The Meaning of Life

Many people date the DNA revolution to the discovery of its structure by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. But really it began thirty years before, conceived by the mind of John D Rockefeller, Sr. Thus it is fitting that DNA is named after him. DNA stands for DeoxyriboNucleic Acid and ribo stands for Rockefeller Institute of Biochemistry (now Rockefeller University) where the chemical composition of DNA was first discovered in the 1920s. The Rockefeller Foundation had become interested in DNA because its trustees feared a Bolshevik-style revolution. Intense public resentment had already compelled the break-up of their Standard oil Company in 1911; so the Foundation sought ways, said trustee Harry Pratt Judson in 1913, to “reinforce the police power of the state”. They intended to find the ultimate key to human behaviour which would allow the resentful and envious mobs to be effectively managed.

The Foundation had two strategies for management that were distinct but complementary: to control human behaviour at the level of social structures: family, work and emotions, which the Foundation referred to by names such as “psychobiology”; and to control human behaviour at the level of molecules.

The “science of man”

 

To develop methods of control at the societal level, the Foundation more-or-less founded the discipline of social science in the early 1900s.

Max Mason, appointed as the Foundation’s director in 1929, described this double focus as their “science of man” project:

“[It i]s directed to the general problem of human behavior, with the aim of control through understanding. The social sciences, for example, will concern themselves with the rationalization of social control; the medical and natural sciences propose a closely coordinated study of the sciences which underlie personal understanding and personal control” (quote from Lily Kay, The Molecular Vision of Life, 1993).

For the social science arm the Foundation sought to inculcate within the social science research community specific mechanistic habits of mind and an ethos conducive to this goal of control: “the validation of the findings of social science [must be] through effective social control,” wrote the Foundation’s head of Social Science, Edmund E. Day. According to Warren Weaver, then director of the Foundation, this meant the “recasting of prevailing ideas of human nature and conduct” in line with the “managerial needs” of industrialisation for characters such as timeliness and obedience.

The “restructuring of human relations in congruence with industrial capitalism” as Lily Kay, biographer of the Foundation described it, was an agenda that was quite widely understood in the 1930s—and widely disapproved of. One contemporary critic called the Foundation’s work “a thinly disguised capitalistic manipulation of the social order” (Kay, 1993).

The Rockefellers construct the gene

The second arm to the “science of man” strategy was seen as purely based on scientific rationality.

To the Rockefeller Foundation trustees, however, rationality meant eugenics. Eugenic theory, by definition, implies that humans contain hidden determinants for traits like civility, intelligence, and obedience. Logically, such determinants ought to be discoverable, reasoned the Foundation’s trustees. If science were able to peer deep enough it would discover those mechanisms and molecules that effected this ‘upward causation’ of behaviour. Once identified, such controlling elements—which were initially presumed to be proteins—could be understood and made use of.

However, to make such discoveries required a new science and a new concept: ‘molecular biology’. Molecular biology was a term the foundation invented for a reductionist “science of the very small” that was focused on discovering the nature of the gene.

The Foundation nevertheless did try out other—even nonreductionist—approaches to biology. It briefly supported the mathematical biologist Nicolas Rashevsky before finally dropping him (Abraham, 2004). Presumably, as a descriptive science, mathematical biology did not meet the Foundation’s desire to discover deterministic and controlling forces.

By testing out and sifting through distinct approaches, individuals, and institutions, the Foundation eventually developed a strategy to reinvent the science of biology that, by 1933, was fully elaborated. It concentrated on funding scientific cliques at a relatively small number of elite institutions (such as Caltech and the University of Chicago). These cliques trained up hundreds of scientists whose job was to find the molecules responsible for that upward causation; that is, to find the specific molecules and the specific mechanisms that determined the form and function of organisms. They would thus validate the Rockefeller eugenic thesis.

Institutionally, these efforts were extremely successful. After the search for these ‘master molecules’ had eventually narrowed to DNA, George Beadle, Nobel Laureate in physiology and Rockefeller insider, noted that all but one of the 18 Nobel prizes awarded for genetic science after 1953 had been awarded to current or former Rockefeller-funded scientists (Kay, 1993). By Beadle’s death in 1989, largely thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation, molecular biology had become the dominant approach to all of biology. That is, medicine, developmental biology, neurobiology, and agriculture.

Almost the whole world nowadays assumes the overwhelming emphasis of biological science on genetics and reductionism to be a logical and inevitable scientific one. But what the history of the Rockefeller Foundation shows is that the virtual wiping out of whole organism biology and the sidelining of diverse other approaches such as Rashevsky’s; of nutritional biology; and of environmental determinism, was a carefully planned coup d’état. It was an overt seizure of the scientific estate intended to substitute genetic determinism for competing ideas about causation in biology.

Genetic determinism is the idea that genes have a privileged level of causation and thus a special status in biology. As shown in the companion article Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life, the idea is clearly false. Causation in biology can take many forms and genetics is just one of them, but the robber barons who bought biology did so specifically in order to impose a genetic determinist paradigm.

A further consequence of their efforts was that they simultaneously seized and impoverished our idea of life. Thus, when Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA in 1953 they considered they had discovered “the secret of life“. The triumph of the Rockefeller Foundation was that no one contradicted them.

The origins of genetic determinism: Huxley and the Victorians

The fear of unruly mobs was not unique to leaders of the Rockefeller Foundation. Victorian reviewers of the books of Charles Darwin, fifty years earlier, also lived in a tumultuous age. The advent of new technologies like trains and telephones, the growth of cities, and the rise of a mercantile class that threatened to displace the nobility, were destabilising their world.

To add Darwinism to this ferment, feared those reviewers, would “shake society to its very foundations” (Desmond, 1998). These mid-Victorians feared Darwinism primarily because it provided a set of powerful ideas that profoundly undermined God and the Church, the two rocks on which their world was largely built.

More than that, evolution specifically threatened to destroy the ancient and sacred concepts of inherited wealth and inherited merit. To Victorians, these were virtually synonymous with the benefits of order and hierarchy.

Evolution even threatened to unleash social upheaval directly: to free the slaves, to liberate the workers, and emancipate the female population; and Thomas Huxley, the leading advocate of Darwinism, calculated he would widen popular support for science by promising as much. He told enthusiastic Victorian workers that the ascent of species showed the inevitability of social improvement.

Huxley, however, couldn’t go too far. Unlike all of his wealthy colleagues, he needed to make a living from science. But as Darwin’s de facto spokesperson, he was nevertheless in a unique position to shape the perception and interpretation of Darwinism.

Thus, in the presence of the dispossessed he emphasised science’s revolutionary qualities; but with the new industrialists he presented science as the driver of a new industrial era; and, for the stolid British establishment he emphasised that “Nature’s old salique law will not be repealed, and no change of dynasty will be effected”. Salique law was the ancient Frankish law ensuring inheritance only through the male line.

Huxley and his fellow scientists became adepts at such political manouevring. The key example, at least for genetics, was the taking of prescientific theories of inheritance, that were familiar to the establishment, such as salique law, and melding them with Darwinism. No evidence was available to anyone that the character traits prized by the establishment, such as intellect and social refinement, could be biologically inherited; and even if they could, it was surely unlikely to be only through the male line. Yet Huxley and his scientific fellows glossed over such inconsistencies so as to present evolution as minimally disturbing to the beliefs and values of the status quo. This required the nature of inherited traits to be essentially deterministic in nature. People did not acquire good characters, they were born with them.

Such interpretations meant that science thrived, but it was at the expense of undercutting Huxley’s earlier promises of greater freedom for the underclasses. Thus it was that the scientists used their positions as experts to bend the science and to knowingly take the side of the establishment in the struggle for social power that surrounded Victorian science (Desmond, 1998).

These interpretations were crucial to the future of biology. Inherited deterministic factors were based on what Huxley called “protoplasm” and protoplasm was a controller of human behaviour. Protoplasm is now accepted by many historians as the intellectual father of eugenic theory. It became the intellectual justification for the subsequent Rockefeller search for molecules of social control; but, as a theory constructed more for political than scientific reasons, it had feet of clay.

The entry of big tobacco

The railroading of biology away from the study of whole organisms by the Rockefeller Foundation (joined also by the Carnegie Foundation) proved relatively easy. Turning that understanding into social control was less so. The next stage required new impetus and even more money.

Starting in the 1950s the tobacco industry distributed $370 million among approximately 1,000 scientists in the US and British medical establishments. The long term plan was to construct another novel molecular science, that of human genetic variation (Wallace, 2009). The immediate goal was to attribute the diseases of smoking to genetic origins. The tobacco industry was determined to find “gene defects” that might lead to lung cancer and addiction. Tobacco executives thought—correctly—that finding even limited evidence would keep blame from being placed entirely on their products. Genetic determinism thus could be used to neutralise negative public, professional, and even legal, opinion (Gundle et al., 2010).

Tobacco funding never uncovered any compelling genetic determinants of cancer or addiction. But the strategy did shift public opinion. Genetic researchers were therefore encouraged by industries and governments to apply their methods to other physical illnesses (such as diabetes), and for the same reasons (Vrecko, 2008).

So although eugenics practitioners, such as Adolf Hitler, had made the word eugenics abhorrent to most people by the 1920s and 1930s, the genome sequencing bandwagon eventually convinced the public that DNA was a master molecule, a governor of health and behaviour, even down to one’s daily activities and decisions. The study of genes and genomes achieved acceptance of the eugenic premise through, as it were, the back door. The public was convinced to blame numerous illnesses and conditions, and not just lung cancer, on their own genetic ‘weaknesses’. Thus genetics was established as the presumptive primary cause of most human variation, chronic disease was normalised, and DNA was crowned “the King of molecules” by a Nobel Laureate (Mullis, 1997).

The ever-expanding domain of science

Thomas Huxley once declared, in an editorial of 1865, that science had no intention “of being content with anything short of absolute victory [over the Church] and uncontrolled domination over the whole realm of the intellect” (cited in Desmond, 1998). So while Charles Darwin initially refrained from publicly pursuing what he supposed to be the intellectual implications of his ideas, from fear that doing so would prevent them being accepted, his apostles rarely showed such restraint.

From Huxley and Herbert Spencer, via EO Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, and many others, the presumed properties of DNA have formed the basis of great edifices of implication. EO Wilson’s Sociobiology: The new synthesis (1975) and Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype (1982) extrapolated biology far beyond previously accepted domains of the physical body, to encompass human desires, human ‘misbehaviour’, human ethics, and human social structures. Relying on faint statistical associations between DNA genome markers and human traits, geneticists have claimed that hundreds of human attributes have genetic explanations, at least in significant part, including: sexual and religious orientation, voting preferences, sleepwalking, entrepreneurial behaviour, sexism, violence, and many others (e.g. Kales et al., 1980). These claims have provided a steady supply of juicy headlines to pronounce that genes play powerful deterministic roles in behaviour.

The failure of “master molecules” to explain life

In 2016, Gary Greenberg, Professor Emeritus at Wichita State University, Kansas, reviewed a book that he plainly considered to be unnecessary. The reviewed was titled How many nails does it take to seal the coffin? The coffin in question is the science of behavior genetics. He cited fellow gravedigger Richard Lerner of Tufts University describing the “counterfactual conceptualizations of the role of genes in behavior and development” (Lerner, 2007) and genetic mortician Douglas Wahlsten (2012) that “all hope has been lost” in the search for genetic effects on normal human behaviour (Greenberg, 2016).

The basic issue identified by Greenberg, Lerner, et al., is that, if several hundred billion dollars of searching finds no evidence for genetic influences (except for rare traits like Down syndrome), then the only reasonable conclusion is that genetic influences on those traits are absent or minutely small. Yet the genetic zombie, to their exasperation, lives on, and for the simple reason that it is lavishly funded.

It is not just the study of human behaviours for which the long-sought genetic evidence is chronically missing. In 2013, the head of the Broad Institute at MIT, which is the most prominent global institution in the study of human genetics, called genetic influence on human disease a “phantom” (Zuk et al., 2013). This U-turn followed a succession of compelling critiques that focused on 1) the lack of replicability of putative genetic predispositions in humans (Ioannidis, 2007); 2) lack of evidence of broad effects on health (Manolio et al., 2009; Dermitzakis and Clark, 2009); 3) lack of effect size of all except a very few individual genetic predispositions (Ioannidis and Panagiotou, 2011); and 4) a general lack of experimental rigour of genetic methods and hypotheses (Buchanan et al. 2006; Wallace, 2006; Charney and English, 2012).

The media (including the science media) has barely reported these critiques, but they have left the discipline of human genetics in turmoil. Interesting as it is to watch billions of dollars of medical research funding generate nothing but negative results, (see Manolio et al., 2009), the really big question is the one now hanging over the underlying master molecule idea, since genetic determinism has become the central paradigm of all biology.

The fundamental defects of this master molecule concept were summed up perhaps most succinctly by Richard C Strohman of UC Berkeley; in a 1997 article “The coming Kuhnian revolution in biology“:

“[W]e have taken a successful and extremely useful theory and paradigm of the gene and have illegitimately extended it as a paradigm of life”. But, Strohman wrote, the broader paradigm “has little power and must eventually fail”.

Interestingly, the same logical flaw was identified by Lily Kay in her Rockefeller Foundation biography of 1993. In concluding, she noted the self-limiting nature of its reductionist method. “By narrowing its epistemic domain, the new biology has bracketed out important animate phenomena from its discourse on life”.

That failure is now fully visible. Thanks to emerging research findings such as those described in Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life, it is now hard to overlook that genetic reductionism has failed to explain “important animate phenomena” like: growth, self-organisation, evolution, consciousness, learning, health, and disease. These are the key elements of life that a successful paradigm ought to explain but somehow genetic determinism never has.

Its emerging replacement is a vastly different paradigm of life, one that conceives living systems as cooperatives and not dictatorships. To be clear, some facts about DNA are not in dispute. DNA exists. The mutation or addition of genes can have profound effects on the properties of organisms; but this doesn’t make DNA special. The removal or addition (where possible) of most other components of organisms, such as RNA, or proteins, even water, has the same effect. Thus even the use of GMO crops, which might look like clear examples of upward causation, are consistent with the new paradigm because introduced transgenes are carefully designed to act as isolated modules, traits that operate independently of all the system level controls that organisms typically use to manage and integrate gene activity and biochemical function.

But what ultimately motivates this new paradigm is the lack of conceptual necessity for DNA to animate organisms. Molecular biologists routinely propose that DNA has properties of “expression”, of “control”, and of cellular governance, in some sense that other molecules do not. These are the properties that a master molecule paradigm requires, but asserting them does not rescue genetic determinism, it is merely prescientific vitalism.

What science is telling us, therefore, is that, in living systems, everything depends on everything else, and life bootstrapped itself out of the ooze. DNA did not lead the way.

The societal consequences of genetic determinism

Whether true or not, all belief systems have consequences. When news of Darwin’s evolutionary theory reached Germany in the 1860s, Ernst Haeckel, German prodigy biologist, constructed the first trees of life, with humans (for no scientific reason) at the apex of creation. Much like Huxley, Haeckel also stretched the implications of Darwinismus into a genetic determinist struggle, in this case one that drove “peoples irresistibly onward”. Darwinismus foretold, he said, a new Teutonic destiny.

As early as the death of Charles Darwin (1882) it was said that his thought (which for the most part meant Huxley’s interpretations) could be found “under a hundred disguises in works on law and history, in political speeches and religious discourses…if we try to think ourselves away from it we must think ourselves entirely away from our age” (John Morley, 1882, cited in Desmond 1998)

Thus the belief system that humans are controlled by an internal master molecule has become woven into myriad areas of social thought. It is far beyond the scope of this article to describe the consequences of genetic determinism at either the personal or the societal level (see instead The DNA Mystique), but the two world wars, the holocaust, racism, colonialism, eugenics, inequity, are each stronger as a consequence of, or might never have happened without, the idea of genetic determinism. The reason is that genetic determinism moulded “higher” and “lower”, “normal” and “abnormal”, into intrinsic and unmodifiable scientific properties of biological organisms and groups, rather than being what they were previously: questionable prejudices and dubious conceits.

Genetic determinism thus became the defining idea of the twentieth century. Nothing was unmoved by it. It drove biology, it even drove science itself.

It began with the ability of outside institutions to impose long-term and overarching agendas on science. This alone is a breathtaking observation, both disturbing and profound, that wholly contradicts our normal presumption that science is driven by brilliant individuals, technical innovations, and collective intellectual rigour. Instead, to understand what occurred to DNA is as simple as following the money.

Science, and therefore all of society, was lured into a very specific DNA-centric interpretation of life that was predicated on magical thinking about the properties of genes. Once the initial conditions were set up, however, a key observation is that biological research fostered genetic determinist social thought and genetic determinist thought in turn made genetically determinist science seem more valid and desirable. A self-sustaining feedback loop was thus created.

One example of how genetic determinism participated in that loop was laid out in a 1975 letter from prominent geneticists to the NY Review of Books. They were replying to an uncritical review of EO Wilson’s Sociobiology: a New Synthesis. The geneticists’ letter lays out a rationale for why a political establishment might fund sociobiology and genomics: to furnish interpretations of human activity that create and therefore determine behavioural and social norms. As the authors wrote: “for Wilson, what exists is adaptive, what is adaptive is good, therefore what exists is good.” The authors were pointing out, well before the tobacco industry strategy had been unmasked, that any scientific assertion that a societal aberration such as “war”, or an individual misbehaviour such as “violence”, has genetic roots makes it seem natural or normal. Thus, what appears to be a simple and apolitical scientific “finding”, say of a genetic predisposition to obesity, generates inferences that are highly valued by institutions (such as the food industry) that cause obesity but wish to resist pressure on them for social change.

It is scant wonder then that the publication of Sociobiology was followed by a funding boom in genetic research, in both the social and medical sciences. This boom happened even though human genetic research is rarely of value in the search for cures or the treatment of disease (Chaufan and Joseph, 2013). The bottom line is, even if genetic predispositions for obesity were to exist, everyone should exercise and not overeat.

Thus biological explanations have vastly expanded science’s intellectual realm, into the arenas of social affairs, economics, politics, religion, even philosophy and ethics. Bearing out the prediction of the NYRB letter, sociobiology has virtually driven out traditional academic interpretations of human activity, such as Marxism or Deconstructionism, that made life uncomfortable for the powers that be.

As Dorothy Nelkin and Susan Lindee observed for academia:

“In the last few decades many universities have ceased to offer the grand survey courses in Western civilization that once seemed to explain so much about human culture and the human past. Postcolonialism, postmodernism, literary theory, and other trends in academic life called into question the legitimacy of the grand narratives that were built into the notion of “Western civilization”. Many college students will never take such a course. But most will take introductory biology……introductory biology has become the cultural equivalent of the old Western civilization curriculum: explaining human culture and the human past, biological knowledge is seen as deeply relevant to social concerns, economic development, international relations, and ethical debates. Introductory biology is presented as a valid, truth-seeking endeavour, untainted by religious, political, or philosophical commitments. It places human beings in a meaningful universe, providing ways of understanding relationships between ethnic and racial groups and between identity and the body” (Preface to the second edition, The DNA Mystique: The gene as a cultural icon, 2004).

Anyone not knowing the strategies of the Rockefeller Foundation and the tobacco industry might well imagine sociobiology to be “valid” and “untainted”. Plainly though, given their history, and the new scientific revelations, genetic explanations are just ones whose political commitments are better concealed, and it becomes highly relevant that genetic explanations are being made in academia, in policy circles, and in the public arena by scientists whose funders (whether governments or corporations) benefit from this neutering of public discourse.

The end result of Huxley’s proposed intellectual expansion of biology is arguably already here. Students unversed in the history of thought and stewed in unsupported or unverifiable genetic explanations have become the intellectual core of a miseducated and compliant society. One that creatively participates in its own delusion by self-describing illnesses as “genetic”, even in cases where the only clear evidence of causation is environmental. A genetically determinist society is therefore one not capable of understanding itself as directly at risk from irresponsible corporate activities and government indifference. It is fundamentally defenceless against polluters, junk food marketers, community dislocation, and other threats to human integrity.

In a wider political frame, the history of the 20th Century shows that a genetic determinist society is also vulnerable to fascists, racists, dictators, and warmongers. All this too is the product of a century and a half of the manipulation of biological science.

Is it too strong to argue this? I do not think so. Consider, as a case study, Adolf Eichmann and the transportation of the Jews to the death camps during the second world war. The world mostly blamed Eichmann personally and Israel executed him. Hannah Arendt, however, famously attributed his crimes to a mystical “banality of evil”.

They were all wrong. Adolf Eichmann and his superiors were following the dictates, as they saw them, of science and genetics. Jews were, to them, a genetic problem of racial purity and the only solution to a genetic problem is extermination and the prevention of reproduction (see especially The War Against the Jews: 1933-194). Given the premises, the final solution was perfectly logical.

But the perfectly logical question for us (and the subject of The Meaning of Life Part II) is, why does hardly anyone see this? Why is it so hard to critique or challenge genetics? Not only do we attribute to genes a wholly unwarranted privileged level of causation in biology, we also give them a privileged level of discourse in society. The dominance of genetics is thus a phenomenon that does not originate in science.

In the last essay of this series I will elaborate on this by proposing a novel theory to explain the fascination of our society for genetic determinism and master molecules. This theory explains the iconic status and scientific attraction of DNA in terms of its metaphysical role as a representative of the universe. Like that other representative of the universe, the Judaeo-Christian God, DNA confers the properties of leadership and authority on disorderly nature. DNA, as the true meaning of life, thus legitimates authority in our scientific society. Therefore, the historical actors, such as the Rockefeller Foundation, who helped create this role for DNA, were, just like everyone else, in thrall to forces they didn’t fully understand.

This theory has quite a few important implications. It suggests that ever since genetic determinism became established in the public mind, that Western societies have become locked into a downward spiral of authoritarian politics and genetic determinist thought. This spiral is already imperilling the functioning of democracy. Unhalted, it may extinguish democratic values entirely. More optimistically, the theory offers a conceptually simple way to reverse the spiral. That way rests on pointing out that all organisms are systems and not dictatorships. It becomes necessary, for the very survival of democratic society, to confront these habits of genetic determinist thinking which, after all, have no basis in reality.

References

Abraham, TH (2004) Nicolas Rashevsky’s Mathematical Biophysics. Journal of the History of Biology 37: 333–385.

Buchanan, AV, KM Weiss, and SM Fullerton. Dissecting Complex Disease: The Quest For the Philosopher’s Stone? International Journal of Epidemiology 35.3 (2006): 562-571.

Charney E, and English W (2012) Candidate Genes and Political Behavior. American Political Science Review 106: 1-34.

Chaufan C, and Joseph J (2013) The ‘Missing Heritability’ of Common Disorders: Should Health Researchers Care? International Journal of Health Services 43: 281–303.Lucy S. Dawidowicz (1975) The War Against the Jews: 1933-194 New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston

Dawkins R (1982) The Extended Phenotype. Oxford University Press.

Dermitzakis E.T. and Clark A.G. (2009) Life after GWA studies. Science 326: 239-240.

Desmond A (1998) Huxley. Penguin books.

Greenberg, G (2016) How many nails does it take to seal the coffin? Developmental Psychobiology 9999: 1-2.

Gundle KR. Dingel, M and Barbara A. Koenig (2010) “To Prove This is the Industry’s Best Hope”: Big Tobacco’s Support of Research on the Genetics of Nicotine. Addiction. 105: 974–983. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.02940.x

Ioannidis, J.P., (2007) Non-replication and inconsistency in the genome-wide association setting. Hum Hered. 64: 203-13.

Ioannidis JP and Panagiotou O (2011) Comparison of Effect Sizes Associated With Biomarkers Reported in Highly Cited Individual Articles and in Subsequent Meta-analyses. J. Am. Med. Assoc. 305: 2200-2210.

Kales, A, CR Soldatos, EO Bixler, RL Ladda, DS Charney, G Weber and PK Schweitzer (1980) Hereditary factors in sleepwalking and night terrors. The British Journal of Psychiatry 137: 111-118. 10.1192/bjp.137.2.111

Kay, Lily E. (1993) The Molecular Vision of Life. Oxford University Press.

Latham, J (2017). Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life. Independent Science News Feb 2017.

Lerner RM (2007) Another nine-inch nail for behavioral genetics! Human Development 49 1-7

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Manolio T. et al. (2009) Finding the missing heritability of complex diseases. Nature 461: 747-753.

Mullis, K Dancing Naked in the Mind Field. 1998, Vintage Books.

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Vrecko S (2008) Capital ventures into biology: biosocial dynamics in the industry and science of gambling. Economy and Society 37: 50-67.

Wahlsten D (2012) The Hunt for Gene Effects Pertinent to Behavioral Traits and Psychiatric Disorders: From Mouse to Human. Dev. Psychobiology 54: 475-492.

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Wilson EO (2000) Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Belknap Press.

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This essay originally appeared on Independent Science News.

Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman

Martin McGuinness followed along the familiar trail of so many enemies of Britain’s weary colonial history. A “super-terrorist” becomes a super-statesman. Jomo Kenyatta comes to mind. And Archbishop Makarios. And of course, Menachem Begin. With blood on their hands, they pass through that mist of nobility bestowed by colonial power and former rulers – and re-emerge as statesmen of compromise, eloquence, even humour.

I’ve never been sure they really changed that much. Begin blew up the King David Hotel, murdered two British army sergeants because the Brits were executing Irgun fighters, and became Prime Minister of Israel. He signed a peace agreement with Egypt, met Margaret Thatcher – then invaded Lebanon in 1982: 17,000 died.

In fact, most of these folk recalled their past with a certain amount of caution. “Father of the Nation”, they liked to be called – although that hardly applied to McGuinness. Michael Collins went through a similar transmogrification. There he was, killing Churchill’s Cairo Gang intelligence men in Dublin and then sitting in Downing Street with Lloyd George and Churchill himself, who told of meeting Collins whose hands had “touched directly the springs of terrible deeds”. Doubtless, he would have said the same of McGuinness.

In 1972 I saw him first, standing beside a table on the Creggan – already no-go Derry after Bloody Sunday – for a frantic press conference. They said he was the IRA commander in Derry (he was actually number two), but he was a rather frightening young man, 22 at the time, high cheekbones, fluffy, curly hair, red-faced, sharp, narrow eyes, unsmiling. A very dangerous man, I thought at the time – to his enemies, at least. There was a rifle in the room, though I don’t think he touched it. People later said it was a Kalashnikov, but there weren’t many AKs around at the time and I rather think it was an old American Garand.

The British were claiming at the time that McGuinness was the most wanted man in Derry or Northern Ireland or all of Ireland – but they did that on a regular basis to all their most tenacious enemies. That’s what they once called Begin. That’s what they said about Collins in the early 1920s, who passed through that infamous mist of nobility when he signed the grim Treaty which the Brits had prepared for him, Griffith and the others. It cost him his life, of course, so he never travelled to Buckingham Palace to meet the King. But Collins did meet James Craig, one of Northern Ireland’s most sectarian Protestant prime ministers, before he was killed by his own people. Avoiding assassination, McGuinness was to sit down with Ian Paisley and his cronies and become deputy minister of the state he tried so hard to destroy. That alone was worth a handshake from the British monarch.

 

But we should not be too romantic about violent men who pass through the archway of British political acceptance. Sadat was a German spy in Cairo in the Second World War. Then he became the beloved peace-maker. Nasser was at first greeted by Eden, who only later called him the Mussolini of the Nile, although Nasser did for the British Empire at Suez. Yasser Arafat was a “super-terrorist” when I first met him in Beirut in the 1980s, blathering on about the “Zionist military junta”; then he signed the Oslo agreement and became a “super-statesman” and shook hands with Bill Clinton and Yitzhak Rabin. Yet under the brutal Sharon, he reverted to “super-terrorist” status, up to and including his moment of death. What moral transformartions! His body must have been “spinning” even before it was put in the grave.

It’s a heady, giddy business to undergo these constant conversions. Saddam was our man when he sent his Iraqi legions into revolutionary Iran in 1980 but then became the Hitler of the Tigris when he invaded the wrong country (Kuwait) 10 years later and got bombed for it, and was then invaded in 2003 for the one crime he didn’t commit (9/11). Off with his head, we cried, and the noose surely strangled him. Then take Muammar Gaddafi, whose Libyan coup was at first welcomed by the Foreign Office. But then he went a bit mad, issuing Trump-like statements of mind-numbing inanity, and then tried to fix up McGuinness and his mates with explosives and organised a bomb in a Berlin nightclub where it killed an American serviceman – and then got bombed by Ronald Reagan who dubbed him the “Mad Dog of the Middle East”.

But the “Mad Dog” outlived Saddam and got slobbered over by the Brits for deconstructing nuclear weapons he never had, and Saint Tony bestowed a kiss upon him and all was well until the Libyans decided they’d had enough and the much-kissed Muammar was butchered by a mob. No wonder he had a strange, puzzled look in his eyes at the time. Then there was Bashar al-Assad, son of the ferocious Hafez, invited to Bastille Day but then – post-Arab Awakening – loathed by the French, whose foreign minister declared that he did not deserve to live “on this earth”. The Quai d’Orsay did not suggest which particular planet he should fly to. But reader alert: with the Europeans back-peddling on their demands for his overthrow and Putin welcoming him to the Kremlin, we may yet see Bashar back in the halls of western Europe.

McGuinness, of course, maintained his statesmanship to the end, seeing off the grousing old Paisley, watching Peter Robinson slip in the Unionist mire and then observing the Democratic Unionists swamped in financial scandal. A good time to go, you might say, and join all the other “most wanted men” in the sky. But one of them, we would do well to remember, had a wanted poster all his own more than 100 years ago, way back in the Boar War: his name was Winston Churchill. And much to talk about they’ll have, I’m sure.

Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council

Confidential sources have told Politico that Bill Cooper — current congressional staffer and former fossil fuel industry lobbyist and attorney — is under consideration to head President Donald Trump‘s White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

CEQ works to coordinate various federal agencies dealing with environmental and energy public policy issues and oversees the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process for proposed infrastructure projects.

Cooper served as legal counsel for the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on what is today known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” a clause which exempts hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Halliburton Loophole was slipped into the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and became law under President George W. Bush.

A 2005 newsletter published by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) credits Cooper specifically for his work in getting the clause inserted into the bill.

“Cooper’s concerns about potential EPA regulation of fracking — as championed by Democrats several years earlier — piqued the interest of the Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, as well as Joe Barton of Texas, the chairman of the subcommittee on air quality,” industry publication The Oil Daily furhter reported in December 2013. “Their mantra was ‘Let’s fix it, and let’s fix it right.’”

In a Truth in Testimony form Cooper submitted before testifying at a 2013 House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing, he also cited the central role he played in negotiating and writing the Energy Policy Acts of 2002 and 2003, both of which had Halliburton Loophole provisions. On that form, Cooper also listed his experience as an oil and gas industry attorney.

“Practiced law, serving clients in oil and gas exploration, development, production, including natural gas gathering, transmission, and distribution, provided counsel in the development of litigation, acquisition, and divestment strategies, personnel policies, regulatory compliance, and long-range initiatives,” reads the form. “Conducted due diligence for oil and gas exploration companies for acquisitions, divestitures, and litigation. Supervised survey crews, independent contractor drilling crews, well stimulation, geophysical, and completion crews for oil and gas wells. Prepared budgets and managed expenditures of all funds for the execution of drilling programs.”

Cooper presently serves as staff director for the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources and formerly was a lobbyist for the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas (CLNG), American Petroleum Institute (API), and Southern Company.

CLNG, where Cooper worked for nearly a decade before passing through the reverse revolving door and returning to work for Congress, was created by the American Petroleum Institute.

Industry-Sponsored Junkets

Cooper’s amicability toward the oil and gas industry was clear during his first stint working as a congressional staffer, before he became a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute.

For example, he attended the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) 2004 meeting in Oklahoma City — on the IOGCC dime — while working for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to congressional travel disclosure records reviewed by DeSmog. Sponsors of that meeting included BP, Chesapeake Energy, Devon Energy, Dominion Energy, Kerr-McGee (now Anadarko Petroleum), Williams Energy, and others.

IOGCC, a congressionally authorized, interstate quasi-government agency whose members are oil and gas industry state regulators, lobbyists, and executives, played a central role in advocating for the Halliburton Loophole.

“Thanks to the Halliburton Loophole, the oil and gas industry is the only industry in America that is allowed by EPA to inject known hazardous materials — unchecked — directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies,” Jennifer Krill, Earthworks executive director, told DeSmog.

As a House Energy and Commerce staffer, Cooper traveled on numerous other industry-funded trips beyond IOGCC‘s 2004 meeting, according to congressional travel disclosure forms reviewed by DeSmog. Among the trips:

-A junket to the Alberta tar sands sponsored by Shell Oil to visit its Muskeg River site.

-A 2003 trip to discuss the Energy Policy Act of 2003 at a meeting of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (which today sponsors the influential fracking front group, Energy in Depth).

-An El Paso Corporation–funded 2002 paid speaking gig at the annual meeting of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (IPAMS, now the Western Energy Alliance, or WEA).

-A BP-sponsored speaking appearance in 2004 in which Cooper discussed energy policy, according to his disclosure form, but was listed by BP as an “industry speaker.”

CEQ Climate Denial History Redux

George W. Bush’s CEQ chief of staff Phillip Cooney also was a former API lobbyist-turned-CEQ staffer. During his tenure at the council, Cooney doctored scientific reports about climate change written by U.S. government agencies and then left to become a lobbyist for ExxonMobil.

History could repeat itself, in a sense, if Cooper takes the helm at CEQ.

That’s because the Trump White House CEQ, according to a recent story by Bloomberg, may ax climate change impacts from consideration in National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental reviews, a goal of API and CLNG for the past several years. President Barack Obama’s CEQ issued the guidance for government agenies to consider climate change in these reviews.

Cooper has publicly supported cutting climate change out of the NEPA process, and according to his bio for a recent speech at a Natural Gas Roundtable, he presently acts as a NEPA senior policy advisor for his Committee on Natural Resources job.

Without boxing ourselves in [we plan to] look at the CEQ‘s guide on [greenhouse gases] as a first step” toward streamlining the NEPA process, Cooper told Inside EPA in December 2016. “We think it’s an opportunity for us to correct a lot of wrongs, and that in and of itself should streamline the process.”

Some are concerned about such maneuvers espoused by Cooper, however.

The push for climate change’s non-inclusion in NEPA appraisals “puts our country, our communities, and our people at great risk,” Paul Getsos, national coordinator for the April 29 People’s Climate Movement march, told Bloomberg. “It also sends a dangerous message to the world that the United States does not care about climate change or protecting front-line communities.”

Cooper did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Grief, Loss and Losing a Father

Grief can be motivator and inhibitor. It buffers, even repels realities, supplanting them with flowing tears and shaking hale storms.  But it can also be acutely penetrating, insightfully unfurling truths as battle banners for veracity.

Within the shaking body and the unsettled mind, fires of acknowledgment can be lit, the sun peaking from behind the dark night which you believe eternal.  For here he was, a figure so powerful, robust, with turns of eccentric conservatism and irritating pedantry, touched by moments of enormous sweetness and generosity. He lay in a hospital shirt, lying in palliative care.  It would not be long now.

Initially, grief’s battle against the optimistic counter, the refrain of wisdom, is to assert its control.  Solemn King Grief battles the gangly and irritating Prince of Optimism.  Little wonder that death and grief are so fundamentally linked, twinned in roles of captivating, and sometimes paralysing, the human species. Little wonder, as well, that many organised religions offer the padding of an excuse, a reassurance that death is simply the other side of a badly minted coin.

When a close relative, or friend, takes his or her leave to the afterlife, or, perhaps more appropriately, the death domain, we are left as grievers in chief.  This comes in all forms.  In the case of sickened politics and tyranny, there are processes of competitive grieving, involving orgiastic rituals of emotive necrophilia for the deceased. At the death of North Korea’s Kim Jong-il in 2012, forced labour camps awaited some who did not put up a seriously grieving face with appropriately directed hysterics.

When it comes to father, to the paternal force who forged your life protectively through a form of guardianship both disciplining yet kind, grief gallops through the doors as his life makes a retreat. Firm support in your mind seems to slip.  Daddy is about to make an exit, so brace yourself.

The man who took your hand to lead you into the moon lit Danish country night to explain why haunted creatures were not going to do their worst lies before you, his face caged by an oxygen mask he detests, his body a medical receptacle for tubes and fluids.  True to mechanical irritation, the machine that blasts his face with oxygen is infuriatingly noisy, turning him into air-conditioned meat before strong hospital lights.  Wards, in such fashion, resemble shopping aisles.

Everything of the man was typical to the last. He desired his own hooks to use even in the oncology ward, an assertion of his own independence against both condition and staff.  Ever the enterprising figure, his Prussian blood acting like a throbbing source of inspiration, he conditioned the environment, disciplining it, bringing it within his domain of appreciation.  He still desired clocks to observe, as if feeling the passage of time as a navigator in open seas keen to absorb a journey into his inner self by digits, numbers and geography.

There was only one way of doing things, and he had, by some form of remarkable awareness, found it.  That, at least, was how he would express it.  He needed to order drawers in a particular way, to identify the appropriate bags to place in bags.  Symbolism here was undeniable: a protection afforded within a protection afforded within a protection, and so forth.

There would be, for instance, the “Basmati bag”, one formerly used to store rice long consumed, but now a spot of meeting for an assortment of other objects, all, in turn, kept in bags (sock, tote, plastic, netted, ribbed).  There was the “German bag”, another ideal repository for other objects that had their fate inked out in his mind, bags included.

He wished for a string to make knots, his strong, meaty fingers able to conjure tricks of strength and power. In an active, cerebral sense, he longed for poetry to be read to him by his family, listening to the soft cadences and articulations of his daughter.

He also thrilled reading himself in a fashion that could even be dogmatic, notably when it came to architectural history and art aesthetics. Voraciously, he would consume Von Christoph Wetzel’s Heiligenlegenden in der bildenden Kunst, then make his way through Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Man”.

Then, the lungs began their journey into a painful oblivion, inflaming, tormenting and defeating sleep with a torturer’s dedication. His cell production inflicted their depositing terrors, these blast cells proving inadequate to sustain his body against the cruel curiosities of the Grim Reaper. They were, in fact, the GR’s front troops.

What mattered for him was to be with family, less to see them in grief than to see them in fruitful hope for him. For, in Emily Dickinson’s understanding,

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all.

Grief can therefore come under control, be it through hope, even as it persists in a dying body. It can become a liquor to brave the soul and ready oneself, perhaps to even consider one’s own inevitable passing, the ebbing out into nature like a fretful journey that might, just might steady itself at some point.

As father’s eyes gradually moved into a state of unawareness, cheeks sinking, gauntness appearing, a toasted looking skin ravished by haematological terrorism lightening and thinning, he was still father, man to love, man of vitality.  His life force was simply displacing itself, moving out, through the fingers of those holding his firm hands, chest heaving and then suddenly still. He had only gone as a living person, but as father, he was still there, a man to remembered, loved and adored with devoted, cheery studiousness.

The Adventures of a Peace Corps Volunteer in India Fifty Years Ago

Every Peace Corps Volunteer has a near-death story. For David Macaray, supplementing his diet of curry and rice with a ball of opium did the trick.

But not to worry. Had he died, he wrote, “Our mothers and fathers would have received the obligatory telegram from the State Department: ‘Dear Parent: [stop] Your son ate opium, passed out, and set house on fire. [stop] He is deceased. [stop] Details to follow.”

Fifty years later, one wonders if Macaray, in a fit of nostalgia, ingested a bit of opium while organizing this sometimes heartbreaking but mostly hilarious book. Because it’s not really a book — it’s rather a play, consisting of 168 scenes dramatizing one crazy Angrez’s “weird” experience of India.

The scenes are wonderfully diverse: from “Leprosy,” to “The Argument for Arranged Marriages,” to “Diarrhea on a Bus” to “How to Explain the Electoral College at a Real College.”

A job well done?

In 1967, Macaray was assigned to Malerkotla, a city in the north Indian state of Punjab, where he was attached to the Irrigation Department. “Our mission,” he writes, “was to teach tube well maintenance to mechanics and staff assistants.” Not unlike many volunteers, he felt unqualified for the job. In fact, “Considering how little we managed to accomplish in the Irrigation Department during our two-year stay, introducing the Frisbee to Indian society may have been one of our most memorable achievements.”

Despite this, he one day answered the call to join a UNICEF crew sinking wells in the drought stricken state of Bihar. Their job was to install hand-pump water-wells in village schools. That was the good news — and Macaray was proud to see the immediate impact of their work. The bad news was that UNICEF had a strict rule that if a crew couldn’t sink a well in three days, they had to move on.

In one village, the local crew continued to hit solid rock — but begged UNICEF to stay, even volunteering to work around the clock. But the UNICEF team moved on. Macaray describes how the village then responded with anger and violence, born out of desperation. But even worse, he said, were those villages that didn’t react at all. “Other villages — the poorest villages any of us had ever seen — took the news fatalistically…which was more depressing to witness than having them react with anger.”

“It was Bihar, India,” he writes. “Despair and failure were a way of life.”

Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs — and one Atheist

During training, Macaray, a confirmed atheist, learned about India’s great religions from books and lectures. Once in the country, he learned by going to the barber shop. Although he lived in the Sikh homeland state of Punjab, his town of Malerkotla was a Muslim enclave.

As he recounts, “The Barbers in Malerkotla were Muslims. Not only because barbering was a low caste job, but because one of the key religious tenets of Sikhism was never to cut one’s hair, which is why Sikhs wore turbans.” Another reason that the barbers were Muslim, according to Macaray’s Brahmin neighbor and mentor Mr. Sharma, was that “few self-respecting Hindus were willing to do low-caste work. Hence, Muslim barbers.”

As for Hinduism, Macaray observed that it “permeated every aspect of Indian culture.” In fact, once when he went to the post office to pay a fee they had forgotten to charge him, the postmaster was so impressed he took him out to tea and declared they must have known each other in a previous life, to explain why he was repaying his kindness.

As Macaray traveled around India, every outing presented the opportunity for a lesson, many of which had a religious, class, or (officially banned) caste thread to them.

Sex and the Single PCV

There are two topics that every Peace Corps volunteer is obsessed with, no matter where in the world:  bowels and sex. In that order. Imagine you are 22, in an all-male Peace Corps group in a conservative country where if you looked at a woman sideways you might be on the first plane home.  Which is why, the reader might wonder, Macaray did not take advantage of the “full” services of the local Dwarf masseur who pedaled around town with his exotic kit of Indian oils. In fact, Macaray was so naïve that he ordered the a la carte massage and didn’t even know there was a special — only realizing it later when he saw the whole town snickering at him.

Most of Macaray’s other saucy stories involve Indian men’s seemingly endless curiosity about the loose morals in America. India may have been home to the erotic Khajuraho temple carvings, but America was full of “copulating sex fiends and pornographers.” Once again, Macaray notes, “The Peace Corps trainers failed to inform us that much of our time would be spent discussing sex. I had no idea.”

The Chappal Ambassador

Despite his self-deprecating tone and worries that he was not the Super Volunteer, one has to admire how David Macaray threw himself out there — how he spent two years engaging with Indians of all shapes, sizes and religions. And yes, he wore those buffalo hide sandals, called chappals, and the not wing-tipped shoes of “official” Americans, which is why I would call him a Chappal Ambassador.
And as a young Chappal Ambassador, one of Macaray’s many observations was how old people were respected, even revered, in India.  One day, he witnessed a fist fight break out among some young bucks, and was stunned to see a little old man step into the middle and stop the violence immediately. “In the U.S.,” he observed, “75-year old geezers were generally viewed as obsolete. In India, in 1967, they were venerated.”

One of those venerated elders was Macaray’s good friend and drinking buddy, Man Singh, forty years his senior. “He was 62 years old, spoke perfect English, and was totally blind, having lost his vision in a Japanese POW camp in Singapore during World War II,” he writes. Perhaps only in Peace Corps could such a friendship have blossomed so naturally. When Macaray was leaving India, Man Singh’s granddaughters made him a tapestry that they had designed, picked the cotton, dyed, and woven for him. “It featured pictures of peacocks, rabbits, chickens, geometric figures, and three little girls jumping rope.” The three girls, he notes, “represented themselves so I wouldn’t forget them.”  To this day, the tapestry  “hangs proudly in my den.”

Now that Macaray himself is 72, one wonders if he would venture back to a very different India, and see it through the eyes of a venerated old geezer. I hope he will — and then write about it.  If he does, I for one, can’t wait to kick off my own chappals and read it.

Will the Poor Always Be With Us?

It’s a familiar story. On his final journey toward Jerusalem, Jesus stops in Bethany to eat at the home of Simon, a leper. A woman enters with an alabaster jar of expensive ointment; she breaks the jar and pours the ointment on his head. Her gesture invokes the fury of some of those present. The ointment was worth a year’s wage, they grumble. It could have been sold, and the money given to the poor.

“The poor will always be with you” was Jesus’ righteous and innocent enough reply. Jesus clearly did not pretend by his remark to be shedding new light on the problem of poverty. And when we remind ourselves, as we so often do, that “the poor will always be with us” (as they always have been), we are merely borrowing a manner of stating a fact we all accept without a second thought. It was a fact as unquestioned in Jesus’ time as it is today. But it is not exactly a fact about the poor – that they always have been (and always will be) with us. It is one of those collectively held assumptions that constitute the mythology of our culture, the culture of what has become our global civilization.

It is not an idle myth, that the poor will always be with us, but a vital myth, a powerful and essential means of sustaining our culture and the business of it as usual. It is a myth that has haunted me throughout my two and a half decades of feeling and actively expressing both compassion and indignation in relation to the persistence of hunger, homelessness and poverty in our affluent nation and abroad. Most of this time I have spent working in a soup kitchen and homeless shelter, trying, I suppose, to escape my own affluence and privilege as well as meet basic human needs and challenge the political powers.

The cultural ‘purpose’ of the myth is as clearly straightforward as it is debilitating to the caring activist: there’s no sense in trying to end poverty, except in our dreams. The dreams are reflected in our rhetoric, but under the surface we realize that the prize we can reasonably strive for is amelioration.

Consider, on the other hand, that poverty as we know it is not and has never been the fate of humanity, but instead is largely a product of civilization, as we know it. Columbus and other European explorers and colonists, for example, did not discover poverty here in the Americas; they created it. Defined in terms of security, control and access to life-sustaining resources, poverty and affluence take on a meaning apart from our conventional ‘standard of living’ measure. This reinterpretation prompted anthropologist Marshall Sahlins 50 years ago to identify tribal hunter-gatherers as the “original affluent societies”.  He recognized a kind of wealth enjoyed – and enjoyed equitably – by tribal people that far surpassed in value the benefits we associate with having wealth in our culture. Perhaps because we have begun to change our own conventional measures of wealth, hunter-gatherers are beginning to be perceived by us in a more favorable light. My students do generally pause to consider if the Native Americans were ‘poor’ when encountered by European explorers, but then uniformly insist that they were not.

And although scientists discovered over a century ago that humans lived in this hunter-gatherer way for hundreds of thousands of years before the ‘Agricultural Revolution’ spawned our civilization and culture a mere 10,000 years ago, our history and our collectively held and lived mythology reduce the human experience to civilization-building. Our collective frame of reference not only omits the vast human experience prior to our history, it excludes the experience of humans flourishing in egalitarian tribes concurrent with our history. There are still today scattered pockets of tribal people who have never known the kind of poverty we take so for granted. This vast experience suggests that poverty is a function of culture, not of nature, which is relatively immutable.

So one way we perpetuate the myth of never-ending poverty is by continuing to believe, against the facts, that our history, the history of our culture, our civilization is the history of humanity itself and that anyone outside or predating this history is a poor, half-human savage. Many of us individually will nod to the facts when confronted by them. This matters little, because mythology is something a culture of people buy into together and give expression to in the way they live as a group.

In the same vein, a second and more recent source of fuel for the myth is that, in an important sense, we really don’t want poverty to go away. It is therefore convenient to believe that the poor will always be with us (as they have always been). We don’t want poverty to go away for at least two broad reasons.

The first is that our economic system necessarily generates poverty; but more specifically, our own employment increasingly depends on it. One day at Amos House, a young man was ejected from the soup kitchen for a rule infraction. On the curb outside, he shouted back at our social worker, “you know, if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have a job!” I still ponder that remark 10 years later.

Automation and cheap foreign labor have challenged our economy to find new ways to sustain growth and keep people busy, and our economy has responded brilliantly. The service ‘industry’ has taken up the slack. As the Agricultural/Industrial Revolution displaced not only laborers, but also the life-sustaining role of small communities (tribes and then villages), it created tremendous neediness and marginalization, adding to the effects of automation. The demand for services to address mounting social problems provided the new raw material. Private and public service programs nicely fit the bill because they ease the pain and give the appearance of an effective response without actually solving the problem. Indeed, the kinds of short-term, palliative interventions provided by services often permit the problem to worsen long term. Additionally, this neat economic solution has inspired the cultural fabrication of more frivolous needs and wants to which an infinite number of new services can be introduced to stoke the furnace.

A second reason why we cling to the continuation of poverty, and also to marginalization more broadly, is that many of us, at least, need a place to actively express our care and compassion. We need people – beyond our immediate family members – to care for in the absence of the tribal context within which we once freely shared our care with other members in a mutual support network. I’m like my dog, Pearl, who without the opportunity to hunt instinctively, finds herself playing out the hunt in our house or backyard (sometimes in absurdly comical ways). I can’t say that humans are instinctively compassionate or that we were meant by God or anything else to live in tribes. But there is clearly a compassionate streak in us, expressed more in some people than in others, and humans have lived tribally for 99% of our time on earth. Tribalism is a way of life that has tested out, notwithstanding its relatively recent setback in the face of our own civilizational expansion (Despite how the balance of this competition appears to us, it is too early to call the match.)

Mutual care, generated more by survival needs and self interest than by altruism, is the basis of support in the tribe. In our world, this support has been supplanted by services, mainly professional services working within a service system. Service, in fact, is simply the attempt to meet needs outside the context of community. Just as we do not use the word ‘service’ to label the care we provide within our families, likewise there is no equivalent concept of ‘service’ among tribal people. For individuals with an especially caring disposition, the service system provides the only available outlet, other than the care provider’s own family. The weakening nuclear family, however, like the extended family, clan, village and tribe before it, has increasingly surrendered its support function to professional services. Following this trend, we could all soon find ourselves supported by service providers alone.

John McKnight makes a compelling case that the professional service system is a poor substitute for the kind of support system only a genuine community can provide. It is inferior on many counts, not the least of which is that it frustrates the caring service provider who enters the field of teaching, health care or social work in order to give care only to face one systemic obstacle after another. McKnight insists that the professional service system and its network of private and public institutions and agencies are not geared to providing care, only professional services. To give and receive care, there is no substitute for community. I consider the tribe to be the archetype of community in this sense.

So far I have identified our collectively held assumption that “the poor will always be with us” as a tragic, self-fulfilling prophecy based on mistaken assumptions.   I have also named four factors contributing to the perpetuation of the myth and the consequent perpetuation of poverty:

1/ We collectively believe that human poverty is an inevitable part of the natural order in general and of the nature of humans in particular.

2/ We understand that, in fact, the poor have always been with us.

3/ An increasing number of jobs and institutions (and the economy itself) depend on the continuation or worsening of poverty and marginalization.

4/ The marginalized provide caregivers somewhere to direct their compassion.

A revised understanding of the inevitability of poverty lends itself to at least two general change strategies. Although activists like myself tend to favor more action-sounding suggestions, the first and perhaps most radical thing we can do is help surface our cultural mythology and replace it with principles of living that will work better for us – and possibly lead to the elimination of poverty. For “the poor will always be with us” we might substitute something like: “The universe consists of cycles of creation and destruction, birth and death, but within this framework, the earth will provide.” Our planet and its abundant and richly diverse community of life offer an adequate and acceptable support system for us, as they do for all other species. No one should languish in the kind of marginal destitution we commonly call ‘poverty’. This strategy is one of learning and relearning.

The second avenue is building community – finding small and more ambitious ways of reintegrating ourselves into small-scale economies of support founded on trusting relationships. In ‘My Ishmael’, Author Daniel Quinn distinguishes between a tribal economy founded on the exchange of human energy:

 

Image1

and our economy that is founded on the exchange of products, including service products:

 

Image2

To the extent that we can transfer our faith and reliance from the products system to the communal support system, we contribute to the atrophy (and eventual elimination) of the products system, its institutions and political structures and jurisdictions. The kind of poverty we are familiar with has been with us through the emergence of our civilization because it is inherent in the culture of our civilization, if not in civilization as a mode of social organization in general. Poverty can be eliminated, but it will require a fundamental break from the way we have been thinking and living.

Our current worldview, allegiances and psychological attachments strongly favor the prevailing way of life, as does the usual default assumption that the world is simply going to continue on its trajectory toward a ‘more and bigger’ version of what we have today. But like a recessive gene, our capacity to trust the earth and live by each other’s support and unique gifts lies within each of us, dormant for the most part, but ready to surface and engage after an initial adjustment process. Many disaffected youth, still partially dependent on the products system, have nevertheless chosen to live tribally simply to support their refusal to eke out a living in the usual way, preferring the freedom and vitality of life on the outside. Less dramatic experiments, ranging from intentional rural communities to urban block association activity, point in the ‘give support/get support’ direction.

By the standards of tribal wealth, even our financially well off are quite poor. In my facilitation work with the materially comfortable in churches and nonprofits, I find a surprising receptivity to this disturbing message. A million dollars, for example, is not enough to insure against having to spend the last decade of life in a nursing home. One source of hope for me – as distant as it appears – lies in the potential for defection within the middle and upper classes. As ‘winning’ the products contest rewards us with a life that is increasingly accelerated, virtual, alienating and superficial – as well as ecologically perilous – the rewards of abandoning the game we play for life with the trees and sky – and each other – will prove increasingly irresistible. The ‘simple living’ trend of the past decade may portend a shift that is deeper and more widespread; this shift could provide a catalyst for the cultural break necessary to end poverty.

It certainly lies outside the box to imagine rich people releasing their hold on product wealth and the means of creating it, but this will be a natural side effect of their shifting attention in the direction of acquiring a different kind of wealth. The marginalized poor would then have a better chance of reestablishing access to land resources. Unfortunately, the prevailing models of development in poor communities and countries are the models offered by the products system, which the poor themselves generally look to as the only way out. Alternatively, organizations committed to reducing poverty should emphasize strategies that regenerate the kind of self-reliant, give support/get support community life that can regenerate the kind of wealth we have paved over with a product-driven culture of winners and losers.

NOTE: This essay is adapted from Jim’s new book, Positive Thinking in a Dark Age.  A somewhat different version first appeared in The Other Side, May-June 2002, Vol. 38, No. 3.

Jim Tull teaches Philosophy, Community Service and Global Studies at the Community College of Rhode Island, Providence College and Rhode Island’s state prison. He is also the co-founder of Listening Tree Cooperative, a community-based permaculture homestead. For much of his work life, he served as the co-director of Amos House, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen on Providence’s south side, while organizing dozens of campaigns promoting peace and justice.

Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget

While much of the country tunes into March Madness, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the White House has unleashed a March Massacre, its “skinny budget” plan for 2018. Budgets often seem impenetrable, packed with a blizzard of numbers too big to comprehend. But budgets are value statements. They tell us what we value and what we discount. President Donald Trump’s budget reveals who counts and who does not.

Trump believes in walls. This budget includes a $2 billion-plus down payment — paid by U.S. taxpayers, not the Mexicans — for his famous wall on the border. It also builds a wall around the wealthy and around the military-industrial complex. They are protected and rewarded; the rest of us are at risk.

The first priority for Trump is a “massive” tax cut for the wealthy and the corporations. A first installment came with his health care plan that cuts the top-end taxes used to subsidize health care under Obamacare and pays for that tax cut by depriving millions of health insurance (14 million in the first year, according to the Congressional Budget Office estimate). Older, lower-wage workers and those living in rural areas — ironically, a source of many Trump votes — get hurt the most.

Trump’s “skinny budget” doesn’t contain his tax cut plan. That is promised in May. But the budget is disciplined by that plan, so increases in military spending are “paid for” by cuts in domestic programs. We don’t know yet how Trump will finance his tax cuts. This budget excludes any reporting on mandatory programs like Social Security and Medicare. What’s clear is that Trump will either violate his promise to protect those programs or violate his pledge to balance the budget in a decade. The March Massacre is likely to be followed by a May Monstrosity.

Trump will add 10 percent, or $54 billion, to the Pentagon’s budget over its baseline (3 percent and $18 billion over Obama’s plan). The Pentagon already spends more than the countries with next eight largest military budgets combined. Its books are so messed up that they cannot be audited. Cost overruns, sole-source contract rip-offs and massive waste are routine. What we need are not smarter missiles but wiser policies. But wisdom is not protected behind the wall: Trump would cut funding for diplomacy by nearly 30 percent. Even military generals and admirals have protested against this folly.

Trump lays waste to the domestic programs beyond his walls. The most vulnerable take the biggest hit. His budget would devastate rural areas, cutting regional development authorities, support for rural radio stations and rural airports, support for clean water projects and more. Combined with his health care plan, Trump is betraying his biggest supporters. Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky denounced the reductions as “draconian, careless and counterproductive.” And he’s a Republican.

Trump abandons his pledge to rebuild our inner cities. His budget cuts funds for virtually every program for impacted communities — community development block grants, preschool and after-school programs, summer enrichment programs, help for students to prepare for college, college work-study and grant programs, infant nutrition for impoverished mothers with children, and housing and rent subsidy programs. If passed, this budget will produce more unemployment, more poverty, more despair and more shattered dreams. Trump deals with this by calling for a return to aggressive police tactics, giving police the impossible task of sustaining order amid despair.

Trump tramples his promise to working people. This budget contains no hint of a program to rebuild America. It decimates Labor Department funding to enforce worker health and safety in factories and mines, to protect against wage theft, to ensure that minimum wage and fair-hours laws are respected.

Much more is left on the cutting room floor. Programs to deal with climate change are gutted. The Republican fixation on Planned Parenthood and rolling back support for women’s health care continues. The budget makes a bizarre assault on science and research, cutting even the medical research at the National Institutes of Health.

Congressional Republicans have called Trump’s budget dead on arrival. They can’t raise military spending without gaining Democratic votes, and Democrats will block the deepest and more perverse cuts. But the thrust of Trump’s budget reflects the values that govern the Republican congressional majorities. They won’t get everything they want, but what they get will leave America more unequal, more vulnerable, with greater poverty and despair from Chicago’s inner cities to Appalachia’s rural hollows.

Immigration: Gateway for Cheap Labor and Deliberate Disunity

A dear lawyer friend of mine for nearly 60 years recently posted a Facebook comment lamenting President Trump’s new, tightened immigration policy, saying that “immigration made America great.” My wife and I will be visiting him and his wife not long after this essay is published. It is, in effect, a long response to his lament, but I am leaving out here any elaboration on what I will also say to him, “Jim, face it, America has never been great.”

The land yet named “America,” after first being set afoot by voluntary immigrants thousands of years earlier, was subsequently touched for the first time by another wave of voluntary immigrants, but along with them came the forced “immigrants,” African slaves. Known, if not suppressed, by most Americans today is the misery these involuntary immigrants suffered under the tight and brutal yoke of the second landfall of voluntary immigrants, the blood thirsty, religiously fanatical, and imperialistically land grabbing White Europeans who were imitating their mother land’s own forms of land grabbing, subjugation and incessant bloodshed throughout White Europe.

Why did America’s power elite, themselves once immigrants, foster continued immigration but included allowing a decidedly different class of peoples? The two answers are clear to me: making America a gateway for cheap labor and for dividing and conquering the powerless.

Cheap Labor

What could be cheaper for the slave holders than unpaid hands working the plantations and tending to household duties than slave labor? What could be cheaper for the tycoons of early industrialized America than immigrants toiling for pittance in mind numbing, grueling, hazardous factories and rail yards? And what could be cheaper centuries later than today’s illegal, undocumented immigrants who toil for pittance and no benefits on America’s corporate farms and factories, in the restaurant and hotel business, and as house maids for the upper crust?

While the labor is indeed cheap for the laborers’ employers, the costs to government are astronomical in absorbing the annual, multi-billion dollar expenses of subsidizing public education and providing a variety of welfare benefits and services.

Deliberate Disunity

History’s power elite, vastly outnumbered by the powerless, soon learned that their best defense against them was to divide and conquer them. So it is to this day. The U.S. is a polyglot of ethnically diverse cultures, with their intolerances and prejudices toward each other. The “United” States” has never been united, and that suits the power elite perfectly. They designed it that way, and fostering immigration and its resulting divisiveness has been one of those ways.

Conclusion

Work them to the bone, pay them little, and in so doing divide and conquer mainstream America. That is, and always has been, the American way of her power elite.

Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer

An article by James McEnteer in CounterPunch depicts Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa as a “ranting, bullying, hectoring politician“ who “commandeered radio, television and print media to propagate his unfiltered views. Every Saturday he spoke on current events for hours, in a populist, shoot-from-the-hip style, from different locations around the country, often berating critics by name, labeling them ‘terrorists’ or ‘rock throwers’ and causing some to fear for their safely”.

McEnteer lives in Ecuador so must know that the way to avoid Correa’s show is simply to change the channel to any of the private networks that host critics who call Correa a “dictator” (as opposition presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso has done) and who mock Correa’s supporters as “sheep”.

This is should be an obvious point but isn’t because of the way the international media has demonized left-wing governments in the region. Some people outside Ecuador will readily believe – and try to get others to believe – that all you can watch on Ecuadorian TV for hours every Saturday is Correa’s show. Sad to see an outlet like Counterpunch get in on the act.

What about the charge of “rock thrower” that bothers McEntire who also complained (vaguely) that ““Students who attended a protest rally were expelled from their highly-regarded public high school.”?

Could McEnteeer have meant the protest captured in the video embedded in this article? At about the 32 second mark watch how a female police officer gets struck in the head with a large rock. She was seriously injured despite wearing a helmet. Without the helmet she’d have been dead. “Rock thrower” is perfectly appropriate term for the perpetrator. Harsh language is also appropriate for the people who overlook opposition violence like that.

McEnteer wrote that Correa “sued several newspapers for libel, earning rebukes from the Inter American Press Association and the Committee to Protect Journalists.”

Those libel suits stemmed from a coup attempt in 2010 in which Correa was a briefly held hostage by rebellious police and nearly killed. McEnteer’s article didn’t say a word about the coup attempt but labelled Correa “paranoid”. What an appalling lie of omission.  A newspaper pundit accused Correa of perpetrating crimes against humanity during the coup attempt – an outlandish (and yes, libelous claim) that illustrates how insufferably arrogant, dishonest and unethical the private media have long been in Ecuador.

There are, as anywhere, reasonable criticisms to be made of media policy and regulations, but the position of NGOs like the Committee to Protect Journalists and has been to protect the illegitimate power wielded by press barons, not freedom of speech. Under Correa, unaccountable, unelected press barons haven’t been able to dominate. Groups like the CPJ, and the international media, find that unacceptable.

Correa’s relationship with indigenous groups is way more mixed than McEnteer describes. I’ve written about that in a piece entitled “Don’t be fooled by “leftists” who mimic the Right in Ecuador

As for McEnteer’s expressed concern for “indigenous lands”, Lasso, if he wins, will certainly find ways, if he can, to sell out the indigenous villagers who have been battling Chevron for decades. It is no coincidence the villagers biggest victories came under Correa’s reformed judiciary.  Lasso was part of the government that, in 1998, signed off on Chevron’s destruction of the Amazon.  That particular threat to “indigenous lands” seems to get ignored by people who want to make a “progressive” “pro indigenous” sounding attack on Correa’s government.

Joe Emersberger is a Canadian with Ecuadorian roots who writes for Telesur English.

The Korea Problem

South Korea — As an occupied country, the successive governments of South Korea — occupied since 1950 with between 326,000 US soldiers (during the Korean War) and 28,500 US soldiers (today) and the war that divided the peninsula and the people of Korea — has seen massive human rights violations, repression and state terrorism, and has also perpetrated atrocities in other countries.  This is a so-called “member of the international community.”  Will the real war criminals please stand up?

South Korea — Seoul, 10 May 1990: Student pro-democracy and anti-US imperialism demonstrations rocked Seoul for two days on 9 May and 10 May 1990. (Keith Harmon Snow)

The Central Intelligence Agency under Allen Dulles launched covert operations in South Korea by 1950 — utilizing South Korean police and other secret agents to serve the imperial “pro-democracy” agenda. The ever touted claim that North Korea launched a very clear war of aggression by crossing the 38th parallel — an arbitrary line of demarcation between Soviet Russian and US/allied forces after WW-2 — and invading South Korea is not born out by the facts that existed on the ground in the Korean peninsula in June of 1950.  Not only are there credible reports of death squads crossing into the northern territory and committing atrocities, but the diplomatic record shows a pattern of belligerence and war-mongering that has become de rigeur for the United States all over the world since then.

Massive post-WW-2 repression and murder (extrajudicial summary executions) by South Korean troops, with US military oversight, occurred against their own people in the south, including such horrible massacres as occurred on Je Ju island 1948-1949 and were white-washed by the western propaganda and intelligence apparatus (see the documentary film “The Ghosts of Je Ju“).  The somewhat more well-known “Koch’ang incident” in February 1951 involved some 600 men and women, young and old, that were reportedly herded into a narrow valley in south Korea and mowed down with machine guns by a South Korean army unit on the loosely applied claim that they were “suspected of aiding guerrillas” — these being Korean people who resisted the overt terrorism that the Korean people (north and south) were subjected to by the southern forces and US troops.

South Korea – May 1990:  A map posted in the northern zone just south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) showing the DMZ and major dams contstructed on both sides of the illegal border.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

“The Governor of Je Ju at the time admitted that the repression of the Island’s 300,000 residents led to the murder of as many as 60,000 Islanders,” wrote S. Brian Wilson, “with another 40,000 desperately fleeing in boats to Japan. Thus, one-third of its residents were either murdered or fled during the “extermination” campaign. Nearly 40,000 homes were destroyed and 270 of 400 villages were leveled.”

US troops fired on crowds, conducted mass arrests, combed the hills for suspects, and organized posses of Korean rightists, constabulary and police for mass raids (reported at the time by correspondent Mark Gwyn for the Chicago Sun: see in William Blum Killing Hope).

South Korea – May 1990: A partially camouflaged military encampment in the northern region of South Korea a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel (Keith Harmon Snow)

Said one British scholar Jon Halliday at the time: “After all, if civilians could be mowed down in the South on “suspicion” (italics on the original) of aiding (not even “being” {italics on original}) guerrillas — what about the North, where millions could reasonably be assumed to be Communists, or political militants?” (See: Killing Hope p. 51).

The US military carpet bombing and use of napalm against the northern Koreans during the Korean War was murderous and unprecedented (though rivaled by the bombing of Dresden) and set the stage for similar repeat operations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Entire villages were wiped off the map and the Korean peninsula.  Some 3 million Koreans north of the 38th parallel were killed, with 1 million Korean people killed in the south and over 1 million Chinese deaths.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Student pro-democracy and anti-US imperialism demonstrations rocked Seoul for two days on 9 May and 10 May 1990.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

Note that the *United Nations* were involved in the war: UN troops were commanded by general Douglas McArthur and committed egregious atrocities all over the place — and these atrocities were always blamed on the “North” Korean forces — a particularly poignant tactic (blaming the victims) ever exercised by the pro democracy forces of the New World Order in the process of exercising our military freedoms and exorcising anyone deemed to be undemocratic (meaning: opposed to predatory capitalism, the IMF and the World Bank, multinational corporate destruction, and the feeding, housing, clothing, educating and taking care of the people).

Under then US-installed puppet dictator Syngman Rhee the allied (US/UN/south Korean) troops confiscated massive tracts of land and other “spoils of war” (confiscated property of the former brutal Japanese occupiers) and doled them out, for example, to ultra-right wing former sympathizers and collaborators with the former Japanese occupation, the most wealthy, and other conservative elements. This further set the stage for widespread resentment amongst the Korean population — whose ancestors saw and who did not forget the first massacres in Korea at the hands of invading US forces in 1871.

South Korea – May 1990: A military jeep carries soldiers along a remote road in the northern region of South Korea a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

The arbitrary and illegal line of demarcation drawn at the 38th parallel became the de facto border separating the Korean people due to US/UN/NATO/South Korean military aggression and refusal to compromise with the northern power structure (the northerners  made many overtures and granted many concessions toward reunification).

Subsequent to the war, the Republic of Korea military under its US tutelage did not limit the atrocities against innocent civilians to the domestic arena.  Some 300,000 South Korean troops joined the NATO war in Indochina, and committed serious atrocities there: at least several major massacres are well documented. Examples include:

Bình Hòa massacre
Binh Tai massacre
Hà My massacre
Phong Nhị and Phong Nhất massacre

— all being located in South Vietnam and all being massacres of hundreds of unarmed non-combatant children, pregnant women, and the elderly.  The South Korean troops committed brutal atrocities — such as cutting the breasts off women and bayonetting pregnant women in the bellies and bulldozing shallow graves for summary burials to cover up the evidence.  Some of the villages and people so targeted were known to be very sympathetic and supportive of the US military, but after these atrocities many survivors joined the Viet Kong.

South Korea – May 1990:  The northern region of South Korea a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the Korean people at the 28th parallel (Keith Harmon Snow)

There is no doubt the South Korean forces were trained in brutal “counter-insurgency” techniques now well-documented to include the most horrible crimes that people have ever committed against people — all under the watchful eyes and logistical coordination of the United States and our intelligence apparatus (e.g. the Phoenix Program  — a campaign of absolute terror and egregious crimes against humanity and war crimes conducted in Indochina during the US wars there).

For example: at Binh Hoa village (December 1966) in South Vietnam the South Korean “Blue Dragon Brigade” slaughtered over 400 mostly children, women and elderly; ROK troops then burned the village to the ground and slaughtered the people’s buffaloes.

South Korea – May 1990: Camouflaged cement structures ready to be deployed as barricades on the roads in northern South Korea, a few miles south of the DMZ that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

Over the past 60 years the people of South Korea have been subject to egregious curtailment of freedoms under certain “National Security” directives (laws) including: the (repeated) jailing of thousands of “dissidents” who have, in one form or another, protested imperialist US involvement and occupation in South Korea; people who have organized against US imperialism; students and other civilians that have maintained contacts with people in North Korea; civil society groups and individuals that have contacted foreign organizations seeking help against repression; the censoring and destruction of truth in education and educational materials.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Some 40,000 riot police were deployed on 9 May and 10 May to crush demonstrations involving over 100,000 people.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

There have been suspicious deaths of student activists, and attempts to get outside help to demand proper investigations of such deaths have led to further repression of the petitioners (seeking help).

On 9 May 1990, some 100,000 Koreans marched and demonstrated against the then latest US/UK/EU-backed dictatorship of president Roh Tae-Woo (1988-1993); over 40,000 South Korean storm troopers (riot police) were mobilized and over 1900 people detained.  Some of the perceived organizers were jailed for several years.  Torture has been selectively used on political prisoners, but was routinely deployed against certain segments of the population during particular periods since the 1950’s, such as the run-up to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where thousands of “vagrants” were rounded up off the streets, most of them small children, and were sent to a “welfare facility” called “Brothers Home,” where they were subject to several years of brutality and/or including fatal beatings and routine rape — all this under orders of the then-president Park Chung-hee (father of President Park Geun-hye who was recently impeached in December 2016) and whose successor, President Chun Doo-hwan, suppressed any investigation into the atrocities.

South Korean labor unions and struggles have in the past been infiltrated and co-opted by gangs of thugs hired by / for multinational corporations like Daewoo, Samsung and Hyundai.  The bribery, influence peddling, hired thuggery, and other forms of corruption by the “chaelbol” — giant family run multinational conglomerates — rival those of the Japanese Sogo Shosha (trading houses) and the Japanese mafia (Yakuza) and their western corporate criminal counterparts (CIA/FBI/NSA/DIA/USAID and the 1 percent) — where anything and everything can be bought and sold with reckless abandon and near zero accountability and the corruption and criminals are shielded by the judiciary.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Some 40,000 riot police were deployed on 9 May and 10 May to crush demonstrations involving over 100,000 people (Keith Harmon Snow)

The corporate Goon Squads have often used various forms of torture, including beatings and kidnappings, and the thuggery by corporate gangs has in many cases been supported by state security and police — who have furthered the extrajudicial punishments and torture against labor organizers and employees of the large corporations targeted, for example, for exercising their freedom of expression.  Public and private school teachers have also suffered retaliation and repression for their involvement in activities that the “state” deemed a threat to “national security” — such as labor and pro-democracy organizing.

South Korean people lived under more than 30 years of military dictatorship from 1960s-1993 but given the corruption and absence of freedoms the situation under “democratically elected” presidents has not been particularly encouraging, to say to least, for the average South Korean — repressive laws instituted under military dictatorship continued to serve a repressive state security apparatus, including arbitrary arrests and detentions — and so “democracy” has been an absolute farce.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Riot police searched shop to shop door to door hunting down demonstrators and arresting some 1900 people.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

As S. Brian Wilson discusses, the current inhabitants of Je Ju Island have been opposed to the construction of a deep water port that would serve US/ROK military objectives enabling guided missile equipped AEGIS class destroyers access to port facilities at the village of Gangjeong. The ROK’s CIA-like Korean National Intelligence Service has spied on and raided citizens and organizations that are opposed to the deep water port that would be built by the criminal Samsung Corporation.  Samsung has a history of more than 50 years of environmental pollution, trade union repression, corruption, tax flight and tax evasion.

South Korea – One photo of just one of the many Je Ju Island massacres that occurred in South Korea and were committed by US-backed South Korean forces in 1948 and 1949. (Photo credit unknown)

South Korean civilians have also been persecuted from the 1950s to the present day, including arrests, kidnappings, beatings and torture, for advocating reunification with North Korea.  Millions of Koreans were separated from family members by the illegal US-enforced bifurcation of the Koreas before and after the Korean War (1950-1953) and, as we can imagine, reunification is blocked by powerful political interests whose motivations (power, control, private profit) do not serve the greater common interest of the Korean people (north and south) or the rest of us.  Further, South Korean militarization has benefited US, UK, Canadian, EU and Israeli corporations — further wagging the dog of war and serving the powerful interests that will never move toward a peaceful equitable reunification serving the interests the people (north and south).

South Korea is effectively run by an organized crime syndicate with deep ties to the United States power structure (see, for example, the notes on The Cohen Group below).  Beyond a repressive security apparatus and pro-imperialist international foreign policy, South Korea suffers very high and increasing rates of suicides, alcoholism, sexual and domestic violence.

South Korean corporations have also run roughshod over the environment domestically and abroad and slavery conditions have historically prevailed for their labor forces while sweatshop conditions still do.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Riot police occupied all major subway stations and train stations in the search for demonstrators. (Keith Harmon Snow)

While the South Korean government has offered an “aggressive” public face to the issue of “calling for reunification”, this is mere lip service as they have simultaneously increased military spending, maintained a compulsory draft (with severe penalties for any conscientious objector), and moved to the front of the line as a leading arms exporter.  In recent years South Korea has purchased scores of billions of dollars worth of warplanes, anti-missile systems and other weapons (of mass destruction), and the ROK has annual defense budgets of over $30 Billion.

Meanwhile, South Korea and its western allies (including Japan) have escalated aggressive military posturing and rhetoric targeting North Korea, including deployments of troops and weaponry (e.g. battleships) in “joint military exercises” within striking distance of North Korea. The escalation of tensions and probability of war — on the Korean peninsula — are due to the duplicitous and sociopathic criminal hegemony and aggression by the United States *government* and its closest allies and their *leaders*.

South Korea – Seoul 10 May 1990: Riot police search shops and restaurants for demonstartors. (Keith Harmon Snow)

South Korea sealed its biggest-ever — until then — arms purchase in September 2015 with a U.S. $7.04 billion deal for 40 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets.  South Korea has also been stocking up on spy satellites and drones — courtesy of US weapons manufacturers like Northrup Grumman.  South Korea also sports a large number of Apache Attack helicopters, and it has more than “capable” air force and navy.

Who benefits from all this war making? Who are the directors of Lockheed Martin? Northrup Grumman? Don’t miss that retired US Air Force General and former director of the profoundly secretive National Reconnaissance Office on Lockheed’s board.  The NRO plans, builds and operates North America’s spy satellites, and they specialize in intelligence-gathering and information warfare — and the NRO coordinates the analysis of aerial surveillance and satellite imagery from several intelligence and military agencies, including the Defense Investigative Agency (DIA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Oh, and don’t miss that retired US Admiral and Commander of the US Strategic Command, also on Lockheed’s board, who is also a director of the highly dishonest and destructive Institute for Nuclear Power (INPO).

Oh, and don’t miss the Lockheed directors that are also directors of The Cohen Group — founded and run by former U.S. Secretary of War (1997-2001) and bona fide war criminal William S. Cohen.  According to his own The Cohen Group web site: “Under his leadership, the US military conducted the largest air warfare campaign since World War II, in Serbia and Kosovo, and conducted other military operations on every continent” — including the U.S. proxy wars in Congo and Sudan — and “The Cohen Group principals have decades of experience working with The Republic of Korea (ROK) government and military and with ROK industry.”

I bet they do!

Now, let’s talk about North Korea.

Imagine, a country like North Korea, which, in fact, there is no other country like, that does not have the stellar record of committing massive war crimes that the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, Japan or Israel do, and that had the audacity to develop a missile (capability) of their own…to defend themselves against the world’s leading military aggressor(s), one(s) with long and unpretty records of massacres, tortures, double-dealing and back-stabbing, amounting to a lot more than just massive and gross war crimes, crimes against humanity and mass murder in one country after the next.

Will the real war criminals please stand up?  If you are reading the New York Times, you are contributing to your own mental illness.

South Korea – May 1990: Scores of military vehicles (background) at a military base in the north of South Korea a few miles south of the DMZ that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

P.S. I have also provided some (amateur) photos of the South Korea’s northern zone — where I was able to use my mountain bicycle to gain access to the area just south of the DMZ.  At the time (May 1990) it was highly militarized and I used my camera judiciously, though I always suspected that the ROK patrols that saw me assumed I was US military and gave me a certain carte blanche to bike freely.  The landscape there, it seems to me, was highly “manicured” devoid of almost all wildness. Other than the soldiers and police, the only people I saw were universally lower class farmers — warm, kind and friendly. I imagine that this northern region has been substantially more militarized since 1990, but really I have no idea.

South Korea – May 1990: Camouflaged cement structures ready to deployed as barricades on the roads in northern South Korea, a few miles south of the DMZ that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)