on: January 06, 2018, 09:15:48 PM
Started by MissJay - Last post by Zaynab
It takes integrity to reason. This statement is uttered in many ways but the value of it is often overlooked or dismissed. When we are challenged to face hard truths, we often find discourses difficult as they can expose our egos, insecurities, fears, prejudices, beliefs, and values. What keeps us grounded (level-headed, reflective, rational, respectful, compassionate, and considerate) is integrity.
New information is not always easy to digest, but introspection is a good way to assess the value of one’s own position. I will share an anecdote. Years ago, I accompanied a friend to a public discussion and was confronted with a startling truth: “Unless one is willing to address his or her self, one should not rush to join or form groups.” This was an assault to my beliefs of co-operation and community, so I refused to accept it. I sat there stewing in my discontent. I thought that persons could and should come together to share in resources (skills, wealth and information). I felt that those present who championed the need for community and communal living raised some good points. Others who argued oppositely also brought forward important positions. I did not easily buy into what was being shared, but I listened. I respected the friend that invited me to the forum; therefore, I was not ready to dismiss outright what gave me pause. I decided after quite some time to instead search me because I thought there must be something that I was missing.
It is then it hit me. What was said was not irrational at all. That “ah ha” moment came at the precise time I confronted ME. I acknowledged to myself that I was not perfect and with my unaddressed imperfections I should not rush to join or form any group as it would lack proper foundation. My introspection allowed me to appreciate the depths of a position that contrasted with my earlier stance.
Having integrity means being able to acknowledge that sometimes, one does not possess all the answers. Even if there may be disagreement, honesty and constant self-examination can better ensure that what is being put on the table can be of positive benefit to all involved.
on: January 06, 2018, 03:11:12 PM
Started by Nakandi - Last post by Nakandi
|To cure affluenza, we have to be satisfied with the stuff we already own
Richard DennissIf people maintained and repaired their possessions, the world economy and the impact of human activity on the environment would be transformed
Affluenza has not just changed the world, it has also changed the way we see the world. Short of money? Borrow some. Caught in the rain? Buy an umbrella. Thirsty? Buy a bottle of water and throw the bottle away.
Our embrace of “convenience” and our acceptance of our inability to plan ahead is an entirely new way of thinking, and over the past seventy years we have built a new and different economic system to accommodate it.
There is nothing inevitable about this current way of thinking, consuming and producing. On the contrary, the vast majority of humans who have ever lived (and the majority of humans alive today) would find the idea of using our scarce resources to produce things that are designed to be thrown away absolutely mad.
But the fact that our consumer culture is a recent innovation does not mean it will be easy to change. Indeed, the last few decades have shown how contagious affluenza can be. But we have not always lived this way, which proves that we don’t have to persist with it. We can change – if we want to.
I define consumerism as the love of buying things. For some, that means the thrill of hunting for a bargain. For others, it is the quest for the new or the unique. And for others still it is that moment when the shop assistant hands them their new purchase, beautifully wrapped, with a bow, just as though it’s a present.
But the love of buying things can, by definition, provide only a transient sense of satisfaction. The feeling can be lengthened by the “thrill of the chase”, and may include an afterglow that includes walking down the street with a new purchase in a branded carry bag. It might even extend to the moment when you get to show your purchase to your friends and family.
But the benefits of consumerism are inevitably short-lived as they are linked to the process of the purchase, not the use of the product. So while consumerism is the love of buying things, materialism is the love of the things themselves – and that’s an important distinction.
Salespeople and psychologists are well aware of this phenomenon. The term buyer’s remorse refers to the come-down that follows the thrill of buying something new. For many, the cold hard light of day takes the gloss off their new gadget, their new shoes or their new car. For some, this can be so overwhelming that they return the item. For a minority, the thrill of buying new things is so great, and the disappointment of owning new things so strong, that they make a habit of buying things they know they will return.
For those interested in the impact of consumption on the natural environment, it is crucial to make a clear distinction between the love of buying things and the love of owning things. While consumerism and materialism are often used interchangeably, taken literally they are polar opposites. If you really loved your car, the thought of replacing it with a new one would be painful. Similarly, if you really loved your kitchen, your shoes, your belt or your couch, then your materialism would prevent you rushing out and buying a new one.
But we have been trained to love the thrill of buying new stuff. We love things not for their material function, but for the symbolic act of acquiring and possessing them – the thrill of anticipating a new thing, of being handed it by a smiling shop assistant, of pulling up at the golf club in an expensive new car. For many, if not most, consumers, it is the symbolism of a new handbag or new car, its expensive logo proudly displayed, that delivers happiness, rather than twenty years of using a material object.
It makes no sense to conflate materialism and consumerism. Indeed, our willingness to dispose of perfectly functional material goods and gadgets is the very antithesis of a love of things. The process of buying new things and displaying new symbols might provide status or other psychological benefits, but the pursuit of such symbolic objectives is largely unrelated to the material characteristics of the products being purchased and disposed of.
Symbols matter, and psychological benefits matter. The fact that people are willing to spend their own time and money to show they fit in or to make sure they stand out should be of little or no concern to others.
But for those who are concerned with the impact of 7.5 billion humans’ consumption decisions on the natural environment, the choice of such symbols matters enormously. Whether people choose to signal their wealth by spending money on huge cars or antique paintings is arbitrary, but that does not mean the environmental consequences aren’t highly significant.
Put simply, if we want to reduce the impact on the natural environment of all of the stuff we buy, then we have to hang on to our stuff for a lot longer. We have to maintain it, repair it when it breaks, and find a new home for it when we don’t need it any longer. If we want to cure affluenza, we have to get more satisfaction from the things we already own, more satisfaction from services, more satisfaction from leisure time, and less satisfaction from the process of buying new things.
Full article: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/oct/30/to-cure-affluenza-we-have-to-be-satisfied-with-the-stuff-we-already-own
on: January 03, 2018, 10:13:17 PM
Started by Iniko Ujaama - Last post by Historysoul
I have recently left secondary school and I have quite an interest in learning about development and more so sustainable development.I am skeptical about the term though.For me I have always heard the way to achieve sustainable development is through education, healthcare and economic diversity.However,some how as I further my studies I am begining to realise that sustainable development is suppose to be development that best suits the society for which it is to enchance.However, here in the Caribbean that seems like sustainable development is being influenced by very Euro-centric ideals of what it means to be developed.An this I think hampers sustainabilty in the region.However,my opinion is that for sustainable development to be achieved at least to some extent ,I think that monoculture needs to be replaced with more diversity and that is just one step closer to sustainabilty.
on: January 03, 2018, 04:01:53 PM
Started by News - Last post by News
|What Google searches for porn tell us about ourselves.By Sean Illing
January 02, 2018 - vox.com
Last year, I interviewed Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, author of Everybody Lies, a new book that uses data on America’s Google habits as an insight into our national consciousness.
Two findings from the book dominated the conversation: America is riddled with racist and selfish people, and there may be a self-induced abortion crisis in this country.
But there was plenty more revelatory data in the book that we didn’t cover. So I wanted to follow up with Stephens-Davidowitz to talk about some of the other provocative claims he is making.
I was particularly interested in sexuality and online porn. If, as Stephens-Davidowitz puts it, “Google is a digital truth serum,” then what else does it tell us about our private thoughts and desires? What else are we hiding from our friends, neighbors, and colleagues?Full Article: https://www.vox.com/conversations/2017/6/27/15873072/google-porn-addiction-america-everybody-lies
on: January 03, 2018, 03:14:50 AM
Started by MissJay - Last post by MissJay
It has taken me over six months to revisit this thread with words, offerings, that speak to personal accountability. I walked away from this exchange with a strong desire to spend a lot of time reflecting on the symbolic experience of this interaction, the self, the one that is so difficult to communicate because it often eludes intellectual statements. It is true, I came to the forum as an academic--a cognitive scientist to be precise. And, by that I simply mean that the place from which I was attempting to learn and reason back then was perhaps unwittingly nested in some dimension of what it means to reason like an academic. Unselfish reflection has since directed me to the belief that there is little room for such dimensions to be tapped in spaces like these; especially when all they appear to do, most certainly, is invite the ego. I can see this now as clearly as I am typing these words.
To be clear, it is my job to study the ego; I have to think about it, and set forth a philosophy for it every time I contribute to my discipline--which is every day. Therefore, it is my job to know what it is, what it is meant to accomplish and how it is likely to be conceptualized by others. So when my discussions with another forum member six months ago began to reveal my exchanges on this post in terms of ego, I rejected it because I could. After all, my theoretical and empirical knowledge on this topic was all the background I needed to provide me with the grounds to reject. Furthermore, if anyone was going to know when their ego had contributed to the conversation it would be me. The problem with this thinking, however, also revealed itself when this forum member also told me that I would need to unlearn a lot about what school had taught me. For example, school had taught me how to reason and grapple with ideas and concepts in a very limited way. Though useful, I have come to understand that reasoning and evaluating in this way invites a particular type of identity into conversations; one that incidentally taps the ego and all that the ego is designed to protect. Reflecting on this symbolic experience of the self really caused an internal struggle between my worlds--the academic one that had given me many a ways to think and reason about the world, and the one that I wished to deepen my learning and reasoning within through a deeper understanding what a test of my character could reveal to me. I think that this internal conflict is also present in my interactions and honest intentions for my initial post.
This internal struggle made me really uncomfortable and I wrestled with these ideas for a while....about 6 months to be exact. I went back and re-read what I posted along with the interactions that followed. I did this only when I believed that I was ready to receive what was said to me, and read what I had written, from a place that allowed me to let go of all of the things my ego was precisely designed to protect: my so called identity, including those cultivated by my academic experiences. Once I did that, I was able to receive the messages posted from a place that allowed me to evaluate the character of my words and what was being said...and not the characters themselves. It was then I began to see pieces of my ego in my defensiveness and discomfort, and where it caused me to retreat rather than to lean into the messages being offered. I can see where the consequences for those actions warranted a clear and valid reaction. It is clear that these women were taking their time and energy to share what they have learned with me. It is clear that my approach into receiving and working toward understanding the issues I was interested in reasoning about were in need of personal examination. And perhaps most meaningfully, this was not the space to attempt to work out issues that are better served in private spaces for dark-skinned blacks. I accept this responsibility and I submit my attempt to personally account for my actions to the judgment of all who read this.
on: December 28, 2017, 06:45:19 PM
Started by Nakandi - Last post by Nakandi
Lynsey ChutelLubumbashi, DR Congo
Positioning a stand at the entrance to one of Lubumbashi’s largest breweries is part entrepreneurial savvy, part defiance by Mwehu Kashala. Each day he sells mobile phone airtime vouchers under a large umbrella, displaying the disposable vouchers on a rickety table. It’s been his main source of income since he lost his job a decade ago from the textile factory that used to operate from the same large industrial complex that is now a brewery.
The Syntexkin textile factory was the economic heart and cultural soul of Lubumbashi. The Democratic Republic of Congo was known for its intricate fabrics, and this is one of the factories that produced them for decades. Syntexkin would produce thousands of rectangles of cotton cloth with myriad designs from patterns made of everyday objects to swirls that are almost abstract. The cloth is often brightly colored, always bold, and instantly recognizable as uniquely African.
Then in the early 2000s production buckled and eventually collapsed under an influx of cheap imports from China, unravelling the local economy. The cultural significance of these prints was not enough to save the factory or the jobs of hundreds of family breadwinners.
The fabric known as kangas are everywhere, even today. Their cuts have evolved, from simple wraps to tailored suits—the matching of their graphic print along a modern seam is no easy task. It is also what springs to mind when people from outside the country and continent think of when they hear the generic words “African print,” or Ankara.
Similar prints are worn in other African countries, and increasingly by a diaspora trying to reconnect with an African aesthetic. In the DRC, these printed fabrics about a yard wide and one and a half yards long have been a way of life for generations. It is why the loss of the commercial control of this print is so great.
Kashala, now 58, started working in the textile factory at 17, after lying about his age so that he could support his family. He spent his days working on the sewing machines, making sure that the industrial-sized bobbin never got stuck and that reams of fabric always ran through as smoothly.
By the 1990s, he’d worked his way up to a line manager of sorts, overseeing about 30 people in a factory of about 1,300 workers. The factory floor was a hive of activity, Kashala remembers. In one section workers mixed the inks that would dye the fabrics, in another they set the intricate design to a template, and in another they stamped the pattern onto fabric by hand, meticulously matching the lines and shapes with the naked eye. Kashala, a stern man who rarely smiles and always shines his shoes, ran a tight ship. Even today, his stall is never unmanned, with his unemployed son stepping in when necessary.
Years ago on the factory floor, there were whole teams responsible for applying specific families of color tones and others, like Kashala, who made sure the levers, gears and bobbins of the large sewing machines were always in perfect working condition. As the eldest of 17 orphaned children, Kashala made enough to feed his siblings, and then his own family, taking a second wife as the factory thrived.
Then the machines began to slow as demand for the textiles dropped. Kashala and other workers formed something of a civilian consumer watchdog group, checking local markets and shops to get to the bottom of why fewer Congolese were buying their fabrics. They inspected the hem of the cloth for the code that each factory prints as its signature, and interrogated vendors until they learned China had entered Lubumbashi’s markets.
The Chinese entry was subtle, despite the large volumes of cloth that came to the Congo. At first they only supplied the bales of plain cotton fabric, according to Kashala. Then printed fabric began to arrive, the quality seeming to improve with every run until they were able to mimic the Congolese designs. Soon, it required a meticulous eye to notice the difference.
“We started changing our patterns and hiding them away from the Chinese,” he said. “At one point we changed the sticker the Chinese had been mimicking so that we could check in the shops to see who was selling which one.”
The subtle change of a number or letter in the code at the hem of the cloth was not enough. Each time the factory workers changed it, they would soon find a cheaper copy flooding the market. The unique designs they’d created were duplicated and printed in China on thinner fabric and brought back to the DRC and other African nations and sold for a lower price.
Syntexkin sold its fabrics for about 2000 Congolese francs (just over $1) for a piece of cloth measuring less than three yards, says Kashala. The Chinese sold theirs at about half that, and even the government took their business to Chinese dealers.
Full article: https://qz.com/1127450/chinas-role-in-dr-congos-textile-industry-collapse/
on: December 25, 2017, 01:32:53 PM
Started by Tyehimba - Last post by Tyehimba
Will the Caribbean Go the Full Distance for Reparations From Europe?
“The EU states involved -- especially Britain, France and Spain -- have made it crystal clear they don‘t want to play ball on the issue.”
Fifteen Caribbean Community, Caricom, governments are being strongly advised to get ready for the long haul in their continuing quest for Reparations for Slavery and Native Genocide from Britain, France, Spain and other European Union, EU, member-states.
The governments of mainly former British and French colonies have characterized the 400 years of Slavery and Native Genocide that took the lives of 12 million Africans and 15 million indigenous people in the captured and colonized West Indies and Antilles as "The Greatest Crime Against Humanity in the History of Humankind."
They are collectively demanding through National Reparations Committees, NRCs, upwards of 150 billion pounds (sterling) worth of reparations -- from Britain alone -- for the 640,000 enslaved persons in the Caribbean at Emancipation.
Led by the Caricom Reparations Commission, CRC, each nation will make its individual claim – in the case of Saint Lucia against both Britain and France, which exchanged the island between then 14 times.
The Long Haul
But is Caricom ready and willing to go the distance with a Europe still very united in its denial of responsibility for crime, far less doing the time?
The Caricom governments are hoping to engage the EU and culprit member-states to discuss and negotiate possibilities and mechanisms for compensation and repair of their historic crimes in a region they raped and plundered for centuries before turning their backs on the victim peoples and countries.
The EU states involved -- especially Britain, France and Spain -- have made it crystal clear they don‘t want to play ball on the issue.
The Caricom leaders have not publicly disclosed the current state of play in light of the refusal of the Europeans to even listen.
But what are the Caribbean governments really asking for?
Back in 2013 when the Caricom leaders formally agreed to pursue reparations in each member-state, they also published a "10 point Action Plan" called "The Caribbean Reparatory justice Program."
These 10 demands have been described as everything from “reasonable” to “very unreasonable.”
The Caribbean governments want:
1. A full and formal, explicit statement of apology
2. A Repatriation program to facilitate African descendants who want to return to and reintegrate in the continent from which over 10 million of their ancestors were stolen from their homes and forcibly transported to the Caribbean as enslaved chattel property
3. A Development Plan for Indigenous People, who numbered 3,000,000 in 1700 and were reduced to 30,000 only three centuries later in 2000 and who remain landless and poor, the most marginalized people in the region
4. Establishment of cultural institutions, such as museums and libraries, to memorialize the Europeans’ crimes against humanity in this part of the world
5. Europe accepting responsibility for and assisting in addressing the impacts of the region having the highest incidence of chronic diseases Hypertension and Diabetes Type Two in the world, which pandemics have been directly connected to the nutritional experience, physical and emotional brutality and overall stress profiles associated with slavery, genocide and apartheid.
“These 10 demands have been described as everything from “reasonable” to “very unreasonable.”
6. Assistance in eradicating the remaining vestiges of illiteracy in the region, where 70 percent of the population was functionally illiterate when independence started to emerge in the 1960s and which continues to be a drag on social and economic advancement in the Caribbean
7. An action program to build "Bridges of belonging" (such as school exchanges and culture tours, community artistic and performance programs, entrepreneurial and religious engagements, etc.) to reassert a sense of identity an existential belonging and to build knowledge networks necessary for community rehabilitation
8. A program for the psychological rehabilitation of Caribbean people who have been for centuries denied recognition as equal human beings by laws derived from European palaces and parliaments
9. A technology transfer program to upgrade the Caribbean to modern scientific and technological standards following four centuries of a British edit that “not a nail must be produced” in the islands, to preserve their place as primary producers and exporters of raw materials
10. Support for payment of domestic debt and cancellation of international debt
Trends of Thought
Critics say it is both unwise and unrealistic to expect the culprit countries to apologize, admit guilt and thus qualify themselves to have to have to pay reparations.
But there are also those who argue that the electoral process always, from time to time, throw-up leaders and governments that break with the trend and bow to truth.
Another trend holds that the sloth of the process has robbed the Caribbean governments of opportunities to beat-back or buttonhole some of the British arguments under both the David Cameron and current Theresa May administrations.
Benefits of Hindsight
It was known – though not publicly – that Prime Minister Cameron’s direct ancestors had been paid handsome sums in reparation for hundreds of slaves owned in Jamaica. With the benefit of hindsight, some now argue that the Caribbean leaders should have taken that into consideration when issuing their invitation to the Cameron administration for talks.
Some London-based reparations advocates also now recall recommending that immediately following their decision to pursue reparation, the Caricom leaders could and should have noted that then British Foreign Secretary in the Cameron administration, William Hague (2010-14) had seven years earlier authored a book on a related subject.
Hague wrote and published "William Wilberforce -- The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner" (2007) and as Foreign Secretary he could have been approached by the Caricom leaders to help his fellow Cabinet ministers understand why the reparations demands will not go away.
Another opportunity has (so far) also been missed, but is not yet out of the window.
As Home Affairs Secretary under Cameron (before he was "Brexited" from office), Mrs May led an official campaign against ‘Modern Slavery’ in Britain. Within days of becoming Prime Minister, she announced dedication of 30 million pounds (sterling) to fight and end ‘Modern Slavery’ in the UK.
The feeling is that before PM May herself also gets "Brexited" from office herself, the Caricom leaders should remind her that the reason the current trafficking in human bodies is described as "Modern" slavery is because it was long ago preceded by an original economic system built, bred and led by the British, which fed the growth of Britain with the profits from the blood, sweat and tears of millions of African slaves.
What’s Left to Do?
But should all this fail, what’s left for the Caribbean leaders to do?
Actually, they do still have options.
They can more directly demand discussions with the EU and culprit nations, within an established time frame, failing which the Caribbean leaders can move to another phase engaging the international community and international public opinion.
The Caribbean governments can also take the culprit countries to the World Court, the International Court of Justice and all other related international legal and judicial entities capable of looking into and pronouncing on a collective complaint by over a dozen countries.
The reparations demand has many modern precedents: The Jews were settled by the Germans for the inhuman Nazi Holocaust; the Japanese Americans forcibly interned by the US during World War II on suspicion of being spies were also compensated; and The Mau-Mau tribal complaint against the British for atrocities committed during the Kenyan independence struggle was more recently settled "out of court."
But none of the foregoing atrocities even approaches the barbarity of the Caribbean’s Slavery and Native Genocide experience, in which tens of millions of Africans and their descendants were uprooted and transplanted across the world and subjected to the longest and most criminal form of exploitation and extermination of man by man in the history of humankind.
The Last Dice
The Caribbean leaders seem to be holding the legal option as a last resort, an ultimate one -- their last dice to roll.
Each of the plaintiff countries is preparing its own legal case for contribution to whatever joint legal representation may be made at the international level.
The CRC and NRCs, working with and through Caricom Prime Ministerial Subcommittee on Reparations (Chaired by Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart) is certain that the region has a winnable case.
But the apparent sloth of the Caribbean’s regional political directorate on the issue is causing concern in some sections of the regional movement.
There are also suspicions that some of the governments may have already started drawing-down on the 350 million pounds British PM David Cameron deposited in 2015 as what he only stopped short of describing during his Jamaica visit as Britain’s one-off reparations payment to the region.
Caricom leaders are accused by some of being less vocal at the annual UN General Assembly sessions on the Reparations issue than they were in 2015 -- some even loudly wondering whether that has any connection with Cameron’s "deposit."
But all in all, the region’s leaders remain committed in principle to the Reparations cause, insiders noting that the regional movement got considerable moral support from the current Caricom Chairman, Guyana’s President David Granger -- himself also a long-standing private academic, writer and publisher with deep interest in African history and studies.
Will the British Blink?
So, will the British blink, or will the Caribbean have to switch gear? Will the EU continue to bury its head in the Caribbean sands or will Brussels warn its culprit member-states that they cannot deny their roles in commission of The Greatest Crime Against Humanity known to humankind?
And will the Caricom leaders move fast enough to quickly and directly engage Britain and France, through Prime Minister Theresa May and President Emmanuel Macron, with appropriate language to impress on them – and the EU – just how serious the Caribbean is about pursuing Reparations for Slavery and Native Genocide?
It All Depends
It all depends on the pace of developments at the global, regional and national levels.
But the momentum at some crucial levels has been widely noted as having decreased and the general hope is that the recent historic events in Jamaica -- especially the launching of the Center for Reparations Research -- will accelerate the pace of progress at all levels.
As the old blacksmith saying goes, the regional reparations movement is being encouraged to "Beat the iron while it’s hot!"
Earl Bousquet is a Saint Lucia-based veteran Caribbean journalist.https://www.blackagendareport.com/index.php/will-caribbean-go-full-distance-reparations-europe
on: December 13, 2017, 05:24:33 PM
Started by News - Last post by News
|The White House, home and workplace of the U.S. (wikipedia.org)By Gabriel Rockhill
December 13, 2017 - counterpunch.org
One of the most steadfast beliefs regarding the United States is that it is a democracy. Whenever this conviction waivers slightly, it is almost always to point out detrimental exceptions to core American values or foundational principles. For instance, aspiring critics frequently bemoan a “loss of democracy” due to the election of clownish autocrats, draconian measures on the part of the state, the revelation of extraordinary malfeasance or corruption, deadly foreign interventions, or other such activities that are considered undemocratic exceptions
. The same is true for those whose critical framework consists in always juxtaposing the actions of the U.S. government to its founding principles, highlighting the contradiction between the two and clearly placing hope in its potential resolution.
The problem, however, is that there is no contradiction or supposed loss of democracy because the United States simply never was one. This is a difficult reality for many people to confront, and they are likely more inclined to immediately dismiss such a claim as preposterous rather than take the time to scrutinize the material historical record in order to see for themselves. Such a dismissive reaction is due in large part to what is perhaps the most successful public relations campaign in modern history. What will be seen, however, if this record is soberly and methodically inspected, is that a country founded on elite, colonial rule based on the power of wealth—a plutocratic colonial oligarchy, in short—has succeeded not only in buying the label of “democracy” to market itself to the masses, but in having its citizenry, and many others, so socially and psychologically invested in its nationalist origin myth that they refuse to hear lucid and well-documented arguments to the contrary.
To begin to peel the scales from our eyes, let us outline in the restricted space of this article, five patent reasons why the United States has never been a democracy (a more sustained and developed argument is available in my book, Counter-History of the Present
). To begin with, British colonial expansion into the Americas did not occur in the name of the freedom and equality of the general population, or the conferral of power to the people. Those who settled on the shores of the “new world,” with few exceptions, did not respect the fact that it was a very old world indeed, and that a vast indigenous population had been living there for centuries. As soon as Columbus set foot, Europeans began robbing, enslaving and killing the native inhabitants. The trans-Atlantic slave trade commenced almost immediately thereafter, adding a countless number of Africans to the ongoing genocidal assault against the indigenous population. Moreover, it is estimated that over half of the colonists who came to North America from Europe during the colonial period were poor indentured servants, and women were generally trapped in roles of domestic servitude. Rather than the land of the free and equal, then, European colonial expansion to the Americas imposed a land of the colonizer and the colonized, the master and the slave, the rich and the poor, the free and the un-free. The former constituted, moreover, an infinitesimally small minority of the population, whereas the overwhelming majority, meaning “the people,” was subjected to death, slavery, servitude, and unremitting socio-economic oppression.
Second, when the elite colonial ruling class decided to sever ties from their homeland and establish an independent state for themselves, they did not found it as a democracy. On the contrary, they were fervently and explicitly opposed to democracy, like the vast majority of European Enlightenment thinkers. They understood it to be a dangerous and chaotic form of uneducated mob rule. For the so-called “founding fathers,” the masses were not only incapable of ruling, but they were considered a threat to the hierarchical social structures purportedly necessary for good governance. In the words of John Adams, to take but one telling example, if the majority were given real power, they would redistribute wealth and dissolve the “subordination” so necessary for politics. When the eminent members of the landowning class met in 1787 to draw up a constitution, they regularly insisted in their debates on the need to establish a republic that kept at bay vile democracy, which was judged worse than “the filth of the common sewers” by the pro-Federalist editor William Cobbett. The new constitution provided for popular elections only in the House of Representatives, but in most states the right to vote was based on being a property owner, and women, the indigenous and slaves—meaning the overwhelming majority of the population—were simply excluded from the franchise. Senators were elected by state legislators, the President by electors chosen by the state legislators, and the Supreme Court was appointed by the President. It is in this context that Patrick Henry flatly proclaimed the most lucid of judgments: “it is not a democracy.” George Mason further clarified the situation by describing the newly independent country as “a despotic aristocracy.”
When the American republic slowly came to be relabeled as a “democracy,” there were no significant institutional modifications to justify the change in name. In other words, and this is the third point, the use of the term “democracy” to refer to an oligarchic republic simply meant that a different word was being used to describe the same basic phenomenon. This began around the time of “Indian killer” Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaign in the 1830s. Presenting himself as a ‘democrat,’ he put forth an image of himself as an average man of the people who was going to put a halt to the long reign of patricians from Virginia and Massachusetts. Slowly but surely, the term “democracy” came to be used as a public relations term to re-brand a plutocratic oligarchy as an electoral regime that serves the interest of the people or demos
. Meanwhile, the American holocaust continued unabated, along with chattel slavery, colonial expansion and top-down class warfare.
In spite of certain minor changes over time, the U.S. republic has doggedly preserved its oligarchic structure, and this is readily apparent in the two major selling points of its contemporary “democratic” publicity campaign. The Establishment and its propagandists regularly insist that a structural aristocracy is a “democracy” because the latter is defined by the guarantee of certain fundamental rights (legal definition) and the holding of regular elections (procedural definition). This is, of course, a purely formal, abstract and largely negative understanding of democracy, which says nothing whatsoever about people having real, sustained power over the governing of their lives. However, even this hollow definition dissimulates the extent to which, to begin with, the supposed equality before the law
in the United States presupposes an inequality before the law
by excluding major sectors of the population: those judged not to have the right to rights, and those considered to have lost their right to rights (Native Americans, African-Americans and women for most of the country’s history, and still today in certain aspects, as well as immigrants, “criminals,” minors, the “clinically insane,” political dissidents, and so forth). Regarding elections, they are run in the United States as long, multi-million dollar advertising campaigns in which the candidates and issues are pre-selected by the corporate and party elite. The general population, the majority of whom do not have the right to vote or decide not to exercise it, are given the “choice”—overseen by an undemocratic electoral college and embedded in a non-proportional representation scheme—regarding which member of the aristocratic elite they would like to have rule over and oppress them for the next four years. “Multivariate analysis indicates,” according to an important recent study
by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination […], but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy.”
To take but a final example of the myriad ways in which the U.S. is not, and has never been, a democracy, it is worth highlighting its consistent assault on movements of people power. Since WWII, it has endeavored to overthrow some 50 foreign governments, most of which were democratically elected. It has also, according the meticulous calculations by William Blum in America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy
, grossly interfered in the elections of at least 30 countries, attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders, dropped bombs on more than 30 countries, and attempted to suppress populist movements in 20 countries. The record on the home front is just as brutal. To take but one significant parallel example, there is ample evidence that the FBI has been invested in a covert war against democracy. Beginning at least in the 1960s, and likely continuing up to the present, the Bureau “extended its earlier clandestine operations against the Communist party, committing its resources to undermining the Puerto Rico independence movement, the Socialist Workers party, the civil rights movement, Black nationalist movements, the Ku Klux Klan, segments of the peace movement, the student movement, and the ‘New Left’ in general” (Cointelpro: The FBI’s Secret War on Political Freedom
, p. 22-23). Consider, for instance, Judi Bari’s summary
of its assault on the Socialist Workers Party: “From 1943-63, the federal civil rights case Socialist Workers Party v. Attorney General
documents decades of illegal FBI break-ins and 10 million pages of surveillance records. The FBI paid an estimated 1,600 informants $1,680,592 and used 20,000 days of wiretaps to undermine legitimate political organizing.” In the case of the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement (AIM)—which were both important attempts to mobilize people power to dismantle the structural oppression of white supremacy and top-down class warfare—the FBI not only infiltrated them and launched hideous smear and destabilization campaigns against them, but they assassinated 27 Black Panthers and 69 members of AIM (and subjected countless others to the slow death of incarceration). If it be abroad or on the home front, the American secret police has been extremely proactive in beating down the movements of people rising up, thereby protecting and preserving the main pillars of white supremacist, capitalist aristocracy.
Rather than blindly believing in a golden age of democracy in order to remain at all costs within the gilded cage of an ideology produced specifically for us by the well-paid spin-doctors of a plutocratic oligarchy, we should unlock the gates of history and meticulously scrutinize the founding and evolution of the American imperial republic. This will not only allow us to take leave of its jingoist and self-congratulatory origin myths, but it will also provide us with the opportunity to resuscitate and reactivate so much of what they have sought to obliterate. In particular, there is a radical America just below the surface of these nationalist narratives, an America in which the population autonomously organizes itself in indigenous and ecological activism, black radical resistance, anti-capitalist mobilization, anti-patriarchal struggles, and so forth. It is this America that the corporate republic has sought to eradicate, while simultaneously investing in an expansive public relations campaign to cover over its crimes with the fig leaf of “democracy” (which has sometimes required integrating a few token individuals, who appear to be from below, into the elite ruling class in order to perpetuate the all-powerful myth of meritocracy). If we are astute and perspicacious enough to recognize that the U.S. is undemocratic today, let us not be so indolent or ill-informed that we let ourselves be lulled to sleep by lullabies praising its halcyon past. Indeed, if the United States is not a democracy today, it is in large part due to the fact that it never was one. Far from being a pessimistic conclusion, however, it is precisely by cracking open the hard shell of ideological encasement that we can tap into the radical forces that have been suppressed by it. These forces—not those that have been deployed to destroy them—should be the ultimate source of our pride in the power of the people.
More articles by: Gabriel RockhillGabriel Rockhill is a Franco-American philosopher and cultural critic. He is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Villanova University and founding Director of the Atelier de Théorie Critique at the Sorbonne. His books include Counter-History of the Present: Untimely Interrogations into Globalization, Technology, Democracy (2017), Interventions in Contemporary Thought: History, Politics, Aesthetics (2016), Radical History & the Politics of Art (2014) and Logique de l’histoire (2010). In addition to his scholarly work, he has been actively engaged in extra-academic activities in the art and activist worlds, as well as a regular contributor to public intellectual debate. Follow on twitter: @GabrielRockhill
Reproduced from: https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/12/13/the-u-s-is-not-a-democracy-it-never-was/