Bert Olivier
Bert Olivier

The recurring historical struggle for freedom

Several things that I experienced recently contributed to a renewed reflection, on my part, on the meaning of freedom. Much has been written about it, and I, like everyone interested in the topic, have my favourite authors in this regard. Here, however, I want to take these experiences as my point of departure.

The first experience was a talk given by a primatologist at the mountain club where we are members. He elaborated on the different kinds of primates, what their origins were and how to recognise whether a particular individual belongs to groups such as apes, monkeys, or prosimians (the large variety of lemurs that live on Madagascar). This was immensely interesting — did you know, for instance, that prosimians are matriarchal, or that the monkey species of South America have prehensile tails, which evolved when South America was still largely under water and the arboreal monkeys had to be able to hold on to tree branches with everything they had, and be able to carry their young with their strong tails?

The interesting facts about primates were not what struck me most in this knowledgeable guy’s talk, however. What struck a nerve on my part was his observation, that of the approximately 250 species of primates, about four species per year are going extinct at present, because of certain human economic activities. First, there is a flourishing illegal trade in exotic primates, especially the “miniature” species, because they are sought-after as pets (despite the fact that they do not make good pets), and often the mother is shot high up in trees to get her to fall, holding her young, which (if it survives the fall) is sold at an exorbitant price as a pet.

Secondly, primates’ habitat (mainly rainforests) is being destroyed at a seemingly unstoppable rate of 80 000 acres per day (it is estimated that 80% of the natural rainforests of the world have been destroyed to make way for agriculture and cattle farming). Madagascar is a case in point — thousands of acres of ecologically essential rainforest have been cut down to plant sisal, which — irony of ironies! — is used to manufacture a variety of “eco-friendly” items such as bags. In the process primates’ natural habitat is shrinking rapidly, and they have nowhere else to go.

My second thought-provoking experience was listening to a memorial lecture on the life and work of the late Dr Beyers Naudé, given by Professor Barney Pityana at NMMU yesterday. Professor Pityana spoke eloquently on the courageous role played by “Oom Bey”, as he was known, in the anti-apartheid struggle, by insisting that apartheid was not compatible with the theological and ethical foundations of the Dutch Reformed Church (in which Dr Naudé was a minister) — something that led to him being “de-frocked” by the church and ostracised by the Afrikaner community.

What struck me here was the historical resonances of Dr Naudés “revolt” (a concept perspicaciously employed by Corné du Plessis, one of the students who entered into dialogue with Pityana) with other, similar “revolts” on the part of individuals against autocratic, repressive regimes. These include Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian, who revolted against the Nazis and was murdered by them, Ché Guevara who was killed in Bolivia in the course of his efforts to initiate a liberation struggle there, and Spartacus, the gladiator who revolted against the might of Rome to free slaves from their inhuman yoke, to mention only a few. Add to these Mahatma Gandhi, Bram Fischer, Steve Biko and many others, closer to home. What they all had in common was rebelling against an oppressor that was easy to identify, albeit not that easy to overcome.

This theme of revolt against an oppressive regime confronted me yet again, last night, when my partner and I watched the recent musical version of Les Misérables, based on Victor Hugo’s immortal narrative, set in early 19th-century France. Apart from being beautifully done in cinematographic terms (and surprising one with the unlikely, impressive singing of Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe of Gladiator-fame), it impresses on one the historical irony that, no matter how often people overcome the burden of tyrannical rule, the latter will assert itself again and again.

The republican, anti-monarchist June rebellion of 1832 in Paris, which features in Hugo’s novel and in the recent musical, is a case in point. The French had hardly succeeded in ridding themselves of monarchical oppression in 1789 (followed by the reign of terror and eventually Napoleon’s imperial quest), when the monarchy was re-instated. In July 1830, and again in June 1832, republicans attempted, unsuccessfully, to overthrow the monarchy of Louis-Philippe. Here, too, the source of oppression was easily identifiable.

Notably, however, economic hardships of ordinary people contributed to these insurrections, and Victor Hugo acknowledged that poverty, particularly the plight of women and children, was a strong motivation for writing this powerful novel of suffering and redemption. Hence, one cannot ignore the present economic conditions across the globe, when one is witnessing, once again, what amounts to the increasing economic oppression of ordinary people — this time not by a monarchy, but by a global financial system that serves today’s elites, the equivalent of the autocratic monarchies of yesteryear.

The consequences of the financial crisis of 2008 are still felt in different degrees everywhere. In its immediate aftermath in the US, where taxpayers’ funds were mis-used to bail out banks and bankers, millions of ordinary Americans lost their homes, emphasising the difference in treatment of the elites and the middle-classes, whose homes were repossessed without hesitation by the very banks that were bailed out. The many protests all over the world since that time may be seen as manifestation of the irrepressible spirit of revolt. Hence, while the source of oppression today is virtually invisible by itself, and not as conspicuous as in the case of apartheid, or of an autocratic monarchy, it should not be hard to perceive its oppressive effects.

One may ask what my elaboration on the plight of our biological cousins (primates) has to do with poverty and revolt. Just this: these intelligent creatures, who share more than 98% of their genetic material with humans, cannot “revolt” against an inhuman economic system that blindly demands the continued, unjustifiable destruction of their habitat and the virtual slave trade of their species on (largely illegal, but lucrative) world markets. If humans do not protest on their behalf (and on behalf of other creatures facing a similar plight because of the “market value” of their bodies, such as rhinos, tigers and lions) no one will. Here, too, freedom is at stake — the freedom to live their lives in accordance with their own, unique, nature.

A theologian and colleague of mine, Professor Piet Naudé, recently wrote a striking piece on what is the source of power today, namely the “market”, in which he persuasively compared it to the traditional notion of “God”, to demonstrate that the “market” displays all the characteristics customarily attributed to God. These include “creating” things or conditions, “knowing”, or “registering” prevailing economic conditions, and even meting out “punishments” when deemed necessary — think of the way that the new deity is “punishing” South Africa at present via the excessive devaluation of our currency, for instance.

Hence, whether one thinks of human society, or of animals, everywhere the current form of oppression (or punishment), which has its source in the deified market, is evident. Fortunately — and history testifies unambiguously to this — the human spirit is irrepressible. As Albert Camus observed, everyone has a limit, beyond which she or he will no longer acquiesce in their own oppression.

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    • http://http//paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com Paul Whelan

      But if the Market has become God, Marx must have become Antichrist. All sounds rather profane to me, Bert.

    • Rene

      Future generations will blame the people of the present for not taking their stewardship of the planet seriously, and only thinking of amassing as much filthy lucre as possible. By that time the moneyed elites of the present will be long dead. Is there no world leader who has the courage to put the planet’s interests first, in the process also securing the life of living beings, including humans’, in the future?

    • JM Davis

      I was struck by the deafening absence of reference to Karl Marx as I read your peace, or is that supposed to be part of the rhetorical structure of the narrative? As in, you have to guess whose view of history is really being advertised in order to continue applying this to more arbitrary examples, like those cited in the piece.

      However, I do not wish to impose too strong a postructuralist reading on your narrative.

      JM Davis

    • Udo

      Poor J M Davis, who still believes that Marxism is the only basis for criticizing the present economic hegemony and its injustices. And Bert is not even a Marxist, as anyone who reads his stuff, and knows something about Marxism, can see. Wake up, Mr Davis – you only need a sense of the difference between justice and injustice to be able to perceive the accuracy of Bert’s piece. Here is another piece that confirms the hijacking of people’s freedom by the capitalist corporations:

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ralph-nader/corporate-accountability_b_3366667.html

    • JM Davis

      Hmmmm.

      It’s from the Huffington Post, isn’t it? A rather predictable slant then.

      Marxism isn’t monolithic, it is sub-divisible, e.g. post-Marxism, neo-Marxism, etc., there are many shades, depending on the theoretical or intellectual context, e.g. critical psychology (Tick the relevant box?).

      And it’s Professor Davis, by the way.

      Anyone who uses a concept like ‘present economic hegemony’ in relation to a Huffington Post report that refers to Ralph Nader and insists upon the relevance of other possible critiques of capitalist corporations, an ideology-specific construction, and dead give-away, is dangerously immune to potentially helpful, self-aware irony.

      I know you’re a Marxist because you get personal rather than thinking through the implications of what you’re saying.

    • Brent

      Udo you are one of Lenin’s ‘useful idiots’. The whole article (like most of Bert’s previous ones) is about capitalist (read markets) exploiting of the planet with not one word about how the USSR and it’s Eastern European empire did likewise, not to mention China current dismal record of environtmental plunder and pollution plus the full hijacking of freedom.
      Brent

    • Maria

      Brent, Bert has never denied that communism also abused nature with its unbridled industrial economy. The point is, the culprit, at present, is capitalism – the evidence is so overwhelming that no one can deny it any longer. i recently saw a BBC documentary on the destruction of rainforests on Indian Ocean islands, mainly Madagascar (that Bert also refers to), and all the people interviewed by the BBC presenter expressed their grave concern about the damage inflicted on their respective ecologies by deforestation, for economic “gain”. How shortsighted is that? Short-term “gain” in monetary terms; long-term loss, in ecological, and eventually also economic terms. Would you deny that the evidence is overwhelming? If you do, you are not only an apologist for capitalism, but a blind one into the bargain.

    • Brent

      Maria, THE point is Peoplekind are destroying the planet, not capitalism. If the USSR/China had of won the cold war and the world was now mainly socialist/marxism the same, probably worse, (as all the media and sites like this would be banned) damage would be happening. Plus people like Bert, you and me would be in some ‘salt mine’ very far from computers where we could express our opinions. Brent

    • Gary Koekemoer

      No matter which -ism you wish to blame, the evidence is clear, we are destroying life on our planet. Be that human, animals or plants we are with ever increasing speed consuming our very means of sustaining ourselves. Planet Earth doesn’t care. It’s been around for a while before humans and will probably be around for a while after humans. So irrespective of your political, ideological or philosophical views, it really is in our self interest to start paying attention to our impact on the planet and ways in which to counter it.
      @ Prof Davis, let’s assume for the sake of the argument, that Prof Olivier is a marxist, does that mean that monkeys are not going extinct due to human actions?
      @ Brent our Rhino/ Elephant/ Shark populations are heading rapidly for extinction, due in the main it appears to demand in Vietnam and China having increased for such. As I understand it, it is because there is a market in those countries for it and the means to purchase it. Is this not Capitalism in its pure form?

    • Brent

      Gary, China and Viet Nam have Marxist governments but that proves zero – whoever runs the show does damage, blaming your pet hated -ism solves nothing and only hots up the debate. Brent

    • http://Bloghome Chris2

      Lost in earlier submission:
      In the same vein as democracy, for all its weaknesses, is the ‘best’ form of government, so capitalism, for all its faults, is the ‘best’ economic system and the ‘market’ is the most efficient system to regulate supply and demand. As with all human values, certain prerequisites or context are essential for them to function efficiently or at all. Take the question of human rights, which is regarded as an absolute in certain circles. However, it is easy to visualise the worth of human rights and its limitations if we imagine an unarmed human being chased by a large predator. These rights, as the aforementioned endeavours, are dependent on a compatible social context and therefore cannot be absolute.
      Resource depletion due to human over-population would pose dire problems to any economic (and socio-political) sytem, to the ecologic system of which we are part and thus to human survival as a species. Modern homo sapiens survived a near-extinction situation some two hundred thousand years ago due to climatic conditions, but bounced back spectacularly when the situation improved, to the point that sustainability is threatened today. Will the wheel turn full circle? Or is it possible to take rational decisions and make proper choices to avert a calamity?

    • http://http//paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com Paul Whelan

      @Chris2 – Quite. If the means by which we got into this are insufficient to get us out of it, then it is difficult to imagine what else will, since human beings will continue to be human beings despite all the shortcomings of the condition.

      Also, everyone knows the joke about the tourist who asks the Irishman how to get to Tipperary. The Irishman replies, ‘Ah, now, I wouldn’t start from here.’

      It is a joke because everyone knows there is no alternative to starting from here.

    • Gary Koekemoer

      Honestly? I have small hope we can see the bigger picture and overcome our slavish adherence to -isms and greed and act as one. Cites is too little too late, Global Warming has now become a debate on Climate Change being fueled by all of those with vested interests. Do we need to take away freedoms to impose a solution that is in the best interest of all?

    • http://paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com Paul Whelan

      @Gary – To search for the best interests of all is a fool’s errand if ever there was one.

      Whether or not we see the bigger picture, here we are.

      And being here, we must ask another question: What is the case against imposing a solution that takes away freedoms?

    • Maria

      Chris2 and Paul, if capitalism “had a heart”, it would have been OK, but it does not, and cannot, because “the market” is an abstract mechanism, which “regulates” all states of affairs heartlessly. If that was not the case, why do you think the planet is in such trouble? You are both really naive to believe that capitalism is about freedom – it is about profit and endless growth, in a FINITE ecological system.

    • Gary Koekemoer

      @ Paul the very real problem is this, do we invade Vietnam to protect our Rhino’s? We’ve asked nicely, they’re not complying! So now what? Do we all do like Sea Shepard and put ourselves physically between the whales and the whalers? Who decides what action is required, is the fundamental case against unilateral action and thereby we become trapped, we’re heading for the edge of the cliff, but we cannot get out of our seat belts…

    • http://http//paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com Paul Whelan

      @Gary – I do not have the answer to your question but I am quite confident we will not invade Vietnam to protect our rhinos because it lies beyond the realm of possibilities to do so. If we did there would also be a fresh outcry from the left about neo-colonialism.

      I do not wish to be facetious about a horrible state of affairs but Maria seems to think the answer is to abolish capitalism, the cause of all our problems. I do not know how to do that and would not really trust anyone else to.

      Plan B then. Perhaps we have to attempt a combination of strengthening the resources of our game rangers, punishing poachers severely and negotiating with whatever foreign states may be willing and able to police things similarly their end.

      I am fairly confident we will not do that either. Government always has its hands full with other things.

    • http://http//paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com Paul Whelan

      @Maria – For me the question is not how you eliminate heartless capitalism that has got the planet into such trouble, but how best to govern people that haven’t sufficient heart to opt for some more benevolent system.

    • http://Bloghome Chris2

      Closer to Bert’s topic: The ‘struggle for freedom’ could be seen as a bit of a red herring. Max Boot shows in his book ‘Invisible Armies’ that historically there have always, since times immemorial, been guerillas motivated enough to try and subvert the reigning empires by murderous violence while avoiding direct confrontation. It is a lust for power: one man’s ‘freedom’ is another’s bondage.

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      @Maria:
      If you could state a case against capitalism with substance instead of mere sloganeering, I am more than eager to hear it.

      What I found most fascinating about primates is how characteristically primate we are, down to the ole market whipping boy and our revolutionary spirits that only change the world in an imaginary way:

      http://www.diggersrealm.com/mt/archives/001105.html

    • http://Bloghome Chris2

      @Maria, I think you might have misconstrued my thoughts. I tried to suggesst that there are limits outside of which the historically most successful solutions are probably not valid. But do not underrate capitalism, which has neatly sidestepped Mr Marx’s dire prognoses. Your ‘heartless’ attack on capitalism is rather myopic, where we have examples of the most successful capitalists donating billions upon billions of dollars to charities, universities, etc. Heartless? I would be interested to know what the luminaries of any alternative economic system have contributed. It has for instance become clear that the great champions and leaders of the classless society have almost invariably secretly lived in great luxury while their ‘equals’ were queing for basics. But I digress….. The ‘market’ can also be seen as expressing the combined desires of those affected by it. Brainless is more dangerous than heartless. The recent economic crises (US and Europe) have been precipitated by lending too much money to people who rationally did not qualify for such loans. Too much heart?

    • Gary Koekemoer

      @ Chris2 re. luminaries = Ghandi, Nyerere, not many I must confess, the rest have proven to be too human.

      @ Chris2 re. “too much heart”, on the contrary, it was too much greed, financial imagination and lack of controls that caused the underwriting of loans without value. Why did SA not suffer the same fate? We don’t allow our capitalists the same freedom!

      @ Garg, the evidence of capitalism’s failure is plain, the poverty gap increasing, monkeys/ tuna/ sharks/ rhino’s/ elephants/ tigers all under threat because of market forces, the recent financial crisis, deforestation to enable cash crops, fossil fuels in favor of renewables (fracking, oil spills, carbon emissions)!

      The point is not to replace capitalism, the point is to recognize it’s failures and address them. Or invent an entirely new system…

    • http://paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com Paul Whelan

      To return, too, more closely to the topic: like Bert, I thought Les Mis was a very fine film with quite extraordinary performances. Hugh Jackman was superlative and Anne Hathaway quite harrowing, almost unbearable to watch in her big number.

      Incidentally, though, it also made me reflect on how especially futile the 1830 and ’32 risings were. What actually did those young men die for, in the film and real life? A desire for ‘freedom’? What did they understand by that? Republican ideals? Simple desperation over their poverty? Were they simply exploited by agents provocateurs? Was it youth’s permanent liking for a fight – any fight?

      The Bourbons, who famously had learned nothing and forgotten nothing, had after all gone in the 1830 ‘revolution’. The new ‘citizen king’ had hardly been in the job ten minutes.

      Last year, there was suddenly an outbreak of window breaking and looting of cell phones and sneakers, a sacking of a KFC shop in Clapham and other parts of London. Lots of people immediately said the Revolution was at hand again. Was it?

      The tyre burning and vigilantism and murder of foreigners in SA? Is that another expression of the timeless struggle for freedom?

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      @Gary:
      1. A poverty gap is not necessary a bad thing. In fact, it is not indicative of anything in particular.

      2. Subsistence farming also endangers several species and their habitat. This without any market forces or surplus production worth mentioning.

      3. The role of governments in the recent financial crisis cannot be overstated.

      4. The use of fossil fuels is not dictated by market forces, but by the OPEC countries, as I’m sure you know.

      But I do agree with your last point: It’s futile and feeble-minded to pick a whipping boy to try and explain all the shortcomings of a multifaceted system. We have not lived in a capitalist system since some time in the 1800s. Most countries in the world follow a mixed economy, with a great deal of variation between sectors handled as a command economy (health care, infrastructure maintenance, labour) and sectors where market forces dictate the supply and demand.

      I wasn’t being facetious. I really would like to read an informed critique of capitalism.

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      @Gary:
      Also please do follow my link. This is the most relevant part:

      “… When taught to use money, a group of capuchin monkeys responded quite rationally to simple incentives; responded irrationally to risky gambles; failed to save; stole when they could; used money for food and, on occasion, sex. In other words, they behaved a good bit like the creature that most of Chen’s more traditional colleagues study: Homo sapiens …”

      Does that not sound like most people on the planet, regardless of their favourite ism? I venture that radical chic falls under rational responses to simple incentives, while true revolutionaries are beckoned by irrational responses to risky gambles.

    • Maria

      Garg, in ancient times you would have been known as a sophist, given your spurious arguments – the capitalist economy of today is at bottom an oil economy, and you want to persuade us that OPEC countries stand outside “market forces”? As soon as they make a move, it affects the entire, virtually extended, rhizomatic “market”, sure, but so does a cough from Ben Bernanke aka Uncle Sam. A fickle thing, our market, which is why human beings should not allow it to dictate our lives.

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      @Maria:
      Please show how my arguments are spurious. On second thoughts, that might take too long. It’s easier to show how you are grasping at straws:

      1. In ancient times I would rather be Pre-Socratic. The only sophistry I see here is yours and Berts, who repeatedly fail to bolster or justify your spurious claims.

      2. It’s abundantly clear that you do not know what market forces are. If you did, you would not claim that OPEC‘s oil cartel is a bastion of capitalism or that their price fixing is related to market forces.. Indeed, a quick glance at the history of the middle east reveals just how little of the oil industry relies on private ownership and market forces.

      You have much homework to do.

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola
    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      Apologies, I had my html tags mixed up. The relevant links are here:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Questionable_cause

      The effects of the OPEC cartel’s price fixing has no bearing on their nature as either a cartel or an entity subjected to market forces. In case of point, this relates to my earlier statement that labour is run as a command economy instead of as a resource subjected to supply and demand. Particularly industries with minimum wage.

      http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-the-characteristics-of-a-command-economy.htm

      Which explains how price fixing is not a feature of market forces. It is an attempt at neutrality to market forces. Maria’s tacit agreement is by citing Ben Bernanke and Uncle Sam, who are in fact not private players nor players with a skin the game and certainty not capitalists. They are central planners.

    • Rene

      Garg, you blind, dyed-in-the-wool, capitalist, you will be the first to hide your verbose face when capitalism finally has to pay the price.

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      @Rene:
      If you could engage with the points I raised instead of just looking at the hymn sheet and repeating the chorus, I would be grateful. In fact, it might be good for you to use your own head for a change.

    • Gary Koekemoer

      @ Garg unfortunately if Capitalism no longer exists, then an informed critique would be spurious, no?

    • Gary Koekemoer

      @ Garg on # 1: the poverty gap is relevant in that it is increasing, the rich getting richer, the poor, poorer. I think both the gap and the rate at which it’s widening is a useful measure for a society as to whether is economic system is delivering what it should. But it’s a measure, one of many, and prone to multiple interpretations like any other statistic
      On # 2 The point is that we globally produce more food than we need, that our farming methods focus (whether subsistence, small scale or commercial) on short-term gain rather than long term sustainability, a farmer will plant what he/she believes will sell when the crop is harvested!!
      On # 3 OPEC certainly manipulates the price of oil to it’s advantage, which is pretty much normal behaviour when in a monopolistic position, but OPEC doesn’t create demand in itself, that comes from our dependance on fossil fuel burning vehicles for instance
      Finally I like the capuchin monkey experiment example, but the question is this, were the monkeys behaving like us, or do we behave like monkeys…

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      @Gary:
      Firstly, thank you for addressing the points and not hand-waving.

      0. It would be just as superfluous as hammering on the same futile point that capitalism is indefensible. I’m merely interested in finding out the motivations for certain views.

      1. The rich are getting richer, but so are the poor. It’s not true that one elite class is gaining at the expense of another disenfranchised one. On the whole, here is no evidence for this:

      http://www.gapminder.org/

      What is problematic is the way in which political players are exploiting their powers. Of course this is in contrast with market forces and takes central planning in a mixed economy as a given:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austerity_measures

      2. This is an important point, and it’s also important to note how agricultural subsidies and ‘bilateral trade agreements’ impact this. Of course carbon tax and other measures aim to remedy this in a more strict, centrally planned manner. Which raises important questions regarding the nature of freedom and the relationship between individual versus collectivist freedoms.

      3. OPEC also manipulates demand. A monopolistic position itself is not the problem, the problem is how they gained this position and how they are kept there. It’s evidently not by means of market forces but by means of their cartel. Part of the reliance is technological: There are no viable alternatives at the moment.

    • Gary Koekemoer

      @ Garg, call the economic system we have what you will, but for what it’s worth here’s my answer to your question about whats wrong with “capitalism”:
      1. Its about short-term returns, not long-term sustainability, resources are seen as unlimited and where they fail, technology will succeed
      2. That everyone has the same opportunity and access
      3. That products are designed to fulfill a desire and not address a need, that we are consumers of brands, rather than stewards of value
      4. That the system can stand alone, is best left alone, that it is not a human system, that intervention is evil and lack of control is good
      5. That credit not value is the key stone
      6. That the human species owns (the planet, the land, the resources within the land)

      No matter what system we design and subsequently implement, it will always be “human” and thus embody both our “good” and our “bad” and it will always grow to be bigger than the sum of its parts…

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      @Gary:
      Call the economic system what we will:
      1. Yes, it is about short-term returns and not long-term sustainability. Per design, in the long run, we’re all dead.

      2. What are you trying to achieve through this? Recall that this would not necessarily be a more efficient use of resources, if sustainability is the chief purpose.

      3. Agreed. Industries are likewise kept artificially alive and immune to market forces with subsidies and a great deal of government intervention to save the x industry. A local example is tariffs on imported chicken.

      4. A lack of control is better than the illusion of understanding, or see the triplet of opacity. Having no map is better than having a wrong map.

      5. Agreed, this is a criticism of both Marx and Smith. The effects of runaway debt are plain to see.

      6. We do not have a choice in dealing with resources from an anthropocentric view. Of course it could be argued that longevity and sustainability is in our best interests, but your final point is the most clear. You’re describing emergent properties, which is part of why designed systems usually fail as soon as they scale.

    • Gary Koekemoer

      So Garg if we were to design a new system, what should it deliver and how? Or do we simply cower in the corner and let the strongest do what they like or respond in kind?
      In answer to your questions (interesting exercise):
      1. Sustainability of the planet is the primary goal and survival of the human species is the secondary goal, colonising another planet is somewhat unlikely in the near future, so we have to make do with what we have, better managed and this planet would be able to sustain us (and our fellow inhabitants) indefinitely
      2. That everyone has access to a basic level of comfort, people are not equal with regards capacity and capability, so some form of reward for effort and imagination needs to remain, but this can take place without requiring the current levels of poverty and the disproportionate “rights” that wealth has access to
      4. Couldn’t disagree more, I would rather seek to understand and apply leverage than to allow the system free-reign. The system has no moral imperative, has no view on my personal survival, I do, I’d like to stick around a little longer and thus have some control even the illusion thereof…
      6. Ownership and an anthropocentric view are not the same thing, we cannot escape our view of the world, but that does not mean what we see is ours to do with what we will. The world will not stop if Rhino’s go extinct, but the view of the world becomes poorer and ultimately if we will critically wound the system…

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      1. Couldn’t disagree more. We have no guarantee that our absence would ensure sustainability of the planet. Regardless, given that sustainability is the primary purpose (with or without us), 2. Automatically becomes a lower priority. Even so, 2 is the system we currently have: From each according to their ability, to each according to their need, latched on top of market mechanisms. This is our mixed economy.

      4. Agreed absolutely, but this entails understanding the intricate workings of the systems we’re tinkering with. We’ve only just begun uncovering the details of the kind of systems in question here.

    • Gary Koekemoer

      @ Garg the anthropocentric view leads us astray, we think monkeys act like us, when in fact we act like monkeys, or rather we both display similar behavioral traits when confronted with items that have assumed value. So to we believe the Earth depends on us. It doesn’t, I would assume it doesn’t give a hoot what happens to us, even if we succeed in destroying the entire thing! However it is the only planet we’ve got! If we care about us being on the planet indefinitely we have to do things differently. It’s like being 100km from Soekmekaar and we have 10 litres of fuel left, we can say, as you argue above, well I travel at 140km, I have always travelled that speed and traveling at that speed has always got me there in the past! Or we can say, what speed is the best speed to get us there in the shortest time possible without running out of fuel.
      I would like this intricate, complicated, dynamic, narrow bubble of life on the surface of the planet to continue beyond my children’s children. Which means understanding as best I can how it works, being critical of what I do and changing what I can. If I can convince more persons to do the same, as I have been convinced by others, then maybe humans have a chance! But to remain in the same place, to simply defend a broken system, because it is the only one I’ve got, or because some dude uses the wrong labels, to me lacks imagination…

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      @Gary:
      I never said that the earth depends on us, I said that our absence is no guarantee that the earth will be fine. It’s also not entirely accurate that this is the only planet we’ve got – there are a few other options that are capable of sustaining life as we like it that are becoming more feasible.

      The anthropogenic viewpoint, whether it leads us astray or not, is our lot. We are condemned to be anthropogenic. You reveal our anthropogenic bias by referring to your children and their children – nothing wrong with that and as you can see it doesn’t lead you astray because sustainability happens to coincide with our requirements for survival as a species.

      Did I defend a broken system? Or did I point out that certain criticisms of a broken system miss their target? The goals you listed above are conflicting and while they may be important to many contribute to why our current system is broken – especially 2.

    • Gary Koekemoer

      @ Garg ok so three points in response!
      #1 I agree we cannot escape from our anthropocentric view of the world, but we can become sensitive to this view and the assumptions contained therein. In the case of the planet being “fine”, “fine” is a human term, the planet itself has no view on what fine is, it just exists. So we are not trying to “save” the planet because the planet will like that, but rather in saving the planet (or the thin layer of life on it’s surface) we are saving ourselves. What better motive to do things differently? Assuming of course you agree that our current actions threaten the long term sustainability of our species?

      #2 Why cannot we have a system in which everyone is comfortable and at the same time be sustainable? Why are these conflicting goals? To my mind that means that we place greed at the top of human characteristics, I believe we are capable of more!

      And then # 3 I live in hope of you going out on a limb and saying why you believe this system is broken, and what we need to do to make it work better? In that I do expose my own assumption that there is a “broken” and “unbroken” state of the system, that it can be better, not just be what it is – that annoying anthropocentric view that we can actually influence our environment…

    • Gary Koekemoer

      @ Garg PS unless Scotty can beam me up, I think Richard Virgin Branson is going to be the best best in getting to another planet in our lifetime… whilst we have the ability to identify potentially suitable planets, our ability to actually get there is somewhat constrained… this planet is still our best hope for survival of our species!

    • Gary Koekemoer

      See this as an example of what is possible: http://bteam.org

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      @Gary:
      1. Yes, exactly. The survival of our species is currently intimately tied to our planet, but this may change in future. Which of course is no excuse to waste resources.

      2. Greed is the same motivation that prompts conspicuous consumption, both for the CEOs of the world and for the wage labourer. What do you mean with comfortable? No two people on the planet will be happy with exactly the same level of comfort. There are many calculations that show a lifestyle at the level of the average American is not sustainable for everyone, given our resources. Still the best page on sustainability I’ve encountered:

      http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/

      3. Please see the sustainability page, it may answer some of your questions in regards with what is wrong with our current system. The most obvious big problem that also threatens sustainability is runaway debt.