Vikshepa Blog

Mental Distractions

24 Sep 2022

Europe and its problem with Fascism

The world watches in trepidation while yet another European election threatens to bring in right-wing populists - this time in Italy. It's pretty exasperating to see this constant tussle between inept neo-liberal and centerist parties and their right-wing adversaries. Europe needs change, but its people keep looking in the wrong direction, choosing the worse over the simply bad.

Sometimes it looks like we have to either fight tooth and nail or flee, like those Russians now massing on the borders and trying to get out, because the state eventually came knocking on their doors. Or like the Israeli leftists who leave to countries where they can learn to shrug off the local politics. Or the Brits who fled Brexit, or refugees everywhere. Sometimes living in another country is simply less painful. If you live as a resident outside you native country's borders, the army recruitment center isn't going to come looking for you or your children. It's true that you'll have less power and influence, and will probably be unable to create change either in the country of your citizenship or in the country of your residency. In the conditions of today, that's the price that you pay.

One day, in a more stable world, the purpose of nations will be to serve their citizens and safeguard the environment. Citizenship could be abolished and replaced with residency. You live in a nation of your choosing and both you and the nation enter into a contract. You pay your taxes and the nation provides you with the social services that you need. That's the basis. On a local level there are other commitments, in order to build a sense of community, since loyalty anyway works more naturally on a local level, while "patriotism" and "nationalism" are usually encouraged artificially, by politicians, for extraneous or nefarious objectives. In the 21st century, it has become more important for everyone everywhere to pledge our alliegance to the planet than to the nations that are working together to destroy it.

Tags: europe
22 Sep 2022

Free speech

PayPal Demonetises the Daily Sceptic

… PayPal just doesn’t like free speech, which is why it has shut down the FSU [Free Speech Union] account … There are five issues in particular where it’s completely verboten to express sceptical views and if you do you can expect to be cancelled, not just by PayPal but by YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.: the wisdom of the lockdown policy and associated Covid restrictions, the efficacy and safety of the mRNA vaccines, Net Zero and the ‘climate emergency’, the need to teach five year-olds that sex is a social construct and the war in Ukraine. Dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy in any of those areas is no longer permitted.

This is the new front in the ongoing war against free speech: the withdrawal of financial services from people and organisations that express dissenting opinions on those topics. And not just those who express them, but those who defend them, too, like the FSU. That‘s what makes this an escalation in the war on free speech. Until now, companies like PayPal, GoFundMe, Patreon and CrowdJustice have only demonetised individuals and groups whose views they disapprove of. Now, PayPal has closed the account of an organisation that defends people’s right to free speech, without taking sides on the issues they’re speaking about. Even that is no longer allowed, according to this Silicon Valley behemoth.

I don't know anything about the above website, though the author's framing of the "five issues" leads me to suspect that I might not agree with him on some of these. But I think the action taken against him should bother us. Not because our own opinions stray from the orthodox, but because we need to reserve the right to think differently and to express opinions that differ from those of the mainstream. It's been pointed out elsewhere that there are gaps between European and US interpretations of the meaning of free speech. (For example some European states outlaw the expression of Nazi sympathies.) But here the US corporations seem to be closer in their approach to the Europeans.

In so far as Western countries differ from authoritarian regimes, it means that whereas adopting a wrong opinion on Ukraine can get you incarcerated in Russia, it can get you demonitized or demonized in the West.

Orthodoxies and the rules for enforcing them change and vary from place to place. The boundaries and the buffer zones between the acceptable and the forbidden shift, or expand and contract. It's always more or less painful to be situated outside of the mainstream, whenever and wherever we live. But without pushing up against those boundaries, social change and reform would be impossible and societies would remain static and rigid in their orthodoxies.

The main problem with opinion is its association with identity. Defending our opinions is confused with a defence of the self, and, in the same way, people are loved or demonized for their opinions. Politicians who change their opinions are accused of expediency, though Gandhi was famous for reserving the right to inconsistancy. An anarchist friend of mine said that being able to change opinions was a sign of sanity, while holding rigidly to the same views was insane. Most of us would admit to modifying our opinions over time, often to accord with the prevailing wisdom of the times. When I was growing up, I unconsciously absorbed so many of the orthodox English working-class views of my parents and grandparents, from which I was only gradually able to liberate myself over the years. The problem is that we continue to be influenced by the false arguments of journalists and influencers, while staunchly believing in our intellectual autonomy. That's why it's necessary to listen to, if not learn to tolerate, divergent opinions and arguments. If our press, our financial services or our regime don't allow them, we're in trouble.

Tags: opinion
21 Sep 2022

The Ministry for the Future

Enjoying this book by Kim Stanley Robinson. It's less a novel than New York 2140, or Aurora, the only other books of his that I've read.

The_Ministry_for_the_Future.png

A science fiction novel rooted in non-fiction

More like an amalgam of random various texts - some scientific, some philosophical, some journalistic, some anecdotal - with a bit of a storyline and a few characters to hold it together. But, in so far as presenting a possible future history of climate change, and climate action, in the mid-21st century, the formula works. And, more importantly, it fulfills the promise of serious speculative science fiction, of getting us to think about the future that we are making for ourselves, right now.

I thought about that today, when spending the afternoon with my grandchildren. I considered their own hopes and dreams, and how some of these might be stymied by the increasing devastation of the planet.

I just came back from flights overseas - flights that took me to Portugal via Belgium: looking at that absurd right-angle on the map makes me feel ridiculous. Like the times I reached Delhi via Moscow. I think in future, if I fly to Europe it will be to the city nearest to my intended destination - then overland, somehow. But, when I check the possibilities, the costs of such travel far exceeds that of plane tickets, unfortunately. In a better world, governments would be doing more to reduce the costs of overland public transport. There's still no real way to get from Israel to Europe or the rest of Asia other than by flying. The ferries of yesteryear, that plied the routes between Palestine, Greece and Italy, are no more, and the uncertainties of travel in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan prevents passage through those countries to further east. The world is less open today, and travel is more dependent upon airplanes, than when I was young.

Links: Food

Gates-Funded 'Green Revolution' in Africa Has Failed, Critics Say

Critics say the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, founded in 2006 with money from the Gates and Rockefeller foundations, has promoted an industrial model of agriculture that poisons soils with chemicals and encourages farmers to go into debt by buying expensive seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. As a result of that debt, some farmers have had to sell their land or household goods like stoves and TVs, said Celestine Otieno and Anne Maina, both active with organizations in Kenya advocating for ecologically friendly practices. "I think it's the second phase of colonization," Otieno said.

EU wastes 153m tonnes of food a year – much more than it imports, says report | Food waste | The Guardian

Tags: books
18 Sep 2022

Back home from Camino

We're back home from the Camino: this time the Camino Portugues. It went well, despite mishaps. The principle mishap was getting COVID about 3 days into the walk. Both I and D got it, by turn. It wasn't so significant - just fever and a cold for about 3 days - but it slowed us down. We mostly rested those days, and took private rooms, of course, rather than dorms, and wore masks everywhere.

So we didn't complete the planned 200+ kilometers, and did perhaps 160. The walking was the best part. Of the towns, we enjoyed visiting the old cities. Porto's amazing - and we spent about 3 days there - but overly touristic. Like other famous cities, it suffers badly from its popularity.

Porto

As we combined the coastal way with the traditional central route, we enjoyed both the coast and the inland areas. Inland, along the Portuguese and Spanish parts, often actually means wide river estuaries. These have been compared to the fjords of Norway.

In Porto, I was inspired by the museums, as I sometimes am. The National Museum in Porto was mostly closed for renovations, but had an amazing exhibition on Magellan - whose expedition was the first to circumnavigate the world. I had never considered the singularity of his attainments and courage - virtually discovering the Pacific Ocean (which he named) and then successfully navigating across it. His expected trans-Pacific voyage of "3 or 4 days" took 3 months and 20 days. Learning about the expanse of the oceans in comparison with the size of the land areas changed human perception of the planet. Magellan's voyage was really a leap into the unknown - more so than the voyages of Columbus, a few years earlier. I wonder if the men who sailed in those ships would have done so had they known what the voyage would entail? Of 5 ships and hundreds of men, only 18 made it around the world. The rest died of hunger, disease, in battles with indigenous peoples, or in mutinies. The men of one ship fled home earlier, escaping during the search for a passage through the straits at the bottom of Chile. Magellan himself perished in a battle in the Philippines. It was only a stroke of luck that the ship's chronicler, an Italian by the name of Antonio Pigafetta, made it home and spread the story.

We also visited the Seralves museum, which is on the outskirts of the city. There were several interesting exhibitions. A common theme, perhaps, was learning to see the world differently. This was true of the filmmakers shown, especially Manoel de Olveira - whose career spanned decades: he began making films in the silent era and continued till close to his death, at the age of 106. In the interviews, it was stated that he didn't believe in the reality of the world as most of us see it. The same idea - of learning to perceive the world in new ways - was there in all the other exhibitions, including those of Rui Chaves and Maria Antonia Leite Siza. The latter was a young artist of the '60s who died at the age of 32. The exhibition traces her drawings from the advent of her short career till close to her death. The covers of her bed, in which she enjoys to spend so much time in dreams becomes in the drawings a pupis, through which she rises like a butterfly. Agnès Varda is both a filmmaker and a photographer. In the exhibition is a work on potatoes, in which one sees this earthy vegetable transformed into an object of wonder. The images are shown in a room in which the floor is covered with actual potatoes, so that their fusty odour permeates the space.

I suppose that what art can do for us is to help us change our perception of the world, in this way. The museum is set in a beautiful park; and the park, as well as the architecture, enhances the same purpose.

Seralves museum park

For example, one of the features is a "treetop walk" that allows us to explore nature in a new way. And, back on ground level, there was a venerable chestnut tree, whose characteristic spiny fruit littered the entire surroundings like objects fallen from space. So the park, which we explored afterwards, helped to transport the inspiration gleaned from the exhibitions, outwards into nature.

chestnuts
Tags: journal
18 Aug 2022

Diary

I'm enjoying PKD's The Man in the High Castle. It's one of his more coherent books - it would be a good introduction to his writing.

Links

Israeli forces raid offices of six Palestinian human rights groups | Palestinian territories | The Guardian I'm lost for words here. But Israel couldn't get away with this sort of thing if, say, Europe actually cared. There no longer seems to be any leverage in use. It always seems to me that Israel is testing the waters in such cases. Everyone should bear in mind that it would like to do much worse. To the extent that it's policies are ignored, it feels free to do more.

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