Monday, October 30, 2006

World Government

     Back when I was in high school, I was a big fan of the idea of having a world government. I thought of all the money, resources, and energy that was dedicated on people spying on each other, fighting each other, and wasting money on military that they purchase in order to ward off an attack by an enemy's arsenal (bought for the same purpose). I remember being a strong advocate of the European Union and wished that someday the US would lose its strong sense of nationalism and would join the EU, centralize its power, and offer economic packages to induce other countries to join. During the summers I worked at Staples (the self-proclaimed Office Superstore), and I remember stocking shelves trying to convince another student who worked there of the benefits of a world government. He objected, on the grounds that the Bible said that a world government would be the first step towards the end times. So you can imagine how productive that conversation was...

     My outlook on the world has changed drastically since that time. Probably the biggest difference related to this topic is the idea that the governments of the world aren't actually accountable to their people. That democracy, even in places where it enjoys a formal existence, is merely a sham and is actually controlled by some elite, whether they be of political or economic nature. So with this understanding, I now find the notion of a world government absolutely terrifying.

    But that suggests the question, to what extent do we already have a world government? In just about every country in the world the dominant business interests have a huge say in what actions the government takes, and the largest business interests in each country are very often part of large multinationals that exert influence on other governments as well. They are certainly far from being outright dictatorships, but I believe it's certainly arguable that a great deal of the political power in the world is concentrated in the same type of oligarchic structure. Furthermore, that power is becoming more concentrated over time due to natural market forces in addition to other causes such as more effective propaganda tactics and the lack of organized resistance from the people.

    This view of the world is certainly a depressing one, and makes radical change seem nearly impossible to achieve on short time scales. Perhaps a gradual dissolution of the current structures from the inside is the only way to go. War or a quick, isolated revolution is certainly out of the question in an age of nuclear weapons. In addition, this view makes the countries which we are supposed to hate (Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Iran, etc.) acquire a silver lining. Surely all these countries are run by complete bastards †, but at least they aren't the same bastards. During the Spanish Revolution, the western "democratic" countries refused to sell the Republic weapons ‡ In fact, in some cases they directly helped and supported the fascists (to be covered in a later post). The only country (besides Mexico) that would support the legitimately elected government was Stalin's USSR. You never know when history will decide to repeat itself, and sometimes the enemy of an enemy is a friend.

† Yes, good things can be said about Castro and Chavez. Iran's current situation is due to the United States and Great Britain overthrowing Iran's only democratic government under pressure from the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now called BP) in 1953. But these are complex topics worthy of a more dedicated conversation.

‡ Imagine, a democratically-elected government being refused weapons to defend itself from an openly fascist insurgency!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Poll on Political Idealogy

     I had planned on writing a substantial post tonight but ended up walking around the city with some friends for a few hours instead. So rather than rushing the writing, I'd like to get an idea of what political idealogies you subscribe to. Each category will have a short description (mostly lifted from Wikipedia due to time constraints). If you'd like to elaborate in the comments section, please do. The definitions are perhaps necessarily vague (as specific definitions can get very subjective), so if you're torn in terms of the definition vote based on the other beliefs and connotations that you have with the two choices.

Political Idealogy
Christian Democracy
Green Politics
Capitalist Libertarianism
Social Democracy
Free polls from

  • Anarchism-Anarchism is a political theory which aims to create anarchy, "the absence of a master, of a sovereign." In other words, anarchism is a political theory which aims to create a society within which individuals freely co-operate together as equals. As such anarchism opposes all forms of hierarchical control - be that control by the state or a capitalist - as harmful to the individual and their individuality as well as unnecessary.

  • Christian Democracy-Broadly speaking, Christian Democracy is conservative in regard to moral and cultural issues, and issues of public morality and tradition. It can be described as left-wing insofar as it claims a "strong social conscience", in the sense of emphasizing the alleviation of poverty, the welfare state, and if necessary the restraint of market forces. It may also be seen as liberal insofar as it upholds human rights and individual initiative.

  • Communism-Communism is an ideology that seeks to establish a future classless, stateless social organization, based upon common ownership of the means of production. Clarification: Please choose this choice if you see a communist society coming into being with a "communist state" as an intermediate step. If you're an anarcho-communist, please choose anarchism.

  • Communitarianism-Communitarianism as a group of related but distinct philosophies began in the late 20th century, opposing classical liberalism, capitalism, and other similar philosophies while advocating phenomena such as civil society. Not necessarily hostile to social liberalism, communitarianism rather has a different emphasis, shifting the focus of interest toward communities and societies and away from the individual. The question of priority, whether on the individual or community often has the largest impact in the most pressing ethical questions, such as health care, abortion, multiculturalism, and hate speech.

  • Conservatism-Conservatism is a political philosophy that necessitates a defense of established values or the status quo.

  • Fascism-Fascism is a radical political ideology that combines elements of corporatism, authoritarianism, nationalism, militarism, anti-anarchism, anti-communism and anti-liberalism.

  • Feminism-Feminism is a diverse collection of social theories, political movements and moral philosophies, largely motivated by or concerned with the experiences of women. Most feminists are especially concerned with social, political and economic inequality between men and women (in the context of it being to the disadvantage of women); some have argued that gendered and sexed identities, such as "man" and "woman", are socially constructed. Feminists differ over the sources of inequality, how to attain equality, and the extent to which gender and gender-based identities should be questioned and critiqued. In simple terms, feminism is the belief in social, political and economic equality of the sexes, and the movement organised around the belief that gender should not be the pre-determinant factor shaping a person's social identity, or socio-political or economic rights.

  • Green Politics-Green politics or Green ideology is the ideology of the Green Parties, mainly informed by environmentalism, ecology and sustainable economics and aimed at developing a sustainable society. It is considered by its advocates to be an alternative to socialism, conservatism, and liberalism, although adherents of the traditional ideologies tend to view Greens as representing "one of the others."

  • Islamism-Islamism is a set of political ideologies that hold that Islam is not only a religion, but also a political system that governs the legal, economic and social imperatives of the state according to its interpretation of Islamic Law. For Islamists, the sharia has absolute priority over democracy and universal human rights.

  • Liberalism-Liberalism is an ideology, philosophical view, and political tradition which holds that liberty is the primary political value. Liberalism has its roots in the Western Enlightenment, but the term now encompasses a diversity of political thought.

    Broadly speaking, liberalism emphasizes individual rights. It seeks a society characterized by freedom of thought for individuals, limitations on power, especially of government and religion, the rule of law, free public education, the free exchange of ideas, a market economy that supports relatively free private enterprise, and a transparent system of government in which the rights of all citizens are protected. In modern society, liberals favor a liberal democracy with open and fair elections, where all citizens have equal rights by law and an equal opportunity to succeed.

  • Capitalist Libertarianism-Capitalist Libertarianism is a political philosophy advocating that individuals should be free to do whatever they wish with their person or property, as long as they do not infringe on the same liberty of others.

  • Nationalism-Nationalism is an ideology that holds that a nation is the fundamental unit for human social life, and takes precedence over any other social and political principles. Nationalism makes certain political claims based upon this belief: above all, the claim that the nation is the only legitimate basis for the state, that each nation is entitled to its own state, and that the borders of the state should be congruent with the borders of the nation.

  • Social Democracy-Social democracy is a political ideology that emerged out of classical socialism in the late 19th and early 20th century. Unlike socialism, social democracy does not seek to dismantle or replace the capitalist system, but instead aims to reform it in order to remove its perceived injustices and to bring about a more equal distribution of wealth. In recent years, many social democratic parties have embraced 'Third Way' ideology.

  • Socialism-Socialism refers to a broad array of doctrines or political movements that envisage a socio-economic system in which property and the distribution of wealth are subject to social control. As an economic system, socialism is associated with state or collective ownership of the means of production. This control may be either direct — exercised through popular collectives such as workers' councils — or it may be indirect — exercised on behalf of the people by the state. Clarification: While direct control of the means of production is certainly socialism (and in my opinion the only way to truly have socialism), please choose this one if you envision indirect control through a state (a so-called "worker's state" if you like).
  • Thursday, October 19, 2006

    Richard Dawkins on the Colbert Report

        Richard Dawkins was on the Colbert Report recently promoting his new book The God Delusion. When I first checked last night it was #2 on Amazon's bestseller list, and it's currently at #3. I'm assuming that it reached the top mark the first day after he appeared on the Colbert Report.

        It's nice to see atheists and their books being promoted on shows with large audiences. Stephen Colbert and his show continue to play their part in helping to better our country and to give hope for future change. While being an atheist doesn't imply that one's views and actions are going to be progressive, freeing oneself from corrupt and authoritarian religious structures and beliefs is the first step. I personally don't read atheist books anymore, as it seems like a waste of time to read about arguments against something that's comparable to unicorns, but I hope that it makes a positive impact in the lives of those who have and will buy Dawkins' book.

    Monday, October 16, 2006

    An Introduction to the Spanish Civil War

         Hi everyone, I'm sorry for the light posting as of late. I had a momentary spike in my "real life" activity, in addition to being busy during my free time reading the book The Battle For Spainby Antony Beevor, which is an in-depth look at the events during and surrounding the Spanish Civil War. I'm finally done with it, and I'll try to give a brief introduction to what it is and leave specific topics for later posts.

         Despite being an extemely interesting period in history, the Spanish Civil War is not all that well known. Perhaps this is because many of the aspects of the winning side, the right-wing nationalists led by the fascist Franco and supported by Hitler and Mussolini, are so similar to many of the ruling or controlling interests in the US. Perhaps it is because the losing side, that of the liberals, socialists, anarchists, and communists, had core values that are much easier for the average person to identify with. Or maybe it was because it was another example where the Church took the complete wrong side, as they openly praised the fascist Franco and took an active role in helping him with his goals whenever it could. Maybe it has to do with the fact that powerful business interests in the US and elsewhere helped Franco overthrow a legitimately elected democratic government. Or perhaps because the United States giving aid to Franco and preventing aid from reaching the Spanish government (despite polls in the US showing overwhelming public support for the left-wing government, henceforth referred to as the Republic), undermines the image of the United States being a warrior for freedom and democracy in the period surrounding World War II. But perhaps I should get started.

         The Spanish Civil War began in 1936 and ended in 1939, right before Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia. The war began after a new left-wing government was elected in 1936. The government was not revolutionary, but it was concerned with progressive programs for agrarian reform and it was also in favor of the separation of church and state. This last measure was incredibly irritating for the Church of Spain, who had been a major player in the government and had received large subsidies for centuries. Spain was an extemely polarized country between left and right before the election. Beevor describes the campaigning done by the right:
    Millions of leaflets were distributed saying that a victory for the left would produce 'an arming of the mob, the burning of banks and private houses, the division of property and land, looting and the sharing out of your women'. The finance for such a campaign came from the landowners, large companies and the Catholic Church, which hurried to bless the [right-wing] alliance with the idea that a vote for the right was a vote for Christ

    The war started when a group of generals, later to be led by Franco, decided to overthrow the democratically elected government on July 18th, 1936. The right, called the nationalists,
    argued that they represented the cause of Christianity, order and Western civilization against 'Asiatic Communism'.
    On the other side, the Republic portrayed itself as representing
    the cause of democracy, freedom and englightenment against fascism

    But Beevor also says that
    The Spanish Civil War has so often been portrayed as a clash between left and right, but this is a misleading simplification. Two other axes of conflict emerged: state centralism against regional independence and authoritarianism against the freedom of the individual. The nationalist forces of the right were much more coherent becuase, with only minor exceptions, they combined three cohesive extremes. They were right wing, centralist, and authoritarian at the same time. The Republic, on the other hand, represented a cauldron of incompatibilities and mutual suspicions, with centralists and authoritarians, especially the communists, opposed by regionalists and libertarians

        I think the Spanish Civil War is interesting for a few of the following reasons, and I plan to go into more depth on each in the future.

  • Anarchism in action- Spain had a very large anarchist following, with anarcho-syndicalist trade unions with millions of members. When the nationalists began the coup, the official Republican government was extremely slow in reacting. This prompted the anarchist and socalist trade unions to take control of the situation themselves in many cities, setting up their own revolutionary committees and preventing the rebels from obtaining an immediate victory. Barcelona, one of the centers of revolutionary activity, was described by a journalist as
    the strangest city in the world today, the city of anarcho-syndicalism supporting democracy, of anarchists keeping order, and anti-political philosophers wielding power

    The anarchists, despite their superior numbers, did not impose their own system on the population though. The anarchist Garcia Oliver described the alternatives :
    'Libertarian communism, which is tantamount to an anarchist dictatorship, or democracy which signified collaboration.'
    Beevor notes
    Imposing their social and economic self-management on the rest of the population appeared to violate libertarian ideals more than collaborating with political parties. Abad de Santillan [an anarchist] said that they did not believe in any form of dictatorship, including their own

    Many people did join collective ventures during this time though, and agricultural production on collectivized land increased by 20% over what it was previously. Many small farmers who owned their own land also voluntarily joined the collectives. Meanwhile, on the industrial side, production was largely controlled by the unions formed by the workers.

  • The Support of Fascism by the Church- The Catholic Church was very supportive of the fascists. Whether it was lying to international bodies concerning events, giving the nationalists lists of people who didn't show up to church in order to interrogate and/or execute, lobbying the US government to refuse aid to the Republic and to support Franco, or simply making statements comparing Franco's war to a holy crusade against heathens, this aspect of the Spanish Civil War should be interesting to any atheist who is looking for more examples of the Church supporting oppressive institutions.

  • The Support of Facism by the first-world "democracies"- Great Britain, the United States, and even France helped to turn events in the nationalists favor. This is most likely due to the ruling business interests of these countries fearing the consequences of a democratic government's existence, both in terms of the example it would set and also in terms of likely losses in profits. Many politicians and business leaders of these countries were openly pro-fascist. Lady Chamberlain of Great Britain, for example, "proudly wore fascist badges and insignia".

  • The Possibility of Something Similiar Occuring in the US- Could this sort of event happen in the US? While I don't believe that there is currently enough polarization between left and right for a civil war (despite us being constantly told about how divided we are), it's certainly possibly that we will become further polarized. The fact that 30% of Americans still support Bush is a sign that we could become much more polarized, since a large amount of this 30% would likely follow the neo-cons to nearly any extreme if the message was mixed with the proper amounts of patriotism and religion.

         If anyone is interested in learning more about the Spanish Civil War, I would definitely recommend this book. It was a #1 bestseller in Spain and seems to be most widely recognized account of the war.
  • Sunday, October 01, 2006

    A More Intelligent and Humane National Defense Policy

         The United States government has the largest military budget in the world, and amounts to roughly 50% of all military spending worldwide. In 2006 the US military budget was $441 billion. It is worth noting that this does not include spending on the war on Iraq or Afghanistan, nor does it represent nuclear weapons research (part of the US Dept. of Energy budget). The following graph gives a nice summary of how US military spending compares to other countries, including its military "rivals" and members of the "Axis of Evil" (none of these grave threats made the list).

         With the US national debt becoming more and more out of control and with lack of funding for education and other social services, responsible citizens should ask themselves whether all this military spending is justified or not. Is it really necessary for us to be able to win a war against the rest of the world, or would it be preferable if our leaders felt a little more compelled to resolve conflicts without resorting to the threat or use of force? Those in favor of this amount of spending might argue that we need a large military because we have taken on the honorable duty of protecting freedom, peace, and democracy around the world. Even without looking at history (which outright refutes this), it seems doubtful that the US government would spend its own money on safeguarding the well-being of foreigners when it doesn't even have the desire to provide health care to its citizens like almost every other country in the first world.

         We're certainly seeing the problems associated with the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned against back in 1961. Reducing the federal military budget by just a small amount could mean a huge boost to other social programs, such as education which comes in at only $88 billion.

         On the other hand, let's for the sake of argument say that the US spending on defense is justified. Then we must ask ourselves whether we are getting the most bang for our buck. And I think we certainly are not. In 1997 the United Nations Human Development Report stated that the approximate cost of providing basic education, basic health and nutrition, reproductive health and family planning, water, and santitation for ALL in developing countries would only cost $40 billion/year for 10 years. Additionally, for an extra $40 billion/year, poverty could be eradicated completely. Imagine how popular the United States would be if we were to fund this! And this can be done all while maintaining a ridiculously high military budget in comparision to other countries. If the US really wanted to win the war against terrorism, then this would be a simple and sure way to do it. Terrorist organizations wouldn't be able to recruit if the US was seen as being so generous and benevolent towards others.

         Unfortunately, I do not think this has a chance in hell of happening anytime soon. The reason that it won't happen is that the ruling interests in the country do not care about national security, nor do they care about peace in other countries. Military spending is a handout to the military contractors and as a tool to further US imperialistic interests abroad. If only Lockheed Martin made bread....

         But probably the biggest reason against rising the standard of living in other countries would be the horrible hit on corporate profits. If you had access to food, water, education, and health care for you and your family, would you go to work in a factory for $1/day? Absolutely not. Only someone who is faced with the threat of death would consider throwing away their short life in this way.

         I think this issue shows how important it is for American citizens to exert control on the government. The US is by far the most wealthy country in the world, and if allowed to, that wealth could transform the world into a much, much better place.