November 27, 2018

Crisis: On Neoliberalism, Amnesty vs. Google, Trump's Lies, On Ayn Rand, On Silicon Valley


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from November 27, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, November 27, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are mostly well worth reading:

A. Selections from November 27, 2018:
1. Neoliberalism's Dark Path to Fascism
2. Amnesty Protests Against Google’s “Dystopian” Censored Search for

3. 'Trump lies simply because he's a liar'
4. Here's how Ayn Rand helped turn the US into a selfish and greedy nation
5. Silicon Valley Is Undermining Democracy With Its Dangerous Ideology
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Neoliberalism's Dark Path to Fascism

This article is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig. It starts as follows:
Neoliberalism as economic theory was always an absurdity. It had as much validity as past ruling ideologies such as the divine right of kings and fascism’s belief in the Übermensch. None of its vaunted promises were even remotely possible. Concentrating wealth in the hands of a global oligarchic elite—eight families now hold as much wealth as 50 percent of the world’s population—while demolishing government controls and regulations always creates massive income inequality and monopoly power, fuels political extremism and destroys democracy. You do not need to slog through the 577 pages of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” to figure this out. But economic rationality was never the point. The point was the restoration of class power.
Yes indeed - I entirely agree with all of this except the last statement. I'll come to that after I have given some references on neoliberalism, namely in particular these two:

First, Mike Huben's wiki. This gives a good introduction to Huben's various interests - he is, it seems, mainly a biologist with mathematical interests - and background. And second, his Critiques of Libertarianism (which comprises neoliberalism), which is an extensive and quite interesting site on that subject (or those subjects). It is strongly recommended.

Then the one thing I disagree with in the above: "
The point was the restoration of class power." It is a bit subtle to explain, but I try again, although briefly:

My parents were communists for 45 years, and were quite heroic in the Dutch resistance to Nazism. So I also was a communist till I was 20, when I gave it all up, mostly because I had made a fairly close study of Marx, and disagreed with him, and also, though as an aside, because I had met with several quite disappointing behaviors of some top communists, who in my eyes were maintaining their own incomes - e.g. as aldermen of Amsterdam - or their own status.

And one of the things I strongly disagreed with was the concept of "classes", including "class consciousness", "class interests" and such idiocies as (which was used against me) "the determinate struggle of The Working Class has proved" (that I was wrong and immoral for being a proponent of squatting).

My point was and is that I believe in working persons and in rich persons (who also may work), but I do not believe that over and above them there is a class of workers and a class of capitalists that in the end determines (somehow) what their interests are and how they should react.

In fact, this theory already was refuted on a large scale by World War I, when the many socialist and communist workers were supposed to consider their class interests and to refuse to fight a capitalists' war: Instead, nearly all followed the national interest and fought for their countries (much rather than their class) - which took some 50 million lives.

Anyway - I suppose my consideration would have been clearer if my readers had had my experiences of being quite often and quite consistently being lectured on what were "the class interests" and "the class loyalties" of "the working class".

Back to the article:
As a ruling ideology, neoliberalism was a brilliant success. Starting in the 1970s, its Keynesian mainstream critics were pushed out of academia, state institutions and financial organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank and shut out of the media. Compliant courtiers and intellectual poseurs such as Milton Friedman were groomed in places such as the University of Chicago and given prominent platforms and lavish corporate funding. They disseminated the official mantra of fringe, discredited economic theories popularized by Friedrich Hayek and the third-rate writer Ayn Rand. Once we knelt before the dictates of the marketplace and lifted government regulations, slashed taxes for the rich, permitted the flow of money across borders, destroyed unions and signed trade deals that sent jobs to sweatshops in China, the world would be a happier, freer and wealthier place. It was a con. But it worked.
Yes indeed, although I did not know that "Keynesian mainstream critics were pushed out of academia, state institutions and financial organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF)", although it also does not amaze me.

I did follow some of it in the 1970ies, but mostly through theoretical economics, and especially Piero Sraffa and Ian Steedman, who wrote "Marx after Sraffa".

Also, I thoroughly agree Ayn Rand is a "third-rate writer", except that "third-rate" seems quite optimistic, and I also agree that she was not a real but a quasi-philosopher. In fact, I am a philosopher myself, and Rand's works are among the most horrible "philosophical texts" that I have read, both because of the quality of her prose and the quality of her ideas. (And yes, I have somewhat studied Rand in the early 1970ies, because I had met some intelligent Americans, who were interested in her. Until then I did not know of her existence.)

Here is David Harvey, who gets rather a lot of attention in this article:
“As a political project, it was very savvy,” he said. “It got a great deal of popular consent because it was talking about individual liberty and freedom, freedom of choice. When they talked about freedom, it was freedom of the market. The neoliberal project said to the ’68 generation, ‘OK, you want liberty and freedom? That’s what the student movement was about. We’re going to give it to you, but it’s going to be freedom of the market. The other thing you’re after is social justice—forget it. So, we’ll give you individual liberty, but you forget the social justice. Don’t organize.’ The attempt was to dismantle those institutions, which were those collective institutions of the working class, particularly the unions and bit by bit those political parties that stood for some sort of concern for the well-being of the masses.”
I think this is mostly correct - and no: I never believed in "the free market" and always thought of (after Adam Smith) as propaganda.

Here is more:
“We have to put a price on things. Even though they’re not really things that should be treated as commodities. For instance, health care becomes a commodity. Housing for everybody becomes a commodity. Education becomes a commodity. So, students have to borrow in order to get the education which will get them a job in the future. That’s the scam of the thing. It basically says if you’re an entrepreneur, if you go out there and train yourself, etc., you will get your just rewards. If you don’t get your just rewards, it’s because you didn’t train yourself right. You took the wrong kind of courses. You took courses in philosophy or classics instead of taking it in management skills of how to exploit labor.”
Well... I think it is neither putting "a price on things" nor being "treated as commodities" (and a "commodity" is an ill-defined concept) but the fact that everything that was produced had to be produced so that it made a profit to someone - including health care, education etc.

Here is more on deregulation i.e. breaking down laws, which allowed the few rich to transport their industries to countries like India and China, where the wages are much lower and the profits much higher:

“Deregulation allowed the financial system to become one of the main centers of redistributive activity through speculation, predation, fraud, and thievery,” Harvey writes in his book, perhaps the best and most concise account of the history of neoliberalism. “Stock promotions, ponzi schemes, structured asset destruction through inflation, asset stripping through mergers and acquisitions, the promotion of levels of debt incumbency that reduce whole populations even in the advanced capitalist countries to debt peonage. To say nothing of corporate fraud, dispossession of assets, the raiding of pension funds, their decimation by stock, and corporate collapses by credit and stock manipulations, all of these became central features of the capitalist financial system.”

Yes, I agree. Here is more, this time on freedom:

The economist Karl Polanyi understood that there are two kinds of freedoms. There are the bad freedoms to exploit those around us and extract huge profits without regard to the common good, including what is done to the ecosystem and democratic institutions. These bad freedoms see corporations monopolize technologies and scientific advances to make huge profits, even when, as with the pharmaceutical industry, a monopoly means lives of those who cannot pay exorbitant prices are put in jeopardy. The good freedoms—freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of meeting, freedom of association, freedom to choose one’s job—are eventually snuffed out by the primacy of the bad freedoms.

I don't think that the "two kinds of freedoms" are very relevant. What is relevant - it seems to me - is that capitalism is based on and favors an inequality of wealth and an inequality of power, both of which can grow without any limit, which implies there will be a few with much wealth and much power, and the many with hardly any wealth and no power.

And I am against this, and propose that socialism should be based on laws that make it impossible that one man earns more and has more wealth than 20 times as much as the poorest have, who should be able to live, and have food, housing and education.

But that was an aside. Here is the ending of this article:

Neoliberalism transforms freedom for the many into freedom for the few. Its logical result is neofascism. Neofascism abolishes civil liberties in the name of national security and brands whole groups as traitors and enemies of the people. It is the militarized instrument used by the ruling elites to maintain control, divide and tear apart the society and further accelerate pillage and social inequality. The ruling ideology, no longer credible, is replaced with the jackboot.

Yes, I fundamentally agree, although this is also a larger theme than can be treated in a few paragraphs in an article. And I like it that Hedges uses the term "neofascism": I think that is correct, and the last link gives my own definition. This is a strongly recommended article.

2. Amnesty Protests Against Google’s “Dystopian” Censored Search for China

This article is by Ryan Gallagher on The Intercept. It starts as follows:

Amnesty International has announced a new protest campaign calling on Google to cancel its controversial plan to launch a censored search engine in China.

The human rights group on Monday launched a petition against the search engine and said that on Tuesday, it will stage demonstrations outside Google offices in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, and Spain. Google’s plan for China would “irreparably damage internet users’ trust in the tech company,” Amnesty said in statement, and “would set a dangerous precedent for tech companies enabling rights abuses by governments.”

As The Intercept first reported in August, Google secretly developed the censored search engine as part of a project code-named Dragonfly. It was designed to blacklist words and phrases such as “human rights,” “Nobel Prize,” and “student protest.” The search platform would link Chinese users’ search records to their cellphone numbers and share people’s search histories with a Chinese partner company. The search records would in turn be accessible to China’s authoritarian government, which has broad surveillance and data-seizing powers that it routinely uses to identify and arrest activists and critics.

Yes indeed, although I am definitely not interested in whether "Google’s plan for China would “irreparably damage internet users’ trust in the tech company”". What I am interested in is that China is a totalitarian country, and the internet is the equivalent of the Gestapo, except that the internet allows full and complete control of everyone - as is one of the points in China (for "the internet" - i.e. Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and the secret security services of all countries - knows much more about anyone than anyone can remember or know).

Then again this is also treated in this article:

In late August, Amnesty and 13 other leading human rights groups wrote to Google, saying that they believed the company would be “directly contributing to, or [becoming] complicit in, human rights violations” if it went ahead with the plan. Sources said that Google recently responded to the groups with an “unsatisfactory” letter that did not address their concerns.

I agree these are "human rights violations", but in fact I believe the Chinese government plus Google are out for complete control of every Chinese.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Google previously launched a censored search engine in China in 2006 but stopped operating the service in 2010, saying it could no longer tolerate the extent of the Chinese government’s censorship and targeting of activists. The company’s executives are yet to explain why they feel the concerns they had in 2010 are no longer applicable, especially given that censorship and crackdowns on human rights in China have worsened in recent years.

Yes indeed, though I can give one answer, that consists of two points: The owners of Google do not live in China, and they love profit made from the Chinese more than anything else (except even greater profit). And this is a strongly recommended article.

3. 'Trump lies simply because he's a liar'

This article is by Matthew Chapman on AlterNet. I abbreviated the title. It starts as follows:
Since taking office, President Donald Trump has made at least 6,400 false statements. Some of these are outright lies, from his claim he was about to pass a new middle-class tax cut to his claim that there was widespread rioting in California over sanctuary policies. Trump himself has said that it doesn't matter if what he says is factual because "people agree with me."
Yes indeed. As to Trump's "people agree with me": Of course they do if they are stupid or ignorant and you flatter them and tell them lie upon lie upon lie. Then again, real truth of one's beliefs do not depend om how many people agree with you but only on whether the facts you believe in exist in the real world.

Here is more (and the person interviewed is the same as was interviewed yesterday):

"And I guess, he lies about everything, and so it's hard, I think, for all of us — you do a better job than all of us combined — but it's hard to rank the sort of cruelty of the lies," said Wallace. "How do you sort of prioritize the lies that you debunk and push out?"

"Well, I think the lies where he smears entire groups of people, or entire institutions, rank at the top for me," said Dale. "When he lies about Muslims, when he lies about Hispanics, Middle Easterners, or things like voter fraud, where he's calling into question, you know, the essence of America's democracy. I think those rank at the top of the list for me."

Yes, I think that is a reasonable choice. Here is the last bit I quote from this article, and it is David Dale talking:

"You know, every, every president lies when they're on the defensive, when they're caught in a scandal or controversy. Trump lies simply because he's a liar. And the craziest ones to me, are, you know, when he, like the one I said as an example, is the one when he made up a phone call from the CEO of the Boy Scouts of America. He said the head of the Boy Scouts called me, and said I gave the greatest speech ever given to the Boy Scout Jamboree, and the Boy Scouts told us that never happened. So, when he completely fabricates something."

No, not quite. I am a psychologist and I don't think that "Trump lies simply because he's a liar". I think that the main reason Trump lies, and the main reason for his lying so much, and the main reason for his making such outlandish lies as given in the last quote is that Trump is insane.

You may think differently, but if you are not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, I think you lack some relevant knowledge. And this is a recommended article.

4. Here's how Ayn Rand helped turn the US into a selfish and greedy nation

This article is by Bruce E. Levine on AlterNet. It starts as follows (with a quote):
Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society....To justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil.— Gore Vidal, 1961
(..) Ayn Rand (1905-1982) helped make the United States into one of the most uncaring nations in the industrialized world, a neo-Dickensian society where healthcare is only for those who can afford it, and where young people are coerced into huge student-loan debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.
In fact, I briefly treated Ayn Rand above. And I agree with Vidal and also with Levine. Here is more:

Rand’s impact has been widespread and deep. At the iceberg’s visible tip is the influence she’s had over major political figures who have shaped American society. In the 1950s, Ayn Rand read aloud drafts of what was later to become Atlas Shrugged to her “Collective,” Rand’s ironic nickname for her inner circle of young individualists, which included Alan Greenspan, who would serve as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1987 to 2006.

In 1966, Ronald Reagan wrote in a personal letter, “Am an admirer of Ayn Rand.” Today, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) credits Rand for inspiring him to go into politics, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) calls Atlas Shrugged his “foundation book.” Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) says Ayn Rand had a major influence on him, and his son Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is an even bigger fan. A short list of other Rand fans includes Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; Christopher Cox, chairman of the Security and Exchange Commission in George W. Bush’s second administration; and former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford.

I say - and I am not afraid of adding that not only was Ayn Rand a horribly rotten writer with very little knowledge of philosophy, but that it follows for me that each of the names mentioned in the last paragraph either are stupid or dishonest.

Here is some more:

Rand said, “Capitalism and altruism are incompatible....The choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequences of freedom, justice, progress and man’s happiness on earth—or the primordial morality of altruism, with its consequences of slavery, brute force, stagnant terror and sacrificial furnaces.” For many young people, hearing that it is “moral” to care only about oneself can be intoxicating, and some get addicted to this idea for life.

The opposition Rand gave voice to is utter bullshit, and I also add that I do not believe that  those who heard "that it is “moral” to care only about oneself can be intoxicating" and believed that can have been intelligent, for the simple reason that this is an abuse of the meaning of "moral".

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Actually, again inconsistent, Rand did have a God. It was herself. She said:

I am done with the monster of “we,” the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame. And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: “I.”

Well... possibly she meant herself and those who thought quite like her, but I like the quote and this is a recommended article.

5. Silicon Valley Is Undermining Democracy With Its Dangerous Ideology

This article is by Robert R. Raymond on Truthout. This is from near its beginning:
In A People’s History of Silicon Valley: How the Tech Industry Exploits Workers, Erodes Privacy and Undermines Democracy, tech writer and cultural critic Keith A. Spencer guides readers on a journey through the shadows. He lays out an argument for why Silicon Valley is, at its core, a highly exploitative and problematic industry that is hell-bent on spreading not only its technology, but its incredibly dangerous ideology as well.
I think Spencer's book may be interesting, and I more or less agree with his thesis. Here is more:
So, the decisions and choices that a small number of engineers and CEOs make in Silicon Valley have repercussions across the whole world and can sometimes radically affect or ruin people’s lives overnight. The way a small number of rich people can manipulate people’s lives so suddenly and quickly by rewriting the algorithms that govern them — that’s profoundly undemocratic.
Yes - and the algorithms (I strongly prefer: programs) also nearly always are deep secrets, that people who do not belong to the company can only learn about by going to a court.

Here is more:

How did the ‘60s hippie culture in California shape the culture of Silicon Valley?

There were actually lots of hippies who thought computers were these revolutionary machines that were going to free us in some way. And later, the internet also enhanced that feeling for a lot of people. There were people who thought that if we network computers together, it would just sort of innately lead to these anti-authoritarian, free networks where we could all communicate without any government or corporate control having any involvement in our lives — that we were going to be completely freed by these machines.

My own experience (I was born in 1950 in Holland, and originally learned to program - a little - in 1973, on a mainframe, that still worked on index cards) is a bit different, for I did not know much about personal computing until the late 1970ies (when a friend bought an Apple II).

But the quote is correct about the internet. Here is more:

It’s unsurprising that so many tech CEOs and so many people who work in tech have really libertarian beliefs — that they ignore the social realm and don’t think of themselves as products of society, but rather as these individualistic übermensches who, by virtue of their own genius and brilliance, create these amazing products — which is patently not true. And by having libertarian politics and by spending money either directly or through their companies on lobbyists that lobby against things like fair taxation, or having any of the profits from their products go back to public coffers … they’ve ensured that there’s going to be income inequality in the Bay Area for a long time to come.

I don't know. For one thing, I know German and have read Nietzsche and "Übermensch" is written other than in the article. What I do not think is very surprising is that "many tech CEOs and so many people who live in tech" do not have really sensible notions about society, values, and ethics, and also like to paint themselves considerably larger than they are in fact.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Generally, like many social ills that seem to be perpetuated by many industries, it’s really just a trickle-down effect of capitalism, and the way that it molds people and molds culture. And if you wanted a solution or explanation, I’d say if people who were involved in a lot of these platforms that are causing immense social ills had some type of inbuilt model of platform cooperativism, where anybody who is participating was an owner, you wouldn’t have the same problems because you wouldn’t have a central exploitative force that was pushing for these things. The way that we think of companies as existing is that it’s normal for there to be these top-down entities, where there’s someone at the top who’s making money off of all the people below them. But if that relationship were inverted and the dominant model of any business was a worker-owned cooperative … there wouldn’t be the same incentive to exploit and manipulate employees because they would own it themselves.

Well... yes, but I think then you are really speaking about socialism. But I agree that "Silicon Valley" and essentially the CEOs heading tech companies are undermining democracy, and this is a recommended article.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.
They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).
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