Category Archives: Equal Rights

A People’s Vaccine Against a Mutating Virus and Neoliberal Rule

Photo credit: UNICEF Teachers and students were able to return to school in Lao Cai, Viet Nam, in May 2020

A recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that worries about the COVID pandemic in the United States are at their lowest level since it began. Only half of Americans are either “very worried” (15%) or “somewhat worried” (35%) about the virus, while the other half are “not very worried” (30%) or “not worried at all” (20%).

But the news from around the world makes it clear that this pandemic is far from over, and a story from Vietnam highlights the nature of the danger.

Vietnam is a COVID success story, with one of the lowest rates of infection and death in the world. Vietnam’s excellent community-based public health system prevented the virus from spreading beyond isolated cases and localized outbreaks, without a nationwide lockdown. With a population of 98 million people, Vietnam has had only 8,883 cases and 53 deaths.

However, more than half of Vietnam’s cases and deaths have come in the last two months, and three-quarters of the new cases have been infected with a new “hybrid” variant that combines the two mutations detected separately in the Alpha (U.K.) and Delta (India) variants.

Vietnam is a canary in the pandemic coal-mine. The way this new variant has spread so quickly in a country that has defeated every previous form of the virus suggests that this one is much more infectious.

This variant must surely also be spreading in other countries, where it will be harder to detect among thousands of daily cases, and will therefore be widespread by the time public health officials and governments respond to it. There may also be other highly infectious new variants spreading undetected among the millions of cases in Latin America and other parts of the world.

A new study in The Lancet medical journal has found that the Alpha (U.K.), Beta (South Africa) and Delta (India) variants are all more resistant to existing vaccines than the original COVID virus, and the Delta variant is still spreading in countries with aggressive vaccination programs, including the U.K.

The Delta variant accounts for a two-month high in new cases in the U.K. and a new wave of infections in Portugal, just as developed countries ease restrictions before the summer vacation season, almost certainly opening the door to the next wave. The U.K., which has a slightly higher vaccination rate than the United States, had planned a further relaxation of restrictions on June 21st, but that is now in question.

China, Vietnam, New Zealand and other countries defeated the pandemic in its early stages by prioritizing public health over business interests. The United States and Western Europe instead tried to strike a balance between public health and their neoliberal economic systems, breeding a monster that has now killed millions of people. The World Health Organization believes that six to eight million people have died, about twice as many as have been counted in official figures.

Now the WHO is recommending that wealthier countries who have good supplies of vaccines postpone vaccinating healthy young people, and instead prioritize sending vaccines to poorer countries where the virus is running wild.

President Biden has announced that the United States is releasing 25 million doses from its stockpiles, most of which will be distributed through the WHO’s Covax program, with another 55 million to follow by the end of June. But this is a tiny fraction of what is needed.

Biden has also agreed to waive patent rights on vaccines under the WTO’s TRIPS rules (the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), but that has so far been held up at the WTO by Canada and right-wing governments in the U.K., Germany, Brazil, Australia, Japan and Colombia. People have taken to the streets in many countries to insist that a WTO TRIPS Council meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday, June 8-9, must agree to waive patent monopolies.

Since all the countries blocking the TRIPS waiver are U.S. allies, this will be a critical test of the Biden administration’s promised international leadership and diplomacy, which has so far taken a back seat to dangerous saber-rattling against China and Russia, foot-dragging on the JCPOA with Iran and war-crime-fueling weapons-peddling to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Ending international vaccine apartheid is not just a matter of altruism, or even justice. It is a question of whether we will end this pandemic before vaccine-resistant, super-spreading and deadlier variants fuel even more toxic new waves. The only way humanity can win this struggle is to act collectively in our common interest. 

Public Citizen has researched what it would take to vaccinate the world, and concluded that it would cost only $25 billion – 3% of the annual U.S. budget for weapons and war – to set up manufacturing plants and distribution hubs across the world and vaccinate all of humanity within a year. Forty-two Progressives in Congress have signed a letter to President Biden to urge him to fund such a plan.

If the world can agree to make and distribute a People’s Vaccine, it could be the silver lining in this dark cloud, because this ability to act globally and collectively in the public interest is precisely what we need to solve so many of the most serious problems facing humanity.

For example, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) is warning that we are in the midst of a triple crisis of climate change, mass extinction and pollution. Our neoliberal political and economic system has not just failed to solve these problems. It actively works to undermine efforts to do so, granting people, corporations and countries who profit from destroying the natural world the freedom to do so without constraint.

That is the very meaning of laissez-faire, to let the wealthy and powerful do whatever they want, regardless of the consequences for the rest of us, or even for life on Earth. As the economist John Maynard Keynes reputedly said in the 1930s, “Laissez-faire capitalism is the absurd idea that the worst people, for the worst reasons, will do what is best for us all.”

Neoliberalism is the reimposition of 19th century laissez-faire capitalism, with all its injustices, inequality and oppression, on the people of the 21st century, prioritizing markets, profits and wealth over the common welfare of humanity and the natural world our lives depend on.

Berkeley and Princeton political theorist Sheldon Wolin called the U.S. political system, which facilitates this neoliberal economic order, “inverted totalitarianism.” Like classical totalitarianism, it concentrates ever more wealth and power in the hands of a small ruling class, but instead of abolishing parliaments, elections and the superficial trappings of representative government as classical totalitarianism did, it simply co-opts them as tools of plutocracy, which has proved to be a more marketable and sustainable strategy.

But now that neoliberalism has wreaked its chaos for a generation, popular movements are rising up across the world to demand systemic change and to build new systems of politics and economics that can actually solve the huge problems that neoliberalism has produced.

In response to the 2019 uprising in Chile, its rulers were forced to agree to an election for a constitutional assembly, to draft a constitution to replace the one written during the Pinochet dictatorship, one of the vanguards of neoliberalism. That election has now taken place, and the ruling party of President Pinera and other traditional parties won less than a third of the seats. So the constitution will instead be written by a super-majority of citizens committed to radical reform and social, economic and political justice.

In Iraq, which was also swept by a popular uprising in 2019, a new government seated in 2020 has launched an investigation to recover $150 billion in Iraqi oil revenues stolen and smuggled out of the country by the corrupt officials of previous governments.

U.S.-backed former exiles flew into Iraq on the heels of the U.S. invasion in 2003 “with empty pockets to fill,” as a Baghdad taxi driver told a Western reporter at the time. While U.S. forces and U.S.-trained Iraqi death squads destroyed their country, they hunkered down in the Green Zone in Baghdad and controlled and looted Iraq’s oil revenues for the next seventeen years. Now maybe Iraq can recover the stolen money its people so desperately need, and start using its oil wealth to rebuild that shattered country.

In Bolivia, also in 2019, a U.S.-backed coup overthrew its popular indigenous president, Evo Morales. But the people of Bolivia rose up in a general strike to demand a new election, Morales’ MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo) Party was restored to power, and Luis Arce, Morales’ former Economy Minister, is now Bolivia’s President.

Around the world, we are witnessing what can happen when people rise up and act collectively for the common good. That is how we will solve the serious problems we face, from the COVID pandemic to the climate crisis to the terminal danger of nuclear war. Humanity’s survival into the twenty-second century and all our hopes for a bright future depend on building new political and economic systems that will simply and genuinely “do what is best for all of us.”

The post A People’s Vaccine Against a Mutating Virus and Neoliberal Rule first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Global Solidarity Is Needed During The Pandemic To End Medical Apartheid

Some of the truths the COVID-19 pandemic is exposing about the United States are its racial disparities in health and access to health care. Black and Indigenous people are more likely to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 than white people. They are two to three times more likely to be hospitalized and two to two and a half times more likely to die than white people. There are a number of factors that contribute to this.

Another related truth that is being exposed by the pandemic is the relative failure of capitalist countries to contain the virus and limit deaths when compared to socialist countries. Even some relatively poor countries, many of which are targeted by the US’ illegal economic warfare, are outperforming wealthy countries because they have socialized systems.

This shouldn’t be surprising because capitalism as a system is designed to profit from emergencies, not provide for people’s needs. The response, or lack of it, to the winter storms in the South last week was a stark example. Millions of people froze without power and water because Texas failed to invest in its infrastructure to prepare for an emergency and those who had electricity are now facing energy bills of thousands of dollars because the market prices for energy soared.

But all in all, the Global South, mainly composed of Indigenous, Black and other people of color, is struggling during the pandemic as are their brothers and sisters in the United States. Wealthy western nations are hoarding more supplies than they need. They are protecting the profits of their corporations at a cost of human lives and allowing the pandemic to rage across the planet, mutating into more infectious and deadly strains as it goes.

People are organizing to end this medical apartheid. This is an important opportunity to address the longstanding causes of these disparities and build systems that uphold all of our human rights to health. This is a struggle that calls for solidarity from people in the US with the Global South.

People hold up a banner while listening to a news conference outside San Quentin State Prison Thursday, July 9, 2020. (ERIC RISBERG AP.)

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on the overall health of people in the United States, but Indigenous, Black and Latino people are impacted the most. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that life expectancy in the United States fell by a year in the first half of 2020, and it is likely to be a larger decline once the data for the entire year has been analyzed. Black people lost almost three years and Latino people lost almost two years of life while the decline for white people was less than a year. The CDC did not report on the life expectancy of Indigenous people.

There are multiple reasons for the disparity. As the Economic Policy Institute found last year, Black workers are suffering more during the pandemic in part because they are less likely to be able to work from home than white workers. Black people are more likely to have lost their job or to be an essential worker where they risk contracting COVID-19 and introducing it to their families and communities.

Prisons, where Black people are more likely than white people to be incarcerated, are sites of a high proportion of COVID-19 cases. As Marc Norton writes, prisons are super spreader sites infecting not only inmates but the surrounding community as well. One inmate who was involved in protests over the conditions at the Justice Center in St. Louis Missouri explains that inmates are not being tested, are not being given adequate access to what they need to protect themselves and are being housed with infected people. Although it is difficult to find data for prisoners who have COVID-19 categorized by race, the ACLU of West Virginia reports that the percent of Black inmates with COVID-19 in a number of states is nearly twice as high as the percentage of them in the prison population. For example, in Missouri, Black people are about a third of the prison population but are 58% of the COVID-19 cases.

Racial disparities are present in long term care facilities too, another site of high numbers of COVID-19 infections. Less than one percent of the population is in a long term care facility, but that is where five percent of the infections are occurring. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that there were more COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes with a high percentage of non-white residents than in nursing homes with a low percentage of non-white residents.

And rural areas, which in the South and Southeast tend to be majority Indigenous, Black and Brown, also contribute to the racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths. For the last decade, rural communities have been losing their hospitals and with that, their health professionals. There is also less access to telehealth services. But cities are problematic too.

The authors of this article in the Gothamist explain that, in New York City, “Black and Latino residents by and large suffer the highest death rates, which are attributable to inequitable access to health care and housing.” They also find great disparities in vaccination rates. White residents are being vaccinated at three times the rate of Black and Latino residents.

Disparities in vaccination rates exist elsewhere too. In Philadelphia, 44% of the city residents are black but they make up only 12% of those who have been vaccinated. To change this, the Black Doctors COVID-9 Consortium is taking vaccines directly to Black neighborhoods to immunize people. In Baltimore, while more than 60% of the people living in the city are black, only 5% of the people who have been vaccinated are black.

In the United States, a big reason for the racial disparities in who is being vaccinated has to do with the lack of a coordinated plan to make sure that those who are most impacted are vaccinated first. The US lacks the public health infrastructure to administer a mass vaccination campaign. There are different guidelines and methods of getting vaccinated in different parts of the country.

If the United States had a universal healthcare system like national improved Medicare for all, then vaccination programs could be run through primary care practices where the patients and health professionals know each other. Practices would know who in their patient population needs the vaccine most and could contact them. In the current environment, people have to sign up online, which disadvantages those who do not have access to the internet, and in some areas people can only get vaccinated in drive-through centers that exclude people without cars.

Instead of primary care practices doing the vaccinations, vaccines are being distributed through for-profit pharmacy chains. In California, healthcare workers have to go to a pharmacy chain or Costco to get vaccinated instead of getting the vaccine at work. This creates another barrier for workers. In Florida, the Governor has politicized the vaccine rollout by prioritizing zip codes that are mostly Republican and allowing the grocery chain Publix to be the sole distributor. Publix donated heavily to the Governor’s campaign.

As Margaret Kimberley explains, the underlying problem is capitalism. She writes, “Donald Trump was blamed for the poor response in 2020 but it is clear that Americans are in trouble regardless of who occupies the White House because profits determine the response to a health care crisis.”

Funk Rally in DC (Nicolas Moreland)

Recently, Popular Resistance co-hosted a webinar called “COVID-19: How Weaponizing Disease and Vaccine Wars Are Failing Us.” It featured some of the authors and editors of the book, “Capitalism on a Ventilator,” who gave an update to it. It is clear that countries that treat health care as a public good and that have socialized governments, such as China, Vietnam, Cuba, and Nicaragua, were able to take immediate steps to control the pandemic. They had the healthcare system and infrastructure in place to get information to people about how to protect themselves, to identify people who were infected and to provide what they needed to quarantine or receive medical treatment. They were able to coordinate getting health professionals and supplies to the areas where they were needed. And they are treating immunization as a public health necessity instead of a profit-making venture.

The situation in the United States has been the opposite. There was no centralized plan. City and state governments scrambled to put in place what was needed and engaged in bidding wars with each other for basic supplies and equipment. Some areas were overwhelmed and could not provide necessary care to everyone. Health professionals and others on the front line worked in hazardous conditions. People who needed care delayed seeking it out of fear of the cost. Hunger and poverty are now growing as the government failed to provide needed support financially and in other ways such as housing, health care and food.

In the United States, immunizations are being treated as a profit-centers instead of public goods. The United States government spent $12.4 billion on “Operation Warp Speed” to produce vaccines using private corporations that are now reaping the profits. Spending on the vaccine delivery side was only in the hundreds of millions while the actual cost is billions of dollars. States are struggling to afford their vaccine programs as they wait for Congress to pass another spending bill. This is likely a factor in driving states to turn to for-profit entities like pharmacy chains to administer the vaccines.

The United States and other wealthy western nations have also been acting on a global scale to thwart the efforts of other countries to handle the pandemic. Early on, as countries worked together by sharing information, supplies and health professionals, the United States withdrew from these efforts and increased its economic warfare in the form of sanctions on countries such as Venezuela and Iran. The results have been devastating.

This week, the United Nations special rapporteur on the impact of unilateral coercive measures on human rights, Alena Douhan, released her preliminary report on the dire situation in Venezuela. In an interview with Anya Parampil, Douhan said that the economic blockade shrunk Venezuela’s government revenue by an astounding 99%. On top of that, the United States, United Kingdom and Portugal are withholding $6 billion of Venezuela’s assets, money that Venezuela had agreed to use to purchase food, medicine and other necessities from the United Nations. The sanctions are also preventing Venezuela from purchasing vaccines through the COVAX program. Douhan is calling on the US and others to end the sanctions and give Venezuela access to its money, but so far the Biden administration has refused.

Sign the petition telling the Biden administration to end the sanctions. Register for the Sanctions Kill webinar to learn more about what sanctions are, who they impact and what we can do to end them at bit.ly/SKtoolkit.

When Russia announced its COVID-19 vaccine last August, a vaccine produced by state agencies, the United States quickly moved to impose economic sanctions on those research centers seemingly out of spite. Similar sanctions were forced on China, which has produced five different COVID-19 vaccines and plans to share its vaccines with less developed countries at a low cost to them.

The United States and other wealthy western nations are responsible for the global vaccine apartheid. Instead of putting policies in place to make sure that all people, especially in the vulnerable Global South countries, have vaccines, they are buying up the vaccines in quantities greater than they need, causing scarcity and driving up prices.

In These Times reports that ten wealthy countries have administered 75% of the vaccine doses given so far to their people while 130 countries have not given any doses. African countries are struggling to buy vaccines even through the COVAX program, which is short on supplies. Hadas Thier writes, “AstraZeneca, despite claiming a ​’no-profit’ pledge during the pandemic, is charging South Africa $5.25 per dose and Uganda $7 per dose. The European Union, by contrast, has paid just $2.16 per dose.” Doctors who are on the front lines are dying from COVID-19 because they aren’t protected, leaving African countries that already lack sufficient doctors in a worse situation.

Another issue that is driving the vaccine apartheid as well as limiting access to lifesaving medications is corporate monopolization of patent information. If other countries had access to that information, they could produce the vaccines and therapeutics themselves. Pressure is being put on the World Trade Organization (WTO) by 40 countries and 200 organizations to exempt COVID-19 medications and vaccines from patent restrictions, called a “TRIPS waiver,” at their meeting next month but the US and other wealthy nations are blocking it. Your organization can sign onto their letter here (deadline is Feb. 24).

The G7 nations met on Friday and agreed to provide a small portion of their vaccines to developing nations. Global Justice Now, one of the organizations pushing for open access to the patents for medicines and vaccines, says the G7 nations’ offer is a ‘fig leaf’ that is inadequate to address the problem: “Promising donations ‘at some point in the future’ fails to tackle the real problem: urgent lack of supply caused by Big Pharma’s patents.”

A stark example of vaccine apartheid is occurring in the Occupied Palestinian Territory where Israel, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, is refusing to give the vaccine to Palestinians. The United States could use its power to pressure Israel to stop this practice, but it isn’t. The United States has been a strong supporter of Israel’s genocidal actions.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance, a group of organizations pressuring the WTO to lift the patents, states that if the situation doesn’t change, “90% of people in poor countries won’t be able to get the vaccine in 2021.” Some countries in Latin America are taking matters into their own hands. Cuba is developing its own vaccine, the Sovereign 2, and plans to produce 100 million doses this year, far more than it needs, so that it can make it available to other countries at no or low cost. Argentina and Mexico are working with Astra Zeneca to start producing its vaccine together. The manufacturing process will begin in Argentina and be finished in Mexico.

Nurses and health care workers outside at a hospital in New York City demand better protection against the COVID-19 virus (Giles Clarke)

The COVID-19 pandemic and global medical apartheid affect all of us. The more the virus is allowed to proliferate, the more likely there is to be mutations, like the ones in the strains coming from the UK and South Africa. The UK strain is more infectious than the original strain and appears to be more lethal. It is widespread in the US now and may cause another surge of cases in the coming weeks or months. The South African strain is also in the US. It is more infectious and seems able to evade the body’s immune system.

If the world does not get the pandemic under control, all of our lives are at risk. It is in our interest to make sure that enough people are vaccinated quickly to stop the spread before new strains arise that are resistant to the vaccines. It is also critical that people who need medications to treat COVID-19 have access to them no matter where they live.

The Biden administration claims to be concerned about racial inequities. If that is the case, it must address these inequities wherever they occur or be called out for failing to do so. The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to transform the world in a way that ends the great inequities that exist.

  • Health care must be viewed worldwide as a public good, not a profit-making venture.
  • Instead of competition, there must be an open sharing of information to tackle the healthcare crises we face.
  • The Global South, which comprises the most vulnerable populations, must be prioritized for access to medications and vaccines so it can resolve the crisis quickly with less impact on its struggling economies.
  • And, the United States must end its illegal actions around the world including economic sanctions, military interference and support for major human rights abusers such as Israel.

We in the United States can hasten this transformation by putting pressure on our government to change. This is a way to show solidarity with people around the world who, like us, are struggling for the right to a life of dignity and prosperity. What our government does abroad, it also does at home because we all suffer under the capitalist system. Together, we can create a better world.

The post Global Solidarity Is Needed During The Pandemic To End Medical Apartheid first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Two Principles of Racial Equity that Outrage Liberals

The May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked a civil rights explosion.  It ignited pushes to demilitarize the police, reallocate police over-funding to necessary social services, end economic and power divides, and replace symbols of oppression with recognition of those who have suffered and resisted.

In University City, one of the oldest and more progressive suburbs of St. Louis, much happened during the upsurges of 2020.  During the spring and summer, multiple Black Lives Matter protests made their way though U City.  In July, the Green Party of St. Louis (GPSL) teamed up with the Universal African Peoples Organization (UAPO), Tauheed Youth Organization and Beloved Streets of America to hold a press conference at the steps of City Hall which demanded that Delmar Blvd be renamed “George Floyd Divide.”  In August, Teens Taking Action St. Louis (TTAStL) from U City High School organized their own demonstration.  In December GPSL, UAPO and TTAStL co-sponsored a Zoom webinar to address the symbols of domination which are embodied in statues and the names of streets, parks and schools.

As these actions were happening, the City Council of U City set up a Task Force on Renaming Streets and Parks and invited me to join it.  The Task Force uncovered offensive street names that are not unlike those in many US cities.  Not surprisingly, some liberal Task Force members seemed reluctant to rename any streets, coming up with excuses like Amherst Street wasn’t really named after Lord Jeffrey Amherst but after Amherst College (which was named after the city of Amherst, which was named after Lord Jeffrey).

Since U City can be a pacesetter, it seemed time to intensify the discussion by pulling in others from the St. Louis metropolitan area as well as other parts of Missouri.  In hopes of reaching a wider audience, I sent the article below,  “It’s time to rename the streets” to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which carried it on New Year’s Day.

Online push-back began immediately: when readers saw the principles of racial equity appearing at the end of the article, some wrote that the proposed changes were on target, others were outraged at the idea of changing of any street name because it would “cost too much” for new street signs and residents would be “inconvenienced” by having to get address return labels reprinted.

One guy even found my phone number and left a message detailing his intense dislike of name changes due to his belief that “I feel comfortable with the street names just as they are.”  If we had spoken, I would have asked him if he would be as “comfortable” with streets named after Nazi generals as he is with streets named after Confederate generals.  Perhaps he would have split some hair to distinguish them, reflecting the attitude prevalent among US whites that “Black Lives Really Do Not Matter.”

After the Task Force focused on four names, we realized that additional streets had been named after slaveholders.  There could be so many Missouri streets named after slaveholders that renaming them could prompt the making of new street maps.  Doing so across the US might even require a massive change in consciousness, the type of reawakening (or epiphany) necessary for the country to make full restitution for its historic crimes.

Don Fitz: It’s time to rename the streets

The hour has arrived to examine who we honor with street names and statues — or it could be as many as 400 years overdue. As a member of University City’s Street and Park Renaming Task Force, I read with interest the Post-Dispatch’s front-page article: “The push to weed out ‘symbols of oppression’ gets going once again” (December 7, 2020).

There are four streets of interest in University City: Jackson, Pershing, Wilson and Amherst. Jackson Street was not named after former President Andrew Jackson but “Stonewall” Jackson, a Confederate general who was Robert E. Lee’s right-hand man in the slaveholders’ rebellion.

Pershing Street was named after General John Pershing. Fighting in the Mexican war and Indian wars, he commanded segregated troops. His most infamous undertaking was in the U.S. war on the Philippines, where soldiers compared shooting Filipinos to hunting rabbits during the time when the Ku Klux Klan was growing. When American soldiers slaughtered 600 Filipino men, women and children who were trapped in a volcano, Mark Twain wrote a scathing critique of U.S. brutality.

Wilson Street was named after Woodrow Wilson, often called the most racist U.S. president. Though federal agencies had been integrated during reconstruction, Wilson oversaw their re-segregation. He fired 15 of 17 Black supervisors, replacing them with whites. Wilson did not oppose the suppression of Black voters, claiming that it was not due to their skin being dark but because “their minds were dark.” He described Southern Black people as an “ignorant and inferior race” and defended America’s violence in the Philippines. Wilson supported the KKK by showing the film “The Birth of a Nation” (originally titled “The Klansman”) at the White House. When president of Princeton, he refused admission to Black students and removed previous Black admissions from the university’s history.

Amherst Street was named after Lord Jeffrey Amherst (or perhaps his namesake, Amherst College). Rivaling the genocidal policies of the Nazis, Amherst is often considered the grandfather of biological warfare from his role in giving smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans as a British officer in the French and Indian Wars during 1763. Although he respected his French opponents, he focused on Indians, who he described as “vermin” with no rights of humanity and sought their total extermination. Despite being criticized by other officers, Amherst was promoted to lieutenant colonel and gained the confidence of King George III. In 2008, Mi’kmaq spiritual leader John Joe Sark compared naming a place after Amherst to naming an Israeli city after Adolf Hitler.

Demonstrations following the May 2020 killing of George Floyd and numerous other Black victims suggest that it is time to acknowledge attacks on people of color by changing street names in ways that correct imbalances. There are currently two extreme imbalances in the ways that streets have been named: While many U.S. streets are named after white Americans who rebelled against high taxes, there is a virtual absence of U.S. streets named after Black or native people who rebelled against slavery or theft of their homelands. And while some U.S. streets are named after police officers killed by civilians, there is an absence of streets named after civilians killed by police officers.

In order to correct the ugly implication that paying too much money to the British crown was far worse than centuries of attacks on people of color, streets should be renamed after Black and native people who took up arms against their oppressors. They would include Hatuey, the first leader of a native rebellion in this hemisphere, and leaders of slave revolts Toussaint L’Ouverture, Gabriel Prosser and Denmark Vesey.

Because University City already has a street named after the slain police officer Sgt. Mike King, balance requires naming a street after Michael Brown or Anthony Lamar Smith (or maybe Emmet Till). Ignoring the need to do this means maintaining the racial imbalance that the 2020 demonstrations sought to address. Do we really want to continue with the message that white folks have the right to rebel but people of color do not? Do we really want to say that cops who are unjustly killed should be commemorated but people of color who are killed by cops do not deserve any recognition?

The post Two Principles of Racial Equity that Outrage Liberals first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Moving Past Apartheid: One-State is not Ideal Justice, but It is Just and Possible

Once again, Europe’s top diplomats expressed their ‘deep concern’ regarding Israel’s ongoing illegal settlement expansion, again evoking the maxim that Israeli actions “threaten the viability of the two-state solution”.

This position was communicated by EU Foreign Affairs Chief, Josep Borrell, on November 19, during a video-conference with Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Maliki.

All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and should be rejected in words and action, regardless of whether they pose a threat to the defunct two-state solution or not.

Aside from the fact that Europe’s ‘deep concern’ is almost never followed with any substantive action, articulating a legal and moral stance in the context of imaginary solutions is particularly meaningless.

The question, then, is: “Why does the West continue to use the two-state solution as its political parameter for a resolution to the Israeli occupation of Palestine while, at the same time, failing to take any meaningful measure to ensure its implementation?”

The answer lies, partly, in the fact that the two-state solution was never devised for implementation, to begin with.  Like the “peace process” and other pretenses, it aimed to promote, among Palestinians and Arabs, the idea that there is a goal worth striving for, despite it being unattainable.

However, even that goal was, itself, conditioned on a set of demands that were unrealistic at the outset. Historically, Palestinians have had to renounce violence (their armed resistance to Israel’s military occupation), consent to various UN resolutions (even if Israel still rejects those resolutions), accept Israel’s “right” to exist as a Jewish state, and so on. That yet-to-be-established Palestinian State was also meant to be demilitarized, divided between the West Bank and Gaza, but excluding most of occupied East Jerusalem.

Yet, while warnings that a two-state solution possibility is disintegrating, few bothered to try to understand the reality from a Palestinian perspective. Fed up with the illusions of their own failed leadership, according to a recent poll, two-thirds of Palestinians now agree that a two-state solution is not possible.

Even the claim that a two-state solution is necessary, at least as a precursor to a permanent one-state solution, is absurd. This argument places yet more obstacles before the Palestinian quest for freedom and rights. If the two-state solution was ever feasible, it would have been achieved when all parties, at least publicly, championed it. Now, the Americans are no longer committed to it and the Israelis have moved past it into whole new territories, plotting the illegal annexation and permanent occupation of Palestine.

The undeniable truth is that millions of Palestinian Arabs (Muslims and Christians) and Israeli Jews are living between the Jordan River and the Sea. They are already walking on the same earth and drinking the same water, but not as equals. While Israeli Jews represent the privileged, Palestinians are oppressed, caged in behind walls and treated as inferior. To sustain Israeli Jewish privilege as long as possible, Israel uses violence, employs discriminatory laws and, as Professor Ilan Pappe calls it, ‘incremental genocide’ against Palestinians.

A one-state solution aims to challenge Israeli Jewish privilege, replacing the current racist, apartheid regime with a democratic, equitable, and representative political system that guarantees the rights for all peoples and all faiths, as in any other democratic governance anywhere in the world.

For that to take place, no shortcuts are required and no further illusions about two states are necessary.

For many years, we have linked our struggle for Palestinian freedom with the concept of justice, as in ‘no justice no peace’, ‘justice for Palestine’, and so on. So, it is befitting to ask the question, is the one-state solution a just one?

Perfect justice is not attainable because history cannot be erased. No truly just solution can be achieved when generations of Palestinians have already died as refugees without their freedom or ever going back to their homes. Nevertheless, allowing injustice to perpetuate because ideal justice cannot be obtained is also unfair.

For years, many of us have advocated a one-state as the most natural outcome of terribly unjust historical circumstances. However, I – and I know of other Palestinian intellectuals, as well – have refrained from making that a cause celèbre, simply because I believe that any initiatives regarding the future of the Palestinian people must be championed by the Palestinian people themselves. This is necessary to prevent the kind of cliquism and, as Antonio Gramsci called it, intellectualism, that wrought Oslo and all of its ills.

Now that public opinion in Palestine is shifting, mainly against the two-state solution, but also, though gradually, in favor of a one-state, one is able to publicly take this stance as well. We should support the one democratic state because Palestinians in Palestine itself are increasingly advocating such a rightful and natural demand. I believe it is only a matter of time before equal rights within a one-state paradigm become the common cause of all Palestinians.

Advocating dead ‘solutions’, as the Palestinian Authority, the EU and others continue to do, is a waste of precious time and effort. All attention should now focus on helping Palestinians obtain their rights, including the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees and holding Israel morally, politically and legally accountable for failing to respect international law.

Living as equals in one state that demolishes all walls, ends all sieges and breaks all barriers is one of these fundamental rights that should not be up for negotiations.

The post Moving Past Apartheid: One-State is not Ideal Justice, but It is Just and Possible first appeared on Dissident Voice.

This Year’s Wellness Exam

For our flu shots, my wife and I drive eight familiar miles, basically the route to a school where she taught, and the placid, ordinary neighborhoods and business locales we’ve passed through a thousand times are no longer friendly. The habit of isolation colors what we see. It dims the glare of familiarity and reveals dangers. Isolation is something like hiding.

We’re in a mood, you might say, going to expose ourselves to what a busy Pharmacy encloses, its air, its merchandise, and its people. It will be the first building we enter besides our house and our grandchildren’s home in seven months. The CDC Covid-19 categorizes us as among the most vulnerable to fatality from it: over 70 years old with adverse physical conditions. Obviously, everyone on earth is subject to it also, “7.8 billion as of September 2020 according to the most recent United Nations’ estimates…by Worldometer,” but also obviously we are NOT “all in this together” as spokespeople for our ineffectual governing bodies claim.

Not here, not in Dayton, not in Ohio, not anywhere in the US. Not in the sense that we are all doing our best to counter the threat, to work for its elimination, to help as many fellow citizens as possible to survive. Mutual purpose, concern, and respect are absent. Discovering that this kind of unity does not exist has replaced trust with fear, insecurity, anger and depression.

What is the meaning of the videos showing mask-less crowds jamming together at beaches, restaurants, bars, parties, and political rallies? It’s the same meaning my daily hikes teach. Encountering others walking or biking is usually not much of a problem. But some people do nothing to assure safe distance. Some unleash their dogs, which can carry the virus, allowing them to run free and even jump on other people. A few block narrow passages, do nothing when requested to make room in which to pass, and a few even curse someone asking to get by.

What justifies such behavior? Television newscasts have often aired this answer: I have rights and I will exercise them. I will gather as closely as I want with other people, I will go without a mask, I will not quarantine myself, and if others happen to get Covid-19 from the coronavirus I might carry, they are just unfortunate collateral damage. My rights are sacred. Your life is not as important as my rights. In fact, I’ve seen bumper stickers that say, “I don’t give a fuck about your feelings.” Meaning? Basically, your life means nothing to me.

Certainly such thinking existed before, but not to the extent it does now. Until this pandemic, an emphasis on ME, on MY rights superseding the rights of other people, would have faced overwhelming derision. Most people would have embarrassed themselves expressing it, and American courts and politicians would have condemned it. It was commonly understood that every right has limits. The “original author…[of] the State of World Liberty Index…defines ‘freedom’ as ‘the ability for the individual to live their lives as they choose, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others to do the same.'”

The last clause of that statement is what our nation taught and few citizen’s questioned until now. Not applying it during a pandemic has effects as bad as the virus. What vaccine can protect us from this inhumane, selfish attitude?

The post This Year's Wellness Exam first appeared on Dissident Voice.

White Allies For Black Lives Matter

We’re now emerging from an intense period of racial justice protests that began after the killing of George Floyd. It was exhilarating and pride-inspiring to witness the multitudes in the Lehigh Valley (Pa) who “took it to the streets” on behalf of racial equality, especially the waves of Black and white young people. According to the Pew Research Center, some 15 million adults participated in the protests which makes it the largest movement in American history. In terms of interracial composition, three times as many whites as Blacks participated and the percentage of Hispanics was higher than that for Black people. Further, so many young people participated that it could be rightly characterized as a generational revolt. But, will these events remain a historic “moment” or the start of an ongoing liberation movement?

After an interminable and unconscionably overdue response, we saw significant white allyship and we finally realized that white people must listen to Black voices and be accountable. However, in that vein, a key question remains: which voices should white allies heed? As Black activist Eric Jenkins reminds us, no organization speaks for all Black people and some Black-led organizations are totally disconnected from the lives of the Black working class. As Jenkins notes, some traditional Black organizations are even leery to accept white activists lest it disrupt their relationship with the dominant white power structure.

So, should white allies listen to the voices of the “go-along to get-ahead” types, like the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), composed of 55 members? The late Bruce Dixon, an editor at Black Agenda Report, characterized the CBC as part of the “Black Political Class,” whose first allegiance is enabling the 1% to rule, a class to which most Black Americans do not belong. “Blackness,” here, is just an image brandished to banksters, military contractors and corporate interests.” As Dixon asserted, CBC takes its marching orders from the Democratic Party and obscene gobs of cash donations from white corporate sponsors in exchange for safe Congressional seats, cushy lifestyles and undeserved status. Aside from rhetoric, they do nothing to advance the interests of 40 million Black citizens,

Should we listen to the Black voices those attempting to co-opt and neuter the system transforming potential Black Lives Matter by diverting it simply into voting for Democrats. As a Facebook friend recently wrote, “The Democratic Party is now “An upper-middle class party that’s singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ fifty years too late.”

Or, rather, should we be attentive to Black voices in our midst who echo the powerful legacy of social and political transformation derived from Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Paul Robeson to W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Audre Lorde to more recent voices like bell hooks, Margaret Kimberley, Keenanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Mary Hooks? Their work strongly suggests they would all advocate a gradual merging of BLM demands like “Stop Killing Black People,” ending mass incarceration (one in three Black boys can expect to be locked up during their adult lives) and abolishing institutional and cultural racism with demands to dismantle capitalism in all its predatory forms. The aforementioned social justice activists knew that a reckoning with America’s history of racism and economic injustice can never be realized without joining both sets of demands.

For example, as Martin Luther King matured as a leader, thinker and radical activist, be became openly anti-capitalist (and anti-U.S. imperialism). In a speech to his staff in South Carolina, just one month before his assassination on April 4, 1968, Dr. King spoke approvingly about the new and dynamic young radicals in the movement who understood that “only by structural change can current evils be eliminated because the roots are in the [capitalist] system rather than in men or in faulty operations…they all understand the need for direct, self-transforming and structural transformation. This may be their most creative collective insight.”

Finally, meaningful change will only come about when tens of thousands of people are willing to engage in large-scale civil disobedience and risk arrest in the revolutionary tradition of Dr. King. Is there any doubt that were he alive today he would be all about grass-roots organizing and planning another rally for the indefinite occupation of Washington, DC. This type of movement is the worst nightmare for those who own and rule the country. Doing anything less than attempting to bring their apparition to life would be wasting a convergence of favorable factors that may not appear again.

We Need To Talk About Romanticism

Satire on Romantic Suicide (1839) by Leonardo Alenza y Nieto (1807–1845)

Introduction

Why do we need to talk about Romanticism? What is Romanticism? And how does it affect us in the 21st century? The fact is that we are so immersed in Romanticism now that we cannot see the proverbial wood for the haunted-looking trees. Romanticism has so saturated our culture that we need to stand back and remind ourselves what it is, and examine how it has seeped into our thinking processes to the extent that we are not even aware of its presence anymore. Or why this is a problem. The Romanticist influence of intense emotion makes up a large part of modern culture, for example, in much pop music, cinema, TV and literature; e.g., genres such as Superheroes, Fantasy, Horror, Magical realism, Saga, Westerns. I will look at the origins of Romanticism, and its negative influence on culture and politics. I will show how Enlightenment ideas originally emerged in opposition to an absolute monarchy and the fixed dogmas of the Church and led to the formation of a working class ideology and culture of resistance.

Romanticism and the modern world

The whole exuberance, anarchy and violence of modern art … its unrestrained, unsparing exhibitionism, is derived from [Romanticism]. And this subjective, egocentric attitude has become so much a matter of course for us … that we find it impossible to reproduce even an abstract train of thought without talking about our own feelings.
— Arnold Hauser, (1892–1978), A Social History of Art, Vol. 3, p. 166

Romanticism arose out of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century as a reaction to what was perceived as a rationalisation of life to the point of being anti-nature. The Romantics were against the Industrial Revolution, universalism and empiricism, emphasising instead heroic individualists and artists, and the individual imagination as a critical authority rather than classical ideals.

The Enlightenment itself had developed from the earlier Renaissance with a renewed interest in the classical traditions and ideals of harmony, symmetry, and order based on reason and science. On a political level the Enlightenment promoted republicanism in opposition to monarchy which ultimately led to the French revolution.

The worried conservatives of the time reacted to the ideas of the Enlightenment and reason with a philosophy which was based on religious ideas and glorified the past (especially Medieval times and the ‘Golden Age’) — times when things were not so threatening to elites. This philosophy became known as Romanticism and emphasised medieval ideas and society over the new ideas of democracy, capitalism and science.

Romanticism originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1890. It was initially marked by innovations in both content and literary style and by a preoccupation with the subconscious, the mystical, and the supernatural. This period was followed by the development of cultural nationalism and a new attention to national origins, an interest in native folklore, folk ballads and poetry, folk dance and music, and even previously ignored medieval and Renaissance works.

The Romantic movement “emphasized intense emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as apprehension, horror and terror, and awe—especially that experienced in confronting the new aesthetic categories of the sublimity and beauty of nature.” The importance of the medieval lay in the  pre-capitalist significance of its individual crafts and tradesmen, as well as its feudal peasants and serfs.

Thus Romanticism was a reaction to the birth of the modern world: urbanisation, secularisation, industrialisation, and consumerism. Romanticism emphasised intense emotion and feelings which over the centuries came to be seen as one of its most important characteristics, in opposition to ‘cold’, ‘unfeeling’ Enlightenment rationalism.

Origins of Enlightenment emotion

Whence this secret Chain between each Person and Mankind? How is my Interest connected with the most distant Parts of it?
Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746), An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725), Treatise II: An Inquiry concerning Moral Good and Evil, Sect. I.

However, this ‘cold’, ‘unfeeling’ scenario is actually very far from the truth. In fact, the Enlightenment, itself, had its origins in emotion. Enlightenment philosophers of the eighteenth century tried to create a philosophy of feeling that would allow them to solve the problem of the injustice in the unfeeling world they saw all around them.

Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713) believed that all human beings had a ‘natural affection’ or natural sociability which bound them together.  Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746) wrote that “All Men have the same Affections and Senses”, while David Hume (1711–1776) believed that human beings extend their “imaginative identification with the feelings of others” when it is required. Similarly, Adam Smith (1723–1790), the writer of Wealth of Nations, believed in the power of the imagination to inform us and help us understand the suffering of others.1

Portrait of Denis Diderot (1713-1784), by Louis-Michel van Loo, 1767

For the Enlightenment philosophers the relationship between feeling and reason was of absolute importance. To develop ideas that would progress society for the better, a sense of morality was essential. Denis Diderot (1713–1784) a prominent French philosopher of the Enlightenment in France, for example, had strong views on the importance of the passions. As Henry Martyn Lloyd writes:

Diderot did believe in the utility of reason in the pursuit of truth – but he had an acute enthusiasm for the passions, particularly when it came to morality and aesthetics. With many of the key figures in the Scottish Enlightenment, such as David Hume, he believed that morality was grounded in sense-experience. Ethical judgment was closely aligned with, even indistinguishable from, aesthetic judgments, he claimed. We judge the beauty of a painting, a landscape or our lover’s face just as we judge the morality of a character in a novel, a play or our own lives – that is, we judge the good and the beautiful directly and without the need of reason. For Diderot, then, eliminating the passions could produce only an abomination. A person without the ability to be affected, either because of the absence of passions or the absence of senses, would be morally monstrous.

Moreover, to remove the passions from science would lead to inhuman approaches and methods that would divert and alienate science from its ultimate goal of serving humanity, as Lloyd writes:

That the Enlightenment celebrated sensibility and feeling didn’t entail a rejection of science, however. Quite the opposite: the most sensitive individual – the person with the greatest sensibility – was considered to be the most acute observer of nature. The archetypical example here was a doctor, attuned to the bodily rhythms of patients and their particular symptoms. Instead, it was the speculative system-builder who was the enemy of scientific progress – the Cartesian physician who saw the body as a mere machine, or those who learned medicine by reading Aristotle but not by observing the ill. So the philosophical suspicion of reason was not a rejection of rationality per se; it was only a rejection of reason in isolation from the senses, and alienated from the impassioned body.

Michael L. Frazer describes the importance of Enlightenment justice and sympathy in his book The Enlightenment of Sympathy. He writes:

Reflective sentimentalists recognize our commitment to justice as an outgrowth of our sympathy for others. After our sympathetic sentiments undergo reflective self-correction, the sympathy that emerges for all those who suffer injustice poses no insult to those for whom it is felt. We do not see their suffering as mere pain to be soothed away when and if we happen to share it. Instead under Hume’s account, we condemn injustice as a violation of rules that are vitally important to us all. And under Smith’s account, we condemn the sufferings of the victims of injustice as injustice because we sympathetically share the resentment that they feel toward their oppressors, endorsing such feelings as warranted and acknowledging those who feel them deserve better treatment.2

Cooper, Hume and Smith were living in times, not only devoid of empathy, but also even of basic sympathy. Robert C. Solomon writes of society then in A Passion for Justice: “There have always been the very rich. And of course there have always been the very poor. But even as late as the civilized and sentimental eighteenth century, this disparity was not yet a cause for public embarrassment or a cry of injustice. […] Poverty was considered just one more “act of God,” impervious to any solution except mollification through individual charity and government poorhouses to keep the poor off the streets and away from crime.”3

Enlightenment emotion eventually gave rise to social trends that emphasised humanism and the heightened value of human life. These trends had their complement in art, creating what became known as the ‘sentimental novel’. While today sentimentalism evokes maudlin self-pity, in the eighteenth century it was revolutionary as sentimental literature

focused on weaker members of society, such as orphans and condemned criminals, and allowed readers to identify and sympathize with them. This translated to growing sentimentalism within society, and led to social movements calling for change, such as the abolition of the death penalty and of slavery. Instead of the death penalty, popular sentiment called for the rehabilitation of criminals, rather than harsh punishment. Frederick Douglass himself was inspired to stand against his own bondage and slavery in general in his famous Narrative by the speech by the sentimentalist playwright Sheridan in The Columbian Orator detailing a fictional dialogue between a master and slave.

As Solomon notes: “What distinguishes us not just from animals but from machines are our passions, and foremost among them our passion for justice. Justice is, in a word, that set of passions, not mere theories, that bind us and make us part of the social world.”4

The Man of Feeling  (Henry Mackenzie)

Writers such as the Scottish author Henry Mackenzie tried to highlight many things that he perceived were wrong during his time and showed how many of the wrongs were ultimately caused by the established pillars of society. In his book, The Man of Feeling, he has no qualms about showing how these pillars of society had, for example, abused an intelligent woman causing her to become a prostitute (p. 44/45.), destroyed a school because it blocked the landowner’s view (p. 72), and hired assassins to remove a man who had refused to hand over his wife (p. 91.), etc.5 Mackenzie shows again and again the injustices of British military and colonial policy, and who is responsible. As Marilyn Butler writes:

Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling (1771), is pointedly topical when it criticizes the consequences of a war policy – press-ganging, conscription, the military punishment of flogging, and inadequate pensions – and when, like the same author’s Julia de Roubigné (1777), it attacks the principle of colonialism. An interest in such causes was the logical outcome of art’s frequently reiterated dedication to humanity. It was a period when the cast of villains was drawn from the proud men representing authority, downwards from the House of Lords, the bench of bishops, judges, local magistrates, attorneys, to the stern father; when readers were invited to empathize with life’s victims.6

It took a long time for the ideas of sentimentalism (emotions against injustice) to filter down to the Realism (using facts to depict ordinary everyday experiences) that Dickens used in the nineteenth century to finally evoke some kind of empathy for people impoverished by society. As Solomon notes: “It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that Dickens shook the conscience of his compatriots with his riveting descriptions of poverty and cruelty in contemporary London, […] that the problem of poverty and resistance to its solutions [e.g. poorhouses] has become the central question of justice.”3

Buss, Robert William; Dickens’s Dream; Charles Dickens Museum, London;

European literary sentimentalism arose during the Enlightenment, and partly as a response to sentimentalism in philosophy. In England the period 1750–1798 became known as the Age of Sensibility as the sentimental novel or the novel of sensibility became popular.

Romanticist emotionalism: the opposite of Enlightenment sentimentalism

Classicism is health, romanticism is sickness.
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832)

However, sensibility in an Enlightenment sense was very different from the Romanticist understanding, as Butler notes:

It is, in fact, in a key respect almost the opposite of Romanticism. Sensibility, like its near-synonym sentiment, echoes eighteenth-century philosophy and psychology in focusing upon the mental process by which impressions are received by the senses. But the sentimental writer’s interest in how the mind works and in how people behave is very different from the Romantic writer’s inwardness.7

She writes that ‘neither Neoclassical theory nor contemporary practice in various styles and genres put much emphasis on the individuality of the artist’ (p. 29). This is a far cry from the apolitical, inward-looking, self-centered Romantic artists who saw themselves outside of a society that they had little interest in participating in, let alone changing for the better. Butler again:

Romantic rebelliousness is more outrageous and total, the individual rejecting not just his own society but the very principle of living in society – which means that the Romantic and post Romantic often dismisses political activity of any kind, as external to the self, literal and commonplace. Since it is relatively uncommon for the eighteenth-century artist to complain directly on his own behalf, he seldom achieves such emotional force as his nineteenth-century successor. He is, on the other hand, much more inclined than the Romantic to express sympathy for certain, well-defined social groups. Humanitarian feeling for the real-life underdog is a strong vein from the 1760s to the 1790s, often echoing real-life campaigns for reform.8

This movement over time towards the Romanticist inward-looking conception of emotion and feelings has had knock-on negative effects on society’s ability to defend itself from elite oppression (through cultural styles of self-absorption, escapism and diversion rather than exposure, criticism and resistance), and retarded ‘art’s frequently reiterated dedication to humanity’. Solomon describes this process:

What has come about in the past two centuries or so is the dramatic rise of what Robert Stone has called “affective individualism,” this new celebration of the passions and other feelings of the autonomous individual. Yet, ironically, it is an attitude that has become even further removed from our sense of justice during that same period of time. We seem to have more inner feelings and pay more attention to them, but we seem to have fewer feelings about others and the state of the world and pay less attention to them.9

Thus while Enlightenment sentimentalism “depicted individuals as social beings whose sensibility was stimulated and defined by their interactions with others”, the Romantic movement that followed it “tended to privilege individual autonomy and subjectivity over sociability”.

Romanticism as a philosophical movement of the nineteenth century had a profound influence on culture which can still be seen right up to today. Its main characteristics are the emphasis on the personal, dramatic contrasts, emotional excess, a focus on the nocturnal, the ghostly and the frightful, spontaneity, and extreme subjectivism. Romanticism in culture implies a turning inward and encourages introspection. Romantic literature put more emphasis on themes of isolation, loneliness, tragic events and the power of nature. A heroic view of history and myth became the basis of much Romantic literature.

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, painted by Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier

It was in Germany that Romanticism took shape as a political ideology. The German Romanticists felt threatened by the French Revolution and were forced to move from inward-looking ideas to formulate conservative political answers needed to oppose Enlightenment and republican ideals. According to Eugene N. Anderson:

In the succeeding years the danger became acutely political, and the German Romanticists were compelled to subordinate their preoccupation with the widening of art and the enrichment of individual experience to social and political ideas and actions, particularly as formulated in nationalism and conservatism. These three cultural ideals, Romanticism, nationalism and conservatism, shared qualities evoked by the common situation of crisis. […] The Germans had to maintain against rationalism and the French a culture which in its institutional structure was that of the ancien régime. German Romanticism accepted it, wished to reform it somewhat, idealized it, and defended the idealization as the supreme culture of the world. This was the German counter-revolution. […] They endowed their culture with universal validity and asserted that it enjoyed the devotion of nature and God, that if it were destroyed humanity would be vitally wounded.10

The reactionary nature of German Romanticism was demonstrated in its hierarchical views of society, its chauvinist nationalism, and extreme conservatism which would have serious implications for future generations of the German populace. As Anderson writes:

The low estimate of rationalism and the exaltation of custom, tradition, and feeling, the conception of society as an alliance of the generations, the belief in the abiding character of ideas as contrasted with the ephemeral nature of concepts, these and many other romantic views bolstered up the existing culture. The concern with relations led the Romanticists to praise the hierarchical order of the Ständestaat and to regard everything and every-one as an intermediary. The acceptance of the fact of inequality harmonized with that of the ideals of service, duty, faithfulness, order, sacrifice – admirable traits for serf or subject or soldier.11

Anderson also believes that the Romanticists remained swinging “between individual freedom and initiative and group compulsion and authority” and as such could not have brought in fundamental reforms, because: “By reverencing tradition, they preserved the power of the backward-looking royalty and aristocracy.”12

Thus Romanticist self-centredness in philosophy translated into the most conservative forms for maintaining the status quo in politics. Individual freedoms were matched by authoritarianism for the masses. The individual was king all right, as long as you weren’t a ‘serf or subject or soldier’.

Beyond morality: Working Class perspectives on Reason and Sentiment

We have never intended to enlighten shoemakers and servants—this is up to apostles.
Voltaire (1694–1778)

Around the same time of the early period of Romanticism, Karl Heinrich Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) were born. They grew up in a very different Germany. Capitalism had become established and was creating an even more polarised society between extremely rich and extremely poor as factory owners pushed their workers to their physical limits. On his way to work at his father’s firm in Manchester, Engels called into the offices of a paper he wrote for in Cologne and met the editor, Marx, for the first time in 1842. They formed a friendship based on shared values and beliefs regarding the working class and socialist ideas. They saw a connection between the earlier Enlightenment ideas and socialism. For example, as Engels writes in Anti-Duhring:

in its theoretical form, modern socialism originally appears ostensibly as a more logical extension of the principles laid down by the great French philosophers of the eighteenth century. Like every new theory, modern socialism had, at first, to connect itself with the intellectual stock-in-trade ready to its hand, however deeply its roots lay in economic facts.13

However, once they had connected themselves to the Enlightenment they soon saw the limitations of both Enlightenment concepts of reason and sentiment. They realised that the new bourgeois rulers would be limited by their conceptions of property, justice, and equality, which basically meant they only applied universality to themselves and their own property. The new rulers were buoyed up by the victory of their ideological fight over the aristocracy but incapable of applying the same ideas to the masses who helped them to victory. Thus Marx and Engels viewed the struggle for reason as important but limited to the new ruling class’ world view, just like the aristocracy before them:

Every form of society and government then existing, every old traditional notion was flung into the lumber room as irrational; the world had hitherto allowed itself to be led solely by prejudices; everything in the past deserved only pity and contempt. Now, for the first time, appeared the light of day, henceforth superstition, injustice, privilege, oppression, were to be superseded by eternal truth, eternal Right, equality based on nature and the inalienable rights of man. We know today that this kingdom of reason was nothing more than the idealised kingdom of the bourgeoisie; that this eternal Right found its realisation in bourgeois justice; that this equality reduced itself to bourgeois equality before the law; that bourgeois property was proclaimed as one of the essential rights of man; and that the government of reason, the Contrat Social of Rousseau, came into being, and only could come into being, as a democratic bourgeois republic. The great thinkers of the eighteenth century could, no more than their predecessors, go beyond the limits imposed upon them by their epoch.14

As for sentiment, they were well aware of the Realist critical nature of modern writers (the Realist movement rejected Romanticism) and indeed praised them (e.g. G. Sand, E. Sue, and Boz [Dickens]), but limited themselves to offering some advice. While recognising that progressive literature had a mainly middle class audience (and were happy enough with these authors just ‘shaking the optimism’ of their audience), they knew that this was not by any means a socialist literature and were

I think however that the purpose must become manifest from the situation and the action themselves without being expressly pointed out and that the author does not have to serve the reader on a platter — the future historical resolution of the social conflicts which he describes. To this must be added that under our conditions novels are mostly addressed to readers from bourgeois circles, i.e., circles which are not directly ours. Thus the socialist problem novel in my opinion fully carries out its mission if by a faithful portrayal of the real conditions it dispels the dominant conventional illusions concerning them, shakes the optimism of the bourgeois world, and inevitably instills doubt as to the eternal validity of that which exists, without itself offering a direct solution of the problem involved, even without at times ostensibly taking sides.15

Sentimental literature focused on individual misfortune, and constant repetition of such themes certainly appeared to universalise such suffering, so that, as David Denby writes, “In this weeping mother, this suffering father, we are to read also the sufferings of humanity.” Thus, “individualism and universalism appear to be two sides of the same coin”. Sentimental literature gives the reader the ‘spectacle of misfortune’ and a representation of the reaction of a ‘sentient and sensible observer’ who tries to help with ‘alms, sympathy or indeed narrative intervention.’ Furthermore, the literature of sentiment “mirrors eighteenth-century theories of sympathy, in which a spontaneous reaction to the spectacle of suffering is gradually developed, by a process of generalisation and combination of ideas, into broader and more abstract notions of humanity, benevolence, justice.”16

Workers in the fuse factory, Woolwich Arsenal late 1800s

This brings us then to the problem of interpretation, as Denby suggests: “should the sentimental portrayal of the poor and of action in their favour be read as an attempt to give a voice to the voiceless, to include the hitherto excluded? Or, alternatively, is the sentimentalisation of the poor to be interpreted, more cynically, as a discursive strategy through which the enlightened bourgeoisie states its commitment to values of humanity and justice, and thereby seeks to strengthen its claims to universal domination?”17

While such ideas of giving a ‘voice to the voiceless’ was a far cry from monarchical times, and claims of commitment to humanity and justice were laudable, the concept of universality had a fundamental flaw: “The universal claims of the French Revolution are opposed to a [aristocratic] society based on distinctions of birth: it is in the name of humanity that the Revolution challenges the established order. But for Sartre this does not change the fact that the universal is a myth, an ideological construct, and an obfuscation, since it articulates a notion of man which eliminates social conflict and disguises the interests of a class behind a facade of universal reference.”18

Striking teamsters battling police on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 1934

Thus for Marx and Engels defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, that is, a universal moral theory, could not be achieved while society is divided into classes:

We maintain […] that all moral theories have been hitherto the product, in the last analysis, of the economic conditions of society obtaining at the time. And as society has hitherto moved in class antagonisms, morality has always been class morality; it has either justified the domination and the interests of the ruling class, or ever since the oppressed class became powerful enough, it has represented its indignation against this domination and the future interests of the oppressed. That in this process there has on the whole been progress in morality, as in all other branches of human knowledge, no one will doubt. But we have not yet passed beyond class morality. A really human morality which stands above class antagonisms and above any recollection of them becomes possible only at a stage of society which has not only overcome class antagonisms but has even forgotten them in practical life.

Marx and Engels worked towards that morality through their activism with working class movements and culture. Their critical writing also formed an essential part of working class ideology and culture of resistance and has remained influential in resistance movements the world over.

The culture of resistance today still uses realism, documentary, and histories of oppression to show the harsh realities of globalisation. Like during the Enlightenment, empathy for those suffering injustice forms its foundation. And unlike Romanticism, reason and science are deemed to be important tools in its struggle for social emancipation and progress.

Conclusion: Enlightenment and Romanticism today

When we are asked now: are we now living into an enlightened age? Then the answer is: No, but in an age of Enlightenment.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

There is no doubt that the influence of Romanticism has become ever stronger in twentieth and twenty-first century culture. Romanticist-influenced TV shows on Netflix are watched world wide. Love songs dominate the pop industry and superheroes are now the mainstay of cinema. Even Romanticist nationalism is making a comeback. Now and then calls for a new Enlightenment are heard, but like the original advocates of the Enlightenment, they are limited to the conservative world view of those making the call and whose view of the Enlightenment could be compared to a form of Third Way politics, that is, they avoid the issue of class conflict.

  1. Anthony Pagden, The Enlightenment: And Why it Still Matters (Oxford Uni Press, 2015) p. 72/73.
  2. Michael L Frazer, The Enlightenment of Sympathy: Justice and the Moral Sentiments in the Eighteenth Century and Today (Oxford Uni Press, 2010) p. 126/127.
  3. Robert C Solomon, A Passion for Justice: Emotions and the Origins of the Social Contract (Rowman and Littlefield Pub., 1995) p. 13.
  4. Ibid., p. 45.
  5. Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling (Oxford World’s Classics Oxford Uni Press, 2009.
  6. Marilyn Butler, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background 1760-1830 (Oxford Uni Press, 1981) p. 31.
  7. Marilyn Butler, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background 1760-1830 (Oxford Uni Press, 1981) p. 29/30.
  8. Ibid., pp. 30/31.
  9. Robert C Solomon, A Passion for Justice: Emotions and the Origins of the Social Contract (Rowman and Littlefield Pub., 1995) p. 37.
  10. Eugene N. Anderson, German Romanticism as an Ideology of Cultural Crisis, p. 301-312. Journal of the History of Ideas, June, 1941, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 301-317. Published by University of Pennsylvania Press.
  11. Ibid., pp. 313-314.
  12. Ibid., p. 316.
  13. Marx and Engels, On Literature and Art (Progress Publishers: Moscow, 1978) p. 270.
  14. Ibid., p. 271.
  15. Ibid., p. 88.
  16. David J. Denby, Individual, universal, national: a French revolutionary trilogy? (Studies of Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 335, Voltaire Foundation, 1996) p. 28/29.
  17. Ibid., 117.
  18. Ibid., p. 27.

Racism: Are We All Prejudiced?

Loud acts of racism, like the atrocious killing of George Floyd by a US police officer; the disproportionate number of black men incarcerated in American prisons or the high percentage of young black or minority ethnic (BAME) men subjected to ‘stop and search’ by police in Britain are blatant and ugly. But an individuals ‘unconscious bias’ and the institutionalized racism festering deep within organizations is subtler, perhaps harder to recognize.

Racism is prejudice against BAME people/groups, it has deep historical roots within ex-colonial cultures (particularly in countries with large migrant populations, like Britain, France and the US), it is vile and abhorrent and it must be driven out of society. It is one of many forms of prejudice that exist all over the world. Prejudice against women, or LGBT individuals and groups, people with disabilities, tribal people and other minorities, prejudice against religious groups, certain nationalities and people of various ages. No matter how liberal minded and ‘progressive’ we believe ourselves to be, are any of us truly free from all forms of prejudice?

Learning to hate

Prejudice in all its foul forms, including racism, is not innate  – nobody is born a racist – it is learnt. It results from psychological and sociological conditioning, which is absorbed unconsciously from birth and for the most part is acted on habitually, without thinking or awareness. Decisions, choices and actions that proceed from this position are in some way or other limited, colored, and distorted by dogma, motivated by desire and fear.

Such actions take place all the time; most are petty and relatively limited in their impact. But when prejudice is involved and the action is constantly repeated or exercised from a position of power – an employer, government official, a parent, someone in uniform or education then the effects can have long-lasting detrimental effects. Worse still, when racism has seeped into the fabric of the perpetrator and turned to blind hate, allowing for abuse (like kneeling on a defenseless man’s neck while arresting him for a petty incident) to occur the results can then be much more serious: recurring mental health illnesses, physical injuries, and sometimes death, of an individual, or in the case of genocide (the organized expression of hate) the systemic annihilation of a whole community.

Prejudice then is a form of conditioning; it is discrimination or bias unconsciously expressed in varying degrees, fuelling hurtful destructive patterns of behavior and social division. This does not in any way legitimize or excuse acts of racism and prejudice, but if such actions are the consequence of conditioning we have a key to eradicating this poison from society.

Young children do not on the whole exhibit signs of prejudice. They see other children simply as children, they don’t see black, white, brown, Asian etc., children. That is, until they are conditioned into seeing ‘difference’, into dividing people based on race, gender, religion, nationality etc., and encouraged to make judgments based on that prejudice. The agents of conditioning are (most commonly) ignorant parents, peers who have already taken the poison, government policy (on immigration, for example) and the media.

In 1968 an exercise in racial conditioning was famously demonstrated by the schoolteacher and campaigner Jane Elliot (credited with inventing the concept of diversity training): On 5th April, the morning after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jnr, she segregated the 28 children (eight/nine year olds) in her classroom based on eye color, with one group adopting superior status to the other. The following day the roles were reversed. It was a brilliant exercise that aimed to show what it would feel like to be discriminated against and also to discriminate.

Once the seed of prejudice and division is planted, false notions of superiority and inferiority are fed and the belief that some people are ‘like us’ and some people ‘are not’ is adopted. The idea of ‘the other’ separate from me, potentially a threat to me, takes root, and this, if reinforced by competition and fear (as is commonly the case) leads to distrust, further division and hate. Allowing for the creation of a violent minority, and, in extreme cases the birth of a flag-waving, swastika-bearing racist or bigot. In the majority prejudice leads to what is commonly called ‘unconscious or implicit bias’.

How unconscious is Unconscious Bias

In October 1998 social psychologists from the University of Washington and Yale conducted the ‘Implicit Association Test (IAT)’. An online research tool designed to “measure implicit or unconscious evaluations and beliefs that spring from strong, automatic associations of which people may be unaware.” The study found that 90-95% of people held such unconscious prejudices. The researchers, including Mahzarin Banaji, professor of psychology at Yale, stated that unconscious prejudice “results from the culture they [people] live in and the culture’s attitudes towards stigmatized groups …a culture leaves an imprint on the mental structure, and most people have more or less the same mental imprint.” This is sociological conditioning.

Various studies since have revealed that unconscious bias affects a range of everyday decisions impacting on people from minority groups. Job prospects, education opportunities and health care, as well as prejudicial treatment by criminal justice systems. While it may be unclear just how ‘unconscious’ an individual’s bias is, what isn’t in dispute is that it exists, impacting on almost all of us, creating division and injustice. But, as Professor Banaji said “the same test that reveals these roots of prejudice has the potential to let people learn more about and perhaps overcome these disturbing inclinations.”

Action not words

As Jane Elliot said, ‘there is only one race, the human race’: humanity is one, brothers and sisters of one humanity. This has been proclaimed many times, most famously perhaps by Mahatma Gandhi. Yet, like peace, brotherhood and justice, equality is nowhere to be found. It remains a noble ideal, but ideals, which are not made manifest become tools of deceit, feeding complacency and apathy, allowing destructive attitudes and behavior to remain intact, and to proliferate.

In the years since the introduction of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in March 1966 attitudes have changed and much progress has been made. But there is a long way to go if we are to create a world that is completely free from all forms of discrimination. To rid society of racism and prejudice a number of things need to take place simultaneously.

Education, inclusion and awareness (de-conditioning) are key, together with the introduction of urgent practical steps within all areas where institutionalized racism exists. The essential element to individual liberation from prejudice is awareness; the unconscious impulse of discrimination needs to be brought into the light of awareness where, when seen, it can be rejected. Institutionalized racism collects out of the individual prejudice of people working within a particular organization, whether a police force, government department, school, university, corporation or small business. Eradicating prejudice from all such organizations and encouraging diversity and greater representation of minority groups must become a priority; more support needs to be given to children from BAME families (often among the poorest in society) to ensure equal education opportunities and, in order to limit prejudice by employers, schools, universities etc., the mandatory introduction of ‘blind CVs’ (without personal details concerning the applicant’s gender, age or ethnicity) should be brought about immediately.

The global response to the appalling killing of George Floyd and the widespread calls for fundamental change must not be ignored or the focus lost by distracting arguments about statues and artifacts. Certainly, following community debate, some statues should be removed – not torn down – and placed in museums, and items stolen by colonialists and now held in western museums returned.

But the primary issue is not what happened in the shameful past, it is changing existing attitudes and behavior. The momentum for change must not be lost as the mainstream media turn their attention elsewhere and politicians ruminate and set up yet more committees. Action is needed now, not endless speeches by duplicitous ambitious politicians. The rise of racism and all types of hate crime parallels the increase in political populism and tribal nationalism; these ideologies of division have stoked racial tensions and fed hate among the hateful. They are of the past and must be collectively rejected. The path to equality, social harmony and peace will come about through unity not division, cooperation not competition, tolerance not bigotry. It is these qualities that need to be adopted and cultivated, not as ideals, but as living principles animating and pervading all aspects of life.

Parallels between Minneapolis and Jerusalem are More than Skin Deep

It is hard to ignore the striking parallels between the recent scenes of police brutality in cities across the United States and decades of violence from Israel’s security forces against Palestinians.

A video that went viral late last month of a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, killing a black man, George Floyd, by pressing a knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes has triggered a fortnight of mass protests across the US – and beyond.

The footage was the latest disturbing visual evidence of a US police culture that appears to treat Black Americans as an enemy – and a reminder that rogue police officers are all too rarely punished.

Floyd’s lynching by Chauvin as three other officers either looked on, or participated, has echoes of troubling scenes familiar from the occupied territories. Videos of Israeli soldiers, police and armed settlers beating, shooting and abusing Palestinian men, women and children have long been a staple of social media.

The dehumanisation that enabled Floyd’s murder has been regularly on view in the occupied Palestinian territories. In early 2018 Israeli snipers began using Palestinians, including children, nurses, journalists and the disabled, as little more than target practice during weekly protests at a perimeter fence around Gaza imprisoning them.

Widespread impunity

And just as in the US, the use of violence by Israeli police and soldiers against Palestinians rarely leads to prosecutions, let alone convictions.

A few days after Floyd’s killing, an autistic Palestinian man, Iyad Hallaq – who had a mental age of six, according to his family – was shot seven times by police in Jerusalem. None of the officers has been arrested.

Faced with embarrassing international attention in the wake of Floyd’s murder, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a rare statement on the killing of a Palestinian by the security services. He called Hallaq’s murder “a tragedy” and promised an investigation.

The two killings, days apart, have underscored why the slogans “Black Lives Matter” and “Palestinian Lives Matter” sit naturally alongside each other, whether at protests or in social media posts.

There are differences between the two cases, of course. Nowadays Black Americans have citizenship, most can vote (if they can reach a polling station), laws are no longer explicitly racist, and they have access to the same courts – if not always the same justice – as the white population.

That is not the situation for most Palestinians under Israeli rule. They live under occupation by a foreign army, arbitrary military orders govern their lives, and they have very limited access to any kind of meaningful legal redress.

And there is another obvious difference. Floyd’s murder has shocked many white Americans into joining the protests. Hallaq’s murder, by contrast, has been ignored by the vast majority of Israelis, apparently accepted once again as the price of maintaining the occupation.

Treated like an enemy

Nonetheless, comparisons between the two racist policing cultures are worth highlighting. Both spring from a worldview shaped by settler-colonial societies founded on dispossession, segregation and exploitation.

Israel still largely views Palestinians as an enemy that needs to be either expelled or made to submit. Black Americans, meanwhile, live with the legacy of a racist white culture that until not so long ago justified slavery and apartheid.

Palestinians and Black Americans have long had their dignity looted; their lives too often are considered cheap.

Sadly, most Israeli Jews are in deep denial about the racist ideology that underpins their major institutions, including the security services. Tiny numbers protest in solidarity with Palestinians, and those that do are widely seen by the rest of the Israeli public as traitors.

Many white Americans, on the other hand, have been shocked to see how quickly US police forces – faced with widespread protests – have resorted to aggressive crowd-control methods of the kind only too familiar to Palestinians.

Those methods include the declaration of curfews and closed areas in major cities; the deployment of sniper squads against civilians; the use of riot teams wearing unmarked uniforms or balaclavas; arrests of, and physical assaults on, journalists who are clearly identifiable; and the indiscriminate use of tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets to wound protesters and terrify them off the streets.

It does not end there.

President Donald Trump has described demonstrators as “terrorists”, echoing Israel’s characterisation of all Palestinian protest, and threatened to send in the US army, which would replicate even more precisely the situation faced by Palestinians.

Like Palestinians, the US black community – and now the protesters – have been recording examples of their abuse on their phones and posting the videos on social media to highlight the deceptions of police statements and media reporting of what has been taking place.

Tested on Palestinians

None of these parallels should surprise us. For years US police forces, along with many others around the world, have been queueing at Israel’s door to learn from its decades of experience in crushing Palestinian resistance.

Israel has capitalised on the need among western states, in a world of depleting resources and the long-term contraction of the global economy, to prepare for future internal uprisings by a growing underclass.

With readymade laboratories in the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel has long been able to develop and field-test on captive Palestinians new methods of surveillance and subordination. As the largest underclass in the US, urban black communities were always likely to find themselves on the front line as US police forces adopted a more militarised approach to policing.

These changes finally struck home during the protests that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 after a black man, Michael Brown, was killed by police. Dressed in military-style fatigues and body armour, and backed by armoured personnel carriers, local police looked more like they were entering a war zone than there to “serve and protect”.

Trained in Israel

It was then that human rights groups and others started to highlight the extent to which US police forces were being influenced by Israel’s methods of subjugating Palestinians. Many forces had been trained in Israel or involved in exchange programmes.

Israel’s notorious paramilitary Border Police, in particular, has become a model for other countries. It was the Border Police that shot dead Hallaq in Jerusalem shortly after Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.

The Border Police carry out the hybrid functions of a police force and an army, operating against Palestinians in the occupied territories and inside Israel, where a large Palestinian minority live with a very degraded citizenship.

The institutional premise of the Border Police is that all Palestinians, including those who are formally Israeli citizens, should be dealt with as an enemy. It is at the heart of a racist Israeli policing culture identified 17 years ago by the Or Report, the country’s only serious review of its police forces.

The Border Police increasingly look like the model US police forces are emulating in cities with large black populations.

Many dozens of Minneapolis police officers were trained by Israeli experts in “counter-terrorism” and “restraint” techniques at a conference in Chicago in 2012.

Derek Chauvin’s chokehold, using his knee to press down on Floyd’s neck, is an “immobilisation” procedure familiar to Palestinians. Troublingly, Chauvin was training two rookie officers at the time he killed Floyd, passing on the department’s institutional knowledge to the next generation of officers.

Monopoly of violence

These similarities should be expected. States inevitably borrow and learn from each other on matters most important to them, such as repressing internal dissent. The job of a state is to ensure it maintains a monopoly of violence inside its territory.

It is the reason why the Israeli scholar Jeff Halper warned several years ago in his book War Against the People that Israel had been pivotal in developing what he called a “global pacification” industry. The hard walls between the military and the police have crumbled, creating what he termed “warrior cops”.

The danger, according to Halper, is that in the long run, as the police become more militarised, we are all likely to find ourselves being treated like Palestinians. Which is why a further comparison between the US strategy towards the black community and Israel’s towards Palestinians needs highlighting.

The two countries are not just sharing tactics and policing methods against protests once they break out. They have also jointly developed longer-term strategies in the hope of dismantling the ability of the black and Palestinian communities they oppress to organise effectively and forge solidarity with other groups.

Loss of historic direction

If one lesson is clear, it is that oppression can best be challenged through organised resistance by a mass movement with clear demands and a coherent vision of a better future.

In the past that depended on charismatic leaders with a fully developed and well-articulated ideology capable of inspiring and mobilising followers. It also relied on networks of solidarity between oppressed groups around the world sharing their wisdom and experience.

The Palestinians were once led by figures who commanded national support and respect, from Yasser Arafat to George Habash and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. The struggle they led was capable of galvanising supporters around the world.

These leaders were not necessarily united. There were debates over whether Israeli settler colonialism would best be undermined through secular struggle or religious fortitude, through finding allies among the oppressor nation or defeating it using its own violent methods.

These debates and disagreements educated the wider Palestinian public, clarified the stakes for them, and provided a sense of a historic direction and purpose. And these leaders became figureheads for international solidarity and revolutionary fervour.

That has all long since disappeared. Israel pursued a relentless policy of jailing and assassinating Palestinian leaders. In Arafat’s case, he was confined by Israeli tanks to a compound in Ramallah before he was poisoned to death in highly suspicious circumstances. Ever since, Palestinian society has found itself orphaned, adrift, divided and disorganised.

International solidarity has been largely sidelined too. The publics of Arab states, already preoccupied with their own struggles, appear increasingly tired of the divided and seemingly hopeless Palestinian cause. And in a sign of our times, western solidarity today is invested chiefly in a boycott movement, which has had to wage its fight on the enemy’s battlefield of consumption and finance.

From confrontation to solace

The black community in the US has undergone parallel processes, even if it is harder to indict quite so directly the US security services for the loss decades ago of a black national leadership. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the Black Panther movement were hounded by the US security services. They were jailed or felled by assassins, despite their very different approaches to the civil rights struggle.

Today, none are around to make inspiring speeches and mobilise the wider public – either black or white Americans – to take action on the national stage.

Denied a vigorous national leadership, the organised black community at times appeared to have retreated into the safer but more confining space of the churches – at least until the latest protests. A politics of solace appeared to have replaced the politics of confrontation.

A focus on identity

These changes cannot be attributed solely to the loss of national leaders. In recent decades the global political context has been transformed too. After the fall of the Soviet Union 30 years ago, the US not only became the world’s sole superpower but it crushed the physical and ideological space in which political opposition could flourish.

Class analysis and revolutionary ideologies – a politics of justice – were shunted off the streets and increasingly into the margins of academia.

Instead, western political activists were encouraged to dedicate their energies not to anti-imperialism and class struggle but to a much narrower identity politics. Political activism became a competition between social groups for attention and privilege.

As with Palestinian solidarity activism, identity politics in the US has waged its battles on the terrain of a consumption-obsessed society. Hashtags and virtue-signalling on social media have often appeared to serve as a stand-in for social protest and activism.

A moment of transition

The question posed by the current US protests is whether this timid, individualised, acquisitive kind of politics is starting to seem inadequate. The US protesters are still largely leaderless, their struggle in danger of being atomised, their demands implicit and largely shapeless – it is clearer what the protesters don’t want than what they do.

That reflects a current mood in which the challenges facing us all – from permanent economic crisis and the new threat of pandemics to impending climate catastrophe – appear too big, too momentous to make sense of. We are caught in a moment of transition, it seems, destined for a new era – good or bad – we cannot discern clearly yet.

In August, millions are expected to head to Washington in a march to echo the one led by Martin Luther King in 1963. The heavy burden of this historic moment is expected to be carried on the ageing shoulders of the Rev Al Sharpton.

That symbolism may be fitting. It is more than 50 years since western states were last gripped with revolutionary fervour. But the hunger for change that reached its climax in 1968 – for an end to imperialism, endless war and rampant inequality – was never sated.

Oppressed communities around the globe are still hungry for a fairer world. In Palestine and elsewhere, those who suffer brutality, misery, exploitation and indignity still need a champion. They look to Minneapolis and the struggle it launched for a seed of hope.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Death of the “Usual”: Economic Evolution and the Emergence of the New

Humanity is faced with a series of self-made, interrelated crises, from the environmental catastrophe to poverty, inequality, the absence of peace and an unprecedented level of displaced persons, among other pressing issues.  All have been brought about by the negative behaviour of mankind, by the pervasive modes of living, the corrosive values and ideologies that dominate all aspects of contemporary life.

The latest crisis is the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and the potential resulting collapse of the world economy. It is a collective crisis the like of which we have never seen before. Whole populations are being forced to change behaviour, to stop travelling, to withdraw, stop shopping, stay at home and to support others in the community. It is forcing people to shift their focus and slow down, to simplify and re-examine their lives. Worrying and unsettling in the immediate term, but potentially liberating, providing the space in which to be quiet, to reflect and look within, and good for the natural environment.

With crisis comes opportunity, the possibility for growth and realignment with purpose; for change to take place – change that inculcates harmony, allowing for that which has hitherto been inhibited to be to be expressed.

The inevitability of crises

There is a natural order to life and certain fundamental laws that underpin all manifestation. When this rhythm is inhibited – individually or collectivelystasis takes place leading to dis-ease, and a crisis of some kind occurs. The greater the resistance the more inevitable and intense the crisis becomes.

Current modes of living are disharmonious, the socio-economic and political systems are totally unjust, favouring the few at the expense of the many; driven by divisive materialistic values and the reductive ideology of greed they sit at the core of most if not all of our problems. Ecosystems have been disrupted by self-centred human activity, weather patterns completely altered by the poisons daily poured into the atmosphere, leading to disharmony within the climate. Huge numbers of people recognize these facts and the need for a new way of living, but resistance among governments and corporate power is fierce; attachment to the status quo deep; fear of loss of power and privilege, intense. And so the required changes are consistently blocked; the natural order, which forever moves towards harmony for that is its inherent quality is consistently blocked, creating further inflammation.

The Coronavirus is beyond the control of governments, institutions and corporate bodies of power. It is causing widespread chaos and this will intensify and broaden in scope, affecting not just public health but social order and will devastate the consumer-led economy. As stock markets tumble, businesses fail, global supply chains fracture and nations are forced to turn within, governments (predictably) talk about the ‘fundamental strength of the economy’ and the ability of the markets to ‘bounce back’ quickly after the crisis has passed, returning to business as usual. The ‘usual’, however, is the problem: the ‘usual’ has poisoned the planet, created enormous levels of inequality, set one against another, nation against nation, sustained widespread exploitation of the vulnerable and encouraged a pernicious value system fuelling all manner of social ills. It is of the past and must now come to an end.

In the short-term, businesses that are in danger of going under need government support, and, more or less, this is taking place; employment/salaries need to be guaranteed, mortgages and rent payments suspended, as well as bank overdrafts and loans, credit card debt etc., but once the dust settles, instead of attempting to refurbish the out-dated, patch up the inadequate and carry on as normal, the opportunity for an Economic Evolution should be grasped; an opportunity to reimagine the way the socio-economic system functions, to recognize that the current model has had its day and to create a new system based on sharing, with social justice and cooperation at its heart. Indeed, if the collapse is as deep as it threatens to be, there may be no option. Welcome or not, this crisis could force the changes that some dread but many long for, and prove to be the final blow to the existing systems; inadequate forms that are already in a state of terminal disintegration as the energy that had sustained them is withdrawn and we transition from one age or civilization into a new, as yet undefined, time.

The teacher for this time

Standing back of outward events and unknown to most is the teacher for this time, the Lord Maitreya, head and leader of our spiritual hierarchy, a body that many in the West in particular, may be unfamiliar with. Foretold to come at this time by Gautama Buddha some 2,600 years ago and awaited by all the World’s religions under various names (Christ, the Imam Mahdi, Maitreya Buddha, the Messiah, Krishna), Maitreya has been patiently waiting for the right time to come forward, to be invited to begin His full and open public work. The Covid-19 crisis could well be the factor that allows this event to take place, an unprecedented event that would potentially change everything.

Together with a large group of His closest disciples, the Masters of Wisdom, Maitreya will offer advice and guidance, pointing the way out of our troubles. It is up to humanity to listen and respond though; if there is a world saviour it is humanity itself. As Maitreya has said, “I am the Architect, only, of the Plan. You, My friends and brothers, are the willing builders of the Shining Temple of Truth.” The ‘temple of truth’ is the new civilization.

The presence, and gradual emergence (since July 1977) of Maitreya, was made known, up until his death in October 2016, by the British artist and writer Benjamin Creme: for forty years he travelled the world spreading what is an extraordinary, albeit controversial, story of hope to anyone who would listen. The coming of a teacher at specific times of crisis and/or transition is quite normal, expected, in fact; historically a teacher has always come forward from the ranks of the Spiritual Hierarchy. Now, as many realize, is such a time.

Maitreya is not a religious leader but a guide in the broadest sense, concerned with the pressing issues of the day. He is, Alice Bailey relates in The Reappearance of The Christ, “that Great Being Whom the Christian calls the Christ; He is known also in the Orient as the Bodhisattva and as the Lord Maitreya.” He is the great “Lord of Love and of Compassion” as the Buddha was “the Lord of Wisdom.” He is the Christ for this planet, a fact that many Christians will no doubt struggle to accept. He is the Master of all the Masters, and to Him “is committed the guidance of the spiritual destinies of men [mankind]. He is the World Teacher for this coming cycle; He is the Coming One.”

Some of Maitreya’s thoughts and aspects of His teachings were made known in the 140 extraordinary messages He gave between September 1977 and May 1982. “Allow Me to show you the way,” He says in one such message, “forward, into a simpler life where no man lacks; where no two days are alike; where the joy of Brotherhood manifests through all men. And in another asks, “how to start? Begin by dedicating yourself and all that you are and have been to the service of the world, to the service of your brothers and sisters everywhere. Make sure that not one day passes without some act of true service and be assured that My help will be yours.”

As the world faces the Covid-19 crisis, a coordinated response to the health demands and the economic impacts are needed; community service and simple acts of kindness are essential, as is sharing. This is a global crisis and a united response is called for, enough of competition and tribal nationalism – America first, China first, India first, etc., humanity and the planet first. Unity, cooperation, tolerance and understanding; these, together with sharing, are the hallmarks of the time and must guide our thoughts and actions, now more than ever.

The pandemic will be overcome, and, if we embrace the opportunity this crisis offers, there is a real chance that afterwards life could be fundamentally changed forever and for the good. A chance to re-imagine how to live, to introduce new modes of living that encourage the good, that cultivate unity, peace and natural happiness and allow the space in which to be.