Ten Lashes Against Humanism

Erasmus in 1523, by Hans Holbein

Image via Wikipedia

Diez azotes contra el humanismo (Spanish)

Ten Lashes Against Humanism

 

Jorge Majfud

A minor tradition in conservative thought is the definition of the dialectical adversary as mentally deficient and lacking in morality. As this never constitutes an argument, the outburst is covered up with some fragmented and repetitious reasoning, proper to the postmodern thought of political propaganda. It is no accident that in Latin America other writers repeat the US experience, with books like Manual del perfecto idiota latinoamericano (Manual for the Perfect Latin American Idiot, 1996) or making up lists about Los diez estúpidos más estúpidos de América Latina (The Top Ten Stupid People in Latin America). A list that is usually headed up, with elegant indifference, by our friend, the phoenix Eduardo Galeano. They have killed him off so many times he has grown accustomed to being reborn.

As a general rule, the lists of the ten stupidest people in the United States tend to be headed up by intellectuals. The reason for this particularity was offered some time ago by a military officer of the last Argentine dictatorship (1976-1983) who complained to the television cameras about the protesters marching through the streets of Buenos Aires: “I am not so suspicious of the workers, because they are always busy with work; I am suspicious of the students because with too much free time they spend it thinking. And you know, Mr. Journalist, that too much thinking is dangerous.” Which was consistent with the previous project of General Onganía (1966-1970) of expelling all the intellectuals in order to fix Argentina’s problems.

Not long ago, Doug Hagin, in the image of the famous television program Dave’s Top Ten, concocted his own list of The Top Ten List of Stupid Leftist Ideals. If we attempt to de-simplify the problem by removing the political label, we will see that each accusation against the so-called US leftists is, in reality, an assault on various humanist principles.

10: Environmentalism. According to the author, leftists do not stop at a reasonable point of conservation.

Obviously the definition of what is reasonable or not, depends on the economic interests of the moment. Like any conservative, he holds fast to the idea that the theory of Global Warming is only a theory, like the theory of evolution: there are no proofs that God did not create the skeletons of dinosaurs and other species and strew them about, simply in order to confuse the scientists and thereby test their faith. The conservative mentality, heroically inalterable, could never imagine that the oceans might behave progressively, beyond a reasonable level.

9: It takes a village to raise a child. The author denies it: the problem is that leftists have always thought collectively. Since they don’t believe in individualism they trust that children’s education must be carried out in society.

 

In contrast, reactionary thought trusts more in islands, in social autism, than in suspect humanity. According to this reasoning of a medieval aristocrat, a rich man can be rich surrounded by misery, a child can become a moral man and ascend to heaven without contaminating himself with the sin of his society. Society, the masses, only serves to allow the moral man to demonstrate his compassion by donating to the needy what he has left over – and discounting it from his taxes.

8: Children are incapable of handling stress. For which reason they cannot be corrected by their teachers with red ink or cannot confront the cruel parts of history.

The author is correct in observing that seeing what is disagreeable as an infant prepares children for a world that is not pleasant. Nonetheless, some compassionate conservatives exaggerate a little by dressing their children in military uniforms and giving them toys that, even though they only shoot laser lights, look very much like weapons with laser lights that fire something else at similar targets (and at black people).

7: Competition is bad. For the author, no: the fact that some win means that others lose, but this dynamic leads us to greatness.

He does not explain whether there exists here the “reasonable limit” of which he spoke before or whether he is referring to the hated theory of evolution which establishes the survival of the strongest in the savage world. Nor does he clarify to which greatness he refers, whether it is that of the slave on the prosperous cotton plantation or the size of the plantation. He does not take into account, of course, any kind of society based on solidarity and liberated from the neurosis of competition.

6: Health is a civil right. Not for the author: health is part of personal responsibility.

This argument is repeated by those who deny the need for a universal health system and, at the same time, do not propose privatizing the police, and much less the army. Nobody pays the police after calling 911, which is reasonable. If an attacker shoots us in the head, we will not pay anything for his capture, but if we are poor we will end up in bankruptcy so that a team of doctors can save our life. One deduces that, according to this logic, a thief who robs a house represents a social illness, but an epidemic is nothing more than a bunch of irresponsible individuals who do not affect the rest of society. What is never taken into account is that collective solidarity is one of the highest forms of individual responsibility.

5: Wealth is bad. According to the author, leftists want to penalize the success of the wealthy with taxes in order to give their wealth to the federal government so that it can be spent irresponsibly helping out those who are not so successful.

That is to say, workers owe their daily bread to the rich. Earning a living with the sweat of one’s brow is a punishment handed down by those successful people who have no need to work. There is a reason why physical beauty has been historically associated with the changing but always leisurely habits of the aristocracy. There is a reason why in the happy world of Walt Disney there are no workers; happiness is buried in some treasure filled with gold coins. For the same reason, it is necessary to not squander tax monies on education and on health. The millions spent on armies around the world are not a concern, because they are part of the investment that States responsibly make in order to maintain the success of the wealthy and the dream of glory for the poor.

4: There is an unbridled racism that will only be resolved with tolerance. No: leftists see race relations through the prism of pessimism. But race is not important for most of us, just for them.

That is to say, like in the fiction of global warming, if a conservative does not think about something or someone, that something or someone does not exist. De las Casas, Lincoln and Martin Luther King fought against racism ignorantly. If the humanists would stop thinking about the world, we would be happier because others’ suffering would not exist, and there would be no heartless thieves who steal from the compassionate rich.

3: Abortion. In order to avoid personal responsibility, leftists support the idea of murdering the unborn.

The mass murder of the already born is also part of individual responsibility, according to televised right-wing thought, even though sometimes it is called heroism and patriotism. Only when it benefits our island. If we make a mistake when suppressing a people we avoid responsibility by talking about abortion. A double moral transaction based on a double standard morality.

2: Guns are bad. Leftists hate guns and hate those who want to defend themselves. Leftists, in contrast, think that this defense should be done by the State. Once again they do not want to take responsibility for themselves.

That is to say, attackers, underage gang members, students who shoot up high schools, drug traffickers and other members of the syndicate exercise their right to defend their own interests as individuals and as corporations. Nobody distrusts the State and trusts in their own responsibility more than they do. It goes without saying that armies, according to this kind of reasoning, are the main part of that responsible defense carried out by the irresponsible State.

1: Placating evil ensures Peace. Leftists throughout history have wanted to appease the Nazis, dictators and terrorists.

The wisdom of the author does not extend to considering that many leftists have been consciously in favor of violence, and as an example it would be sufficient to remember Ernesto Che Guevara. Even though it might represent the violence of the slave, not the violence of the master. It is true, conservatives have not appeased dictators: at least in Latin America, they have nurtured them. In the end, the latter also have always been members of the Gun Club, and in fact were subject to very good deals in the name of security. Nazis, dictators and terrorists of every kind, with that tendency toward ideological simplification, would also agree with the final bit of reasoning on the list: “leftists do not undertand that sometimes violence is the only solution. Evil exists and should be erradicated.” And, finally: “We will kill it [the Evil], or it will kill us, it is that simple. We will kill Evil, or Evil will kill us; the only thing simpler than this is left-wing thought.”

Word of Power.

 

Crisis for the Rich, Via Crucis for the Poor

World map showing countries by nominal GDP per...

Crisis de los ricos, via crucis de los pobres

Crisis for the Rich, Via Crucis for the Poor

Theories of evolution after Darwin assume a dynamic of divergences. Two species can derive from one in common; every now and then, these variations can disappear gradually or abruptly, but two species never end up flowing together into one. There is no mixing except within a given species. In the long view, a hen and a man are distant relatives, descendants of some reptile, and each one represents a successful response by life in its struggle for survival.

In other words, diversity is the form in which life expands and adapts to diverse environments and conditions. Diversity and life are synonymous for the biosphere. Vital processes tend toward diversity but at the same time they are the expression of a unity, the biosphere, Gaia, the exuberance of life in permanent struggle for the survival of its own miracle in hostile surroundings.

For the same reason, cultural diversity is a condition for the life of humanity. That is to say, and even though it might be motive enough in itself, diversity is not limited merely to avoiding the boredom of monotony but instead is, besides, part of our vital survival as humanity.

Nevertheless, we humans are the only species that has replaced the natural and discrete loss of species with an artificial and threatening extermination, with industrial depredation and with the pollution of consumerism. Those of us who insist on a possible though not inevitable “progress of history” based on knowledge and the exercise of equal-liberty, can see that humanity, so often placing itself in danger of extinction, has achieved some advances that have allowed it to survive and abide its growing muscular power. And even so, we have added nothing good to the rest of nature. In many respects, perhaps in that natural process of trial and error, we have regressed or our errors have become exponentially more dangerous.

Consumerism is one of those errors. That insatiable appetite has little or nothing to do with progress toward a possible and yet improbable post-scarcity, hunger-free era, and everything to do with the more primitive era of greed and gluttony. Let’s not say with an animal instinct, because not even lions monopolize the savanna or practice systematic extermination of their victims, and because even pigs are sated sometimes.

The culture of consumerism has erred in several ways. First, it has contradicted the aforementioned condition, passing over cultural diversities, substituting them for its universal trinkets or creating a pseudo-diversity where a Japanese laborer or German office worker can enjoy for two days a piece of traditional Peruvian craftwork made in China, or for five days the most beautiful Venetian curtains imported from Taiwan, before they fall apart from use. Second, because it also has threatened the ecological balance with its unlimited extractions and its returns in the form of immortal garbage.

We can observe concrete examples all around us. We might say that it is good fortune that a worker could enjoy commodities that previously were reserved only for the upper classes, the unproductive classes, the consumer classes. Nonetheless, that consumption – induced by cultural and ideological pressure – often has been turned into the very purpose of the worker and an instrument of the economy. Which logically means that the individual-as-tool has been turned into a means of the economy as individual-as-consumer.

In almost all of the developed countries, or those following that “model of development,” the furniture that invades the markets is intended to last only a few years. Or a few months. The furniture items are pretty, they look good just like almost everything in the culture of consumption, but if we look closely they are scratched, missing a screw or our out of square. That preoccupation of my family of carpenters with improving the design of a chair so that it might last a hundred years turns out to be exotic now. But the new disposable furniture does not worry us too much because we know that it costs little and that, in two or three years we are going to buy some more new stuff, which happens to provide more interest and variation in the decoration of our homes and offices and above all stimulates the world economy. According to the current theory, what we throw away here aids the industrial development of some poor country. Thus we are good, because we are consumers.

And yet, those furniture items, even the cheapest ones, have consumed trees and burned up fuel in their long journey from China or from Malaysia. The logic of “dispose of it after use,” which is most reasonable for a plastic syringe, becomes a necessary law for stimulating the economy and maintaining the perpetual growth of GDP, with its respective crises and phobias whenever its fall provokes a recession of two percent. In order to escape the recession one must increase the dosage of the drug. The United States alone, for example, dedicates billions of dollars so that its residents might continue to consume, to spend, in order to escape the madness of the recession and thus allow the world to continue to turn, consuming and discarding.

But those discards, as cheap as they may be – consumerism is based on cheap, disposable merchandise that makes the recycling of durable products almost inaccessible – possess bits of wood, plastic, batteries, steel pipe, screws, glass and more plastic. In the United States all of that and more goes into the garbage – even in this time of what is called “great crisis” for the wrong reasons – and in the poor countries, the poor go out looking for that garbage. Over the long term, the one who ends up consuming all the garbage is nature, while humanity continues to suspend its changes of habit in order to get out of the recession first and in order to sustain the growth of the economy later.

But what is the meaning of “growth of the economy,” that two or three per cent with which the whole world is obsessed, from North to South and East to West?

The world is convinced that it finds itself in a terrible crisis. But the world was already in crisis. Now the crisis is defined as worldwide because 1) it proceeds from and affects the economy of the wealthiest; 2) the simplified paradigm of development has radiated its hysteria out to the rest of the world, undermining its legitimacy. But in the United States people are still flooding the stores and restaurants and their cut backs never involve hunger, even in the gravest cases of the millions of workers without jobs. In our peripheral countries a crisis means children begging in the streets. In the United States it tends to mean consumers consuming a little less while they await the next government check.

In order to get out of that “crisis,” the experts squeeze their brains and the solution is always the same: increase consumption. Ironically, increasing consumption by lending regular people their own money through the big private banks that receive rescue aid from the government. It’s not only a matter of saving a few banks, but, above all, of saving an ideology and culture that cannot survive on their own without frequent ad hoc injections: financial stimulus, wars that promote industry and control popular participation, drugs and entertainment that stimulate, tranquilize and anaesthetize in the name of the common good.

Will we have really emerged from the crisis when the world returns to a five percent growth rate through the stimulation of consumption in the wealthy countries? Will we not be laying the ground for the next crisis, a real – human and ecological – crisis and not an artificial crisis like the one we have now? Will we truly realize that this one is not truly a crisis but just a warning, which is to say, an opportunity for changing our habits?

Every day is a crisis because every day we choose a road. But there are crises that are a long via crucis and others that are critical because, for oppressed and oppressors alike, it means a double possibility: the confirmation of a system or its annihilation. So far it has been the first because of a lack of alternatives to the second. But one must never underestimate history. Nobody could have ever foreseen an alternative to medieval feudalism or to the system of slavery. Or almost nobody. The history of the most recent millennia demonstrates that utopians usually foresee the future with an exaggerated precision. But like today, the utopians have always had a bad reputation. Because mockery and disrepute are the form that every dominant system has always used to avoid the proliferation of people with too much imagination.

Dr. Jorge Majfud

Febrero, 2009

Lincoln University

Political Affairs (USA)

Translated by Dr. Bruce Campbell. St. John’s University