"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Morality’

“Bradley Manning Has Become a Martyr”–WikiLeaks’ Publisher Julian Assange On Guilty Verdict

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2013 at 4:52 pm

https://i1.wp.com/www.havanatimes.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/julian-assange.jpgOldspeak: “The verdict is clearly an attempt to crush whistleblowers. It’s not going to crush whistleblowers. The problems that exist in the security state in the West, and a few other countries, as well,  are as bad as they have ever been, they’re rapidly accelerating. We now have a state within a state in the United States. There are more than five million people with security clearances, more than one million people with top-secret security clearances. The majority of those one million people with top-secret security clearances work for firms like Booz Allen Hamilton and so on, where they are out of the Freedom of Information Act, where they are out of the inspector general of intelligence’s eye. That is creating a new system, a new system of information apartheid, a new asymmetry of information between different groups of people. That’s relating to extensive power inequalities with the—if you like, the essence of the state, the deep state, the intelligence community, lifting off from the rest of the population, developing its own society and going its own way.

And we have a situation now where young people, like Edward Snowden, who have been exposed to the Internet, who have seen the world, who have a perspective, who have seen our work, the work of—allegedly of Bradley Manning and others, don’t like that. They do not accept that. They do not accept that the U.S. Constitution can be violated, that international human rights law norms can be conspicuously violated, that this information apartheid exists. That system cannot continue. We even saw Michael Hayden acknowledge that in an interview in Australia recently, that in order to function, the National Security Agency, the CIA, and so on, has to recruit people between the ages of 20 and 30. Those people, if they’re technical and they’re exposed to the Internet, they have a certain view about what is just. And they find that they’re—in their jobs, the agencies that they work for do not behave in a legal, ethical or moral manner. So the writing is on the wall for these agencies.” -Jullian Assange

“The writing is indeed on the wall for the gargantuan surveillance state and its controllers. It’s simple physics really. There are infinitely more people who want the internet open and free, than those who want it closed, sureveiled and exclusively used for profit and control. The people who want to control it have to hire people who want it open and free to work at their surveillance agencies.  It’s only a matter of time before the people who want it open and free, outnumber the people who want it closed and controlled at these agencies.  Thomas Drake, William Binney, John Kiriakou, Sibel Edmonds, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Glenn Grunwald, Laura Poitras, are just the latest in a long line brave souls who’ve defiantly declared “we don’t need no thought control.…” Exposing the truth, lies, corruption, waste, fraud, abuse, unconstitutionality, murder, torture, violence, intimidation, censorship, that our government engages in in our name, with our tax dollars (granted significantly less so, increasingly funded by the corporatocracy). Knowing all we know we can no longer act surprised and appalled when some dude that just saw his family killed in a drone strike tries to blow up times square. Or when two disillusioned kids who’d previously attended CIA workshops, blow up a pressure cooker at the Boston Marathon. Meanwhile our selected officials vote to continue funding our nations extra-legal attrocities. Our government is making us less safe, with its secret panopticon equipped war machine. But it is as Mr. Assange said the writing is on the wall.  The apparatus is too large to hide from view now. The time of soma induced control is coming to an end.  .” -OSJ

By Amy Goodman &  Nermeen Shaikh @ Democracy Now:

The sentencing hearing for Army whistleblower Bradley Manning begins today following his acquittal on the most serious charge he faced, aiding the enemy, but conviction on 20 other counts. On Tuesday, Manning was found guilty of violating the Espionage Act and other charges for leaking hundreds of thousands of government documents to WikiLeaks. In beating the “aiding the enemy” charge, Manning avoids an automatic life sentence, but he still faces a maximum of 136 years in prison on the remaining counts. In his first U.S. television interview since the verdict, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange discusses the Manning “show trial,” the plight of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, and the verdict’s impact on WikiLeaks. “Bradley Manning is now a martyr,” Assange says. “He didn’t choose to be a martyr. I don’t think it’s a proper way for activists to behave to choose to be martyrs, but these young men — allegedly in the case of Bradley Manning and clearly in the case of Edward Snowden — have risked their freedom, risked their lives, for all of us. That makes them heroes.” According to numerous press reports, the conviction of Manning makes it increasingly likely that the U.S. will prosecute Assange as a co-conspirator. During the trial, military prosecutors portrayed Assange as an “information anarchist” who encouraged Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The sentencing hearing for jailed Army Private Bradley Manning begins today, one day after he was convicted of six counts of violating the Espionage Act and over a dozen other charges for giving WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables, raw intelligence reports and videos from the Iraqi and Afghan battlefields and elsewhere. Military judge Colonel Denise Lind found Manning not guilty on the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, which carried a potential life sentence without parole. Reporters who were in the courtroom say Manning showed no emotion as he stood to hear Judge Lind read the verdict. The sentencing phase of his trial is expected to last at least a week with more than 20 witnesses set to appear. The 25-year-old Manning faces a maximum of 136 years in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: In a statement to The Guardian, Manning’s family expressed thanks to his civilian lawyer, David Coombs, who worked on the case, which has now lasted three years. An unnamed aunt of Manning said, quote, “While we’re obviously disappointed in today’s verdicts, we’re happy that Judge Lind agreed with us that Brad never intended to help America’s enemies in any way. Brad loves his country and was proud to wear its uniform,” she wrote.

Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, responded to the verdict Tuesday saying, quote, “It seems clear that the government was seeking to intimidate anyone who might consider revealing valuable information in the future.”

Meanwhile, House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers and Democratic Ranking Member Dutch Ruppersberger issued a joint statement that, quote, “justice has been served,” adding, “There is still much work to be done to reduce the ability of criminals like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden to harm our national security.”

Well, today we spend the hour on the Manning verdict and its implications. We begin with Julian Assange, founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, which published the secret cables obtained by Bradley Manning. According to numerous press reports, the conviction of Manning makes it increasingly likely that the United States will prosecute Assange as a co-conspirator. During the trial, military prosecutors portrayed Assange as an information anarchist who encouraged Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents.

Julian Assange joins us via Democracy Now! video stream from the Ecuadorean embassy in London. He took refugee in the embassy in June of 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he’s wanted for questioning around sex assault allegations but has never been charged. He remains in the embassy there because the British government promises to arrest him if he steps foot on British soil. This is his first interview with a U.S. TV show since the Manning verdict.

We welcome you back to Democracy Now!, Julian Assange. What is your response to the verdict?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Thank you, Amy. First of all, I must correct you. I have been given political asylum in this embassy in relationship to the case that is in progress in the United States. It’s a common media myth that’s put about that my asylum here is in relation to Sweden. It is not. Here I am.

My reaction to the verdict yesterday, well, first of all, really one of surprise in relation to the timing. This is a case that has been going for three years, two months at trial, over 18 months of interlocutory motions, at least 40,000 pages of judgments and evidence that the judge was required to read. But she has made her decision on 21 separate counts over the weekend. We said at the very beginning of this process that this was a show trial. This is not a trial where any justice can come about, because the framing of what was possible to debate was set from the very beginning. It was not possible for Bradley Manning’s team to say that he was well-intentioned. Motive was taken out of the case. The prosecution has not alleged that a single person came to harm as a result of Bradley Manning’s alleged actions, not a single person. And, in fact, no evidence was presented that anyone was indeed harmed. The defense is not allowed to argue that that means that these charges should be thrown out.

And so what we are left with here is 20 convictions for Bradley Manning. Five of those are for espionage. This is a case where everyone agrees that Bradley Manning provided the media information about war crimes and politics, some of which was published by the media. There is no allegation that he worked with a foreign power, that he accepted any personal benefit for the disclosures that he engaged in. And yet, we see him being convicted for five charges of espionage. It is completely absurd. It cannot possibly be the case that a journalistic source, who is not communicating with a foreign power, who is simply working for the American public, can be convicted of five counts of espionage. That is a abuse, not merely of Bradley Manning’s human rights, but it is an abuse of language, it’s abuse of the U.S. Constitution, which says very clearly the Congress will make no law abridging the freedom of the press or of the right to speech. That’s clearly been subjugated here.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Julian Assange, you said yesterday that the aiding the enemy charge for which Bradley Manning was acquitted was absurd, and it was put forward, quote, “as a red herring,” you said. Could you explain what you mean by that?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, you will have seen the way WikiLeaks has made its statements today. We have Bradley Manning, right now, despite having been acquitted of effectively being a traitor, aiding the enemy—he was acquitted of that—but he faces 136 years in prison, which is more than a life sentence. So, this aiding the enemy charge, while it has attracted a lot of people’s attention, because it has a possible life sentence or death penalty, really, it was just part of the extent of overcharging in this case. You know, at the very minimum, perhaps Bradley Manning could have been charged, say, with mishandling classified information. Of course, I think he should be acquitted of such a charge, because under the First Amendment and a number of other obligations we all have, he should be free to break one obligation to fulfill another: the higher obligations of exposing crimes and satisfying the Constitution. But where we have a aiding the enemy charge soaking up our public attention and many people going, “Oh, well, look, the justice system is just, because it’s taken this one out,” actually, this is one charge out of 21 different offenses. He’s still up for 136 years. The substantive aspect that a alleged journalistic source, pure in their motives, as far as there are any allegations for, and who received no financial payment, has been now convicted of five counts of espionage, that is absurd.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break, but we’re going to come back to this discussion. We’re speaking to Julian Assange, our exclusive interview with him inside the Ecuadorean embassy. He’s been granted political asylum by the country of Ecuador but can’t leave the embassy for fear of the British government arresting him. Julian Assange is the founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks. We’ll continue with him in a moment.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. This is the broadcast on the day after the Bradley Manning verdict was announced, that he was acquitted of aiding the enemy but found guilty on a number of espionage-related and other charges. He faces 136 years in prison. The sentencing phase of the trial begins today 9:30 Eastern time at Fort Meade, where the court-martial has taken place. Just after the Bradley Manning verdict was announced Tuesday, Associated Press reporter Matt Lee asked State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki to comment on the verdict. Let’s go to a clip of their exchange.

MATTHEW LEE: What is the State Department’s reaction to the verdict in the Manning trial?

JEN PSAKI: Well, Matt, we have seen the verdict, which I know just came out right before I stepped out here. I would—beyond that, I would refer you to the Department of Defense.

MATTHEW LEE: Well, for the—

JEN PSAKI: No further comment from here.

MATTHEW LEE: For the entire trial, this building had said that it wouldn’t comment because it was pending, it was a pending case. And now that it’s over, you say you’re still not going to comment?

JEN PSAKI: That’s correct. I would refer you to the Department of Defense.

MATTHEW LEE: Can I—OK, can I just ask why?

JEN PSAKI: Because the Department of Defense has been the point agency through this process.

MATTHEW LEE: Well, these were State Department cables, exactly. They were your property.

UNIDENTIFIED: State Department employees were [inaudible].

JEN PSAKI: We don’t—we just don’t have any further comment. I know the verdict just came out. I don’t have anything more for you at the time.

MATTHEW LEE: Well, does that mean—are you working on a comment?

JEN PSAKI: I don’t—

MATTHEW LEE: Are you gratified that this theft of your material was—

JEN PSAKI: I don’t expect so, Matt, but if we have anything more to say, I promise everybody in this room and then some will have it.

MATTHEW LEE: OK. I’m a little bit surprised that you don’t have any comment, considering the amount of energy and time this building expended on assisting the prosecution.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Associated Press reporter Matt Lee questioning State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki right after the verdict came down. Our interview continues with Julian Assange, founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks. Your response to the government’s, U.S. government’s, lack of response and what this means also, Julian, in your own case?

JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s quite interesting to see the State Department doing that. The State Department has made many comments about this affair over the past three years, saying—Secretary Clinton, for example, saying that this was—once again, an absurd piece of rhetoric—an attack on the entire international community by our publishing organization and, I assume, by proxy, by our source, she would say.

Well, look, this investigation against our organization is the largest investigation and prosecution against a publisher in United States history and, arguably, anywhere in—anywhere in the world. It involves over a dozen different government departments. The tender for the DOJ to manage the documents related to the prosecution—the broader prosecution against WikiLeaks and myself, and not just the Manning case—is $1 [million] to $2 million per year just to maintain the computer system that manages the prosecution’s documents. So I assume those sort of statements by the State Department are a mechanism to reduce the perception of their involvement, which has been extensive over the last three years.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to comments made by Trevor Timm, who’s the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, regarding your likely prosecutions or the consequences of Manning’s verdict for you. He said—although he agreed that the verdict brings the government closer to prosecuting you, he said, quote, “Charging a publisher of information under the Espionage Act would be completely unprecedented and put every decent national security reporter in America at risk of jail, because they also regularly publish national security information.” Julian Assange, your response?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah, I agree. We’ve been saying this for three years now. It’s nice to see, finally, that in the past three months or so the mainstream press in the United States, at least McClatchy and The New York TimesWashington Post has been a bit more problematic—have woken up to the reality of what this case means for all national security reporters and, even more broadly, for publishers.

You know, the approach here has been to smash the insider and the outsider, as it was only one name on the table for an insider, and that was Bradley Manning; it was only one organization as the publisher, the outside force, that’s WikiLeaks, and most prominently represented by me. So in order to regain a sense of authority, the United States government has tried to, rather conspicuously, smash Bradley Manning and also the WikiLeaks organization. At least for WikiLeaks, the organization, it has not succeeded. It will not succeed. It is bringing great discredit on itself. Its desire for authority or perception of authority is such that it is willing to be seen as an immoral actor that breaches the rule of law, that breaches its own laws, that engages in torture against its youngest and brightest. In the case of Bradley Manning, the U.N. formally found against the United States, special rapporteur formally finding that the United States government had engaged in cruel and abusive treatment—cruel and inhumane treatment of Bradley Manning.

AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, I also want to ask you about BSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who remains, as you know, at the Moscow airport, who you’re deeply involved with helping to try to find a place of asylum. In a letter sent last week to the Russian minister of justice, the U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder, assured Russia that Snowden will not be executed or tortured if he’s sent back to the United States. Holder wrote, quote, “Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States.” He went on to say, “If he returns to the United States, Mr. Snowden would promptly be brought before a civilian court convened under Article III of the United States Constitution and supervised by a United States District Judge.” Holder also added, quote, “We believe [that] these assurances eliminate these asserted grounds for Mr. Snowden’s claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise.” Can you tell us what you understand to be the latest situation for Snowden and what your involvement with Edward Snowden is, why he is so significant to you, what his actions have been?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Edward Snowden’s freedom is a very important symbol. Bradley Manning’s incarceration is also an important symbol. Bradley Manning is now a martyr. He didn’t choose to be a martyr. I don’t think it’s a proper way for activists to behave, to choose to be martyrs. But these young men—allegedly in the case of Bradley Manning and clearly in the case of Edward Snowden—have risked their freedom, risked their lives for all of us. That makes them heroes. Now, Bradley Manning has been put into a position, quite unjustly, where he is facing 136 years. That brings disrepute upon the United States government and upon its system of justice. Edward Snowden has seen what has happened to Bradley Manning. The Ecuadorean government, in their asylum assessment of me, looked at what happened to Bradley Manning.

U.S. guarantees about torture mean nothing. We all know that the United States government simply redefines its torturous and abusive treatment of prisoners—stress positions, restriction on diet, extreme heat, extreme cold, deprivation of basic things needed for living like glasses or the company of others—it simply redefines that as not being torture. So, its word is worth nothing, in this particular case. In relation to the death penalty, guarantees about the death penalty have more credence, but we wouldn’t want Edward Snowden to be in a Jack Ruby-type situation. That’s quite a possibility for him, that if he ended up in the United States prison system, that given the level of vitriol that exists against him by the administration, that he would not be safe from police, he would not be safe from prison guards, and he would not be safe from other prisoners. There’s no question that he would not—there’s no question that he would not receive a fair trial.

Similarly, the charges against him are political. There’s only allegations on the table at the moment that he acted for a political purpose: to educate all of us. Those are the only allegations that exist. It is incorrect that extraditions should take place for a political purpose. He’s clearly been exercising his political opinion. But we have seen amazing statements by the White House in relation to Edward Snowden’s meeting with Human Rights Watch, based in New York, Amnesty International, based in London, that that should not have happened, that that was a propaganda platform for Edward Snowden. I mean, this is incredible to see Jay Carney, a White House spokesperson, denouncing Edward Snowden for speaking to human rights groups. Edward Snowden cannot possibly receive a fair judicial process in the United States. Under that basis, he has applied for asylum in a number of different countries. I believe that Russia will afford him asylum in this case, or at least on a temporary or interim basis. And a number of other countries have offered him asylum.

AMY GOODMAN: Julian, what—Julian, what is the problem? Last week, there was breaking news that the Russian—that Russia had granted him temporary asylum, but now it is said that he has never been given those papers, so he can’t leave the—what, the airport lounge.

JULIAN ASSANGE: This is just the media. This is a case where there’s a lot of demand for information, so people just invent it, or they amplify some particular rumor.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Julian Assange, very quickly, before we conclude, the U.S. government now classifies 92 million documents a year—this is an unprecedented number—with over four million people cleared for security clearance. Can you explain what you think the significance of this is and has been for whistleblowers, and what the Manning verdict says to future potential whistleblowers?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, the verdict is clearly an attempt to crush whistleblowers. It’s not going to crush whistleblowers. The problems that exist in the security state in the West, and a few other countries, as well, as bad as they have ever been, they’re rapidly accelerating. We now have a state within a state in the United States. There are more than five million people with security clearances, more than one million people with top-secret security clearances. The majority of those one million people with top-secret security clearances work for firms like Booz Allen Hamilton and so on, where they are out of the Freedom of Information Act, where they are out of the inspector general of intelligence’s eye. That is creating a new system, a new system of information apartheid, a new asymmetry of information between different groups of people. That’s relating to extensive power inequalities with the—if you like, the essence of the state, the deep state, the intelligence community, lifting off from the rest of the population, developing its own society and going its own way.

And we have a situation now where young people, like Edward Snowden, who have been exposed to the Internet, who have seen the world, who have a perspective, who have seen our work, the work of—allegedly of Bradley Manning and others, don’t like that. They do not accept that. They do not accept that the U.S. Constitution can be violated, that international human rights law norms can be conspicuously violated, that this information apartheid exists. That system cannot continue. We even saw Michael Hayden acknowledge that in an interview in Australia recently, that in order to function, the National Security Agency, the CIA, and so on, has to recruit people between the ages of 20 and 30. Those people, if they’re technical and they’re exposed to the Internet, they have a certain view about what is just. And they find that they’re—in their jobs, the agencies that they work for do not behave in a legal, ethical or moral manner. So the writing is on the wall for these agencies.

AMY GOODMAN: Julian, I know you have to go, but I want to quickly ask one more time: What does the verdict in the Bradley Manning case—faces 136 years in prison—mean for you? Your name and WikiLeaks came up repeatedly throughout the trial. We know of a grand jury investigation of you and WikiLeaks in Virginia. Do you in fact know that there is a sealed indictment for you? And what does this mean for your time at the Ecuadorean embassy and your chance of getting out?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Based on conversations with the DOJ between my U.S. lawyers and the DOJ spokespersons, we know a lot. We know that Neil MacBride, the Virginia DA, has the grand jury process. My U.S. lawyers believe that it is more probable than not that there is a sealed indictment. It’s the only explanation for the DA behavior. The DOJ has admitted that the investigation against me and WikiLeaks proceeds.

In relation to the Manning verdict, we will continue to fight that. We have a lot of people now in his coalition. Bradley Manning’s support team has been great. The Center for Constitutional Rights also have been excellent, Michael Ratner, who’s been on your own program. That team understands what is going on; has been deployed, to a degree, to defend Mr. Snowden in public; and presumably, when the time comes, will also defend us. I am completely confident that the U.S. will not succeed in extraditing me, because I have asylum at this embassy. In relation to the broader attack on the rest of our staff, that’s still very much in the fight, but we’re not going to go down easy.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have this breaking news, which says that the Obama administration will make public a previously classified order that directed Verizon Communications to turn over a vast number of Americans’ phone records, according to senior U.S. officials. The formerly secret order will be unveiled before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that’s scheduled to begin in 20 minutes from our broadcast time right now. The order was issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to a subsidiary of Verizon in April. Your response to that, finally, Julian? And then we’ll let you go.

JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, Edward Snowden already made the order public, so, I mean, this is absurd. This is like our release of Guantánamo Bay documents and other documents. These have already been made public, and now the administration is going to apparently wave some magical pixie dust to remove the contaminant of it being formerly classified by the administration. So, I mean, here we have an example that there’s actually no disclosure before the public, until there is unauthorized disclosure before the public. If I’m incorrect, and this is not the document that Snowden has already revealed—

AMY GOODMAN: It is. It is the document.

JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah, so, I mean, it’s—there’s some magical-like process going on here where there’s holy documents and unholy documents. Holy documents are documents that this classification state within a state, five million people with security clearances, have somehow done something, to sprinkle some absurd holy water on. These are just pieces of paper with bits of information on them and bureaucrats putting a stamp on them. That’s the reality. We’ve got to remove this religious national security extremism. It is a new religion in the United States and in some other countries. It’s absurd. It’s ridiculous. It needs to go.

AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, we want to thank you for being with us, founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, granted political asylum by Ecuador last year and sought refuge over a year ago at the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Shock Doctrine In Practice: The Connection Between Nighttime Robbery In The Streets And Daytime Robbery By Elites

In Uncategorized on August 22, 2011 at 11:15 am

Oldspeak:When your most elite, most powerful members of the society adopt a strategy of plundering, then they will develop a morality that doesn’t simply permit plundering, but valorizes it. And when that happens, the moral structures of the society will inevitably deteriorate. In the upper classes that leads to polite looting. In the under classes that leads to street looting. –William K. Black 

 

 

 

Related Video:

Keiser Report: Banking Looters

By Naomi Klein @ The Nation:

I keep hearing comparisons between the London riots and riots in other European cities—window smashing in Athens or car bonfires in Paris. And there are parallels, to be sure: a spark set by police violence, a generation that feels forgotten.

But those events were marked by mass destruction; the looting was minor. There have, however, been other mass lootings in recent years, and perhaps we should talk about them too. There was Baghdad in the aftermath of the US invasion—a frenzy of arson and looting that emptied libraries and museums. The factories got hit too. In 2004 I visited one that used to make refrigerators. Its workers had stripped it of everything valuable, then torched it so thoroughly that the warehouse was a sculpture of buckled sheet metal.

Back then the people on cable news thought looting was highly political. They said this is what happens when a regime has no legitimacy in the eyes of the people. After watching for so long as Saddam and his sons helped themselves to whatever and whomever they wanted, many regular Iraqis felt they had earned the right to take a few things for themselves. But London isn’t Baghdad, and British Prime Minister David Cameron is hardly Saddam, so surely there is nothing to learn there.

How about a democratic example then? Argentina, circa 2001. The economy was in freefall and thousands of people living in rough neighborhoods (which had been thriving manufacturing zones before the neoliberal era) stormed foreign-owned superstores. They came out pushing shopping carts overflowing with the goods they could no longer afford—clothes, electronics, meat. The government called a “state of siege” to restore order; the people didn’t like that and overthrew the government.

Argentina’s mass looting was called El Saqueo—the sacking. That was politically significant because it was the very same word used to describe what that country’s elites had done by selling off the country’s national assets in flagrantly corrupt privatization deals, hiding their money offshore, then passing on the bill to the people with a brutal austerity package. Argentines understood that the saqueo of the shopping centers would not have happened without the bigger saqueo of the country, and that the real gangsters were the ones in charge.

But England is not Latin America, and its riots are not political, or so we keep hearing. They are just about lawless kids taking advantage of a situation to take what isn’t theirs. And British society, Cameron tells us, abhors that kind of behavior.

This is said in all seriousness. As if the massive bank bailouts never happened, followed by the defiant record bonuses. Followed by the emergency G-8 and G-20 meetings, when the leaders decided, collectively, not to do anything to punish the bankers for any of this, nor to do anything serious to prevent a similar crisis from happening again. Instead they would all go home to their respective countries and force sacrifices on the most vulnerable. They would do this by firing public sector workers, scapegoating teachers, closing libraries, upping tuitions, rolling back union contracts, creating rush privatizations of public assets and decreasing pensions—mix the cocktail for where you live. And who is on television lecturing about the need to give up these “entitlements”? The bankers and hedge-fund managers, of course.

This is the global Saqueo, a time of great taking. Fueled by a pathological sense of entitlement, this looting has all been done with the lights left on, as if there was nothing at all to hide. There are some nagging fears, however. In early July, theWall Street Journal, citing a new poll, reported that 94 percent of millionaires were afraid of “violence in the streets.” This, it turns out, was a reasonable fear.

Of course London’s riots weren’t a political protest. But the people committing nighttime robbery sure as hell know that their elites have been committing daytime robbery. Saqueos are contagious.

The Tories are right when they say the rioting is not about the cuts. But it has a great deal to do with what those cuts represent: being cut off. Locked away in a ballooning underclass with the few escape routes previously offered—a union job, a good affordable education—being rapidly sealed off. The cuts are a message. They are saying to whole sectors of society: you are stuck where you are, much like the migrants and refugees we turn away at our increasingly fortressed borders.

David Cameron’s response to the riots is to make this locking-out literal: evictions from public housing, threats to cut off communication tools and outrageous jail terms (five months to a woman for receiving a stolen pair of shorts). The message is once again being sent: disappear, and do it quietly.

At last year’s G-20 “austerity summit” in Toronto, the protests turned into riots and multiple cop cars burned. It was nothing by London 2011 standards, but it was still shocking to us Canadians. The big controversy then was that the government had spent $675 million on summit “security” (yet they still couldn’t seem to put out those fires). At the time, many of us pointed out that the pricey new arsenal that the police had acquired—water cannons, sound cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets—wasn’t just meant for the protesters in the streets. Its long-term use would be to discipline the poor, who in the new era of austerity would have dangerously little to lose.

This is what David Cameron got wrong: you can’t cut police budgets at the same time as you cut everything else. Because when you rob people of what little they have, in order to protect the interests of those who have more than anyone deserves, you should expect resistance—whether organized protests or spontaneous looting.

And that’s not politics. It’s physics.

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (September 2007); an earlier international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002). Read more at Naomiklein.org. You can follow her on Twitter @naomiaklein.

 

Do You Care Whether the Religious Ideas You Believe In Are True or Not?

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2010 at 11:57 am

Oldspeak: “Skepticism is a discipline. It does not come naturally to the human mind. The human mind is wired to believe what it already believes, and what it wants to believe. The habit of questioning whether the things we believe are true — and letting go of beliefs we’re attached to when the evidence contradicts them — takes practice. When pressed to the wall in debates, believers will often wind up saying things like, “Why do you care what I believe? Living in my self-created reality where God loves me and I’m never going to die makes me happy. What difference does it make to anyone else?” But rejecting evidence about reality doesn’t just affect ourselves. It means rejecting the reality of how our actions affect other people. It means rejecting the realities of money, of sex, of showing up to work on time, of foreign policy, of global warming… in favor of stories we find familiar and comforting.”

By Greta Christina @ Alter Net:

What do you say to religious believers who don’t care about reality?

I don’t mean people who unconsciously don’t care about reality. I don’t mean people who unconsciously resist or rationalize evidence when it contradicts the things they believe. I get that. That’s universally human. Everybody does that. Atheists, believers — everybody. Me and you, and everyone we know.

I’m talking about people who consciously, intellectually state that they’re less interested in what’s really true about the universe than they are about their personal interpretation of it. People who consciously, intellectually state that reality can’t be completely understood, and therefore all interpretations of it are equally valid. People who consciously, intellectually state that it’s less important to understand reality than it is to not offend people by pointing out that their beliefs are inconsistent with the evidence. People who consciously, intellectually state that, even though there’s powerful evidence against the belief that (say) consciousness is animated by an immaterial soul that survives death, or that life was shaped into being by a loving God, or what have you… it’s still reasonable for them to hold those beliefs. People who consciously, intellectually state that, when it comes right down to it, they don’t care whether the things they believe are true.

And who firmly defend that position.

What do you say to them?

As an atheist writer, I’ve been having this weird series of conversations about religion with believers who take this position. Some of them take it in a very hard-line relativist way; they insist there’s no reality other than the one we create in our minds. Or they insist that, even though there probably is an external reality, there’s no way to truly understand it… so it’s completely reasonable to live in the world as we create it in our heads, and to interpret reality in whatever way gives us comfort and pleasure. Regardless of whether that interpretation jibes with, you know, evidence about how reality works.

Others are more slippery about this position. They’ll state their religious beliefs… and then, when challenged to provide some evidence supporting those beliefs, they’ll say something like, “That’s just what I believe. None of us can prove for 100 percent certain whether our beliefs are right. We all choose what to believe. So what’s the point in debating who’s right?”

I’ll be honest: I find it very hard to argue against this position. Mostly because I find it so utterly baffling. The idea that reality matters? The idea that we ought to care whether the things we believe are true? To me, this is close to a fundamental axiom. And when people say they don’t care about that, it leaves my jaw hanging in dumbfounded silence.

But that makes it a topic worth getting into. I like questioning my fundamental axioms. So, why should we care whether the things we believe are true?

Why should we treat the external, objective reality of the universe as more important than the internal, subjective reality of our personal experience?

Why is the universe more important than me?

Perspective as a Moral Obligation

Well, for starters: The universe is about 13.73 billion years old, and it’s about 93 billion light years across. I am 48 years old, and I’m five foot three. Not to be ageist or a size queen… but really. When I look at those numbers, do I honestly have to ask why the universe is more important — and more interesting — than the inside of my head? Or of anybody’s head?

I’m not saying the insides of people’s heads aren’t important or interesting. Of course they are. They’re what make art interesting, and literature, and so on. And they’re what make psychology and neuropsychology interesting as well. The insides of people’s heads are fascinating. And they matter.

But the world inside a person’s head is just one tiny fragment of the vast, ancient, wildly freaky complexity of existence. Why would I give that tiny fragment greater priority than the vast, freaky complexity? Even if the head that this tiny fragment is inside happens to be my own? To me, that seems like the absolute height of arrogance.

In fact, I’d argue that it’s more than just arrogant, it borders on unethical. Understanding that our own experience is not the only one? That other people matter to themselves as much as we do to ourselves? That none of us has a pipeline to truth? Understanding that we are not the most important being in the universe; having the ability to view life from an outside perspective, and acknowledge that we don’t, cosmically speaking, matter more than anyone else? That is the core of human ethics.

To argue that our personal view of reality is every bit as important as reality itself? To insist that it’s valid to frame reality any way we like, without regard to the actual evidence about it? It’s placing ourselves at the center of the cosmos. It’s saying that our personal experience really is the most important one. It’s defending the validity of being out of touch, of living inside our heads.

Perspective is more than an intellectual discipline. It’s a moral obligation. The willingness to step back from our experience, to examine our beliefs about the world and let go of them when the evidence contradicts them, is a huge part of how we gain the humility we need to see our true place in the world. Caring whether the things we believe are true is a crucial part of caring, period.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

This isn’t just about philosophy, though. It isn’t even just about the vital branch of philosophy known as ethics. There are purely pragmatic reasons for caring whether the things we believe matter.

We need to understand reality, so we know how to behave in it.

If we believe things about reality that aren’t true, we’re going to make bad decisions. If we believe that we failed our English test because our teacher has it in for us, we’re not going to study harder for our next test. If we believe that we keep getting stomach-aches because we hate our job, we’re not going to quit having Doritos and Red Bull for breakfast. If we believe that we can turn on the TV by hitting it with a rock, we’re going to miss “America’s Best Dance Crew.” It’s like data processors say: Garbage in, garbage out.

And this applies to religious and spiritual beliefs as well. If we believe that we failed our English test because Mercury was in retrograde, or that our stomachaches are God’s punishment for thinking impure thoughts about Lady Gaga… we’re still not going to study or knock off the Doritos.

Understanding reality is how we know how to behave in it. Understanding cause and effect, which causes lead to what effects, is how we make better decisions — decisions that are more likely to lead to outcomes we’re hoping for.

And if we’re going to understand reality, we have to care whether the things we believe are true. We can tell ourselves that we create our own reality until we’re blue in the face… but if we don’t create our personal reality based on the best possible understanding of the larger reality around us, if we don’t create our personal reality by eating a healthy diet and doing our English homework and so on, reality is going to bite us in the ass.

Of course there are some very pragmatic, nuts-and-bolts ways that our beliefs about reality affect reality. Being optimistic can help us see more opportunities; being good to people draws other good people to us; etc. But there’s nothing magical about that. It’s just human psychology. Based, I’d like to point out, on observable cause and effect. Exactly the kind of reality I think people should care about.

What’s more, if we care about reality, we have to apply reasonable standards of probability and plausibility to it. When faced with solid evidence strongly suggesting that our beliefs almost certainly aren’t true, we can’t tell ourselves, “Well, my belief can’t be absolutely disproven with 100 percent certainty — therefore it’s reasonable to keep believing it.” We can’t tell ourselves that hitting the TV with a rock might turn it on this time, we can’t be absolutely sure that it won’t, it’s hypothetically possible. Not if we want to watch TV.

Now, when pressed with these kinds of questions, many of these “We create our own reality and don’t have to care if our beliefs are true” believers will agree. They’ll say that, when it comes to petty, mundane, physical matters, of course they understand cause and effect, and want to understand it better so they can create good consequences and avoid bad ones. When they’re on the twentieth floor of a building, they don’t exit that building by jumping out the window. They don’t act on the principle that they can create their own reality and gently float down from the window to the sidewalk. They believe in reality, in physical cause and effect… enough to take the elevator. When it comes to practical matters, of course they care whether the things they believe are true. It’s just the grand metaphysical issues, the issues where cause and effect isn’t blindingly obvious, the issues of God and the soul and eternal consciousness and whatnot… that’s where they feel they can make up any interpretation of reality that makes them happy.

Yeah. See, here’s the problem with that.

It’s not so easy to believe whatever you find comforting in some cases… and then question, or challenge, or let go of your beliefs in others.

Skepticism is a discipline. It does not come naturally to the human mind. The human mind is wired to believe what it already believes, and what it wants to believe. The habit of questioning whether the things we believe are true — and letting go of beliefs we’re attached to when the evidence contradicts them — takes practice.

I know that in my own life, when I still had New Age woo beliefs — and my “we make our own reality” rationalization of them — I was much more prone to hanging onto other, non-spiritual beliefs I was attached to. And I was much more prone to attaching myself to beliefs in the first place if I found them comforting or easy. My belief that I could make things work with my loser boyfriend; my belief that there was no connection between my weight and my health; my belief that if I ignored my student loans for long enough the university would give up and go away… all these were much easier to fall into, because I was so practiced at convincing myself that it was reasonable to believe pretty much whatever I wanted.

What’s more, my spiritual beliefs were very slippery. (A phenomenon I’ve noticed in many other believers.) When confronted with strong evidence that contradicted my beliefs, I’d pull out the “this may not be literally true but it works for me” line. But when I was alone, or with others who shared my beliefs? I bloody well believed those things. Entirely and literally. And again, that slipperiness — that willingness to slide back and forth between wishful thinking and critical thought, depending on convenience and who was watching and how attached I was to the ideas — slopped into the practical areas of my life. Often withtruly lousy consequences.

But after I started applying skepticism to religion, and eventually let go of my spiritual beliefs, I became much better at critical thinking. In all areas of my life. Politics, relationships, money, health — everything. I became much better at asking, “What’s the evidence for this? Is this consistent with what we know about the world? What are the arguments for and against?”

This is often not easy. I’m human, with a human tendency to believe what I already believe or what I want to believe; and better critical thinking often means letting go of ideas I’m very attached to. But the practice I had letting go of religion makes this much easier, and much more natural. Again: Skepticism is a discipline. It takes practice. And when we let ourselves believe whatever the hell we like about God or the afterlife, it gets far too easy to let ourselves believe whatever the hell we like about everything else.

Which leads back to the question of ethics. When pressed to the wall in these debates, believers will often wind up saying things like, “Why do you care what I believe? Living in my self-created reality where God loves me and I’m never going to die makes me happy. What difference does it make to anyone else?” But rejecting evidence about reality doesn’t just affect ourselves. It means rejecting the reality of how our actions affect other people. It means rejecting the realities of money, of sex, of showing up to work on time, of foreign policy, of global warming… in favor of stories we find familiar and comforting.

And I see that play out with religious believers, every day of my life.

Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire

But beyond all that — beyond my philosophical objections, my ethical objections, even my pragmatic objections — I have another, stronger, far more serious objection to people who say they don’t care if the things they believe are true.

I don’t believe them.

If you really don’t care whether the things you believe are true… then why are you defending those beliefs in an atheist’s blog?

Why are you arguing so passionately, and at such great length, that your solipsistic cultural relativism is a valid viewpoint? Why don’t you just shrug off my arguments for atheism and materialism, and go about your merry way in your self-created reality? Why do you care what I think?

Here’s the thing. I think religious believers do care whether the things they believe are true. The ones who comment about their beliefs in atheists’ blogs sure as heck do. I think they comment in atheists’ blogs because they want validation for their beliefs. They want atheists to say, “No, your beliefs aren’t like all those others, those other beliefs are crazy, but yours make sense.” Or they want atheists to say, “Wow, I haven’t heard that one before — how fascinating and well thought out!”

It’s only when that response isn’t forthcoming that the cultural relativism gets dragged out. It’s only when atheists say, “Actually, your belief isn’t any more consistent with evidence or reason than anyone else’s,” when we say, “Yes, I’ve heard that one before, about a hundred times, it still doesn’t hold up”… it’s only then that believers start insisting that they don’t care about stupid old reality anyway.

I think religious believers do care whether the things they believe are true. And they should. Caring about reality is a fundamental part of what makes us human. Human beings are explorers. We’re curious. We want to find out what’s behind that rock, that mountain, that ocean, that galaxy. We want to find out what’s inside that tree, that flower, that cell, that atom.

And that curiosity is one of the best things about us. That curiosity has led us to a greater understanding of the vast, ancient, wildly freaky complexity of existence than we ever thought possible. That curiosity is why we understand about galaxies, and continental drift, and matter being mostly empty space, and everything that’s alive being related, and any number of compellingly fascinating, completely counter-intuitive realities. What’s more, that curiosity has led to innumerable advances in the quality of human life. That curiosity is why we understand that diseases are caused by germs and viruses and genetics and so on, instead of evil spirits or imbalances in the bodily humors. That curiosity is why we understand that we ought not to let raw sewage run in the streets or in our drinking water. That curiosity is why we can talk to each other on the Internet.

Curiosity about how reality works is one of the finest things about humanity. We ought not to abandon it whenever it makes us uncomfortable or forces us to let go of beliefs we’re attached to. We ought to care more about reality than we do about the stories we tell ourselves about it. We ought to care, more than just about anything else, whether the things we believe are true.

Read more of Greta Christina at her blog.