Why I am a political pessimist (realist?)

The primary reason that I am a pessimist is that from a Martian point of view the trajectory of human history is towards an ecological self-destruction, and there is no remedy in sight.

There are proposed remedies, but the politicians — if they know them, either can’t or don’t want to implement them. As to the masses of people, they are — what can I say? — ignorant and uninterested.

Let me unpack what I just said. The world over — except for Switzerland — executive power is in the hands of single individuals. These individuals are either dictators (or monarchs), or presidents, or prime ministers. In the case of macro liberal democracies — in which thousands or millions vote — both the president and the parliaments are in the hands of the rich. Why? Because it takes advertisement to win elections where thousands and millions are voting. And advertisement takes money which is contributed mostly by the rich. And the rich will support only a candidate that will be beneficial to them. And, as in the United States, we can see that all the Presidents have served the rich. And the trajectory for the future is more of the same: Biden or Trump. Go ahead pick the lesser of your two evils!

With Prime Ministers, the situation is equally dismal. Remember that parliamentarians too have to be elected by thousands or millions of voters; so, they too will predominantly represent the interests of the rich. And the Party with the most members will pick the Prime Minister — obviously he or she will serve the interests of the rich. Take note of Great Britain: Thatcher, Blair, May, Johnson.

What could change these political trajectories? A change, for example, towards Swiss style democracy. But is it in the offing? I am afraid not.

I come now to the masses — the voters. The masses are pessimistic as to any influence they may have on politics; so, many don’t bother voting. Of those who vote, I think that they too are disillusioned, but feel that they must choose the lesser of the evils.

As to my proposal about Switzerland, how many voters even know that there is such a country? And even if they have heard of it, can they locate it on a map?

Here is a video in which people on the street are asked to name any country on a map of the world. Here is the result:

As to knowing what kind of government Switzerland has . . . Ask first if they know what a government is!

People on the Street: What is the Purpose of Government?

What is needed is a change in the system of governments. But such changes in the system of governments occur only rarely, and under starvation or chaotic situations. The so-called recent “revolutions” have not been more than changes in leaderships. And, as far as ordinary people are concerned, changing leaders is a revolution. Consequently, even if conditions become dire, people will clamor for a leader savior. And that is why I am a political pessimist.

Michael Shermer, the non-skeptical myopic liberal democrat

While searching for interviews with David Wengrow, I came across the podcasts of Michael Shermer, the co-founder of the Skeptic magazine. Since he too is in the business of exposing bullshit, I watched some of his other interviews, and on the basis of what I have watched, it seems to me that he is in the business of Practicing Safe Philosophy.

Let me explain. He espouses critical thinking, but he seems to confine this criticism to exposing pseudo-science and superstitions, including a criticism of religion. But such criticism was already done during the Enlightenment, and those who have not absorbed these criticisms are The Unenlightened. As to the existence of God, there is no need to duplicate such articles as that of C.D. Broad’s Arguments for the Existence of God and The Validity of Belief in a Personal God. As to debunking pseudoscience, there is Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science.

Debunking of this sort is fine, but a critical thinker must distinguish between important problems and puzzles. The important problems are “existential,” by which I mean those problems which hinder human animal existence: problems of food, water, shelter, and such. These are economic and political problems.

I wanted to find out Shermer’s stance on political and economic issues. What I found out so far is that he seems to be a moderate conservative. By this I mean that he accepts capitalism and the type of liberal (mass, macro) democracy as found in the United States. His concern is to improve the policies of the government of the United States — like abortion or immigration policies. He is not concerned with, for example, comparing the democratic government of the United States with that of Switzerland. And he seems to be oblivious to an anarchistic federalist alternative. And because he does not consider such varieties of democracy, he is — in my view — myopic.

As an example of what I am saying, let’s consider his latest interview with Brian Klaas, the author of Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us, 2021. Here is the interview:

Comment: Klaas is interested in the question whether corruptible people seek power or whether power corrupts? And Klaas said that his question is ultimately how to fix the system. Both were interested in how to better recruit leaders. But it never even came up to ask the question of whether instead of a single leader, such as a President or a Prime Minister, a Federal Council of seven individuals, as exists in Switzerland, was preferable.

Klaas made a distinction between a dysfunctional democracy and a functional democracy. But what alternative democracies are possible never even came up, except for a sortition (lottery) shadow parliament.

Shermer thinks that the United States is a functional democracy. His criterion of a functional democracy seems to be whether there is free and universal mass voting. That’s all. He also was non-critical about promoting liberal democracy around the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan. The fact that both countries were invaded by the United States was — as it were — justified if the US was successful in promoting liberal democracy. And Shermer seems to be ok with the hundreds of US military posts around the world, and proposed that some troops should have remained in Afghanistan.

My impression is that he is playing it politically safe with liberal democracy in having an ongoing popular talk show.

How a student mob took over Evergreen State College in 2017

Bret Weinstein and his wife Heather Heyting after refusing to leave the campus on the controversial “Day of Absence,” resigned with a settlement with Evergreen State College in 2017. Here is a three-part documentary about the affair:

Part 1:Bret Weinstein, Heather Heying & the Evergreen Equity Council

Part 2: Teaching to Transgress

Part 3: The Hunted Individual

After watching the three videos about what happened at Evergreen State College in 2017, I have made the following judgment. Although the focus is on the dismissal of Heather Heyting and Bret Weinstein from the college, it is more like a study of how a mob is allowed to take control of a college.

What Bret Weinstein did at Evergreen by not participating on the “Day of Absence” was equivalent to striking a match in standing conditions which caused the match to burn.

What were these standing conditions? A college is a business enterprise (corporation). It has a board of trustees, a CEO, managers, and workers. And it has a clientele — the students. Everyone who works at the college is relying on their job for a livelihood (self-preservation).

The culmination of a student mob taking over was initiated by the new President, George Bridges, who was hired in 2015. He introduced a policy statement for the college to recognizing a phenomenon called “Racism,” and a school policy formulated by an Equity Council to fight against this Racism. Part of this policy required a contractual yearly written self-evaluation of racism by each white faculty member. There was also a policy of requiring some kind of “equity” justification for hiring new teachers. This policy was voted on openly by the faculty senate. And the majority — probably out of fear for losing their jobs — voted in favor.

As events progressed, it was evident that the white faculty had to submit to the wishes of student mobs. In fact the students were allowed by the President to take control of speech. The main one was a censorship (by booing, disruption, and silencing) as based on the assumption that to criticallly examine racism is Racism. Students were also allowed by the President to take physical control of buildings to the extant that faculty were in effect hostages.

Evergreen also had a tradition of a “The Day of Absence” on which black students and faculty were encouraged not to attend the college. In 2017, this holiday was switched to asking white teachers to absent themselves from the college. One white teacher, Bret Weinstein, refused, and held a class on this day.

A group of students — both students of color and white — confronted him outside his classroom and clamored for his dismissal. And as time progressed, it became something like a lynching mob. And the security personnel were ordered by the the President to stand down. In consequence Bret Weinstein had to go into hiding. And finally a settlement was reached with Bret Weinstein and his wife Heather Heying for their dismissal.

Comment: A school should be a place for the critical examination of everything, including the nature of what is called “racism.” And a critical discussion is not a free for all shouting. There must be some kind of procedural rules. In the case of Evergreen State College, the President made a fundamental mistake of taking an institutional stance against what he understood as “racism.” He further aggravated the situation by letting students control meetings, and not allowing security to intervene when necessary. This breakdown of institutional control has resulted in a drop of student enrollment and the failure of the college to currently find a successor President.

Political Correctness in Academia

Academics — just as policeman, soldiers, politicians — will do whatever it takes to keep their jobs. If they stray, they get fired or are denied tenure, as illustrated below.

I became aware of this censorship in academia by sheer accident in 1973. I was heading towards Key West in my VW camping bus, and on the way I stopped by the University of Florida where I came across a news item that a philosopher was in court fighting his firing. I had forgotten his name, but I do remember that he was a Marxist who spoke his mind in an unvarnished fashion. I stayed to listen to the testimony of the president and others. But I did not stay to find out the outcome of these hearings. But searching the internet, I have found out that the philosopher was Kenneth A. Megill, who appealed a denial of tenure by President Stephen C. O’Connell. I found the following court ruling: Dr. Kenneth A. MEGILL, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. BOARD OF REGENTS OF the STATE OF FLORIDA et al., Defendants-Appellees.

I remember other such cases. The one that sticks in my mind was the dismissal of Saul Kripke. At the time I heard of this, I was — let us say — bewildered: Saul Kripke??? Again, scouring the internet, I found this informative piece: Israel Shenker, “Rockefeller University Hit by Storm Over Tenure,” Sept. 26, 1976. Reading the piece, I discover that a whole group of other eminent philosophers had to find employment elsewhere.

Other cases of professors being fired — the euphemism is non-reappointment — or denied tenure which come to mind, are that of Howard Zinn who was dismissed from Spelman College in 1963 for supporting student protests as an act of insubordination.

The case of Norman Finkelstein was especially disconcerting to me, and I wrote a big analytical piece about it: Norman Finkelstein, DePaul, and U.S. Academia: Reductio Ad Absurdum of Centralized Universities, July 23, 2007.

There is a short clip of me here, identified as Philosophy Teacher, Wright College, Chicago, offering my two bits :

Professor Finkelstein’s DePaul Farwell, Sept. 5. 2007:

Below is a full-documentary about Norman Finkelstein:

American Radical: The trials of Norman Finkelstein [2009]

Ward Churchill, a tenured professor, was fired from the University of Colorado in 2007 on alleged plagiarism charges but really for claiming in an article and a book that the 9/11/2001 attack against the World Trade Center was — to use Chalmers Johnson’s CIA word — a “blowback” for the U.S. policies in the Middle East. Churchill took the wrongfull dismissal case to a court, and won; but was not reinstated. The controversial article was “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,”, Sept. 12, 2001, and the book was On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality, 2003.

Below is Megyn Kelly’s commentary and interview with Ward Churchill in 2014.

There is also the case of David Graeber whose contract was not renewed at Yale. Below is a link to an interview with Graeber about this affair.

Joshua Frank, “David Graeber is Gone: Revisiting His Wrongful Termination from Yale,” Counterpunch, September 4, 2020.

The whole issue of censorship in America has recently been put on film: No Safe Spaces

Criticism of Karl Popper in Broad Strokes

I have unsucessfully tried to understand Karl Popper’s political thinking, so I will try to tell you why I keep failing. Basically, it is because Popper does not seem to realize that analyzing meanings is important because of ambiguity, vagueness, and conflation. So, instead of trying to distill from his writings some distinct position, I will simply juxtapose my position to his murky one.

He is against nationalism. But the word “nationalism” is itself not clear, and he does not clarify it, and uses it as synonymous with an anthropological description of primitive (indigenous) tribes. And he is correct to think of primitive tribes as closed societies, meaning that there is total conformity as to mores and beliefs. And this is well illustrated by the example of Socrates who was killed both for corrupting the youth and for impiety. But he is wrong about modern nation-states. Many tolerated both religious and political criticism.

My understanding of “nationalism” (and this may very well be idiosyncratic to me), is that people speaking a common language want to be autonomous. As far as I am concerned this does not require having an independent State — an anarchistic federation of communities will do; though historically people with a common language have formed States. And it is totally puzzling to me why Popper failed to acknowledge this.

His general objections to social and territorial groupings of people is that these matters are vague with borderline cases. This is true, and there is nothing “natural” about this (as he points out); it is conventional. His objection to a demarcation of people by language is that there are dialects. But with the writing of dictionaries there is a sort of crystallization of languages.

I think that Popper, despite acknowledging that States were formed through conquest, thought that they were necessary, and would have arisen nonetheless for other reasons. And I do not see any criticism in Popper of imperial States, including the Austro-Hungarian Empire into which he was born. He would, I think, accept a constitutional monarchy, as long as there existed a mechanism for removing a tyrant from office.

He believed that the function of a State and even of some international institution, like a League of Nations, was to protect individuals — even within States. His view of the role of government in States is made abundantly clear in his discussion and defense of the position of the ancient Sophist, Lycophron (Open Society 1: pp. 114-17).

I think he lamented the disappearance of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He simply thought that Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria, did not do a good enough job of protecting minorities in his empire.

Political Realism of John Mearsheimer

I have followed the activities of John Measheimer for several years. And although I criticized his views on liberal education, I think his views on international politics are on the mark. [But see my caveats: My criticism of John Mearsheimer and Timothy Snyder for focusing on ideologies rather than the interests of individual leaders]

He is the author of the following six books:

  • Conventional Deterrence, 1983
  • Liddell Hart and the Weight of History, 1988
  • The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, 2001
  • The Israel Lobby, 2007
  • Why Leaders Lie, 2011
  • The Great Delusion, 2018

    Because I am interested in escaping from bullshit, I found his discussion with Vishnu Som on why leaders lie enlightening:

    Also, the following discussion of his book, The Great Delusion, pretty much summarizes Mearsheimer’s views on international affairs:

  • The Odd Conservativism of Karl Popper

    Although Karl Popper was very critical of the totalitarian regimes of Hitler and Stalin, he was also a very strong defender of the imperialistic liberal democracies. Sometimes one’s views are revealed by one’s silence; rather than by one’s explicit statements. In Popper’s case, there are a few pointers as to where he stood.

    Although Popper is in agreement with Marx over the 19th century conditions suffered by workers under capitalism. But he is totally silent on the conditions suffered by people by the European colonization of the world. And he expressed the belief that it was British humanitarian attitudes that led to Britain granting independence to India. To show that I am not exaggerating, here is a quote from his article “The History of Our Time: An Optimist’s View” (1956) [reprinted in his Conjectures and Refutations (1963)]:

    “When Mr Krushchev on his Indian tour indicated British colonialism, he was no doubt convinced of the truth of all he said. I do not know whether he was aware that his accusation were derived, via Lenin, largely from British sources. Had he known it, he would probably have taken it as an additional reason for believing in what he was saying . But he would have been mistaken; for this kind of self-accusation is a peculiarly British virtue as well as a peculiarly British vice. The truth is that the idea of India’s freedom was born in great Britain; as was the general idea of political freedom in modern times. And those Britishers who provided Lenin and Mr Krushchev with their moral ammunition were closely connected, or even identical, with those Britishers who gave India the idea of freedom.”

    Since Popper wrote this in 1956, surely he must have known of the Jallianwals Bagh massacre in Amritsar, India in 1919. It was this and not abstract defense of freedom which caused Indians to rebel and Britain to concede.

    Popper was against nationalism and the Wilsonian declaration for the right of self-determination.

    “But the nationalist faith is equally absurd. I am not alluding here to Hitler’s racial myth. What I have in mind is, rather, an alleged natural right of man — the alleged right of a nation to self-determination. That even a great humanitarian and liberal like Masaryk could uphold this absurdity as one of the natural rights is a sobering thought. It suffices to shake one’s faith in the wisdom of philosopher kings, and it should be contemplated by all who think that we are clever but wicked rather than good but stupid. For the utter absurdity of the principle of national self-determination must be plain to anybody who devotes a moment’s effort to criticizing it. The principle amount to the demand that each state should be a nation-state: that it should be confined within a natural border, and that this border should coincide with the location of an ethnic group; so that it should be the ethnic group, the ‘nations’, which should determine and protect the natural limits of the state.” [same source]

    When someone resorts to calling something “absurd” without an argument, critical rationalism has gone by the wayside.


    See also: Centralization of power is not beneficial to ordinary people; it is bullshit.

    Recently I came across a Ph.D. dissertation which squarely faces this issue: Craig Willkie, Open Nationalism: Reconciling Popper’s Open Society and the Nation State, University of Edinburgh, 2009.

    See also: Andrew Vincent, “Popper and Nationalism,” in Karl Popper —A Centenary Assessment, Jarvie, Milford & Miller (eds), Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006.

    Dangers of Human Overpopulation

    Ever since Thomas Malthus, we know that population growth is exponential, while the source of food from using the land is arithmetic. At the site worldmeter, it is reported that the world population in 1800 was 1 billion, in 1930 it became 2 billion, in 1974 it became 4 billion. Currently in 2021, it is nearly 7.9 billion.

    The main and imminent danger from overpopulation and its effects is the destruction of the ecosystem. This means a disruption of climate, sea rises, pollution, species extinction.

    Another effect is a depletion of resources — primarily food and water. And, as Jared Diamond noticed, the killings in Rwanda were not just due to ethnic hatred, but also due to a scarcity of subsistence land. [See, Jared Diamond, “Malthus in Africa: Rwanda’s Genocide,” Collapse, 2005]

    Adding overpopulation and scarcity of resources to war and violence, the result is massive migrations of people into Europe and into the United States.

    Today, on facebook, I was reminded of experiments done with mice and rats in overpopulated conditions (with adequate food and water) on behavior patterns which lead to extinction. I remember reading in the Scientific American in 1962, John Calhoun’s article “Population Density and Social Pathology.”

    The one that today caught my attention is the experiment of John B. Calhoun; variously called “mouse utopia,” “behavioral sink,” and “universe 25.” Here is the account of the experiment:

    See also: What Humans Can Learn from Calhoun’s Rodent Utopia