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The Unconscious and the Island: Fragments of Research on the Self

 

 

Sometimes the ideas and insights, the feelings and emotions are born by a new and abnormal element, as a disturbance.

Among these, the word “emotion” shares the root with another word just as beautiful: it is the word “movement”.

I believe that life is often dotted and crossed by emotions and movements. Emotions are our emotions, are those shared with patients in the consulting room, with people important to us, through meetings with new faces and eyes. The movements, however, we can roughly categorize into two types: there are transverse movements, the ones that make us change jobs, make us change clothes or change cities. There are, then, the longitudinal movements, that make us be born, grow, learn, grow old, get sick, heal, die and, maybe, even reborn.

Through symbols and metaphors, but also through concrete facts, whether physical or psychological, in this article we will try to put through words the Journey of the person who, at some point in her life, feels that the land on which she lived with more or less security, the conscious, the consciousness, is only a small part, the surface of something much deeper, more complex, more unknown, but also, we believe, more fascinating, as it enables us, or forces us, to contact, to confront our most hidden parts, our Shadows.

One of the “key” inputs used in this article comes from the famous novel Journey to the Center of the Earth, written by Jules Verne in 1864; extracting from the plot components metaphorically more akin to philosophy, analytical psychology, but also to mythology, alchemy, etc., the most poignant and emerging psychic traits are two places, two physical moments in the work of the French writer, geographically very distant but geologically and psychically very next between them; two Volcanoes: the Icelandic Sneffels and the Italian Stromboli. From Sneffels, in fact, the three protagonists of Verne’s “Journey” had immersed themselves into the bowels of the Earth and, after many adventures and surprising discoveries, risen to the surface of the Planet through the chimney of Stromboli, which is a volcanic island, part of the archipelago of the Aeolian Islands, located near the northern coast of Sicily. Stromboli is a volcano whose explosive activity has been almost uninterrupted for about two thousand years.

At this point, for Italians is appropriate, even essential, a slight digression: Mediterranean people and Icelanders have a problem, or perhaps a greater opportunity than other peoples; occasionally, the underground, the unconscious, is felt, it makes its incessant restlessness manifest itself in the form of earthquakes, active volcanoes, or emerging and disappearing islands, and as we delude ourselves that our Being, our existence, is ended in the horizontality of the surface, something, at some point, makes us feel and discover the vertical dimension, which is no longer directed only upwards, towards Heaven, but is also directed towards the core of our Being, too. On this point, American psychoanalyst James Hillman spoke about a “feeling that there’s a reason why my person, which is unique and unrepeatable, is in the world, and that there are things that I have to devote beyond the daily life and at the daily life give its raison of existence (…)”.

Translating what has been written so far, the analytical path can be succinctly so symbolized: there is a moment in our life path in which we feel the need to understand and discover what lies beneath the surface of our daily and horizontal existence. This is, in the terminology of Carl Gustav Jung’s analytical psychology, the process of individuation, which was understood and sought already by alchemists long before modern psychoanalysis.

The central philosophical idea of alchemy claims that the first stage of the inner journey is the one in which the forces abandon the individual – the stage of decomposition, in Latin nigredo, in which there is a movement from an identified to a non-identified state; we can say that in this first step the ego offers himself to an initiatory death.

This stage is followed by one in which the individual, directed to the center of the earth, i.e. at the center of the Self, finds the roots of his own subjectivity: this is the albedo phase, without corporeality, full of its emptiness, according to the alchemists; at this stage the individual, although being a filled and present object, tests the paradoxical experiences of absence and emptiness. Just by facing and overcoming this stage, the human being can move up to a renewed light, towards individuation. This is the stage of rubedo, in which there is the materialization of the Spirit.

Similarly to the alchemists, Rabbi Dov Ber (or otherwise written Dov Baer), the main propagator of Hasidism, a current of Judaism founded in the eighteenth century, argued: “We have to think about ourselves as nothing, forgetting ourselves“, meaning that each thing, every thought, in order to transform itself, must venture into nothingness, renouncing itself; only by denying ourselves and annihilating ourselves we can transcend time: “He who arrives at the threshold of nothing, forget his own person and obtains a natural mind“.

The individual adult, the mature person, or at least the one that aims to become one (it’s never too late!), should prepare herself for the meeting with their dark spots, by means of comparison with their own Shadows (Greek ????, Latin umbra, Italian ombra), so as to begin the process of individuation. Consciousness, moreover, that constitutes our daily life, needs its counterpart, the unconscious, and one component cannot be separated from its counterpart, as though adhering to a universal law: Light and Darkness, Day and Night, Full and Empty, Male and Female, Good and Evil …

Contenting himself with living exclusively in the light of the sun, ignoring and disclaiming our less brilliant parts, exposes us to the risk of an incomplete existence, devoid of our more nuclear members, more genuine and more intimate, which, if not recognized and integrated into our lives, are likely to turn against us. Accomplishing this path requires a good deal of courage. C. G. Jung wrote: “Whoever goes towards oneself risks meeting with himself. The mirror does not flatter; it shows faithfully the one which is reflected in it, and that is the face that is never exposed to the world, for we veil it by means of the Person, the mask of the actor. But behind the mask there is the mirror from which the true face shines. This is the first test of courage to face on the inner way, a test just to deter, scared, most people. The encounter with oneself is indeed one of the most unpleasant experiences, from which we escape by projecting all that is negative onto the world around us. He who is in a position to see his Shadow and bear the knowledge has already completed a small part of the task: the personal unconscious has just emerged to the surface“.

Accepting our own Shadow, recognizing the personal unconscious, means dealing with the sense of one’s own limitations and taboos; we believe this to be the paradigmatic aspect of the work of the analyst: the couple patient/analyst, their differentiation of roles, expectations, skills, desires, needs, etc.; this acceptance determines us to face the uncertainty of the limit, peras in Greek, which is a psychic place about which man has asked over the centuries many questions, yet finding no clear and definitive answers. Aristotle, in his Metaphysics, defines the limit as the extreme end of all things, beyond which there is nothing of the thing, and on this side of which the whole thing stands.
According to Homer, “over” is the place where psyché lies when man abandons it, if he loses consciousness or dies: it [psyché], breathed its last breath, it reaches Hades, which is the place of the non-visible (Á-ides), where it will dwell as a vain shadow, in a state of overwhelming sadness.

The religious feeling, before being directed towards Heaven, elected its specific region in the underground, the lower world, from which flowed life and where the man returned after death, in search of the con-centration, memory and ecstasy: “Men die because they are not able to join the beginning with the end“. It has psychic consistency, then, to realize that the primitive mythology devotes so much attention to those more disruptive geological phenomena and more related to the subsoil, such as earthquakes and volcanic events, which aroused (and still create) terror and wonder that are basic elements of the sacrum and the supernatural. The supernatural, if it is ever universally recognized in the mountains, it is even more so if it comes from volcanoes. If the gods inhabit the peaks of the mountains, in the case of volcanoes their home is inside, that’s why the crater is considered the entrance to the other world, the passage from which to reach the Center where “(…) Archeus resides, the “servant of nature”, that Paracelsus also called Volcano, identifying it with the Adech, i.e. with the “great Man“.

In the mythology of the Mediterranean regions the Sicilian volcano Mount Etna, the largest in Europe, is the forge of Hephaestus, whereas for the Romans it is on Vulcano island (also belonging to the archipelago of the Aeolian Islands) that God forged thunderbolts for Jupiter and weapons for Mars. It is from the late Middle Ages that the word “volcano” has spread all over the planet to name the mountains made by fire. To finish this brief digression about the mythology of the Volcanoes, according to legend, Athena would force Enceladus (meaning “restrained voice”, “interior scream”) below the slopes of Mt. Etna, while another myth speaks about Zeus, who casts Mt. Etna against the monstrous Typhon, burying it, though some variations of the myth say that Typhon would be under the whole Sicily and, according to Pindar and Aeschylus, the area involved would be the entire volcanic Tyrrhenian region included from Etna to the Ischia island (located opposite the city of Naples), and this would explain, at least in terms of mythology, the correlation between the phenomena of Stromboli and Etna, which is flatly denied by geologists, whilst volcanologists have just recently expressed a symptomatic yes and no (e.g. Fumiciello R. & Billi A., 2003. “Etna e Isole Eolie: casualità o eventi connessi?” Sicurezza Civile, 3:8-11).

There are some phenomena, some psychic objects with which, during our lives, we are confronted almost daily and that, with their symbolic and archetypal mark and structure our way of life, we refer to; for example, darkness: it, when we are children, arouses our fears, our sense of vulnerability, but it contains as well an unspeakable, seductive value. It is in the darkness of the underground, in the unconscious, that we seek our less visible parts; sometimes they are, perhaps, less glorious and bright, they are our shadows, but they are that part of ours that is closest to the core of our Self, in which those components reside, sometimes surprising us, silently and subtly guiding our choices, our meetings, our fears, our desires, our work, our being-in-the-world; and here in the morning, awakening, a dream, just a stupid dream, predisposes us to a good mood or a bad mood or to looking for the lottery! It is not recent history, however: in ancient Greece there were some priests, followers of Asclepius (deity to whom was consecrated the science of medicine), who interpreted the dreams of people: the nightmares (incubi, in Italian), creating the so-called practice of incubation. The word comes from in-cubus, since the sleepers, after some rites of ablution and therefore “clean”, lay down on square stones at the center of temples dedicated to Aesculapius, in its Latin form. When they wake up, they must tell the dreams to the priests, so that they can interpret them, so as to give directions to the person or sometimes to the whole community. For the Romans, the incubus was a spirit responsible for the safekeeping of valuable assets buried under the ground, while in the Middle Ages the incubus assumed the guise of a monstrous spirit that surprised the women at night, oppressing their chest with his weight or abusing them. The square stone, therefore, had a significant and catalyst function.

The descent into the darkness of the underground, in the realm of the Dream, the unconscious, leads us to a place devoid of psychic temporality, comparable to what the alchemists called vas bene clausum or vas hermeticum, i.e. an isolated system and hermetically closed so as to protect the good and growing part of the living world and the psyche. Devoid of sunlight, conventions and social rhythms, any notion of time can be dilated to excess or be reduced to a quantity point.

Continuing with geometric symbolism, the search of the archetype of the Center is a primordial need for man because the point, along with the circle and the sphere, is a “natural” figure.

The first image that the child conceives about itself is a round image. The figure of the circle is rooted deeply in the mind because it regards the first mental learning tension of the bodily self and its borders. As soon as the child is able to draw on the paper a sign that goes beyond the simple doodle, the first creative expression that performs the baby is a circle and this is the result of a long, evolutionary internal and autobiographical process. To approximate to the core of the individual, we must do it so in a “naive” (ingenuo in Italian) way, that is to say so natural and free (from the Latin ingèenus, which indicated those who were born in the same place where they lived and that had therefore certain birth, unlike the slaves). To search for the Self so naively means to predispose oneself to an inner journey without intellectual superstructure, in which the natural component is higher than the cultural one; and the reason is simple: reason has the need to objectify at any cost, so as to put a separation between self and other-than-self, between the observer and the observed. In order for it to discover and know one’s Self, however, we must “be Self”.

Marius Schneider wrote in Kosmogonie: “in “normal” consciousness nature and human consciousness are not related, but as it is in man a more intimate conscience is forming, the world reveals the deep awareness as a supra-individual unit, in which man and nature live together and are intrinsically fused. Because man can experience the structure of the universe only in himself, he decides its structure from the essence of nature“.

Descent into Darkness exposes the abandonment of certain habits, certain rules and certain “safety” structures guaranteed by the Light of the surface, i.e. by the consciousness and the “concreteness” of the earth on which we live.

Venturing in the Dark, in the region of the unconscious, is similar to offering oneself a new perspective, a new “possibility of existence” or, in religious terms, a new grace; but this trip, this waiver, albeit transient, of solar Light, has inherent the risk of loss of control and the con-fusion of the limit: madness. This is a fundamental point in psychotherapy, because it repeats the essential theme of balance and aid that the therapist must offer to the patient so that he, the symbolic Being and as such a mediator between the earth and the sky, can find his own way, with prudence but also with courage, i.e. the necessary courage to overcome a particular impasse, the likely cause of illness or disorder.

The encounter between the patient and the therapist is like a contest in which the apparent balance between the ones is broken by the patient’s demand. The dynamic that occurs is similar to the contention of judo; the word “judo” is formed by the JU ideogram, which can be translated as “soft”; the character “DO” represents the student accompanied by the teacher, but philosophically it is translated as “path” or “way of improvement”. Judo, therefore, expresses the “way of gentleness”. The student, the patient, addresses the question, the “problem”, to the therapist, the “master”, who is waiting for the “attack”, expects the “disturbance”, the “noise”. The therapist is not opposed to the attack, but he welcomes it and supports it, leading it to the logical conclusion and freeing the patient from that which is most likely a false social assumption, namely the risk of alienating the person from one’s Self.

What envelops and confuses man are, often, the rules and social demands that often conflict with the feelings and individual instances. We believe that the task of the therapist is to permit reconciliation between the dictates coming from society and the search for identification, thus safeguarding the integrity of the person. An aphorism says that a good doctor is one who entertains the patient while nature cures him.

Resuming the thread of the metaphor which we used before, i.e. Verne’s novel: the Journey begins and ends on two volcanic islands, the cold Iceland of Sneffels and the hot Stromboli. The island, psychologically, is an extra-worldly environment, surrounded by the incessant restlessness of the liquid element that wraps and surrounds it, whilst for being able to reach the island it is necessary to deal with the water, which can be unpredictable and dangerous. It is impossible to come onto the island accidentally, because the island is an “exact” goal, the island is genius loci: the landing on the island is allowed to those who accept the risk or have the talent to get there, as long as they do not fall into hybris, arrogance: in alchemical terms, the access onto the island is allowed to those who are in the grace of God, because the Island is a témenos. The sacredness of the island, especially if it is volcanic, sanctifies the person that docks unharmed.

To dock on an island means abandoning a protected place to rely upon the sea-utero that surrounds and contains, on which, usually about the summit, there is a crater, the omphalos (ombelico in Italian), a term which in antiquity, as well as ‘navel’, distinguished a certain stone to which was attributed religious significance.

At the beginning of this text, we made a brief mention about the emergence and submergence of islands, about lands standing in the sea; we have, in the Mediterranean Sea, a very close and geologically recent example: Ferdinandea Island, off the coast of Sciacca (close to city of Agrigento), a little town located on the southern coast of Sicily, whose last emergence and disappearance is documented in 1831. The emergence of an island needs the participation of a fundamental key, it needs Fire, for it is by the combined action between the water and fire that the island can materialize itself, whose persistence in the superficial and aerial region and whose resistance, however, depends on the firmness of the bonds that must persist within the game of opposing forces exerted by the Wind, then from Air, and especially by the disruptive action of the sea-unconscious.

The geometric figure which can be associated with fire is the pyramid; Plato argued that the element of fire is marked by pyramids and that of all the solid figures contained the proper signs of fire, being their shape extremely pointed and with a minimum of a base; in addition, it seems certain that if a dead organic body is placed in a particular point inside the pyramid, which has precise proportions, the process of putrefaction freezes, allowing mummification, as if the fire inside of the pyramid could burn its temperaments (moods). In the pyramid there are just two specific principles including gender, i.e. the female, the four, the base, which mark the horizontality, i.e. the earth, the acceptance, complementary to the principle of three, i.e. the male, vertical, penetrating like a mountain. The uneven numbers, in the West and in the East, have always symbolized the male, while the even numbers recall the female: if we look at the Christian-Catholic dogma, the Trinity has male characteristics, apart from some rare interpretations, and just with the accession of the Virgin, sanctioned in 1950, and the subsequent formation of the Quaternary, the Trinity also includes a female component.

The Heart, thanks to the combined action of Water, Fire and Air, which was previously localized in the chthonic regions of Dream, erupts at the superficial region of awareness, changing its status from a magmatic, undifferentiated condition, to the solidity of the consistency of the lava emerged, materializing the island and, psychologically, making clear the conscience.

The emerging volcano-island, then, is the Self manifesting itself and that is opposed to what the psychoanalyst Erich Neumann called “psychic gravitation”, which is the centripetal tendency of the ego to return to the original unconscious psychic dislocation, and it is what happens to the Ferdinandea Island, which, failing to develop and strengthen the bonds necessary for its survival out of the water, is broken up and re-assimilated into the subterranean regions, the analogue of the unconscious.
The fire, along with water, comprises one of the most ancient and universal human symbols. In the cross itself, the horizontal line represents the water, the female principle, namely the surface, the descent and the depth, because the water penetrates by gravity through the rock; the vertical arm, however, is the masculine principle, namely fire, connected to rising, height and concentration. It is in the cross that the maximum energy concentrates, in the intersection of the two arms, that is, the punctum indivisibile (indivisible point), from which everything emanates and to which everything returns. Any attempt of separation or categorization leads us to the Centre, in this indivisible point where opposites, joining, coincide and form the identity. It is from the Centre, too, that the movement originates, symbolized by Man through the cross, with one of the oldest symbols of the graphic Indo-European culture, the swastika, an eastern representation of the solar disk, whose word seems to derive from an ancient Sanskrit formula of blessing, su asti, and this is the core of the mandala, the nature and origin of which cannot be treated in this article.

The volcano and the crater represent the sensitive point, the place of rupture, the portal through which the passage can take place, the communication between the underground, the unconscious, and the emerged regions, the consciousness. The crater, the summit or mouth of volcanoes, is the entrance gate to the kingdom of Hades and it is a place of transformation, of rebirth and enlightenment; to support the symbolism associated with the crater, we can connect to the sacrificial cup, that embodies the symbol of “Center of the World” or “Heart of the World”, in which the immortality elects his home. If we move from the ground up, we find that due to the peculiarities that Mercury has over other gods, he is the only god that is allowed to carry the souls in the opposite direction, taking them to Hades.

If we want to remain in the theme of Heaven, instead, an important astronomical discovery happened at Plato’s time. The planets – the Greek word meaning “wandering star” – had always been considered the celestial bodies that, unlike the others, wandered aimlessly. But a member of the Platonic Academy, Philip from Opunte, observed that the planets moved around the Earth with regular revolutions. Law and order ruled in the sky. An unprovable hypothesis was formulated, which nevertheless seemed convincing: the stars were animated and traveling along regular orbits by the will and judgment just because they were “visible gods“. In Timaeus, and likewise in the Phaedrus, Plato put his theory of the soul in relation with the stars: the soul comes from the heaven of the fixed stars, from the sphere of eternal things; from there it falls into that of changing things, until it comes to Earth, enters a body, from which it is delivered after death, in order to ascend again to the immortal stars.

In this short passage begins to emerge this “need” of man, already testified inter alia by Heraclitus (“the way up and the way down are one and the same“), to find a continuity, a junction between the underground, the Earth and Heaven. Many peoples, including Persians, believed that the sky was made of stone and they used the same term for the concepts of “heaven” and “stone”: Asman. There is a Greek word, akmon, which has the same origin and means both “heaven” as “anvil stone”. The fragments of the meteor falling to Earth led the first men to believe that the sky was made of stone. That’s why the ancient men imagined the universe as a giant cave and, consequently, the caves in which the followers of Mithra met to perform their rites, for example,, were regarded as reproductions of the cosmos.

At this point, we hypothesize that Journey to the Center of the Earth represents Man’s desire to return to the original and primordial center; in alchemical literature it is defined as “regressus ad uterum” (return to the womb), and the three explorers of Journey to the Center of the Earth will find a sea-utero at the end of their underground journey.

Jung writes: “In the myth of the hero, the purpose of the descent is universally characterized by the fact that in the danger zone (deep water, cave, forest, island, rock etc.) there is the ‘treasure hard to reach’ (jewel, virgin, elixir of life, victory over death etc.). The fear and resistance that every natural man feels when digging too deeply into himself, are ultimately the fear of the journey to Hades. If we try just resistance, the thing would not be so serious. In reality, however, from that psychic background, so just from that dark space, unknown, exudes an attraction, a fascination, which threatens to become even more overwhelming the deeper one penetrates in it“.

The vas (vase in English, vaso in Italian), the antrum formed by the crater from which you can access to Chthon, however, is also a cave; the cave, like all the archetypal objects, is naturally ambivalent: it is a place of change, and the change takes place as withdrawn, precluded at the uninitiated and protected from external light. It is a place of burial, which marks the end of life, but it is also a place of initiation and birth (in a cave or a grotto were born Jesus, Zeus and Mithra, and we can also remember the adventure of Jonah).

Now let’s try to do a little exercise chart: the overlap between the graphic representation of the cave and the mountain is the shaped of the symbol called the “Seal of Solomon”, whose figure, full of several symbolic references, condenses the meaning of the macrocosm: the triangle with the point at the top, which is a symbol for Aria and Fire, is the male principle; the one with the tip down, a symbol for Water and Earth, is the female principle. The hexagram thus formed and circumscribed form the Divine Principle, the androgynous being, the perfect balance. We find a drift into this principle in botany, where there exists a plant, the convallaria polygonatum, called “Seal of Solomon”, whose roots are used in white magic, placed at the four corners to protect the house from any evil influence.

Beyond the direct will of the grapple in the discovery of the unconscious, we believe that it is necessary to accommodate this sort of “gravitational captivation”, living it as an opportunity, rather than to suffer it: the opportunity to discover and re-acquaint oneself, making use of the image that not by chance we can associate with the concept of “idea”, inasmuch as “idea” and “image” have the same etymological origin, eidos and Eideo, which in Greek means “to see“. Hence also the Latin word “video” and the Greek word eidolon, idol, which means “image” too.

The most frequently proposed or celebrated appearance of what is defined as “postmodern condition” is its reliance upon the superficial image. In contemporary culture, we are surrounded by a fast flow of images that pile up in a succession of news, advertising and TV series in which it is no longer clear whether that image belongs to the so-called “reality” or not, in a semantic and iconic confusion that requires proper space-time placing, a translation and interpretation, until the short-circuit occurs, i.e. the paradox in which, according to research, it is discovered that approximately up to 11 years of age, most children are not fully aware that the images and verbal messages of advertising are constructed to lead us to the purchase of products.

Arguing about the image, we use the example of the photographic image: it predominates in the determination of the reality, especially for the urban contemporary psyche. This is so true that those images that start as a representation of reality, become representations without any “reality” behind them. According to French philosopher and sociologist Jean Baudrillard, the image, in the postmodern conception, can be summarized in four types:

 

1.The image is the reflection of a deeper reality

2.The image disguises and perverts a deeper reality

3.The image disguises the absence of a deeper reality

4.The image has no relationship with reality: it is a mere simulacrum, intending for simulacrum an appearance, an image that, contrary to the icon, does not refer to any reality lying under.

 

Here, then, what is the challenge and the opportunity that we believe may be contained in a search path toward the center, toward the Self: the chance to “take a look” beyond the superficial appearance, which is likely not to forward to a non-lying-under reality and confining ourselves to the illusion that “it’s all here,” opening, to those who want, a series of questions, one of which could be the following: “is that world, the unconscious world of each of us existing prior of our discovery, an a priori, or is it embodied just as a result of our investigation, which we call psychoanalysis”?

Life, existence, is much more than a series of behavioral patterns more or less tested – by others – to inspire us and on whose footprints we repeat something already done said, seen and thought. The uniqueness of our Being, however, is attested continuously by our unconscious through a lapsus, with premonitions, forgetfulness, or with dreams that every time, at every age, in every culture, never cease to frighten , inspire, amaze with their absolutely and absurd originality.

Why, then, this sense of horror that emerges in the stories of mermaids or in dreams of mermaids, which is never a pure horror but is almost always flavored, accompanied by a component that is unspeakably attractive? Why this discomfort? My interpretation is that their physical proximity to Man, as well as their mental one, leads these dis-human beings – but not too much – to makes us feel a certain commonality, an affinity that, in many dreams, result in a much greater terror than, say, a meeting with a monster-monster. The meeting with the Mermaid, but also with the Centaur, the Chimeras, forces us to accept our submerged parts, not human or not yet human, revealing how fragile may be the distance separating from reason, the logic, full consciousness and our Shadows, our instincts, our being animal.

Concluding, I would like to remark that the point of view inherent in this short article should be interpreted as an opportunity for trying to change perspective, to change the lenses with which we look at the world we live in, for becoming “world” ourselves too, daring, if it is the case, even to make choices that are less conservative and yet more sacred, both for us and for the universe. There is a Japanese short story about a farmer who, alone, cultivated his field on the hill above the village in which he lived; suddenly, watching the sea on the horizon, he saw that a huge tsunami wave was fast approaching the village. The farmer was shocked by what was going to happen; without wasting time, he did something seemingly absurd and seemingly antisocial: he set fire to all the fields close to his. The other farmers rushed to the village to save their harvest, but precisely at that moment they understand that, by means of an apparently criminal gesture, the farmer had saved their lives.

We believe that this very short story contains part of the meaning of the “journey” toward the center of our self, that is, if this journey is done with awareness, it is an opportunity to try to see things, life, our existence in a seemingly circular path, just as the three travelers of Jules Verne’s Journey to the center of the Earth do. As admirably summed up in an alchemical aphorism: “for those who are not on the path of knowledge, a tree is just a tree; for those who are on the path, a tree ceases to be a tree;, for those who have attained knowledge, a tree again becomes a tree“.

Winning the War of the World

Not even prophets like Chris Hedges decode it. Journalists are trained not to. Not even moral philosophers question the system worship masked as ‘the free market”. Freedom means no accountability to human and world life, while competition means competing to externalize all costs onto the lives of citizens and environments. The value driver behind it all is no more questioned than the Almighty. It can do no wrong. But one underlying lock-step of false equations propels this unnamed war on the world through its mutations and metastases:

Rationality = Self-Maximizing Choice

= Always More Money-Value for the Self is Good

= Self-Multiplying Sequences of Ever More Money to the Top as the Ruling Growth System

= All Else is Disposable Means to this Multiplying Pathogenic Growth

 

My 15-year study, The Cancer Stage of Capitalism: From Crisis to Cure diagnoses this ruling value mechanism as cancerous. It is, in short, a deregulated self-multiplication of transnational money sequences accountable to nothing but their own multiplication with no committed life functions. With the Hayek-Reagan-Thatcher crusade to reverse the history of the world into a moronic ‘free market’ and ‘conservative values’, the march was on. Marxists would not engage this Great Reversal on moral grounds because morality was believed to be only ruling class ideology. This left no value ground to stand on. From the transnational victory of corporate world rule from 1991 on, reversals of social states were portrayed as ‘market miracles’ whatever the results for people’s lives. ‘The magic of the market’ was the new world religion, ‘the end of history’. The mass media were  consolidated into one collective corporate organ across cities and borders. Death squads erased community opposition in the South. The academy was and is still defunded to serve the global corporate market and commodity development.

The nations of the world are all ‘restructured’  to be subordinate functions to the supreme moral goal of transforming humanity and the world into ever more private commodities and profits. Society itself s does not exist to this ruling value mechanism. Its logic of growth is totalitarian and malignant to the marrow. More precisely, deregulated global corporate money sequences abolish by treaties and wars all barriers whatever to their free multiplying growth through all that exists whatever the destruction of natural and social life support systems. My work has been to decode this globally life-invading value system. Predictably the diagnosis is taboo to mention in the press, however confirmed by the facts and predictions. No social disorder allows its ruling program to be publicly unmasked. Thus the malignant value code marches on. Alarm bells at the degenerate symptoms increase, but policies of solution only extend the system further and deeper. Life-value economics is as unspeakable as the fatal disorder itself.

 

The Essential First Step in Winning the War of the World is Comprehension of It

The essential first step in winning the war of the world is comprehension of it. Only system analysis can lay bare the underlying value program, but it is avoided. The sciences do not study values and specialize in domains of self-referential meaning. Journalists report facts, spectacles and impressions, but not the underlying values governing them. Philosophers seldom analyse the ruling value system of the societies within they live from social habit and fear. In the age of instant culture, value-system comprehension does not sell. Together these blocks of normalized avoidance make the value code selecting for all the degenerate trends invisible to us. As in immune system failure, the life host fails to recognise the disorder devouring it.

Lacking any unifying framework of comprehension, people are lost. Thus when millions rise in the Occupy Wall Street movement, there is no diagnosis or policy demand. Although Wall Street had indisputably defrauded masses and had failed to its knees broke, no policy shift arose – not even public control of the public money infusing the system cancer, $16 trillion dollars by Senate  count in the U.S. alone – thanks to the heroic Bernie Sanders. Nor was there movement for a needed public mortgage system – even after the private system had perpetrated the biggest fraud in history, indebted tens of millions into ruin and collapsed the economies of the West in irreversible debt. The lost alternative of public banking on which the U.S. revolution was founded, Lincoln won the war of Union, North Dakota has had 100 years of debt-free prosperity, the West itself managed the 1939-45 war and post-war years to unprecedented full employment, and first Japan and now China wins in productive investment – all is  amnesiac in the West.

Fast forward to today, and the underlying system cancer advances on. The financial giants causing the 2008 Crash are bigger and richer in criminal impunity. They speculate with publicly supplied trillions on food and water futures. They control even Rio + 20 as the life-ground catastrophe they finance explodes on one front after another. Transfused with endlessly with more public money to bleed and indebt the world dry, the money-printing system metastasizes further – now occupying the once prosperous social democracies of the European Union with public money bled out of peoples’ lives and life bases to private banks with no limit . Refusing any regulatory limits, converting pensions into more stockmarket feeding troughs, investing nothing as youth unemployment and debt spike ever higher – where does it all end? It ends when public money and human rights stop being fed to the failed system. It ends when commodity cycles of destructive waste are stopped. It ends at the base of the disorder when the 97%-counterfeiting of debt and credit by private financial institutions is publicly controlled.

 

Economic Doctrine Allows Money-Cancer System Free Reign

Neo-economic theory is a pseudo-science. Its defining postulates are unfalsifiable by facts. All organic, social and ecological life requirements are absurdly assumed away. Infinite demand on finite resources is presupposed as sustainable. Mechanical reversibility of everything is taken for granted. Whatever does not fit the doctrine is rejected. Endlessly self-maximizing atomic selves are believed to necessitate the best of all possible worlds by the market’s invisible hand.  

Is this not a fanatic religion? Supra-human laws dictate commands across peoples. No deadly consequences lower certitude in the miracles of the market God. Even when the ruling value mechanism visibly depredates the very life bases of the world, the only reforms are to globalize it further. Corporate-lawyer treaties coined in secret rule as the new laws of nations, while hostile zones are subjected to covert forces sponsoring civil wars, as promised in 2001 – Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Syria Iraq, and now the Ukraine as I write.  All is believed in and pursued as a world crusade, even if fascists lead it. One supreme goal governs underneath bizarre beliefs –  multiplying growth of transnational money-sequences at ever higher velocities and volumes with no life limits tolerated. This is the moral DNA of the ruling value mechanism. In theory, it is expressed well by University of Chicago professor and godfather of the U.S. National Security Council, Leo Strauss, who wrote in his canonical Natural Right and History (p. 60): “limitless capital accumulation” is “a moral duty and perhaps the highest moral duty”.  On the ground, Strauss’s patron, David Rockefeller, expressed the moral-political program more concretely at the turning point in 1991, “A supranational sovereignty of an intellectual elite and bankers is surely preferable to the national auto-determination practiced in past centuries”.  The promises are kept. There is no binding regulation to protect any life carrying capacity on earth from the loot-and-pollute bank money system in the years since.

Many blame capitalism, but unlike classical capitalism this mechanism is not driven by productive force development. It is driven by transnational money-sequence multiplication with no productive standard which despoils more means of life than it produces. It eliminates the working class itself. The ruling idea that the system is peerlessly productive is increasingly contradicted by far more life goods disappearing than are created. Something much more sinister is afoot.  The social and natural life bases by which the human species evolves are reversed and overrun. Yet not even the opposition defines what ultimately counts – humanity’s universal life necessities themselves. The meaning of ‘the economy’ itself – to produce and distribute life goods otherwise in short supply through generational time – is lost. While the very air humanity breathes is going more toxic and acidic, the contradiction to ‘productive growth’ is unseen. As the waters of the world are simultaneously destroyed, the dots are not joined. Even as there are mass extinctions of species, youth without futures, and irreversible debt servitude of the world, all is well if ‘more growth is returning to the system’ which causes all of them. That at the same time the earth’s very soil cover taking tens of millions of years to evolve is simultaneously mined, acidified, salinated, degraded and exhausted as forest and mineral covers are stripped from one continent to the other are not connected into common meaning. The ruling value mechanism devours the life substance of humanity and the earth, but remains assumed as ever ‘more productive’ even by angry unions. 

Well at least, someone might reply, climate warming has been recognized by a blue-ribbon economic panel, Britain’s Stern Review, as “the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen”. This is a step towards rational observation. But even with a UN panel of over-1600 scientists on the case, there is no connection to the other basic life carrying capacities driven towards collapse by the same organizing value mechanism. No secret is more unspoken. So more rights to pollute and profit are instituted, and the climates and hydrological cycles spiral to more deadly extremes. “The world’s poor suffer first and most”, Lord Stern also rightly observes, but this fits the reigning value mechanism. Those without money do not exist.

 

Unmasking the Ruling Code of Value Driving the War on Life  

Let us summarize. Behind every step of the Great Reversal lie failures of knowledge and value understanding: (1) failure to diagnose the regulating value mechanism at work; (2) failure to connect across the domains of life despoliation as predictable from the system’s blind money-sequence multiplication; (3) failure to define or demand any public policies against its feeding on life support systems with public treasure; (4) failure to recognise any life-value principle or the life ground of the economy itself.

This knowledge black-out is understandable once one recognises that the vaunted “knowledge economy” has no criterion from the start. All it means is what can be controlled, sold or manipulated to grow the ruling value mechanism. Pause on that general fact. This is why true knowledge is now so often denied or attacked as “uncompetitive’.  Look for exceptions to this spread of the ruling money-value mechanism into the very capacities of human understanding.  Diagnosis of this disorder is the knowledge most needed, but unspeakable. Who even now recognises that ‘new efficiencies’, ‘reforms’ and ‘cost cutting’ are always attacks on people’s lives, means of life and life functions?  Who connects across the one-way falls of life standards and regulations, public science and testing, agrarian communities and lands, workers’ rights and unions, social infrastructures and protections, and social life security while money demand multiplies out of control at the top? Who names the innermost ruling code driving all – whatever protects or enable human and ecological life is eliminated as a barrier to private money-sequence multiplication. This is the source code of the cancer system. It explains why transnational corporate, equity and bank profits grow to ever new records as the world’s majorities are dispossessed. It explains why social and natural life-carrying capacities are despoiled across continents.  The war on life is built in.

The ideals of “freedom”, “democracy”, and “economic growth” are thus reversed in the name of them. The big lies become so automatic that few notice them– for example as I write, food-stamp slashes reducing 47 million hungry U.S. people below $1.40 a meal and $90 less a month for life necessities “protects the most vulnerable Americans” (President Obama, Jan. 29, 2014). There is a recourse against lies which is as old as the species. Humanity’s deciding evolutionary advantage is that knowledge wins in the end. Above all knowledge evolves through recognition of how life is enabled or disabled by material conditions and social rules. For example, the binding abolition of the most profitable commodity of world trade ever, human slaves, won. Knowledge won again from the 1929 Crash and subsequent World War when the collective life security of peoples evolved by known facts and social policies more in 30 years than in the prior twenty-five centuries.  

The missing link for this long life-and-death struggle is the life value code. We do not know it because we are without a reference body in a vast ocean of self-maximizing money-sequences for which the goods are only what sell for private profit. A life-ground and compass almost emerged after 1945 when peoples recognised how ruling delusions of self-maximizing fanaticism almost destroyed civilisation. Learning from the greatest war and depression in history, societies forged binding international covenants for collective life security and free human development. Universal education, health, and income security infrastructures were publicly formed across societies. But no unifying life-value code underlying them was found. In absence of any sound life base of understanding to re-ground in, the Great Reversal from 1980 on has gone from one extreme of life-blindness to the next with endless lies of better days to come – even as there is ever more joblessness, meaningless employment, deprivation of more majorities, commodity diseases across the globe, debt servitude chaining the futures of peoples, and deepening ecodidal trends advancing one way with the system’s growth. Locked into the ruling frame of thinking, people blame humanity for the catastrophe unfolding even as the demands of the ruling value mechanism have been imposed every step by a secretly negotiated and adjudicated transnational corporate system backed by global armed force, financial sabotage and embargo, and limitless lies. From secret codification by corporate lawyers of treaties overriding constitutions to free looting of human and natural life-carrying capacities across borders, ever more money-sequence ‘investor’ rights are prescribed and multiplied across nations. Those who resist are ‘against competition’ or ‘terrorists’. Reverse projection rules.

An absurd metaphysic is assumed throughout. The economy’s provision of goods through time mutates to ‘laws of supply and demand’ that are fatuous caricatures of both. Demand is never people’s needs or necessity. It is private money demand minted by private banks without the legal tender to back it to indebt people and gamble on their future means of life. ‘Supply’ is not the life means people require to survive and flourish. It is ever more priced commodities for profit promoting more human and ecological ill-being across continents. The supreme moral value of the system is then equated to its opposite as well. Freedom = freedom for private money demand only = in proportion to the amount controlled = ever less freedom for those with less of it = no right to life for those without it.  

When mass uprooting, joblessness and misery follow, more reverse meaning is proclaimed. “Uplifted out of poverty” headlines proliferate over a money-gain equal to the cost of a coffee for subsistence farmers who have been forced into city slums without any means of natural and communal life support left. Peoples are too distracted by competitions for vast prizes to notice. The global struggle for life is displaced by ever more contest spectacles as global mass-marketing sites – the meaning now of ‘sport’.  But behind the perpetually revolving mirrors, the meaning is taboo. People may see “greed of the rich”, but not that greed is the global system’s r driver at every level. “More productivity”   is liked across classes, but who sees that it only means less cost per unit of profitable commodities bringing more life waste and destruction. Workers and left thinkers may no more want to see this than the corporate press.

The meaning of ‘the free market’ itself is reversed. Over centuries it has meant the opposite of the global corporate system – public places of local life goods, all exchanged for legal tender, featuring real foods and crafts, no mass conditioning ads, no debt servitude, no dominance of transnational money-sequences, no throwaway packages and waste, no lobbies controlling government, no invisible head offices pulling puppet strings, and no bribery controlling supply and demand. Yet the free market like the real economy is overwhelmed. There are only more absentee money sequences with no required life functions or accountability to the communities and life conditions they competitively bleed. The enemy is undefined. The common life capital it attacks is unknown. But the life and death choice cannot be made without knowing both.  

 

The Life-Value Turn as the Next Stage of Civilisation

Reality hides in the language of the past. So ‘capitalism’ is blamed by critics when real capital is, in fact, destroyed every step. Journals report ‘global wealth has soared 68% in 10 years’. But life wealth is devoured as fast as the money-sequence system can grow.  Always the underlying life ground  is lost beneath the competitive self-multiplication of money demand invading all that exists. With no life value anchor and compass, the degenerate trends only deepen beneath reference body to recognise them. I have spent most of my life as a professional philosopher on the problem of life value and social value systems. Although the sane may agree life value is what ultimately matters, nothing has been less understood.  People called ‘pro-life’ usurp the woman’s body in the name of fundamentalist religions. Nations absurdly assume that ‘standard of living’ is measured by the private money spent. Animal rights theory has no criterion to tell the life value of a snail from a person. ‘Life sciences’ sacrifice billions of animal lives a year for private money-value gain. ‘New and better technology’ has no life-value standard to decide better from worse.  

Life value is the missing base. But there are as many proxies for life value as there are values. Specialist domains like physiotherapy and medicine recognise life-value in organic functions, but without principled meaning to apply to wider life systems. In general, life value ignorance defines the age. This is how the greatest of all fatal confusions has mutated: that money-sequence growth = life value growth. Just as the multiplying grotesque cells eating the life-host alive are not recognised on the micro level, so too on the social level. Thus tidal bank notes of bets, credit and debt without legal tender drive ‘financialization’ across the planet. They must loot life and life bases to keep growing without inflation as trillions of new dollars are printed without life function. Endless slashing of life goods in wages, benefits, social security, pensions and environmental protections result, as money-demand powers multiply at the top. This is why endless bonuses for financial failure, stripping of the middle classes and the poor, squandering of public wealth on rich corporations – the list can go on – are demanded as U.S.-led wars for resources, lands and corporate markets never stop and taxes on the rich are reversed. All is predictable once the cancer system is diagnosed.  

 

An ultimate question arises. What is the ground of response to this ruling value mechanism which cumulatively plunders human and other life to feed itself?  We know the ultimate ground is life value. But what is life value? To roll thirty years of research now in three UNESCO volumes – the objective standard and measure can be defined in three steps:   

 

(1)           all value whatever is life value,

(2)           good versus bad  equals the extent to which  life is more coherently enabled versus disabled,

(3)           by greater/lesser ranges or capacities of thought, felt being and action through time.

 

Visions of world peace, the classless flourishing of peoples, a planetary ecology in which humanity is its conscious understanding – all such ideals express this underlying life code of value.  But “who decides?” skeptics ask. No-one decides because gains and losses in life capacity are as objective as the laws of biology and medicine. Anything is better or worse by the greater or lesser range of life capacities it enables. This value code is built into evolution itself. It is no more a matter of opinion than people’s life necessities are: that without which life capacities are always reduced. The ruling value mechanism is the polar opposite. It attacks life and life conditions everywhere as ‘externalities’ to its self-multiplying growth. Because this growth is assumed to be life value, however, the greatest value reversal in history goes unseen.

 

The three-step life code of value provides the generic value compass and base which has been missing. It is objective because it is true independent of anyone’s perception of it. It has unlimited validity because there is no exception to it (which is testable by searching for one). It is presupposed in value judgements – as you can observe when these judgements are defended. Life value is also universalizable because all values derive their worth from it. Finally life value is sovereign because it trumps any other value in cases of conflict. All are testable generalizations.

 

But what of measure of more or less life value? Life value is measurable in degrees by greater/lesser capacities of thought, felt being and action shown through time – for example, how much life capacities gain or lose by nourishing versus junk foods. Today the macro trends are in one-way loss of life capacities. Knowledge is the exception. It forms the way stations of life understanding passed onto others and subsequent generations across epochs, the distinguishing life capacity of our species. But even knowledge is threatened by corporate rights against its dissemination at the same time as there is mass propagation of public lies. New electronic communication capacities without corporate control still win the war by the greatest civil community development in history. But the life-and-death fields of invasion by the ruling money-value mechanism are not decoded – the money tides of hit-and-run buying and selling of lands and currencies across the world, free and growing use of ecocidal extraction methods, life-starving hours, wages and no benefits in global dispossession of workers’ century-long gains, one way global growths of disease commodities and lethal arms trading, oil-guzzling and air-polluting noise vehicles of multiplying kinds, big oil and big pharma looting of public lands and health dollars growing business on ill effects, a world-wide pension raid for corporate-stock gains at the life cost of hundreds of millions of people, and most invisibly, full-spectrum assault on humanity’s thinking and feeling sides of living itself – the zombie effect.  

 

Where we might ask do the transnational money-sequences not destructively invade the evolved fields of life of humanity and fellow species? The movement is by exponentially multiplying money-sequences eating away at the margins of every private transaction, public funding, life exchange and substance within and across borders. Consider all the bites every moment across business and exchange sites – before and beyond the ‘carrying trade’ in exploiting lower interest in one country to flood another with the cheaper money advantage, beyond the trillions in derivatives betting every day, beyond the raids on sovereign currencies and bonds without tax or regulation. On the local level, hardly a shop, a buyer, a builder, a home-dweller, anybody who lives today is not invaded by the same financial mechanism with ever more rights to demand at every exchange site with no function while enforcement is paid by the public being stripped by it. The apparently free credit-card system, for example, imposes a 2% charge to the seller for sales at a hidden 33% annual debt-charge rate, before the debt predation of poorer consumers begins. There is no end to the invisible lines of life devouring demands now deeply into higher learning and public health themselves while destroying workforces and companies overnight by hostile takeovers, bid-up mergers, asset strippings, capital flights, and straight-on funding of civil wars and destabilizations from which fire prices and dominant positions are extracted. Ruining societies is the medium of metastases. How else would a cancer system behave? 

 

The world-choosing choice begins with what you buy. Clearly for example eating, selling or supplying junk foods is objectively bad to the measure that it disables human life and produces global epidemics of obesity, heart failure, cancer and diabetes. Yet even economic ‘science’ calls them all ‘goods’ whatever the rising disease effects. Simultaneously violence entertainments flood public airwaves and play-spaces before the same consumers – most avidly the young – with images of humanity being killed, tortured, injured and humiliated. As the sugar-salt-lard concoctions are ladled into bloodstreams and throwaways clog the earth`s circulatory channels at the same time, we begin to see the multiplying destructive occupation of the fields of life and life substance as built into these runaways growths and their ‘goods’. Life capacities at every level are attacked as ‘market freedom’. Only life-value ground and measure can penetrate the disease mechanism none define – to addictively disable human life capacities for more transnational money-sequences through ever more lives from infancy onwards.  Where is there exception to the pattern?  Life-activity-replacing motors and commercial games in multiplying life occupation, endless unneeded and non-recycled conveniences locking into habits of life, political-junkie election images and spectacles where the truth is what sells corporate lines and candidates, and commercial internet and television hooks everywhere in front of which children spend 11 waking hours. Which of any of these is not geared to addict consumers to compulsive consumption against life capacity development? Which does not input toxic wastes into the circulatory flows of ecosystems at the same time? But all is optimal for the ruling economic model for which life and society are reduced to atomic desiring machines propelling more money demand to money controllers as the nature of the growth the official world calls for..  

 

The moving line of the true war of liberation begins with what we are able to control, our own lives. Consider your own life, what you know best.  Every value you enjoy, lose or gain has a bottom line – its life capital, what enables life to reproduce and grow rather than degrade and stagnate through time. We defend it and our health by buying life goods and nothing else. The turning point is as old as physical and cultural evolution. Every human advance is by knowing what enables life from what does not. Collective life advance is transmitting this life-and-death knowledge across selves, space-time and generations. The life value code holds across cultures. But the universal life goods and necessities are not even known. Their meaning is obscured everywhere, but are exactly definable. Life goods are always that without which life capacities decline and die. All real needs are known by this criterion. Every human life suffers and degenerates towards disease and death without breathable and unpolluted air, clean water and waste cycles, nourishing food and drink, protective living space, supportive love, healthcare when needed, a life-coherent environment, symbolic interaction, and meaningful work to perform. All are measurable in sufficiency across cases. (author note: a systematic explanation is available by google of “Universal Human Life Necessities”). Yet all universal human life needs and capacities are attacked, polluted or perverted by the ruling value mechanism in product, process and lobby demand across the world. Yet where are the universal life needs named and  connected against the malignant growth system spreading through ever more nodes?

 

Not zero growth, but zero bad growth is the way. A real economy by definition regulates for these universal life necessities and against toxic junk, and individuals would not buy 99% of corporate commodities if they did. Victory or loss in the war of the world lies in how we live.. So why does anyone buy such commodities? System addiction is how it grows, and knowledge of life goods versus bads is the through-line of the good life and human evolution itself. What deeper motivation could there be? I like others have long lived without corporate-ad television, regular private auto or gas-vehicle use, any junk food or beverage, any throwaway  item, any new fashion or commodity not more life enabling than the old, or business with big private banks –  selecting solely for life goods at the local level. The organizing principle is the spirit of the Tao-te Ching and the free autonomy of the wise. It is as old as the good life. The life-code formula is clear: minimal market demand to enable life capacities to flourish. This value imperative defines transformation to true economy and liberates life wherever it moves.

 

Collective Life Capital as the Common Value Ground and Measure Across Divisions

We know the war of the world can be won. The plague addiction to corporate cigarettes has been conquered by 30-50% of the developed world’s population. This shows how the life code can select against habituated system harms of the most compulsive kind, and everyone live better the more it is done.  At the personal level, it begins with zero-base accounting with money demand only justified by life-enabling gain. Yet for collective life goods, we do not have a principled ground and measure. Collective life capital does not exist in public or expert meaning. Any common life interest or agency at all is excluded unless it promotes profits. The implications are fatal but unseen. Collective provision of the universal human life necessities that have evolved by long social organization and human evolution are blinkered out of the ruling value mechanism. It sees only mechanical ‘growth’ by commodity sales and profits. Everything that makes a society civilised or liveable is blinkered out – common water and sewage systems for all, free movement pathways and life spaces without cost to use, public libraries with unpriced books and films, non-profit healthcare and disease-prevention by public institution, public income security from disemployment, old age and disability, life-protective laws including sufficient minimum wages and environmental regulations, primary to higher education without multiplying debts, and family housing, food and means of life assistance for children without parental money. Yet all these are defunded or eliminated to pay debt-services to private banks and grow business, with the IMF to the Tea Party leading the charge as ‘new efficiencies’ and ‘savings’.

 

From this built-in erasure of common life ground, the hollowing out of collective life goods  proceeds without any feedback correction. Public wealth is privatized at every level to feed corporate money sequences. Thus fed with endless giant tax and subsidy hand-outs and deregulations to invade further, the demands of the ruling value mechanism multiply further. The collective life base to steer by and regulate does not exist. For example, when Amartya Sen titles his Nobel Laureate monograph “Social Choice”, even he can get no further than atomic aggregates of individual preferences. No collective life goods in themselves are conceivable within the market paradigm. When another progressive economist, Elinor Ostrom, wins the Nobel Prize for Economics years later for her book, Governing the Commons: The Evolution and Institution of Collective Action, she is trapped within the same paradigm. No principle of common life interest or agency beyond mutual self advantage can be conceived. “The commons” and “collective action” are posted on the cover, but no civil commons or agency is seen from universal health care to a public bicycle path. Common life bases can no more compute through the ruling prism than the collective actions required to provide them.  

In fact, the underlying problem is ancient. We have lacked a common life-ground since the genocides of first peoples began. It is a very ancient blind spot which has become increasingly fatal with all-powerful technologies of destruction and the deranged money-value code driving them. The eco-genocidal streak goes deep – from the old-testament tribal god command to exterminate all other peoples in Palestine to, millennia later, the first peoples in the New World saying to their modern invaders: “When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.” Even “life, liberty and freedom” in the US Constitution reduces to the commerce clause and corporate rights by Supreme Court interpretation. Abdication of life responsibility is built into the-system. The Global Market God rules, and the common life interest and its agency do not exist to it.  

How are we to ground beneath this life-blind paradigm whose global mutations threaten evolved life on earth? In the end, the organizing principle crosses the lines of death itself – the life code of value at the collective level. But this common life interest is usurped in its very name. That is why, for example, the young can be killed in masses and arms budgets bankrupt U.S. public sectors  to enrich Big Oil, or people’s homes can be expropriated for private developers as ‘the public interest’ and ‘eminent domain’.  This is the dark side of history, one oppressor rule after another. But the collective life interest is the true bottom line of legitimate governance. The proof is in the conditions of its definition. It must be consistent with the life carrying capacities of all through time. It must be open to life-enabling change. It must go deeper than family, gender, and culture differences. It must include past as well as future generations. It must supersede the ruinous man/nature, economy/environment splits and individual/society duality of interests. It must realize the Three R’s of ecological literacy to be life coherent. It must bridge the past to the present to the future as one process to steer development beyond the holocausts of history. It must embody the economic principles of efficiency, productivity and innovation in life-serving form. It must make all freedom responsible to its life conditions of possibility. It must embed the life bases of all as supreme so it cannot in principle go wrong. 

 

Such a moral code seems impossible. Every demand of the ruling value mechanism is structured against it. Opposing ideologies do not find its common life base. Postmodernism and relativism deny any universal principle of value except the actually ruling one. Political policies are confined to what serves the corporate market system. Issue politics rule fixated on sexual preferences. There is no common life ground recognized or life-value compass to steer by. Collective life capital re-grounds us. It is the life base of the common interest – that without which humanity’s life capacities degrade and die. It is the bridging concept across the ‘the economy-environment’ division as well as cross present and future generations. It is the true meaning of economic necessity and the sole substance of growth and development. In all, collective life capital transcends all divisions by impartial principles that cannot go wrong: (1) a unifying life value regulator enabling all, (2) a generic life-value measure to tell greater from lesser by margins of capacity loss or gain in any case, (3) production of more life value capacity through generational time, (4) cumulative life gain as the organizing goal of the process throughout, (5) the more coherently inclusive in enabling life the better. In this way, the common interest is provided an exact progressive meaning, and collective agency is built into its inner logic of life progression.       

 

Conversely, whatever person, group or system destroys common life capital is objectively evil to the extent of life capacity destruction through time – for example, corporate U.S. oil wars or leisure vehicles destroying natural life. Advancing collective life capital, in contrast, is what “make the world a better place” means. It could be by cures to diseases, more ecological methods, life infrastructure building, advancing knowledge, new ways of seeing, or life-protective laws. All more inclusively enable life without loss and cumulative gain. No real progress is ever made without satisfying this logic of value.  Feeling with across species and tribes, for example, may bind many of us in this room. So too even more so advancing life-coherent knowledge and visual comprehension, as Peter’s films do. The understanding and feeling sides of life keep extending despite death and moral numbing by the ruling value mechanism. Public knowledge via the Internet commons wins against corporate media silencing and propaganda. We see here the underlying struggle across the fields of life. The rising and falling of life capital base and compass can in fact be found in every social policy, decision or movement that goes right or goes wrong. There is no exception. The war of the world is everywhere, and so is our task of life commons awareness and building.

 

This is not hope without substance. The common life interest is already built into our lives over millennia without our knowing it – the ‘civil commons’ of language, collective water sources and sewage, common safety regimes, shared pathways everywhere, community health rules and healing sites, and everyday life-enabling knowledge institutions at every level – all collective life capital formations that keep advancing beneath notice despite and through diseases and wars. Unseen too is that all are more threatened now by the ruling value mechanism than ever before.   The defining general meaning is all social constructs which enable universal access to life goods. This too is no utopian ideal. It is the measure of true development across all cultures before and after our lives – from environmental economy to universal libraries and education to public water and waste cycles to life-serving laws before which all are equal. These are all forms of collective capital in continuous development without loss and cumulative gain but all are attacked bite by bite by the multiplying money-sequence system now out of control.

The collective life capital developments that are needed now are many, but can be crystallized into three system shifts in general:

(1) public banking for credit and investment in individual and collective life capital growth,

(2) ecological quotas for all consumption of non-renewable energies and materials,

(3) citizen income security guaranteed in return for life-enabling hours of public service.

 

Movements of masses to demand them completes knowledge in public action.

 

Under the ruling value mechanism today, in contrast, evolved life on earth is under totalizing attack. 95% of all gains go to 1% with no required life function, while 95% of the world’s life support capacities are pillaged by life-blind money-sequences.. Yet life-value steering is easier than not. Norway for example has led the world in holding onto and advancing its common life capital bases through the system sickness, and emergent Latin America is implicitly building collective life capital deciders from decades of death-squad and foreign money-sequence ruin. Before the Great Reversal, societies everywhere were becoming governed by public policy patterns of similar kinds  – national recovery of control over public owned resources, progressive taxation, public banking and investment, and policy-led elimination of structural depredation of the poor and the environment.  All are methods of collective life capital formation inclusively enabling the lives of individuals across time. “Inclusiveness” is a concept much invoked today, but not with the life capital bases and compass required in the real world.

 

Let us overview the condition we face. Once upon a time in the distant past, capitalist organization under public control mass-produced healthy food, clothing and utensil commodities despite brutally exploitative methods.  There was a long painful taming of it over 200 years, and then the Great Reversal from 1980 on usurped progressive social development at every level possible. Since then, the private transnational money-sequence system has been increasingly deregulated to competitively multiply and override all life carrying capacities as its supreme goal – propelling endless wars, public and public sector debt slavery, mass disemployment and majority dispossession for obscene riches. This is the global cancer system which occupied states subsidize, enforce and grow as fast as they can – stripping the soils and forests, poisoning the waters, disemploying peoples and producing disease-causing junks in ever greater volumes. Re-grounding in common life capital, however, exposes every disorder and directs solution to it – the long missing base and measure of ‘the moral science’. It re-sets evolutionary theory itself in which only selfish gene multiplication counts – the biological correlative of the self-multiplying money mechanism. Self-maximizing game theory dominates both and military doctrine, justice and moral analysis besides. Yet common life capital bases are excluded from all of them as the lost life-ground and reference body of our capsizing planetary condition.  

 

New ‘natural’ and ‘social capital’ categories may seem to assist us here. But they now only repeat the vicious circle. ‘Natural capital’ is what can be exploited for more money. ‘Human capital’ is more future private money-demand for its owner. ‘Social capital’ is lower transaction costs for profit. ‘Physical capital’ follows suit. Life capital remains without a name. Collective life capital does not exist. All must be steered back into conserving and producing life goods rather than destroying them, the ultimate policy imperative of the world. The public authority, policies, subsidies and right to issue sovereign money now lavished upon the life-destructive mutations of private money capital thus end without a shot fired. They are now so dependent on counterfeit money-sequences, treaty edicts, public hand-outs and resources that they cannot go a day without them. The public needs only to reclaim them, not to take a thing. .

 

“Let the Market decide!” all money interests cry. This ruling superstition is more barbaric than any before – essentially, ever more for those with more money to suck the lifeblood of humanity and the earth dry.  Its  ruling delusion is that the best of all possible worlds must follow by the invisible hand. In fact, a deregulated global chaos of private transnational money-sequences exponentially multiply while the world of life capital and goods is cumulatively destroyed. The life capital alternative is self-evident once seen. It grounds in common life capital – life wealth that produces more without loss and new gains for successive generations. Its moral logic is, in fact, the through-line of all human development since language and the cooperative provision of means of life. Unlike the global market of atomically self-maximizing corporations devouring the world for more private profit extraction without end in the delusion that an unseen hand directs all to the best of all possible worlds, collective life capital steers across divisions by an objective and universal life-value base and measure in exact progression which cannot  as life-coherent go wrong. Ecological capital and knowledge capital are its baselines of value compass and coordination across life capital domains, and the unifying principle of all is already implicit in the architecture of modern human thought.

 

All that is lacking is life value, ground and measure. They connect life, the ultimate onto-ethical concept, to capital, the ultimate concept of political economy: and so by transitivity, to law, human rights, sustainability and intergenerational equity. The meaning is clear. Valid law is a collective life capital formation providing the rules to live by that coherently protect and enable life.  Human rights are instituted claims of all to what enables their life capacities to be realised as human. Sustainability is of collective life capital, or it is a fraud. Intergenerational equity is access to collective life capital across generational time without loss, or it is a lie. Throughout we see a missing life base presupposed but not yet conscious or defined. Throughout we see that the ruling money-sequence value mechanism is incompetent to comprehend it. Building without loss and for better life across generations is what is ultimately worthwhile. No-one might deny it, but ignorant usurpation of its meaning is what rules. All universally life-enabling progressions of human evolution and history to now are the result of its implicit understanding. You cannot take a clean breath, meet a child safely, enjoy a drink of water, without their support from the past. The warped streak of epics and histories of power is opposite, but even state mass murderers and Wall Street bankers think that they are improving the world – the primary delusion which received theory rationalizes so that few understand.  

 

The lost life-ground is already implicit in healthy lives. Our organic fitness and powers, our depth and breadth of knowledge acquisition, our abilities to perform productive tasks of needed kinds, and most of all our sustained intent to create more life wealth without loss and cumulative gain are the generic parameters of a life code already built into us as human. More than ever we know the plague is ruling, and “the 1% and the 99%” expresses it. But a real economic law holds beneath opinions and times. Public investment in common life capital capacities is the only allocation that works over time.  We know this from America and Canada before their falls, Germany, Japan, Korea after 1950, and the post-1945 age of social life standards across the world. It has been proven again despite sabotages, coups and financial strangulations in Latin America after 1999. The unseen enemy is borderless money sequences with ever more rights. The missing map is diagnosis of the ruling value cancer. The missing link is the life-capital economy all breathe and move by. The war of the world today is won by knowledge action.   

 

It is the age of forgetting everything,

It is the age of remembering all.

It is the age of competing to death,

It is the age of our coming together.

It is the age of ignorance and falling apart,

It is the age of more knowing more than ever.

It is the age of losing all that lives,

It is the age of finding common life ground.

It is the age of ever more commodity diseases,

It is the age of choosing world life.

It is the age of sleepwalk

to catastrophe,

It is the age of awakening

to shared life meaning.

It is the age when capital destroys the world.

It is the age when life capital wins.

 

 

 

Eight Noble Opinions and the Economic Crisis: Four Literary-philosophical Sketches à la Eduardo Galeano

I.

Until control of the issue of currency and credit is restored to government and recognised as its most conspicuous and sacred responsibility, all talk of the sovereignty of Parliament and of democracy is idle and futile… Once a nation parts with control of its credit, it matters not who makes the nation’s laws… Usury once in control will wreck any nation.

            William Lyon Mackenzie King

Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.

      Albert Einstein

Philosophers are often and rightly accused of dealing too much with the past, pondering endlessly upon origins, reasons and causes, and too little with the future, leaving hardly any room to proposals, solutions, or calls to arms. To prove myself capable of the latter kind of activity, and despite the unavoidably old noble opinions quoted above, I shall keep Minerva’s owl nailed to a perch. Though Pythonesque, this little cruelty should delay any backward-looking blathering of mine, which is to come eventually in the other sketches.

After all, we are facing a dramatic twofold crisis, ecological and economic, which even uninfluential public figures like the current UN Secretary and US President have acknowledged and denounced as deadly. As for the title under which I allow myself to do so, I shall be content with declaring myself a professor of philosophy who has studied value for some time, i.e. what is important and what is not. In this pursuit, which I regard as valuable, I have reached a fairly simple conclusion: that which keeps all of us and our descendants alive and well is very, very important indeed. Those who deny it or claim my claim to be unscientific can do so because they are tacitly doing all that is necessary in order to stay alive and well enough to be able to talk a lot of nonsense.

But let us dwell no further on this simple subject, about which I have written around fifteen complicated essays in the past ten years—I need another nail… Worthy of Epicurus, I can offer a tetrapharmakos to today’s world, confident to be received by no-one in useful time, for that seems to be the fate for all who dare criticise—as I am going to do—large-scale private banking, the profit motive as paramount,  the private ownership of strategic resources, deregulation, and the managerial mind. Some may even call me a “socialist”, as though it were a derogatory and disqualifying term, similar to “criminal”, “pervert” or “rascal”. Probably, given the notoriety of Italians and academics, “old pig” or “bore” would be more fitting insults. Politically, however, I would describe myself as “life-grounded”, not “socialist”. Still, I shall not mind and endure the epitaph with grace, even gratefulness. I shall keep company with Claude Henri de Rouvroy, Comte of Saint-Simon, Albert Einstein, and Bertrand Russell. An aristocrat, a physicist, and a logician…

(1)

First, fundamental medication, upon which all else depends: nations should establish, or in most cases re-establish, good public banks. Why? Well, here is something that should have become obvious to anyone who has eyes to see and a fat wallet. As stated by Russian President Vladimir Putin when speaking last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the economic crisis that we are witnessing today has destroyed, in about one year, approximately twenty-five years of pecuniary wealth, i.e. the sort of wealth that our intrepid yet “virtual” capitalists were aimed to produce in the first place. Private banks and financial institutions, left to their own devices by prolonged tidal waves of worldwide deregulation, brought themselves down and, with them, much of the world’s “real” economy. Do you remember the real economy? If it goes down, down go also the starving children of unemployed sub-Saharan family fathers. Down into the earth they go, whilst shareholders moan for lost profits and fire a few more people to ease their pain.

Clearly, many private banks cannot do their job unaided. As they were busy concocting mathematically byzantine derivatives and variously vehicled securisation packages in the deregulated shadow of global finance, they forgot about honest bookkeeping, sound reserves, mutual trust, and other basic old-fashioned principles of chronically anachronistic banking. They even forgot about that primitive slave invention, morality. Alas! Such is the genius of the invisible hand free from State direction or, as Icelandic philosopher Mikael Karlsson dubs it, “the invisible brain.” This is not meant to be an insult to anyone, unlike “socialist” or “pervert”. The so-called “Free Market” promoted by “deregulators” has no visible brain, insofar as State-centred social and public planning is regularly rejected as anathema. Still, who came to the rescue of self- (and other-) destructive private banks? The State.

Turned into the banks’ pork-barrel, the State has thrown trillions at the banks in order to keep them afloat—in the Land of the Free, in Great Britain, in Benelux. Was it necessary? No, for the State could have simply taken over the banks. Was it desirable? No, for public banks, still run in communist countries such as China and North Dakota, can spur development, employment, and take far fewer risks than private ones.

It must be emphasised that it is not enough for the State to own the banks; these must be run like public banks i.e. banks for the public good. Some morality is required in the process. Prudently restricted by various strings, these public banks can respond more easily to the needs and aims of actual populations, rather than to the whims and fancies of absentee owners or of their volatile servants, that is to say their bonus-benefitting managers.

What am I saying? Have public banks and run them as such. They must spur real development, not inflate bubbles that transfer wealth from the bottom to the top. Will it hurt the shareholders and wealthier customers of private banks? Certainly. They have already enjoyed the State’s helping hand; it may be time to repay the State with gratitude. Doesn’t anyone remember how to do it? Read history books, study the European Payments Union of the 1950s, ask retired Italian or French bank managers, use your imagination. A few rules of thumb may assist those who lack enough imagination:

(a)  Ban financial and currency speculation, at least within and via public banks: the casino belongs to “competitive” gamblers. Yes, people who used to claim that they would succeed or fail like Promethean heroes… Before they all asked for help to the Great Nanny, of course, lost as they were on their er-rand. And please, let the State never again salvage these hypocrites from their own myopic greed. They are now trying to wash their guilty conscience by returning one hundredth of what they have received from the public purse, whilst re-filling their pockets at the State’s expense, with fierce bearish appetite

(b)  Lubricate the real economy, if forward-looking, so as to launch much-needed public works, create long-term employment, and generate steady streams of income within the nation. Public banks can do so, at low interest rates: they must be profitable, but not at all costs

(c)  Monitor inbound and outbound capital flows, so as to direct investments to socially beneficial areas, and counter tax evasion as well as tax avoidance: far too much has been denied in the past to the very public purse that has then saved the incompetent affluent from themselves. And remember that a stable currency and genuine economic sovereignty can only be secured by abandoning the disastrous freedom of capital flows that has flooded the world with crisis upon crisis since the 1980s: tequila, vodka, whiskey or brennivín, ouzo, they all taste the same

(d)  Secure reserves by compelling the capitals of public bodies, pension and social security savings, and the revenues of public banks to be invested in the public banks themselves. The State must be as free as possible from the bondage and the blackmail of its current masters i.e. foreign direct investment and international bondholders

(e)  Pay bank managers State salaries comparable to those of other leading promoters of public wellbeing—surgeons, health-&-safety inspectors, judges—and avoid attracting the covetous, self-indulging, big-jet and big-penthouse penis-length-comparing “best and brightest” who plunged the world into a massive crisis. Communities need not such beastly best and brittle brightness. Forget them and their barbaric macho ethos—made of turrets of money, performance-enhancing bonuses (as though they alone were working), fee-demanding buddies-consultants, and PR companies using invariably words like “aggressively” and “targets”.

Finally, do not underestimate the fact that it is difficult to deal with cronyism by voting new governments into office. Yet it is much more difficult to do the same thing by waiting for anonymous and short-lived shareholders to reform their servants, who are so free from supervision as to jot down any number they like in the books without anyone finding out. As Adam Smith forewarned us some time ago, the corporation is amongst the least competitive and the most corruptible of human institutions, hence amongst the most damaging to the proper functioning of capitalism.

And inflation? Don’t worry. Nobody talks about it—a sudden silence. After all, common people are no longer able to buy anything, not even on credit. If anything, the real problem to come will be deflation. Besides, more than 90% of the money circulating around the globe is the result of financial leverage by private institutions. Still, old-fashioned, knee-jerk reactions may be reoccurring soon: pensions and salaries must not go up, for the poor must repay the money lost by the rich; States must rein in public expenditures, which they have been doing for thirty years, unless there was a war to be fought; public assets must be privatised, so as to further enrich the incompetent and further weaken their only saviour; cheap money must stop (now), lest we tax the wealthy to give some jobs to the restless youth, etc. By the way, how is it that bonuses for bank managers could always go up? It must be the same people who think that only private firms can be valid multipliers…

It is ironic that, after two decades during which we had been told that the State and, for that matter, its independent Central Banks could not issue money for schools, hospitals, public works and social projects, quite mysteriously they started printing so much money. Sure, they now tell us that we need private banks to keep credit flowing, for credit is the life-blood of the economy. Without it, there shall be no green-spanning across the meadows. And yet, enterprises and households worldwide are still struggling to get the credit that they need. In truth, the selectively generous Central Banks’ cheap money benefits financial speculation, which is where the trouble started in the first place. How could ever a heartless economy pump any actual life-blood?

Indeed, in California, the local government is at risk of being terminated by the refusal of private banks to subscribe local public bonds because “unsafe” i.e. the State of California could go bankrupt. “What a cheek!” my mother would say, and she has dealt with banks for most of her life. The banks refusing to purchase these sunny bonds today are the same banks that were saved by public money yesterday, when it was raining. But there is more.

Were even these banks to provide enterprises, households and public authorities with the credit they need, they would not do it for free, for the common good, or for a little interest; they would do it for profit, and for as much of it as they can get. Thus, things would be so arranged and, sadly enough, they are being so arranged, as to have public money given very prodigally to private banks, so that these banks may give it to the public far less prodigally.

What is more, in order to be worthy of the bailed-out banks’ money:

  • Enterprises have been reducing their workforce to be more “competitive”
  • Households have been returning their homes to banks that had sold highly reliable mortgages towards the purchase of… homes
  • The State has been thinning out its already skinny body in order to be attractive to the banks, which the State has just rescued from themselves

After decades of TINA-like reduction of all that is public, public money is being given to glaringly incompetent private banks so that their losses be made public and their profits, which were always private, recover and be still private. In the process, public money is not used to counter dwindling employment, secure houses, and, say, fund hospitals, schools, university research, care for the elderly and the mentally ill, public gardens, public football fields, archaeological preservation programmes, amelioration of penal institutions, better garbage collection, sanitation and, why not, aid to starving children. How many tramps will get trapped in the revolving doors of the wealthy’s tower?

That the State may have money for the bankrupt banks but not for its own social functions, it is something that defies imagination, morality, and even legal obligations. Many of them ratified the International Covenant on Economics, Social and Cultural Rights, didn’t they?

(2)

Second, life-saving medication: if you skip the middle man, operate good public banks, and have money to use for the common good, then launch a vast programme of green public works. More severe and threatening than the economic crisis itself is the ecological crisis. Ask the United Nations about that. The former crisis threatens fat wallets at the top and starving children at the bottom, yet at different degrees of dangerousness. The latter crisis threatens all equally with death. The grim reaper is the great leveller. Since so much private enterprise has caused the ecological crisis in the first place—the smoky days of the Industrial Revolution—and has continued it in the face of scientific alarm calls as old as Britney Spears, then it is advisable that the State be able and willing to step in and, both by regulation and by direct economic action, reverse the tide.

Forget speculative carbon emission quotas and reduce carbon emissions; ban outright or force rapid conversion of the most obvious forms of life-destructive economic activity; tax the remaining polluting activities and de-tax non- or less-polluting ones; have a major public company undertaking proper refitting of houses on a massive scale so as to make them less energy-consuming; create large public recycling facilities so as to counter illegal dumping of waste at large; found and fund new public research centres for the development of green technologies, free from the yoke of short-term corporate desiderata; ration carbon-based power and use it only for vital and life-enhancing activities…

There are so many tokens of environmentally constructive planning, yet so few that have not been resisted as “too costly”, “too rigid”, “too much for us, who have already done so much”, etc. Were only the people uttering such phrases to consider seriously the fact that they can be so garrulous because the environment is still, barely, able to support them, their bodies, their minds, and the natural and social infrastructures that have allowed them to grow, socialise and, limitedly, mature…

In addition to a life-enabling aim and a counter-cyclical alternative to depressing austerity, politics would also regain its dignity by having a green mission. Strangled by powerful yet incompetent lobbies, and fettered by incompetent yet powerful central banks, politics has been reduced for far too long a time to day-to-day management of production costs in the domestic market and salesmanship in the foreign ones.

(3)

Third, important medication: since some neighbours may not like your policies and your currency, then they might respect your resources. States should increase or secure public control of strategic assets: water, oil, gas, the knowledge of its own population—this knowledge having been fostered by public education, healthcare provision, and cultural activities.

Whether by safeguarding the revenues originating in natural resources that would otherwise enrich few and often foreign shareholders, or by reclaiming a knowledge-based industry that would otherwise be outsourced by corporate giants, the State must secure a steady source of income for itself and for the nation’s economy. This income alone should help democratic governments to respond to their constitutional sovereigns, not to rating agencies and “markets” whose lords regularly reside offshore.

As Norway’s long experience in State-run oil extraction and refining illustrates, it is the one and only “trickle-down” strategy that has produced tangible results for an entire nation. States’ assets are not a factor of market distortion, but a factor of production—and one that can help businesses to grow by providing cheap goods and services, as opposed to the endless and costly bloodsucking of postmodern privatised economies. Ideally, it would be good for States to regain control over money-creating central banks, but there are limits even to one’s dreams.

Incidentally, even the many wars paid by the American public purse to secure control over other nations’ oil, or at least force its trade in US dollars, indicate that the public control of strategic assets is not so foolish an idea. And yes, also that getting bombed may be a risk for the nations pursuing the path recommended hereby. Apart from the landowners, cunning agents and financial moguls who have charged prices well over any real cost of production, for all others there is no such thing as a free lunch—Miltons have always known the devil very well.

(4)

Fourth, integrative medication: since some powers-that-are may not be pleased with your plans, make sure you can deal with them. Create a just fiscal and regulatory framework, which empowers the population at large and weakens the usual lobbies: close tax loopholes and tax breaks for the usual lobbies; withdraw passports and freeze assets of tax fugitives; tax rents (land, inheritances, capital gains) and de-tax hard work, so as to reward merit and distinguish sharply between earned and unearned income; end subsidies, legal privileges (e.g. limited liability) and tax-breaks to private companies, lest they never compete in a truly free market; nationalise the companies that are too big to fail, as John Kenneth Galbraith advised us to do long ago; reclaim research and development grants and whichever other public credit given to private firms leaving the country; confiscate the assets of companies outsourcing to countries with lower labour and environmental standards; put regulatory agencies and grassroots associations on the boards of private and public companies to fight corruption; inspect constantly and reward those inspectors who discover illicit activities.

Taxes matter. Especially when there is an ever-richer tiny elite of super-rich whose fortune comes as a long free lunch over accumulated wealth, whether in property or capital. They hardly ever pay taxes. They pay fewer than most, since someone else paid taxes before them: those who actually earned that property or capital in the first place. In truth, they may quite simply avoid taxes by shoring their assets off to tiny islands or Alpine valleys. The members of this tiny elite are above and beyond the common citizen, whilst their trusted and highly paid managers rarely go to jail when guilty of fraud or cheating. Above-and-beyondness is a transferrable asset too. If and when hijacked by this elite, States are likely to commit suicide by taxing those who work instead. And if the people sweating and bleeding don’t have enough money, then State activities are to be reduced in the name of, say, the Big Society–of the hopeless and of their hopeless resilience.

In brief, internalise costs that have been externalised regularly and mercilessly at the expense of natural and societal well-being; and effectively re-regulate the disastrously de-regulated playground of the free enterprise–especially but not exclusively of the virtual type–whose only known freedom is that which cages every possible aspect of reality into the life-blind logic of profit-making.

Will anyone undergo this cure? History will tell. And history is full of surprises. Who would have ever thought, for example, that little furry animals could outlive giant dinosaurs and become the first species ever capable of destroying the ecological structures that allow them to live!

II.

Speculators may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise. But the position is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation.

         John Maynard Keynes

There are two ways of conquering a foreign nation. One is to gain control of its people by force of arms. The other is to gain control of its economy by financial means.

       John Foster Dulles

In the year 2003 I published a review of Value Wars, written by Canada’s leading value theorist John McMurtry. In it I provided an account of the stunning whistle-blowing by World Bank Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz vis-à-vis “deregulation” and “globalisation”, two terms that had been dominating economic and political discourse for some time. Quite unexpectedly, and rather shockingly, a well-connected, mainstream, Nobel-prize-winning economist denounced the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for implementing over a period of at least twenty years a merciless four-step process of re-colonisation of independent nations by international private capital. This was the sort of suspicion that radicals like pop singer Bono Vox and Polish actor Karol Woitila, better known as Pope John Paul II, had been voicing for a long time. As for John McMurtry, he took due notice, since Stiglitz’s revelation was consistent with his own description of world affairs as directed by the profit-motive of the few versus the vital interests of all others. Preferring truth to originality, I endeavoured to spread this description of world affairs around me. In fact, I had given lectures about it, also in Iceland, before 2003.

Nobody seemed to care, however, at least here in the north. Stiglitz’s views were not widely discussed and even less were they taught at the university level, except by a few—sometimes foreign—eccentrics. McMurtry’s views, hadn’t it been for the same eccentrics, would have been left to gather dust in local libraries. Meanwhile, the policies of deregulation and enthusiastic participation in globalisation were not halted. On the contrary, in the year 2003, the three largest public banks were privatised. Immediately, they started to sail the seas of international speculation, never seen before in Icelandic history. “Carry trades” and “financial leverage” became mantras recited on the first page of all newspapers, whilst the businessmen who were dubbed the “new Vikings” set out to raid foreign banks, enterprises, supermarkets, and football clubs, with money that they did not have. But such is late- (or post-) modern capitalism, or “the Icelandic way of doing business”, as I was told back then. Besides, it would appear that only professional economists are entitled to teach about why they, unlike a mere philosopher like McMurtry, got it so wrong. And there’s so much to learn!

What did Stiglitz’s whistle-blowing describe? And how does it apply to the Icelandic case?

First, the permeability of the nation’s borders to private foreign capital is increased by deregulating capital trade and privatising strategic national assets. Barriers, bottlenecks, and “obsolete” protections are removed, whether material or immaterial. Nobody quite remembers why they were there, and even fewer wonder why. Above all else, money must flow. That’s the consensus, at least in the district of Columbia, which is obviously populated by zealous reformers. Their principles are crystal-clear: “public is bad, private is good.” They believe in “The Free Market”, whatever that may be thought to be; and they believe in it so ardently and unflinchingly that Stiglitz and others refer to them as “market fundamentalists.” They even set complicated rules at roundtables to force dissenting markets to be free. Anyhow, this very first step, which may take some time, is achieved by lubricating slow-moving and slow-thinking local politicians, business leaders, present and future ideologues with adequate amounts of grease. Grease, yes, such as co-opting these people into the international jet- and yacht-set, promising or securing that they will have their own golden toilets, washing their brains at spectacular conferences and exclusive think-tank meetings, baptising their best and brightest first-borns in the sacred founts at the sacred shrines, stirring their simmering jingoistic sentiments, or bribing them straightforwardly—indeed Stiglitz talks of this process as “briberization”.

Secondly, money flows into the country. A bubble ensues; in fact, a cyst. Depending on the country’s economic conditions, the cyst can take different forms, but all of them eventually become painful. In the case of a reasonably well-off country, glittering streams of foreign capital inundate the land, turning modest entrepreneurial fields into a glorious harvest of unprecedented projects. Thus refreshed, the local currency and the local shares pupate into surprisingly light-winged and seemingly fertile young fairies, whose well is said to be full of diamonds. Moreover, the nation’s financial institutions become large fountains that can quench the thirst of anyone who is eager to drink from them, including those who do not need it, but have the misfortune to possess a belly. New buildings spring up like mushrooms in the vast new wetlands, luxury and consumer spending—mostly dependent upon credit—fly high like gleaming droplets out of a geyser’s mouth. So mesmerising is this sight, that more permeability is actively sought.

Then, the cyst bursts. As swiftly as it flew in, so does the money flow out. A rumour, a token of gossip, an unfortunate diplomatic incident, a well-paid expert report, or a speculator’s premeditated signal to his colleagues rapidly reverses the tide. The flood ends. A drought follows. Projects—and buildings—remain unfinished, half-mast, like flags at a funeral. The wombs of local currency and local shares reveal themselves sterile; it was all make-up, they now say, even the wings; you should never trust the books. The well in the garden is dry, and full of stones. Moreover, the fountains are dry too. Around them, stunned, jobless, emaciated peons, indebted up to their eyeballs, drown into whirling sand clutching their plasma TV sets. And their TV heroes have not come to save them, be they crusading party leaders or Viking raiders. Who will?

Nobody is without friends, especially after having become part of the international jet- and yacht-set, educating his own children in the best schools, or attending eye-opening conferences and meetings. Not to mention those friends who have already proven so generous in the past. In truth, after having advised on how to render the country prosperous, they now spare no saliva explaining what can be done in order to rescue it from its unfortunate plight. Thus, money is poured back into the nation. High interest rates are, however, de rigueur. One does not give much to drink too easily to a friend who has already drunk too much. What kind of a friend would he be?

The third step is therefore to make up for the mistakes of the past and repay one’s generous friends. Whatever wealth remains must be scrupulously collected so as to honour the debt—or so as to secure further loans. Debt gives salvation from debt, as gamblers understand so well. Certainly, the wealth of the wealthy is better left untouched: they are the producers, the life-givers, blessed fountainheads of the nation’s wellbeing, which needs them so badly under the burning sun of the new sad day. They must be treated kindly, lest they or their wealth be forced to flee by too rapacious and visible a hand—some have already fled, they whisper. The wealth of the poor—or of the poor-to-be—is a better starting point. After all, they may have little, but there are many of them. Besides, since they have little, they cannot flee as easily as the rich, nor can their wealth flee. And whereas the wealthy can go bankrupt and be resurrected cleansed of their debt, like the imperishable Phoenix, ordinary mortals honour their debts, willingly or not. They may protest, but law and order are the last two public sectors whose resources are cut off, unless successful ways are found to privatise them too.

Finally, as the nation struggles in debt and turmoil, groaning so loudly as to disturb its neighbours, the generous friends come back to help. They cannot remain untouched in the face of so much poverty and violence. They have new “plans”, “strategies” and “packages” to sort things out. Yet, to implement them, national borders must be removed completely and an iron framework of conditions for investment and development must be imposed in order for the nation to become a proud participant in fully liberalised, multinational free trade. For example, its tax environment must be suited to foreign investors—may God bless them—and its population as flexible as unthinking reeds in gushing new brooks, to which they contribute sweat and tears.

By the way, where does Iceland stand now? Probably it stands at the threshold of deciding whether to plunge headlong into step three, with signs of the fourth step already lurking behind the waterfalls harnessed for hydropower.

III.

In all normal civilisations the trader existed and must exist. But in all normal civilisations the trader was the exception; certainly he was never the rule; and most certainly he was never the ruler. The predominance which he has gained in the modern world is the cause of all the disasters of the modern world.

  Gilbert Keith Chesterton

The economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable, and we should face up to that.

  Lawrence “Larry” Summers

It has been long known that Europe catches a cold whenever the United States sneezes. Yet things get even worse when the immune system of rules and restrictions to international capital and currency trade has been removed altogether. Iceland and some young, yet already former, free-market miracles on the Baltic Sea did catch pneumonia this time. Ironic indeed, as they are just another group of market miracles turned into meltdowns—Asia had a few of them in the 1990s. Miracles seem short-lived these past few decades… Though if truth be told, even Lazarus died, after having been brought back to life.

Historians of the future, if there shall be any and if they will be honest, are going to wonder and ponder upon how such intelligent and highly educated “knowledge economies”, capable of the finest mathematical-financial wizardry via the fanciest computer technologies, could bestow upon themselves so much avoidable pain, destroying in the process not solely further scores of planetary life support systems, but also man-made social infrastructures that have generated, depending on the country, genuine welfare for up to three or four generations. These future historians will be at pains to conceive of powerful, well-off, democratically elected representatives who listened to foreign bankers, and not to their own citizens, rushing to implement, whenever they could, multilateral agreements on investment robbing their own cabinets of much of their power.

These future historians will probably fail to empathise with and understand such bizarre people, very much like Voltaire, who could not really explain why our forefathers were willing to slaughter one another over the correct interpretation of the Holy Trinity. After all, they had never seen it (or them?) and Jesus himself had never said anything clear, if anything, about it (or them?). Not to mention the centuries that humankind spent warring, raping, disembowelling, burning, maiming, chaining, flogging and excommunicating one another because of errors of interpretation. Obtuseness is incredibly resilient. And we are not so different today. Check the Athenian cradle of our civilisation if you don’t believe it.

Yes, embodied and expressed by the very same conventional people at the helm of the world’s public and private financial affairs, the wisdom arising from the ashes of the current crisis is astoundingly similar to the one that caused the crisis. Are you indebted? Take on another loan. The private banking sector has betrayed you? Restore it with public money and run it as before. The world’s economy is a gilded cage run on behest of under-taxed oligopolists, tax-evading rentiers and idle absentee owners that squeeze money out of the real economy through banking charges, debt repayments, service fees, monopoly and land rents? Keep it going and call it a “free market”. People are suffering, jobless, and with their tax money siphoned to the creditors that inflated the bubble? Show them tough love and deprive them of further healthcare, education, culture, wages, pensions, childcare, subsidised water and power. Austerity measures turn a crisis into a depression? Implement more of the same measures. The environment is running amok in the so-called free-market environment? The market will fix it; in the meantime, profit will keep being extracted from increased prices in oil, gas, polluting consumer goods, and cancer treatments due to the ecological collapse of the planet. Apparently, the only green rules acceptable are those that transfer further money from the public purse into private pockets. All others are resisted as “costly”, “distorting”, “rigidifying”, “liberticidal”, which may be true—and good. The one and only truly binding international environmental regulation that, so far, has saved us from extinction, preventing excessive UV-irradiation, was a top-down imposition from Montreal.

But life, not to mention a happy and healthy life, has never been the paramount goal of the pursuit of profit. War was and still is a major source of profit, towards which public subsidies to private firms are given generously… Well, they call them “research & development” grants or “national security” strategies… Disease-causing pollution has been mostly an externality that had nothing to do with profit, until pharmaceutical conglomerates found a way to exploit that too. Slaves and their children were most profitable for many, many centuries. Wage slaves… Oops! The flexible working poor and their children are very profitable today too.

And for what must all this wisdom be endured? To give money to people who have money. They have enough, one would believe. They should start communicating it to those who have nothing… little… less. Jesus and Aquinas regarded this as obvious. No, it is not obvious. Money is never enough, especially to those who need yet another fancy dress. But why are these people non-satiable? Why do they complain, lobby and shift electoral allegiance whenever taxation on capital gains is vented? Why do they transfer their fiscal residence to tax havens, whilst benefitting from handouts of the State they are deserting? Why do they outsource productive structures to countries squeezing labour out of turnips, if youngsters are not available? Why do they say that “they have already done enough” whenever life-saving regulation is discussed? Why do they care more about the interest rate they can get, than they care about how their money is invested? Why do they oppose healthcare, old-age pensions, education and culture for all, while they enjoy it for themselves?

It is competition, they answer. There isn’t enough around for all of us, only for the really tough ones, who can then live in much-deserved luxury. But why do people compete for having more for themselves, instead of, say, competing for beauty, generosity, selflessness, equal distribution, full employment? There can be so many different and more constructive competitive aims in life: just look around. Nuns, school teachers, barefoot physicians, rocket scientists, marine biologists, old fishermen, young artists… They may not all dislike some cash, but they do not live for it, or at least they try not to. Since Divine Will is out of fashion, and if you press them long enough, the luxury-deserving competitors are going to tell you, eventually, that we are cruel wolves. How naïve was I! I thought that they were cruel wolves… The world is a cruel place—those ferocious nuns… Nobody waits for those left behind—and they don’t. The market forces accept no barrier. As one of their fairest ideologues so frequently stated, there is no alternative; it is human nature. A hidden philosophical anthropology…

And yet, none less than their poorly understood hero Adam Smith taught us long ago something very different in the opening page of his greatest book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments:

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrow of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous and humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.

This is certainly not the one and only betrayal of Smith by current capitalism. After all, his market was meant to be free from rentiers, who now run the show. Anyhow, why so much mercilessness, then? Have we become worse human beings? Have we lost our humanity? Have we found ways to outcruel the cruel, underfed, superstitious peasants, who, when not breaking skulls in the name of God or King or Country, killed and maimed animals on a farm? Well, as modern and proud of our science-technology as we can be… Well, yes… Overall, subtly, we have. The thinning of solidarity that embraces the whole humankind, which a German-sounding French warmonger studied in depth, is a weaker barrier to the undergoing evil drives.

Or, at least, we have done our best to train impressionable young minds to being ordinarily callous and participating in the most spectacularly life-destructive economic system ever seen on Earth—a system that, as denounced by the scientific community for the past thirty years, has turned the survival of our species into a big question mark. Much is done in this direction, routinely, thousands of times a day, so that our youth may become more beastly than ruffians and more abrasive than criminals. But how? Simple. We (mis-)educate them, and we have tools for (mis-)education that no emperor or church of old has ever owned or mastered. Only a couple of totalitarian dictators gave it a go or two in the blood-drenched century of Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen… But how, where? Open your eyes. Watch.

Our TVs and media are replete with commercials. They are meant to accompany you from the cradle to the grave. Selectively and scientifically trained marketing strategists, creative psychologists and advertising gurus are paid to induce desires in the subtlest and most effective manners, starting with our children’s delicate souls. These desires will blossom into poisonous “new needs”, as these “experts” call them. These weed-like flowers being sheer wants perceived as genuine individual needs, the delayed satisfaction of which is to generate a sense of inadequacy, anguish, frustration, isolation, or envy towards those who do satisfy them. And these are the only flowers that must grow; hence they are everywhere. Children no longer need an imagination. Marketing strategists make sure that the only pictures that children can have in their mind are those that sell. They speak already like TVs: why shouldn’t they replicate TVs in their brain? Eventually, as grown-ups, these children will be branded, like slaves of old, or cattle still is today. Perhaps, like the slaves of old, they will enjoy freedom one day a year. Or maybe all the days will have been taken away by marketing strategists, who wish to celebrate the sales of Valentine’s Day, Mother’s day, Father’s Day, Marketing Strategist’s Day…

You don’t believe me? Go to any primary school and you will meet hordes of little creatures dressed according to the latest fashion code, or pestering their parents to be so dressed. Those who are not there, because they are busy sewing the actual fashion items, may well try to rob them from the horde one day. These little brats! They want and want and want scores of items that they do not need, the possession of which, moreover, does not grant happiness at all, despite the glittering promises. Were it so, no new purchase would be “needed”, and that would be bad for business. Certainly, one may learn to control such a powerful impetus, but it takes years of self-re-training. Not even hunger and utter destitution placate it. Not even the full awareness of not being able to afford those consumer goods. Nothing will ever erase the deep-rooted psychological mechanisms implanted into our souls when we were little. Is this enough? No, there is more to it.

Our TVs and media are replete with role models—and the medium is the message. Rich and wanna-be-rich people of all sorts shine even when performing the most ordinary activities, such as shaving or concealing their stench with perfume. From slutty heiresses to pimping rappers, from cosmetically mummified bad actors to ignorant footballers, from divorce-addict hair-died tycoons to soon-to-be-millionaires answering questions or showing their private parts in public—these are the saints and blessed inspirers of the modern secular creed. They may be confessing their own sins to a TV host, confident that their words will be forgotten. What remains, instead, is the scent of money that perspires through their placenta-creamed pores. A powerful aura.

The same aura surrounding the action hero, who fights, kills and kidnaps for the sake of justice, peace and freedom…  There he comes! Dressed in an Armani suit, he jumps out of a Mercedes, talking briefly on his Nokia. He checks his Rolex, then gets into a Ferrari and drives to Chez Maxim’s. There, he meets a beautiful young lady, whose Valentino dress will soon be ripped at the Hilton’s. And there he’ll kick the guts out of the villain, smashing his Patek Philippe and ruining forever his Dolce & Gabbana jacket… Justice is served. Peace is conquered. Freedom triumphs. That’s the message, isn’t it? And if not much of the beautiful young lady is shown, then children can watch too.

Poor people are less frequently shown. They don’t sell as well as our hero. Moreover, they don’t buy. There exist notable exceptions, though. Poor men and poor women are sometimes on display, like animals at the zoo, to be observed, mocked and, on Christmas day, to feel sorry for. Other times, they are actively humiliated on screen by policemen, judges and other masters of entertainment. Crime, ignorance, savagery: what a show! Once again, as long as it sells, keep it up. There, in the spotlight, for less than fifteen minutes and amidst commercial ads, the poor can shine like greasy piglets on spits, or like the tin their most unfortunate children collect in garbage dumps.

What is the result of this Blendungsroman? Go to any secondary school and you will meet cell-phone-talking walking replicas of the rich, parading themselves in the corridors. Give them an opportunity to put down a “loser”, and they will savour it like their own parents, whose SUVs and triple-mortgaged houses are punches into the Joneses’ stomachs. Even poverty is a risk worth taking to cast the rich’s aura.

The silent walking replicas of the poor are usually in other schools, unless they have dropped out of school already to find a job that will secure their poverty. Some are hiding in the toilets. They are poor and they know it. They look poor. It is not only their clothes that say it, but their bodies. They have bad teeth, small tits, big noses. Their parents have wrinkles. They can’t get fixed, like those people on TV, or their replicas and the replicas’ parents. To cope with this obvious inferiority, they breathe in. In Italy, they sniff cocaine to think that they too are rich. In Rumania, they sniff glue to think that they too are sniffing cocaine.

Either way, none of these kids must worry about being politically active. It is too dangerous. Yes, youngsters still remember how to bark: they haven’t been beaten up into silent submission, yet. Some will have to be locked up, so that trade be free. Don’t give them any wrong ideas. That’s socialism—or any bad “ism” of the day. Don’t give them hope. That’s socialism. Politics is best left to corporate employees, who siphon public money to their shareholders and, God be gracious, to their own bank accounts. That’s the free market. These employees alone are capable of understanding why unemployment is natural and inequality good. They’ve got talent. They’ve got the degrees that get you good jobs. Therefore, unless they are corporate employees, not even the kids’ parents have to worry about politics. Like these happy few, the kids’ parents can take happy pills too or, if pills are too expensive, drink themselves out blind.

Drunk, the poor parents can cope better with the trauma of seeing their children die. Each country has its own special way of sending new winged angels to God. In high-tech market-miracle India, they die of cholera in open-air sewers, where they were looking for edible scraps. In coup-idity-ruled Honduras they die poisoned by pesticides in a free-market plantation, so that the bananas people eat in Canada be not too pricy. In revolutionary France they die stabbed by an angry pusher in a dark alley, but they were not really French after all. In peace-loving America, they die fighting for human rights in another country, since their own country denied them a future. How was it possible? They had trained them at killing people since they were three, on a stolen X-box… Maybe they should have trained them at doing something else, but there is no videogame that teaches you how to free a political party from corporate diktats or join a trade union… Is this enough? No, there is more.

Our TVs and media are replete with experts telling us that greed is good. They are the most interviewed and consulted members of the intelligentsia of our community. Sometimes they even become our presidents, ministers, mayors and godfathers. Go to any university. Some of them feed on tenure and enjoy healthcare and pension benefits, whilst arguing that you shouldn’t have them. You will discover that there is an entire discipline built upon that notion.

If truth be told, a few of its adherents do remind their students, on leap years, that the profit-motive of the homunculus œconomicus is just one drive amongst many. This drive becomes one and insatiable for the sake of toying with mathematical formulae, not for the sake of describing reality, which never works quite like the models do. Facts can be so obstinate. Theory is much more flexible. Occasionally, on elective days, these beautiful souls mention even mysterious, metaphysical, unscientific words: “ethics”, “morality”, “duty”, “respect”, “goodness”, “virtue”, “governance”, “responsibility”… They don’t fully grasp them, though, for they slip out of books and balance sheets. Sometimes they even get their students to learn some history, thus half-stuttering what sort of devastation this homunculus and its leit-motive have caused. Still, these are exceptions, divagations, and the students, between the end of their studies and the beginning of their careers, know it very well.

Our MBAs and the many branches of science and engineering dependent upon private sponsors and future corporate employers are the convent-barracks where our crusading novices, more or less geeky and asocial, are told that only numbers really matter. The fate of a paterfamilias and of his family does not. They are told that persons are not persons: they are costs, opportunities, capital, markets… They are all sorts of things that can be converted into monetary units—numbers, in fact—though most definitively they are not persons. In fact, such things, be they free individuals or free communities, can turn into dependent variables. And if some of these things are laid off by a firm that rationalises an otherwise irrational workplace—what a madness it must have been!—then it may be time to invest money in that firm. If the right numbers go up, then things are just as they should be. If they don’t, they can be massaged. If they still don’t, they can be fixed. If they still refuse to go up, then a couple of hospitals plus half a university, as long as they are public, can be sacrificed to a return to growth.

In the streamlined world there can be recoveries without jobs, business opportunities in famines, increased flexibility via insecurity of employment and future bread, full employment at the natural unemployment rate, goods that do a lot of bad things, and market miracles that melt into destitution because of something bad but the pious market. What lesson is learnt? Everything in the world exists in order to maximise the money of investors and/or their managers. Even old, wrinkly countries must be attractive to such people or face their own demise. Make the rich richer. That is the one and paramount commandment. Such merciless homunculi are no fiction; they are science-fiction: they drive around in Dalek machines. Indeed, to those who do not simply rob and run, being merciless is a fiduciary duty. Apart from this, everything else goes.

Yes, everything else, unless you get caught and cannot pay the best lawyers—what a shame. Business words of the business world tell no lies: lack of scruples is “determination”, mercilessness is “having balls”, inhumanity is “being committed”, callousness is “professionalism”, locust-like behaviour is a “hedging”, stealing traditional knowledge is a “patent”, depriving people of knowledge is a “copyright”, poisoning the destitute is “mutually beneficial trade”, taking public-sector resources to guarantee private profits is “hard work”, threatening employees with unemployment is “personnel management”, gambling is “trading futures” and other cabalistic formulae “over the counter”, oligopolies are “economies of scale” and cartels are “free markets”, sending knowingly drivers to die because of a few faulty cars is a “cost-saving measure”, sending knowingly air passengers to die because of reduced safety controls is a “cost-saving measure”, corruption of inspectors is a “cost-saving measure”, corruption of politicians is “lobbying”, and rent-exacting parasites are “the productive class”. The list goes on and on. Read the news and enjoy the game: destroying peoples is “restructuring”, keeping them poor is “preventing inflation”, colonising a nation is “opening markets”, withdrawing rights is “reform”… By the end of it, you almost believe what they say.

Has any student still doubts or feels uneasy? Then he is told that all is well, for all ends well. Yes, those things that we unscientifically call “people” may seem to be suffering, poor things. And the others, crony criminals who have nothing to do with the free market, are the exception, though the rule just wants to be like them. After all, those exceptional exceptions were on the cover of glossy magazines like Capital, the Cosmopolitan of people who “have balls”… Don’t worry. Everything will be alright. Just wait—that’s what my old priest and the party commissar would say… The invisible hand of the self-regulating market is going to look after all of them. Free from State intervention and from trade unions—for only capitals may associate and go on strike if they don’t like a government—the invisible hand is to generate endless bounty for all—the invisible bounty? Most of the world’s trade is virtual, after all…

Such is orthodoxy today, for which even a Pope’s distribution chests are heresy, utter hilaireous bellocs… If you claim that small is beautiful, the giants get angry: go make your shoes elsewhere! Today, you no longer need to be red to be a danger. It is enough to be as white as a dove. The Market God likes hawks, whose endless preying is the source of all that is good. His transparent hand turns into water all the blood that these hawks spill. As to the tallest shrines, they are no longer erected for the glory of the Sun, Athena or Almighty God, but for the likes of Morgan Stanley. Behind all this, a hidden theology… Maybe Divine Will should be in fashion again.

IV.

The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

   Franklin Delano Roosevelt

 To avoid glaring inequality or widespread misery I am ready to sacrifice some, or all, of my freedom… I should be guilt-stricken, and rightly so, if I were not.

Isaiah Berlin

 

The child empathises with the dying bird. The adult empathises with the starving child. The nurse attempts to ease the pain of the terminal patient. The teacher smiles patiently at the pupils playing in the courtyard. The schoolmaster hides his unease as the ancient oak is felled. The gardener watches wildlife documentaries on the TV. The mayor goes on holyday to his cottage on the lakeside. None of them likes to be ill. All of them fear death. All of them experienced curiosity or elation as they held a newborn creature in their arms. All of them have been compassionate at some point. All religions have praised divinity as the fountainhead of all that is. Whether physically, emotionally or mentally, all of the above have exemplified the ultimate source of all values.

Years of research about value have led me to conclude that nothing is more valuable than that which allows value itself to emerge: life. Without life—biological, emotional and mental—there can be no value, whether ethical, aesthetic, economic or political. Those that deem life’s value instrumental acknowledge its value nevertheless. Besides, none of them seems likely to prefer beauty or other values to eating every day and being in good health: take away their bread, and they will sell their dearest painting… Of all crazy philosophers ever alive, only a handful rejected life as a value and one alone behaved in a way that denounced actual indifference to life: Pyrrho the sceptic, whom his friends prevented from walking under carts and falling off cliffs. One. As for the few who told us that life is a valley of tears and an endless stream of horrors, none of them ever stopped eating, drinking, and philosophising, i.e. one of the activities that they clearly enjoyed the most. But what can the lives of crazy philosophers teach us about economic matters?

As usual, philosophy can reveal the heart of an issue. If life is so crucial, indeed the source of all values, then it can be inferred that a successful economic system provides universal access to vital goods across generations. Economic efficiency means that the lives of all benefit from it and nothing is spoiled to the point that those who come after us may not benefit too: resources are left for others the way in which we would like to have them left for us, if not better. Improvement is a possibility. An economic system that achieves its vital aims more effectively, thus opening the door to a richer fulfilment of planetary and human potential, is yet a better system. On the contrary, an economic system that does not fulfil its vital aims, either because access is limited to few or some, past or present, or because it delivers goods that are deadly, detrimental to life or irrelevant to life needs, whilst leaving some of these needs unanswered, is a failure.

The current economic system is a failure. As repeatedly denounced by the international scientific community at its highest and most representative levels, human civilisation has become for the first time in its history a threat to the planetary environment that allows for humanity’s own existence. There is no aspect of the Earth’s environment that has not been depleted in the three centuries that have seen the affirmation of capitalism worldwide: the biosphere-protecting Ozone-layer, breathable-air-producing and reproducing pluvial forests and oceanic life-systems, self-regenerating water aquifers, nourishing-food-producing arable spaces, and natural-equilibrium-maintaining and science- and technology-inspiring biodiversity. The continuation of life as we know and enjoy it is at risk.

Much has already been destroyed beyond repair, to the point that bioengineering is being discussed as a tool to cope with the most tragic consequences of “development” awaiting us. Emblematically, one nation of the world is planning already the purchase of land in India in order to transfer its entire population there upon the day when the ocean will have swallowed their ancestral islands. And yet, in the face of current profit losses, all this is treated as secondary. Just read the news and you shall see that the focus of collective action is upon a “return to growth”, as though the sad and deadly harvest of greed were not still vivid before our eyes.

What is more, the mantra of competition goes on unchallenged. But competition for what? To generate profits? And why? Why should rich people become richer? There’s more than enough to go around. Even more ludicrous is the idea that schools, healthcare, free time, old-age security, peace of mind and all those gains for life that people acquired in decades of blood and humanity should be dismantled so that competition be won. By whom? What sort of victory is the augmentation of the money heaps of people who already have it, whilst the quality of life and the living conditions of most are worsened?

F.D. Roosevelt told us seventy years ago that greed is not only bad morals, it is also bad business. When business’ sole purpose is to make as much money as possible as soon as possible, then the somewhat constructive role that business may play in society disappears altogether. It doesn’t matter if any private business actually makes a lot more money, gets bigger internationally or pervades even more diffusely the lives of millions: the standards of evaluation and appreciation for the constructive role of private business belong to the sphere of public wellbeing. And public wellbeing cares about long-term indicators: happy workers retiring in good health, healthy mothers making plans for their children’s education, educated youngsters looking forward to playing on the beach with their grandchildren. If this horizon disappears, then you’d better start to worry. Private business is known to have played far too often a destructive role, as everything, the long-term survival of private business included, can be sacrificed to man-eating Baal.

Short-termism, combined with the relentless pursuit of profit, characterised roaming Goths, wooden-legged pirates and cigar-loving gangsters. The entrepreneur, the glorious creation of modern capitalism, has always been expected to be something different. Restrained by family and personal pride, religious morals, annual dividends, trade unions and other 20th-century legal suasions, his horizon has been defined as a somewhat distant future, his playground the real world of flesh-and-bone persons like him, his reward the admiration of affluent or fully employed fellow citizens that participate in and benefit from his endeavours.

As long as alternative economic systems were either widely discussed or experimented with, the entrepreneur had to justify his existence by creating some tangible, albeit sometimes debatable, token of social worth, such as employment, community networks, or nice new gadgets. Only the speculator, hardly distinguishable from fraudsters, trotted relentlessly upon a different path. But speculators were said to be the exception, not the rule…

Yet the day came when Gordon Gekko and his friends got to control more than three quarters of what is still incautiously dubbed “world trade”. The decades of my life, infested by Maggies, yuppies and wall-less oligarchs, launched “The Financial Revolution”, a pivotal process in contemporary history that no historian has yet so baptised: let this label be my grand legacy to international scholarship.

An equally bombastic historian used this term in the 1960s to describe the emergence of public creditors in 18th-century England… It doesn’t quite compare, I’m sorry. We’ve just witnessed thirty long years of national barriers coming down—and how long it took for both nations and their barriers to come into existence!—so as to allow for a gigantic flood of miraculously leveraged liquidity springing out of… books and vast pools of capital formed by privatising public money in all of its shapes, squeezing profit from de-unionised workforces threatened by—what a coincidence!—unbarred international competition, and such ingenious tokens of financial engineering that only professional mathematicians could make sense of them. All this money travelling much faster than any good or service ever before: computers have replaced the pens and ink of old. The world of Gekko and other reptilian inhabitants of city hedges and wall streets is indeed a very bizarre world.

Originally, these creatures were meant to trade pieces of paper granting a share of the profits made by fairly large private companies. It is something that had begun in Genoa a long time ago and that their trading partners, the Dutch, had brought to the North Sea around the year 1600, sailing thence to the New World, another Genoese discovery… But a share of the profits may be less remunerative than profiting from shares. Gekko’s forefathers started betting on rises and falls in the price of those pieces of paper, sometimes causing them by moving massive amounts of money or dropping a few words into the nearest ear…

In the days of poor old Nixon, in the Big Apple, they traded about 20 million stocks every day. Today they trade 1600 million or so—and there’s more fruit in the basket than just a big apple. Also, as of Nixon’s time, they started playing games with the world’s currencies, namely the money with which common people buy their bread. Again, they started slowly, about 20 billion USD a day, but now, after “freeing” trade worldwide, they are up to 2 trillion. It is by far the largest chunk of trade in the world and it has one severe drawback: it makes the form of trade that normal people think of when they hear the world “trade”—buying and selling bananas, timber, cars, computers, etc.—much more complicated. Not to mention buying bread. But the reptiles don’t worry: they own the future. They buy and sell it.

Actually, they take bets—only a tiny fraction of trade in existing “futures” fulfils the official excuse that these are ways to hedge against risks on purchases of actual goods—on nearly anything that can be grown, mined or brought into existence, influencing the price of all sorts of goods, including the bread that common people wish to buy. Still, since even this casino was not big enough, the reptiles added onto the table the so-called “derivatives”, which are pieces of paper whose value is derived—hence the name—from something else, whether another piece of paper or a price arising from combining a few of them. Anything goes. Also because you can buy or sell these pieces of paper any way you like—over the counter, under the counter, beside the counter… You can actually buy and sell the option to buy or sell them, for short-termism can be so short that, to spare time, it allows certain persons to sell what they don’t have.

Is this too complicated? Too silly? Well, today, around the globe, there’s an ocean of derivatives, for a value of about 500 trillion USD. It is a lot of money… Strangely enough, however, the reptiles that invented them also felt the need to insure themselves against any risk that may ensue from trading in… derivative paper. So they started buying “credit default swaps” from insurance companies and let their friends and colleagues, the bankers, pile them up as assets, claiming that these “swaps” were as sound and good as gold itself. Probably they would have started taking major bets on them as well, had the entire mathematically engineered and economic-science-backed system failed from collapsing under its own virtual weight. Too much genius had been spent for the business world to bear. Under so much talent and foresight, the reptiles’ joints felt suddenly empty of market force. Amazingly, the invisible hand was nowhere to be seen. Fortunately, the State ran to their rescue and gave them a visible, reinvigorating bailout with other people’s money, lest the bank’s own mouthpiece uttered “BBB” or some other silly rating. And that’s where we stand today. The real suffering surrounding us, from the unemployed Spanish worker to the starving Senegalese farmer, is due to a virtual catastrophe. And if the starving Senegalese farmer tries to move to Spain, he shall meet a wall and possibly drown in the sea, while frustrated unemployed Spaniards, trained by modern corporate journalists, will hate guts those that didn’t. Strangely enough, these migrants are to be loathed, not the freely migrating virtual capital that cannibalised both Senegal and Spain.

Like all human endeavours, business can be either good or bad. To know what makes it good or bad, what is nobler than money, means to know how to measure real growth, real development, real utility, real goodness. Who, though, after Pareto’s Protagorean reinvention of economics, is allowed to know what real value is? Certainly not serious economists, who can only acknowledge preferences… The Pope may know, perhaps. He claims to be right like no-one else and that’s maybe why so many people cannot stand him: who likes an old moralising grandpa, in an age in which we are told by our media gurus to give into any juvenile urge of ours that can make them a buck?

Or maybe any living creature knows: they’re all God’s creatures, after all. Yes, even by watching slugs and bugs we can evince something important, which degree-honoured geeks may have neglected while sitting in front of an inanimate computer screen. They are not forgivable, though: no matter how much you masturbate, avatars are not human beings. Here comes the slap; Zen masters should love it: entomology can rescue economics from its value slumber. Vade ad formicam. What a twist! Or maybe not. It all started with Mandeville’s bees, to be honest…

Let me be brief and clear on this. What consistent pattern of behaviour can be observed amongst slugs and bugs? Watch them in your garden, if you have one. Or go and watch them in a public garden, if it hasn’t been sold to developers. As small and allegedly stupid as they are believed to be, all invertebrates try to do their best to survive at all times. And when they take risks, it is because they either look for food, shelter, safety, or attempt to ensure the survival of their species. As economically irrational as animals can be, these small beings can even sacrifice individual utility—one’s safety, food or head—for the sake of keeping, indeed at times just making, their young. Future generations matter, to them. Some seem even to care for their fellows in the anthill, hive or nest in which they live… Life, in truth, matters to living creatures, and yet life can be sacrificed, for more life may thus ensue. The only higher value that life acknowledges is, in fact, life.

And yet, in today’s world, money is still prioritised over life. Listen to our leaders, and with the exception of a pair of Caribbean politicians that corporate media describe regularly as lunatics, what matters most to most who matter most is to keep “growth” going. Capitalism or the “free market”, as they like labelling it despite its dictatorial logic, must keep generating profit, free from State intervention, which does not serve that one paramount end. All this is held, despite the well-known biocide implications of such a process. Yes, capitalism is responsible for the ecological degradation that we are living in with, and leaving to, our children. Has nobody really put together the Industrial Revolution and the collapse of the planet’s life support systems?

I shall help you: the causal link between the pursuit of profit and environmental degradation becomes visible every time environmental regulation is resisted as “too costly” or by-passed by illicit behaviour or by off-sourcing to countries that have actually little such regulation or none at all. Unless business is forced forcefully to comply with existing regulation, which is much more difficult in a barrier-free worldwide market, common praxes show that the primacy of profit persists over, say, not killing other people by dumping toxic waste onto them.

Indeed, in economics, it is methodologically impossible to address the environmental preconditions that make life possible and can secure its long-term flourishing. To the eyes of the economic observer, bread is as much and legitimately a “good” as nuclear waste, as long as a lawful market exists for both of them. It is only through direct State intervention that a bad “good” becomes officially what it is: a bad—and that is just the first step, for enforcement is yet to be secured from lobbying and bribes.

States alone can ban slavery, organ trafficking, child labour, exploitation, air pollution or aquifer poisoning as the bads they are. States alone can make the real economy and earned income primary, and the virtual economy and unearned income secondary. There is nothing intrinsic to market mechanisms leading to that and we have known it for nearly two hundreds of years. Read Charles Dickens’ subversive novels to get a clearly bleak picture. Also, ecosystems are “externalities”, as the language of economics reveals, at least as long as they are not turned into a cost by environmental legislation, into a loss of profit by reduction in reputation and actual sales, or into a market opportunity by persistent spoliation of it—see the oxygen cans sold in the subway in Tokyo.

Protecting life and the environment is something that runs against the logic of profit, even if some business leaders may themselves desire it ardently. Profit can only relate to the value of life instrumentally: as a means to further profit. Money is a fetish, and one that eats living creatures and their dwelling spaces if that generates revenue. Nothing leads profit-driven “rational” agents to doing that which is necessary for planetary survival and, for that matter, for a decent social life on a vast scale. Even public health, the most obvious case of socially beneficial public agency, is opposed as unprofitable hence bad. Not to mention all the money that is made by “growth” via sales of carcinogenic “goods”.

As the world’s money is controlled by gargantuan private institutions and managed to enrich their rich shareholders, even if it means strangling debt-ridden public authorities and diverting resources from public sewers to private coffers, there is little hope that the dominating logic may change. Some used to argue that money should be controlled by public authorities and managed for the public good, as written in certain constitutions… But we have already talked about such a peculiar notion. For the moment, let’s see whether the Philosopher-Kings of Greece will crumble because of the Goths, after being failed by Chelsea-resident haven-seekers and the advice of Goldmen-sackers.

Eligio Resta, Diritto Vivente (Bari: Editori Laterza, 2008)

The book tackles these two aspects of the living law in seven chapters – entitled respectively “Life”, “Body”, “Technique”, “Archives”, “Truth”, “Trial” and “Time” – and through different paths of analysis, most of which relate to issues that are hotly debated today within academe as well as outside it, e.g. living wills, biological damage, life’s dignity.

The former aspect constitutes a fairly traditional way of thinking about the relationship between life and law. In it, the law is seen as an instrument through which someone’s life disciplines, in the Foucauldian sense, another’s. On the contrary, the latter aspect, i.e. speaking of law’s own life, represents Resta’s original attempt to consider the law as an evolving natural “corpus” – which in classic antiquity was understood as the experiences of a living organism shaped by many different forces – and not as a static “positive” body. This attempt rests upon an intellectual shift from exegesis to hermeneutics, which can only be achieved by a philosophy of praxis that has in the interpretation of the living text its focal point of acting.

Resta’s main references, cited more or less explicitly throughout his book, are some amongst the most important philosophers of the last two centuries: Michel Foucault, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jacques Derrida and Walter Benjamin. Yet these are not the only philosophers to be mentioned in the book.

In the first two chapters, for instance, there appear lengthy reviews of classic thinkers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and of their definitions of soma, psychè, nomos, dìkaion, and much else. In this manner, the ancient roots of Western legal and philosophical culture are revealed and investigated.

In the third chapter, the relationship between technique and law is scrutinised as judicial nihilism. On the one hand, “technique” means the human ability to create new possibilities, thus even a post-human model of life. On the other hand, the law is the social request for normative limits that should be applied onto this human ability. In this context, the term “nihilism” means the technique’s potential and will to destroy the existing normative limits imposed by law, so as to extend the technique’s power as much as possible. This ambivalence between technique and law should not be opposed, however. Resta believes the law to benefit from keeping alive this ambivalence within its own corpus, for it spurs creativity and adaptability.

In the fourth chapter this comparison is scrutinised further, starting with the analysis of modern archive technologies, first of all information technologies. Even if they do enable life and law to express in new ways, information technologies also try to gain power to the detriment of life’s and law’s traditional expressions and regulatory functions. The ambivalence between technique and law thus persists.

The fifth chapter explains how the notion of truth is not the consequence of the principle of non-contradiction, but is a process-generated result bound to a specific context, that is to say, a truth that is conventional, conditional, and that implicates the passage from “truth” to “charity”: we do not agree when we find the truth, but we find the truth when we agree.

In the sixth and seventh chapters Resta writes about the history of modern legal life, e.g. the history of trials, and how life’s time and law’s time are continuously out of sync. Thus, the living law regulates time being regulated itself by life’s needs; whilst life’s exceptions, the most important of which being war, threaten to reduce the law to a particular form of conflict, thus turning it from being that which aims to preserve life into something that kills life. This way, the book closes with a warning about the “rectilinearity” of progress, which will not save humanity from violence, and with a call to take seriously Plato’s notion of law as phàrmakon, i.e. as poison and antidote at the same time.

I genuinely commend and recommend this book, as well as Resta’s work in general. Living Law deals with a very difficult subject, across diverse disciplines and technical jargons, and in so doing it links important authors from different ages and different areas of inquiry, offering infra alia highly original and insightful comments, also with regard to concrete contemporary issues.