Sunday, 20 July 2014
Thursday, 17 July 2014
Abby Martin interviews Sean Stone as he raises the question of whether there was something contrived about the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens that sparked this recent outbreak of violence. Actually he does more than raise the question, he directly states that his sources in Israeli intelligence have told him that this is the case.
Sunday, 13 July 2014
Posting Abby Martin's latest interview with Miko Peled yesterday reminded me that I'd meant to post her first one. I read Mr. Peled's book, The General's Son – Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, after seeing this, and would recommend it for anyone wanting a concise overview of the Palestinian Israeli conflict. More than just being a history book it's the story of a man born into the heart of the Zionist Israeli establishment. His Grandfather was a signatory on Israeli's declaration of independence and his farther was a prominent General who fought in the 1948 and 1967 war. Miko Peled began a journey into Palestine after his niece was killed by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem, a journey that led him to become a prominent peace activist calling for an end to the occupation and a one state solution to the conflict.
Saturday, 12 July 2014
Just a round up of some news items that I've found particularly interesting recently.
Internet regulation is all about protecting children from pornography right? Apparently not. Actually it's about protecting politicians from independent media sites who tend report on political paedophilia. That's the way it seems anyhow. Recently the UK Column has removed all its videos from youtube rather than be subject to regulation from ATVOD, a subsidiary of OFCOM. ATVOD claim that they have the right to regulate any internet content that is perceived to be “television like”, but is vague in what this actually means. So if you live in the UK and have a youtube channel potentially you could now be subject to State regulation. Happy days. This to me really is a huge story, over the past few years we've had access to a level of information unimaginable to anyone living only a short time before. This has allowed us to learn things about the powers that be that there's no doubt they'd rather we didn't know, and it was only ever going to be a matter of time before steps were taken to shut it down. It appears to have begun!
You can read the full story here -
Abby Martin can always be relied upon to speak for the Palestinian people, especially when they're being ignored or misrepresented across all mainstream media. I've just selected this particular video because it's an interview with peace activist Miko Peled, son of IDF General Matti Peled. Miko describes this current bombing campaign in Gaza as simply a continuation of the racist imperialist doctrine upon which the state of Israel was founded. He also believes that the Israeli government can end this hellish situation any time through a one state solution that ends the apartheid regime -
We had the film 'The House I Live In'¹ shown on the Isle of Man last night, a harrowing documentary into the devastating effects of the war on drug users. It also highlights how a whole economy has grown up around the war, which like slavery is fed by the human suffering it causes². So yeah, harrowing but highly recommended.
On a more positive note journalist Amber Lyon has recently founded Reset.me, a journalistic organisation reporting on the positive use of psychedelics in the treatment of such mental health problems as depression, anxiety, addiction and post traumatic stress disorder. Ms. Lyon became involved in this after researching and using psychedelics herself, after she began suffering from PTSD as a result of the horrific things she wittness during her years as a journalist. You can read her story, 'How Psychedelics Saved My Life', here -
I make a point of always referring to the war on drugs as the war on drug users, because that's what it fundamentally is. The term war on drugs makes it seem like it is the drugs themselves that are being targeted, insulating us from the human victims. But it's not just a war on drug users, it's also a war on all the people suffering from debilitating psychological or even physical illnesses who could be helped by these substances, but instead must continue to suffer and die because of the State's prohibition. So essentially it's a war on all of us.
Monday, 7 July 2014
I'm a big fan of the Learn Liberty series of videos, it's fantastic the way they take on complex economic issues and explain them in a way anyone can understand in just a few minutes. And with cartoons! So here's a few of the ones I've found most interesting recently.
Firstly a topical one on the economic and human costs of hosting the World Cup. With nineteen thousand people displaced to make way for this current tournament and a couple of thousand of Qatar's slave labourers expected to die before they host it, it kinda puts the controversy over one bloke biting another's shoulder into perspective.
The Make Work Bias – There's allot of material currently pointing to a pessimistic future where robots are going to take all our jobs. The problem is, this has already happened – over a hundred years ago that is - with the invention of the tractor. It (along with other farm industrialisation) laid off half of all agricultural workers. In this video economist Bryan Caplan why this wasn't a problem then and won't be now. We can stop worrying about innovation stealing jobs!
Foreigners Are Our Friends - This is brilliant (hence why the post is named after it). If we agree that innovation isn't stealing jobs, then Bryan Caplan has a thought experiment to demonstrate why immigration can't be either.
And Finally a short video on how law and order can (and historically has) arisen in society from the ground up, rather than being imposed from the top down. Using the Oregon trail as an example economist and cattle rancher P.J. Hill shows how groups of people would form contracts between each other to regulate disputes without the need for an overarching government. This one is worth watching for the Lego alone!
Sunday, 6 July 2014
"The bliss of deep sleep is a free sample of the awareness enjoyed by the mystics when they are awake."
Meditation is sleep! A bold statement perhaps, no doubt contradicting much of what is written on the subject. Well now that I've stated the premiss let me defend it. I intend to claim that meditation is nothing other than the conscious and wakeful accessing of the place we go when we're deep asleep.
This is also a kind of follow up piece to a blog post I wrote a few months ago called 'Meditation and Sleep'. I'm not sure that title drove the message home hard enough so the 'and' is out and the 'is' is in. If that makes sense.
I first became interested in the practise of meditation when I was eighteen. Lots of different reasons why, I'd just been reclassified as an adult but wasn't sure that I really felt any different from when I was five years old. What was it in me that remained the same whilst other things changed? Materialist reductionism had become less than satisfying as a philosophy. It was also perhaps a search for sanity in what I perceived as an increasingly mad world (George W. Bush had just been elected U.S. President – that was the final straw).
I had no real idea what meditation was but thought shifting consciousness somehow sounded interesting. Luckily this was right at the time when internet shopping had just taken off, so I was able to order a book on the subject. In spite of my initial lack of knowledge however, I felt I had an intuitive sense of what meditation was about and that this book would really just confirm my expectations and explain more of how to go about it. I felt it would all be something to do with dropping awareness back into deeper levels of the mind and accessing the relaxed and intuitive capacity that was to be found there. Well, when the book arrived, I was surprised to find it made no mention of such things, rather it explained that meditation was all about bringing ones attention out of ones head and into the world, then attempting to hold it there. I got the point, that we're overly consumed by our rational minds and need to break free of the constant cognitive chatter, but this just seemed like a rather arduous and unnatural way of doing it. Having always had a rather unjustifiably high opinion of my own ideas, I decided my way sounded better so I would go with that.
So I would sit and drop my awareness back, attempting to consciously enter the place that nears the border between wakefulness and sleep. I had some very interesting experiences of entering a dreamlike state of consciousness, but always it would end the same, with me falling asleep. I also noted no lasting benefits to this practice, I didn't feel any more enlightened for the rest of the day, in just the same way we don't carry the relaxation of deep sleep into our waking day.
And so after a while I relented and went with what the book recommended. Standard stuff, I would sit and bring my awareness to my breath, re-placing it there every time it fell away. I would do this maybe three times a day for what started at twenty minutes a time, the rest of the day I would live as a constant mindfulness exercise attempting to be continuously aware of my bodily sensations. I had a job in a mail room at that time, putting letters in envelopes all day, which was perfect for this. I carried on this practice fairly intensely for about two years.
I'm not saying that I didn't experience benefits from this, I'm sure I did, but after a while I didn't feel those benefits were proportionate to the time and focus I was putting in. Also, I started to question the fundamental logic of what I was doing. I'm supposed to be accepting of the moment as it is, and yet really I'm always trying to change this moment into a better one where I'm more present, awake and conscious. I'm attempting to realise than my individual sense of self is an illusion, and yet my individual sense of self is hard at work trying to achieve this! It all seemed contradictory.
One morning after a poor night's sleep I was just too tired and decided it was a fruitless endeavour to try to meditate, so I just lay on my sofa for the allotted time period and took a nap. A funny thing happened, I went into a state where I was sort of awake and asleep at the same time. Rather than being identified with my thoughts I felt identified with the 'blackness' in which they were arising. There was an amazing feeling of spaciousness and liberation here, freedom from being my thoughts! But again I would end up falling asleep and I detected few lasting effects from this practice on the rest of my day, I wasn't more relaxed or nicer or anything like that.
At this point I could describe my meditation experience as being as if there were a line running through the centre of my head, extending out the back at one end and out between my eyes at the other. I could either sink back or expand out along this line and this would determine whether I would had a deep and relaxing but drawn in experience, or a shallow but expansive one. It really was a case of either/or.
This contradiction resolved for me when I realised that the answer lay in a juxtaposition of the two approaches. Moving awareness only outwards (onto the breath or something like that) is fairly pointless, it might have some limited benefit for a while but it seems to me that this is cancelled out as there always has to be a you there to keep doing this task. This becomes rather problematic if the ultimate purpose of meditation is to lose the sense of a separate self. Similarly, only sinking ones awareness back inwards is also futile. It may briefly feel great the way falling asleep does, but it can't be sustained for long without actually falling asleep. And even if it could, it's not a good place to drive a car from or operate heavy machinery or anything like that. Holding my attention out in the world (again perhaps on the breath) acts as an anchor that prevents me from falling asleep when I then allow my awareness to fall backwards into deep Consciousness.
In fact more than being just possible it was essential to do so for the following reason. If I take an analogy with lucid dreaming as a starting point, I experience myself as a character in a dream who wants to also know his real identity as the dreamer, the one consciousness in which the dream is arising. The dreamer and the dream must arise together as a primal duality, you can't have one without the other, obviously there can be not dream without a dreamer but equally a dreamer without a dream is just asleep. To put it another way, consciousness needs something to be conscious of, else it is unconscious. This was the root of my problem, I would look within to become conscious of consciousness itself, aware of awareness. What I failed to recognise was that consciousness itself is not a 'thing' in the sense that thoughts or material objects are, rather it's the thing in which these things arise. Therefore, every time I would attempt to become conscious of consciousness, I would go unconscious - every time the dreamer became aware only of himself, he wasn't dreaming any more and therefore ceased to be. The result, I fell asleep. This is why it is essential that when awareness delves inwards and seeks to become aware of itself, it also reaches outwards to remain anchored in the world (on something like the breath) and by doing so the primal duality remains.¹
What does this look like in practice?
Sit and anchor yourself in the body by becoming increasingly aware of its sensations. You may choose to particularly focus on the breath. Remember this is not the meditation itself, it's merely the set up to prevent yourself from losing consciousness when you fall backwards into the sleep state.
Become increasingly aware of the thoughts as they rise and fall in your head. Then become increasingly aware of the dark depths that they are rising and falling within.
Now simply fall backwards into the sleep state, just the same way you do every night in bed, letting go of the attachment to the outer world. And now here's the difference to actually falling asleep, as you feel yourself entering the depths, begin to undulate your awareness inwards and outwards so as not to lose connection with the material world and fall asleep all together. You may find the breath helpful in this regard, to sink into the depths on the out breath, and pull yourself back out into the world on the in breath.
A final note, in my previous post 'Meditation and Sleep'² I stated that 'Everyone is already an expert at falling asleep and therefore it's a great starting point to explain meditation.' A lot of people got back to me and said that they weren't experts at falling asleep and actually found it very difficult. Fair enough, whilst I didn't write this with the idea of developing a cure for insomnia in mind, if you struggle with this, I think it can only help to explore the line between wakefulness and sleep consciously. What I personally find is that if I do this practice when I want to go to sleep at night, if at some point I just 'let go' of the anchor of holding my awareness in the world, I drop right off. Best of Luck.
1. I've written this piece as concisely as and non-metaphysically as possible – for more depth on the lucid dreaming analogy I'd recommend Tim Freke's books, either Lucid Living or The Mystery Experience.
Artwork courtesy of Kazuyo Yamada - http://kazuyo.exto.org/
Thursday, 3 July 2014
We recently had a talk here on the Isle of Man, given by a member of the Tax Justice Network. In their own words they - 'analyse and explain the role of tax and the harmful impacts of tax evasion, tax avoidance, tax competition and tax havens.'1 What follows is not intended as a criticism of them - I entirely agree that the problem they are highlighting is a very real one - but rather my thoughts on the inherent problems of using taxation as a means of funding societies essential services.
Problem 1 – Taxation is theft, plain an simple
To quote the economist Murray Rothbard -
"Taxation is theft, purely and simply even though it is theft on a grand and colossal scale which no acknowledged criminals could hope to match. It is a compulsory seizure of the property of the State’s inhabitants, or subjects."
When I attended the talk there was a bucket by the door for donations towards costs. I also bought a glass of lemonade. These are examples of voluntary interactions, nobody forced me to attend and nobody forced me to buy the lemonade. I could have stayed at home and drunk water. These types of voluntary exchanges are the way the majority of economic interactions in our society take place, with both parties agreeing in advance. There are two groups that are the exception and don't function this way, criminals and the State. If someone puts a gun to your head and demands your wallet, this is not a voluntary interaction, rather it's a demand backed by the threat of violence. When the State posts you a tax return, it's not politely inquiring whether you'd like to exchange X percentage of your income for the services it's offering, it's demanding (albeit politely) you hand it over or else.2
I said there were two groups, there's really only one, and that's criminals, because the State is in truth a criminal organisation masquerading. (I'm not having a go at anyone who works for government here, merely pointing out that the structures are indistinguishable). If you're ok with this, then you have to be ok with society being built on a bedrock of violent coercion rather than voluntary cooperation and think that this isn't going to cause problems somewhere higher up the structure. Personally, I have my doubts.
Problem 2 - Taxation funds terrorists.
The Tax Justice Network's website points out that taxation pays for things like schools, roads, hospitals and other such essential services. They neglect to mention that it is also the major source of funding for international terrorism. During my lifetime by far the biggest purveyor of terrorism in the British Isles has been the British State, I've lived through it engaging in a full blown genocide against the people of Iraq, bombing Afghanistan, blowing up Tripoli and supplying such lovely people as General Suharto with the military equipment he needed to wipe out the inhabitants of East Timor.3 This is not a comprehensive list. It's also true the world over with murder by the State running into the hundreds of millions for the 20th century alone.4 If you support taxation, you must reconcile that with murderous violence it funds.
Problem 3 – Taxation destroys economic calculation
When two people agree to exchange something voluntarily we can safely assume that they both want what the other has more than what they currently posses, and therefore believe they will profit from the exchange. This is a process the economist Frederic Bastiat poetically referred to as 'economic harmonies', interactions that leave both parties better off. It's not fool proof, we've all made purchases we've later regretted, but it places the individual as being the best judge of which exchanges will profit them.
This is in contrast to a coerced exchange, where a criminal demands your wallet say. You're obviously not made better off by this encounter. But let's say the criminal after relieving you of your money, uses it to buy groceries for you, based on what they believe is best for you to eat. Maybe they will make 'better' choices than you would, but how can this be known? Voluntary exchanges are likely to profit the people making them because they are the ones agreeing to them. With coerced exchanges there is no such check, and therefore no way to know whether they benefit the participants or not. So there's no way to know if people would choose the kind of health and educational services the State provides if their money was returned to them and they paid for them directly. For example – lots of people support the violent persecution of other people who consume certain drugs. But they support this in the absence of having to directly pay for it, so they don't have to make a direct economic calculation as to whether it benefits them or not. If a bill arrived through the supporters doors each month for their proportion of what this war on drug users costs, I believe a lot of them would experience a quick change of heart. De-linking services from their costs leads to people supporting things that they wouldn't consider worth it if they experienced the costs directly. War being another fine example.
Problem 4 – Taxation allows the State to monopolise important services
Typically it's assumed to be a good thing that taxation pays for schools and hospitals and roads etc.5 Services that are considered essential. But it's not as if these things wouldn't exist in the absence of the State, its hardly likely that without the Department of Central Educational Planning we'd all be illiterate, or without National Socialist Health Care there'd be no one to set broken bones. People provide every imaginable service in the absence of the State. What we need to ask is what type of structure is likely to provide these services better. The Stateist model is one where a group, realistically accountable to no one, takes money without the owner's consent and spends it in the way they best see fit. The voluntary model is one where anyone can attempt to provide a service, but they may only acquire funding from people willing to pay them (no threatening letters in the post) and their customers may withdraw their support at any time if they perceive a better option is presented by someone else. It seems obvious to me that the latter model is going to come closer to providing people with what they desire. You can say that people don't necessarily desire what's good for them – that maybe true, but it's only helpful if there exists a group of experts who do know what's best for everyone in all situations and these same experts can be placed into a position of power over the rest of us. Think about who your current politicians are and whether they fit that description.
Would costs be too high for people to afford such 'essential' services? There is no set cost for an abstract concept like education, the rise of the internet has brought the cost down whilst sending the quality available through the roof. The schooling system is largely about socialising the cost of child care, allowing both parents entering the workforce to pay a mortgage on a property made artificially expensive by land restrictions imposed by the State. (Often to the benefit of large building corporations). As for health care, regulations imposed by the State coupled with inefficiency drive up the cost to levels even taxation can't cover, creating waiting lists for operations. (Waiting lists are the hallmark of the centrally planned economy, but virtually absent in market economies). Additionally it's not at all true to say that State run health care is free to all at the point of use. It's only free to those born within certain arbitrary geographic boundaries called national borders. The fences separating one tax farm from another. Whereas a market will serve anyone who can afford it and bring costs down for those who can't (there is also the role of charity), a State run health service will push costs up and leave people to suffer and die for being born on the wrong side of a line.
Problem 5 - Taxation creates inequality – the bad kind
A point made by the Tax Justice Network which I entirely agree with is that large companies acquire an unfair advantage on the market by avoiding paying the taxes that small companies are subjected to. I totally agree with this and I've blogged before about Amazon's rise to power being aided by tax advantages and government subsidies.6 The Tax Justice Network seek a solution to this in attempting to close these loop holes that allow big companies to avoid tax. This may indeed solve the huge problem of unfair competitive advantage, but I'll refer you back to Problem 2, it would also mean more money going to terrorist organisations. However bad Amazon's working practices are, they haven't yet committed a genocide in Iraq. We might not like one size fits all Starbucks using their tax advantage against independent cafés, but in fairness, it wasn't Starbucks who blew up Tripoli. The crimes of corporations pale into insignificance when compared to the crimes of the State. (I appreciate at some point it may become hard to discern a difference between corporation and State).
What do I mean by the bad kind of inequality? I'm making the distinction between inequality that arises due to voluntary transactions and inequality that arises due to coercive ones. If Jack produces a new kind of widget that everyone wants then lots of money will flow his way. It's probably a good thing too as Jack has demonstrated that he can produce things people want and now has capital with which to do more. If Diane produces a gizmo that nobody wants then she won't earn much money from it. Again a good thing as she has not shown she can produce things people want and therefore isn't currently a good person to manage capital. This is inequality arising from voluntary transactions. If Diane gets a government grant to keep producing gizmos however, now inequality is arising out of coercive non-voluntary means and Diane has more capital to produce a service no one asked for. A corporation like Amazon is sending book shops out of business all over the country, and that would be fine if this were solely a result of people's desire to buy from them instead. Whilst it no doubt partially is, it's also a result of the grants and tax advantages Amazon are given, the State is effectively choosing them as a winner by giving them a head start in the race. Bad inequality!
So recognising these five problems my alternative solution would be to see this 'bad' inequality as being a result of taxation and work towards ending tax as a solution to that and all the other problems it creates. Is this unrealistic? Maybe, but I'm not sure it's any more unrealistic than attempting to apply tax equally to big and small, powerful and week, companies - is that likely to happen either? Furthermore by ending tax and doing away with the State altogether we can move a a society based on peaceful voluntary interactions, which I suspect will take us to a much better place than we're currently heading!
2. I know I've referred to this a thousand times already but the cartoon 'George Ought to Help' really does explain this concept perfectly in four minutes - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGMQZEIXBMs
3. John Pilger's work is informative-
4. Just do an internet search on the word 'democide'.
5. For a cynical take on the education system see Murray Rothbard's book, 'Education - Free and Compulsory' available for free at -
To look at how government health regulations cost lives -
Wednesday, 23 April 2014
"There is no war on drugs, you can't have a war on inanimate objects, what there is is a war on drug addicts. When there is a war on drug addicts, it's very difficult to save anybody."
"What is addiction, really? It is a sign, a signal, a symptom of distress. It is a language that tells us about a plight that must be understood."
I'm very much looking forward to Professor David Nutt's talk – 'The Truth About Drugs', on the Isle of Man next Monday. I wanted to put some stuff on this blog about the drugs war, but I'm going away tomorrow so will only have time to do this one post. I considered concentrating on the economics of the war, but that's really shooting fish in a barrel, we established that prohibition doesn't work (unless you're Al Capone) back in the 1920's.1 Another aspect of this that really fascinates me and makes a farce of the whole thing, is that the same governments that prohibit drugs are often also involved in dealing them. The CIA's role in bringing drugs into the United States has been documented beyond doubt for at least the past twenty years, with Congressman Ron Paul even suggesting that this might be the number one reason why they're criminalised - 'so governments can have a revenue source to do illegal things.' 2
The aspect of the war that most interests and disturbs me however, is that like all wars it has a terrible human cost. Attempting to stop people from using drugs by making them illegal means that those who do must face some form of penalty, usually being locked away in jail. This always struck me as morally wrong, throwing someone in a cage for the 'crime' of ingesting a plant, but just how wrong has been illustrated to me recently by the work of Dr. Gabor Mate. Whilst many people try drugs, not all become addicts, it would seem some people have a higher level of susceptibility than others. Dr. Mate's clinical experience and research lead him to believe that the difference here can largely be attributed to emotional disturbances resulting from trauma in a persons history, most likely in their childhood. He goes as far to say that not one of the most seriously addicted female heroin users he works with in the slum area of Vancouver, wasn't sexual abused in their childhood. The 'war on drugs' is then nothing other than a war on the most vulnerable and abused people in our society -
“The treatment implication is that if we see addiction amongst other conditions not as a genetically inherited disease but as a problem of brain development, then the question we would be asking ourselves, knowing that the human brain can develop late on in life, if the conditions are right, then the question we would be asking ourselves is 'what conditions do people need for their brains to develop properly, at any age.' Now, the worst possible condition is when you stress an ostracise and criminalise and dehumanise people, under those conditions there's no growth whatsoever. So the war on drugs which is in fact a war on drug addicts which is in fact a war on the most abused section of our population from birth onwards, which is exactly the wrong thing to engage in if you're really intent on helping people and to help redeem them from their addictive habits.”
Dr. Mate points out that we can all (himself included) indulge in destructive addictive behaviour to varying degrees, be it shopping or alcohol or work etc. Not wanting to admit to this, society points the finger of blame specifically at those addicted to drugs as a form of scapegoating, projecting blame onto others rather than accepting and dealing with our own issues.
There is a longer TED video, where Dr. Mate talks about his work and his own struggles with addiction, resulting from being born a Jew in Hungary during the Nazi invasion, here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66cYcSak6nE
1 – This piece by Johann Hari really makes the point -
2 – Someones jut made this rather nice little film running through the history of CIA drug trafficing - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJkFZ4W4bjg
The interview where Ron Paul made these astonishing comments can be seen here -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Hl5zt3MvzE
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