By Bertolt Brecht
The Interrogation of the Good
Step forward: we hear
That you are a good man.
You cannot be bought, but the lightning
Which strikes the house, also
Cannot be bought.
You hold to what you said.
But what did you say?
You are honest, you say your opinion.
You are brave.
You are wise.
You do not consider your personal advantages.
Whose advantages do you consider then?
You are a good friend.
Are you also a good friend of the good people?
Hear us then: we know.
You are our enemy. This is why we shall
Now put you in front of a wall. But in consideration
of your merits and good qualities
We shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you
With a good bullet from a good gun and bury you
With a good shovel in the good earth.
By Slavoj Zizek
The threat today is not passivity, but pseudo-activity, the urge to “be active,” to “participate,” to mask the nothingness of what goes on. People intervene all the time, “do something”; academics participate in meaningless debates, and so on. The truly difficult thing is to step back, to withdraw. Those in power often prefer even a “critical” participation, a dialogue, to silence-just to engage us in “dialogue,” to make sure our ominous passivity is broken. The voters’ abstention is thus a true political act: it forcefully confronts us with the vacuity of today’s democracies.
By Carolyn Steel
Man and corn – it all comes back to that. Cultivation and civilization, city and country, paradise and hell: food has always shaped our lives, and it always will. Our legacy to those who inherit the earth will be determined by how we eat now – their future lies in our knives and forks and fingers.
By David MacKay
If you leave a classical 40 watt lightbulb on all the time it uses 1 kilowatt power every day. It’s therefor possible to express any type of energy consumption using the lightbulb as a unit.
-A bath uses the power of 5 lightbulbs.
-Driving for 50 km is equivalent to 40 lightbulbs burning all the time.
In average a person consumes the power of 125 lightbulbs every day.
Commonly spread is the idea of saving energy by unplugging devices on standby mode. The electric appliances we have in our homes use 18 lightbulbs every day so this might seem like a good idea. Powerful people and so called “green stars” are telling us to unplug our mobile phone chargers -but is this the first thing we need to do? All the energy saved by switching off your charger for one day is used up in one second of car driving and the energy saved in switching off the charger for one year is equal to the energy in a single hot bath.
By Yosi Wanunu
A series of videotapes by Al Qaeda released after 9/11 were noted for their bad quality. Even the cheapest consumer digital video products are fairly passable for broadcast in terms of resolution. However, Al Qaeda were not necessarily using old video cameras, but more likely using software to produce distortion of the video and audio. The question is: could the “bad Quality” of this footage be intentional, i.e. include certain messages in it? When compared to the highly professional images produced by the mass media and Western governmental agencies, they may state their own authenticity and a kind of resistance to hyper-technological civilization. But this is still done utilizing technology and copyrights. “As Sahab” (The Cloud), Al Qaeda’s “production company” authors the logos on released videos, which are placed in such a position on the screen-frame that allows them to be visible when transmitted on major news broadcasters like CNN and Al Jazeera.
By Yosi Wanunu/Slavoj Zizek
Not so very long ago we humans thought of ourselves as a separate creation, the pinnacle of God’s work, that had been granted dominion over nature. But then along came darwin, and we discovered that we are related, through descent, to other animals. Despite this blow to our dignity we long maintained a polite fiction that we’re special enough to merit classification in our own scientific family, the Hominidae. In our mind at least, we thus maintained a comfortable distance from the apes. But the analysis of DNA put an end to that, with the demonstration that only 2 percent of our genetic code differs from that of the chimpanzees. Now we and the chimps must share a twig in the family tree, and the Hominidea has been expanded to encompass the other “great apes”—chimps, gorillas, and orangutans. (Wanunu)
Human can speak. “Speaking is the foundation and structure of socialization, and happens to be characterized by the renunciation of violence,” as a text by Jean-Marie Muller written for UNESCO tell us. Since man is a “speaking animal,” this means that the renunciation of violence defines the very core of being human: “it is actually the principles and methods of non-violence…that constitute the humanity of human beings…”
But what if, however, humans exceed animals in their capacity for violence precisely because they speak? As Hegel was already well aware, there is something violent in the very symbolisation of a thing, which equals its mortification. This violence operates on multiple levels. Language simplifies the designated thing, reducing it to a single feature. It dismembers the thing, destroying its organic unity, treating its parts and properties as autonomous. It inserts the thing into a field of meaning which is ultimately external to it. When we name gold “Gold,” we violently extract a metal from its natural texture, investing into it our dreams of wealth, power, spiritual purity, and so on, which have nothing whatsoever to do with the immediate reality of gold. (Zizek)
For a chimpanzee there is nothing more than the immediate reality of gold, and therefore the shining metal is not very appealing. 2 percent of difference in our genetic code, turns metal into gold. (Wanunu)
By Tony Judt.
All around us, even in a recession, we see a level of individual wealth unequaled since the early years of the twentieth century. Conspicuous consumption of redundant consumer goods – houses, jewelry, cars, clothing, tech toys – has greatly expanded over the past generation. In the US, the UK, and a handful of other countries, financial transactions have largely displaced the production of goods or services as the source of private fortunes, distorting the value we place upon different kinds of economic activity. The wealthy, like the poor, have always been with us. But relative to everyone else, they are today wealthier and more conspicuous than at any time in living memory. Private privilege is easy to understand and describe. It is rather harder to convey the depths of public squalor into which we have fallen.
Private Affluence, Public Squalor
No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater of the members are poor and miserable. Adam Smith
Poverty is an abstraction, even for the poor. But the symptoms of collective impoverishment are all about us. Broken highways, bankrupt cities, collapsing bridges, failed schools, the unemployed, the underpaid, and the uninsured: all suggest a collective failure of will. These shortcomings are so endemic that we no longer know how to talk about what is wrong, much less set about repairing it. And yet something is seriously amiss. Even as the US budgets tens of billions of dollars on a futile military campaign in Afghanistan, we fret nervously at the implications of any increase in public spending on social services or infrastructure.
The wider the spread between the wealthy few and the impoverished many, the worse the social problems: a statement that appears to be true for rich and poor countries alike. What matters is not how affluent a country is but how unequal it is. Thus Sweden and Finland, two of the world’s wealthiest countries by per capita income or GDP, have a very narrow gap separating their richest from their poorest citizens – and they consistently lead the world in indices of measurable well-being. Conversely, the United States, despite its huge aggregate wealth, always comes low on such measures. The US spend vast sums on health care, but life expectancy in the US remains below Bosnia and just above Albania.
Inequality is corrosive. It rots societies from within. The impact of material differences takes a while to show up: but in due course competition for status and goods increases; people feel a growing sense of superiority (or inferiority) based on their possessions; prejudice toward those on the lower rungs of the social ladder hardens; crime spikes and the pathologies of social disadvantage become ever more marked. The legacy of unregulated wealth creation is bitter indeed.
The attorney asked, “When the lender receives the actual cash value from the alleged borrower, does the bank claim that it then owns it and that it is the property of the lender, without the bank loaning or risking one cent of legal tender or other depositors’ money?”
The banker said, “Yes.”
The attorney asked, “Are you telling me the bank policy is that the bank owns the promissory note (actual cash value) without loaning one cent of other depositors’ money or legal tender, that the alleged borrower is the one who provided the funds deposited to fund the bank loan check, and that the bank gets funds from the alleged borrower for free? Is the money then returned back to the same person as a loan which the alleged borrower repays when the bank never gave up any money to obtain the promissory note? Am I hearing this right? I give you the equivalent of $50,000, you return the funds back to me, and I have to repay you $50,000 plus interest? Do you think I am stupid?”
In a shaking voice the banker cried, saying, “All the banks are doing this. Congress allows this.”
The attorney quickly responded, “Does Congress allow the banks to breach written agreements, use false and misleading advertising, act without written permission, authorization, and without the alleged borrower’s knowledge to transfer actual cash value from the alleged borrower to the bank and then return it back as a loan?”
The banker said, “But the borrower got a check and the house.”
The attorney said, “Is it true that the actual cash value that was used to fund the bank loan check came directly from the borrower and that the bank received the funds from the alleged borrower for free?”
“It is true”, said the banker.
The attorney asked, “Is it the bank’s policy to transfer actual cash value from the alleged borrower to the bank and then to keep the funds as the bank’s property, which they loan out as bank loans?”
The banker, showing tears of regret that he had been caught, confessed, “Yes.”
The attorney asked, “Was it the bank’s intent to receive actual cash value from the borrower and return the value of the funds back to the borrower as a loan?”
The banker said, “Yes.” He knew he had to say yes because of the bank policy.
The attorney asked, “Do you believe that it was the borrower’s intent to fund his own bank loan check?”
The banker answered, “I was not there at the time and I cannot know what went through the borrower’s mind.”
The attorney asked, “If a lender loaned a borrower $10,000 and the borrower refused to repay the money, do you believe the lender is damaged?”
The banker thought. If he said no, it would imply that the borrower does not have to repay. If he said yes, it would imply that the borrower is damaged for the loan to the bank of which the bank never repaid. The banker answered, “If a loan is not repaid, the lender is damaged.”
The attorney asked, “Is it the bank policy to take actual cash value from the borrower, use it to fund the bank loan check, and never return the actual cash value to the borrower?”
The banker said, “The bank returns the funds.”
The attorney asked, “Was the actual cash value the bank received from the alleged borrower returned as a return of the money the bank took or was it returned as a bank loan to the borrower?”
The banker said, “As a loan.”
The attorney asked, “How did the bank get the borrower’s money for free?”
The banker said, “That is how it works.”
By Tony Judt.
We are entering, I suspect, upon a time of troubles. It is not just the terrorists, the bankers, and the climate that are going to wreak havoc with our sense of security and stability. Globalization itself-the “flat” earth of so many irenic fantasies-will be a source of fear and uncertainty to billions of people who will turn to their leaders for protection. “Identities” will grow mean and tight, as the indigent and the uprooted beat upon the ever-rising walls of gated communities from Delhi to dallas.
Being “Danish” or “Austrian”, “American” or “European” won’t just be an identity; it will be a rebuff and a reproof to those whom it excludes. The state, far from disappearing, may be about to come into its own: the privileges of citizenship, the protections of card-holding residency rights, will be wielded as political trumps. Intolerant demagogues in established democracies will demand “tests”- of knowledge, of language, of attitude – to determine whether desperate newcomers are deserving of British or Dutch, Belgian or Austrian “identity.” They are already doing so. In this brave new century we shall miss the tolerant, the marginals: the edge people. My people.
by David Lynch
A Message from David Lynch
In today’s world of fear and uncertainty, every child should have one class period a day to dive within himself and experience the field of silence—bliss—the enormous reservoir of energy and intelligence that is deep within all of us. This is the way to save the coming generation.
Someday, hopefully very soon, “diving within” as a preparation for learning and as a tool for developing the creative potential of the mind will be a standard part of every school’s curriculum. The stresses of today’s world are taking an enormous toll on our children right now. There are hundreds of schools, with thousands of students, who are eager to relieve this stress and bring out the full potential of every student by providing this Consciousness-Based education today. I have had the pleasure of meeting many students who are “diving within” and experiencing Consciousness-Based education. These students are all unique individuals, very much themselves. They are amazing, self-sufficient, wide-awake, energetic, blissful, creative, powerfully intelligent and peaceful human beings. Meeting these students, for me, was the proof that Consciousness-Based education is a profoundly good thing for our schools and for our world. Research and experience document the profound benefits to society as a whole when our children dive within. Individual peace is the unit of world peace. By offering Consciousness-Based education to the coming generation, we can promote a strong foundation for a healthy, harmonious, and peaceful world. For this, the Foundation also supports the establishment of Universities of World Peace that will train the coming generation in a new profession: that of professional peacemaker.
By Tony Judt.
“Identity” is a dangerous word. It has no respectable contemporary uses. In France, the Netherlands and Austria, artificially stimulated “national debates” on identity are a flimsy cover for political exploitation of anti-immigrant sentiment, and a blatant ploy to deflect economic anxiety onto minority targets. In Italy, the politics of identity were reduced in December 2009 to house to house searches in the Brescia region for unwanted dark faces as the municipality shamelessly promised a “white christmas.”
In academic life, the word has comparably mischievous uses. Undergraduates today can select from a swathe of identity studies: “gender studies,” “women’s studies,” “Asian-Pacific-American studies,” and dozens others. The shortcoming of all these para-academic programs is not that they concentrate on a given ethnic or geographical minority; it is that they encourage members of that “minority” to study themselves – thereby simultaneously negating the goal of a liberal education and reinforcing the sectarian and ghetto mentalities they purport to undermine. All too frequently, such programs are job-creation schemes for their incumbents, and outside interest is actively discouraged. Blacks study blacks, gays study gays, and so forth.
As so often, academic taste follows fashion. These programs are byproducts of communitarian solipsism: today we are all hyphenated – Irish-American, Native-American, African-American, Jewish-Austrian and the like. Most people no longer speak the language of their forbears or know much about their country of origin. But in the wake of a generation of boastful victimhood, they wear what little they do know as a proud badge of identity.
by Mike Ward
An open letter to global warming
Dear Global Warming,
I know I’m not supposed to like you. I’ve heard about your grandiose plans to melt the polar icecaps and flood coastal cities, your aspirations to destabilize global weather patterns and throw fragile ecosystems into upheaval, and your desire to have all of us, by the year 2070, living inside geodesic domes, whence we will gaze wistfully out at moribund deserts and dream of greener times. I know everyone says you’re bad, but damn it, I don’t care, because after six straight days of minus-25-degree weather I’m ready to throw myself into your arms.
Being a man-made ecological phenomenon, you might have some difficulty in commiserating with my plight. You’ve never had to walk to get groceries with the skin of your face threatening to crack like old plaster because the only sound your car made when you tried to start it was the dry death rattle of an engine that refused to turn over. You’ve never had to shovel out a driveway while being lashed by blowing snow, with your teeth clattering together in uncontrollable Morse code, while your mind is preoccupied with the concern that your numb ears might have already succumbed to frostbite, and that they could be turning purple in preparation of detaching from your head altogether. If you had suffered through these things, you would not doubt my sincerity. This cold snap has turned me into a half-mad combination of Faust and Sam McGee; I’m willing to do whatever it takes.
I’ll start burning coal in my wood stove. I’ll buy the most inefficient SUV that Detroit has the gall to put on the market. Whenever a friend says something like “There’s not much snow anymore, not like when we were kids” or the topic of climate change comes up, I’ll cite with authority one of the studies sponsored by Exxon that claim you don’t exist. So, please, let me join you over on the dark side. After all, there’s nothing (figuratively) cool about hypothermia, and the prospects of more arable land in the Arctic and balmy weather all year long sounds pretty good to me.
Sincerely, Mike Ward
P.S. Please disregard my letter from last July’s heat wave. I was only joking.
by Wendell Berry
The food corporations will grow, deliver, and cook your food for you and (just like your parents) beg you to eat it. That they do not yet offer to insert it, prechewed, into your mouth is only because they have found no profitable way to do so.
From: THE QUEST FOR SUPERIORITY
by Wallace Shawn from the book “Essays” (2009)
One evening last week, a friend and I went to a somewhat inexpensive restaurant, and the waiter who served us was in such a state of agitation or anxiety about god knows what that he didn’t even look at us. And so I was thinking about the fact that in more expensive restaurants the staff is usually trained to focus their attention on the pleasure of the diners, not on their own problems. In fact, the waiters in more expensive restaurants are invited to be friendly, amusing, to make funny remarks about their lives, to let us diners get to know them a little. But in the most expensive restaurants, the really fancy ones, we don’t get to know the waiters at all. The waiters in those restaurants don’t make funny remarks. They do their work with such discretion that they’re barely noticed. And people compliment them by saying that they’re unobtrusive.
Actually that’s quite a good word for all those people whom we don’t know know and we don’t think about much but who serve us and make the things we need and whose lives we actually dominate: “the unobtrusives”. And the interesting thing I have noticed is that in those very expensive restaurants, we don’t talk to the waiters, but we enjoy their presence enormously. We certainly wouldn’t want them to be replaced by robots or by conveyor belts that would carry our food for us while we sat in the dining room completely alone. No, we want them to be there, these silent waiters, these -“unobtrusives”.
It’s obviously a characteristic of human beings that we like to feel superior to others. But our problem is that we are not superior. We like the sensation of being served by others and feeling superior to them, but if we’re forced to get to know the people who serve us, we quickly see that they’re in fact just like us. And then we become uncomfortable – uncomfortable and scared, because if we can see that we’re just the same, well, they might too, and if they did, they might become terribly, terribly angry, because why should they be serving us? So thats why we prefer not to talk to waiters.
by Louis Menand
You arrive for work and someone informs you that you have until five o’clock to clean out your office. You have been laid off. At first, your family is brave and supportive, and although you’re in shock, you convince yourself that you were ready for something new. Then you start waking up at 3 A.M., apparently in order to stare at the ceiling. You can’t stop picturing the face of the employee who was deputized to give you the bad news. He does not look like George Clooney. You have fantasies of terrible things happening to him, to your boss, to George Clooney. You find, a novel recognition, not only that you have no sex drive but that you don’t care. You react irritably when friends advise you to let go and move on. After a week, you have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. After two weeks, you have a hard time getting out of the house. You go to see a doctor. The doctor hears your story and prescribes an antidepressant. Do you take it?
However you go about making this decision, do not read the psychiatric literature. Everything in it, from science (do the medicine really work?) to the metaphysics (is depression really a disease?), will confuse you. There is little agreement about what causes depression and no consensus about what curs it.
There is suspicion that the pharmaceutical industry is cooking the studies that prove that antidepressant drugs are safe and effective, and that the industry’s direct-to-consumer advertising is encouraging people to demand pills to cure conditions that are not diseases (like shyness) or to get through ordinary life problems (like being laid off).
For many people, this is the most troubling aspect of contemporary psychiatry. These people worry that an easy way is now available to jump the emotional queue, that people can now receive medical enhancements who do not “deserve” them. For example, would you take an antidepressant to get over the pain of being laid off? You might, if you reasoned that since your goal is to get over it and move on, there is no point in prolonging the agony. But you might also reason that learning how to cope with difficulty without a therapeutic crutch is something that it would be good to take away from this disaster. This is not a problem we should expect science to solve for us someday. It’s not even a problem that we should want science to solve for us.
Would you take a pill today that will allow you to feel the way you will be feeling six months from now?