whole-of-society problem. Indeed, one of the positive aspects of the GBD is the recognition of this reality, even though the declaration asks us to accept that epidemiologists are the ones we should turn to for advice. The three epidemiologists who wrote the declaration represent a legitimate view, but it is only one view from one discipline. They should not be treated as ‘scientific dissenters’, as some in the press and the AIER would like us to do, as it strives to recreate the climate and tobacco playbooks.

One of the clear learnings from this pandemic is that collaborative response strategies are the most effective. Such strategies involve experts from a wide range of disciplines, both medical and non-medical (in labour-market policy, for example, or social psychology), and they include public participation and multi-party or non-partisan involvement too. There will inevitably be a variety of views on how best to respond and a need to ‘feel’ our way through this event, combining experiential knowledge, science, expert knowledge, public knowledge and contextual realities. Dealing with COVID-19 is too important to be left to epidemiologists.

Responding to the GBD and to the pandemic

When responding to the GBD, there are a few things progressives should have learned from the climate ‘wars’. Don’t respond to the provocative triggers—the Trump White House and Koch brothers connections. Don’t adopt the tactic of lining up ‘our’ scientists against ‘theirs’. Above all, don’t take the ‘scientific consensus’ route: ‘98% of scientists believe…’, or focus on discrediting individual signatories: ‘Professor Gupta is also bad/wrong in these other ways…’. Such approaches are a political dead end. We can see the effects already in the United States, with sterile arguments between those who suggest that COVID-19 is not so bad and those who stress how bad it is. Driving COVID-19 discourse towards binaries may suit the Koch brothers, but it does little to enhance meaningful public or practical engagement with the pandemic. A corollary of this is to avoid labelling the authors of the GBD ‘dissenters’.

It is also important to acknowledge that there is a great deal of validity to the critique of lockdown strategies, as I hope I have shown above. In truth, the declaration does its prime movers a disservice and does not capture the more complex story some of its authors have told elsewhere. For example, Professor Martin Kulldorff has argued, in an interview with Jacobin, that ‘the question is not whether we get to herd immunity or not, [but] how to get there with the minimum number of casualties…the lockdown is the worst assault on the working class in half a century, and especially on the urban working class’. And Professor Gupta has argued in an interview with The Biologist that she was motivated by the ‘terrifying prospect that lockdown might be implemented in places like India, or in Sub Saharan Africa, where asking someone to stay at home for months is not feasible. The cost is just too high’.

In the process we need to abandon illusions about policy being ‘led by the science’, and the myth of science as saviour. While scientific insights have much to contribute, they are not the sum total of the expertise needed. Science does not have all the answers. What science knows about COVID-19 is continually changing, and will often be contested. Some disciplines will have insights where others have gaps. This is the nature of knowledge production. Disagreement is not a problem. One of the strongest lessons to emerge from this pandemic is to drop naive understandings of the role of science in policymaking. This means searching for the best things to do in response to the pandemic given what we know, rather than arguing that a particular action is the only thing we can do because the science says so.

Progressives need to take many of the underlying points made in the GBD seriously, and not abandon them to the libertarian Right. The GBD should be approached with neither the deference its authors seem to expect nor the defiance its sponsors wish to provoke. In particular, we must be alert to policy proposals where the cure is worse than the disease, or which fail to make provision for ordinary working people to maintain a livelihood or be provided with meaningful compensation when they comply with regulations in the wider public interest. We should be wary too of regulations that grant excessive powers to the surveillance state and big corporations, and that infringe on democratic rights, other than for the shortest of periods. The GBD is right when it points out that lockdown strategies have serious negative effects on healthcare generally, for mental health, and for the young. But its argument needs to be taken further. As has been widely reported, these strategies have also exacerbated the full range of existing non-health inequalities in society. The poorest and most marginal have been the hardest hit. The way through and out of this pandemic needs to place this problem at the centre and find suitable solutions. The GBD has little to say about this. Perhaps engaging with it can open the way.

Thanks to Professor Sujatha Raman for her helpful comments on an earlier draft.


Planed Flat – Victoria, Stage 4: Is the new model barmy?

Guy Rundle, 10 Sep 2020

Yet the lockdown may be a product of the very assumptions classical liberals draw on for their one-dimensional idea of ‘freedom’.

The gathering Covistance, its promise and its main enemies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/10/2020 - 6:32pm in

Those who already in March foretold the folly of lockdowns and social distancing did not dream we’d still be in the same place after 7 months. Only slowly has it dawned that the panic would become an enduring business model. For a long time, we believed sanity would soon prevail and all we had to do was argue the case and let the prophesised damage speak for itself.

Yet there now is an emerging Covistance: a resistance to the covid-mania and its business model. It’s main message is that the vast majority of the population should immediately return to normal life and enjoy themselves. Throughout the world you see critical civic society groups emerging that share this message, involving medics, lawyers, economists, journalists, businesses, and the general public. In Australia, that Covistance is relatively high-profile with particular television networks, former PMs, and newspapers openly resisting the covid-mania. Brave insiders like Sanjeev Sabhlok have shown zivilcourage. The same is true in the UK, the US, Germany, France, Spain, and many other places. But not everywhere. In consensus countries like the Netherlands and New Zealand, for instance, the Covistance is low-profile with only a few doctors, lawyers, and the odd economist popping their heads above the parapet.

In an intellectual sense, forgive me for saying so, the Covistance won the argument a long time ago. I don’t say this because some 500,000 people and 20,000 scientists signed the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), or because the experience of Sweden really does show that you dont get Armageddon if the population behaves normally. I also don’t say this because the WHO’s special envoy on Covid implicitly agreed lockdowns were a bad mistake and that the WHO’s own modellers think the virus is no more harmful than a nasty seasonal flu after all, which it admitted when it let slip it thought 10% of the world was infected already (implying an IFR of 0.13%). Nor do I say this because the covid-mania policy objectives keeps changing radically from “delay infections” to “eradicate the virus” to “the miracle vaccine is coming”. I don’t even say this because the Covistance is basically advocating a return to the scientific consensus of before the covid-mania of march 2020 and thus has scientific gravity on its side.

I say the intellectual fight is long-won by the Covistance because the actions of both governments and populations reveal them to secretly agree. Just look at how short-term all the economic measures were and still are: they have been designed to last months, hence predicated on the notion of a return to normality when the virus has run its course. Ask yourself how many governments are openly planning to live for years with lockdowns and hence really thinks their policies can continue for years, which is the timeline on the Phase III trials of the vaccines? Why do you think many governments still use and publicise exaggerated projections of deaths and cases instead of accurate numbers if realistic numbers were honestly deemed proof enough? Why the continued censorship and harassment of demonstrators by the authorities if they believed their case was strong enough to keep the population onside anyway? Many governments are simply going from one short-run plan to another, displaying a lack of any real belief in their actions.

You see the same revealing two-faced attitude now increasingly in the general population. Many still say they want harsh measures, but join raves in the woods, full beaches, secret parties in homes, and forget about their masks and social distancing as soon as they’ve had a few. The tv and films they watch are showing normal life. The education their kids are getting is oriented towards normal life. So their actions betray they don’t truly believe in a “new normal”. Covid-mania has for many become what listening to sermons in the church used to be: you really believed it Sunday mornings, but ignored it the rest of the week.

So who is the natural enemy of the Covistance? Who is committed to the fear-mongering such that they will give no quarter? As usual, the question an economist asks is ‘cui bono’: who is benefiting? Unfortunately, the answer is that the group of beneficiaries has grown over time and is very powerful.

A very important unexpected beneficiary is Big Tech. The Nasdaq, which is the share market for the Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook, shows you the story: in March, the Nasdaq plunged just as much as the Dow Jones and other industrial share markets. So Big Tech analysts did not expect it to win. Yet, by mid-April it became clear that while the industrialists were indeed losing business, Big Tech was actually making a killing from the lockdowns. People too frightened to go to stores or to the office worked from home and shopped online. Katching for Big Tech! The Nasdaq is hence now substantially higher than before the mania, whilst the other share markets are much lower.

Big Tech thus became a powerful ally in the censorship programs of governments. It already ‘followed the WHO guidance’ and brushed out conflicting advice, which was a tough job since the WHO kept changing its mind on things like face masks and  lockdowns. The collaboration with covid-mania turned even more blatantly anti-scientific when scientific sanity returned in this debate in the form of the GBD. In most countries, but not the US (!), Google stopped allowing the website of the GBD to pop up in the first page when you googled “Great Barrington Declaration”. I saw that change for myself and you can check the screenshots of people in different countries. On Bing or Duckduckgo you do see the actual website of the GBD. Try it yourself to see if this censorship holds where you are. What I got this morning on the first page in London from Google were links to silly conspiracy stories surrounding the GBD. Reddit has also banned GBD in some of its forums.

Big Tech is powerful and not easily dismissed. Even most of the Covistance uses Facebook, twitter, Reddit, Google, and all the other mainstream communication platforms. If Big Tech makes life sufficiently difficult for the Covistance, then that Covistance would have to turn to other providers of technology, which is a big cost many wont easily make. It is not all bad though: Big Tech is revealing its hand and showing a group of privileged people who otherwise would not notice what these companies are prepared to do. We are learning the hard way that Julian Assange has been right about them all along.

Another group of beneficiaries is made up of the medical advisers around most governments. In their panic of march 2020 they ditched the contingency plans available and went with the totally unproven experiments of lockdowns and all the other things they advocated subsequently. They have been found out to be no more than copycat pretenders, for whom admitting their mistake would likely spell the end of their careers. The same is true for many economists who jumped on the initial bandwagon. They are now doubling down too. In for a penny, in for a pound.

An even more committed group are the businesses and bureaucrats employed by covid-mania. Think of the covid-marshalls in the UK who tell random people how to live. Think of the purveyors of masks and tests. Think of the companies that have sold billions of vaccines even before they are produced. Think of the hordes of regulators that dream up tiers, levels, flow-charts, and action-plans relating to covid. Think of the companies delivering home office supplies, home internet services, and sanitisers. Think of those who initially couldn’t have dreamed they would be in higher demand, like dog breeders and second-hand car salesmen.

The longer the covid-mania lasts, the longer the list of commercial entities predicated on its continuation grows. At a certain moment, the old economy is simply gone whilst a new one to replace it would still take years to fully absorb the workforce. Yet, that new economy is less productive and would of course collapse if the restrictions ceased because the old desires supporting the old economy (like entertainment and travel) would once again kick in. We could have a decade of recessions: from the old to the new and then another one when we go back again.

Last but not least, of course, the beneficiaries include many politicians. Their power and popularity has soared beyond previous levels, and whilst the popularity slips away the power is still in their hands. I know you might hate to hear this, but power is very, very addictive. Our literature, from Faust to Macbeth, tells us of its lure and what people are willing to do for it. Well, hordes of politicians have been handed power by covid-mania and have used it to expand that power. This makes them formidable enemies of the Covistance that wants them to let that power go.

So, these are then the enemies of the Covistance: many governments, an emerging industry of public-sector oriented profiteers, an emerging industry oriented towards the commercial new normal, Big Tech, and all those who staked their reputations and livelihoods on the covid-mania.

I deliberately did not put the media on this list, despite the fact that one can certainly say their have been culpable in the emergence of covid-mania and are a key tool of governments in maintaining it. That is because media has no real horse in the race: if it changes its mind and its tune because it sees the population change its mind, it will not matter much to their business. Many journalists have clearly enjoyed being fear-mongerers, but as an industry the media is not a big beneficiary and hence not really the natural enemy of the Covistance. They are potential allies, particularly if they see the tide changing.

I also did not put the general population or any segment of it on the list. That is because every segment is such a clear loser from covid-mania in the long-run. The economic and social collapse is not to the benefit of any large group in society. Even the elderly will not win from being starved of contact with their friends and family for years, with their health services and pensions diminished. Some groups have been convinced they benefit from the mania, but since they do not really benefit, I regard no major demographic as natural enemies of the Covistance. They are to be convinced.

Apart from the committed enemies, there are also roadblocks put up along the way. All the myths and superstitions surrounding covid are of that ilk. Examples are the myths that overflowing IC units spell Armageddon for the population, that children are as much at risk as the elderly, or that long-covid is just as important as risks of death. A new myth is the idea of a “circuit breaker” of 2-4 weeks, by which they mean a repeat of the failed European lockdowns lasting 2 months first time round. The constant stream of unopposed garbage coming from governments and hangers-on adds to the roadblocks facing the Covistance.

What are the chief weapons of the Covistance? Of course the Covistance has good arguments on its side, but we should realise that we have far more powerful weapons in our arsenal than science and reason.

The Covistance offers hope and fun. We dont fear the virus and hence laugh, sing, dance, share, and dream together. The covid-maniacs must at least pretend to be isolating and pessimistic. They have to advocate poverty and prudishness for all whilst the Covistance promises Christmas, Carnaval, busy pubs, and long nights.

So “bella ciao, bella ciao” my fellow Covistas. Not only do I believe we have truth on our side, but also fun and hope. Even Big Tech can’t win against that.

A Common Sense Exorcism from a Sceptical Medieval Monk

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 13/10/2020 - 6:27am in

The view most of us have grown up with about the Middle Ages is that it was ‘the age of faith’. Or to put it more negatively, an age of credulity and superstition. The scientific knowledge of the Greco-Roman world had been lost, and the Roman Catholic church retained its hold on the European masses through strict control, if not an outright ban, on scientific research and fostering superstitious credulity through fake miracles and tales of the supernatural.

More recently scholars have challenged this image. They’ve pointed out that from the 9th century onwards, western Christians scholars were extremely keen to recover the scientific knowledge of the ancients, as well as learn from Muslim scholarship obtained through the translation of scientific and mathematical texts from areas conquered from Islam, such as Muslim Spain and Sicily. Medieval churchmen had to master natural philosophy as part of the theology course, and scholars frequently digressed into questions of what we would call natural science for its own sake during examinations of theological issues. It was an age of invention which saw the creation of the mechanical clock, spectacles and the application of watermills as pumps to drain marshland and saw wood. There were also advances in medicine and maths.

At the same time, it was also an age of scepticism towards the supernatural. Agabard, a medieval Visigothic bishop of what is now France, laughed when he was told how ordinary people believed that storms were caused by people from Magonia in flying ships. The early medieval manual for bishops listing superstitions and heresies they were required to combat in their dioceses, the Canon Episcopi, condemns the belief of certain women that they rode out at night with Diana or Herodias in the company of other spirits. Scholars of the history of witchcraft, such as Jeffrey Burton Russell of Cornell University, argue that this belief is the ancestor of the later belief that witches flew through the air with demons on their way to meet Satan at the black mass. But at this stage, there was no suggestion that this really occurred. What the Canon Episcopi condemns is the belief that it really happens.

The twelfth century French scholar, William of Auvergne, considered that demonic visitations in which sleepers felt a supernatural presence pressing on their chest or body was due to indigestion. Rather than being a witch or demon trying to have sex with their sleeping victim, the incubus or succubus, it was the result of the sleeper having eaten rather too well during the day. Their full stomach was pressing on the body’s nerves, and so preventing the proper circulation of the fluids responsible for correct mental functioning. There were books of spells for the conjuration of demons produced during the Middle Ages, but by and large the real age of belief in witches and the mass witch hunts came in the later middle ages and especially the 16th and 17th centuries. And its from the 17th century that many of the best known spell books date.

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is G.G. Coulton’s Life in the Middle Ages. According to Wikipedia, Coulton was a professor of medieval history, who had originally studied for the Anglican church but did not pursue a vocation. The book’s a collection of medieval texts describing contemporary life and events. Coulton obviously still retained an acute interest in religion and the church, as the majority of these are about the church. Very many of the texts are descriptions of supernatural events of one kind or another – miracles, encounters with demons, apparitions of the dead and lists of superstitions condemned by the church. There’s ample material there to support the view that the middle ages was one of superstitious fear and credulity.

But he also includes an account from the Dutch/ German monk and chronicler, Johann Busch, who describes how he cured a woman, who was convinced she was demonically possessed through simple common sense and folk medicine without the involvement of the supernatural. Busch wrote

Once as I went from Halle to Calbe, a man who was ploughing ran forth from the field and said that his wife was possessed with a devil, beseeching me most instantly that I would enter his house (for it was not far out of our way) and liberate her from this demon. At last, touched by her prayers, I granted his request, coming down from my chariot and following him to his house. When therefore I had looked into the woman’s state, I found that she had many fantasies, for that she was wont to sleep and eat too little, when she fell into feebleness of brain and thought herself possessed by a demon; yet there was no such thing in her case. So I told her husband to see that she kept a good diet, that is, good meat and drink, especially in the evening when she would go to sleep. “for then” (said I” “when all her work is over, she should drink what is called in the vulgar tongue een warme iaute, that is a quart of hot ale, as hot as she can stand, without bread but with a ltitle butter of the bigness of a hazel-nut. And when she hath drunken it to the end, let her go forthwith to bed; thus she will soon get a whole brain again.” G.G. Coulton, translator and annotator, Life in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1967) pp.231-2).

The medieval worldview was vastly different from ours. By and large it completely accepted the reality of the supernatural and the truth of the Christian religion, although there were also scientific sceptics, who were condemned by the church. But this also did not stop them from considering rational, scientific explanations for supernatural phenomena when they believed they were valid. As one contemporary French historian of medieval magic has written, ‘no-one is more sceptical of miracles than a theologian’. Sometimes their scepticism towards the supernatural was religious, rather than scientific. For example, demons couldn’t really work miracles, as only God could do so. But nevertheless, that scepticism was also there.

The middle ages were indeed an age of faith, but it was also one of science and rationality. These were sometimes in conflict, but often united to provide medieval intellectuals with an intellectually stimulating and satisfying worldview.

‘I’ Review of Book on the Alma Fielding Poltergeist Case

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 13/10/2020 - 5:12am in

Last Friday, 9th October 2020, the ‘I’ published a review by Fiona Sturges of the book, The Haunting of Alma Fielding, by Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury, £18.99). Fielding was a woman from Croydon, who in 1938 found herself and her husband haunted by a poltergeist, the type of spirit which supposedly throws objects around and generally makes itself unpleasant. The review states that she was investigated by the Society for Psychical Research, in particular Nandor Fodor. Summerscale came across the case while going through the Society’s files.

I’m putting up Sturges’ review as I’ve friends, who are members of the Society and very involved in paranormal research, as are a few of the great peeps, who comment on this blog. Ghost hunting is also very big at the moment, and there are any number of programmes on the satellite and cable channels, as well as a multitude of ghost hunting groups across the UK, America and other countries. Despite its popularity, there’s a big difference between serious paranormal investigation of the type done by the SPR and ASSAP and the majority of ghost hunting groups. The SPR and ASSAP contain professional scientists as well as ordinary peeps from more mundane professions, and try to investigate the paranormal using strict scientific methodology. They contain sceptics as well as believers, and are interested in finding the truth about specific events, whether they are really paranormal or have a rational explanation. They look down on some of the ghost-hunting groups, because these tend to be composed entirely of believers seeking to confirm their belief in the paranormal and collect what they see as evidence. If someone points out that the evidence they show on their videos actually is no such thing – for example, most researchers believe orbs aren’t the souls of the dead, but lens artefacts created by floating dust moats – then the die-hard ghost hunters tend to react by decrying their critics as ‘haters’. Many of the accounts of their encounters with the supernatural by the ghost hunters are extremely dramatic. They’ll describe how members got possessed or were chased by the spirits on their home. I’m not saying such events don’t happen at all. I do know people, who have apparently been possessed by spirits during investigations. But the stories of such supernatural events put up by the ghost-hunters seem more likely the result of powerful imaginations and hysteria than genuine manifestations by the dead.

Academic historians are also interested in spiritualism and supernatural belief in the past because of what they reveal about our ancestors worldview and the profound changes this underwent during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Psychical research emerged in the 19th century at the same time as spiritualism, and was founded partly to investigate the latter. Both can be seen as attempts to provide concrete, scientifically valid proof of the survival of the soul after death at the time science was itself just taking shape and religious belief was under attack from scientific materialism. As the review says, spiritualism and psychic research were particularly popular in the aftermath of the First World War, as bereaved relatives turned to it for comfort that their loved ones still lived on in a blessed afterlife. One famous example of this is Conan Doyle, the creator of the arch-rationalist detective, Sherlock Holmes. Doyle was a spiritualist, who helped, amongst other things, popularise the Cottingley Fairies in his book, The Coming of the Fairies. Another of his books in this area was Raymond, an account of his contact with the spirit of his son, who was one of those killed in that terrible conflict.

But the history of spiritualism is also interesting because of what it also reveals about gender roles and sexuality, topics also touched on in the review. Mediums stereotypically tend to be women or gay men. At the same time, historians have also suggested that there was an erotic element to seances and investigations. More intimate physical contact between the sexes was permitted in the darkness of the séance room that may otherwise have been permitted in strictly respectable Victorian society. At the same time, there is to modern viewers a perverse aspect to the investigation of the mediums themselves. In order to rule out fraud, particularly with the physical mediums who claimed to produce ectoplasm from their bodies, mediums were tied up, stripped naked and examined physically, including in their intimate parts. Emetics could be administered to make sure that their stomachs were empty and not containing material, like cheesecloth, which could be used to fake ectoplasm.

The review, ‘Strange but true?’, runs

In February 1938, there was a commotion at a terraced house in Croydon. Alma and Les Fielding were asleep when tumblers began launching themselves at walls; a wind whipped up in their bedroom, lifting their eiderdown into the air; and a pot of face cream flew across the room. The next morning, as Alma prepared breakfast, eggs exploded and saucers snapped.

Over the next few days, visiting journalists witnessed lumps of coal rising from the fireplace and barrelling through the air, glasses escaping from locked cabinets and a capsizing wardrobe. As far as they could tell, the Fieldings were not responsible for the phenomena. One report told of a “malevolent, ghostly force”. The problem, it was decided, was a poltergeist.

Fast-forward to 2017 and the writer Kate Summerscale, best known for the award-winning The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, was in the Society for Psychical Research Archive in Cambridge looking for references to Nandor Fodor, a Hungarian émigré and pioneer of supernatural study, who investigated the fielding case.

She found a dossier of papers related to Alma, compiled by Fodor, containing interviews, séance transcripts, X-rays, lab reports, scribbled notes and photographs. The file was, says Summerscale, “a documentary account of fictional and magical events, a historical record of the imagination.”

The Haunting of Alma Fielding is a detective novel, a ghost yarn and a historical record rolled into one. Blending fact and fiction it is an electrifying reconstruction of the reported events surrounding the Fieldings, all the while placing them in a wider context.

The narrative centres of Fodor, who at the time was losing faith in spiritualism – the mediums he had met were all fakes, and the hauntings he had investigated were obvious hoaxes. He was increasing convinced that supernatural occurrences were caused “not by the shades of the dead but by the unconscious minds of the living”.

But he was intrigued by Alma, who now experiencing “apports” – the transference of objects from one place to another. Rare stones and fossils would appear in her hands and flowers under her arms. Beetles started to scuttle out from her clothes and a terrapin appeared in her lap. She would later claim to be able to astrally project herself and give herself over to possession by spirits.

Summerscale resists the temptation to mine the more comic aspects of the story. She weaves in analysis on class, female emancipation and sexuality, and the collective angst of a nation. At the time, spiritualism was big business in Britain, which was still suffering the shocks of mass death from the First World War and Spanish flu. Seances to reach the departed were as common as cocktail parties. There was dread in the air, too, as another conflict in Europe loomed.

Alma became a local celebrity, released from domestic dreariness into the gaze of mostly male journalists, mediums and psychiatrists. Chaperoned by Fodor, she made frequent visits to the Institute of Psychical Research, where she submitted to lengthy and often invasive examinations.

We come to understand how Fodor stood to benefit from the cases, both in furthering his career and restoring his faith in the possibility of an afterlife. You feel his pain, along with Alma’s, as the true story is revealed.

It sounds very much from that last paragraph that the haunting was a hoax. There have been, unfortunately, all too many fake mediums and hoaxers keen to exploit those seeking the comfort of making contact once again with deceased relatives and friends. There was even a company selling a catalogue of gadgets to allow someone to take a séance. But I don’t believe for a single moment that all mediums are frauds. There is a psychological explanation, based on anthropologists study of the zar spirit possession cult of one of the African peoples. This is a very patriarchal culture, but possession by the zar spirits allows women to circumvent some of the restrictions of women. For example, they may be given rings and other objects while possessed through the spirits asking, or apparently asking, through them. It’s been suggested that zar possessions are a form of hysteria, in which women, who are frustrated by societal restrictions, are able to get around them. The same explanation has also been suggested for western mediumship and alien abductions. Many of the women, who became mediums and who experience abductions by aliens, may do so subconsciously as these offer an escape from stifling normal reality.

I also believe that some supernatural events may well be genuine. This view was staunchly defended by the late Brian Inglis in his history of ghosts and psychical research, Natural and Supernatural, in the 1990s. As an Anglican, I would also caution anyone considering getting involved in psychical research to take care. There’s fraud and hoaxing, of course, as well as misperception, while some paranormal phenomena may be the result of poorly understood fringe mental states. But I also believe that some of the supposed entities contacting us from the astral realms, if they exist, are deliberately trying to mislead us. The great UFO researchers, John Keel and Jacques Vallee, came to the same conclusion about the UFO entities. One of Keel’s books was entitled, Messengers of Deception. There’s also the book, Hungry Ghosts, again written from a non-Christian perspective, which also argues that some of the spirits contacting people are malevolent and trying to deceive humanity for their own purposes.

If you are interested in psychical research, therefore do it properly using scientific methodology. And be aware of the possibility of deception, both natural and supernatural.

The Budget: How About Wildlife?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/10/2020 - 1:39pm in

The Federal Budget has generated a lot of comments. It is certainly based on an unprecedented fiscal expansion; but there are fiscal expansions and then there are fiscal expansions. Annabel Crabb put it this way: "It recognises the people it wants to help, and screw the rest." She's right.

After that, the few who won biggly and the many who were left out in the cold made their voices heard. In the cacophony resulting, even Morrison's gas-fueled technology roadmap, designed to make Australia forever dependent on fossil fuels, was forgotten. You see, whether by accident or by design, it was announced before the budget, almost as if to make it sure people would be too worried about their own livelihoods to care about climate change.

And yet, as terrible as all that is, there is yet another piece of bad news people have overlooked:

Federal Budget condemns our wildlife to extinction By Sue Arnold | 8 October 2020, 11:00am | 5 comments | 370 David Littleproud, Sussan Ley and Keith Pitt have once again done little to help save our environment (Screenshots via YouTube)

The 2020 Federal Budget has focused on economic interests and forsaken rebuilding our devastated environment, writes Sue Arnold.

THE COMPLETE FAILURE of the Morrison/Frydenberg Budget to address the catastrophic state of Australia’s environment is well demonstrated by the user guide in the budget paper for agriculture, water and environment portfolio (page 9).

Not one mention of biodiversity.

Three ministers share the agriculture, water and environment portfolio. David Littleproud, deputy leader of the National Party, is responsible for agriculture, drought and emergency management. Sussan Ley is Minister for the Environment and Keith Pitt, Queensland National Party MP, is responsible for resources, water and Northern Australia.

The Commonwealth portfolio responsibilities include the Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC) and numerous entities which are in conflict with any environmental focus. 

 The National Party has control of primary environmental resources at the national level and in the NSW Government.

Environment is the enemy of Right-wing governments

Environment is the enemy of Right-wing governments

The biggest cause of environmental destruction in our country is the Right-wing ideology shared by conservative politicians and media groups.

This Budget paper should fill every concerned Australian with alarm. Not only is the overview paper an exercise in spin, as evidenced in the list of outcomes, but funding for urgent environmental priorities is ignored.

In fact, the outcomes are focused on economic interests. At a time when scientists have estimated 3 billion animals were lost in the bushfires, logging is out of control in NSW and Victoria, the EPBC Act is about to be further weakened unless the amendments are blocked in the Senate, the Budget paper should be a clarion call for action.

Our besieged wildlife is in desperate need of habitat protection, stronger laws to protect their future survival and a national focus on recovery.

Last month, the Morrison Government rammed the EPBC Act amendment through the House of Representatives, further weakening the legislation described in the Budget paper as:

In 2020–21 we are at a pivotal point in our national environmental protection efforts. Planning is underway to deliver a reform program that revitalises the legislative and policy framework for environment protection. This will ensure ongoing ecologically sustainable development that is both streamlined for businesses and effectively protects the environment.

One has to ask, how do these guys sleep at night?

According to the paper:

Our environment has begun the long journey towards recovery from the Black Summer bushfires. The early positive signs are encouraging, but the recovery of native wildlife and their habitats will require significant effort and long-term planning. We have supported the commitment of funds for the recovery of our biodiversity and ecosystems. We are also working across government to provide support to affected farmers, fishers and foresters, along with rural, regional and urban communities. We are committed to the sustained effort that will be needed to support bushfire- affected areas.

The Coalition, koalas and coal

The Coalition, koalas and coal

Is Barilaro, Berejiklian or Morrison to blame for the annihilation of Australia’s favourite furry marsupial, the cuddly koala?

Exactly where has the environment begun ‘the long journey towards recovery’? And what ‘early positive signs are encouraging’?  

Funds for the recovery of biodiversity and ecosystems consist of promises and meagre allocations of dollars. 

Let’s not forget that Morrison is the same man who was quoted by The Guardian a year ago after his address to the U.N. responding to a speech by Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg:

“I want children growing up in Australia to feel positive about their future and I think it is important we give them that confidence that they will not only have a wonderful country and pristine environment to live in, that they will also have an economy to live in as well.”

According to reports of Morrison’s speech, his focus was confined to ocean management, plastics, waste management and illegal fishing.

In October 2019, 240 conservation scientists signed an open letter warning Morrison that:

‘Australia is amid an extinction crisis. We are documenting the rapid decline in the overall numbers of species and the overall diversity of wildlife across the land, rivers and seas of our country.

Australia’s native species are disappearing at an alarming rate.’

Without doubt, the plight of koalas is a major concern for the public. Given the millions of dollars donated by Australians and overseas celebs, organisations and concerned citizens, the Budget fails to recognise the koalas’ plight.

The 'gas-led recovery' isn't economically or environmentally prudent

The 'gas-led recovery' isn't economically or environmentally prudent

If Scott Morrison ever went back to his old job of promoting tourism and needed to ramp up the travel industry, he would put his money on blimps.

Yet in November 2019, Minister Ley’s office advised the following commitments were made at the Brisbane koala round table:

We have committed $3 million for the protection of koala habitat in South East Queensland and Northern NSW from the Environment Restoration Fund.

Thursday’s meeting was an important chance to identify and prioritise actions resulting from the bushfires.

The workshop considered the ongoing impact of fires and identified priority actions:

  • assessing the needs of wildlife carers and animal hospitals on the immediate front line with state and federal governments reaching out to provide and coordinate further assistance,  identifying suitable release sites for rehabilitated koalas. Governments are already providing funding support;
  • a rapid mapping of the impact on known koala habitat and, importantly, to identify areas where healthy Koala populations remain;
  • identifying the importance of remaining koala habitat and populations as significant environmental assets and developing management strategies for their protection;
  • identifying corridor strategies to link habitat areas along Northern NSW and Southern Queensland;
  • management of koala habitat should address a range of threats including fragmentation, degradation of habitat and the impacts of fire;
  • management could include establishing fire breaks and undertaking controlled burns when safe to do so to reduce the risk of destructive fires. In addition working with rural fire services so they are aware of important koala habitat and can help protect it when they have capacity, recognising that protection of people and property is their priority; and
  • longer term funding can support regeneration of degraded habitat to increase the area available for koalas and improve connectivity between these areas.

IA has not been able to identify any actions taken to prioritise or much less acted upon as a result of the Brisbane koala round table. Earlier this year, $6.9 million was approved for 19 projects by the Federal Government. None of the grants was focused on koalas.

Outcome l in the Budget paper details the forecast performance results in 2019-2020. 

The outcome is defined as:

Conserve, protect and sustainably manage Australia’s biodiversity, ecosystems, environment and heritage through research, information management, supporting natural resource management, establishing and managing Commonwealth protected areas, and reducing and regulating the use of pollutants and hazardous substances, and coordination of climate change adaptation strategy and climate change science activities.

Government eager to reintroduce harmful environmental legislation

Government eager to reintroduce harmful environmental legislation

A bill putting environmental decisions in the hands of state governments known for their destructive behaviour is under consideration.

The objective:

‘...to improve the extent, condition and connectivity of Australia’s unique biodiversity and natural resources, including the Great Barrier Reef, through protection of habitats and mitigation of threats to threatened species and ecological communities.’

Under Performance information/criteria the following is stated:

Australia’s biodiversity including priority threatened species, ecological communities, cetaceans and migratory species, and significant heritage places are conserved and protected via targeted investments and collaborative partnerships.

Targets: Program objectives are delivered under the National Landcare Program and other key programs, including improving your local parks and environment program and the Australian heritage Grants Program. 

Outcome? Achieved. 

It’s extremely difficult to understand how the National Landcare Program has any influence on cetaceans.

In the same way that President Trump has downplayed COVID-19, even as he’s now infected, PM Morrison is following the U.S. President’s playbook.

Instead of 210,000 human lives lost, the Australian leader is condemning our wildlife to extinction. The Budget is a national disgrace.

Sue Arnold is an IA columnist and freelance investigative journalist. You can follow Sue on Twitter @koalacrisis.

Related Articles

Creative Commons Licence This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License  
---------- This article appeared originally in Independent Australia.

The Great Barrington Declaration?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/10/2020 - 2:14am in

A group of senior medical scientists have gotten together to pen an open petition to governments and society, calling for a herd immunity approach to the coronavirus. Signatories already include over 3000 “Medical & Public Health Scientists”, 4000 “Medical Practitioners”, and 60,000 others not in those categories. That’s pretty good in these times of strong adverse media headwinds.

As I too have been here on Troppo, the organisers of that petition are deeply worried about the damage that the lockdowns and other anti-social measures are doing to children, students, the poor, the developing world, the elderly, and everyone else. Their key quotes on policy are

The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.

where I want to heartily cheer the phrase “most compassionate approach”. It is exactly that. This approach means

Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold. Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity.

which is pretty much what many Australian residents called for in our June letter to governments. There are small things I do not agree with in the letter, but on the general message I am in agreement so have signed it. The strong should accept the burden of gaining high degrees of immunity so that the vulnerable run less risk when leading a normal life. We should indeed encourage and celebrate high covid infection rates among the young and healthy.

Do sign the petition to show your support.

The Ecological Marx and Engels.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 05/10/2020 - 8:47am in

Tags 

Marxism, Science

MECW. [A]

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote a lot. To give you an idea: the Marx and Engels Complete Works (MECW) the most complete  – in the sense of collecting their discovered writings between 1835 and 1895) –  compilation of their written opus, numbers 50 volumes, each one between 600 and 800 pages long.

Even excluding introductions, content pages, appendices and endnotes, that’s plenty of writing: published and unpublished books and pamphlets, drafts and research notes for future work, newspaper analyses, public addresses, private and official letters to family, friends and associates, political or otherwise, communiqués. The variety of subjects they treated in those documents at least matches the variety in the kind of documents they produced: from philosophy, history, economics, sociology, politics, down to the kind of news one sends to one’s relatives and friends.

Much more importantly, however, is that scholars and academics in all those fields – plus many others –  have found inspiration and insight there.

But Marx and Engels not only wrote a lot, they also read a lot. An amusingly ironic anecdote, told by the late Christopher Hitchens, illustrates: “Oh Mr. Marx, yes, to be sure. Gave us a lot of work ’e did, with all ’is calls for books and papers …” – a retired British Museum’s reading room librarian reminisced for the BBC, early 20th century. After that, the librarian added, nobody ever heard of Mr Marx again.

They – on top – not only thought long and hard about what they read, they also observed the world they lived in (modern opinion-makers – or opinionators, depending on your perspective – would be sensible to follow their example: we know you can write, the doubt is whether you can read). 

Marx and Engels, in other words, did their homework: they learnt.

So much so, in fact, that careful readers, approaching their writings from different backgrounds, can identify insights surprisingly relevant to our own times.

And although Marx and Engels were not scientists in the modern sense of the word – nor did they ever claim otherwise – they read about science as well … (something economists and opinion-makers alike, negatives notwithstanding, seldom do nowadays).

Image Credits:
[A] Marx and Engels Collected Works. Author: Ben Sutherland. Source: WikiMedia. File licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. My usage of the file in no way suggests any endorsement from the file's author.

Without further ado

----------

What Karl Marx has to say about today's environmental problems Green Marx. Montecruz Foto/Flickr, CC BY-SA Ted Benton, University of Essex

…all progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the labourer, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility.

– Karl Marx, Capital vol 1

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and an economic shift in China it seemed that capitalism had become the only game in town. Karl Marx’s ideas could safely be relegated to the dustbin of history. However the global financial crash of 2008 and its aftermath sent many rushing back to the bin.

For good or ill, the German philosopher’s ideas have affected our world more profoundly than any other modern social or political thinker. Yet on Marx’s recent 200th birthday, discussion of his continuing relevance was still dominated by “traditional” understandings of Marxism. Commentators, whether hostile or sympathetic, focused on his critique of the exploitation and inequality of capitalism and imperialism, and the struggle to transform society in a socialist direction.

Sadly, there was little – far too little – on Marx’s thinking on the relations between humans and nature.

After all, the steady but accelerating destruction by modern capitalism of the very conditions which sustain all life, including human life, is arguably the most fundamental challenge facing humanity today. This is most widely recognised in the shape of one of its most devastating symptoms: climate change. But there is much more to it, including toxic pollution of the oceans, deforestation, soil degradation and, most dramatically, a loss of biodiversity on a geological scale.

‘The history of nature and the history of men are dependent on each other so long as men exist’ – Karl Marx. Stephen Bonk / shutterstock

Some will say that these are new problems, so why should we expect Marx, writing more than a century ago, to have had anything worthwhile to offer to us today? In fact, recent scholarship has demonstrated that the problematic, often contradictory relationship between humans and the rest of nature was a central theme in Marx’s thinking throughout his life. His ideas on this remain of great value – even indispensable – but his legacy is also quite problematic and new thinking is needed.

Alienation – from nature

Marx’s early philosophical manuscripts of 1844 are best known for developing his concept of “alienated labour” under capitalism, yet commentators hardly ever noticed that for Marx the fundamental source of alienation was our estrangement from nature.

This began with enclosure of common land, which left many rural people with no means of meeting their needs other than to sell their labour power to the new industrial class. But Marx also talked of spiritual needs, and the loss of a whole way of life in which people found meaning from their relationship to nature.

Enclosure turned common land into private property and, Marx argued, helped England move from feudalism to capitalism. Cristian Teichner / shutterstock

The theme running through his early manuscripts is a view of history in which exploitation of workers and of nature go hand-in-hand. For Marx, the future communist society will resolve the conflicts among humans and between humans and nature so that people can meet their needs in harmony with one another and with the rest of nature:

Man lives on nature – means that nature is his body, with which he must remain in continuous interchange if he is not to die. That man’s physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.

In these writings Marx makes vital contributions to our understanding of the human-nature relationship: he overcomes a long philosophical tradition of viewing humans as separate from and above the rest of nature, and he asserts the necessity for both survival and spiritual well-being of a proper, active relationship with the rest of nature. At the same time he recognises this relationship has gone wrong in the capitalist epoch.

The problem is capitalism – not humanity

In his later writings Marx develops this analysis with his key concept of “mode of production”. For Marx, each of the different forms of human society that have existed historically and across the globe has its own specific way of organising human labour to meet subsistence needs through work on and with nature, and its own specific way of distributing the results of that labour. For example, hunter-gatherer societies have usually been egalitarian and sustainable. However feudal or slave-owning societies involved deeply unequal and exploitative social relations, but lacked the limitlessly expansive and destructive dynamic of industrial capitalism.

Marx talked of ‘primitive communism’ in ancient societies. Anton_Ivanov /Shutterstock

This concept of “modes of production” immediately undermines any attempt to explain our ecological predicament in such abstract terms as “population”, “greed” or “human nature”. Each form of society has its own ecology. The ecological problems we face are those of capitalism – not human behaviour as such – and we need to understand how capitalism interacts with nature if we are to address them.

Marx himself made an important start on this. In the 1860s he wrote about soil degradation, a big concern at the time. His work showed how the division of town and country led to loss of soil fertility while at the same time imposing a great burden of pollution and disease in the urban centres.

Modern writers have developed these ideas further, including the late James O’Connor, the sociologist John Bellamy Foster, who identified an endemic tendency of capitalism to generate an “ecological rift” with nature, and those in the UK associated with the Red Green Study Group.

I suggested above that Marx’s ideas were indispensable but also problematic. There are places where he appears to celebrate the huge advances in productivity and control over the forces of nature achieved by capitalism, seeing socialism as necessary just to share the benefits of this to everyone. Recent scholarship has challenged this interpretation of Marx, but historically it has been very influential. It is arguable that the disastrous consequences of the Stalinist drive for rapid industrialisation in Russia came from that interpretation.

But there is another point. The newer ecological marxists argue, rightly, that capitalism is ecologically unsustainable, and that socialism is necessary to establish a rational relationship to the rest of nature. However, to build a movement capable of transforming society in this way, we need to recall Marx’s early emphasis on both the material and spiritual needs that can be met only by a fully rewarding and respectful relationship to the rest of nature: in short, we need a Marxism that is green, as well as ecological.The Conversation

Ted Benton, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Essex

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Scotty From Marketing To Send Trump A Pete Evans Light Machine To Aid His Recovery

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 03/10/2020 - 11:03am in

Australian Prime Minister Scotty from marketing has called celebrity chef Pete Evans to order one of his special light machines to send to American President Donald Trump to help aid his recovery from the Corona Virus.

”I am sure most Australians, well at least those that tune into Sky News, all 75 of us, would join me in wishing President Trump a speedy recovery,” said Prime Minister Scotty. ”I have spared no expense in buying the President the best gift I could find and I will be sending it to him as soon as I can.”

”I want to assure the Australian public that while yes it did cost $15,000 to buy the light machine it won’t affect the budget as I took it from the ABC’s allocated funds.”

When asked why he would be sending the President a machine that has been discredited by the scientific community, the Prime Minister said: ”Pete Evans says it works scientists say it doesn’t, who are we going to believe?”

”Besides, what else could I get the President?”

”I was going to grab him some thoughts and prayers but Hillsong were charging too much for those.”

Mark Williamson

@MWChatShow

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Lonely Magpie Just Wants A Hug

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/09/2020 - 11:21am in

Tags 

Science, Australia

A sad Shire magpie who simply wants a friend is unable to comprehend why everyone he swoops down on to give a hug to runs away in terror.

“I’m so alone all day on top of this telegraph pole and all I want to do is make a little quality tactile time with another being,” said Miranda magpie Eddie Snapson. “But all I ever get is the cold shoulder and people waving sticks at me.”

Eddie’s social isolation has been compounded by his phobias of ice cream buckets, sunglasses and cable ties.

“I had a really bad experience as a young chick when a whole truckload of Neapolitan ice cream almost ran me down just outside the Raybans factory,” wailed the desperate and dateless Snapson. “I’ve been trying to overcome my shyness by approaching strangers and air kissing them but this only provokes them to wave their arms around.”

Eddie is hoping to have some luck making friends with the postman and that Persian cat that he’s been seeing lurking around the neighbourhood.

Peter Green
http://www.twitter.com/Greeny_Peter

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