As Western Civilization Lies Dying
By John Kozy
URL of this article: www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=21244
Global Research, September 29, 2010
The Western commercial system exists to extract more from consumers than it supplies in products and services. Its goal is profit and has never been to improve the human condition but to exploit it. When governments institutionalize this system, they place their nations on suicidal paths, because as Jefferson recognized, "Merchants have no country." It is not terrorism that threatens the security of the Western World, it is the Western World's commercial system.
A man suffering from severe chest pains collapses. His wife calls 911. An ambulance arrives, the EMTs treat the patient, place him in the ambulance's bed, and start off to the hospital. Along the way, the engine stalls. The ambulance's staff begins arguing about how to get the motor restarted. one says more gasoline is needed, another says there's water in the tank, a third says the fuel filter is clogged. While they argue, the patient lies dying.
This situation is analogous to what's happening in America and parts of Europe. While economists and politicians argue, their nations are in the throes of death. These people are looking for the devil in the details, but he is not there. It's the system itself that’s diabolical.
The Western commercial system is extractive. It exists to extract more from consumers than it supplies in products and services. Its goal is profit, and profit literally means to make more (pro-ficere). Its goal has never been to improve the human condition but to exploit it. It works like this:
Consider two water tanks, initially each partially full, one above the other. one gallon of water is dumped from the upper tank into the lower one for each two gallons extracted from the lower tank and pumped into the upper tank. Over time, the lower tank ends up empty and the upper tank ends up full. The circulation of water between the tanks ends.
Essentially, this scenario describes all commercial systems based on profit. It is why the top 20 percent of Americans has 93 percent of the nation's financial wealth and the bottom 80 percent has a mere seven percent. It is why the bottom 40 percent of all income earners in the United States now collectively own less than one percent of the nation’s wealth. It is why the nation's poverty rate is now14.3 percent, about 43.6 million people or one in seven. It is also why the Wall Street Journal has reported that 70 percent of people in North America live paycheck to paycheck. It is also why, despite numerous pledges over decades, no progress has been made in reducing world-wide poverty. The system is a thief.
The economy has collapsed not because of misfeasance, deregulation, or political bungling (although all may have been proximate causes), it has collapsed because the pockets of the vast majority of Americans have been picked. The housing bubble didn't burst because home prices had risen, it burst because the pockets of consumers had been picked so clean they could no longer service their mortgages.
What the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans don't realize is that some in this group will begin to target the others in order to keep the extractive process working. In fact, it's already happening. "The brute force of the recession earlier this year turned back the clock on Americans' personal wealth to 2004 and wiped out a staggering $1.3 trillion as home values shrank and investments withered." Little of this loss from investments was suffered by the lower 80 percent of Americans. There is, after all, no goodwill within greed, and the market can be and often is manipulated.
The "system" has impoverished the people, the circulation between the two tanks has been reduced to a trickle, and our economists have convinced the government that the only way to get things flowing again is to pour more water into the upper tank, hoping that the spillover will settle in the lower tank.
Better to pray for rain!
This impoverishment has numerous mathematically certain implications; two major ones follow.
First, the system can't be fixed by tinkering with the details. At best, tinkering with the details can merely slow down the depletion of consumer wealth. As long as the system is based on profit, more must be taken than is given. The rate of depletion can be changed, but the depletion cannot be stopped. This conclusion is as mathematically certain as subtraction. Why the geniuses in the American economics community, all who whom taut economics for its use of mathematical models, cannot understand this is a conundrum. They can tinker as much as they like. Some tinkering will produce apparent benefits, some won't. But one thing is certain—the system, unless it is fundamentally and essentially changed—will break down over and over again just as it has at fairly regularly intervals in the past. As long as maintaining the system is more important that the welfare of people, the people have no escape. They are eventually impoverished—both when the system works and when it doesn't! Two thousand years of history has produced not a single counterexample to this conclusion. Prosperity never results from exploitation.
Another implication that few seem to recognize concerns the national debt.
We are told that the burden of paying off the debt will be borne by our progeny, our children, and their children. But unless the Western commercial system undergoes fundamental changes, the children and grand children of most Americans will never have to bear this burden. Why? Not even governments can pick empty pockets. So if the debt is to be paid by raising taxes, the children and grandchildren of that 20 percent of Americans who hold 93 percent of the nation's financial wealth will have to pay them. Most, if not all, of these people are also investors. Given the acrimonious debate about letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire, the chances of that ever happening are slim to none.
Will the debt then be paid by devaluing the dollar, by printing money? Many believe that the government will eventually take this alternative. Let's say it does. Then all the dollars held by anyone anywhere will be devalued equally, including the dollars held by that same 20 percent of Americans. Again the wealthy 20 percent of Americans, having the most, lose the most. The devalued dollars they collect on their investments are merely added to their other devalued dollars, and the more the dollar must be devalued to repay the debt, the more the wealthy lose.
And finally, will the government default? Most seem to believe this to be unlikely. Perhaps, but isn't it the best alternative? Investors will simply not be paid, but the rest of their money will retain its value unless other economic consequences reduce it. Even Morgan Stanley recognizes that "the sovereign debt crisis won't end till deeply indebted rich country governments give holders of their bonds a good soaking."
So relax, Americans, your children will never bear the burden of paying off the national debt. Just sit back and enjoy watching the wealthy squirm.
Some say that if the nation defaults, the government will be unable to borrow. But other governments have defaulted without losing their ability to borrow. Russia, Argentina, and Zimbabwe are but recent examples. Of course, there are severe economic consequences to defaulting, but there are severe consequences to each of these alternatives too. How much harder can life be for the 80 percent of Americans holding a mere seven percent of the nation's wealth? There are, after all, no degrees of broke; no broke, broker, and brokest.
Will investors refuse to lend? Doubtful. A wealthy person can do four things with money: give it away, spend it, stuff it under the mattress, or invest it. Those are the only alternatives, and it is unlikely that much of it can be spent or that many will have the inclination to give it away or save it. So the wealthy really lack a great deal of choice.
Finally, a hidden principle underlies this extractive system—It is okay for some to enrich themselves by making others poor. Even though this is exactly what thieves do, no one, to my knowledge, has ever pointed out that this principle is immoral. It appears to be accepted universally as economically acceptable. But consider these two similar principles: (1) It is okay for some to improve their health by making others unhealthy, and (2) It okay for some to avoid the consequences of their criminal acts by making others bear them. No one would consider the last of these right, yet all three are logically and materially identical.
Some may claim that without profit, no commercial system can function effectively. If true, the implications for humanity are horrific. It implies that mankind was made in Satin's image, that the Commandments, especially the tenth, are fraudulent, that all the philosophy and literature that defines Western Civilization are nugatory, that no essential distinction exists between so-called civilized and barbaric nations, that all governments are illegitimate, that words like justice and fairness are meaningless, that the law is lawless, that society disintegrates into nociety, and that nothing really matters. The economy is Bedlam, the Earth is the Universe's Insane Asylum, and the craziest are in charge. What kind of human mind would ever attempt to defend this abomination?
This Western commercial system exists merely to enrich vendors by exploiting consumers. When governments institutionalize this system, they place their nations on suicidal paths. Astute observers of history have long recognized what Thomas Jefferson made explicit—"Merchants have no country." Oh, yes! These merchants will object vehemently. Pay no attention. Just watch what they do.
They expect favorable treatment and services from governments but do everything possible to keep from paying for them in taxes and exhibit no concern whenever their native lands face bankruptcy. When their native lands face stress, as in times of war, the people are called upon to sacrifice while the merchants are allowed to profiteer. When John F. Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country," he was not speaking to corporate America. Does any reader of this piece really believe that the makers of Humvees, drones, and F16s would ever consider supplying them to our military at cost? Yet how great is the cost of the sacrifice parents are asked to make by sending their children off to fight hideous wars?
People, a merchant unwilling to sacrifice for his country has no country, he will support no country, defend no country, and if such people are given control of a nation, they will suck its blood dry and sell off the body parts to the highest bidder. Not even a recognizable corpse will remain. It is not terrorism that threatens the security of the Western World, it is the Western World's commercial system.
John Kozy is a retired professor of philosophy and logic who writes on social, political, and economic issues. After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, he spent 20 years as a university professor and another 20 years working as a writer. He has published a textbook in formal logic commercially, in academic journals and a small number of commercial magazines, and has written a number of guest editorials for newspapers. His on-line pieces can be found on http://www.jkozy.com/ and he can be emailed from that site's homepage
The Imminent Collapse of Industrial Society
By Peter Goodchild
09 May, 2010
The collapse of modern industrial society has 14 parts, each with a somewhat causal relationship to the next. (1) Fossil fuels, (2) metals, and (3) electricity are a tightly-knit group, and no industrial civilization can have one without the others. The decline in fossil-fuel production is the most critical aspect of the collapse, and most of the following text will be devoted to that topic. As those three disappear, (4) food and (5) fresh water become scarce; grain and wild fish supplies per capita have been declining for years, water tables are falling everywhere, rivers are not reaching the sea. Matters of infrastructure then follow: (6) transportation and (7) communication ? no paved roads, no telephones, no computers. After that, the social structure begins to fail: (8) government, (9) education, and (10) the large-scale division of labor that makes complex technology possible.
After these 10 parts, however, there are four others that form a separate layer, in some respects more psychological or sociological. We might call these “the four Cs.” The first three are (11) crime, (12) cults, and (13) craziness ? the breakdown of traditional law; the ascendance of dogmas based on superstition, ignorance, cruelty, and intolerance; the overall tendency toward anti-intellectualism; and the inability to distinguish mental health from mental illness. There is also a final and more general part that is (14) chaos, resulting in the pervasive sense that “nothing works any more.”
These are cascading dominoes; all parts of the collapse have more to do with causality than with chronology, although there is no great distinction to be made between the two. If we look at matters from a more purely chronological viewpoint, however, we can say that there is a clear division into two time periods, two phases. The first phase will be merely economic hardship, and the second will be entropy. In the first phase the major issues will be inflation, unemployment, and the stock market. The second phase will be characterized by the disappearance of money, law, and government. In more pragmatic terms, we can say that the second phase will begin when money is no longer accepted as a means of exchange.
Modern industrial society is composed of a triad of fossil fuels, metals, and electricity. The three are intricately connected. Electricity, for example, can be generated on a global scale only with fossil fuels. The same dependence on fossil fuels is true of metals; in fact the better types of ore are now becoming depleted, while those that remain can be processed only with modern machinery and require more fossil fuels for smelting. In turn, without metals and electricity there will be no means of extracting and processing fossil fuels. Of the three members of the triad, electricity is the most fragile, and its failure will serve as an early warning of trouble with the other two. [Duncan (a), (b)]
Often the interactions of this triad are hiding in plain sight. Global production of steel, for example, requires 420 million tonnes of coke (from coal) annually, as well as other fossil fuels adding up to an equivalent of another 100 million tonnes. [Smil] To maintain industrial society, the production of steel cannot be curtailed: there are no “green” materials for the construction of skyscrapers, large bridges, automobiles, machinery, or tools.
But the interconnections among fossil fuels, metals, and electricity are innumerable. As each of the three members of the triad threatens to break down, we are looking at a society that is far more primitive than the one to which we have been accustomed.
The entire world's economy is ultimately based on oil and other hydrocarbons. These provide fuel, fertilizer, pesticides, lubricants, plastic, paint, synthetic fabrics, asphalt, pharmaceuticals, and many other things. on a more abstract level, we are dependent on hydrocarbons for manufacturing, for transportation, for agriculture, for mining, and for electricity.
Oil is the lifeblood of our civilization. Even a bicycle, that ultimate symbol of an “alternate lifestyle,” requires oil for lubrication, for paint, and for plastic components. The vehicle that delivers the bicycle runs on oil, over asphalt that is a form of oil. “Rubber” tires are often made of oil.
Oil is everything: that is to say, everything in the modern world is dependent on oil. As the oil disappears, our entire industrial society will go with it. There will be no means of supporting the billions of people who now live on this planet. Above all, there will be insufficient food, and the result will be terrible famine.
A good deal of debate has gone on about “peak oil,” the date at which the world's annual oil production will reach (or did reach) its maximum and will begin (or did begin) to decline. The exact numbers are unobtainable, mainly because individual countries give rather inexact figures on their remaining supplies. The situation can perhaps be summarized by saying that at least 20 or 30 major studies have been done, and the consensus is that the peak is somewhere between the years 2000 and 2020. Within that period, a middle date seems rather more likely. [Campbell (a), (b); Gever; Simmons; Youngquist (a), (b)]
One reasonable description of past and future global oil production is Campbell and Laherrére's 1998 Scientific American article, “The End of Cheap Oil,” which serves as a sort of locus classicus . Their main chart seems to indicate an annual rate of increase of about 4 percent from the year 1930 to 2000, and an annual rate of post-peak decline of slightly over 3 percent, which would mean that around 2030 oil production will be down to about half of the peak amount. [Campbell and Laherrère] The chart is based partly on the bell-shaped curves that M. King Hubbert used in the 1950s when making accurate predictions of American and global oil decline. [Hubbert]
More-recent predictions of the annual rate of post-peak decline tend to range from about 4 to 9 percent. [Foucher, Höök, Poston] Starting at a peak of 30 billion barrels in 2010, a decline of 9 percent would mean dropping to half of that amount in 7 years ? hardly enough time to blink. The most likely figure might be 6 percent, and even that is ominous, resulting in a fall to half of peak production in 11 years. These predictions of larger decline rates take into consideration the fact that advanced technology is used to maximize productivity, which in turn has the ironic result that when the decline actually occurs it is swift. It is not the gentle slope depicted in Campbell and Laherrére's article, but something that looks more like a cliff.
From a broader perspective it can be said that, as oil declines, more energy and money must be devoted to getting the less-accessible and lower-quality oil out of the ground. [Gever] In turn, as more energy and money are devoted to oil production, the production of metals and electricity becomes more difficult. one problem feeds on another. The issue can also be described in terms of money alone: when oil production costs about 5 percent of the economy, the latter begins a downward spiral. [Lardelli]
It should also be mentioned that the above-mentioned quest for the date of peak oil is in some respects a red herring. In terms of daily life, it is important to consider not only peak oil in the absolute sense, but peak oil per capita. The date of the latter was 1979, when there were 5.5 barrels of oil per person annually, as opposed to 4.5 in 2007. [BP]
In 1850, before commercial production began, there were about 2 trillion barrels of oil in the ground. By about the year 2010, half of that oil had been consumed, so about 1 trillion barrels remain ? which may sound like a lot, but isn't. At the moment about 30 billion barrels of oil are consumed annually, and that is probably close to the maximum that will ever be possible. When newspapers announce the discovery of a deposit of a billion barrels, readers are no doubt amazed, but they are not told that such a find is only two weeks' supply.
As the years go by, new oil wells have to be drilled deeper than the old, because newly discovered deposits are deeper. Those new deposits are therefore less accessible. But oil is used as a fuel for the machinery and for the exploration. When it takes an entire barrel of oil to get one barrel of oil out of the ground, as is increasingly the case with new wells, it is a waste of time to continue drilling.
The problem of the world's diminishing supply of oil is a problem of energy, not a problem of money. The old bromide that “higher prices will eventually make [e.g.] shale oil economically feasible” is meaningless. This planet has only a finite amount of fossil fuel. That fuel is starting to vanish, and “higher prices” will be quite unable to stop the event from taking place.
Much of modern warfare is about oil, in spite of all the pious and hypocritical rhetoric about “the forces of good” and “the forces of evil.” [Klare] The real “forces” are those trying to control the oil wells and the fragile pipelines that carry that oil. A map of recent American military ventures is a map of petroleum deposits. When the oil wars began is largely a matter of definition, though perhaps 1973 would be a usable date, when the Yom Kippur War — or, to speak more truthfully, the vulnerability resulting from the decline in American domestic oil — led to the OPEC oil embargo.
Coal and natural gas are also disappearing. Coal will be available for a while after oil is gone, although previous reports of its abundance in the US were highly exaggerated. [Rebecca Smith] Coal, however, is highly polluting and cannot be used as a fuel for most forms of transportation; the last industrial society will be a bizarre, crowded, dirty, impoverished world. Natural gas is not easily transported, and it is not suitable for most equipment.
The problem of the loss of fossil fuels will, of course, be received in the same manner as other large-scale disasters: widespread denial, followed by a rather catatonic apathy. The centuries will pass, and a day will come when, like the early Anglo-Saxons, people will look around at the scattered stones and regard them as “the work of giants.”
Global Energy and Electricity
Global production of energy for the year 2005 was about 500 exajoules (EJ), most of which was supplied by fo ssil fuels. This annual production of energy can also be expressed in terms of billion barrels of oil equivalent (bboe) [BP; Duncan (a), (b); EIA (c)] In 1990 this was 59.3 bboe and in 2005 it was 79.3, an increase of 34 percent.
However, the use of electricity worldwide rose from 11,865.4 terawatt-hours in 1990 to 18,301.8 in 2005 [BP], an increase of 54 percent. Since the use of electricity is rising much more quickly than the production of energy, it is uncertain whether in the future there will be sufficient energy to meet the demand for electricity. If not, there could be widespread brownouts and rolling blackouts. [Duncan (a), (b)] When electricity starts to go, so will everything else.
Alternative sources of energy will never be very useful, for several reasons, but mainly because of a problem of “net energy”: the amount of energy output is not sufficiently greater than the amount of energy input. [Gever] With the problematic exception of uranium, alternative sources ultimately don't have enough “bang” to replace 30 billion annual barrels of oil ? or even to replace more than the tiniest fraction of that amount.
At the same time, alternative forms of energy are so dependent on the very petroleum that they are intended to replace that the use of them is largely self-defeating and irrational. Petroleum is required to extract, process, and transport almost any other form of energy; a coal mine is not operated by coal-powered equipment. It takes “oil energy” to make “alternative energy.”
The use of unconventional oil (shale deposits, tar sands, heavy oil) poses several problems besides that of net energy. Large quantities of conventional oil are needed to process the oil from these unconventional sources, so net energy recovery is low. The pollution problems are considerable, and it is not certain how much environmental damage the human race is willing to endure. With unconventional oil we are, quite literally, scraping the bottom of the barrel.
More-exotic forms of alternative energy are plagued with even greater problems. Fuel cells cannot be made practical, because such devices require hydrogen derived from fossil fuels (coal or natural gas), if we exclude designs that will never escape the realm of science fiction; if fuel cells ever became popular, the fossil fuels they require would then be consumed even faster than they are now. Biomass energy (from corn, for example) requires impossibly large amounts of land and still results in insufficient quantities of net energy, perhaps even negative quantities. Hydroelectric dams are reaching their practical limits. Wind and geothermal power are only effective in certain areas and for certain purposes.
Nuclear power presents significant environmental dangers, but the biggest constraints involve the addition of new reactor capacity and the supply of uranium. Peak production of uranium ore in the United States was in 1980. Mainly because the US was the world's largest producer, the peak of global production was at approximately the same date. [Energy Watch Group, Storm van Leeuwen] Statements that uranium ore is abundant are based on the falsehood that all forms of uranium ore are usable. In reality, only high-quality ore serves any purpose, whereas low-quality ore presents the unsolvable problem of negative net energy: the mining and milling of such ore requires more energy than is derived from the actual use of the ore in a reactor. The world's usable uranium ore will probably be finished by about 2030, and there is no evidence for the existence of large new deposits of rich ore. Claims of abundant uranium are generally made by industry spokespersons whose positions are far from neutral, who have in fact a vested interest in presenting nuclear energy as a viable option. [Storm van Leeuwen] one must also beware, of course, of the myth that “higher prices” will make low-grade resources of any sort feasible: when net energy is negative, even an infinitely higher price will not change the balance. For all practical purposes, the nuclear industry will come to an end in a matter of decades, not centuries.
The current favorite for alternative energy is solar power, but proponents must close their eyes to all questions of scale. The world's deserts have an area of 36 million km 2 , and the solar energy they receive annually is 300,000 EJ, which at a typical 11-percent electrical-conversion rate would result in 33,000 EJ. [Knies] As noted above, annual global energy consumption in 2005 was approximately 500 EJ. To meet the world's present energy needs by using solar power, then, we would need an array (or an equivalent number of smaller ones) with a size of 500/33,000 x 36 million km 2 , which is about 550,000 km 2 ? a machine the size of France. The production and maintenance of this array would require vast quantities of hydrocarbons, metals, and other materials ? a self-defeating process. Solar power will therefore do little to solve the world's energy problems.
The Problem of Infrastructure
Most schemes for a post-oil technology are based on the misconception that there will be a technological infrastructure for such future gadgetry, similar to that of the present day. Modern equipment is dependent on specific methods of manufacture, transportation, maintenance, and repair. In less abstract terms, this means machinery, motorized vehicles, and service depots or shops, all of which are generally run by fossil fuels. In addition, one unconsciously assumes the presence of electricity, which energizes the various communications devices, such as telephones and computers; electricity on such a large scale is only possible with fossil fuels.
To believe that a non-petroleum infrastructure is possible, one would have to imagine, for example, solar-powered machines creating equipment for the production and storage of electricity by means of solar energy. This equipment would then be loaded on to solar-powered trucks, driven to various locations, and installed with other solar-powered devices, and so on, ad absurdum and ad infinitum. Such a scenario might provide material for a work of science fiction, but not for genuine science.
The technological infrastructure will no longer be in place: oil, electricity, and asphalt roads, for example. Partly for that reason, the social structure will also no longer be in place. Without the technological infrastructure and the social structure, it will be impossible to produce the familiar goods of industrial society.
Without fossil fuels, the most that is possible is a pre-industrial infrastructure, although one must still ignore the fact that the pre-industrial world did not fall from the sky as a prefabricated structure but took uncountable generations of human ingenuity to develop. The pre-industrial world also did not include feeding 7 billion people. For both reasons, we cannot suddenly step back into Jane Austen's day, when the population was a mere billion. The next problem is that a pre-industrial blacksmith was adept at making horseshoes, but not at making or repairing solar-energy systems; those who expect to conquer the future with space-age technology will have to pray that nothing goes wrong with toys that were invented at a time of abundant petroleum and the machinery that went with it.
Global depletion of minerals other than petroleum and uranium is somewhat difficult to determine, partly because recycling complicates the issues, partly because trade goes on in all directions, and partly because one material can sometimes be replaced by another. Figures from the US Geological Survey, however, indicate that within the US most types of minerals are past their peak dates of production. Besides oil, these include bauxite (peaking in 1943), copper (1998), iron ore (1951), magnesium (1966), phosphate rock (1980), potash (1967), rare earth metals (1984), tin (1945), titanium (1964), and zinc (1969). [USGS] The depletion of all minerals in the US continues swiftly in spite of recycling. Rare-earth minerals pose a special problem because so much of the more-advanced technology is dependent on them, and because nearly all of them now come from China. [Adams]
Iron ore may seem infinitely abundant, but it is not. In the past it was ores such as natural hematite (Fe 2 O 3 ) that were being mined. For thousands of years, also, tools were produced by smelting bog iron, mainly goethite, FeO(OH), in clay cylinders only a meter or so in height. Modern mining must rely more heavily on taconite, a flint-like ore containing less than 30 percent magnetite and hematite. [Gever] Iron ore of the sort that can be processed with primitive equipment is becoming scarce, in other words, and only the less-tractable forms such as taconite will be available when the oil-powered machinery has disappeared — a chicken-and-egg problem. With the types of iron ore used in the past, it would have been possible to reproduce at least the medieval level of blacksmithing in future ages. With taconite it will not.
Annual world production of grain per capita peaked in 1984 at 342 kg. [Earth Policy (a)] For years production has not met demand, so carryover stocks must fill the gap, now leaving less than two months' supply as a buffer. Rising temperatures and falling water tables are causing havoc in grain harvests everywhere, but the biggest dent is caused by the bio-fuel industry, which is growing at over 20 percent per year. In 2007, 88 million tons of US corn, a quarter of the entire US harvest, were turned into automotive fuel.
The world catch of wild fish per capita peaked in 1988 at 17 kg; by 2005 it was down to 14 kg. [Earth Policy (b)] The fishing industry sends out 4 million vessels to catch wild fish, but stocks of the larger species are falling rapidly, so the industry works its way steadily down the food chain. Janet Larsen notes in particular that “over the past 50 years, the number of large predatory fish in the oceans has dropped by a startling 90 percent. Catches of many popular food fish such as cod, tuna, flounder, and hake have been cut in half despite a tripling in fishing effort.”
The losses in the production of wild fish are made up by aquaculture (fish farming), but aquaculture causes its own problems: inshore fish farms entail the destruction of wetlands, spread diseases, and deplete oxygen. Although her study is otherwise excellent, Larsen omits the fact that millions of tonnes of other fish must be turned into food every year for use in aquaculture. The FAO, with its usual pro-industry stance, labels these as “low-value/trash fish.” [UN Food and Agricultural Organization]
Fresh water is declining in many countries around the world, particularly Mexico, the western US, North Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, India, China, and Australia. If a population crash does not occur in the next few years, by the year 2025 about 2 billion people will be living with extreme water scarcity, and about two-thirds of the world will be facing water shortages to some extent. [UN Environment Program] In Saudi Arabia and the adjacent countries from Syria to Oman, the annual water supply per capita fell from 1,700 m 3 to 907 m 3 between 1985 and 2005. In the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, most fresh water is supplied by desalination plants.
The diversion of water for agriculture and municipal use, combined with the effects of global warming, is causing rivers to run dry. The Colorado, the Ganges, the Nile, and the Indus are now all dry for at least part of the year before they reach the sea. In previous years, this was also true of China 's Yellow River ; whether better management will prevail remains to be seen. The Amu Darya, once the largest river flowing into the Aral Sea, now runs dry as its water is diverted for the cultivation of cotton. [Mygatt]
Most countries with water shortages are pumping at rates that cannot be maintained. The shallower aquifers could be replenished if pumping were reduced, but the deeper “fossil” aquifers cannot be rejuvenated when their levels are allowed to fall. Among the latter are the US Ogallala aquifer, the Saudi aquifer, and the deeper aquifer of the North China Plain. [Brown]
Agriculture uses more than 70 percent of the world's fresh water and is mainly responsible for the depletion of aquifers of both types. [UN Environment Program] World grain harvests tripled between 1950 and 2000, but only with increases in irrigation. The US depends on irrigation for a fifth of its grain production; in parts of the grain-producing states of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas the water table has fallen more than 30 meters, and thousands of wells have gone dry. [Brown] The situation is worse in China, where four-fifths of the grain harvest depends on irrigation. The fossil aquifer of the North China Plain maintains half of China's wheat production and a third of its corn. As a result of the depletion of water, Chinese annual grain production has been in decline since 1998.
All this excess use of water is leading to political strife. While the seas have long been generally subject to international laws, it is only in recent decades that there have been major international problems with the world's fresh water. Because of falling water levels, new wells are drilled to greater depths than the old, with the result that the owners of the old wells are left without water. The result is a cycle of competition in which no one wins.
A similar competition exists with the world's rivers. Sixty percent of the world's 227 largest rivers have numerous dams and canals, and there are not many other rivers that are free from such obstructions. [UN Environment Program] Most countries sharing a large river with others are in the midst of violent struggle or about to become so. For example, India's Farakka Barrage, completed in 1975, diverts water from the Ganges into its Indian tributary, thereby depriving Bangladesh of water. [Dan Smith] Egypt and Sudan signed a treaty in 1959 allocating 75 percent of the Nile's water to the former and the remainder to Sudan , with no provisions for the other countries through which the river flows, and Egypt has threatened military action against any of those countries if their irrigation projects reduce the flow. [Elhadj]
It is not only military strength that settles issues of water distribution: countries with more water can produce more grain and thus influence the economies of less fortunate countries. It takes a thousand tonnes of water to produce a tonne of grain. In the short term it may therefore seem more sensible for water-poor countries to stop depleting their water by producing grain, and instead buying it from water-rich countries. [Brown, UN Environment Program] Between 1984 and 2000, at a cost of about $100 billion, Saudi Arabia foolishly tried to produce its own grain but then gave up and switched to importing it. Buying grain has its own negative side-effects, however, in terms of national security, foreign exchange, and lost local employment. [Elhadj] The biggest question of national security may be: What will happen when the grain-exporting countries themselves start running out of both grain and water?
With “low technology,” i.e. technology that does not use fossil fuels, crop yields diminish considerably. David Pimentel explains that the production of so-called field or grain corn (maize) without irrigation or mechanized agriculture is only about 2,000 kilograms per hectare. That is less than a third of the yield that a farmer would get with modern machinery and chemical fertilizer. [Pimentel; Pimentel and Hall; David Pimentel and Marcia H. Pimentel]
Yields for corn provide a handy baseline for other studies of population and food supply. At the same time, corn is an ideal crop for study because of its superiority to others: it is one of the most useful grains for supporting human life. For the native people of the Americas, it was an important crop for thousands of years. [Weatherwax] Corn is high-yielding and needs little in the way of equipment, and the more ancient varieties are largely trouble-free in terms of diseases, pests, and soil depletion. If it can't be done with corn, it can't be done with anything. Of course, in reality no one would live entirely on corn; the figures here serve merely as a basis of comparison with other crops in a mixed diet.
A hard-working (i.e. farming) adult burns about 1 million kilocalories (“calories”) per year. The food energy from a hectare of corn grown with “low technology” is about 9 million kilocalories. [Pimentel] Under primitive conditions, then, 1 hectare of corn would support only 9 people.
Even those figures are rather idealistic. We are assuming that people will follow a largely vegetarian diet; if not, they will need even more land. We need to allow for fallow land, cover crops, and green manure, for inevitable inequities in distribution, and for other uses of the land. We must account for any rise in population. Finally, most other crops require more land than corn in order to produce the same yield. on a global scale, a far more realistic ratio would be 4 people to each hectare of arable land.
The average American house lot is about a tenth of a hectare, including the land the house is sitting on. Those who expect to get by with “victory gardens” are unaware of the arithmetic involved. Perhaps some of the misunderstanding is due to the misconception that humans live on “vegetables” in the narrow sense of the word (e.g., in the sense of “green vegetables”). In reality, it is not “vegetables” but grains that are the foundation of human diet. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors took various species of grass and converted them into the plants on which human life now depends. Wheat, rice, corn, barley, rye, oats, sorghum, millet — these are the grasses people eat every day. It is members of the grass family that are used in raising the pigs and cows that are killed as other food. A diet of green vegetables would be slow starvation; it is grains that supply the thousands of kilocalories that keep us alive from day to day.
In the entire world there are 15,749,300 km 2 of arable land. [CIA] This is 11 percent of the world's total land area. The present world population (in 2010) is about 6.9 billion. Dividing the figure for population by that for arable land, we see that there are about 440 people per km 2 of arable land. on a smaller scale that means about 4 people per hectare. only about a third of the world's 200-odd countries are actually within that realistic ratio of 4:1. In other words, we have already reached the limits of the number of people who can be supported by non-mechanized agriculture.
The UK, for example, has a population-to-arable ratio of slightly more than 10 people per hectare. What exactly is going to happen to the 6 people who will not fit onto the hectare? But many countries have far worse ratios.
The world's population went from about 1.7 billion in 1900 to 2.5 in 1950, to nearly 7 billion in 2010. It has been said that without fossil fuels the population must drop to about 2 or 3 billion. [Youngquist (a)] The above figures on arable land indicate that in terms of agriculture alone we would not be able to accommodate the present number of people.
Another calculation about future population can be made by looking more closely at the rise and fall of oil production. The rapid increase in population over the last hundred years is not merely coincident with the rapid increase in oil production. It is the latter that has actually allowed (the word “caused” might be too strong) the former: that is to say, oil has been the main source of energy within industrial society. It is only with abundant oil that a large population is possible. It was industrialization, improved agriculture, improved medicine, the expansion of humanity into the Americas, and so on, that first created the modern rise in population, but it was oil in particular that made it possible for human population to grow as fast as it has been doing. [Catton] If oil production drops to half its peak amount, world population must also drop by half.
Of course, this calculation of population on the basis of oil is largely the converse of the calculation on the basis of arable land, since in industrial society the amount of farm production is mainly a reflection of the amount of available oil.
If we look further into the future, we see an even smaller number for human population, still using previous ratios of oil to population as the basis for our figures. But the world a hundred years from now might not be a mirror image of the world of a hundred years in the past. The general depletion of resources might cause such damage to the structure of society that government, education, and intricate division of labor will no longer exist. In a milieu of social chaos, what are the chances that the oil industry will be using extremely advanced technology to extract the last drops of oil? Even then we have not factored in war, epidemics, and other aspects of social breakdown. The figure of 2 to 3 billion may be wildly optimistic.
Overpopulation is the overwhelming ultimate cause of systemic collapse. All of the flash-in-the-pan ideas that are presented as solutions to the modern dilemma — solar power, ethanol, hybrid cars, desalination, permaculture — have value only as desperate attempts to solve an underlying problem that has never been addressed in a more direct manner. American foreign aid has always included only trivial amounts for family planning [Spiedel]; the most powerful country in the world has done very little to solve the biggest problem in the world.
The reasons for this evasion of responsibility are many, including the influence of certain religious groups with the misnomer of “pro-life”; the left-wing reluctance to point a finger at poor people, immigrants, or particular ethnic groups; the right-wing reluctance to lose an ever-expanding source of cheap labor (and a growing consumer market); and the politicians' reluctance to lose votes in any direction. [Kolankiewicz]
Overpopulation can also be seen in terms of the distribution of resources: there is some validity to the argument that imposing family planning on poor countries is unfair if rich countries consume far more resources per capita. That argument, however, can be countered by the statement that overpopulation in one country leads to immigration, which in turn leads to overpopulation in another country; the onus of responsibility therefore lies on poor countries, not rich ones. It is also countered by the simple statement that people should not have children if they have no means of feeding them. And in any case, spreading the misery out universally can hardly be considered a solution, no matter how anyone tries to juggle the figures.
Overpopulation can always be passed off as somebody else's problem. It is the fundamental case of what Garrett Hardin calls “the tragedy of the commons” [Hardin (a), (b)]: although every oversize family knows the world will suffer slightly from that fecundity, no family wants to lose out by being the first to back down. Without a central governing body that is both strong and honest, however, the evasion is perpetual, and it is that very lack of strength and honesty that makes traditional democracy an anachronism. For all that might be said against their politics and economics, it is the Chinese who have made the greatest effort at dealing with excess numbers, although even their efforts can hardly be considered a success.
Discussion of overpopulation is the Great Taboo. Politicians will rarely touch the issue, although we no longer hold our breaths waiting for such people to speak the truth about anything. Even the many documents of the United Nations merely sidestep the issue by discussing how to cater to large populations, in spite of the fact that such catering is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
To speak against overpopulation is an exercise in futility. How likely is it that the required massive change in human thinking will ever take place? For such a thing to happen, it would be necessary for a large percentage of the human race to become literate, to read books, and to understand difficult scientific abstractions, scholarly entanglements which are neither comic nor tragic but simply unpropitious. Yet that is precisely the opposite of how most people behave. To broach the topic of overpopulation is only to invite charges of racism and elitism. Instead of dreaming of ways to reduce a population of several billion to a reasonable number overnight, therefore, it might be more sensible to think in terms of the medical system of triage: let us save those who can be saved.
Like so many other species, humanity expands and consumes until its members starve and die. The two basic, reciprocal problems of human life have still never been solved: overpopulation and the over-consumption of resources. As a result, the competition for survival is intense, and for most people life is just a long stretch of drudgery followed by an ignoble death. It is ironic that birth control, the most important invention in all of human history, has been put into practice in such a desultory manner. There is still no intelligent life on earth.
In view of the general unpopularity of family-planning policies, it can only be said euphemistically that nature will decide the outcome. Even if his words owe as much to observation of the stages of collapse as to divine inspiration, it is St. John's Four Horsemen of war, famine, plague, and death who will signify the future of the industrial world. Nor can we expect people to be overly concerned about good manners: although there are too many variables for civil strife to be entirely predictable, if we look at accounts of large-scale disasters of the past, ranging from the financial to the meteorological, we can see that there is a point at which the looting and lynching begin. The survivors of industrial society will have to distance themselves from the carnage.
The need for a successful community to be far removed from urban areas is also a matter of access to the natural resources that will remain. With primitive technology, it takes a great deal of land to support human life. What may look like a long stretch of empty wilderness is certainly not empty to the people who are out there picking blueberries or catching fish. That emptiness is not a prerogative or luxury of the summer vacationer. It is an essential ratio of the human world to the non-human.
Humanity has struggled to survive through the millennia in terms of balancing population size with food supply. The same is true now, but population numbers have been soaring for over a century. Oil, the limiting factor, is close to or beyond its peak extraction. Without ample, free-flowing oil, it will not be possible to support a population of several billion for long. Famine caused by oil-supply failure alone will probably result in about 2.5 billion above-normal deaths before the year 2050; lost and averted births will amount to roughly an equal number.
In terms of its effects on daily human life, the most significant aspect of fossil-fuel depletion will be the lack of food. “Peak oil” basically means “peak food.” Modern agriculture is highly dependent on fossil fuels for fertilizers (the Haber-Bosch process combines natural gas with atmospheric nitrogen to produce nitrogen fertilizer), pesticides, and the operation of machines for irrigation, harvesting, processing, and transportation.
Without fossil fuels, modern methods of food production will disappear, and crop yields will be far less than at present. Crop yields are far lower in societies that do not have fossil fuels or modern machinery. We should therefore have no illusions that several billion humans can be fed by “organic gardening” or anything else of that nature.
The Green Revolution involved, among other things, the development of higher-yielding crops. These new varieties could be grown only with large inputs of fertilizer and pesticides, all of which required fossil fuels. In essence, the Green Revolution was little more than the invention of a way to turn petroleum and natural gas into food.
Over the next few decades, therefore, there will be famine on a scale many times larger than ever before in human history. It is possible, of course, that warfare and plague will take their toll to a large extent before famine claims its victims. The distinctions, in any case, can never be absolute: often “war + drought = famine” [Devereux], especially in sub-Saharan Africa, but there are several other combinations of factors.
Although, when discussing theories of famine, economists generally use the term “neo-malthusian” in a derogatory manner, the coming famine will be very much a case of an imbalance between population and resources. The ultimate cause will be fossil-fuel depletion, not government policy (as in the days of Stalin or Mao), warfare, ethnic discrimination, bad weather, poor methods of distribution, inadequate transportation, livestock diseases, or any of the other variables that have often turned mere hunger into genuine starvation.
The increase in the world's population has followed a simple curve: from about 1.7 billion in 1900 to about 6.1 billion in 2000. A quick glance at a chart of world population growth, on a broader time scale, shows a line that runs almost horizontally for thousands of years, and then makes an almost vertical ascent as it approaches the present. That is not just an amusing curiosity. It is a shocking fact that should have awakened humanity to the realization that something is dreadfully wrong.
Mankind is always prey to its own “exuberance,” to use Catton's term. That has certainly been true of population growth. In many cultures, “Do you have any children?” or, “How many children do you have?” is a form of greeting or civility almost equivalent to “How do you do?” or, “Nice to meet you.” World population growth, nevertheless, has always been ecologically hazardous. With every increase in human numbers we are only barely able to keep up with the demand: providing all those people with food and water has not been easy. We are always pushing ourselves to the limits of Earth's ability to hold us. [Catton]
Even that is an understatement. No matter how much we depleted our resources, there was always the sense that we could somehow “get by.” But in the late twentieth century we stopped getting by. It is important to differentiate between production in an “absolute” sense and production “per capita.” Although oil production, in “absolute” numbers, kept climbing — only to decline in the early twenty-first century — what was ignored was that although that “absolute” production was climbing, the production “per capita” reached its peak in 1979. [BP]
The unequal distribution of resources plays a part. The average inhabitant of the United States consumes far more than the average inhabitant of India or China. Nevertheless, if all the world's resources were evenly distributed, the result would only be universal poverty. It is the totals and the averages of resources that we must deal with in order to determine the totals and averages of results. For example, if all of the world's arable land were distributed evenly, in the absence of mechanized agriculture each person on the planet would still have an inadequate amount of farmland for survival: distribution would have accomplished very little.
We were always scraping the edges of the earth, but we are now entering a far more dangerous era. The main point to keep in mind is that, throughout the twentieth century, oil production and human population were so closely integrated that every barrel of oil had an effect on human numbers. While population has been going up, so has oil production.
Future excess mortality can therefore be determined ? at least in a rough-and-ready manner ? by the fact that in modern industrial society it is oil supply that determines how many people can be fed. An increase in oil production leads to an increase in population, and a decrease in oil production leads to a decrease in population.
In round numbers, global oil production in the year 2008 was 30 billion barrels, and the population was 7 billion. The consensus is that in the year 2050 oil production will be about 2 billion barrels. The same amount of oil production occurred in the year 1930, when the population was 2 billion. The population in 2050 will therefore be the same as in 1930: 2 billion. The difference between 7 billion people and 2 billion is 5 billion, which will therefore be the total number of famine deaths and lost or averted births for that period.
We can also determine the number of famine deaths and lost or averted births on an annual basis. From 2008 to 2050 is 42 years. The average annual difference in population is therefore 5 billion divided by 42, which is about 120 million.
Many of those annual 120 million will not actually be deaths; famine will cause a lowering of the birth rate. [Devereux, Ó Gráda] This will sometimes happen voluntarily, as people realize they lack the resources to raise children, or it will happen involuntarily when famine and general ill health result in infertility. In most famines the number of deaths from starvation or from starvation-induced disease is very roughly the same as the number of lost or averted births. In Ireland's nineteenth-century famine, for example, the number of famine deaths was 1.3 million, whereas the number of lost births was 0.4 million. The number of famine deaths during China's Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) was perhaps 30 million, and the number of lost births was perhaps 33 million.
The “normal,” non-famine-related, birth and death rates are not incorporated into the above future population figures, since for most of pre-industrial human history the sum of the two — i.e. the growth rate — has been nearly zero. If not for the problem of resource-depletion, in other words, the future birth rate and death rate would be nearly identical, as they were in pre-industrial times. And there is no question that the future will mean a return to the “pre-industrial.”
Nevertheless, it will often be hard to separate “famine deaths” from a rather broad category of “other excess deaths.” War, disease, global warming, topsoil deterioration, and other factors will have unforeseeable effects of their own. Considering the unusual duration of the coming famine, and with Leningrad [Salisbury] as one of many precursors, cannibalism may be significant; to what extent should this be included in a calculation of “famine deaths”? It is probably safe to say that an unusually large decline in the population of a country will be the most significant indicator that this predicted famine has in fact arrived.
These figures obliterate all previous estimates of future population growth. Instead of a steady rise over the course of this century, as generally predicted, there will be a clash of the two giant forces of overpopulation and oil depletion, followed by a precipitous ride into the unknown future.
What seems the best general concept of human society later in this century is not easy to formulate. The only keyword that seems applicable is “survivalist,” although for various reasons even that name is rather clumsy. With a slightly optimistic view of the future, one can say that a few people will succeed, and that such people will generally be those who have the skills to do so, even if there will be other people who stay alive by sheer chance. The greatest “resource” of all will be the knowledge inside one's own head. People with the information and skills required for supplying themselves and their community with food and shelter, however, can certainly be called survivalists, even if there should be a better label.
The trouble with the term “survivalist” is that it is often more suited to people who have been brought up on purely fictional accounts of Armageddon, as churned out by Hollywood film studios. The pleasure derived from watching such depictions of violence is not as innocent as it seems. Watching a movie is only one step removed from watching gladiators in an amphitheater hacking each other to pieces. In both cases our moral sensibilities are dulled: we fail to disapprove of the behavior we are observing. In both cases, also, the underlying message is that violence is the quick road to success. In the real world of the future, however, such forms of behavior might be of questionable value in the long run. The problem with cycles of revenge is that there is often no obvious distinction to be made between the “good” and the “bad.” Bloodshed will be no more a lasting solution in the future than it was in Viking times. We must not forget that even in the Dark Ages there were many who sought a better way of life.
We must also keep in mind that as the centuries unfold the human world will always be much smaller than it is today. It may seem odd to speak of the social implications of hematite versus taconite, for example, but what we are really examining is a human population that will be shrinking considerably from its present numbers and living a less complicated life. The world will not be smaller in the sense of “the global village” with its rapid communication and transportation, but smaller in almost the opposite sense: that each person's life will be lived within a smaller geographic range than today, and that the total of human numbers will be small. That smallness will be repeated mile by mile, league by league: people will be counted in groups of hundreds rather than billions, and the kingdoms of the distant future will be the size of our present counties.
Other than the numbers and the technology, that future way of life may remain somewhat of a mystery for now. We might think of the Dark Ages of Europe, as previously mentioned. But then we must also consider scenarios of the past that are more pleasant ? for example, the first people to cross the Bering Strait, many thousands of years ago, discovered two entire continents entirely uninhabited by humans. What they found must have been an absolute paradise, or so it may seem us in our crowded day. Of course the difference between AD 1000 and 10,000 BC is obvious: at the earlier time, there was an excellent ratio between population and resources.
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Peter Goodchild is the author of Survival Skills of the North American Indians, published by Chicago Review Press. His email address is odonatus [at] live.com
West must prepare for Chinese, Indian dominance
Western nations must prepare for a future dominated by China and India, whose rapid economic rise will soon fundamentally alter the balance of power, former World Bank chief James Wolfensohn has warned.
Wealthy countries were failing to understand the impact of the invevitable growth of the two Asian powerhouses, Wolfensohn said in the 2006 Wallace Wurth Memorial Lecture at the University of New South Wales at the weekend. "It's a world that is going to be in the hands of these countries which we now call developing," said Australian-born Wolfensohn, who held the top job at the global development bank for a decade until last year.
Rich nations needed to try to capitalise on the inevitable emergence of what would become the engine ofthe world's economic activity before it was too late, he said.
"Most people in the rich countries don't really look at what's happening in these large developing countries," said Wolfensohn, who is now chairman of Citigroup International Advisory Board and his own investment and advisory firm.
Within 25 years, the combined gross domestic products of China and India would exceed those of the Groupof Seven wealthy nations, he said.
"This is not a trivial advance, this is a monumental advance."
Wolfensohn said that somewhere between 2030 and 2040, China would become the largest economy in the world, leaving the United States behind.
By 2050, China's current two trillion US dollar GDP was set to balloon to 48.6 trillion, while that of India, whose economy weighs in at under a trillion dollars, would hit 27 trillion, he said, citing projections by investment bank Goldman Sachs. In comparison, the US's 13 trillion dollar income would expand to only 37 trillion -- 10 trillion behindChina.
"You will have in the growth of these countries a 22 times growth between now and the year 2050 and the current rich countries will grow maybe 2.5 times."
In light of these forecasts, it was clear that Western nations and Australia were not investing enough in educating the next generation to be able to take advantage of the coming realignment, he said.
"The fact that not enough of our young people are preparing themselves with knowledge, experience, residence and language to deal certainly with China, although India has the benefit of an Englishlanguage, it does seem to me that it presents a formidable challenge."
Wolfensohn pointed to both China's and India's recent substantial investments in Africa as an example of how the two emerging giants were exercising their increasing clout on the global stage.
"Within the last two weeks the world has been put on notice that Africa is no longer the basket case that everybody had historically thought it was but is now front and centre in terms of development by India and China."
The phenomenal rally by the two countries was a return to form rather than a novelty, he said, as they together had accounted for 50 percent of global GDP from the 1500s until the industrial revolution reduced that to between five and seven percent.
Source:AFP, Sun Nov 26, 2006
Rudolf J. Siebert and Tatjana Senyushkina
Invitation of Papers for the Sixth International Course on
“Religion and Civil Society: Main Challenges to the Civilizations and their Responses”
In Yalta, Crimea, Ukraine,
November 1-3, 2006
By Course Directors:
Rudolf J. Siebert, Professor of Religion and Society
Tatjana Senyushkina, Professor of Political Science
Michael Ott, Professor of Sociology
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA
V.I. Vernadskiy Tavrida National University
Grand Valley State University
Allendale, Michigan, USA
Our sixth international course in Yalta is sponsored by the V.I. Vernadskiy Tavrida National University in Simferopol, Ukraine; by Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo, Michigan USA; by the Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Michigan; by the Crimean Department of the Conflict Resolution Association of the Ukraine; by the Network of Cultural Exchange and Inter-Ethnic Trust; by the Technical University of Sevastopol, Ukraine; by the Internet Access Teaching Program (JATP) in Sevastopol; The registration fee is 50 Euros to be paid at arrival. Resource persons and participants from America and Europe need no longer a visa in order to enter the Ukraine. Most of us will stay in Hotel Bristol in Yalta. Please, make your own travel and hotel reservations. For further information concerningtimes, meeting place, schedule, hotel reservations, air and bus connections, etc., please contact Professor Tatjana Senyushkina, Email – email@example.com. or Professor Rudolf J.Siebert, E-Mail – rsieb3@aol,com.- Website – http://rudolfjsiebert.org/. We hope very much to see you in Yalta, November 1-3, 2006.
Rudolf J. Siebert
We are writing this letter to you, in order to invite you wholeheartedly to our sixth international course on “Religion and Civil Society: Main Challenges to the Civilizations and their Responses,” to take place in Yalta, Ukraine, from November 1-3, 2006. It is a sister course to our international Dubrovnik course on the “Future of Religion.” Our new theme in Yalta is certainly of highest actuality in the present world-historical transition from Modernity to Post-Modernity: What are the main challenges which religion-based civilizations have to face at this moment in history? How do they or how can they best respond to these challenges. We are thinking e.g., the Jewish civilization, or the Christian civilization, or the Islamic civilization. Even if such civilizations have been secularized, they are nevertheless rooted in religious interpretations of reality and religious orientation of action. Even their secularization process cannot be understood without reference to their religious background: the secular categorical imperative or the apriori of the unlimited communication community not without the religious Golden Rule; the secular solidarity not without neighborly love. The following few thoughts and ideas may help us to stimulate and give guidance to our discourse, and may inspire our papers.
Communities of Faith
According to the critical theory of religion, religious communities and traditions have gained a new political importance in the public sphere of nations since the neo-conservative and neo- liberal counter-revolution of 1989, which had not been expected by thinkers of the bourgeois, Marxian and Freudian enlightenment movements. A de-secularization seems to take place. Sociologists speak of a post-secular society. Suddenly we are facing different variations of religious fundamentalism not only in America and the Middle East, but also in Africa, South East Asia, and in the Indian Subcontinent. These fundamentalisms are often interconnected with national and ethnic conflicts. Today they also constitute the seedbed for a decentralized form of religious terrorism that operates globally and provokes a secular counter-terrorism of freedom and democracy. The root course of the religious terrorism is not terrorism but the deepening antagonism of the poor and rich classes on a national and international level. Globalization, world market, empire-building, and competition ignore human rights and human dignity, and disappoint the equality - expectations of human beings, and separate the winners from the losers, the successful from the failures, the actors from the victims in the recognition-drama of globalized antagonistic civil society. The religious terrorism coming from the Third and Fourth World is directed against the perceived insults and injuries caused by the Western Civilization, which is to a large extend secularized and demythologized, and which is superior in terms of instrumental rationality, particularly economically and politically and militarily. In Iran the protest movement against a corrupt regime set in place and supported by America has given rise to a veritable rule of Mullahs, who promote a traditional Islamic theocracy with modern means – a French constitution and advanced weaponry. This regime of Mullahs serves other fundamentalist movements in the Near East and elsewhere as a model to follow. In several Muslim countries the Sharia, particularly religious family law either an alternative or a substitute for secular civil law. In Israel the Torah, specifically the religious family law I also an alternative or a substitute for the modern civil law. In Afghanistan and in Iraq the application of a more or less liberal version of the American constitutions must be limited by its compatibility with the Sharia, while at the same time civil war is raging among Shiites, Sunis, Batists and Kurds. Religious conflicts are squeezing their way into the international arena: as e.g. the provocation of the Hesbolah movement against Israel and the war of Israel against Lebanon.
In the perspective of the dialectical theory of religion, the hopes associated with the political agenda of multiple modernities are fueled by the cultural self-confidence of those world religions that to this very day still unmistakably shape the physiognomy of the mayor civilizations in spite of secularization tendencies: Daoism in China, Hinduism and Buddhism in India, Islam in the Near East, Africa and Indonesia. In the West, the perception of international relations has changed in light of the fears of what the Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington has called a clash of civilizations. Today nothing makes the global antagonism between the sacred and the profane clearer to the critical theorist of religion, than the US political scientist ‘s new foreign policy paradigm of the clash of civilizations. Huntington is the student and disciple of Carl Schmitt, Adolf Hitler’s main former jurist and political theologian. Schmitt defined the essence of the political as the identification of the enemy. Schmitt’s disciple Huntington is also Pentagon adviser. Huntington conceives of alternative Future II - the struggle among the cultures, as being unavoidable, and of alternative Future III – the reconciled free and just peace society as being illusionary and abstract-utopian. Not only from the New Testament, but also through Schmitt and Huntington, President Bush junior received the strong statement: who is not with me, is against me, which he made, when he started the second Iraq war with the Alliance of the Willing, but without the consensus of the United Nations. The second Bush-Administration’s notion of the axis of evil in remembrance of the evil axis Berlin-Rome Tokyo – is merely one prominent example of the change of perception of international relations in the light of the fears of a clash of civilizations, which at the same time threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For scholars from Canada and other countries in the American influence sphere as far as the Ukraine and Central Asia and the Near East, behind Huntington’s thesis of the culture wars stands nothing else than American imperialism,colonialism and militarism. Of course, culture wars have a long history.Already 27 000 years ago the classical Neandertaler fell- after theAnte-Neandertaler, who appeared 350 000 years ago, and the early Neandertaler who lived 180 000 – 90 000 years ago - victim to a civilization war between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, which was won by our ancestor, the Homo Sapiens, who had migrated north from Africa, and who could speak and organize better, and who had better tools, andmost of allbetter weapons. Even Western intellectuals, who up to 2006 had been self-critical in regard to the fears of a clash of civilizations, are starting nowto go on the offensive in their response to the image of Occidentalism, that the Orientalists have of their enemies in the West. But it is not true, that the political actors of Islamism have no demands, which could be negotiated. Bin Laden has never made a secret of his agreement with Huntington’s diagnosis of the war of the cultures, and he has characterized expressively as being right the territorial division and partition of the world into different circles of civilization, It is also not true that terroristic movements can not achieve economic or political successes. Recent decades have shown that terror andwearing down tactics can be worth it, when the support of the population is correspondingly great. Often former terrorists have become presidents of states.
Recently the American President Bush junior has started to speak of Islamic fascists without - as usually - clarifying the precise notion with which this name is supposed to be connected. The government - conform Fox News, which proclaims itself to be fair, balanced, and unafraid, echoes the President, when it also names the so-called terrorists Islamic fascists. It has become customary in national and international relations to call one’s political opponents: Hitler, the archetype of evil. In reality, religious terrorists are people without tanks, helicopters or fighter planes, who therefore use primitive weapons and themselves in order to retaliate – jus talionis from Torah and Koran - against what they perceive as the exploitation, occupation and oppression by the West, and doing so kill unjustly large numbers of civilians: what the American military calls collateral damage. The Former American President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated once, that the liberty of a democracy is not safe, if the people tolerate the growth of private power to the point, where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any controlling private power. . Unfortunately, today in 2006 – half a century after President Roosevelt - in some Western democracies, civil society and in it some neo-conservative or neo-liberal economically powerful individuals and groups are no longer under the control of the democratic constitutional state, but rather control it, and have decided to counter the religious terror of fundamentalists with the secular terror modern freedom and democracy. That may not be the right response: Lex Talionis against Lex Talionis. Retaliation always leads to escalation and makes the one who retaliates too similar to the enemy he retaliates against and thus only increases the injustice. Particularly German fascism was a very retaliatory movement.
Dynamic and Differentiation
Unlike his opponents, the critical theorist of society, Jürgen Habermas, and the ecumenical Christian theologian, Hans Küng, who recommend a discourse among the civilizations and religions, Huntington has studied little the inner dynamic and differentiations of the particular civilizations, and religions, Huntington obviously knows little about complex historical connections, flowing transitions, mutual cross- fertilizations, and peaceful living together of civilizations and religions. Thus, Huntington made the prognosis, that the collision between the modern secular Western civilization and the Islamic civilization would be particularly dangerous. In this way, Huntington gave ideological support to the neo-conservative and neo-liberal American Administrations, when after the end of the cold war in 1989 they replaced the enemy image of communism by the enemy image of Islam, or even combined them and thus made the discourse and the cooperation among the civilizations very difficult. Today American Rightwing television programs, like Fox News, escalate Huntington’s thesis of the clash of civilizations into the observation that World War III had already begun with the catastrophe in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, five years ago.
In the view of the critical theory of religion, religious fundamentalism, itself being a modern phenomenon like nationalism, constitutes the main challenge to historical - intermediate as well as to modern civilizations, and will, if not being responded to adequately, be a threat and will do great damage to them, to say the least. Fundamentalism in all corners of the world can be understood in terms of the long – term impact of violent forms of colonialism and imperialism and failures in external or internal decolonization as well as in the reduction of modern, Western imperialism. The globalization of antagonistic civil society and the penetration of different forms of capitalism into pre-modern societies from the outside elicit social uncertainty and cultural upheavals. Then religious fundamentalist movements process the radical changes brought about by globalization and capitalist modernization in the traditional economic and social structure and the cultural dissynchronies. Under conditions of an accelerated or failing modernization the individual may experience these economic and social changes and this cultural contemporaneity of the non-contemporaneous as a sense of being uprooted and of being dislocated and of having lost all hold, For outsiders most surprising is the political revitalization of religion at the heart of the United States, where the dynamism of modernization seems to unfold most successfully. Certainly in Europe ever since the days of the French revolution people have been aware of the power of a religious form of traditionalism that understood itself as counterrevolutionary: Orthodox Traditionalism, Roman-Catholic Authoritarianism, Protestant Fundamentalism, and Liberal Modernism, However this evocation of religion as the power of tradition implicitly revealed the nagging doubt, that the vitality of that which is already reflexively passed down as tradition may have been broken, By contrast, so it appears at least to Europeans, the political awakening of an ongoing strong religious consciousness in the United States has not been affected by such doubts. Of course, also in the United states the dynamism of modernization has not reached all social classes to the same extend: certainly the farmers and the workers and the low bourgeoisie less than the middle and upper bourgeoisie. Religious and political fundamentalism as well as fascistoid tendencies and authoritarian personalities are located more in the lower classes. From its very start the American civil society was characterized by the antagonism between people of religious faith and people who were influenced by the bourgeois enlightenment. When the American colonial bourgeoisie emancipated itself from the bourgeoisie in England in the so-called American Revolution, bourgeois enlighteners produced the most outstanding American Constitution, which implied the separation of church and state. Thus also in the United States, people have been aware of the power of religious tradition, which up to the present understands itself as counterrevolutionary and opposes the scientific enlightenment, e.g. the teaching on evolution, which is situated more in the middle and upper bourgeoisie. Clerico-fascist radio and television preachers, who have addressed the masses of framers, workers and low middle class people from the 1930s to 2006 show this only to clearly. Particularly the fanaticism of the fundamentalist preachers betrays the fact, that also in America there exists the nagging doubt that the vitality of the Christian tradition may be broken. That a born - again American President can practice the lex talionis with two wars and masses of collateral damages – over 100 000 civilians in Iraq alone - and can thus break the fourth commandment of the Sermon on the Mount, the very foundation of Christianity, and that nevertheless large numbers of Roman Catholics and Protestant Evangelicals voted for him even a second time, does not necessarily show the vitality of genuine Christian religiosity, but rather its utter hypocrisy and phoniness. By their fruits you shall know them!
Combination of Images
Thus some fundamentalist friends of the second Bush Administration have indeed tried, not only to replace but also even to combine the enemy images of communism and Islam. on Monday, August 22, 2005, the Christian fundamentalist preacher, politician and broadcaster with close ties to the Bush Administration, Reverend Pat Robertson, has called - in the old tradition of fascist radio and television evangelists since Martin Luther Thomas and Charles Coughlin, who always used religious motives, devices and tricks, in order to achieve rightwing political purposes - for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.Robertson issued his Mafia-like appeal to the US government, to take out Chavez, on his television show, the 700 Club, broadcasting to over one million viewers, through his own Christian Broadcast Network and Disney’s ABC Family Network. After a ten-minute news clip aimed at portraying Chavez’s Venezuela as a major threat to the United States, Robertson proceeded to make the case for assassination:
He has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he’s going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent. You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war... and I don’t think any oil shipments will stop. This man is a terrific danger, and this is in our sphere of influence.
Without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.
Like in the flash of lightening in Robertson’s statements on assassination of a foreign head of a sovereign state become visible the otherwise hidden connections between positivism and neo-positivism, neo-conservativism and neo-liberalism, and fascism and neo-fascism, particularly clerico-fascism. Such type of extreme right-wing rhetoric can, of course, only intensify the tensions among the civilizations and lead to further explosions, like September 11, 2001, and prevent the start of any rational discourse and cooperation among the civilizations.
Critical or Uncritical Nationalism?
The Roman Catholic Priest and President of the Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Robert A. Sirico, counseled Reverend Pat Robertson and all the other Evangelicals through The Detroit News of September 3, 2005, to rethink nationalism. Catholics and Evangelicals had substantially contributed to the reelection of President Bush junior in November 2004, after he had already as Governor of Texas executed 150 prisoners against Catholic teaching and Papal intervention attempts, and after he had initiated two wars, which had been characterized as being unjust on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount and the Augustinian Seven Point Just War Theory not only by Pope John Paul II, but also by members of the World Council of Churches, and which by that time had cost already the lives of over 1000 American soldiers and of close to 100 000 civilians. After the Presidential election, Catholics and Evangelicals concluded even a closer, more formal alliance, in order to continue their nationalistic political cooperation: my country, right or wrong! Father Sirico, the Catholic, of course, hates the socialists Chavez and Castro as much as the Evangelical Robertson does, in spite of the fifth commandment of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which demands not only the love of the neighbor, but also the love of the enemy, in imitation of God and also of the Nazarene himself. Sirico agrees with Robertson’s goal, that Chavez and, of course, also Castro, and the Chinese communists, and all other socialists, like Hamas or Hesbola, and of course all Islamic fascists must be removed from power, no matter if they have been voted in democratically or not, or if they have strong popular support or not. Father Sirico differs from Robertson only concerning the means. Following the Medieval Roman Catholic Paradigm of Christianity and the traditional, pre-modern, first Stoic and then baptized natural law, including the Augustinian Seven Point Just War Theory, Sirico wants to use war against Venezuela or Cuba, etc, only as a last resort: defensive, proportional and limited. Thus Sirico recommends trying first cultural exchange, moral example, diplomatic pressure and free trade as tools, in order to oust Chavez, or Castro, or other socialists, including the Chinese communists, and to bring the old bourgeois nationalists back again. Thus, such ousting is to be done in the name of bourgeois and even Christian, or Catholic, or Evangelical nationalism: a contradictio in adjecto. Father Sirico has completely forgotten the horror and terror of pre-fascist liberal nationalism, fascist nationalism, and post-fascist neo-liberal nationalism of the 20th and 21st centuries, the Lateran Treaty with Benito Mussolini and the Concordat with Adolf Hitler, which is still valid in Germany today. He has forgotten, that the Europeans paid with two world wars and over 60 million casualties their victory over nationalism in the form of the European Union. He has forgotten, that nationalism as such is not a medieval, or a Catholic, but rather - like the nation state, or religious or political fundamentalism - a very modern phenomenon.
But Father Sirico does remember, that – not the Rabbi Jesus – but the medieval natural law affirms the idea of tyrannicide - killing of tyrants - but only after every other alternative has been exhausted, and with some assurance, that the cure would not prove worse than the disease. As a matter of fact, the permission of tyrannicide is rooted in the first of the four natural laws: the inclination, and the right, and the duty to preserve life. Thus, ultimately Robertson and Sirico agree after all: Chavez, or Castro, or the Chinese communists, etc. could be assassinated or made war against, if nothing else works. Father Sirico wants to replace Reverend Robertson’s uncritical with his critical nationalism. For the critical nationalist Sirico, Christianity does not regard every enemy of the nation state as worthy of execution. Thanks be to God! We all, believers and humanists, are really happy about that. Of course, Reverend Robertson as well as Father Sirico are both very well paid by the bourgeois power elite for their uncritical or critical nationalism. The same was true already for their predecessors in the 1930s and 1940s, e.g. the radio evangelists Reverend Martin Luther Thomas or Father Charles Coughlin, who also functionalized religion for secular nationalistic and capitalistic purposes contrary to it, and the same remains true for Opus Dei today, That is of course also most helpful financially for Evangelical and Catholic parishes and dioceses alike. But it is obvious, that any form of uncritical or critical nationalism will necessarily undermine and destroy any discourse or cooperation among the civilizations, and thus will promote not only the trend toward alternative Future I – the authoritarian, totalitarian, totally administered, one-dimensional, and technocratic society, but also toward alternative Future II – the collisions, assassinations, and wars among civilizations, and thus will weaken the tendencies toward alternative Future III – the reconciliation of the civilizations and an autonomous as well as solidary, and friendly, and helpful living together of human beings. Of course, the whole modern history of the West proves most conclusively, that there is not such a thing as critical nationalism. To deny this would mean to suffer from extreme amnesia. Most recently – August 2006 – the very nationalistic, neo-liberal Bush-Administration has set aside millions of dollars for regime change in Venezuela, for the removal of President Chavez and his democratically elected socialist government, against American and international law, not to speak of the Mosaic Decalogue or the Jesuanic Sermon on the Mount. Church – at least the Christian Right a la Robertson and Sirico – and state – at least that of the second Bush-Administration - cooperate very well with each other at least in counterrevolutionary matters: and that not only concerning socialistic Venezuela, or Chile, or Cuba, or North-Korea, but also in Palestine, where the Islamic Hamas and in Lebanon where the Islamic Hesbolah have been voted into the government democratically by their people. In the meantime religious and secular neo-liberals identify - in terms of Carl Schmitt’s definition of the political - as enemies very different people: communists, socialists, national socialists, fascists, Islamic fascists, etc. in order to mobilize the fear factor in the masses and thus to move from one war to the other: who will be next after Afghanistan and Iraq - Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba ??? only recently – September 1, 2006 - Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney have once more defended their present war policies against Iraq and Afghanistan and terrorism in general by reminding the American people of the failed appeasement policies towards Adolf Hitler: terrorists can not be appeased!!! It is either discourse or war!!! Such warrior-attitude is indeed a great challenge to all civilizations, to which they have to respond first of all through distancing and differentiation.
Wave of Secularization
According to the critical theory of religion, there is statistical evidence of a wave of secularization in almost all European countries since the end of World War II. This secularization goes hand in hand with social modernization. By contrast, for the United States all data show that the comparatively large proportion of the population – farmers, workers and low middle class people are the majority - is made up of religiously active citizens and that it has remained constant over at least sixty years. It seems to Europeans that the Religious Right in the USA is not traditionalist. Precisely because the Christian right unleashes a spontaneous energy for revivalism, it causes paralyzing irritation among its secular opponents. However at the same time the antagonism between the sacred and the secular, religion and politics is deepening also in the United States. Again and again fundamentalists must notice with great disappointment, that American Presidents and politicians, who had promised them to realize their religious agenda - concerning traditional values and norms in relation to abortion, birth control, gay marriage, religious symbolism, prayer in public schools, stem cell research, pornography, etc.- in order to get their votes, behave quite secular gain as soon as they are in office, and don’t keep their religious promises. Masses of believers simply ignore their religious authorities and their traditional teachings, e.g., on birth control, and simply behave like their secular neighbors do while at the same time they continue to go to church.
In the perspective of the dialectical theory of religion, the movements for religious renewal at the heart of the Western civilization are strengthening, at the cultural level, the political division in the European and American populations that was prompted by the first and second Iraq War. The Iraq wars – the second more than the first – have split not only Europe and the USA, but also Americans and European among themselves. The divisive issues are (1) the abolition of the death penalty; (2) more or less liberal regulations on abortion; (3) setting homosexual partnerships on a par with heterosexual marriages; (4) an unconditional rejection of torture; (5) the just war theory; and (6) the priorization of human and civil rights over collective goods, like social security. The Europeans have the impression that the European states keep moving fore ward alone ion that path which, ever since the American and the French constitutional revolution of the late 18th century, they had walked side by side with the United States. The significance of religions used for political ends even opposed to their ethos has meanwhile grown fare beyond the boundaries of the Western civilization into other civilizations as well. Against this background, the Atlantic split in the Western civilization appears to the Europeans s well as to the Americans as if Europe were isolating itself from the rest of the world. Seen in terms of world- history as the critical theorists of religion is used to understand it, Max Weber’s Occidental Rationalism, including the bourgeois, Marxian and Freudian enlightenment, now appears to be the actual deviation.
Traditional and Modern Civilizations
According to the revisionist, positivistic, neo-conservative viewpoint, religious traditions appear to continue with undiminished strength. They seem to wash away or at least to level the thresholds hitherto assumed by the enlighteners and their followers to pertain between traditional and modern civilizations. In this way the Occident's own image of modernity seems, as in a psychological experiment, to undergo an inversion: the normal model or the future of all other civilizations – global, post-modern alternative Future III - a free and just, society, in which personal autonomy and universal solidarity would be reconciled - suddenly becomes a special-case scenario. Even if this revisionist, neo-conservative Gestalt –inversion does not really bear up to the scrutiny of the critical theory of society and religion or of any other critical social science and if the contrasting evidence can be brought into line with more conventional explanations of secularization, it must be admitted and there is no doubting the evidence itself and above all the symptomatic fact of divisive political moods crystallizing around it. Representatives of the more conventional secularization theories defend the classical hypothesis that secularization wins out to the extent that along with improved economic and social conditions for life it also spreads the feeling of existential security. Alongside the demographic assumption that fertility rates in developed countries and civilizations are falling, this hypothesis initially explains why secularization today has all in all seized root in the West and to some extend in other civilizations colonized by it. The United States seems once more to constitute an exception because of three reasons: 1.a rather blunt and brutal form of capitalism has effects which are less cushioned by a welfare state, in spite of the on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity socially modified Roosevelt – liberalism, which admittedly is even slowly abolished by powerful neo-liberal groups. This largely unmitigated monopoly and oligopoly capitalism exposes particularly the lower classes to a higher degree of social uncertainty. - 2.The comparatively high rate of immigration from traditional civilizations - recently 12 million illegal mostly Roman Catholic immigrants from Mexico and other Central and Latin American countries- where the fertility rates are correspondingly high explains the stability if the relatively large proportion of religious citizens in the USA. -3.The religion in the Americas is - with a few exceptions – the basic Christian communities and their liberation theology – not a critical but rather a conformist religion, not a liberation but domination religion, not a revolutionary but an authoritarian religion, which is rather opiate of and for the people than the outcry of the oppressed creatures and the heart of a heartless capitalistic world, and thus keeps masses of badly educated people in passive conformity to the prevailing system, no matter how unjust it may be.
The End of Enlightenment
The critical theorists of religion agrees at least to some extend with the American historian G. Wills, who characterized two days after the last American presidential election, which returned the War-President into power with the help of millions of Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, the election day as the day the enlightenment went out. Will asked rather desperately the question, if a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution can still be called an enlightened nation? Will remembers that America was the first real democracy in world-history and that as such it was the product of the values of the bourgeois enlightenment. Though the founders of the American Republic differed on many things, so Wills argues, they shared nevertheless these values of the Enlightenment and the bourgeois modernity. Respect for evidence, so Wills complaints, seems not to pertain anymore, when a poll taken just before the Presidential election in November 2004 showed that 75% of President Bush’s supporters believed Iraq either worked closely with Al Qaeda or was directly involved in the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. President Bush was voted for by 60 % of the Spanish-speaking Roman Catholic voters, by 67% of the white Protestants, and by 78% of the Evangelical or Born Again Christians. Even among the Roman Catholics, who had been taught by Pope John Paul II, that the two Iraq wars were unjust and that death penalty and torture were wrong, and who had previously tended to vote Democrat, President Bush turned around the traditional majorities. The fact that a large number of American Catholic Bishops took the side of President Bush is astonishing, for all the concurrence on the question of abortion, if the critical theorist of religion bears in mind that unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the second Bush Administration defends the death penalty and torture and put the lives of tens of thousands of US soldiers and Iraqi civilians at risk for a war of aggression that violated the American constitution as well as international law, for which it could only cite dubious reasons if not Orwell Ian or Huxley an lies, like the presence of weapons of mass destruction in the Iraqi an arsenals. In the perspective of the critical theory of religion, there are of course people not only in Europe, but also in America, who are like the critical theorists of society driven by the insatiable longing for the wholly Other than the slaughterbench of nature and history, which once was expressed and supported - and for some still is-by the belief in the virgin birth, and who have no overwhelming difficulties with the bourgeois, Marxian or Freudian enlightenment, or with the theory of evolution. Here it must not be forgotten, that of course millions of people in the USA as elsewhere are neither guided by faith or reason, revelation or enlightenment, but rather by fear and greed, and that greed often overcomes fear.
According to the critical theory of religion, irrespective of how one evaluates the facts, the analyses of the American Presidential Election of November 2004 confirm that the cultural division of the Western civilization runs right through the American nation itself. Conflicting value orientations – God, gays and guns – have manifestly covered over more tangible contrasting interests. President Bush junior has a coalition of primarily religiously motivated voters, Catholics and Evangelicals, to thank for his victory in November 2004. This shift in power indicates a mental shift in antagonistic American civil society that also forms the background to the academic discourses on the political role of religion in the constitutional state and in the public sphere not only in America but also in Europe and thus also in our sixth Yalta discourse on religion in civil society.
In the perspective of the dialectical theory of religion, in the USA once again the battle is over the substance of the first sentence to the American Bill of Rights: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The United States was the political pacemaker on the way to establishing a freedom of religion that rested on the reciprocal respect of the religious freedom of the others. This concept of respect is ultimately rooted in the human potential of the struggle for recognition, mediated through the evolutionary universal of language and memory. The marvelous bourgeois achievement, which tangentially transcends all class and national boundaries, the Article 16 of the Bill of Rights penned in Virginia in 1776 is the first document of freedom of religion guaranteed as a basic right that democratic citizens accord to each other across the divides among the different world religions and their historical paradigms. It took the largest and best organized religious community, the Roman Catholic Church almost 200 years, up to Vatican II, to accept this basic human right of the freedom of religion. Unlike in France, dominated by the Roman Catholic Paradigm of Christianity, the introduction of the freedom of religion into the United States of America, determined by the Protestant-Evangelical Constellation, did not signify the victory of laicism over an authority that had at best shown religious minorities tolerance in line with imposed standards of its own. Here, in the United States, the secularization of state powers did not serve primarily the negative purpose of protecting citizens against the compulsion to adopt a faith against their own will. This accounts for the rather friendly separation between Church and State in America, which leaves open chances and possibilities of cooperation. In America the secularization of state powers was instead designed to guarantee the settlers who had turned their backs on Old Europe the positive liberty to continue to exercise their respective religion without hindrance. Unfortunately liberal theory and praxis, validity and facticity did not always agree and religious minorities, e.g. the Roman Catholics were sometimes persecuted. How ever, for the reason of this positive liberty to follow one’s own religion, in the present American discourse on the political role of religion all sides have been able to claim their loyalty to the constitution. It remains a question to what extend this claim is valid
According to the critical theory of religion, in any case in spite of the bourgeois enlightenment and its fruit, the Bill of Rights and the introduction of the right of the freedom of religion, on September 11, 2001, the tensions in the modern dichotomy between religion on one hand, and the secular modern civil society and liberal constitutional state on the other, became so great, that it exploded. The 19 fundamentalist-Islamic Gihadists, or God-fighters in the holy war for the defense of Islam, were ready for collective suicide and mass murder. Their attack was directed against the infidels of the bourgeois modernity, who supposedly threatened Islam’s all - embracing religious way of life, with its enlightenment innovations: particularly the separation of religion and secular state, the privatization of religion, the spreading of the doctrine of natural and social evolution, and a corresponding entirely secular education The infidels of the younger, socialist modernity were supposed to have done the same, and had supposedly been broken and conquered by the Gihadists and Islam in Afghanistan with the help of the older bourgeois form of modernity. Now this older form had its turn to be destroyed! Thus, the Gihadists trans-functionalized four civil airliners into living rockets and guided them against the World Trade Centers in New York and into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and abortively into the Congress Building, as symbols of the profane, capitalist Western world and its engagement in stealing, killing and lying. The Gihadists used contemporaneous, very secular and very modern high – tech means, in order to achieve non-contemporaneous, pre-modern, traditional religious goals.
Motivations and Goals
The critical theorist of religion knows through Mohammed Atta’s testament and Osama Bin Laden’s pronouncements, that the attacks against New York and Washington D.C. were driven through religious, i.e. Islamic motivations and goals. The Gihadists acted in conformity to the jus talionis, which is present in the Koran as well as in the Torah. It says in the Torah:
Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stroke for stroke.
It says in the Koran:
Free man for freeman, slave for slave.
But the lex talionis is cancelled in the New Testament: through the fourth commandment of the Sermon on the Mount:
You have learned how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. on the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well, And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.
There are Jewish and Islamic scholars, who while they consider this commandment to be impractical in national or international politics, would nevertheless recommend forgiveness as a matter of personal charity and interpersonal relations. In a secular perspective this commandment seems to be a matter of utter irrationality until one experiences the insanity of the bad infinity of retaliation and counter retaliation, terror and counter-terror and the endless spell and curse it puts on generations, e.g. in the Near East. Then it becomes obvious, that the breaking of the lex talionis is by far more rational than the addiction to it. Certainly the cancellation of the jus talionis does in no way mean to shortchange justice in To the contrary, it is the better way to justice, as the example of Mahatma Ghandi shows only to clearly. The breaking of the jus talionis could contribute substantially to the discourse and cooperation among the civilizations and could help them to respond more adequately to the great changes they face at this moment in world - history.
Operation Iraqi Freedom
The Bush Administration started the second war against Iraq – Project Iraq Freedom following Project Dessert Storm - after having failed in its efforts to gain the consent of the World Security Council and after an almost Orwell Ian or Huxley an lying campaign concerning the reasons for and the goals of the war. This campaign pointed more toward alternative Future I – the totally administered society and alternative Future II – the entirely militarized society, than toward alternative Future III – a free and just civilization. The campaign followed the Future I - motto:
War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength.
Two and Two makes Five
God is Power
It remains still inconceivable for the rest of the world, why an intelligent person like Prime Minister Tony Blair from the British Labor Party supported this campaign. The second war against Iraq began on March 20, 2003 with an intense bombardment of Baghdad: an open city, and thus in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The war continued with massive military force for three weeks against international law and against world public opinion. The war was won very fast, but only apparently so. The Iraqi an military, trained in General Zhukov’s dialectical warfare, had decided long before the American invasion started, not to resist with obsolete weapons the invading high-tech army in open battle, but dissolved its forces and reorganized them for partisan and guerilla warfare drawing the enemy into the cities: as once the Spaniards did successfully against Napoleon, and the Russians against Hitler, and General Giap and the Vietnamese against the French Foreign Legion, which consisted to a large extend of former SS troops, and finally against the American army. This Iraqi an partisan warfare against the so called crusaders continues up to the present – September 2006 - with the support of many foreign volunteers from other Islamic countries and has in the meantime turned into a civil war, which costs daily the lives of large numbers of civilians.
Alienation of the Civilizations
The second Bush-Administration, instead of conquering the terror campaign of the Gihadists, helped its expansion in Afghanistan, in the Near East and around the globe, and thus produced the further alienation of the civilizations, which recently climaxed in the 34 Days War of Israel against Lebanon, which cost the loves of over 1000 civilians. More Lebanese children were killed than Hesbalah fighters. Further tragedies followed the Afghanistan and Iraq war: on Bali, in Casablanca, in Riad, in Istanbul, in Madrid, in London, in the Egyptian resort town of Sharmal El Sheikh. In Madrid, on March 11, 2004, and in London on July 7, 2005 the massacres touched Europe, and became a warning signal for all European countries, including those who had not participated in the Iraq war, that the world crisis had dramatically sharpened.
According to the critical theory of religion, this world crisis reached its most recent climax in the 34 Days War of Israel against Lebanon, which cost the lives of over 1000 civilians. More Lebanese children were killed than Hesbalah fighters. The tensions of the worldwide antagonism between the religious and the secular have led to permanent explosions. This was so, because the war against two Islamic countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the decades of Western application of double standards in reference to the degrading and despising occupation policies of the State of Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories under disregard not only of the Mosaic Decalogue and the 613/614 Mitzvoth, but also of all UN – resolutions, had thrown the whole Islamic world into an indescribable rage and fury, embitterment, and hardening. In 2004, a high official of the Sharon Cabinet in Jerusalem saw a picture of an old Palestinian grandmother, who crawled on the dirty floor of her bulldozed-down home and searched for her pills: she reminded him of his relatives in Auschwitz. Now Huntington’s clash of civilizations appears as self-fulfilling prophecy. on July 24, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI offered a public prayer in Rome, that God might stop the terrorists. God may not do that without the so - called Christian West removing the factors, which have produced the religious terror of the Gihadists in the first place, and which continue to do so: particularly the secular terror, e.g. the massacres of Talibans after the siege of Kunduz in Afghanistan, or the torture and humiliations of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, and at Guantanamo Bay, and the bombardments of open towns and villages in Iraq, which produce high numbers of civilian casualties, the so called collateral damages, e.g. in Fallujah, and the use of cancer-producing down-graded uranium in weaponry in Basra and elsewhere, without cleaning it up afterwards, etc.
The Non-Concluded Dialectic
In the perspective of the critical theory of religion, there are obviously hardened and petrified religious orthodoxies not only in the Near East and the Far East, but also in the West. There are hardened orthodoxies in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and in their particular paradigms, as well as in other world religions. Whoever wants with Küng or Habermas, and against Huntington, avoid alterative Future II - a collision of civilizations and conventional wars and civil wars, and finally a third world war, has to remember, that the dialectic of the occidental process of modernization and enlightenment and secularization has not yet been completely decided and concluded. on one hand, the present American war against terrorism is no war at all, since a war can take place only between nations, and not between a nation and a global Islamic movement, of which Al qaeda is only a small part. on the other hand, in the religious terrorism expresses itself also the fateful-speechless collision of cultural worlds, which must develop a common language, beyond the silent and dumb force of the religious terrorists, as well as of the secular rockets, directed against them. Already years ago the great Iranian leader Chatami wished, that the Americans had more communicative rationality, so that one could talk with them. Americans appear as being completely overcome by instrumental rationality. They continually speak about either tools or weapons of all kinds in terms of functional rationality, instead of language-mediated relationships between persons or nations or civilizations. Diplomacy seems to have died. In a Frankfurt newspaper Chatami expressed his appreciation for the great accomplishments of modernity, but also insisted on Islamic identity. Should there not be a possibility of reconciliation, or at least mutual openness? However, neither the Christian-Democratic nor the Social-Democratic German Government answered Chatami. The answer came finally from Jürgen Habermas, when at the occasion of receiving the Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels 2001 in Frankfurt’s St. Paul’s Church, he spoke on the old theme of faith and knowledge, and recommended an open dialectic between the religious and the secular, between Islam and the secular West, More recently the President of Iran sent an 18 page long letter to President Bush junior, in which he, the Muslim, told the born again Christian what the Christian principle of neighborly love – the fifth commandment of the Sermon on the Mount requires. So far - September 1, 2006 - the letter of the President of Iran has not yet been answered, which would be at least a matter of simple decency. Discourses, not expensive bombs and rockets are the more adequate response to the great challenges, which the civilizations of the present world are facing.
In the perspective of the critical theory of religion, without doubt the post-secular civil society finds itself in an awkward and thorny key - situation for the new formation of the international relations: of the relationship between the secular Western civilization and the Islamic civilizations; and also of the relationship among the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Nevertheless, the options have become quite clear: either alternative Future II - rivalry of the religions, collision of the cultures, wars among the nations and civilizations, or alternative Future III - discourse and cooperation among the cultures and peace among the civilizations. Hans Küng has stated rightly many times: There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without discourse among them. There will be no discourse among the religions, without foundation research in the religions. In this research, religious and secular public education should and can cooperate. Religious thinkers like Hans Küng, or secular thinkers like Jürgen Habermas, are fully aware, that such discourse is the most fragile form of mediation among the religious communities as well as between them and the secular world. Every encounter in the secular and disenchanted life world of civil society among members of different faith communities as well as between them and secular people, demonstrates concerning each topic discussed – wars, death penalty, stem cell research, abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia etc, - the vulnerability of such discourse through different forms of irrationality and collective insanity: be it nationalism, or racism, or religious or secular fanaticism. But such discourse is, nevertheless, the only healthy alternative to alternative Future II – the more and more militarized society, more and more conventional wars and civil wars, and finally the clash of whole civilizations, and a third world war with real weapons of mass destruction on all sides. An American public opinion poll of July 24, 2005, discovered, that 6 out of 10 Americans firmly believe, that a third world war is unavoidable, and that it will break out in the not too distant future. Fox News announces since month that the World War III has started already. That would indeed be the end of discourse and cooperation among the civilizations: maybe their own end.
In the view of the dialectical theory of religion, it is obvious, that the explosion of the antagonism between the religious and the secular, which happened on September 11, 2001, and which has continued ever since in the form of retaliation and counter-retaliation, terror and counter-terror, concerns more than just the separation of church and state, religious and secular education, or the privatization of religion, or creationism versus evolutionism, or vice versa, or stem cell research, abortion and euthanasia. We must admit, that in the present world - historical situation no real reconciliation between the religious and the secular, revelation and autonomous reason is possible. Precisely, therefore, we suggest, that the discourse between the sacred and the profane should at least not be closed up fundamentalistically, or scientistically and positivistically. To the contrary, we suggest an open dialectic between faith and knowledge, revelation and enlightenment, in order from there to derive guidance also for the relationship between church and state, religious and secular education. Such openness does not hope for the return from mysticism to religious orthodoxy, or from secular enlightenment to mysticism. The secular may concretely supersede the religious: the secular may not only critique the religious, but it may also preserve, elevate and fulfill it in alternative Future III – the reconciled society.
We start our sixth international discourse in Yalta once more from the conviction, that the world - religions have an important role to play in the establishment of peace among the civilizations. We are also convinced, that the world-religions can have this positive function for peace among the civilizations only, when they enter discourse with each other, and explore together the moral values and norms which they may have in common, and the possibilities of their application to different civilizations. In such discourse, Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians, Muslims or Bahai may find out, that they share - if also in different formulations - at least one ethical norm: the Golden Rule. Already in the present transition period from modernity to post-modernity an open dialectic between the religious and the secular, revelation and autonomous reason, faith and knowledge can make possible the cooperation between religious and secular people, believers and enlighteners toward a project world ethos. It could be centered in the Golden Rule; The Golden Rule embraces not only the whole Hebrew Law and the Prophets, but also the New Testament and the Koran. Surely the Golden rule is a religious principle and it is not the secular categorical imperative or the likewise profane apriori of the universal communication community. But these secular ethical principles determinately negate the religious one: they do not only critically negate it, but also preserve it, elevate it and fulfill it. Therefore also many enlighteners and humanists have no problem to accept the Golden Rule in its religious or secular rationalized as the foundation of a global ethos. The Golden Rule states in its Chinese form:
Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.
The Golden Rule says in its Hindu Form:
This is the sum of duty: do nothing to others, which would cause you, pain if done to you.
The Golden Rule teaches in its Buddhist form:
A state that is not pleasant or delightful to me must be so for him also; and a state which is not pleasant or delightful for me, how could I inflict that on another?
The Golden Rule of Jainism says:
A person should treat all creatures as he himself would be treated.
The Golden Rule says in its Jewish form:
Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.
The Golden Rule teaches in its Christian form:
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.
The Golden Rule states in its Islamic form:
No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.
Enlighteners may invert the Golden rule in terms of the categorical imperative L Act in such a way that your particular axiom can be the foundation of a universal legislation or treat nobody as a mere means. They may translate the Golden Rule in terms of the apriori of the unlimited communication community: a norm is ethically valid and acceptable, when it is based on the consensus of the universal communication community. one may even extend the Gold Rule to non-human living beings: men would do to animals, as men would have animals do to them: e.g. pull the ox out of the fountain even on the Sabbath. If men would not like to be eaten by sharks, or lions, or bears, they should not eat them neither. Before Noah all people were vegetarians. If men would respect animal rights in terms of the Golden Rule, could they still establish zoos, or keep domestic animals, not to speak of having huge slaughterhouses?
The End of the Lex Talionis
The Golden Rule in all its different forms and in its secular inversion and translation can conquer the jus talionis, which separates the civilizations. The practice of the Golden rule would be the end of the lex talionis. The analysis should not stop with the realistic assertion, that the Golden Rule cannot be practiced, and thus the lex talionis cannot be broken, Why not? Men like Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, and Archbishop Romero and many others have practiced the Golden Rule even in its extreme form, by following the first, fourth and fifth commandment of the Sermon on the Mount. It is rather so, that the psychoanalytical and critical sociological and critical theological analysis must begin precisely with the question: why is it not possible for some people to practice the Golden Rule, and why must they remain under the spell of the mythological jus talionis, when others can liberate themselves from this ban and curse and are able to do to others, as they want to be treated. In any case, who does not want to lose his eye, should not take it from his brother. Who does not want to be stolen from, should not steal, or engage in usury, or colonialism, or imperialism. Who does not want to be murdered, should not murder, or engage in war, or torture, or terror, religious or secular. Who does not want to be lied to, should not lie and engage in false advertisement, or false propaganda, or ideology understood as false consciousness, the masking of national, or racial, or class interests, shortly the untruth. Whoever does not want his personal autonomy or national sovereignty to be violated, should not attack that of other persons or nations. Whoever does not want his own country to be devastated by natural or historical agents, should not devastate other peoples’ countries: otherwise New Orleans of August/September 2005 and the surrounding states, cities, towns and villages suddenly look with their thousands of wounded and dead, and refugees, and homeless, and hostages, and fires, and shootings, and killings, and rapes, and disorganization, and chaos like Hiroshima, or Dresden, or Baghdad, or Basra, or Kabul. Who does not want other life forms, or civilizations or cultures to intervene into his own, should also not intervene into those of other people. Whoever does not want other nations to have, or to use weapons of mass destruction, should also not have, or use them he. The Israelite, Hebrew, Jewish, Christian and Islamic prophets and the Hebrew Psalmists, would have said: repent! As one hurricane after the other - Katrina, Ophelia, Rita - are approaching, hitting and damaging the Gulf coast and Eastern coast of North America, the President sees in them entirely natural events, as every secular modern man would do. But the born-again President, nevertheless, also ordered a day of prayer for the whole nation after the hurricane Katrina and declared the suffering from the storms to be undeserved. This theodicy is certainly true for the poor classes and the children, who do most of the suffering. However, the Hebrew Bible speaks of a God, who hardened the heart of the Pharaoh, as one plague after the other strikes his country, because he was unwilling to set his slaves free. The Lutheran Christian Hegel taught that world-history is world-judgment. The Black Muslim Malcolm X declared after the assassination of President Kennedy, that the chickens are coming home to roost, and he was then assassinated himself. No religious man, being aware of his sinfulness, would be entirely sure, that his suffering was undeserved: no Antigone, and no Job. As one hurricane after the other hit the coast of North America, entirely secular members of the second Bush Administration, had the impression, that they were under attack and that somebody was after them. A believer from the Abrahamic or prophetic religions would have no difficulties to affirm this. The wars against Afghanistan and Iraq may have cost the lives of up to 2000 American soldiers and 100 000 noncombatants or civilians. Recently, i.e. September 2005, mothers, wives and children of fallen American soldiers have appeared on television and have asked President Bush in public to explain, for what purpose their sons and daughters and husbands and fathers had to die in Iraq, and not to sacrifice more young men and women for his mistake. There has of course existed at least since Noah and the great flood and since Abraham and Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah the awful theodicy problem, the antagonism between God’s infinite Power, perfect Justice, and unconditional Love on one hand, and the injustice that the innocent and good people, who do not deserve their suffering must suffer with the bad and evil people, who deserve it, on the other. There are e.g. the 90 innocent orphans and ten nuns, who drowned in the hurricane of Galveston, Texas, in 1900; the thousands of innocent children, who were swallowed up by the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean on Christmas 2004; and the hundreds of innocent children who got lost in the hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and along the American Gulf Coast in August and September 2005, and the many children who died in the Lebanese War of 2006.Of course, the new movie on the assassination of an American President, who is still in office, shown the first time on September 11, 2006, is not only tasteless, but it is also an expression of the lex talionis, and not of the Golden Rule.
The Golden Rule implies a true egalitarianism among individuals, and nations, and civilizations, without which there cannot be any true discourse and cooperation, or any personal and social morality, or for that matter any adequate response to any of the challenges any civilization faces today. Whenever the Golden Rule is not actualized, the lex talionis will take its place. If we do continually do to others, as we would not have them do to us, then there will necessarily be endless retaliation. Wars of revenge can not be won, except through the total annihilation of the other, the enemy, .If the wars of retaliation are not directed against another state, but rather against a worldwide religious movement, then - since they are no wars at all in the first place - those non-wars can be won even less. There remains only either the practice of the Golden Rule, and thus the inclusion of the other, or cold, universal despair, and finally alternative Future II: a third world war among the civilizations, a la Samuel Huntington. Hans Küng has presented such project world ethos, centered in the Golden Rule, to the World - Parliament of Religions as well as to the United Nations, and found full and universal acceptance. While Huntington’s prophecy of the clash of civilizations has admittedly and unfortunately at this moment in world history the tendency to fulfill itself, the critical theorists of religion, nevertheless, side with Küng’s project World Ethos, and with Habermas’ communicative ethics and try to engage in the discourse and cooperation among the civilizations. That is the only promising response to the challenges of the civilizations: shalom!
The critical theorist of religion remembers, that the first Jewish-Christian-Apocalyptic Paradigm was characterized by devotion, the longing for the totally Other, readiness for sacrifice and even martyrdom. Remembering the policies of the Roman Empire gives a deeper meaning to the preaching and the resistance of Jesus of Nazareth, who announced the coming of God’s reign in a Palestine colonized by the Romans, and called for the creation of an alternative, entirely other society based on love, justice and peace, and died for it. To die for a great cause and to exchange one’s worldly against a spiritual life, was considered among saints and martyrs not only of Christianity, but also of Judaism and Islam, and of other world religions as greatest challenge, which life offered them. Still Georg W.F. Hegel, who belonged to the much later Protestant-Evangelical Paradigm of Christianity made a precise analysis of the courage to dare the extreme, when he stated in his Phenomenology of Mind, that not the life, which shies away from death, and which preserves itself pure from the devastation, but which endures it, and maintains itself in it, is the life of the spirit. To look the negative into the eye, and to stay with it and to dwell on it, is the energy, which the subject must muster and procure, in order to gain him or herself. Since Hegel this energy, which promises a life on the boiling point has been forgotten in modern civil society. Into the place of this energy has moved the privatized New Testament care for one’s own personal, existence or salvation of the soul. The affluent - society- bourgeois has decided for the political zero-position and against the freedom of All. According to the young Hegel, in the fruits of peace and of acquisition, and in the compete security of consumption and pleasure the bourgeois finds the corresponding substitute- replacement- and compensation – actions. The need for protection and a secure existence, which the bourgeois seeks and which the bourgeois state tries to grant him or her, explains the trend in late civil society toward post-heroism. Such bourgeois post-heroism may no longer be sufficient in order to meet the challenge, which the different civilizations have to meet in the present transition period from Modernity to Post-Modernity: i.e. to move to global alternative Future III – a free, just and reconciled culture of peace, rather than to global alternative Futures I – a totally mechanized, computerized, robotized, signal society, or to global alternative Future II – a culture of death, the collision of civilizations, and world war III .
Rudolf J. Siebert
House of Shalom
© 2006 by Rudolf J. Siebert.
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Westerners and Easterners see the world differently
Harmony is a central idea in East Asian philosophy
22 August 2005
NewScientist.com news service
Chinese and American people see the world differently literally. While Americans focus on the central objects of photographs, Chinese individuals pay more attention to the image as a whole, according to psychologists at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, US. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that Western and East Asian people have contrasting world-views, explains Richard Nisbett, who carried out the study. Americans break things down analytically, focusing on putting objects into categories and working out what rules they should obey, he says.
By contrast, East Asians have a more holistic philosophy, looking at objects in relation to the whole. Figuratively, Americans see things in black and white, while East Asians see more shades of grey, says Nisbett. We wanted to devise an experiment to see if that translated to a literal
difference in what they actually see. The researchers tracked the eye-movements of two groups of students while they looked at photographs. one group contained American-born graduates of European descent and the other was comprised of Chinese-born graduate students who came to the US after their undergraduate degrees.
Each picture showed a striking central image placed in a realistic background, such as a tiger in a jungle. They found that the American students spent longer looking at the central object, while the Chinese students eyes tended to dart around, taking in the context.
Harmony versus goals
Nisbett and his colleagues believe that this distinctive pattern has developed because of the philosophies of these two cultures. Harmony is a central idea in East Asian philosophy, and so there is more emphasis on how things relate to the whole, says Nisbett. In the West, by contrast, life is about achieving goals. Psychologists watching American and Japanese families playing with toys have also noted this difference. An American mother will say: Look Billy, a truck. Its shiny and has wheels. The focus is on the object, explains Nisbett. By contrast, Japanese mothers stress context saying things like, I push the truck to you and you push it to me. When you throw it at the wall, the wall says ouch."
Nisbett also cites language development in the cultures. To Westerners it seems obvious that babies learn nouns more easily. But while this is the case in the West, studies show that Korean and Chinese children pick up verbs which relate objects to each other - more easily. Nisbetts work is interesting and suggestive, says John Findlay, a psychologist specialising in human visual attention at Durham University, UK. Its always difficult to put an objective measure on cultural differences, but this group have made a step towards that.
Nisbett hopes that his work will change the way the cultures view each other. Understanding that there is a real difference in the way people think should form the basis of respect.
Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (vol 102, p 12629) http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn7882
Harold F. Schiffman: firstname.lastname@example.org
IFLAC Digest Number 1088, August 27, 2005