Tag Archives: Polemics

Firstly, let me tell you what it does not mean.

It doesn’t signify a position that is at odds with a peaceful globalized world. It is not a luddite position against the stroke of history that is moving more and more towards interconnected communities through technology, innovation, and jurisprudence. If anything, this development is welcomed as a means of social advancement. We, anti-globalization advocates, aim at establishing transparent international bodies of people with institutions that breathe human rights, diversity, and democratic principles.

The real reason for concern is that modern markets are serving as an obstacle to such ends. The neoliberal doctrine of the past three decades has preached unity through deception. Now, spheres of influence have emerged that hark back to classical colonial relationships; the First World provides the capital, while the rest must labor. This leaves the Third World in a constant state of dependency. The mantra of benevolent “Westernization” is used as rallying call for economic expansion as age-old cultures are dismantled and replaced with chaos and violence. Plagued with the vestiges of colonialism, artificial lines have been economically reinforced in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere that have worked to heighten tensions. Blood oftentimes spills into the streets as sectarian violence pervades all aspects of post-colonial life while we live in luxury.

An iron boot has been placed on the necks of peoples outside the Western World — and the response from Western circles has been “this is for your own benefit.” Mainstream economists, along the likes of Paul Krugman and others, cite the “measurable improvement” despite these horrible conditions as a justification of economic slavery.

We argue this is wrong.

Therefore, anti-globalization is a position that seeks to break this illusion and expose the horror that is within, rather than give market expansion a justification that is both morally reprehensible and dismissive of the torturous plight incurred on Third World laborers. We, anti-globalization advocates, are not opposed to a global community of interconnected ideas and common interest — we accept this with open arms. However, an unsustainable world community of hierarchy and coercion is something that cannot be tolerated through any means.

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.

.. hidden from me in my miscellaneous assortment of unfinished notes from last summer.


The prerequisites of liberty are simple and natural. They correspond with one’s aspirations, the triumph of human will, and the realization that man’s mind is his greatest tool. It is thus omnipresent in the human imagination and it has been made conscious ever since man’s first walk out of the swamps of his ignorance. The application of this ideal, however, is fairly recent and symbolically represents a shift in the human mind; from one of negative dogmatism and intellectual chains to one of free-thought and beauty. It is in man’s liberation, emancipating him from the shackles of mental slavery, he will find his place in the natural order – one that maximizes the potentiality of his rational mind, humanizes his labour, and eliminates his alienation from the fruits he creates.

The intellectual origins of freedom date back to Enlightenment thought and the beginnings of modern scientific inquiry. It is of the Lockean concept that man in nature is in perfect freedom, and it is only when he accepts the social contract with the state he relinquishes such freedom. Therefore, we are bestowed certain self-evident inalienable rights that are given to us for simply being individuals and such that cannot be usurped by any sovereignty. These positive natural laws serve as a humanizing factor and divides humanity, philosophically, from being a mere lowly creature; that man is much more than simply some “object.” He is to be free from coercion, his life cherished, and his freedom preserved – for his mind is ever-growing, and that is must be protected for it exists and it is invaluable. It is from this axiom we postulate a corresponding society; a society that values such pure absolute liberty as static, never-changing, and unable to be forsaken – one that realizes that free association is the only proper mechanism in determining ethical relations in reaching a supposed outcome since it is the only such system that fosters a free society of independent peoples. It is from this our true emancipatory potential is reached, to its utmost extreme.

Paris Commune, 1871.

“The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David.

Art is a complex phenomenon that has frequented philosophic circles since the days of Socrates. Scrambling to pinpoint a concise definition, thinkers have attempted to encapsulate objective meanings of aesthetics in an effort to fully understand what constitutes ‘beauty.’

The issue is that art has no distinguishable intrinsic value of its own; it as good as the audience deems it to be. Whether the audience is a group of commoners or a collection of art critics, works of artistic value have to substantiate their worth through harsh criticism — only thereafter falling into the category of real praiseworthy ‘art.’ This interpretation of art is valid in many respects, but it must also be realized that art must serve a function. It is certainly not purely subjective, since it derives its status from collective admiration, and it must portray an universally relevant idea, to capture the audience.

My goal here is not to differentiate between what is ‘art,’ and what is not, as that is an exercise in futility, and entertaining that point is relatively useless. Rather, the question should be phrased: “What constitutes good or proper works of art?”

“Want it? Enter” by Vladimir Mayakovsky.

The struggle for humanization involves articulating our consciousness, our fears and dispositions, into a medium that is accessible and unifying. This medium is art. Art should portray an ecumenical sentiment and should be a statement on the environment we inhabit. Rather than uselessly capture the banality of alienated industrial life, its function is to distance ourselves from mechanization and uniformity. It should introduce spontaneity, commentary, and subtle discontent where our own lives do not. Art should function as a medium in which we use to escape alienation. By association, this means that art is, by definition, antithetical to restraint and modern conditioning. It seeks to escape it, to realize human potentiality outside the bounds of current mechanisms. By need rather than choice, it must function outside these bounds because it expresses, by its very nature, an ideal. A work that is produced within the confines of modern production would hardly be revealing, since it would be restricted to only portraying feelings that are already realized. The struggle is to bring out conditions that elevate these sentiments, which requires working outside the confines of modern alienated labor and life, to highlight the potential of bettering our current condition and status. It is by this token, true ‘art’ is not conservative — it is, by necessity, progressive in its idealism and commentary. The Greeks, perhaps the first real admirers of beauty, understood this quite well, creating sculptures and paintings of the ‘perfect’ form and physique. They were attempting to capture an ideal distant of their own lives, and thus were in the tradition of real artistry.

However, there are social means that pervert and downgrade art and bring it back into the restrictive confines of bourgeois industrial life. Profit, as a general rule, distorts its true function. Art cannot act as an escape if it crafted within the model of mass-production. It loses its individuality, the heart of its meaning, if it is created in bulk by groups driven by monetary gain. It also loses its ability to depict anything outside the contemporary, becoming a self-congratulatory trivial blanket statement that praises the lifestyle it is a part of, rather than criticizing and dissociating itself from it. The problems of artistry is heavily intertwined with the general struggle of humanization. It is a core component of reflection. The function it assumes, and how well it communicates it, is what differentiates the good from the bad, the masterworks from the mediocre.  Serving as an escape from alienation, art takes on a crucial form in human development. Without it, out inner emotions would be bound to the present, with no way of articulating what we wish to become. It is in this way art is an important realization of what it means to be “human,” and a stimulus for progressive insight and change — be it in the mind or in action.

Note: Be sure to read part one first to understand this article in its full context.

There a two phenomena when addressing private ownership that are absent form Hardin’s famous article “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Most of them are intertwined with general criticisms of the capitalist structure, but they also specific criticisms of Hardin’s theoretical narrative.

For one, there have been innumerable examples of private rightsholders preventing a socially wanted outcome. Because each individual is working for his own pursuits, communal interests are excluded from the profit equation causing inherent inequity. This particular feature of private accumulation of capital and land has been called “The Tragedy of the Anti-Commons” and it is essentially the antithetical variant to Hardin’s proposed scenario; it is when private individual ownership hinders the common good. Private owners essentially hurt the majority for their own individualistic ends, which is an incentive created only by the dollar motive. Such an outcome, I would argue, has been seen in much of the Third World with foreign ownership of resources. Arable land, oftentimes unused, is bought up by foreign investors, which strips the locals from share of their own resources. In Argentina, to take one example, foreign ownership owns about half of all land that can be used to grow crops. I’ve already talked about this in depth already in another post, so I won’t go into it again, but more info on the inequity of land ownership in South American be found here and here.

The nature of this unequal distribution, which hurts the townsfolk of these regions, is a direct product of profit-drive economy and a privatized market structure because the encouragement to go far and beyond to acquire foreign assets would not exist without it. This, I would argue, is the tragedy; the taking of land for the sole purpose of wealth accumulation and hurting the impoverished regional majority in the process.Another phenomenon is something that some have called “The Comedy of the Commons,” a ‘parody’ of Hardin’s original assumption. It is when all of Hardin’s absurd assumptions are found, but the outcome he predicts still does not occur. However, such an example is absent from the real world because his scenario is strictly an abstract concept. It does not pertain to the material; however, there have been examples in the virtual where value has actually increased with an open communal setting.Wikipedia is a perfect example of this, and any online database or forum that is open to individual input. Anybody can use the information, but its value and database only increases with more communal activity and contribution. This begs the question; Why are individuals driven to contribute to a network or open system when they gain no monetary compensation? It seems that human action is driven by more than profit, especially in academia, where no worth can artificially be put on the pursuit of knowledge. It is this that privatization fails to compensate for; that ideas are invaluable ‘commodities.’ The downgrading of the humanities and others areas of academia are a perfect testament to this. Once you reach the area of intellectual thought, the price-determining element of capitalism seemingly cannot put a monetary number on it. This most certainly dissuades individuals wishing to pursue these respective fields, because now they are forced to fundamentally reshape their aspirations to be paid a better wage to live. I find this immensely limiting to the human spirit and mind, and it is incredibly dehumanizing to an intolerable degree.


A general article on the Tragedy of the Anti-Commons can be found here. It discusses the under-usage of resources with many private owners, completely undermining the “efficiency of the market.” And here is an informative video on what motivates us, which especially pertains to academia.

In modern history courses, it is implied the age of colonialism ended after the decolonization of Africa in the years after WW2. After the mass exploitation of indigenous persons, the destruction of their cultures, and the genocide of their peoples – the Western powers are sorry for what they’ve done, and they’ve shown their gratitude by leaving them to their own. The “White Man’s Burden” is over; we’ve changed.

But what do we make of the humanitarian wars and the imposed economic globalization through international institutions? Is this something to embrace, or is it rather neocolonialism “with a human face?

If there is one thing we can learn from the tragedy of 19th and 20th century colonialism is that the interests are seldom explicitly stated. It is illustrated as the noblest of causes; it was the duty of ‘civilized’ to help those less fortunate and rid them of their immoral cultures. It is this relationship between the colony and the colonizers that is seemingly most dangerous, and established cultural hegemony [a term borrowed from Anton Gramsci’s writings] on those under occupation, making them disillusioned of what the future held. In of itself, this creates an atmosphere of implied prejudice and dependence that severely dismantles the cultural balance and solidarity among the peoples of that area. On a tangible level it strips them of their natural resources, impoverishing them, and leaving them to wallow in their suffering.

On the topic of the noble portrayal of colonialism – each Empire had their own distinct form of doublespeak used for garnering support. For the French and Portuguese it was the “civilizing mission,” all in effort to tame the ‘backward people’ in order to forcibly assimilate them into the social mores of the respective empire. For the Americans, and the British also, it was predominately the “White Man’s Burden” based on a poem by Rudyard Kipling which portrayed the imperialism as a noble enterprise and seemingly divinely sanctioned. For other empires, their reasons were almost explicitly nationalistic with little ‘noble’ justification. The German and Italian Empires both wanted their “place in the sun,” especially Germany after Kaiser Wilhelm II’s rise to power and his doctrine of Weltpolitk. The Japanese empire was the only non-western imperialistic power and they based their doctrine on anti-western ideals and nationalism; the foreign policy of the Shōwa period was dominated by the concept of the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” which attempted to create a domineering Japanese presence in Eastern Asia. It’s underlying motive was similar to that of the American ideology of “Manifest Destiny” and many Japanese felt it was self-evident they would expand after the many wars Japan engaged in, particularly with China and Russia. 

Not surprisingly so, much of the language used during the apex of what I call ‘classical modern colonialism’ is still prevalent today, albeit in a different more obscure context. The public reasons for militarization and dominance have changed and the functions of a physical empire have exhausted their use; however, the motivations for a commercial one are still very present in policy – and the reasoning may very well be very much the same; It is the public admission that we’re “civilizing” them, but not with culture this time [as least not directly], but rather with “democracy” and “liberal capitalism.” This was the justification for American-backed coups d’état of the 20th century, to eliminate any threat to American hegemony on the global stage, which was then communism. It was driven by fear and perhaps even more fundamentally ‘American Exceptionalism’ of which is staple of any imperialistic power. The reality of the Iraq War, the United States’ current occupation of Afghanistan, and the drone strikes all over the Middle East only enforces that this concept is still very fresh in the minds of American policymakers. It seems Americans have already forgot the tragedy of Vietnam, which they swore they would never allow to happen again. Noam Chomsky described the danger of this anomaly as such:

“Historical amnesia is a dangerous phenomenon, not only because it undermines moral & intellectual integrity, but also because it lays the groundwork for crimes that lie ahead..”

And in this respect, I cannot agree more. Historical amnesia and an ignorant public is always benefit to the policymakers – it is institutionalized ignorance and a product of exactly how the system was created to function in an effort to engineer a passive social order, and the assumed ‘benevolence’ of today’s major powers is only the tip of the iceberg sadly enough.

Aside from the United States, Western Europe is engaging in very similar neo-imperial activity to maintain at least some form of economic, political, or military control on the former colonies. France’s policy of Françafrique, which was once hailed to be a mutually beneficial relationship, is inherently exploitative. France’s supporting, and subtle funding, of resource-rich dictatorships such as that of the Democratic Republic of Congo [dictatorship until 1997] and Gabon [whose dictator died in 2009, but his son is now in power] are dissuading and rendering it near impossible for the native people there to establish their own system. This populist disconnect from policy and reality is a feature created by the former colonizers and was mostly promulgated during the Cold War, with the establishment of anti-Communist dictatorships, but is still very much a systemic staple of Western foreign policy today; all done in the name of safety, democracy, and ‘moral doctrines.

Although current French President Sarkozy has attempted to distance himself from Françafrique, it’s implications are still felt and still being pursued. France has been in more military operations in the past few years than it has been in the last 50; its intervention in its former colony Ivory Coast, its intervention in the Libyan Civil War (which it conducted before the emergency meeting of Western powers in Paris), its co-opting [with the U.S primarily] of the 2004 Haitian coup d’état of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, its troop deployment into the former French colony of Chad, and its military involvement in the Afghanistan War. All of these, claimed to be purely humanitarian wars, have much of the criteria of a neo-colonial mentality – and aims at establishing French (or Western) dominance in these regions of the world.

And perhaps equally commercially imperialistic is the World Bank and the WTO, where the World Bank gives loans to autocratic regimes in the Third World, only to see that money go to waste and then asking the WTO to demand repayments; which always comes in the form of severe cuts for programs necessary for those not in power. It is this dynamic that is exploitative and ultimately prevents these nations from ever reaching real global status, among other things.

Seemingly so, ignorance always benefits the state – and that certainly holds true in this case. The disillusionment of the public on foreign policy is rather frightening, and the imperial trends will continue to be cyclic and unbroken until it is realized. I take an anti-imperialist stance from an ethical, philosophical, and morally-pragmatic perspective; because the self-determination of peoples in realizing their own destinies cannot be undermined, no matter how elusively humble the cause or how great the safety that is promised thereafter.




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