Anxiety is the unpleasant feeling of an unrealistic fear. It is a human response to the absurdity of life’s displeasure and its seemingly aimless journey. Such feelings are largely created before choices of consequence, when an individual feels powerless, and where such an action could lead to possible pain.

One of the few actual sketches of Søren Kierkegaard.

The classic example is one philosopher Søren Kierkegaard mentions in his writing, The Concept of Anxiety. Take it that a man is standing alongside a cliff. He looks down and sees the drop below him. He fears the he may fall, but at the same time, he is terrifyingly intrigued. He has an impulse to jump, but he also experiences fear because he knows it would mean his imminent death. Kierkegaard calls this the “dizziness of freedom” — we have the freedom of choice, to make even the deadliest of choices, and this induces existential anxiety and dread. For most people, the fear of the death strays us away from jumping. For those that psychotically lack it, they succumb to their impulses and jump. In the case of the Biblical story of Adam of Eve, anxiety is understood by Kierkegaard as a precursor to sin. God tells Eve not to eat the fruit or she would face death and pain. Through this restriction, Eve is given a choice whether or not to eat the forbidden fruit. The anxiety of the moral decision is captured by her interaction with the serpent which tempts her to eat it — like the cliff, she feels compelled to jump. Kierkegaard, through this story, comes to a conclusion on sin. Sin is always preceded by anxiety. And the first such instance in Genesis, according to old Christian theology, was precluded by anxiety.

Although I take literal interpretations of Biblical texts with a grain of salt, the religious language in Kierkegaard’s writing can be replaced with more secular lingo and still be considered valid. “God” is symbolic of objective morality and sin is the failure to live up to it. Whenever an immoral act is committed, and a grave choice is involved, there is existential anxiety that precedes it. Kierkegaard contends that this anxiety can be mediated through eternal values that transcend the choices we are placed into, since our decisions are subject to the twists and turns of everyday life. He argues we must establish meaning through objective concepts that we should abide by. To explain this, he illustrates an image of a sailor lost at sea.

How, then, shall we face the future? When the sailor is out on the ocean, when everything is changing all around him, when the waves are born and die, he does not stare down into the waves, because they are changing. He looks up at the stars. Why? Because they are faithful; they have the same location now that they had for our ancestors and will have for generations to come. By what means does he conquer the changeable? By the eternal. By the eternal, one can conquer the future, because the eternal is the ground of the future, and therefore through it the future can be fathomed. What, then, is the eternal power in a human being? It is faith. What is the expectancy of faith? Victory-or, as Scripture so earnestly and so movingly teaches us, that all things must serve for good those who love God. [Eighteen Upbuilding Discourse, 19]

The Signal of Distress by Winslow Homer

The Signal of Distress by Winslow Homer

I disagree with Kierkegaard’s final conclusion on faith, because I take it that moral objectivity can be reached without divine inspiration, but his thought process is valid. Through an “eternal” morality, one can guide oneself through all of life’s moral decisions. The closest such axiom that exists in secular thought would be the “Golden Rule” which is derived from empathy: one should not treat others in ways that one would not want to be treated. Moral conclusions should not be based on the arbitrary ebbing and flowing of subjective life. If that was the case, to the common observer, heinous acts of immorality would be considered “moral” in the time period they were committed. Because slavery was at one time considered “moral” by popular standards, did that make it truly ethical? No, because it breaks eternal moral codes that are always true. Regardless of the time period, these principles stand tall and serve as a guide with which to judge decisions made in the past and those yet to be made.

Anxiety, therefore, is a symptom of a lack of existential direction. It is induced when an individual is lost in the random spontaneity of the natural world. Likewise, such anxiety can be mitigated when the individual develops a proper objective view on life. However, there is a minor caveat — the conclusions that the secular explanation gives us through the Golden Rule is one that still lacks proper foresight. Surely, acts of self defense are morally permissible, but how does that fit within the context of the Golden Rule? We know the assailant is committing an immoral act according to this axiom, but the question of self-defense is left unanswered. Therefore, an objective moral code that is derived from secular understanding requires a more nuanced explanation that is all-encompassing. It requires expanding to cover all aspects of an ethical life. It also requires constantly being tweaked using the Golden Rule as an objective starting point. Although not complete, the Golden Rule is the closest estimation of a moral maxim that many of our own decisions can be based around.

Kierkegaard, on the other hand, turns this conclusion on its head and argues that faith brings one to an eternal understanding that would work to subdue the existential anxiety and dread we experience. A morality based on divine command, a list of necessary obligations, is the simplest solution to the problem of objective ethics — the question is, however, from which command on high does one follow and is it ever disputable? I would prefer an objective ethics that is able to be tinkered with until a seemingly perfect code is established. One that is always applicable but subject to minor changes based on enlightened understanding, rather than an absolutist position that is easily exploited by power. Regardless, Kierkegaard is correct in his assertion of the necessity of an all-encompassing life view. It is necessary so that, just like the sailor of the story, one does not get lost in the waves of everyday life itself, which is too oftentimes muddled with subjective preferences and fleeting emotions. And succumbing to such feelings would be a perversion of reason and a squandering of life’s many splendors.

Note: This was written before the election of Nicolás Maduro. 


The election of 1998 was one of righteous importance to Venezuelans. Within the shadow International Monetary Fund and under its watchful eye, Venezuela had seen ten of its banks [1] collapse in the years prior, its Bolivar currency degenerate [2], and inflation run rampant [3]. Violent outbreaks plagued the city bounds and immediate countryside, sparked by Hugo Chavez’s failed coup attempt of 1992. During the 90s presidency of Rafael Caldera, the socioeconomic inequality of Venezuela reached its frustration and ultimate climax. Tipping over, it found its ultimate solution, by popular vote, through Hugo Chavez’s victory in December of 1998 – and with it, puntofijismo, the three-party system that held Venezuela by the handles since 1958, fell to Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution.

Anti-imperialism and hostility towards Western influence has been commonplace since the Bolivarian Revolution.

Anti-imperialism and hostility towards Western influence has been commonplace since the Bolivarian Revolution.

In many ways, the importance of Hugo Chavez’s first election victory extends beyond his left-leaning economic policies.  It represented a significant shift in Venezuelan politics, and the rest of Latin America, against the Washington Consensus that was taking capital away from Venezuelan hands for decades. More broadly, it captured a struggle within a more pressing grander narrative that included centuries of Western economic infiltration and exploitation since the colonial era. The emergence of leftist movements in Latin America after Chavez’s rise to power, called the ”pink tide,” symbolized a crucial break from what was once the normality of Latin American economic dependence. This critical change owes its thanks to the richness of Venezuelan resources, particularly oil. The oil card that Venezuela possesses is a keen one in international politics and it enabled Chavez to raise Venezuela from its former subservient position in comparison to Western economies. Currently, oil stands as the stronghold of economic power among modern nations and it grants Venezuela a necessary springboard with which it can bring its country, and the rest of Latin America, to prominence.

Chavismo leaves much to be desired.

However, in all its oil wealth, this treasure has created a dubious contradiction in the institutions that control Venezuela. Chavez’s legacy will surely leave some form of his political ideology, chavismo, as the engine of Venezuelan politics, but also remaining will be the programs and structures that he helped expand through nationalized oil revenues. Many of these are not transparent. The uncertain nature of the Venezuelan future resembles a double-sided sword. On the one hand, public ownership of the oil industry has allowed for Chavez’s reformist positions for social justice to take root. Venezuela’s poverty rate, unemployment rate, and infant mortality rate have all decreased significantly [4] and the country now boasts the lowest level of income inequality in Latin America [5]. On the other hand, despite these gains, homicide rates have increased multifold [6] and institutional corruption has remained frighteningly high regardless of Chavez’s party platform of “anti-corruption” [7]. A mixed bag of success, Hugo Chavez has managed to pursue some forms of social justice and alternate institutions – such as the radical democratic experiments of communal councils (consejos comunales) – while still working alongside the dishonest power structures that existed before the Bolivarian revolution. It is this dangerous relationship that might reverse the moderate gains made for the working poor in Venezuela, now that Chavez has passed away. Such corruption has the ability to spiral into the backdoor privatization and foreign meddling that was seen in the crisis prior to 1998.

It is this uncertainty that calls into question the longevity of Chavez’s policies and chavismo. The prediction of what will become of Venezuela’s leftist movements is a difficult one.  There are relatively two major paths that could very well be taken, one clearly more preferable than the other. Venezuela could continue to pursue its expansionary social programs, using the power of oil politics, while in the meantime working to stamp out the fraudulent institutions that have been a staple in the Venezuelan experience since colonial times. Contrarily, it could also succumb to Western finance and right-wing movements that caused the economic collapse of the 1990s, impoverishing the majority while enriching the coffers of the higher castes of Venezuela. During his presidency, Hugo Chavez managed to take some crooked middle route by granting the state economy some room to pursue its corrupt practices while also responding to popular support through governmental programs and the socialization of private profits. However, this route is unsustainable. Unless the fraudulent and cyclical problems of Venezuela are addressed, its institutions will continue to hollow until its message of social justice becomes all but meaningless.

Thus, the burden lies on the working people of Venezuela to actively support and accept, as a basic right, the human necessities that were only recently granted to them. The ideology of chavismo should not be a temporary one, given it brought popular democracy to a largely undemocratic system, but it requires persistent vigilance against the reactionary powers that seek to destroy it and return Venezuela back to economic madness. Thereby, it is in the hands of the Venezuelans themselves to remain passionate enough to prevent a reversion to pre-Chavez policies. However, as to if they will actually do so with enough potency, that is really anybody’s guess.

Chavez-inspired murals are scattered about in Venezuelan cities.

Chavez-inspired murals are scattered about in Venezuelan cities.

Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910)

The Three Questions is a short story by Leo Tolstoy that was published in 1885. It contains a few moral sayings to live by, which we oftentimes just take as a given, but Tolstoy managed to keep you guessing for these answers until the big reveal at the very end.

A king poses three questions to his dear kingdom and is willing to grant a large sum of money for those that can answer them. The questions were simple.

  • What is the right time for every action?
  • Who are the most necessary people? 
  • What is the most important thing to do? 

For each question, however, he received all different kinds of answers.

In reply to the first question, some said that to know the right
time for every action, one must draw up in advance, a table of days,
months and years, and must live strictly according to it. Only
thus, said they, could everything be done at its proper time.
Others declared that it was impossible to decide beforehand the
right time for every action; but that, not letting oneself be
absorbed in idle pastimes, one should always attend to all that was
going on, and then do what was most needful. Others, again, said
that however attentive the King might be to what was going on, it
was impossible for one man to decide correctly the right time for
every action, but that he should have a Council of wise men, who
would help him to fix the proper time for everything.

The answers to the second question were a bit less lettered, but still unconvincing.

Equally various were the answers to the second question. Some said,
the people the King most needed were his councilors; others, the
priests; others, the doctors; while some said the warriors were the the most necessary.

And finally, the last question also received many different answers.

To the third question, as to what was the most important occupation:
some replied that the most important thing in the world was science.
Others said it was skill in warfare; and others, again, that it was
religious worship.

The king was not satisfied with these responses. He decided to consult a hermit who lived in the woods beyond the outskirts of town. The king put on simple clothing and wandered up to the hermit’s house by himself without his usual guards to discover the answers to his three quandaries.

When the King approached, the hermit was digging the ground in front
of his hut. Seeing the King, he greeted him and went on digging.
The hermit was frail and weak, and each time he stuck his spade into
the ground and turned a little earth, he breathed heavily.

The king posed the three questions to the wise hermit, but he received no response other than a recommendation to dig. The king offered his support to the hermit, since he was weak and tired. The hermit thanked him and the king dug. After digging two beds, the hermit suggested the king rest. The king insisted he dig until he was finished and he did so until sunset. After finishing, he posed his same three questions again. The hermit responded with an observation, “here comes someone running, let us see who it is.”

The King turned round, and saw a bearded man come running out of the
wood. The man held his hands pressed against his stomach, and blood
was flowing from under them. When he reached the King, he fell
fainting on the ground moaning feebly. The King and the hermit
unfastened the man’s clothing. There was a large wound in his
stomach. The King washed it as best he could, and bandaged it with
his handkerchief and with a towel the hermit had. But the blood
would not stop flowing, and the King again and again removed the
bandage soaked with warm blood, and washed and re-bandaged the wound.
When at last the blood ceased flowing, the man revived and asked for
something to drink. The King brought fresh water and gave it to
him. Meanwhile the sun had set, and it had become cool. So the
King, with the hermit’s help, carried the wounded man into the hut
and laid him on the bed. Lying on the bed the man closed his eyes
and was quiet; but the King was so tired with his walk and with the
work he had done, that he crouched down on the threshold, and also
fell asleep–so soundly that he slept all through the short summer
night. When he awoke in the morning, it was long before he could
remember where he was, or who was the strange bearded man lying on
the bed and gazing intently at him with shining eyes.

After resting, the man said faintly to the king, “forgive me!” Confused, the king responds, “I do not know you, and I have nothing to forgive you for.” The man explains:

“You do not know me, but I know you. I am that enemy of yours who
swore to revenge himself on you, because you executed his brother
and seized his property. I knew you had gone alone to see the
hermit, and I resolved to kill you on your way back. But the day
passed and you did not return. So I came out from my ambush to find
you, and I came upon your bodyguard, and they recognized me, and
wounded me. I escaped from them, but should have bled to death had
you not dressed my wound. I wished to kill you, and you have saved
my life. Now, if I live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your
most faithful slave, and will bid my sons do the same. Forgive me!”

The king was thrilled to have made peace with an enemy so easily. In an act of kindness, he then grants the man some servants, his own physician, and promised would restore the property that was formerly taken from him.

After leaving the man, the king walked alongside the porch to find the hermit. Again, he posed the three questions to him longing for an answer — the hermit responds, “you have already been answered!”

“Do you not see,” replied the hermit. “If you had not pitied my
weakness yesterday, and had not dug those beds for me, but had gone
your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have
repented of not having stayed with me. So the most important time
was when you were digging the beds; and I was the most important
man; and to do me good was your most important business. Afterwards
when that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were
attending to him, for if you had not bound up his wounds he would
have died without having made peace with you. So he was the most
important man, and what you did for him was your most important
business.

It was then the king’s questions were finally answered. The most important time is now, the one which concerns you immediately. The most important person is whoever you are with. And, finally, the most important thing is to do good with who you are with.

And, only then, did the king finally receive three true and honest answers for his questions.

*** 

The Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy

I.   The Rise of the Bourgeois Work Ethic

The Crystal Palace, home of the Great Exhibition of 1851, was the first World Fair where Britain showed its industrial might and astute culture.

The Victorian Era was a strange time of mystic sexual morality, distinct fashion, industrialization, and — above all — imperial conquest. It was Britain’s century, their colonialist high-point, and they likewise influenced lands far beyond their water-locked country. The “Victorian morality” was a strange development in the emergence of bourgeois society. It was hypocritical as much as it was limiting; the mantra was to better the human condition, while, at the same time, turning a blind eye to the plight of the child worker and the general laborer (There were exceptions, of course. A spare few were in fact unsettled by the plight of these poor folk, one of them being Karl Marx).

With the rise of industrialization in the British mainland came a downplaying of hedonism. Pleasure was seen as seemingly antithetical to the ideal Victorian, where hard-work was cherished as a means to religious salvation [1]. Max Weber spoke of this in his seminal work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, where he argues that the rise of Protestantism gave headway to new laborious expectations and allowed for further divisions of labor. In the Calvinist view, Martin Luther’s, and others of the Reformation, it was not enough to be devoted to supernatural salvation; one had to also be devoted to earthly labor and his craft. Because of the inability of individuals to influence God’s grace, given the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, they struggled to find signs of their destiny — which was either eternal damnation or salvation. A rigorous work ethic was preached as being a sign of “God’s grace,” and it became the epitome of the Calvinist tradition. Although only Scotland of Great Britain was largely Calvinist, due to the teachings of John Knox, the rest of the industrializing island also exemplified a similar outlook on labor. Religious individualism was crucial in any Protestant tradition that broke from the Catholic Church, even in the Anglican Church of England. In contrast, places such as Ireland (predominately Catholic), according to Weber, lacked this attitude due to the authoritarian nature of the Catholic Church and its overreaching doctrine, which limited individualism [2]. Coupled with the fact that “sloth” was considered a deadly sin in Christian doctrine, the development of bourgeois society fall hand-in-hand with the development of this new robust industrial individualism and the facilitation of Protestantism.

II.    Demonizing Lust 

Because of the development of a new work ethic, sexuality became an impediment to such ends. Such relations were relegated to private rooms, away from public sight. The majority of children, even among the poor, were sent to Sunday school where they were inculcated in a belief that one must abstain from sexual perversion. It was seen as an obstacle to God’s grace (let us not forget, “lust” is yet another deadly sin) [3]. Pleasure, as told by religious dogma, was merely a test of faith and should not be responded in kind. In part by this, sexuality become externalized — it became part of the object, rather than the self — and became regarded, seemingly, as a necessary evil.

Sexuality become a construct of public attention and scrutiny even in common language. It became impolite to bring up such topics in company and euphemisms emerged to describe them, need it be brought up [4]. Nearly every part of the body had a corresponding euphemism, with even the term “leg” being impolite and being replaced with “limb.’ The entire concept of procreation was made into fables that were nicely-worded to be avoided with children; such as the famous story of the “white stork” being the harbinger of small children that became popularized with the Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Storks [5].  Equally absurd, genitalia were seen as too explicit to be shown in any context, even in artistry, during Victorian times. Expurgation, the censorship of the “offensive,” become common. Perhaps the best known example is one of the “fig-leaf,” where Queen Victoria, as the story goes, was repulsed to see the genitalia of Michelangelo’s statue David. A proportional fig leaf was then made to cover the obscenity, so the figure could be tolerated [6]. Even classical literature was found guilty of obscenity — Dr. Thomas Bowdler omitted and rewrote Shakespearean plays to make it more “accessible to children and wives.” Called The Family Shakespeare,  minor expletives were omitted and death was made gentler, among other things. With the gentry holding morality of society by the handles, these such moral impositions pervaded all facets of British life, from the top down. Consequently, these norms were brought to all dominions of British rule and, given its vast empire, its sexually-repressive influence was vast and lasting.

III.   The Patriarchal Family

The standard Victorian family had many children.

Perhaps most striking, in contrast with late developments of the family, is the role of women in society. The structure was overtly patriarchal. In Victorian society, the woman was servile and sexually docile. She was bound to her domestic life, despite having some political and civil autonomy, and was given the unspoken task of functioning as the moral instruction for servants and children. Women were expected to give birth to many children and the standard was set by the Queen Victoria and her husband — i.e. the “Royal Family” — who, in total, had nine children. Standards of femininity were established in the higher rungs of Victorian society and were expressed actively in the arts. The great Victorian poet Lord Alfred Tennyson espoused such repressive virtues in his poem The Princess: 

Man for the field and woman for the hearth:
Man for the sword and for the needle she:
Man with the head and woman with the heart:
Man to command and woman to obey;
All else confusion [6].

One of the reasons for this gender polarity and rigidity is the development of the bourgeois middle-class during the Victorian era. The average Victorian male worked, unlike the gentry, and was able to afford at least three servants [7]. The household became a symbol of the male’s moral character and was regarded as a reflection of social class.. Thereby, it did not matter if the working man had to face obscene conditions and do monotonous labor to earn his living; as long as he had a respectable house to come back to, his social class was maintained. The paradox of experiencing a inferiority in the workplace induced a need to establish a superiority in the household, ultimately giving rise to patriarchal sentiments and female submission. This dynamic would establish two separate spheres of control in Victorian society — the private and the public, the workplace and the home, and the domestic and the business.

IV.   Sexuality as an Object

The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction by Michel Foucault

In 1976, philosopher Michael Foucault published one of the first volumes to a three-volume series that would come to be known as one of his seminal works. His book, The History of Sexuality, analyzed the role of human sexuality in the Western world and its development. It aimed at questioning the presupposed “repression hypothesis” — that the current repressive elements of sexuality are a symptom of the Victorian era, which is when rigid restrictive norms were put in place. Although Foucault does not outright reject repressive Victorian morality as a major factor in the rise of modern Western sexuality, he turns the mainstream thesis on its head in arguing that sexuality was more discussed than ever before during the Victorian era.

The long rule of Queen Victoria has been characterized by sexual repression, censorship of the obscene, and domestication of the female; however, is there more to Victorian culture than merely superficial restrictions on discourse? Although there was relative silence on the topic between child and parent, teacher and pupil, or even master and house servant — was there not also, perhaps, a growing fascination with sexuality as a human condition? In 1841, the British state, for the first time, became instituting a full census of their population. This expansionary measure would include statistics on marriage, birth rates, and death rates [8]. The family was promoted as the building block of British life and marriage was superimposed as a guiding force in establishing such social harmony. Prostitution became an epidemic  as poor female laborers struggled to find an income and were economically coerced to sell their bodies to usually wealthy upper-class gentry [9].  Priests became more interested in “confessions on the flesh” during the Christian practice of Penance, where individuals would confess to the priest their supposed “impurities.” Foucault writes:

But while language may have been refined, the scope of the confession — the confession of the flesh — continually increased. This was partly because the Counter Reformation busied itself with stepping up the rhythm of the yearly confession in the Catholic countries, and because it tried to impose meticulous rules of self-examination; but above all, because it attributed more and more importance in penance — and perhaps at the expense of other since — to all insinuations of flesh: thoughts, desire, voluptuous imaginings, delectations, combined movements of the body and soul; henceforth, all this had to enter, in detail, into the process of confession and guidance [The History of Sexuality Vol I, 19].

He goes on to argue how the establishment of Penance in Protestant (and Catholic) nations began deviating from actual confession of sins and became obsessed with the smallest of pleasures.

According to the new pastoral, sex must not be named imprudently, but all its aspects, its correlations, and its effects must be pursued down to their slenderest ramifications: a shadow in a daydream, an image too slowly dispelled, a badly exorcised complicity between the body’s mechanics and the mind’s complacency: everything had to be told [The History of Sexuality Vol I, 19].

Likewise, the Victorian era and the few decades prior to its development set a standard: Now, not only did one need to confess to acts that were against the law, they also had to tell all their pleasures and desires in church discourse, under the watchful eyes of the priest or minister. This set a new tone to sexuality in the Western world previously unheard of — it gave rise to innumerable euphemisms to describe acts or body parts previously taken as merely “being,” in an effort to describe this new sexual fascination. Sexuality was now externalized, treated as undesirable pleasure, and was to be repressed in public. And henceforth, the repression in Western culture took on a two-faced form; on the one hand, sexuality was to be beaten down from the public eye, but, on the other hand, was to be properly dissected under the guise of an authority that demands it.

Austro-German psychiatrist Richard von Kraft-Ebing, author of

Austro-German psychiatrist Richard von Kraft-Ebing, author of “Psychopathia Sexualis” (1886).

In academia, sexuality began to be added to the scientific lexicon. The Oxford English Dictionary began to add specific terms to their newly-printed releases;  “sexual intercourse” (1799), “sexual function” (1803), “sexual organs” (1828), “sexual desire” (1836), “sexual instinct” (1861), “sexual impulse” (1863), “sexual act” (1888), and “sexual immorality” (1911). Moreover, sexual behavior became robustly studied as a field worthy of attention [10]. Sexuality was seen, in scientific circles, as a proper way to assess one’s personality and behavior. Who you slept with became, peculiarly, also an identity in the Western mindset. This became especially prevalent in psychiatry, before the Freudian revolution of thought, where sexual deviancy was seen as particularly problematic. And this phenomenon was present far beyond the bounds of Victorian England, since talks on sexuality were rising in the confession booths all across Christian Europe. Austro-German psychiatrist Richard von Kraft-Ebing published his work Psychopathia Sexualis in 1886 in which he outlined four sexual categories of, what he considered to be, symptoms of neurosis. They were titled: paradoxia (sexual desire at the wrong time), anesthesia (not enough sexual desire), hyperesthesia (too much sexual desire), and paraesthesia (sexual deviancy, i.e. queer and fetishism). He goes on to discuss the sexual “impassivity” of the female compared to the male, describing the male as having a “stronger sexual appetite” — only reaffirming the hypocritical sexual expectations of the male and female which is pervasive in Western culture to this very day.

V. Modern Victorian Sexuality 

The ramifications of such repression, and private sexual objectification, has reared its ugly face even in contemporary society. The hysteria over discussion on sexuality is still pervasive and shied away in any public discourse. Archaic conceptions of sexual “immorality” are still being tossed around in the public arena and are commonly told to children. Rigid notions of femininity and masculinity are institutionally enforced and kept in check by popular disapproval once one steps outside the preconceived bounds. Perhaps, what is seen more vividly, is the persistent caricature that one’s sexuality is an indicator of one’s personality. The marginalization of sexuality continues to plague the Western mindset, always thrown to the back-burner of our minds, too frightening to be discussed. Such are the chains that have to be properly broken if we wish to actually articulate real “sexual liberation’ or any humanization of what, should be considered, natural human urges. To put it most bluntly, perhaps it is time to bring, first and foremost, such topics of sexuality to light. And all the while, let us give those that decry its discussion the proper response — ignore and pressure them to change their repressive ideas of sexuality, which have been shamefully penning individuals in a sexually-normative box ever since its adoption as a Western moral imperative. It is about time the discussion has been opened, rather than have sexuality continue to be an object of scrutiny.

***

The Victorians: Gender and Sexuality 

I.       The Parable of the Broken Window

Bastiat

Frédéric Bastiat

In 1850, classical liberal theoretician Frédéric Bastiat published his landmark essay That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen (Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas). In it, he introduces his acclaimed scenario — the “parable of the broken window.” The story is a simple one: a shopkeeper’s son accidentally breaks a pane of glass and hire a glazier. And so it goes:

Suppose it cost six francs to repair the damage, and you say that the accident brings six francs to the glazier’s trade – that it encourages that trade to the amount of six francs – I grant it; I have not a word to say against it; you reason justly. The glazier comes, performs his task, receives his six francs, rubs his hands, and, in his heart, blesses the careless child.

But what if windows continue to be broken purposefully; what if the child is, by some oddity, conspiring with the glazier to reap the benefit of profit? In short, “destruction is not profit.” The issue of destruction, and its subsequent fixing, is that of which creates no real value. It merely moves moves money from one hand to another (in this case, from the shopkeeper to the glazier).

The opportunity cost of such an action, the repeated breaking of windows, is at the expense of other actions that could add more net benefit to the town. For one, the glacier may be distracted from other necessary tasks by fixing the shopkeeper’s window repeatedly, acting as a negative constraint on his labor, or the shopkeeper might have rather used the money spent on repairs on either investment or consumption. It best can be summed by Bastiat’s phrase: “society loses the value of things which are uselessly destroyed.”

What will you say, disciples of good M. F. Chamans [French politician], who has calculated with so much precision how much trade would gain by the burning of Paris, from the number of houses it would be necessary to rebuild?

325412.fullBastiat goes on to use his argument against protectionism (one which the Austrian school of thought uses often), which is, I feel, an incorrect application of the actual parable. Bastiat was functioning within the French colonial economy and he failed to address the difficulty of smaller firms lacking the economies of scale to compete with already-established firms. This is demonstrated by the Hamiltonian “infant industry argument,” and the adoption of protectionism in the United States, allowed for the development of American industry that would have been eaten up by British competitors had they not been protected. However, this is a separate issue entirely — Bastiat’s parable can be properly applied to the opportunity cost of war and those that claim it “brings growth.” Naturally, he actually applied his thinking to the “war economy” and wrote directly of it. He differentiates between what is “seen” and costs that are “not seen.”

A hundred thousand men, costing the tax-payers a hundred millions of money, live and bring to the purveyors as much as a hundred millions can supply. This is that which is seen.

But, a hundred millions taken from the pockets of the tax-payers, cease to maintain these taxpayers and the purveyors, as far as a hundred millions reach. This is that which is not seen. Now make your calculations. Cast up, and tell me what profit there is for the masses?

Therefore, a war-driven economy does not actually create sustained growth since it takes away necessary labor by enlisting them and deviates capital to military use rather than civilian use.

II.       Rapid Growth in the Post-War Era 

The Post-WW2 era brought with it a period of unprecedented economy growth. The process of rebuilding Europe was relatively quick and economies sprang back on their feet. Called the “Golden Age of Capitalism,” Western European nations experienced GDP growth rates never seen before in their history and some of the lowest unemployment rates ever recorded. To many, it appeared to be the triumph of capitalism in rebounding from the previous years of carnage and war. Titles were given for each nation’s “recovery miracle” — Wirtschaftswunder in Germany, the Trente Glorieuses in France, and others. However, when placed in context, it was a development consist with capitalism’s short but sporadic history.

Source: The Economics of World War II: Six Great Powers in International Comparison

Source: The Economics of World War II: Six Great Powers in International Comparison

*Based on Table 1 found in Mark Harrison, The USSR and Total War: Why Didn't the Soviet Economy Collapse in 1942? from Mark Harrison, "The Economics of World War II: an Overview," in Mark Harrison, ed., The Economics of World War II: Six Great Powers in International Comparison, Cambridge University Press (1998), 10.

*Based on Table 1 found in Mark Harrison, The USSR and Total War: Why Didn’t the Soviet Economy Collapse in 1942? from Mark Harrison, “The Economics of World War II: an Overview,” in Mark Harrison, ed., The Economics of World War II: Six Great Powers in International Comparison, Cambridge University Press (1998), 10.

The GDP during the war differed tremendously year by year. The UK economy began feeling the economic consequences of the war after 1943, France after 1939, Italy after 1942, Germany after 1944, and Japan also after 1944. Europe had to be rebuilt — the broken window had to be fixed.

And after the war, the war-torn nations called upon their glaziers: industry. Production soared and is perhaps best demonstrated in automobile production alone, which rose drastically after 1946.

Main sources: WMVD, SMMT, JAMA, IRF, CCFA, OICA.

Main sources: WMVD, SMMT, JAMA, IRF, CCFA, OICA

Military spending also increased as military armaments accumulated in the post-war period. In the years between 1950 to 1960, France doubled their military spending from 11 billion to 22 billion, West Germany from 0 to 22 billion, the United Kingdom from 23 to 29 billion, and the United States from 69 to 168 billion [1]. The need for a permanent armament reserve for potential war against the Soviet forces proved to be a constant in the Cold War economies that would arise in the years after World War 2. Likewise, this stirred production levels to meet these new demands. With the increases in production, fresh new labor was needed to sustain it. Luckily, many troops from the war provided such manpower necessary to sustain these new production levels. They were absorbed into the economy with relatively ease and Western Europe experienced unemployment levels that were at historical lows. Deputy Commissioner Robert J. Myers of the Bureau of Labor Statics writes in 1964:

From 1958 to 1962, when joblessness in [France, former West Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Sweden] was hovering around 1, 2, or 3 per cent, [the U.S.] rate never fell below 5 percent and averaged 6 percent.

However, the reason is quite clear — Europe had room to grow. After being devastated by war, its cities ravaged by bombings, it had to be rebuilt. Industry began to grow rapidly and profits accrued as large inflows of labor were coming into these nations from individuals that were once fighting in the front lines. The conditions were set and the growth was focused on repairs and war production with the help of the Marshall Plan put into effect by the United States. Thereby it can be said, had the war not occurred, GDP would be much higher in these Western nations since they would not forgo the opportunities that were missed in focusing on rebuilding repairs. Once again, Bastiat’s argument can be evoked —  “society loses the value of things which are uselessly destroyed.”

III.       The Inevitable Crisis 

As was expected, the economic boom of the post-WW2 era would not last indefinitely. A conglomeration of issues arose with the advent of the 1970s: the end of the Breton Woods Agreement in 1971, the Oil Crisis of 1973, and the policies of liberalization that ensued. The crisis and murky economic future that followed can best be characterized by employing an analysis of the rate of profit of these Western powers. The fluctuations of the rate of profit can help us better understand the crises that set in and its ramifications in the years that followed. The rate of profit can be best explained by the following simple equation:

S / (C + V) 

Whereas is surplus value, is constant capital, and is variable capital. The surplus value can be thought of as undistributed profits, one which do not go towards the costs of the initial labor power and machinery needed to construct the commodity. The difference between constant capital and variable capital is relatively simple — constant capital is machinery, which is relatively constant in the short run, and variable capital is mainly manifested as fluctuating wages. This relationship is crucial because, in a capitalist economy, industrialists want to maximize efficiency in order to better compete. Consequently, the more commodities are produced, the more prices fall. This translates to capital rising and surplus value subsequently falling which causes, in the long run, a tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Granted, this is only a tendency, since there are counter measures to prevent such a phenomenon from occurring (as seen in the neoliberal years of the 1980s).

United States, index numbers: 1960-5 = 100; Source: The Spain-U.S Chamber of Commerce

A crisis was inevitable after the post-WW2 boom since production had exhausted itself. The all-too-common crisis of overproduction soon followed, with the rate of profit dropping sharping starting from 1965 in conjunction with the rise of more radical movements in labor and demands for wage increases and better conditions. The fact that the rate of profit plummeted likely caused the economic malaise and stagflation of the 1970s. And the response was one we are too familiar with today — outsourcing. In order to increase profits, corporate bodies began to move to the Third World to lower their labor costs (variable capital) thus increasing their rate of profit. This is represented by the neoliberal boom of the 1980s with the rise of Reaganomics and Thatcherism

Source: The Spain-U.S Chamber of Commerce

The Rate of profit in the United States; Source: The Spain-U.S Chamber of Commerce

The graph above provides us with a different look of the same data. The average rate of profit fluctuates around 24.4% from the period of 1946-1973, drops down to 18.9% from 1974-1983, and finally rises 1.2% to 20.1% from 1984 to 2009. However, bear in mind, the rate of profit begins to drop at the 2006 mark, serving as a precursor to the Great Recession and the current crisis.

Point being — what does this necessarily have to do with the supposed “Golden Age of Capitalism?” Many Keynesian economists point to their policies and argue they spurred the growth of the post-WW2 era. However, with Europe broken and demolished, their economies could only grow. Growth had to follow since so much capital was required to rebuild post-war Europe. As efficiency increased exponentially and production soared, it was safe to assume another crisis would soon follow, since the inherent contradiction of overproduction always brings with it economy calamity. And to curtail these decreasing rate of profits a new economic ideology was introduced — neoliberal doctrine, which worked to cut taxes, deregulate, and cut labor costs through Third World exploitation. The shaky footing that the “Golden Age” brought gave individuals blissful optimism, as they hoped that the policies instated would continue growth indefinitely, however they failed to curtail the inherent contradiction of the profit accrued and capital needed, which would evoke the crisis that would follow in the 1970s.

*** 

– Rate of profit graphs were obtained from Short and Long-Term Dynamics of the U.S Profit Rate in the Context of the Current Crisis 

Capital Accumulation and Growth in Central Europe, 1920 – 2006

– The Post-World War II Golden Age of Capitalism and the Crisis of the 1970s

– The “Millennium Crisis” and the Profit Rate

System Failure: The Falling Rate of Profit and Economic Crisis

In contemporary society, “whiteness” is more than a category of pigmented skin. It is a social construct, an advantageous societal badge, a cultural phenomenon — an implicit privilege ingrained in the Western psyche. Likewise, it has connotations that permeate culture, especially those of us who are part of the American variant. The United States has, arguably, experienced the most racial upheaval of any nation in its brief history as a republic. Therefore, it is easy to see the remnants of a past white-supremacist society still festering, albeit not as explicitly as it once was. Now, the issues are implicit rather than explicit, covert rather than overt — they poison our culture as hidden systemic issues, inculcated in the American experience, rather than with symbolic elements that we tend to associate racism with (i.e. the Klu Klux Klan, Jim Crow, etc). Perhaps this poses a greater problem than ever before, since many white Americans have washed their hands clean of the matter after the granting of legal rights in the 1960s. Before such events, racism was in full-view and exposed by movements calling for its destruction during the Civil Rights era and prior. Sadly, these mass-movements have now largely disappeared, since they were mostly in conjunction with Vietnam anti-war protests, and they have escaped the public eye, despite the same problems still persisting.

The reasons for racial complexes are, from my understanding, directly linked to an understanding of class and distributions of affluence. Any hegemonic group, be it cultural or racial, is granted its creation and subsequent dominance by controlling capital and concentrating power. White elitism was a direct product of such concentrations. During the time of the slave power, power was granted to rich white slave-owners by the state. The relationship shifted with the end of the “plantation elites” and the development of racist capitalism in the South, but the dichotomy of oppressor-oppressed in the black experience was little changed. They were barred from many employment opportunities and promptly stripped of political rights after the establishment of Jim Crow once the Union troops left the former Confederate states with the sham of a compromise in 1877.

Convict leasing was actively used in the building of railroads in the South.

In relation to class, it’s quite clear how Jim Crow acquired its luster among white working Americans living in the South. Although their wages were low, their conditions horrid, and their hours long — at least they were white. They found a racial scapegoat. Thus, white capitalists justified their expropriation through a racial lens and trapped freemen in contracts that essentially re-instated elements of slavery, with convict leasing that sold “criminals” to private parties for their bidding. Racism in the south functioned as a buffer to prevent conflict aimed at industrialists. It created a rift between laborers, deviating their attention from inequality and subsequent efforts at unionization.

The issue with class disparity is that it creates the illusion of superiority. The hegemonic status of certain groups corresponds with inequities in wealth; when a group of individuals (i.e. whites, Protestants, etc.) are mostly congregated to one rung of the social ladder, it grants them a higher worth. Rather than attribute their privilege to the lottery of birth, they psychologically justify their position with some innate characteristic — be it race, religion (which is oftentimes taken as birthright), or ethnicity. With centuries of rule by white moneyed interests in the United States, it seems likely that the racist undertones of contemporary society began with class inequality. Therefore, class disparities preceded racist justifications, rather than vice-verse, through the expansion of markets by imperialist forces and expansionism.

In contemporary American society, these same cards are at play, although the deck has been shuffled a bit. The use of “code language” fills the right-wing political arena, which still caters to affluence and power as it always did. The last election of 2012 perhaps signified the last potential “hoorah” for white America — what pundit Bill O’Reilly calls “the real America” — in continuing the hegemony that was once fully enjoyed. The issue is the fact that many white Americans, particularly those in conservative circles, are supposedly “outraged” by the government’s catering to minorities. Some go as far as calling it discriminatory, or reverse-racism, against whites. The severe delusion of these reactionary whites is that they see their marginal decrease in privilege as under-privilege.  In retrospect, opportunities are merely equalizing (slowly), not absurdly flipping inversely from white to black. This white anger manifested itself in the past election, with the white vote rallying over Romney and the South vehemently against President Obama. To put it simply, racial politics are at play once again, despite the political right’s insistence that their criticisms are based purely on some disingenuous merited assessment.

Hence, given its elaborate history, privilege is an absurdly difficult topic to wrestle with due to it potentially being “offensive.” Some political commentators have wrongly grown wary of initiating such discussions and insist we live in a “post-racial” society. They believe firmly that if we ignore the race issue, it will simply disappear. Despite their, perhaps, benevolent intentions on the surface, this exasperates the problem rather than curing it. Yes, granted, I would thoroughly like to live in a post-racial society — but, point being, we don’t. Thereby, analyses in racial relations are still crucial in assessing current conditions because we, sadly, still live in a racist society. You can deny such claims, but you are under a grave misapprehension by personally muting the cries of racial injustice in contemporary American society. Out of ethical respect, we should listen and actively take note.

***

Race, Class, and “Whiteness Theory”

I. Nationalization and Reindustrialization

The port city of Zadar in Croatia after many bombings during the war.

The port city of Zadar in Croatia after many Allied bombings from 1943 to 1944.

The victory of the Yugoslav Partisan army in World War II created many hefty challenges for the newly-liberated Balkan region. After being occupied by the Ustaše from 1941-1945, the destruction was severe – “the human and material losses were the greatest in Europe after the USSR and Poland” [Simon, Jr. 5]. The former Kingdom of Yugoslavia was virtually left in ruins, being usurped of its raw materials and resources, and stripped of its transport infrastructure, mining, and manufacturing industries.

Being granted the honor of victors after World War II, the Partisans formed their own government, based on the ideology of Southern Pan-Slavism and a socialist economic philosophy in the Marxian tradition. The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was established on the 29th of November, 1945 and, after its creation, quickly allied itself with the Soviet Union. It immediately began to implement programs to rebuild its broken post-war state. Power became strongly centralized, based on the Soviet model of state socialism, and order firmly kept in place by Marshal Josip Broz Tito’s Communist Party. Six regions were then created, of relatively equal political power, in the newly drafted Constitution of 1946: Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Macedonia. Soon after, sweeping restructuring began to take root; property was transferred from its former private owners to the communist-run state, financial capital was expropriated from formerly being privatized, and the means of production was converted to public ownership. Firstly, large financial institutions, such as the banks, were nationalized to control the money supply and the flow of financial capital. After that was achieved, large industries were then overtaken by state control to promote industrialization in the war-crippled socialist republic. Then, finally, the smaller transport, commercial, and agricultural industries followed suit; they were also nationalized to increase production [Simon, Jr. 5].

II. Deterioration of Yugoslav-Soviet Relations

Edvard Kardelj, one of the creators of the Yugoslav model of socialism.

Although the initial recovery program enacted under Tito’s leadership was derived from Stalin’s 5-year plan model, significant splits shortly began to ferment between the Soviet leadership and the Yugoslav communists. Economic blockades were being placed on the young socialist state because of their alliance with the Soviet Union, and Tito’s independent stance on issues angered Stalin and his associates. Moreover, Yugoslav theoreticians began to formulate their own strains of Marxist thought and began to criticize the internal political and economic structure of the Soviet Union. Consequently, this gradually led to Yugoslavia’s expulsion from the Cominform by the end of the 1940s. It was at this point Yugoslavia began to economically develop differently than its socialist counterparts – creating a unique form of decentralized market socialism based on workers’ self-management [Simon, Jr. 6]. Frankly, the idea behind it was simple; the withering of bureaucratic state would only occur if innovative mass-participatory structures were created. Egalitarianism and populism became more of a principle rather than a political tool, contrary to the Soviet Union. Decentralized socialization of industry quickly followed Yugoslavia’s alienation from the Soviet Union. Led by the efforts of thinkers by the likes of Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Đilas, the original state-control of industry began to be broken down into localities and councils were created for respective industries. The profits were distributed amongst the workers in each individual firm, and some functions of state control were relinquished and allocation became more relied on the basic mechanisms of the market to ensure self-management and proper distribution [Frei, 45].

 III. An Economic Revolution

Strictly speaking, this economic transformation can be described as taking place in three major stages: Firstly, in the 1950s, workers’ collectives were created but were restricted by the state’s regulation of capital construction. This was actually a remnant of the Soviet model of socialism. Secondly, the 1960s and 1970s were a radical shift from the aforementioned control that was present in the previous decade; rather than allow the state to control capital allocation and production, socialized markets began allocating it themselves with a self-managing structure using the labor involved. Thirdly and finally, liberalization reform followed until the ultimate collapse during the 1980s and late 1970s mainly caused by inflation and debt [Simon, Jr. 7].

52-07-01/ 6A

Lunch break for Yugoslav workers, 1952.

The decentralized Yugoslav model mainly employed during the 60s and early 70s was localized, but complex and interconnected. Authorities in certain districts were authorized to oversee consumption and production services, to ensure each commune (the basic local government units) were working in each others interests. Moreover, each autonomous region in Yugoslavia was different; each had different legislative procedures for planning. However, it did still remain a federalist system of governance – most of executive power was exerted in creating land uses, the geographic location of large industries, traffic networking, and grandiose public service projects that required cooperation with different regions [Simmie, 272]. Most of power was derived from the legislative regions, but the localities were actually given little statutory powers. Rather, they were consulted and functioned as “pressure groups” to ensure local interests within the regions are met such as in the areas of housing, settlement, education, national defense, and the likewise [Simmie, 274]. It was a demonstration of a collective economy at work, absent of a real large-scale “free market,” where different elements of production were decided by long-term plans, medium-term plans, and annual action plans – while also being guided by the mechanisms of the supply and demand curves in a regular market, except profits were socialized as was production [Simmie, 276].

The economic growth seen during the period of decentralization was upward and dynamic. Comparatively speaking, Yugoslavia experienced the greatest per capita GDP growth out of all the Eastern Bloc economies [Groningen]. It also embraced a tight-controlled policy on imports from developed capitalist countries after the restoration of Soviet-Yugoslav relations in 1954-1955; foreign trade with socialist countries increased from 1.8% to about 28% in the decade following the return of good relations, while the share from Western capitalist nations dropped from 80.9% to 57.7% mostly due to the policies enacted by the Committee on Foreign Trade which was given extra power in 1956 to protect infant self-managing industries in developing Yugoslavia. Equally important, Yugoslavia enjoyed a balance of trade with the socialist nations during this period – amounting to $176 million of exports and $169 million of imports in 1962. Manufactured goods, machinery, and equipment were traded with the Eastern Bloc nations, while trade with developed capitalist countries consisted mainly of raw materials, food, and tobacco [Frei, 45, 46]. Banking was also heavily regulated, but broken down locally. In 1961, it consisted of eight large sub-national banks and over 380 communal banks, all overseen by the National Bank of Yugoslavia, the main credit institution of the country and giver-of-loans. The sub-national bank, granted on a regional basis, served as intermediaries between the National bank and the communal banks. The idea behind this was to encourage development by focusing giving loans to regions in need of aid, and they used communal banking institutions to do so [Frei, 48, 49].

IV. The Collapse of Yugoslavia

Despite strong economic growth and potential – experiencing an annual GDP growth of 6.1%, a life expectancy of 72 years, and literacy rate of 91% according to 1991 World Bank Statistics from 1960 to 1980 – the experimental Yugoslav system soon imploded on itself due to a variety of factors. Perhaps more importantly, the Oil Crisis of the 1970s had the greatest impact on Yugoslavia and was a precursor to the catastrophe that would unfold after Tito’s death in 1980, ultimately leading to the breakup of the federation in a bloody civil war. The recession in the developed nations in the West severely hurt Yugoslavia, and hindered the economic growth it was experiencing for 30 years. Massive shortages followed in electricity, fuel, and other necessities and unemployment reached 1 million by 1980 due to the energy crisis and the increasing economic embargos imposed by Western powers. Soon, structural economic issues came to light and richer regions became frustrated from over-subsidizing the poorer regions of southern Yugoslavia, called “economic black holes” [Asch, 26]. Production severely dropped, and conditions only worsened as the decade went on; GDP dropped -5.3% from 1980 to 1989, the regions of Kosovo and Montenegro being hit the hardest [Kelly]. Real earnings dropped 25% from 1975 to 1980, further crushing the poorest regions. In an effort to curb the domestic crisis, Yugoslavia began to take loans from the IMF to boost infrastructure development and bring back production levels to their pre-crisis levels. Soon, its debt skyrocketed – Yugoslavia incurred $19.9 billion in foreign debt by 1981 [Massey, Taylor, 159]. As a request for incurring so much IMF debt, the IMF demanded market liberalization and many regions began to implement economic shock therapy: cutting subsidies, privatizing, and quickly opening trade to allow foreign capital, which only worsened Yugoslavia’s economic crisis. Inflation rates soared and Yugoslavia entered a period of hyperinflation, unable to cope with the currency crisis because of its complex banking system – it soon began printing large amounts of Yugoslav dinar banknotes, created a new note of 2,000,000 Yugoslav dinars in 1989. As the broken nation spiraled into further calamity, the terrible war, which would be the bloodiest on European soil since World War 2, would soon begin to rear its dark head and finally put an end to the Yugoslav experiment that lasted little over just 40 years.

The Yugoslav Partisan Army marching through the city of Bitola, Macedonia.

V. Bibliography

– Simon, Jr., György. An Economic History of Socialist Yugoslavia. Rochester: Social Science Research Network, 2012. 1-129.

– Simmie, James. The Town Planning Review , Vol. 60, No. 3 (Jul., 1989), pp. 271-286

– The Groningen Growth and Development Centre, n.d. Web. 3 Jun 2012. http://www.rug.nl/feb/onderzoek/onderzoekscentra/ggdc/inde&xgt;

– Frei, L. The American Review of Soviet and Eastern European Foreign Trade , Vol. 1, No. 5 (Sep. – Oct., 1965), pp. 44-62

– Beth J. Asch, Courtland Reichmann, Rand Corporation. Emigration and Its Effects on the Sending Country. Rand Corporation, 1994. (pg. 26)

– Mills Kelly, “GDP in Yugoslavia: 1980-1989,” Making the History of 1989, Item #671, http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/items/show/671 (accessed June 03 2012, 10:32 pm).

– Douglas S. Massey, J. Edward Taylor. International Migration: Prospects and Policies in a Global Market. OxfordUniversity Press, 2004. (pg. 159)

– Government of the Republic of Croatia – Information on Croatian Economy http://www.vlada.hr/en/about_croatia/information/croatian_economy

– Ballinger, Pamela. “Selling Croatia or Selling Out Croatia?” Bowdoin College, 24 Oct. 2003. Web.

– Vojmir Franičević. Privatization in Croatia: Legacies and Context Eastern European Economics, Vol. 37, No. 2 (Mar. – Apr., 1999), pp. 5-54

Recently, I stumbled upon a lecture given by cultural historian Roman Krznaric — whose link can be found here — arguing for an new approach to individual empowerment. Rather than cater to the old psychiatric methodologies (i.e. introspective therapy), the 21st century should adopt a new, more radical, approach in solving individual crises. He calls this new approach “outrospection” and it rests wholly on empathy and in discovering oneself through the shoes of others. As fascinating as this is, I was particularly struck by his categorization of a different kind of empathy I had not fully considered — collective empathy and how historical tragedies can be explained by its lack thereof.

The Nazi establishment enjoying a performance by the the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Whenever we think of the man’s greatest evil, a time when the moral compass was shattered, we immediately point to the atrocities of Nazism and all its collaborators; how were so many individuals persuaded to commit horrors without regard for life? It appears that the proper diagnosis would be a deficiency of empathy — in particular, a deficiency of collective empathy. Despite the fact that mass killings were structurally instituted as policy, what makes the tragedy all the more frightening is that they were done, and popularly supported, by seemingly ‘average’ people. While people were being tortured, others in the German establishment were enjoying themselves.  The disconnect between the excruciating torture perpetrated and the indulgences of the Nazi personnel blatantly points toward a lack of empathy. They outright became numb to the cries of broken families and killed innocence.

The Cathedral of Light, which was the main aesthetic feature of the Nuremberg Rallies.

And so they occupied themselves with aesthetics, gluttony, and all kinds of excess. To think that Heinrich Himmler would go to work daily, nonchalantly sign degrees instituting murder, and then return from work to sweet orchestrated music by Richard Wagner at the Berlin State Opera House is unthinkable. To them, this was routine. And they were also suffering from a grave deficiency of empathy. The German experience during the Third Reich was based on that idea that this was all historical necessity — that any perceived ‘injustice’ (which was oftentimes well-hidden from public view) is inevitable and crucial in maintaining German hegemony and power.  To further solidify this point, giant structures were constructed to show the awe and might of Nazi rule. This became especially prevalent during the Nuremberg Rallies. All of this was tied together delicately by the feeling of German community — a type of pseudo-empathy that only extended as far as the Germans themselves. For blood and soil only, Blut und Boden, as it was called; this is the perverted empathy they were attempting to facilitate, one based solely on ultra-nationalistic pride and collective narcissism.

Likewise, it can be said that every great historical tragedy involved a deprivation of genuine empathy. When the public becomes so alienated from suffering, suffering is allowed to occur forthright. Popular silence becomes a catalyst for horrors, sadly. Although, conversely, empathy itself is responsible for bringing human betterment with each progressive epoch of development. Human rights was built on abolitionism, by bringing slaves’ suffering in full view of the English commoner. Deeply troubled, this consequently lead to the banning of the Slave Trade in 1807 and of slavery in 1833. Similarly, during the height of early industrialization, abusive child labor and horrible working conditions became so horrifying that the public could ignore it no longer. The acted on their empathy, thus proving it had the power to stimulate social, economic, and political change.

However, the 21st century has seemingly been plagued by an absence of empathy. Individuals repeat the same demeaning lines when asked about deplorable sweatshop labor — “it is necessary” or, more ridiculously, “it’s better than them having no job at all.” Individuals experience poverty as a commodified phenomenon, as token commercials begging for donations, rather than as a real perceivable horror. What if individuals were placed in these conditions? What if they were made to experience the toil of Third World production, the losing of limbs just for an article of cheap clothing? Ironically, in a world so interconnected with technology, empathy is fleeting. Perhaps the only proper remedy is to evoke and cultivate, what Roman Krznaric calls, a culture of outrospection.

“The Pinch of Poverty” by Thomas Benjamin Kennington

Altruism — the most charitable, the most genial, the most endearing ethic — is promoted in Western society as the pinnacle of what is ‘good.’ Helping others before helping oneself is the crux of the democratic ideology, one that guides us and facilitates a feeling of social and cultural unity that strengthens human relations. It has become so inherent that it lay outside our mere conscious ideology. It has developed to be central to our being, and has thus become an obligatory act in order for one to be seen as a ‘good person.’

I take the golden rule in stride and I cherish it as a moral maxim for proper human relations. However, the Western conception of altruism has reached a disingenuous aura about it that cheapens the whole character of giving. In the First World, and other nations of Christendom, conceptions of ‘proper’ morality are derived from the Judeo-Christian moral tradition. The mantra is one of universal pity and, most importantly, universal love. Friedrich Nietzsche, quite famously, criticized such conceptions of morality in many of his texts for watering down their true meaning. A vindication of the ‘slave morality,’ Nietzsche vehemently opposed the undermining of the strong by the Judeo-Christian tradition of universality, which made man into a flock rather than an independent being. His gripe was, in essence, that if love is universal, one truly loves no one; if pity is universal, it is cheapened and means little. It becomes an obligation, done without question, rather than an honest moral calling.

When child labor was on our own American soil, the suffering was closer to home and easier to empathize with.

Such is the caricature of modern Western ethics, which is well-grounded in this Judeo-Christian moral responsibility. It corresponds love with selflessness, when in retrospect, love is perhaps the most selfish virtue of them all — the longing to deviate attention towards one individual despite all others. Most crucial, however, is the Christian caricature of pity which has ramifications in contemporary ideology most concretely. Take it, for example, the bleeding-heart liberal that so desperately desires to help others — he wishes to help everyone. Moved by the conditions around him, he feels compelled to do something. A noble endeavor, but to what end? Current conceptions of pity, especially towards poverty, tend to take the form of dissociating abstractions rather than a real phenomenon we can touch and feel. The West has done, for the most part, a proper job of exporting poverty to mainly areas outside of their bounds (i.e. the Third World) where production is brutal and dangerous, but is well beyond the public’s immediate consciousness. Perhaps most of us know of the tragedy that is Third World production, but we do truly Know? Can we truly empathize with the unnecessary pain and toil that goes into commodity creation, or do we just accept it while superficially denouncing it? When properly examined, Western pity may, ironically, be a subtle concession to the status quo. In this twisted moral code, poverty can be mitigated by buying a new pair of Toms, ghastly pollution can be solved with a few less plastic bags, and water deprivation can be cured by a conspicuous purchasing of Ethos water. Such is the eternal bliss of the modern consumer — capitalism with a human face, as its called. Sprinkle a little welfare, a friendly face, and a commodity with an ethical cause and you’ve solved the moral crises of production.

This is what leads me to believe that modern pity is, for the most part, one mostly of dissociation and perhaps even utter disillusionment. You donate a few dollars to a charity, to a decent cause, but have you truly alleviated the positions which created the suffering to begin with? Surely, it makes one feel warm, but does it not exasperate the issue rather than cure it? Modern morality should be about bringing to fruit a real call to action rather than a few token good works. I would categorize charitable giving as, fundamentally, such a token good work, one that gives the illusion of actual action. Surely, it is better than no action at all, but it, in essence, creates a temporary solution rather than a concrete one. And so the cyclical nature continues, with the Third World still dependent and the West still ubiquitously benevolent and longing to help. And no progress is made, except for a few dollars being thrown at poverty-stricken families in hopes helping them.

The abstraction of poverty, grief, and suffering is mostly a recent phenomenon and it corresponds with the rise of mass marketing and, more generally, the Internet. The human condition is expected to be moved by a starving African child, but when it presents itself as a commercial while sitting on a couch patiently waiting for the next programming, it comes off as less-then-urgent. It becomes a nonchalant mentioning of a real struggle, to which the American consumer responds likewise — I’ll donate a few dollars here, I’ll do what I can, but I have a family to take care of myself. The issue is that individuals cannot place themselves in that suffering, in that pain, since they are so distanced from it. And here lies the moral dilemma and the reason for the lethargy in modern activism. We see the suffering, but we don’t truly feel it; We see it as an image rather than as a condition. 

More generally, such dissociation is present in other aspects of social justice beside the fight to end world poverty. With the creation of the Internet, although possessing the ability to stimulate politically-charged movements, it has sadly lead to the creation of supposed ‘slactivists’ that lack the vigor to pursue any true cause outside of their immediate bedrooms. These self-congratulatory armchair activists pride themselves on fighting a grave injustice. Signing internet pleas, changing their Facebook profiles to lighten an alleged injustice (as in the Kony 2012 sham), or wearing certain clothing to support something or another — the illusion of actual action is watered down to petty online signatures and nicely-packed slogans that make nifty bumper stickers. If only we had sent Adolf Hitler a few more petitions during the height of Nazi rule he would have relinquished power– what were we thinking?

Rather than abstractions, let us feel real sympathy. Rather than token givings, let us fix the conditions which created the need.  In order to pinpoint true suffering, to actually Know the true hollowness of poverty, we must be fully attuned to all its horror. Oscar Wilde captures this sentiment most eloquently in his beautiful essay, The Soul of a Man under Socialism:

[The majority of people] try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor.

But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible.

And thus is the crux of the issue — let us question the basis of poverty we see, the ugliness we encounter, and the horror we experience.  Pity is not a cheap spontaneous ordeal; Pity is genuine expression of empathy, one which must precede the drive to solve the impoverished environment that evoked it.

The merging of state and corporate power, commonly called “state monopoly capitalism” by those of us on the Left, has molded itself into creating a complex system of corporate structures. Interconnected in a globalized marketplace, they have set forth a new economic paradigm that infringes on the very liberty of peoples. Domineering and implicitly bureaucratic in its handlings, these international giants, in all their lucrative prowess, very much resemble what I would call ‘miniature states.’ Contextually, I use miniature very sparingly; only in their appearance they are not truly states, but in their real socio-political power they are on par with actual state apparatuses.

The network of corporate structures have become infused into the superstructure of the social strata. Culture, relations, political power, and institutional power have all been influenced by its overreaching grasps.  And at its very heart lies the base, the means of production, which bring mechanization, blandness, and uniformity in its wake which is the staple of corporate development. Now, given all these attributes, can we compare the corporate model to an authentic state one? Statistics reveal a stark parallel.

In 2011, according to Fortune 500, Walmart reported its earnings:

  • Revenue: $421,849,000,000 – 3.3% change from 2009
  • Profits: $16,389,000,000 – 14.3% change from 2009

Exxon Mobil, ranked number two:

  • Revenue: $354,674,000,000 – 24.6% change from 2009
  • Profits: $30,460,000,000 – 58.0% change from 2009

Now, as large as these numbers are, let’s look at nominal GDP numbers gathered from the United Nations (2010) in comparison to these revenue numbers [2]. Bear in mind, GDP is the market value of all the final goods and services from a nation for a given year.

  • If we place Walmart’s revenue in comparison to GDP, it would rank above Norway’s GDP which is $413,056,000,000 and ranked 24th in the world.
  • If we place Exxon Mobil’s revenue in comparison to GDP, it would rank above Thailand’s GDP which is $318,850,000,000 and ranked 30th in the world.

In essence, Walmart would be the 23rd largest economy in the world, and Exxon Mobil would be 29th, if they were countries.

The fact that corporations possess more moneyed power than most nations is daunting, however we can break it down even further in resemblance to modern countries. Let’s take it, for the time being, that number of individuals employed by a corporation is its supposed “population.”

In 2011, according to Fortune 500, Walmart employed 2,100,000 individuals [3]. Thereby, if we were to make Walmart a sovereign entity, it would have a population of over 2 million people and a GDP ranked 23rd in the world. The income inequality in this ‘state?’ — in comparison to its CEO, Mike Duke, to his workers, it’s 1,167 times greater [4]. 

So granted that corporations maintain political power, market power, cultural holds, and employ a sizable amount of individuals to constitute, essentially, a ‘nation’ — would be be appropriate to call these institution under the category of states? States generally function under the guise of expansion, it caters to its interests, and it wishes to expand its influence over its contemporaries. Modern corporate institutions, generally speaking, do the same thing although in the marketplace. They expand their market share, they compete with other firms, and they engage in associations (i.e. “diplomacy”) with other institutions.

Why do we reject government tyranny, but we condone corporate tyranny? Arguably, both are shades of the same tint and both contain hierarchical and bureaucratic structures of organization. The cognitive dissonance of supporting one, while turning a blind eye to the other, is a form of confirmation bias at its very worse — and it only serves to facilitate the bullying institutions that control the all of our relations.

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