Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Freedom and Order

photo credit to blogodak.com

from Belgium (sats)

It is not usual for me to talk about film reviews in a piece like this however sometimes a piece from a film strikes you as significant or starts a thought process. So it was with the film Satantango (Satan's Tango) by Bella Tarr. It is a hell of a film and is only for the very brave. The storyline is not linear, rather it goes backward and forward like tango dancers. The reason it is a hell of a film is that with a quick coffee break and a quick WC break it is eight hours long. That means you go into the cinema at 2 in the afternoon and come out at 10 at night, unless like me you watch it on DVD. It is shot in glorious black and white, the spoken language is Hungarian (Magyar) with English under text and during the whole film there is practically no action to speak of apart of the consistency of the rain falling on the quagmire of the Hungarian plain in winter. Having said that, the whole experience affected me greatly and even a month after seeing it I was still thinking of the significance of various parts. The film deals with life after the collapse of communism in Hungary. A group of people try to sell their collective and use the money to become 'free' however the silver tongued Irimias (I-ra-me-as) who everybody thought was dead, turns up and persuades the group to reinvest in a more modern farm somewhere else. He has such eloquence almost everybody agrees, thus placing themselves in a hierarchy under his control. I was going to be nice and call Irimias a false prophet of hope but he is in fact a con man. Because he doesn't work but always seems to have money he and his sidekick Petrina are summoned before the Police Captain to see if they should be turned over to the tax authorities. As it turns out, the police captain lets them off the hook provided they do some spying for him. During the course of the conversation the Captain comes out with the following monologue, which was the starting point for the current post.

"Captain: Not that human life was so highly valued. Keeping order appears to be the business of the authorities, but in fact it's the business of all. Order. Freedom, however, has nothing human. It's something divine, something... our lives are too short for us to know properly. If you're looking for a link, think of Pericles, order and freedom are linked by passion. We have to believe in both, we suffer from both. Both from order and freedom. But human life is meaningful, rich, beautiful and filthy. It links everything. It mistreats freedom only... wasting it, as if it was junk. People don't like freedom, they are afraid of it. The strange thing is there is nothing to fear about freedom... order, on the other hand, can often be frightening."

Hmm, I think this is one of the most profound pieces of dialogue I have ever heard but is it true? There are probably as many meanings of freedom as there are people so let us see if we can come up with a definition which is universally acceptable. Then we can have a look at social order and see if there is any link between the two. Freedom is such a simple word, probably too simple, that we automatically assume we know what it means.
At the end of the last World War the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made an election broadcast on the radio in which he expressed the view that now the Allies had won the war, the world was free from the tyranny of the Third Rich. Replying the next night Clement Atlee for the opposition said “Mr Churchill has made much of the concept of freedom but it was not many years ago that employers were free to send little children climbing up the inside of chimneys. Is that the sort of freedom to which we wish to return?” This demonstrates that the word is not such an easy take.

Here are Murph's thoughts on the subject from ibid April 2008, which are about as broad as you can get and are difficult for anyone (me at least) to take issue with.

“It would seem obvious to me that a concept of total freedom of action when living in groups cannot work. Being by yourself in the wilderness is not how most of us live. More power to those that do so. The early mountain men were about as free as you can get. But, some enforceable means has to exist to impede those who do not respect others right to freedom within a social context. I sum it up this way; you cannot perform an action which takes away from or restricts another persons freedom, that is, you cannot harm another or their property, and I include the environment. That simple edict would automatically stop environmental degradation, exploitation and legal thievery.”

So, summarising, you can do anything you like so long as it does not harm another or the environment.

Not that many of us are mountain men, in fact most of us in the 'developed' world live in industrialised countries. We live in conurbations from small villages to great cities where by and large we all have to get along with one another. The tighter we pack ourselves the more chaffing occurs which impacts on others rights to do as they like.

Most people do not see that there is a problem with freedom because they believe that they are already free. They feel they have a right to improve their lives, which indeed they do however they exercise this right by placing themselves under almost life-long obligations to financial institutions. What most don't realise is that for a mortgage for instance, for every dollar they borrow over the term of the loan they will pay two dollars in interest. Even if they do realise it they figure there is little they can do about it if they want a place of their own to live. Most buyers do not choose a place that fulfils their spacial needs for a modest price but are influenced by peer pressure to buy the most expensive they can afford. Another thing not commonly realised is that the sort of new properties projected at the aspiring owners are not priced on a cost plus basis but on what is the greatest proportion of average income they can afford to miss and still get by on. That is until negative equity comes along and they suddenly realise that the freedom to own a home does not apply to them. There are only so many times a loan can be restructured before the debt becomes overwhelming. A similar system operates with credit cards, it is only the matter of degree that is different. The minimum repayment is designed so that the interest is on a continuous roll and the principle sum is never paid off. So much for taking the waiting out of wanting.

If people grow up within a system which everybody regards as normal they never realise there may even be a problem with it. So it is with Federal Reserve Notes, or Euros or in fact with the majority of the worlds currencies. In every country which has a national bank, that bank issues the local currency which it prints out of paper and ink and apart from the cost of the building and the printing workers, that is the only cost to the bank. It costs exactly the same to make a hundred dollar bill as it does to make a one dollar bill but the bank sells the currency to the government at the face value of the bill. Not only that but the bank charges the government interest on the currency whilst it is in circulation. You are only allowed one guess where the government gets the money to pay for this. And all the time you thought your taxes went to pay for infrastructure. So where does the money for infrastructure come from? Well that is also borrowed from the national bank as well and the repayments are recouped through income and sales taxes. What alternatives do people have if they don't want the banks to appropriate the benefits of their hourly labour? Well there are Credit Unions. It is very difficult for the government to place a tax on sea shells or chittys for a number of hours worked or what ever else may be used in place of money. The down side is that it is very difficult to buy a Japanese car or any other consumer item with a currency which is not nationally or internationally recognised. Not only this but the pressure on such systems to conform to the national standard is enormous. A question then arises if people participating in such alternatives should be allowed to enjoy the infrastructure paid for by others. Should they be allowed to travel over a bridge which they have not paid for or must they do a twenty mile detour or should they be defended by a national military to which they have not contributed? Allowing the bankers to skim the fruits of your labour is a system which is very difficult to opt out from. As employers were free to send children working up chimneys so also are you free to give the banks a portion of your income. You might not consider this to be much of a freedom and you might be right but it is the system with which most of us are forced to conform.

Over the years, commentators here have bemoaned inflation, the invisible tax. Even though the standard of living has improved over time, the quantity of things that can be bought with a weeks wage has decreased. We have long said that grandfather could work to support a home, a wife and a house full of kids. Then couples decided to leave the kids until until they had filled their house with stuff. When it was realised that women were willing to go out to work, with a bit of strategic nudging, the elite bankers began the femanist movement in order to farm two lots of taxible income instead of one. Where as previously, the second income was there to provide extras, inflation now ensures that the second income is necessary for the family just to get by. The elites are currently progressing onwards and upwards with their unfettered greed. Throughout Europe in general and Belgium in particular the countries have been so reduced by the rolling financial cricis that there is a move by governments to increase the pension age by two years to 67 for men and correspondingly for women. At present there are one day protest strike actions but if something is not done about this increasing disparity of those on either side of the zero sum game then this could develop into Europes Occupy Movement. I don't know how things will pan out but if the situation is left to fester I can't see the Europeans being as genteel as the Occupiers. The elites are becoming more brazen with their stick prodding. Maybe they are anxious to take their new crowd control toys out of their boxes.

Nearly everybody knows that there are three branches of government. The one I am interested in here is the legislature. In the case of the USA this is The Congress and its job is to enact new laws as it sees fit. It has been estimated that the USA has at least a quarter of a million statute laws. Every one of these inhibits a freedom either by denying an action or making an action compulsory. A law is the removal of a freedom, as it dictates that there is something you cannot or must do. If the former, you're not free to do it; if the latter, you're not free to do otherwise. You will probably ask if laws are not for the benefit of all? After all not killing another, God knows it might be you on the receiving end, or not stealing another's property is clearly to the greater good. The purpose of other laws is more moot. Is it to your benefit to have your private telephone conversations listened to by a government body or every e mail read? Is it to your benefit for any US citizen to be withheld indefinitely without trial or even access to a lawyer, yet according to the Military Commissions Act this is the state of US law as it stands at present. Clearly many of the newer laws have less to do with the public good and more to do with controlling the population, thus giving the government more power and the citizenry less. In former times the legislature made just laws, now it just makes laws. This begs the question of who works for whom and why we allow a system in which our freedoms are balanced against us. As an exercise I did try to find a league table of the number of statute laws by country as a measure of which ones were freer than others but if such a table exists I could not find it.

Because the USA does not adequately provide for health care as other countries do, people are forced into very expensive substandard health care where people are obliged to do battle with insurance companies at a time they are least able. This is a clear case of butter or guns; a healthy nation or shiny missiles in a silo. Even if you are dying because you cannot afford appropriate medicines, you are free to know we will get our retaliation in first.

Let us look at a hypothetical example of how freedom might be wasted. Suppose a country existed, for argument sake we will call it The Land of Milk and Honey and this land was ruled over by a benevolent benefactor who was paternalistic towards his own people but who regarded the outside world with some suspicion. In fact this ruler put the well being of his people before that of his own family (now you know I am making it up).

In order to make the lives of his people as free as he possibly could he gave them the following things. Every citizen received a free house, even before the benefactors own parents received one, so the citizenry was free from mortgages and obligations to the financial institutions. Of course nobody was forced into the standard fare and if they wanted to build a mansion at their own expense then they were free to do so. To go with the new free house they were also given free electricity. Throughout the land, there was no difference in status between men and women. As a result of the universal free education, literacy rates had increased above the 90% level. Free education means no student loans. The idea of incurring personal debt for the countries greater benefit was a concept abhorrent to the benefactor. Along with free education there was also free health care. Health care in the land was pretty comprehensive but as an exercise in PR, the leader said that if anyone needed any health care or a procedure that was not available in that country the patient would be taken free of charge to any other land where it was available. If any citizen wanted a loan they could have one from the benefactor free of interest. Agriculture was considered one of the most important professions to the benefit of the community so anyone with serious intent in starting a farm was given land free of charge together with seed for the first year.

Then there were the nice to have things, the icing on the cake: a yearly present of $500 to every citizen; a wedding gift of $50,000 to every couple that got married; the benefactor paid for half the price of a new car and gas throughout the land was 14 cents a gallon.

What silliness! Such a land of Milk and Honey can only exist in children's fairy tales. Yet it was real, it did exist. How many of you guessed that the land I have described was Libya and the paternal benefactor was Colonel Gadaffi. Not everybody's first choice of a leader I will admit but those people didn't live in Libya. When Colonel Gadaffi faced the news cameras and said “Nothing will happen to me because my people love me” he actually believed this to be true.

Now that is all gone, the people in their greater wisdom have decided to swap all of this for the pleasure of having a national bank. Such is the power of persuasion and taking a step backwards whilst the flow goes past.

Those interested in knowing what is behind the Arab Spring can check out the post I wrote here in January 2011 entitled Non Violent Resistance. We know what Libya has given up, you can remind yourselves what Tunisia gave up.

“Human life... mistreats freedom only... wasting it, as if it was junk. People don't like freedom, they are afraid of it. The strange thing is there is nothing to fear about freedom...”. Well it sure looks like the police captain had the right of it after all.

Freedom is a zero sum game in the world of us and them. The more we have the less the PTB have; The more they have the less we have. In order to maintain this disparity the PTB need control and the means of control is Social Order.

Concepts in social order have changed over time. Writing for the American Journal of Sociology in March 1944, Lawrence K Frank had this to say.

“Social order has long been conceived as an organization or mechanism which exists as a part of the cosmos and operates through large-scale forces acting at a distance. Social theory has taught man that he must learn to submit to these assumed forces and accept this cosmic organization as necessary to social order, while social research has attempted to measure these assumed forces. Recent studies of culture and personality indicate that social order is not given but historically developed ideas, beliefs, and patterns of conduct and of feeling which each culture has evolved as the guides to human conduct and the management of group activities.”

Whilst it is certainly true that the type of social order within many cultures is different from each other, the statement that “Social order is not given” has, in recent times, been shown to be false. Since the advent of the internet, the source of social order has been identified and is no longer believed to be an invisible force like gravity acting somewhere out in space. It is now believed to be manipulated by a clique of top international bankers and their programmes acted out through governments, particularly those of the United States and the European Union. It would seem that in recent times, social order is inversely proportional to economic stability. In other words, as the world economy goes to hell, there is a greater social crackdown on the citizenry. Whilst we are unaware that any US citizens have yet been 'rendered', the obvious question is how would we know since checks and balances are now things from a different age?

So far as I am aware there have been no physical conflicts by the US authorities against a large body of its own population apart from the police maintaining the status quo against demonstrators in Seattle, Miami and earlier in Watts. The military were used similarly in Little Rock according to the Force Act when the Alabama authorities refused to let the police intervene. The present effort seems to be a psychological war to undermine the moral confidence of the citizenry. Although there are too many examples to list here, I give a few to demonstrate what I mean.

Do you remember a year or two back a small You Tube clip that went viral of a great bear of a traffic cop tazing a 70 or 80 year old lady over some minor traffic offence. Was this released by a well meaning colleague or was it a set piece intended to build a picture in the mind of the general public? We are in control and you don't matter. This was followed a short time later by a video clip taken with a cell phone camera of students first being tazed and then shot by police in the public areas of a university.

Over in England, the ex government scientist Dean Warwick died on stage whilst in the middle of giving a lecture. Amongst the subjects he had planned to talk about was WTC 1 & 2 and his experience of bringing down different tall buildings, in Russia if memory serves, using only infra-sound waves. Also what really happened with the Lockerbie plane and why a small number of survivors were allowed to die on the hillside of hypothermia. He also said he was going to name the Antichrist. It was commonly believed that he was taken out with some sort of beam weapon which resonates the brain's delta waves. These are the subconscious ones which keep the body's heart and other organs functioning so the body's organs just stop working. A man holding a device which resembled a camera was seen laughing as he left the building after the death. A couple of months later it was reported that one of the minor Rockefeller's was taken out in a parked car in a similar way.

There has been much commentary on this blog and others that drones exist and could be used to break up demonstrations, insurrections and other forms of civil disobedience. If the type of beam weapons mentioned above could be incorporated into such drones then this would give the authorities an awesome advantage.

There have been many reports, on You Tube particularly, of hundreds of detention camps throughout America which according to popular belief, are intended for American citizens whenever the time comes. This is reinforced by images of fenced off fields stacked high with what are reported to be three person open coffins.

Is this all fantasy? The thing that gives it some credibility are the reports that came out of Iraq a little time ago that US troops stationed there were asked if they would be willing to stand militarily against US citizens on US soil. What a strange question, why was it asked at all if there was no intent behind it? And why did President Bush rescind the Posse Comitatus Act which now allows the military to do such things?

Let us remind ourselves where we came in, with the police captain's speech from Satantango.

"Captain: Not that human life was so highly valued. Keeping order appears to be the business of the authorities, but in fact it's the business of all. Order. Freedom, however, has nothing human. It's something divine, something... our lives are too short for us to know properly. If you're looking for a link, think of Pericles, order and freedom are linked by passion. We have to believe in both, we suffer from both. Both from order and freedom. But human life is meaningful, rich, beautiful and filthy. It links everything. It mistreats freedom only... wasting it, as if it was junk. People don't like freedom, they are afraid of it. The strange thing is there is nothing to fear about freedom... order, on the other hand, can often be frightening."

For me this is case proved.

Next time we will have a look to see if it is possible to rescue self order from the authorities. We will examine the part of the police captain's speech which says “Keeping order appears to be the business of the authorities, but in fact it's the business of all” and we will see if such a self ordered Anarchistic type, fairly well developed society has ever existed in the past.

Monday, December 12, 2011


More on this picture below.

from Murph
I am going to propose a different perspective on our society today that I have not come across before. It has been an idea in the back of my mind for a lot of years now. It is the concept of the progress of western civilization and probably most of the world toward personal convenience.

It appears to me that most people are very happy to have much more convenience, which is in reality, less physical expenditure for a given goal. I realize that I indulge in this myself. There are several ramifications to this. Less physical and/or mental output for any desired goal means one more step toward physical atrophy and in many cases, mental atrophy.

Let’s examine the mental atrophy first.

When I was doing my practice teaching at the university, I noticed that the classrooms were filled with students happily punching in 2 + 2 into hand held calculators to get an answer, literally. Frankly, I was appalled. When I had my chance, I asked the classroom how many people thought that every time they punched in a request for an answer to an arithmetic problem that what the calculator told them in the readout was to always be assumed to be correct. Every one of them affirmed that it was always correct. At the time I was fresh out of classes engaged in all kinds of math problems and it was so long ago that I don’t remember the examples I used to show them that it wasn’t always true. I do remember asking them to give me an absolute number for pi. Of course this is not possible. For most hand held calculators, you get only 8 or so numbers that represent pi. I got some varied responses to this.

But, one of the results of students at the grade school level using calculators was that very simple arithmetic problems, (like multiplication) were seemingly beyond their abilities, same with simple addition, subtraction and division. I am forced to call this a form of mental atrophy.

Further, I found this to be true in other areas. Discernment, critical thinking, and logic were lacking, even at the university level of study. The convenience of calculators, computers and experts’ pronouncements on anything were accepted at face value rather than expend the mental energy to determine a truth for oneself. This mental atrophy can show up in some of the most obtuse areas. When we moved here to north central Oregon the “experts” told us that raising our own food was impossible, don’t bother to even try. Well, we found out that wasn’t a true statement, but most of the residents accepted it at face value. We and a very few others had to demonstrate that it was not a true statement and call attention to that fact. In the last couple of years, there has been a flurry of gardens and greenhouses in the area and the raising of small livestock for food.

I am sure that all of us can point to physical atrophy through convenient tools and gizmos that reduce our physical expenditures of energy. Otherwise there would be no reason to have workout gyms or home workout gadgets. Interesting, that sports do not fall into the concept of convenience but most of our daily lives do. It’s as if we are encouraged to make up for the convenience of daily life functions by being very extreme in our inconvenience of non-productive physical exertions. We are constantly being admonished to get off the convenient sofa and walk, run, go to the gym, whatever. And of course, there is the age thing to deal with; as we age, the ability to engage in non-convenience diminishes. I find interesting the proliferation of extreme sports activities that in actuality are quite dangerous. It’s as if the extreme convenience of modern life for most of us has to be compensated for by risking life and limb on dangerous sports.

In my younger days I participated very little in dangerous sports. Not that I wasn’t fascinated by them and wanted to, it just seemed that I never had the time or the money to participate. I was too wrapped up in expending energy on just living. Things like making money cutting, splitting, hauling and stacking firewood for the folks that would never be bothered with doing that. Or the making of things by hand for sale.

One of the themes running through the Archdruid posts is that convenience entails complexity, and that appears to be true to me. He further asserts that complexity also entails fragility, which also appears true to me. Complex technology has increased rather dramatically, in the last 200 years, the convenience of daily living. It would take very little to completely interrupt this technology and convenience. If a person has no idea how to make things, or how to maintain simple technology, and the complex technology is interrupted from whatever source, how would that person have a chance to survive? Examples; what percentage of our adult population knows how to either produce their own food or to even prepare it if they had it? Prepared boxed food that is tossed into the microwave or heated in a pan on the complex technology in the modern kitchen is the norm. I lived for a while in a city where almost without exception; the people I knew didn’t even have food in the refrigerator since they ate out at every meal.

IMO, we have carried the technology of convenience to such an extent that any interruption of this technology means a distinct lack of survival for most. It has also promoted the mental attitude of dependence and disdain for those that chose to not live that way. I’m a lazy old cuss, I want to find the easiest way to solve problems, and I have to admit that if I had the money to compensate, I probably would indulge in complex technology more than I do. You know, the bigger, better, more powerful machinery to accomplish a given task or to hire it done. I have to ask though; are we actually better off for it?

Let’s take a look at just one example of what is lost from a hi tech society with lots of convenience.

Only a few generations ago, we were predominantly an agrarian society wherein most families produced their own food. The extended family normally lived fairly close by. In the fall when the harvest came in, everyone got together and helped in the harvest and also got to share in the harvest. Also, fall was when the butchering of animals took place to supply winter meat, the steer, the hog, the rabbits the goose, etc. Everyone from toddlers to the oldsters took part. This is a far cry from going to the grocery store (the convenience) to doing it yourself. Without even touching on the quality of food difference, it did make the extended family all have skin in the game. In this only one example, convenience has an impact on social structure. I am sure all of you could come up with other examples that illustrate how convenience has affected social structure.

This also applies to the broader society, not just those in an extended family. The Amish are a good example of this cooperation between the whole community in projects that benefit everyone in the community and that group certainly cannot be accused of living with a whole bunch of technology to make their lives more convenient.

The top photo of a log building that encloses our wellhead is a personal example. We had loaned some money to a couple that were just flat out desperate. They reciprocated by helping us build that building. Now we could have bought sized lumber that probably would have been a lot easier to build, or even bought a pre-made small building and just had someone drop it on a rough foundation, a lot more convenient. But I had the small logs on hand taken off the property several years ago and a pretty good pile of reject lumber and roofing. I figure we have forged a much more lasting relationship doing it the less convenient hard way. Now believe me, I understand that our modern day life of long work hours to make the money to buy the convenience gizmos is the standard today. I spent a lot of years on that treadmill.

For the most part, it sure appears to me that the convenient life style has encouraged divisions between the populace rather than closeness and cooperation. I also think it has made our society a lot less resilient. Cripes sake, I live in a community of several thousands of people but yet there is only maybe a couple of dozen or so that I see face to face to exchange ideas and thoughts and to help each other out when there is a need. Depending on what value system you hold close to your heart, you can answer the question; are we better off?