Sunday , July 5 2020
Home / Protesilaos Stavrou / Protesilaos Stavrou

Protesilaos Stavrou

Summary:
Jekyll2020-05-28T06:23:51+00:00https://protesilaos.com//Protesilaos Stavrou: Political writingsProtesilaos StavrouComment on resisting techno-digital dystopia2020-05-21T00:00:00+00:002020-05-21T00:00:00+00:00https://protesilaos.com/politics/comment-anti-techno-dystopiaI was asked for my opinion on the challenges raised by potentially repressive technologies. The idea is how can one protect themselves from the seemingly omnipotent state, especially in light of the technological means at its disposal. The following is my initial take on the subject. I am sharing it with the proviso that I do not consider it a comprehensive analysis and may still elaborate further in some future essay. I think we need to frame dystopia that is powered by digital technology as yet another form of

Topics:
Protesilaos Stavrou considers the following as important:

This could be interesting, too:

P. S. writes Comment on resisting techno-digital dystopia

P. S. writes Comment on elections in general

P. S. writes Crises, transnationalism, and the demi-state

P. S. writes On crisis and statecraft

Jekyll2020-05-28T06:23:51+00:00https://protesilaos.com//Protesilaos Stavrou: Political writingsProtesilaos StavrouComment on resisting techno-digital dystopia2020-05-21T00:00:00+00:002020-05-21T00:00:00+00:00https://protesilaos.com/politics/comment-anti-techno-dystopia<p>I was asked for my opinion on the challenges raised by potentially repressive technologies. The idea is how can one protect themselves from the seemingly omnipotent state, especially in light of the technological means at its disposal.</p> <p>The following is my initial take on the subject. I am sharing it with the proviso that I do not consider it a comprehensive analysis and may still elaborate further in some future essay.</p> <hr /> <p>I think we need to frame dystopia that is powered by digital technology as yet another form of tyranny. This is not to trivialise it—if “trivialising” can ever apply to <em>tyranny</em>—, nor to downplay its potential for destruction or otherwise equate it ideologically with other totalitarian regimes. By understanding it as a tyranny, we provide ourselves with an already well-understood conceptual framework to reason about it.</p> <p>Every tyranny consists in the control of the vast majority of people by a small group of individuals. It is always a minority that wields power within the confines of the given polity’s scope of sovereignty or reach.</p> <p>For a minority to rule over the majority, it obviously requires access to critical resources but, more importantly, it must have a comparative advantage of coordination relative to the subjects of its will.</p> <p>The minority has to act as a unit, while the majority remains divided and unorganised. The principle of “divide and conquer” is a constant in all hitherto existing statecraft. The state of technology or the prevailing conditions in general may only alter the specifics on the implementation front.</p> <p>That principle captures the irreducible factor of the case, which constitutes the relative strength of the tyrants over the oppressed. Disorganised people are vulnerable, exploitable, and can more easily be forced into supporting the regime or otherwise acquiescing to its stratagems.</p> <p>Couched in those terms, tyranny is both (i) an immediately recognisable architecture of supreme political authority, and (ii) a widespread mindset that is characterised by inertness, indifference, helplessness, and fatalism. To resist oppression one must not merely guard against the legal-institutional, economic, technological, or such readily discernible establishment. They must also overcome the centripetal forces generated by the people’s inability to act.</p> <p>History tells us that a group which functions as a unit can exert greater power than that of its constituent elements in isolation. It acquires an emergent property, germane to the concerted action as such. Tyranny governs through the unity of its members, but also by mastering the reign of fear. Terror spreads like a virus, especially when those being terrorised remain exposed by virtue of their forced/induced turn towards short-term-focused egocentrism.</p> <p>What else is contagious though is courage and the duty to express opposition to injustice. If the oppressors can gain an advantage by cooperating among themselves, then so can an opposing force that starts out as small in scale. It cuts both ways.</p> <p>The resistance does not need to be carried out by a majority of people at once. Indeed it never is possible to arrive at that eventuality without going through intermediate phases. There must initially be a fairly tightly-controlled collective that is self-governed and guided by agreement of spirit and a clear sense of purpose. This agent of reform is enough to help spread courage, so that the majority may eventually agree to contribute towards enacting regime change.</p> <p>The members of the resistance must stand united, in solidarity to each other. The starting point is to undermine that inter-personal comparative advantage of the oppressors by means of grassroots action. Remember that part of tyranny’s power is contingent on the inertness of the majority. This is where activism must focus its immediate attention: to show the alternatives in concrete terms, to build networks of exchange and genuine support.</p> <p>While it is clear that one can contribute incrementally to global shifts by means of localised action, it also is the case that one may appreciate the universal truth by discerning an instance of it. As such, activism must promote cases of freedom-respecting and freedom-enhancing media or practices as tangible examples of modes of possible inter-subjective experience: they offer a hint as to what a freed world could look like.</p> <p>At any rate, a critical mass is required. Coordination and cooperation will always be part of the solution to the problem. Everything else will follow from there. The technological means will vary, as will the figures and the ideocentric parameters or whatever other contributing factor to such a state of affairs.</p> <p>To my mind, techno-digital dystopia can be reduced to “dystopia”, which in turn implies tyranny. By claiming as much, I wish to stress the importance of the human qua social animal side of things: how concerted action is essential to the cause.</p> <p>It is crucial to understand that no amount of freedom-friendly technology is ever enough to render one immune to the vicissitudes of the establishment’s machinations. Nature and history tell us that there is safety in numbers. It is naive, indeed self-defeating, to believe that one can effectively fend off aggression while remaining strictly limited to their individuality.</p> <p>To this end, all calls for apolitical escapism, those that present individualism as its own telos, must be interpreted as impediments to the possible creation of an antipode to the status quo. Such times call for collective efforts and an appreciation of the longer-term dimension of the pro-liberty struggle; liberty as experienced by each person (subjective) and as enabled by one’s milieu (inter-subjective).</p> <p>Finally, I think we are not in a generalised dystopia right now, at least not in my part of the world. Regardless, we must always be wary of the establishment’s potential: it does have the means and the propensity to proceed down that path. To think that some constitution or court of law will single-handedly upset the repressive turn is to remain oblivious to the lessons of history, including those of the near past and, in parts of the world, of the present. No institutional arrangement can defend itself. It is always people who may safeguard the prevailing values that can otherwise be codified in statutes and other rules.</p>Protesilaos StavrouWhat I think about the most effective response to technologically-capable tyranny.Comment on elections in general2020-05-10T00:00:00+00:002020-05-10T00:00:00+00:00https://protesilaos.com/politics/comment-elections<p>In a private exchange I was asked for my opinion on the act of voting. The following is my basic idea about the subject. Some parts have been edited in the interest of privacy. Note that I am posting this with the proviso that I do not consider it a comprehensive take on the matter and may still elaborate on it in some future essay.</p> <hr /> <p>I have never voted. I am not against it per se. It just seems to me that elections cannot deliver auto-nomy (self-government), because the “constitutional subject”, the people, is nothing more than an abstraction.</p> <p>Party politics are an integral part of representative democracy, which in turn is a facet of a system of centralisation of authority. When the nation-state started taking form, this centralisation meant that everything would be decided by a handful of people in the country’s capital: even in an ideal parliamentarian system we are still talking about a tiny minority who has disproportionate power over the rest of society. Now that telecommunications, travel, and other technologies remove logistical constraints that held true in previous eras, centralisation happens at the continental/supra-national level (EU in my case).</p> <p>These are different kinds of gigantism. Elections offer a sense of participation, but the real power lies elsewhere. Think, if you will, of the virtual omnipotence of the European Central Bank. No-one voted for them. No parliamentarian who speaks for “the people” can scrutinise the ECB, and so on.</p> <p>Also see my <a href="https://protesilaos.com/politics/2020-05-01-internationalism-localism/">Crises, transnationalism, and the demi-state</a> and make sure to follow all links from there.</p> <p>And then there is the practical problem that elections are never fair. There are inequalities in funding and “air time” on the media. While I do not know whether this is true for your country, in Greece and Cyprus (and the UK and several other countries I know of) the media are platforms that are controlled by an economic elite. Again, a handful of people. Same with the main social networks, whose algorithms influence who sees what.</p> <p>The core challenge is that power is at some centre. That makes it easier to be abused.</p> <p>Elections are an excellent tool in a system where the members have equal opportunities to speak their mind; a system of true pluralism and genuine participation. And this can only happen by going to the smaller scale of the local community.</p> <p>If you must vote, go for people with good ideas and honest intentions. At any rate, the act of sending a parliamentarian to a 4/5 year-term service in some far away place (literally and figuratively) will never grant any real auto-nomy to your quotidian life. Connect this to the aforementioned notion of intersubjective freedom.<sup id="fnref:NoteIntersubjectiveFreedom" role="doc-noteref"><a href="#fn:NoteIntersubjectiveFreedom" class="footnote">1</a></sup></p> <div class="footnotes" role="doc-endnotes"> <ol> <li id="fn:NoteIntersubjectiveFreedom" role="doc-endnote"> <p>Basically this is a reference to my thinking against the decontextualised human, a deep-seated presumption of our world that I have repeatedly wrestled with, such as in my recent book <a href="https://protesilaos.com/hubris">On Hubris</a>. The gist is that one cannot be free in a strict individualistic sense for as long as there are phenomena that necessarily involved multiple agents. Concretely: you live in a political environment outside your control and even if you alone are free in some sense, there still is no freedom at the collective level, which in turn limits the scope of your choices in one way or another. <a href="#fnref:NoteIntersubjectiveFreedom" class="reversefootnote" role="doc-backlink">[^]</a></p> </li> </ol> </div>Protesilaos StavrouWhat I think about elections in modern democracies.Crises, transnationalism, and the demi-state2020-05-01T00:00:00+00:002020-05-01T00:00:00+00:00https://protesilaos.com/politics/internationalism-localism<p>In an April 29, 2019 article titled <a href="https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/covid19-exposes-inadequate-nternational-system-by-joschka-fischer-2020-04">The Virus that Changed the World</a>, Joschka Fischer highlights the shortcomings of the international institutional architecture, while pointing at the supposedly pressing need to rekindle the spirit of transnationalism. As the author puts it:</p> <blockquote> <p>While nation-states will remain indispensable in providing good governance and contributing to global efforts, the principle of nationalism will only exacerbate future systemic crises. The pandemic must be followed by a new age of international cooperation and a strengthening of multilateral institutions. This applies to Europe, in particular.</p> <p>Now more than ever, we need to reclaim the spirit of 1945. We need the twenty-first century’s two superpowers, America and China, to set the example, by burying their rivalry and uniting all of humankind around a collective response to the current crisis, and to those that await us.</p> </blockquote> <p>While I agree that nationalism, made manifest through the centuries as nation-statism (more on that later), is too limited in scope and cannot cope with the challenges of a global magnitude, I am not convinced that <em>more centralisation</em> of power at the international centre is the solution to our problems.</p> <p>Fundamentally, the <em>crises</em> we are facing, be it the pandemic, climate change and ecological calamities, the Great Recession of the past decade and the coming Greater Depression, can be understood as epiphenomena of increased inter-connectedness, else inter-dependence. Rather than distributed systems that can remain robust to a range of shocks, the human world is becoming ever-more monolith-like and fragile as a result.</p> <p>The fact that our hospitals did not have even the basics in sufficient stock is due to the neoliberal ideology that underpins the world’s legal-institutional order: the belief that global trade is sufficient to deliver production on demand and everything should be outsourced. So the hospital in country A becomes dependent on the supplier in country B and, therefore, is exposed to whatever shocks may emanate from the prevailing conditions in that country. A crisis in one area becomes generalised by means of the sheer mechanics of the system.</p> <p>More inter-dependence will only exacerbate the systemic nature of the crises and will further amplify their invidious effects. This is an insight that us Europeans should have learnt from the peak of the eurocrisis: a single currency area connects local economies in such a way that a persistent downturn in one part is enough to pose an existential threat to the common currency itself through a cascading effect of widespread failures and bankruptcies, as well as self-fulfilling prophecies in market expectations for identifying the next weakest link in the chain.</p> <p>In practical terms, Fischer’s thesis can only hold true as an immediate reaction to the challenges of the pandemic: the system cannot be refashioned in one stroke amid the crisis and, therefore, no country can reliably act unilaterally in the meantime. Over the longer-term though the genuine solution is to scrutinise and ultimately dismiss as pathogenic the dogma that centralisation is a necessary blessing.</p> <p>Which brings us to the false dichotomy between nationalism and internationalism. None of the two is appropriate, while they do not stand in direct opposition to each other. Nationalism was the first step towards the rapid acceleration of inter-connectedness within and then across borders, hence the <em>inter</em> national world order.</p> <p>The nation-state is the apparatus that consolidated power at the country’s capital, effectively establishing a technocracy with <em>elements of</em> democratic custom and majoritarian decision-making. It is the mechanism that pampered and reinforced the familiar two-tier system of the capitalist power edifice, where a rentier class of platform owners (I call them “platformarchs”) exists in symbiotic relationship with—or as a de facto extension of—state structures, while the rest of society copes with precarity and the vicissitudes of the business cycle (i.e. they are handed generous bail-outs and privileges, while we get grinding austerity and radical uncertainty).</p> <p>In essence, nation-statism created a new class of corporate overlords that are best understood collectively as <strong>the demi-state</strong>. I define it thus: the social class comprising private interests that are enabled, supported, protected, or otherwise sustained by the state’s acts of sovereignty, which controls the entry points, critical infrastructure, or other requisite factors of economic conduct, and which, inter alia, provides state-like functions in domains or fields of endeavour outside the narrow confines of profit-oriented production and consumption in exchange for a legally-sanctioned oligopolistic privilege in the markets it operates in.</p> <p>Think of how cashless transactions that involve <em>private money</em> in the form of inter-bank payment systems allow the government to track market activity by being integrated with the handful of bankers/operators in this particular area of specialisation. Or how tech giants are becoming increasingly intertwined with surveillance corps (“security agencies”) and partake in tacit foreign policy or even internal affairs through cyber means.</p> <p>The demi-state is the pinnacle of the capitalist system and the most vicious monstrosity the nation-state ever established. This is why there needs to be a distinction, albeit analytical and academic in spirit, between nationalism and nation-statism. The former is a romantic/idealist notion that never developed into a form of governance. At its core, it is about being cognisant and supportive of one’s cultural identity. Whereas the nation-state expanded on that idea by interpreting three distinct magnitudes as consubstantial: the nation, the state, the homeland. For the nation-state, these three are the same thing to which we often read commentary along the lines of “America should do this” or “the Germans want that”: it conflates the citizens with the country, the land with the state, the government with the people, reifying the resulting aggregate as an exalted transhuman entity (also read my essay <a href="https://protesilaos.com/politics/2019-06-14-secularised-theology-statecraft/">Against the secularised theology of statecraft</a>).</p> <p>Couched in those terms, national sovereignty is hypostatised as the supreme political authority of a power elite in the nation’s command centre. The lofty ideal of “we the people” is, in the nation-statist worldview, realised as “we the few pretending to serve the people” or even “us the chosen ones who embody the spirit of the nation”. It is this very disconnect, indeed absurdity, that has allowed the once disparate national demi-states to extend beyond their borders and draw linkages between them. Or, to put it differently, the oligarchies decided that inter-connectedness would forward their agenda and so they pressed ahead without concern for side-effects that are always felt the most by those who survive in precarious conditions.</p> <p>As for the attitude of being pro-nation, nationalism properly so-called, this is always exploited by the nation-statists whenever they want to protect their interests. Sometimes as outright racism. Others as a moral imperative. Think of how it is a ‘national duty’ to bail out some mega corporation—‘our’ companies—or to send people’s children to die in a far away land in pursuit of the master’s imperialistic mania.</p> <p>Again to bring an example that us European are well aware of: the creation of the euro. An elitist initiative which established the most undemocratic institution that could ever exist in an ostensibly democratic legal-institutional arrangement: the European Central Bank. As explained in my ~4000-word essay from 2017-04-02 on <a href="https://protesilaos.com/ecb-independence-review/">ECB independence: concept, scope, and implications</a>, this entity is practically immune to scrutiny. No body, no institution, be it national or supranational, can place conditions on the ECB or hold it accountable for its shortcomings using objective criteria. Moreover, no authority has the power to redistribute resources upwardly across the euro area. None except the ECB, which is blithely channelling resources to the privileged few, guaranteeing virtually limitless demand for the assets of corporate elites, effectively shielding them from the forces of the market, creating an uneven playing field, and putting them in a position of strength from where they can plunder the forlorn with impunity.</p> <p>To this end, the dichotomy between nationalism and internationalism must be re-framed in order to correspond to the actuality of things: it is a continuum that maps differences in degree. The internationalist mindset is the same as that of nation-statism without being limited to the borders of a single nation. Put differently, it is nation-statism freed from technical managerial constraints: faster travel, better telecommunications, and all the technological means of escaping physical limitations of yester year that kept logistics confined to a smaller scale.</p> <p>The case of the EU notwithstanding, we can already get a glimpse of the technocratic features of such a superstructure by recalling the observation that disproportionately powerful institutions such as the International Monetary Fund or the World Health Organisation are practically unaccountable. Or how the United Nations is but a glorified bureaucratic shadow play of rules-based global affairs that essentially obfuscates the fact that not all nation-states are made equal (a point that Joschka Fischer concedes). Or how the internationalist demi-state concentrates ever more power in its hands, while paying little-to-no taxes by leveraging a network of preferential jurisdictions that enable tax base erosion and fiscal engineering. And, lest we forget, how all this is expressed as an ever expanding chasm of inequality and an uneven distribution of resources between countries and among social classes.</p> <p>“Transnationalism” is a term that attempts to bestow a sense of righteousness and enlightenment on the nation-statism and internationalism that brought the world to where it currently is. The transnationalist will complain about the evils of nationalism and will lament the rise of ‘populism’ while conveniently ignoring the fact that it is the “spirit of 1945”, as Fischer puts it, that established the first iteration of what later became the EU and that defined the international architecture we are all familiar with. No populist bugaboo ever contributed to the inter-dependence of the world. The notion that some malevolent nationalists are undermining all the good things that the international order offers is flatly incorrect (also see my essay on <a href="https://protesilaos.com/politics/2019-08-29-populism-shadow-play/">The shadow play of “populism”</a>).</p> <p>Alas, we have been indoctrinated into the belief that we must never challenge the dominant narrative, for we run the risk of being labelled a ‘nationalist’ or some of the other more sinister labels associated with that term. We are, in other words, brainwashed into seeing the world in binary terms, where you must either be a transnationalist or you are some nationalist scum. Good versus bad. No nuances. No possible permutations in between the extremes. This is a pernicious folly and the telltale sign of a humanity that has failed to internalise the scientific ethos, the attitude of questioning, the spirit of being tolerant by virtue of recognising one’s overall ignorance, the need for researching things and not accepting claims ex cathedra; the mark of a world that is moving full speed into a new Dark Age of false certainty <a href="https://protesilaos.com/hubris">and hubris</a>.</p> <p>The answer to the crises does have a philosophical facet, in that it requires us to think of complexity as such and to remain aporetic in the face of the establishment’s hypocrisy and conventional wisdom. More concretely though, what we need is to disinvest and decisively downsize our operations: not just average me and you, but the insatiable billionaires of this world—especially them!</p> <p>Inter-dependence is unsustainable for humans and the rest of the planet. We need to become increasingly <em>autarkic</em> at the local community level. Learn to cultivate our own land while relying on polyculture and sustainable methods, produce our own sourdough bread away from the mild poison that is industrial loaf, stand in solidarity with our fellow people in our immediate surroundings, gain a sense of responsibility towards respecting and safeguarding the ecosystems we are immersed in.</p> <p>In short, we must shift from the arrangements of global inter-dependence and personal irresponsibility to a network of largely independent micro-centres of local participatory government and personal empowerment. This presupposes a thoroughgoing review of the principles that underpin the current paradigm of production-consumption-ownership and a direct opposition to the uncivilised moneyman of the capitalist regime.</p> <p>Joschka Fischer just echoes what many decision-makers and influencers like him have failed to realise or otherwise admit: that their vaunted beliefs are the root cause of the crises, not the much-touted panacea they envision.</p>Protesilaos StavrouThe concentration of power is the root cause of the crises. Transnationalism is part of that problem.On crisis and statecraft2020-04-01T00:00:00+00:002020-04-01T00:00:00+00:00https://protesilaos.com/politics/statecraft-crisis<p>The polity can be understood as a system of rules. An architecture that consists of tacit and explicit codes that govern, regulate, frame, or otherwise influence the behaviour and expected role of their subjects. The polity is a superstructure of rules with a global or local scope: those that apply to particular cases and those that perform a foundational function of delineating the scope of other rules.</p> <p>Humans institute their polity in pursuit of a set of ends. The midpoint or common denominator of all rules within each given scope is the scenario, narrative, idea, phenomenon that compels, determines, or informs the process of polity-institution in its totality or in parts thereof.</p> <p>This object of reference has to be interpreted as external to the process of institution. It has to be independent of the conventions that establish the polity. Otherwise it could simply be ruled out of existence.</p> <p>Such an immanent external alterity can be typically understood as the need to live in peace and security, to afford a comfortable life, ensure the continuation of the species and the given culture, and so on. Rules do not exist in the absence of such a counter-force to human convention. The polity as a whole or in its parts is neither a-contextual nor decontextualisable. There is no such thing as a polity in abstract.</p> <p>Couched in those terms, a crisis may be assessed as a challenge to the established guiding narrative and the secondary narratives derived therefrom. It calls for a grand review: to appreciate anew the way the polity is designed, be it in its general form or particular facets thereof. A crisis triggers a process of re-institution.</p> <p>For statecraft—the art of governance and state-formation or state-institution—a crisis does not necessarily entail a net loss of some sort. It rather offers a turning point, a unique opportunity to re-imagine and re-draw rules that were theretofore perceived as sacrosanct.</p> <p>A state apparatus can use a crisis as a pretext for concentrating power at the political centre, the top of the hierarchy. It can use it as a means or excuse to pass reforms that would otherwise seem disproportionate and tyrannical.</p> <p>Evaluations on the qualitative features of rules are always contingent on their midpoint: how severe the object of reference—the external alterity—is thought to be and what must subsequently be done to cope with it.</p> <p>A crisis forces one to think in terms of “whatever it takes”. For statecraft this can manifest as a sacrifice of a once cherished value to the altars of greed and ambition.</p> <p>We saw how the 9/11 attacks forever refashioned politics in the USA and much of the world in an attempt to prepare against this ever-present terrorist alterity. How states found it expedient to introduce blanket surveillance as the new normal and how a growing industry of data-mining, with few oligopolistic interests at its top, emerged from that milieu.</p> <p>In a similar fashion, we witnessed how central banks introduced so-called “unconventional” monetary policies, such as Quantitative Easing, and made them an integral part of their day-to-day operations. At the outset of the recent economic crisis, central banks had to struggle against several constraints before implementing such measures. Currently, in the face of the pandemic and with the world still recovering from the chilling effects of the last economic calamity, central banks expand their QE and related operations as a first reaction to the evolving phenomena. Contrary to what was the norm in the last decade, it is now expected of them to pursue such a course of action and, one might imagine, it will soon be asked of them to go even further.</p> <p>A crisis redraws boundaries. Shrewd statecraft operators can take advantage of the newly-formed normality to consolidate their gains, moulding the polity in their image.</p> <p>It would not be surprising to look back at the history of the pandemic, and the ensuing coronacrisis in the economy, as the point in time when monumental changes started taking place, ranging from global trade, the equilibrium of power between the world’s superpowers, to the very relationship between government and citizens in hitherto self-described “liberal democracies”.</p> <p>While all of the aforementioned can be considered in mere technical terms, as yet another analysis of political phenomena at-large, there exists a more practical insight: in a world defined by its great injustices in income distribution, a world plagued by imperialism and the pernicious ideology of incessant year-to-year economic growth, is there anything to guarantee that the powers involved in statecraft will <em>not</em> abuse the present crisis?</p>Protesilaos StavrouAnalysis of the midpoint of rules and how a crisis refashions the polity.More ECB QE will not stop the Coronacrisis2020-03-21T00:00:00+00:002020-03-21T00:00:00+00:00https://protesilaos.com/politics/ecb-qe-coronacrisis<p>On March 19, 2020 the European Central Bank announced a new round of asset purchases (Quantitative Easing or QE) that are specifically intended as a response to the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. From <a href="https://www.ecb.europa.eu/press/blog/date/2020/html/ecb.blog200319~11f421e25e.en.html">the announcement</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>[…] the ECB’s Governing Council announced on Wednesday a new Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme with an envelope of €750 billion until the end of the year, in addition to the €120 billion we decided on 12 March. Together this amounts to 7.3% of euro area GDP.</p> <p>[…]</p> <p>We are making available up to €3 trillion in liquidity through our refinancing operations, including at the lowest interest rate we have ever offered, -0.75%. Offering funds below our deposit facility rate allows us to amplify the stimulus from negative rates and channel it directly to those who can benefit most. European banking supervisors have also freed up an estimated €120 billion of extra bank capital, which can support considerable lending capacity by euro area banks.</p> </blockquote> <p>While the ECB’s response signals an eagerness to cope with the unique challenges the euro area faces, it suffers from a fundamental flaw in its approach to crisis management: it seeks to stem an insolvency crisis by means of expanded liquidity. This is the same misreading of the situation that (i) amplified the euro crisis during the previous ~10 years, and (ii) forced the ECB to engage in de facto fiscal policy that evidently fails in its stated end of boosting inflation to the desired levels.</p> <p>To remind ourselves: QE is deemed necessary to fill in a void that is left behind by the concerted cuts in aggregate demand imposed by euro area Member States (simultaneous austerity). When spending collapses, the pressure on longer-term inflation rates is downward. Such a trend discourages investments, as persistent disinflation or outright deflation will entail losses while creating an environment of uncertainty and low expectations (i.e. more potential losses). Meanwhile, the ECB is mandated to preserve price stability, which the institution itself has quantified as a rate that is <em>below but close to 2% over the medium-term</em>. I have analysed this latter notion, and its concomitant issues, in my ~4000-word essay from 2017-04-02 on <a href="https://protesilaos.com/ecb-independence-review/">ECB independence: concept, scope, and implications</a>.</p> <p>The idea of QE is to provide sufficient capital to large corporations, typically financial institutions, <em>in the hope</em> that the money will trickle down to the real economy. Such a phenomenon should eventually be reflected in the inflation rate which, despite the trillions in asset purchases, <a href="https://www.ecb.europa.eu/mopo/html/index.en.html">remains persistently below</a> the ECB’s medium-term target.</p> <p>QE cannot guarantee an upward inflationary trend, <em>ceteris paribus</em>, because asset holders find it expedient to use their newfound resources to invest in luxury goods instead of directing funds to households and businesses. The new trillions never reach the real economy: they are used in speculative endeavours that are not tracked by the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP), such as lucrative contracts for footballers (prices in the European football industry have been exorbitant in recent years), yachts, paintings of dubious aesthetic value that are auctioned for ridiculous sums, etc.</p> <p>Put differently, QE offers nothing but the impression of a return to normality. It actually aggrandises debts and increases systemic risk, whose extent will only be fully revealed in the next financial crisis.</p> <p>The fact of the matter is that the euro area never fully recovered from the previous crisis. The feeble positive signs where just a reflection of heightened ECB activism, rather than an indication of strong fundamentals. To use pertinent medical language, if you live off of supplements, you are dealing with an underlying health issue.</p> <p>More QE means more of the same package of measures that has clearly failed to boost aggregate demand and put inflation rates in line with the ECB target. In an insolvency crisis no amount of liquidity will suffice to arrest the downfall and bring things back on track.</p> <p>What is now needed is an altogether new mindset that will break free from the ideological constraints that have prevented European policy-makers from rational policy action. We need a genuinely unconventional response from the ECB and the Member States (coordinated via the Eurogroup, European Council, etc.). The core objective should be to monetise sovereign debts, allow governments to engage in large-scale expansionary fiscal policy that is commensurate with the debt monetisation scheme, and set price controls for practically all consumer goods.</p> <p>The goal is to channel resources directly to the real economy at a time when economic activity has effectively stalled (the other option would be “helicopter money”). Households should witness a tangible difference in their purchasing power which, in turn, will send aggregate demand on an upward trajectory.</p> <p>It is of paramount importance to tackle the coronacrisis at its root, otherwise the recession will transmogrify into an economic meltdown of colossal proportions.</p> <p>A blueprint for such drastic measures has already been offered by Mario Draghi’s policy initiative following his famous “whatever it takes [to save the euro]”: the Outright Monetary Transactions. OMT was a debt monetisation plan linked to a programme of the European Stability Mechanism. In principle, Member States can use Enhanced Cooperation to employ EU institutions, such as the ECB, in the pursuit of policy initiatives that are outside the remit of the European Treaties though aligned with them. In effect, it is possible to circumvent any legal constraint on debt monetisation in order to save both the average European citizen and the EU/Euro architecture. This is with the proviso that policy-makers rise to the challenge of this unique historical occasion.</p> <p>There is no such thing as a legal obstacle to survival. The challenge we Europeans have always been confronted with is to find ways of escaping from the shackles of pernicious ideology. It is ideological narrow-mindedness that guided policy-makers to blithely exacerbate the eurocrisis by imposing grinding austerity amid a general collapse in aggregate demand. It is ideology that keeps the ECB captive in this role-playing game of trying to help the real economy while actually sponsoring the speculative bonanza of unscrupulous investors.</p> <p>Unlike the timing of the eurocrisis, the coronacrisis comes at a point where our economies and the welfare state have already been devastated by years of misguided austerity. Those in power must be immediately challenged to reconsider their mindset, emancipate themselves from the path-dependency of their past policy initiatives, and act in the longer-term interest of Europe at-large. Else I fear we will suffer much—MUCH—more than we already have.</p>Protesilaos StavrouThe European Central Bank cannot stop the impending economic crisis by means of liquidity. We need debt monetisation.On trust, global inter-dependence, and sustainability2020-03-17T00:00:00+00:002020-03-17T00:00:00+00:00https://protesilaos.com/politics/trust-interdependence-sustainability<p>The pandemic has highlighted two truths about politics that are otherwise easy to overlook, underestimate, or altogether ignore:</p> <ol> <li>Political organisation rests on trust. Without it we have no institutions, no law and order, no money, no morality, nothing.</li> <li>Our lives on this planet are intrinsically inter-linked. Isolationism is an illusion, as you are never truly sheltered from externalities.</li> </ol> <p>We know at least since the time of Thucydides (see the <em>Milean Dialogue</em>) or Plato (refer to Book II of the <em>Republic</em> on the Ring of Gyges, etc.) that the human animal is contained and rendered moral by an equilibrium of power. What we experience as peace and prosperity is a state where no person or group thereof is preponderant. Otherwise we default to the state of nature where everyone is left to fend for themselves and their immediate loved ones.</p> <p>The state of nature, which results in the Hobbesian war of all against all (<em>bellum omnium contra omnes</em>), tells us something fundamental about the lack of trust: that humans are predatory towards their kind when their inter-subjective institutions implode (<em>homo homini lupus est</em>).</p> <p>Institutions are at the risk of collapsing when a crisis hits. This can come in the form of a sustained economic recession, [civil] war, famine, a pandemic, and so on. What can arrest the downfall is either a remedy to the exogenous source of tension, where applicable, or a more just distribution of resources in an attempt to ease fears and appease the passions.</p> <p>Our world has yet to recover from the financial calamity that struck at the end of the last decade. We have gone through years of grinding austerity that have put us all on the edge, while undermining the viability of critical infrastructure, including public health services.</p> <p>We live in a world which, according to the 2019 <em>Global Wealth Report</em> <a href="https://www.credit-suisse.com/about-us/en/reports-research/global-wealth-report.html">of Credit Swiss</a>, is defined by its staggering inequality metrics:</p> <blockquote> <p>The bottom half of wealth holders collectively accounted for less than 1% of total global wealth in mid-2019, while the richest 10% own 82% of global wealth and the top 1% alone own 45%.</p> </blockquote> <p>We cannot trust in the authorities to cater to our longer-term needs when the measures to cope with this pandemic are, as with the sovereign debt crisis and concomitant financial meltdown, not addressing the egregious injustice at the core of the global world order. People are told to live in isolation and remain under- or outright un- employed until further notice even though the precarious economic conditions of most of us do not permit for such a “luxury”.</p> <p>There is no shortage of resources. The problem consists in their distribution. Yet we pretend as if we have suddenly depleted all of our stock and are on the verge of collapse. Ideological obsessions, such as conformity with neoliberal guidelines for “fiscal responsibility”, must be recognised as impediments to a genuine, lasting solution to the impending downfall. It would be a cardinal sin to have decision-makers report “positive numbers” on the fiscal front while leaving people to perish.</p> <p>Pragmatism and a sense of urgency are in order. Our world must rectify its excesses, <a href="https://protesilaos.com/hubris">its underlying hubris</a>. This eventually requires a rethink of the axiom that incessant, amoral growth is a necessary blessing and that the profiteers know better.</p> <p>We must also scrutinise the growing isolationist tendencies across the planet. In a globalised system, where capital can flow virtually unencumbered from one nation to another, any serious action to improve the distribution of burdens must come in the form of a concerted effort between states. No country can do this on its own: the economic elite is shrewd enough to siphon its profits through some shady tax avoidance scheme—they are doing it anyway.</p> <p>Our inter-connectedness is also of a natural sort. We share the same habitat. There is no “planet B”. Global phenomena such as climate change or this pandemic recognise no border controls or whatever feeble wall we may build for our selves to satisfy our delusions. Our shared humanity, our common presence as part of this planet’s ecosystem, forces us to think in terms of sustainability for the system at-large. It is a pernicious folly to pursue some isolationist agenda while thinking that the calamity will somehow spare us.</p> <p>Though border checks may be a necessary measure to temporarily adapt to the realities of the virus, the longer-term objective must be to formulate policies with a cross-border scope. And such programmes must have a clear emphasis on their humanitarian or even ecological character. To save lives, to preserve life, to empower communities in the face of monumental transitions.</p> <p>Capitalism has gone too far into toxic territory. It has reached a point where it generates—or greatly exacerbates—one crisis after another in quick succession. There is no reason to believe that things will magically solve themselves while the power elite continues to enjoy its massively privileged status.</p> <p>Only fools will see the challenge of the present as a mere health issue. Policies are woven together. Our reality is a continuum that extends to every aspect of life. We cannot have effective health systems for all when our governments operate in servitude to some chimera called “austerity”, which is but a euphemism for promoting the interests of the oligopolies that control this world.</p>Protesilaos StavrouThoughts on the general features of the politics to cope with the pandemic and its associated issues.I signed the Public Domain Manifesto2020-01-10T00:00:00+00:002020-01-10T00:00:00+00:00https://protesilaos.com/politics/manifesto-public-domain<p>All my works, whether they are writings or programs, are provided under terms that respect your freedom.<sup id="fnref:Copying" role="doc-noteref"><a href="#fn:Copying" class="footnote">1</a></sup> The rights of end recipients to use, modify, share each work or its derivatives are prerequisites of decentralised and interpersonal creativity; of culture at-large.</p> <p>I believe that many of the problems in our economy or politics in general spring from the misinterpretation of intellectual property and its consequent weaponisation by oligopolistic interests. The logic of exclusivity and the concomitant practice of artificial scarcity force people towards becoming individualistic, which ultimately benefits the establishment that wants us weak and divided. Cooperation is discouraged so that corporations can further increase their profits, typically to the detriment of society and the planet.</p> <p>With these in mind, I decided to sign the <a href="https://publicdomainmanifesto.org/manifesto/#en">Public Domain Manifesto</a>. It is a step in the right direction. I encourage you to study and support it.</p> <div class="footnotes" role="doc-endnotes"> <ol> <li id="fn:Copying" role="doc-endnote"> <p>My writings are distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0, while my programs are available under the GNU General Public License version 3. <a href="#fnref:Copying" class="reversefootnote" role="doc-backlink">[^]</a></p> </li> </ol> </div>Protesilaos StavrouNote on the signing of the Public Domain Manifesto.The untenable capitalist case against billionaires2019-12-30T00:00:00+00:002019-12-30T00:00:00+00:00https://protesilaos.com/politics/capitalism-case-billionaires<p>In <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/14/the-historical-case-for-abolishing-billionaires">the historical case for abolishing billionaires</a>, Linsey McGoey formulates a capitalist argument against inequality and billionaires, by alluding to the relevant views of intellectuals of yore such as Adam Smith. While I appreciate any effort that undermines the conservative narratives, and am aligned with McGoey’s underlying values, I am not convinced this approach can be effective.</p> <p>The fundamental problem is the very notion of a capitalist critique of billionaires. I hold that, upon closer inspection, it leads us to the untenable position of a “capitalist critique of capitalism”, because it ignores the political dynamics at play.</p> <p>The quintessential institution of capitalism—the <em>conditio sine qua non</em> of this system—is property rights. No rich person, no billionaire can ever exist without the legal framework that supports and protects <em>claims</em> on tangible or intangible goods. By “legal framework” we mean more than a mere corpus of legislation, as it implies the presence of a state apparatus with the capacity to both promulgate such laws and, most importantly, enforce them by means of supreme political authority (sovereignty). Enforcement encompasses the use of force, which spans everything from security forces, to courts, and prison systems.</p> <p>This is why the notion of an unfettered free market is essentially impossible. Either you have an <em>instituted</em> free market, which includes at minimum the baseline of property rights and concomitant institutions, or you have the rule of the jungle. By the same token, I find the idea of “anarcho-capitalism” to not only be a <em>contradictio in terminis</em>, in that capitalism presupposes an <em>archy</em>, but also a fundamental misunderstanding of how property rights can be maintained over the long term <em>without the use of force</em> or the permanent threat thereof.</p> <p>Once we couch capitalist economics in terms of their underlying politics, it no longer makes sense to argue along the lines of an idealised free market, as if that were an objective benchmark by which to compare degrees of capitalism. We can go straight to the moral point of whether we want <em>some</em> individuals to hold far more power than others. The argument thus switches from economic criteria to power relations between people.</p> <p>The shift in focus is necessary to avoid the pitfalls of the capitalist thinking on such magnitudes as so-called “efficient markets”. How can you curtail a billionaire’s power without hindering their presence in the markets they partake in? How can the polity, for instance, break the billionaire status of Mark Zuckerberg while keeping Facebook in tact? The short answer is that this is not possible and that corporations will have to be radically refashioned as well. Which then means that we will have to tear apart the fabric of legal persons to the effect that one corporation cannot own others and, furthermore, that a real person’s ownership of corporations can only be limited in scope.</p> <p>This line of reasoning means that we are no longer thinking in terms of efficient markets per se. Our goal is to contain the power of the economic elite, so that we can avoid injustices in our daily life but also the degredation of democracy into plutocracy. To that end, we would be willing to forgo some ‘efficiency’, though I disagree with such narrow economistic concepts for understanding the complexity of the real world, in favour of the greater good of preserving social peace and abolishing the control of human by human.</p> <p>I repeat: why bother with the whole capitalist or free market mindset if your objective is to ultimately oppose it? Why try to be a false friend and in the process frame your thinking by categories you do not recognise or indeed approve of as the midpoint of any debate on the matter?</p> <p>Moving on, I would suggest that capitalism presupposes inequality and indeed an economic elite because it has always been the system whereby all state interventions are aligned with the interests of capital owners (yes, capitalism is a form of interventionism, the litanies of naive neoliberals notwithstanding). In practice, “capital owners” are reduced to a select few that not only hold capital, but actually control the very access to the industry at hand. I call them “platformarchs”. They are in charge of the <em>platforms</em> on which all other economic activity can be based on. The platforms consist of critical infrastructure and/or key intellectual property. Platformarchs are not mere market actors but enablers of the markets they participate in. Think of how Facebook and Google are the platform controllers of the advertising business online.</p> <p>Platformarchs exist in a symbiotic relationship with the state, both because their power is an extension of the legal-institutional architecture, but also due to the fact that the state finds it expedient to maintain only a handful of major actors in any given industry. A two-tier system of oligopolies framed by <em>complementary</em> market forces (i.e. the capitalist order), makes the exercise of governance much easier than having to wield power over a largely diverse, heteroclite, heterogeneous whole.</p> <p>Against this backdrop, the phenomenon of an economic elite amassing the majority of the world’s wealth is not an irregularity but an expected outcome. It also explains why the right wing forces, broadly understood, have no trouble swinging from the <a href="https://protesilaos.com/politics/2019-04-23-far-right-new-right/">political centre to the far right</a>, given the right circumstances. The very design of the establishment rests on the uneven distribution of resources which, at scale, produces billionaires. It follows that a capitalist case against this concatenation of phenomena cannot actually be inherently <em>capitalist</em>.</p> <p>Social democrats have always dreamt of managing capitalism in some supposedly humane way. And we have ample evidence to show that this task is futile, since social democracy shares the exact same gigantist principles as those of explicitly pro-capitalist forces, namely, that an omnipotent state will ultimately be in charge of people’s lives and that everything will be controlled at the political centre. I already formulated an argument along those lines in yesterday’s article on the shortcomings of <a href="https://protesilaos.com/politics/2019-12-29-communism-technocracy/">technocratic communism</a>, so please read that as well.</p> <p>To press on the point of social democracy being gigantist, consider the typical scenario of “guaranteeing jobs”. The state will go to great lengths to ensure that a given capital owner, say, an industrialist keeps their business activities within the national borders. The government will come up with all sorts of so-called “incentives” to entice the industrialist, such as indirect payments, favourable treatment, and even implicit state guarantees that result in outright bail-outs in times of a major crisis. Just think about the spurious argument of “too big to fail” in light of “protecting jobs” and you already have a social democratic, ostensibly “broad-based” as the bureaucrats like to call it, recipe for preserving oligopolies.</p> <p>The abolition of billionaires cannot be separated from the opposition to inequality at-large. It can never be formulated in terms of the constructs it seeks to undo, nor can it be predicated on values it does not share. It must rather be defined counter to them: a revolutionary power impulse that emanates from an outright anti-capitalist view of the world.</p>Protesilaos StavrouThere is no real value to a so-called "capitalist" thesis against inequality.Technocratic communism is not the answer2019-12-29T00:00:00+00:002019-12-29T00:00:00+00:00https://protesilaos.com/politics/communism-technocracy<p>I read with great interest the December 27, 2019 <em>Project Syndicate</em> column of Yanis Varoufakis, titled <a href="https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/imagining-a-world-without-capitalism-by-yanis-varoufakis-2019-12">Imagining a World Without Capitalism</a>. While I think that Varoufakis’ heart is in the right place, and his critique of capitalism as essentially anti-market is spot on, I cannot subscribe to his technocratic outlook.</p> <p>What Varoufakis outlines as an alternative to the established order is yet another form of gigantism. It requires a massive, omnipotent state apparatus that would need to have access to vast amounts of data in order to perform the function of ironing out inequalities between people. The notion of a central bank overseeing everyone’s income implies that there must be commensurate checks in place: a counter-party treasury, a government, a legislature… A super-state, much like the USA, Russia, China, and, increasingly, the EU.</p> <p>What historical communism proved, what past and modern capitalism confirms, and what leftists in the mould of Varoufakis blithely ignore, is that the concentration of power is a source of mischief, abuse, corruption, no matter the initial motives for gathering all ultimate authority in a single locus.</p> <p>Historical communism was enacted as yet another highly-stratified imperium rather than a distributed network of communes. It turned into a totalitarian regime exactly because the only way to control every aspect of life, in the name of the much-vaunted communal good, is to create a robust hierarchy, with supreme authority trusted at the top.</p> <p>Whether it is party apparatchiks, professional central bankers, or ostensibly enlightened scientists in charge of managing everyone’s life, the underlying assumption is that gigantism is not bad per se. It just is a matter of changing the policies, not the state architecture. This is why today’s leftists offer no sustainable solution to the problems of our world. They see the epiphenomena while ignoring the underlying mechanics of institutionalised power. Should they get things their way, history will just repeat itself.</p> <p>In the capitalist system we witness the symbiotic relationship between the state and the capital owners who control critical infrastructure; “platformarchs” as I call them. This type of plutocracy maintains a two-tier system that has nothing to do with the idealised free market of competing agents over a level-playing field that is taught in economics textbooks. Platformarchs hold disproportionate power, which they use to mould politics/law in their interests, to undermine their potential competition, and to consolidate their {oligo,mono}-polistic status. The “free market” only exists in the half spaces left unoccupied by platformarchs; the spaces where concentrated power is not [yet] focused in.</p> <p>This is not a decadent form of some true capitalism, a far cry from some supposed golden age of free markets. No, this is a necessary result of the concentration of power: the intertwined agendas of economic and political interests, the control over resources and its weaponisation as an instrument for preserving the status quo. Those who have power seek to keep it and expand it. Not controlling some aspect of life can potentially lead to the undoing of the entire edifice. It is why a hierarchical system always has the tendency for absolutism (and why modern representative democracies are, in fact, oligarchies).</p> <p>Gigantism cannot be turned into some kind of benevolent totalitarianism. That would require a technocratic elite that consists of purely altruistic beings who only care about the common good, assuming there is such a one-size-fits-all good to begin with. We cannot expect such an exalted, omniscient class to come to the fore—and to always be there in the long term—when it is highly unlikely to ever meet a single human who is perfectly non-egoistic. Put bluntly, it is naive to expect people in power to consistently behave unlike their nature and their role.</p> <p>The other major problem of gigantism is that it can only be instituted in opposition to organic societies; “organic” in the sense of naturally exhibiting solidarity between their members. Organic societies are families and small communities. The opposite of what an empire is all about. Gigantism cannot be communitarian because it would then have to deny itself of the power over those communities.</p> <p>When we think about alternatives we should always prefer the theory that makes the fewer assumptions about human nature. Do not base your ideas on the presence of the perfect moral agent. Your endeavour is bound to fail miserably. Instead work with the knowledge we have about the imperfect people we all are. Take it as a given that there will be competing forces, recognise that corruption and power go hand-in-hand, and do not expect the human kind to behave much differently than other pack animals (the idea that humans are higher beings is <a href="https://protesilaos.com/hubris/">another hubris of ours</a>, a form of anthropocentrism).</p> <p>I hold that the opposition to capitalism must also assume the form of a radical departure from gigantism. That is the constant, the historical midpoint. Whereas capitalism is just its current emanation, with actualised communism being another one. We must turn our attention to organic societies, local communities that are allowed to be self-governed, without interference from some bureaucrat who purports to know better while operating aloof from the fray of local quotidian life.</p> <p>Corruption at the community level is far smaller in scope than the abuse of power at the gigantist centre. It also is easier to spot and address in a timely manner, given that at the local scale people can practice genuine, participative democracy, while having full access to the information that concerns <em>their</em> public good.</p> <p>We should not entertain a romantic view of humanity. Forget about the chimera of the selfless technocrats who take care of all of our needs while we blithely go on with our frivolous lifestyle. But also dismiss the equally baseless belief in “the people” as an integral whole that expresses a singular will; a will that the career reformist claims to grasp and express in its fullest, purest way. These magnitudes of people, nation, etc. are artificial constructs. Expedient abstractions, whose treatment as actual beings all too often facilitates gigantism’s quest for total control: to weaken people, to place them in precarious conditions, divide them and disempower them by means of displacement, solitude, and detachment from their natural and cultural milieu.</p> <p>Let us remain realistic, cynical: expect the worst and plan accordingly. To go down the path of mainstream leftists is to throw to the wind everything that history and everyday experience teaches us.</p>Protesilaos StavrouMainstream leftists have not realised that gigantism is bad in itself.Notes on the “Joe Rogan Experience” episode #13932019-12-07T00:00:00+00:002019-12-07T00:00:00+00:00https://protesilaos.com/politics/notes-joe-rogan-1393<p>I watched with great interest the entirety of the <em>Joe Rogan Experience</em> episode that features James Wilks and Chris Kresser talking about the documentary <em>The Gamechangers</em>. That is episode <a href="http://podcasts.joerogan.net/podcasts/james-wilks-chris-kresser-gamechangers-debate">#1393</a>. In this post I want to share some thoughts and observations with regard to what I feel is an inconclusive debate.</p> <p>In terms of appearances, James is the clear winner of the debate. He was more prepared, had references for all his arguments and, most importantly, found Chris to be downright wrong on a number of issues.</p> <p>Chris’ own credibility started to fall apart when he admitted to not know a particular research method: how to read a “forest plot”. This made him look like a charlatan, which allowed James to attack him on a personal level throughout the show.</p> <p>When it comes to finding the truth though, we are ultimately interested in the objective findings, not whether one side won over another in an argument. Did we get a <em>definitive</em> answer? Or are we still unaware of a host of things that call for further research?</p> <p>Despite reigning supreme in the debate, James failed to prove the crux of his claim that meat is bad for you. There can be inferences made out of the available evidence, which may allow one to reach tentative conclusions. “Tentative” is the key word. In the face of uncertainty it is irresponsible to claim to know the truth with such unflinching confidence.</p> <p>The fact that James presents cutting-edge research does not, in and of itself, mean that a definitive answer has been provided. It just proves that we are in a process of searching for the truth; a process that will continue for several years to come; a process that might need to be reviewed in the future just as all such research programmes hitherto have been subject to further evaluation.</p> <p>The point is to stress the importance of remaining dubitative and inquisitive.</p> <p>I am yet to be convinced that James’ argument against industry-funded research works in his favour. Yes, the establishment will do whatever it takes to forward its stratagems, making them appear as objective science. But why would this not also apply to the rising vegan industry? Are there no powerful interests there, who have a clear agenda?</p> <p>It seems to me as a new small-scale, ecosystem-conscious farmer that uses no pesticides and chemicals, and who only employs polyculture and similar nature-aligned techniques, that there are oligopolistic interests on both sides of the argument. Whether we are talking about the omnivore industry or the vegan industry we are dealing with corporations that follow the exact same capitalist principles. Their telos is gigantism in that they all have incentives to maximise profit for shareholders and to dominate their industry in pursuit of that end. None of them has in mind the well-being of local communities or indeed the ecosystem at-large.</p> <p>Speaking from my experience in the field of economics, specifically with regard to the economic crisis in the euro area, the numerous allusions to authority that James made do not amount to anything more than an appeal to the orthodoxy. Any heterodox view will of course not enjoy the prestige of being represented at head of an Ivy League institution, international organisations, etc. This does not mean that the mainstream is correct just because it has the appeal of being infallible. It just tells us which group is currently more influential for reasons that are external to the theses themselves (social status, exposure, etc.).</p> <p>As a philosopher, I am concerned by the insistence on the micro scale of nutrients. I find it reductionist, potentially narrowing the scientist’s field of view, the scope of their inquiry. Is a fruit, a vegetable, a piece of meat just the sum of its nutrients? Or are there any emergent phenomena that can only be revealed by the interplay of those micro elements in their specific combinations? Has the relevant science ever considered the possibility that the human organism evolved over the millennia to understand different constitutions of nutrients in their given proportions as carrying a specific meaning which triggers certain chains of events in the body?</p> <p>What I mean by this <em>speculation</em> is that there may be an emergent reality that goes unnoticed or understudied, due to the focus on the micro foundations. Emergent phenomena cannot be understood by looking at the elements in isolation: you need to check the system they comprise—to study it as such.</p> <p>My speculation, a hypothesis for further research if you will, basically amounts to this: <em>does the human organism understand meat as meat, vegetables as vegetables, fruits as fruits, etc. and react to them on a case-by-case basis? Furthermore, do such possible triggers adapt to combinations of these categories of food?</em> Because if they do, then the emphasis on nutrients and the concomitant claims of taking supplements or whatever hyper-processed equivalent would seem to not be beneficial for our longer term health. Can we rule out the possibility that nutritionism, the reductionist emphasis on nutrients, favours the vested interests that produce supplements and, by extension, the vegan industry as a whole?</p> <p>Take the case of fake meat for instance. I am referring to products that vegans consume that are made out of intensively processed soy beans yet are made to taste like meat. Has there been any conclusive research on the way the human organism reacts to the consumption of such products? When eating fake meat, does the body understand it as meat, as soy, or as an unknown? And what would possible misunderstandings or false positives mean for one’s overall health over the longer term? I do not think there can be any definite research on the matter, given the relatively short time span such products have been in circulation. Meaning that any claims on their much-touted benefits are based, at least in part, on nothing but faith.</p> <p>I do not purport to be an expert. I am just pointing at the fact that James never offered any compelling evidence to support his main thesis that meat is bad for you. He won the debate based on Chris’ evident shortcomings and on the fact that he alluded to authority, conflating the orthodoxy with the objective truth.</p> <p>What I take from all this is that with all said and done we remain uncertain. Meaning that we need to be calm and not draw far-reaching conclusions based on the <em>imperfect information</em> we currently have at our disposal.</p> <p>If you want my personal opinion on meat consumption, I as a non-expert who claims no authority, think that it is bad for you for the mere fact that those animals are maltreated and malnourished. The same line of reasoning, however, applies to the vegetables you eat, which are filled with pesticides and chemicals, and which are produced in large monocrops that destroy the ecosystem (e.g. threatening the survival of bees, eroding the soil…). The same goes for the air you breath, especially in the big cities. And so on.</p> <p>We have piles of evidence on the egregious abuses of capitalist interests in the food industry (capitalist interest in general). The vegan corporations have no plan to upset this order. Their ambition is to just place themselves in charge. Now I understand this is not the topic of the debate, but it is all too convenient to focus on the false narrative of “bad meat industry versus good vegans” while ignoring the social, political, economic factors that contribute to the destruction of nature.</p>Protesilaos StavrouComments on the need for further research following the debate between James Wilks and Chris Kresser about "The Gamechangers" documentary.
Protesilaos Stavrou
EU policy analyst. Philosopher. Front end developer. Free/libre software contributor. // Refer to my website for the specifics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *