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inner teachings

If you read about Taoist alchemy [1] then, apparently, there is an interesting feature of the teaching. This is that it has a common standard intepretation – an ‘outer teaching’, which is about materials; which substances to add to which substances to get what potions, etc – and a deeper, hidden intrepretation – an ‘innner teaching’ which is about spirituals, what the written lore is really about, and which concerns various tantric practices (i.e. mystical activities, some of which involve putting your genitals into various places). By the by, you get the same theme in western alchemy, the idea that the outer teaching – about turning lead into gold and all that – is really a distraction, or veil, for the inner teaching – which is about (perhaps!?) immortality, perfect knowledge, etc.

There is inner and outer teaching in Christianity as well. The standard intreptation (read: common depiction) of the christian metaphysic is cartoonish: a hell of burning fire, a heaven of clouds and angels with harps, a perverse God who puts apples on trees just so innocents will eat them. Alongside/within this there is a more sophisticated reading of christian theory with all its great themes of sin, forgiveness and justice and wotnot [2]. What interests me is that, here, the inner and outer teachings have conicident implications. Although they differ in their semantic content (and level of sophistication) the implications are the same: go to church, live a pious life according to the teachings of jesus, etc

Here’s a third example, in a different arena, in which I believe there are inner and outer teachings: the justification of the invasion of iraq. Now it is obvious that the outer or popular justifications for the invasion are lies. We obviously didn’t invade because of Saddam’s Links to al-Qaeda, nor was it about WMD, nor was it about Saddam being an evil tyrant. Although they were believed by many misinformed people, these things appear insufficient as causes for our invasion of Iraq in 2003. So, some of us wonder, what is the real reason, the true justification? What, in other words, is the inner teaching that those in power of the Western armies must believe? As with Christianity there is this coincidence of consequences between inner and outer teachings. The misinformed public can believe that Saddam was responsible for 9/11 and want vengence, the White House can believe that we need the oil (or want to make a statement of brute force on the world stage to shore up US hegemony, or want to stop Iraq trading oil in euros, or whatever you believe the real reason was for our invasion) – but the effect is the same: invade Iraq.

So I’ve been thinking about this business of inner and outer teachings, in a kind of undirected way; does the categorisation make sense? Is it as common in theologies as it seems from these three examples? Most importantly, is it functional? What social, institutional or psychological work does it do?

This occured to me, and you can tell me if it is convincing – the point of an inner and outer teaching is where there is no true centre to a set of beliefs. The appearence of hidden meaning is really a function of a set of symbols of such fecundity that they yield an intepretation as rich as the mind that decides to interrogate them. One meaning for a superficial reading, another for a deeper reading. And another for a still deeper reading, or for a deep reading which brings with it a different set of biases or assumptions. The existence of inner and outer teachings are the resolution of two dynamics. One made of institutional forces which promote consistency of actions (also known as compliance in some circumstances!), the second a more personal drive to remove inconsistency in beliefs. The different levels of teaching allow everyone to pick a symbol intepretation which they are comfortable with, without needing to feel like they are contradicting those who use another level of intepretation. The belief (meta-belief) in a higher level of meaning – the inner teaching – allows everyone to happily follow the same behavioural path without having to challenge each other over inconsistencies in their symbol intepretations.

Footnotes:

[1] Not something I regularly do, admittedly, but I do have this book ‘The Secret and Sublime:Taoist Mysteries and Magic: Taoist Mysteries and Magic’, John Blofeld (1973)

[2] There are parallel inner and outer teachings for different aspects of Christian theology. Witness the recent discussion on whether the standard story of Jesus dying for our sins indicates that god is ‘perverse’ (not that I follow Christian theology, but it was on radio 4 at about 7 yesterday morning)

The Sustainable Communities Bill

From localworks.org:

On the 23rd November Nick Hurd MP (Conservative, Ruislip-Northwood), the first MP drawn in the Private Members Ballot, immediately informed us that he would adopt the Sustainable Communities Bill. This is excellent news and means it is now officially in Parliament as a Private Members Bill. The first reading of the Bill will take place on Wednesday 13th of December where it will be officially tabled in Parliament.

This is the result of over 3 years of hard work and we would like to say a BIG THANK YOU to all our supporters whose help and actions have made this possible. With continued hard work over the next six months we can win this campaign and see the Bill made law!

Lots of work still to be done

The next hurdle is Second Reading to be held on Friday 19th January 2007. In order to ensure that the Bill progresses on that day we need 100 MPs to be present to win a vote (winning 99-0 is no good)

freedom in the usa

Holy Crap! Why is so much of the US population in prison!? Both relative to other ‘basically well-functioning advanced capitalist democracies’:

incarceration-oecd.png

(This from Crooked Timber post)

And relative to the the US of 25 years ago:

prisonplanet.jpg

(from Martin Sereno’s presentation on Peak Oil.)

While we’re at it, here’s another slide which Sereno labelled ‘the beginning of corporate planet’.

(of course, although some would like it to be, what’s true for the US isn’t necessarily true for the rest of the planet)

Multilateralism in an age of decline

It is, then, conceivable that we could be in for a period in which a synchronised upswing in the global economy turns into a synchronised downturn, as weaker demand from the US ripples out to the export-driven economies of Asia and the Eurozone. Protectionism will then exacerbate the recession. To which the response might be: a good thing, too. If, as Al Gore was arguing during his visit to London last week, the world is on the brink of ecological catastrophe, we ought to lose our fixation with growth and concentrate on self-sufficiency and sustainability instead…..From this standpoint, anything that throws sand in the wheels of the globalisation juggernaut is welcome. What we need is a full-scale cathartic crisis that will enable a new and better world to emerge.

It might not be that easy. True, a collapse of the Doha round, and a sharp contraction in global growth, could provide two of the elements that brought about change in the mid-20th century. But in the 1930s, the progression of events did not go stock market crash, recession, new world order. It went stock market crash, financial collapse, beggar-my-neighbour devaluation, protectionism, fascism, world war, new world order.

Clearly, the solution to Gore’s looming environmental Armageddon has to be collective, rather than unilateral. There is no way that the US, for example, is going to take action to cut carbon emissions unless it is sure every other country is doing likewise.

Yet the chances of multilateral action will be diminished in a climate of fear generated by economic weakness. The report on the economics of climate change currently being undertaken by Nick Stern at the UK Treasury is likely to conclude that the costs associated with a reduction in the emissions to the levels deemed safe by scientists are relatively modest. Gore himself believes that tackling climate change will be good for business, opening up plenty of new opportunities to make money.

That’s as may be. Multilateralism is a delicate plant; it does not thrive in harsh climates and the same impulses that drive countries to put up trade barriers when times get tough will persuade policymakers to listen to the special interest groups arguing that the price of tackling climate change is too high. The growth-at-all-costs lobby will be strengthened.


Delayed, but there is a day of reckoning
Larry Elliot in the Guardian, 26 June 2006.

the tiresome, monotone real world

But synthetic worlds, he [Edward Castronova] admits, have grown so powerful and their architecture so intricate that they are now in direct competition with our daily lives, and the growing exodus or migration of young adults into these mythical worlds must reflect the tiresome, monotone worlds that the players inhabit in the real world. Their online existence, he says, “is better than the alternative, that is, a daily life on Earth, which seems to show no progress towards anything.

– James Harkin in The Guardian

irony

From a brilliant Zoe William’s essay on irony from 2003


Our age has not so much redefined irony, as focused on just one of its aspects. Irony has been manipulated to echo postmodernism. The postmodern, in art, architecture, literature, film, all that, is exclusively self-referential – its core implication is that art is used up, so it constantly recycles and quotes itself. Its entirely self-conscious stance precludes sincerity, sentiment, emoting of any kind, and thus has to rule out the existence of ultimate truth or moral certainty. Irony, in this context, is not there to lance a boil of duplicity, but rather to undermine sincerity altogether, to beggar the mere possibility of a meaningful moral position. In this sense it is, indeed, indivisible from cynicism. This isn’t to say that “truth-seeking” irony has evaporated – many creative forms still use irony to highlight the sheer, grinding horror of pursuits or points of view that are considered “normal” (like The Office, for instance; and much of American literature is masterfully good at employing irony with a purpose – to choose at random, Pastoralia, by George Saunders, Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace, anything by Philip Roth, The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen).

But other strands of media use irony to assert their right to have no position whatsoever. So, you take a cover of FHM, with tits on the front – and it’s ironic because it appears to be saying “women are objects”, yet of course it isn’t saying that, because we’re in a postfeminist age. But nor is it saying “women aren’t objects”, because that would be dated, over-sincere, mawkish even. So, it’s effectively saying “women are neither objects, nor non-objects – and here are some tits!” Scary Movie 2, Dumb And Dumberer, posh women who go to pole-dancing classes, people who set the video for Big Brother Live, people who have Eurovision Song Contest evenings, Char lie’s Angels (the film, not the TV series) and about a million other things besides, are all using this ludic trope – “I’m not saying what you think I’m saying, but I’m not saying its opposite, either. In fact, I’m not saying anything at all. But I get to keep the tits.

and, later


To know inauthenticity isn’t the same as being authentic. Or even, just because you ironically know you’re wrong doesn’t make you right

Delocator UK

Mike Dewar has got the Starbucks Delocator UK to beta and the database now needs populating – so if you know of any cool indepedent cafes, get yourself to www.delocator.org.uk and add them in.

In case you don’t know about the Delocator family (US, CA), the way it works is this: you put in a post code or a description (e.g. “Sheffield City Centre”) and the Delocator shows you were the indepedent cafes are, so you don’t have to visit starbucks and encourage that pestilence in your city.

Well done mike!

Update 20.3.06: I asked mike if the results could provide an emailable URL and he’s done it. Look – here’s the results for near where I work – how’s that for user-responsive development!

bloodless regieme change

There’s an uncharacteristically gushing (and inspiring) story in this week’s Economist about the possibility of internally-driven, bloodless, regieme change in dictatorships. Some selective quotes (article here, paywalled):

But all the evidence is that people power, if it is to bring about a lasting change that increases freedom, must bubble up from below. It must be indigenous, broad-based and, ideally, non-violent.

Moreover, the most important factor in contributing to the emergence of a freer society is the presence of strong and cohesive non-violent civic coalitions.

It may take years to develop, and it may not always turn out quite as is hoped, but people power is catching: the more often it works, the more often it will be used.

Own the whales

Hubert’s had a great idea – it will be the first in a series of libertarian environmentalist direct-actions. Now, there’s a school of thought – offensive to many on the left – that environmental exploitation happens precisely because a resource is held in common, rather than owned by someone (who therefore has an interest in using it wisely). Wasn’t resource mismanagement the original inspiration for the tragedy of the commons idiom, after all? So if everything, everywhere – every rare species, every piece of rainforest, etc – is owned by someone, they might be protected better.

So here’s the plan; if the Japanese Whaling Ships can go into international waters and harpoon whales – essentially saying “This one is mine” and killing it – what’s to stop me going and tagging a whale with my name and mobile number, attaching a GPS – essentially saying “This one is mine” – and letting it go free? Then when the Japanese Whalers come across a whale they have to check if it is unowned, or whether they need my permission to take it and kill it. “What happens when they kill it anyway?” I asked Hubert. “Simple”, he said, “I sue them.”

“And”, he continued, “the great thing about this strategy is that it is very empowering for the individual. You don’t have to wait for governments to pass environmental legislation, you just get out there and see what the court system decides.”

work, feminism and private life

[From Madeleine Bunting’s ‘Willing Slaves: How the overwork culture is ruling our lives’ (2004, p306-7) after a section on the commercialisation of intimate life – paid therapists for emotional support, paid visitors for your nursing-homed mother, etc:]

Ten years ago, there was still a debate about whether women should be working; young women now regard the idea that they should stay at home as simply absurd. Some debates have been settled, but that only increase the stakes of those questions which remain.

A new and dangerous frontier has been opened up: if women have moved into the workplace only for their traditional caring labour to be abandoned, outsourced or squeezed to the edges, we will all suffer for it. The mission of feminism to achieve equality will hijacked by a capitalism eager for cheap, flexible labour and emotional skills on its terms. What we will reap is exhausted men and women, neglected children, loneliness, relationship breakdown and everyone short-changed of the well-being which is a product of the bonds of care. This threatens a commodification of the emotional life; in parallel developments emotional skills play an ever bigger part in the labour market while private emotional relationships are starved of the time and energy which they need to flourish, and are then outsourced. This would be the final triumph of market capitalism, whereby the separate sphere which once belonged to women, and from which the market was excluded – of the private life, of home and family – is opened up for commercialisation. The pressure bearing down on the reciprocity and commitment of these private relationships is colossal; it’s a tribute to the strength of many individuals that they struggle to hold true to their intuitive understanding of relationship. It would be a tragic betrayal of the grand vision of twentieth-century feminism if it had inadvertently contributed to the market

biographic solutions to structural contradictions

[talking about the way corporations have embraced aspirational culture, making self-improvement part of the benefits/goals of employment]

“But the philosophy of improving ‘personal performance’ also plays into the hands of employers’ rationale that well-being and coping with stress are the responsibility of the individual employeee. It reinforces the tendency for individuals to search for ‘biographic solutions to structural contradictions’, as the sociologist Ulrich Beck put it: forget the barricades, it’s revolution from within that matters. This cultural preoccupation with personal salvation stymies collective reform, and places an onerous burden on the individual. It effectively reinforces the anxieties and insecurities which it offers to assuage” [Bunting, 2004, ]

Madeleine Bunting. Willing Slaves: How the overwork culture is ruling our lives (2004), p. 200

Market capitalism fosters prosociality

[Talking about how the development of market capitalism has relied on the cultivation of trust between actors who do not know each other personally]

“Now i realise how improbable this sounds. Markets, we know, foster selfishness and greed, not trust and fairness. But even if you find the history unconvincing, there is this to consider: in the late 1990s, under the supervision of [Samuel] Bowles, twelve field researchers – including eleven anthropologists and one economist – went into fifteen “small-scale” societies (essentially small tribes that were, to varying degreesm self-contained) and got people to play the kinds of games in which experimental economics specialise. The societies included three that dependedon foraging for survival, six that used slash-and-burn techniques, four nomadic herding groups, and two small agricultural societies. The three gmaes the people were asked to play were the three standards of behavioural economics: the ultimatum game (which you just read about [if you were reading the book]), the public goods game (in which if everyone contributes, everyone goes away significantly better off, while if only a few people contribute, then the others can free ride on their effort), and the dictator game, which is similar to the ultimatum game except that the responder can’t say no to the proposer’s offer. The idea behind all these games is that they can be played in a purely rational manner, in which case the player protects himself against loss but forgoes the possibility of mutual gain. Or they can be played in a prosocial manner, which is what most people do.

In any case, what the researchers found was that in every single society there was significant deviation from the purely rational strategy. But the deviations were not all in the same direction, so there were significant differences between the cultures. What was remarkable about the study, though, was this: the higher the degree to which a culture was integrated with the market, the greater the level of prosociality. People from more market-orientated societies made higher offers in the dicatator game and the ultimatum game, cooperator in the public goods game, and exhibited strong reciprocity when they had the chance.

From James Suroweikcki. The Wisdom of Crowds – Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few (2004) [which i commented on in ignorance here], p.126. Refs for this study are:

Joseph Henrich et al. “Economic Man in Cross-Cultural Perspective: Behavioral Experiments in Fifteen Small-Scale Societies”. Originally a Sante Fe Institute paper but then became a BBS paper.

Henrich et al. (2001). In Search of Homo Economicus: Behavioral Experiments in 15 Small-Scale Societies. American Economic Review 91, 73-78. PDF here

What i love about the behavioral economics paradigms is that prosocial behaviour validates itself. Once you drop the narrow, economic, one-shot, sense of the word ‘rational’, it is rational to cooperate in these games because it is rational to cooperate if you think others will cooperate and it is rational for them to cooperate if they think you will.

Surowiecki also discusses [p.106] Vernon Smith, who showed experimentally that a free market of real people with imperfect imformation etc could still be near-optimal in efficiency terms. Apparently a major economics journal wasn’t interested in the result because it had already been demonstrated that markets were efficient theoretically. On the same page Surowiecki aknowledges the caveat that economic efficiency tells us nothing about the social cost of market operation

Faith in progress

The infuriating Bryan Appleyard had an interesting, doomsday predicting, article in the Sunday Times, ‘Waiting for the lights to go out‘. He suggests that the cultural assumptions have exactly reversed since the middle ages. At that time we had a faith in the imminent end of the world, but reason said it would continue. Now we have faith in progress (and, at the very least, survial), when reason says that these are The End Days.

What next for Elsevier?

DSEi finishes today. We’ve had some successes in the campaign to get it stopped. I’m still thinking about the Elsevier angle, and what the next step is for academics who’d like Elsevier to stop involving them in the arms trade (thanks everyone who provided feedback on this, here, at CT, and in person).

I think academics are well placed to persuade Elsevier to stop organising arms fairs. As a group, we’re generally easily convinced of the morality of the affair (‘What? These guys publish medical journals but also assist in the sale of cluster bombs and illegal torture equipment?!‘), and also we fill, review, edit and purchase their journals. Question is, of course, how do we persuade them? After discussion and thought, here’s what i think the answer is: We’re going to ask them. That’s right, i suspected i was a liberal, now i’m certain of it. Elsevier have a reputation (and a customer base) to lose. Even if they believed their own arguments that it isn’t immoral to organise these arms fairs, there’s no reason why they need to keep organising them.

I think the two main things to do next are:

1. Raise awareness of Elsevier’s links to the arms trade
2. Encourage individuals and organisations to contact Elsevier about this

It’s not just university academics who can be reached either. There’s all the medics (Elsevier publish nearly 800 medical journals); the teacher’s (which use Elsevier products in the classes – I wonder what the AUT would think of all this?); the Lawyers (who use an Elsevier product, Lexis Nexis, to access case law); the social workers (there’s a flagship journal for social workers ‘Community Care’ published by Elsevier). And then there’s the librarians. Bless the librarians. If the librarians are against you, you’ve really got problems.

Anyway, so i think i’m clear on what i’d like to do now. It’s just the doing it. Enter period of letter writing, union motions, publicity chasing etc. If you’d like to help, or you know of any group with an interest in Elsevier please get in touch. tom [at] idiolect [dot] org [dot] uk

DSEi round up

The Lancet letter, and the accompanying editorial (my post about this, full text, on indymedia) got good coverage: The New York Times, Today programme, ABC (Aus), Ottawa Sun (Ca), Pravda (Ru), The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Times, The Independent, BBC News Online, The Statesman, The Times, Vancouver Sun, Associated Press Newswires and The Guardian (that i know of)

The march on tuesday was successful for what it was. BBC coverage. Direct action today and yesterday has caused lots of disruption, amid a typically overwhelming police response – indymedia. And in the news today: BAE systems has been funding Pinochet, which seems in character.

Elsevier and The Lancet

In the latest edition of the Lancet an editorial calls for their publisher, Reed Elsevier, to cut its ties with the arms trade.

There’s a letter in the same issue (signed by me amongst others) saying the same thing, and a response letter from Elsevier. They say what they’ve said to me previously, although they left out the bit about respecting my right to think they are immoral profiteers and they’ll keep doing what they want thank you very much (i paraphrase).

I was asked by a journalist what I thought of their response. Here’s what I said (and this applies to both their response published in the Lancet and their response to me personally which I put up on the blog):

Running this kind of arms fair may be legal, but it isn’t moral and it certainly isn’t appropriate for a scientific and medical publisher. I suspect that the majority of scientists and medics would not want to be associated with this aspect of Reed Elsevier’s activities – the Editors of the Lancet certainly don’t.

Secondly, the defense industry may be vital to democracy and humanitarian missions, but the way the arms trade currently conducts itself is notoriously poorly regulated, unaccountable and secretive. The history of the sale of illegal technologies, of unethical technologies (such as the cluster bombs the Lancet editors make mention of) and sale of weapons to countries with poor human rights records exemplifies this. These abuses will continue at DSEi 2005, and Elsevier makes itself complicit in them.

Elsevier is putting profit above humanitarian values – just like the arms trade as a whole.

The story is covered by The Guardian

Academics and Elsevier

I’ve been corresponding with the publishers Reed Elsevier about their involvement in the arms trade. Reed Elsevier is an academic publisher, which also has a subsidary company, Spearhead Exhibitions, which hosts DSEi – the world’s largest arms fair. You can see what I’ve written to Reed Elsevier, and what they’ve written back, elsewhere on this blog (one, two, three, four).

I believe that the DSEi arms fairs are immoral, geopolitically reckless, sometimes illegal (e.g.) and improperly regulated (e.g.). Beyond this, I resent that a publisher which profits from the hard (and publicly funded) work of academics uses those profits to support the sale to undemocratic & repressive governments of such things as depleted uranium shells, cluster bombs, missile technology and small arms. The arms fairs Spearhead organises (yes, DSEi isn’t the only one) are a measly amount of Elsevier’s business, but it is a part that makes academics complicit in the deaths of civilians, in torture and in political repression around the world.

What can academics do to pressure Elsevier to drop this part of their business? What should we do? Here’s some possibilities. Feedback very welcome – which of these, if any, are reasonable, feasible and might be effective?

1. Write to the Chairman of Elsevier, Jan Hommen, and ask him to reconsider his position: Jan Hommen, Reed Elsevier PLC, 1-3 Strand, London WC2N 5JR.

2. Contact your union, and/or support any motions which express disaproval of Reed Elsevier.

3. If you are member of a scientific society which produces a journal, find out who the publisher is. If it is Elsevier, find out when the contract renewal date is, and the procedure for society members to influence the decision of who that contract goes to.

4. If you write journal papers, bear in the mind the publisher when submitting papers. Obviously you aren’t going to withhold submitting a paper just because the journal is Elsevier, but if you are faced with a choice of journals, one of which is Elsevier, you could cross that journal off your list first?

5. For your papers published in Elsevier journals, insert a line in the acknowledgements along the lines of “The author(s) note with disappointment the involvement of Elsevier with the international trade in arms”

6. When reviewing papers bear in mind the publisher of the journal. Put those for the Elsevier journals to the bottom of the pile.

Any more?

Update – Manual Trackback: Crooked Timber

a response to Elsevier

Stephen J. Cowden
General Council & Company Secretary
Reed Elsevier
1-3 Strand
London, WC2N 5JR

21 July 2005

Dear Mr Cowden

Thanks for your reply (12 July) to my letter of 29th of June. I asked three questions in my letter:

  • Will Elsevier stop helping to organise arms fairs, specifically DSEi (next scheduled for September 2005)?
  • How does your involvement in the arms trade square with your playing ‘a positive role in our local and global communities’?
  • How should the members of academic and medical communities feel about this involvement?

  • You answered the first, with a straight ‘no’. I’d still like to know the answer to these two:

  • How does your involvement in the arms trade square with your playing ‘a positive role in our local and global communities’?
  • How should the members of academic and medical communities feel about this involvement?

  • And to this I’ll add another:

  • How can you say believe that sufficient “rigorous checks” are made on the exhibitors at DSEi and that their activities are “legitimate” when illegal activities, such as the sale of landmines (banned by international convention) have been shown, repeatedly, to be organised at DSEi? [1]. Are you able to provide details of the checks that your organisation carried out on exhibitors?

  • I look forward to hearing from you

    Yours

    Tom Stafford

    Endnote:

    [1] http://www.caat.org.uk/campaigns/dsei/dsei-2003-report/landmines.php

    Thinking about politics and morality on wednesday afternoon

    I’m not a socialist – but I agree with their point that markets will tend to seek efficiencies without respect for human dignity and well-being. I’m not a libertarian – but I agree with their point that the state will tend to aggregate power to itself, necessarily trampling on the freedoms of the individual. It seems to me like the key issue here is that of beaurocratic diffusion of responsibility – whether that diffusion happens in a multinational corporation or at the level of (inter)national government. The problem is only going to get more pressing as the connections between economies, polities and societies becomes more and more multiple, distal and diverse. The globalisation of markets requires the globalisation of responsibility, but at the same time makes personal responsibility near impossible. Time for radical new political solutions? No – time for radical old political solutions. The issues have got more tangled, but they were pretty tangled at the birth of modernity anyway. There’s enough old fashioned corruption, fascism, exploitation and war around that we can still get milage out of boring things like democracy, seperation of powers, the rule of law, human rights, welfare and free trade – despite all their problems and internal contradictions.

    Oh, dammit. I wanted to say something about the diffusion of responsibility (remember Milgram! remember Asch! remember Arendt!) and i’ve ended up thinking about the Enlightenment foundations of political philosophy. Hmm. So. Anyone got any ideas of how to deal with the moral impact of the diffusion of responsibility in complex socities?

    Reply from Elsevier

    I wrote to Elsevier to ask them about their involvement with the arms trade. Their response is below (and as PDF here, 600 KB). They only answered the first of my three questions (with a ‘no’).

    elsevier_reply_cut.gif

    Frankly, just because something is legal doesn’t make it legitimate and anyway I find hard to believe that adequate checks are carried out at DSEi, especially given that we know it has, just for a first example, repeatedly haboured the brokering of illegal sales of landmines. I’ll be writing back to Elsevier, and in a few days I’ll post it that here too.

    An open letter to Jan Hommen

    Tom Stafford
    Department of Psychology,
    University of Sheffield,
    Western Bank,
    Sheffield S10 2TP

    Jan Hommen,
    Chairman, Reed Elsevier,
    Reed Elsevier PLC,
    1-3 Strand,
    London WC2N 5JR

    Dear Mr Hommen

    I was disappointed to discover that your company, through the subsidiary Spearhead Exhibitions, organises arms fairs. As an academic my familiarity with Elsevier comes from the scientific and medical journals you publish. It seems an entirely inappropriate sideline for you to assist in the selling of weapons. Will you stop?

    As well as arms fairs in Brazil, Taiwan, the Netherlands, Singapore and France, Spearhead also organises the DSEi arms fair which is held binannually in London Docklands and boasts of being the largest arms fair in the world. This is a key event for those on the arms trade circuit, a trade which results in death, mutilation and suffering (most casualties of war are civilians, of course). Previous invitees to the fair have included nations such as Syria, which has refused to sign the Biological or Chemical Weapons Conventions and is accused of being a danger to world peace, and Indonesia, which used UK built Hawk jets in its lethal repression in East Timor. Other nations with long records of human rights abuses – Columbia, Saudia Arabia, Israel and China for example – attend, as well as a host of private companies with a history of selling indiscriminately to irresponsible governments in trouble spots around the world. Selling things like clusterbombs, which, like landmines, kill civilians years after the conflict that caused them to be dropped is over, but which aren’t illegal like landmines. Selling the small arms which are responsible for the majority of civilian deaths in war (and killed 500,000 people last year). Selling missile technology, selling depleted uranium shells. By organising events at which these companies can market and promote this equipment, your company is playing a direct role in facilitating this trade. And all this subsidised directly, and indirectly, by UK tax payers.

    This arms fair is important to the defence industry, but it’s not a major part of your business – and I urge you to cease your involvement with it. Organising international arms fairs seems totally at odds with your company’s expressed aim to play ‘a positive role in our local and global communities’ (2003’s ‘Reed Elsevier Cares’ programme). I also wonder how the academic and medical communities would feel about your complicity in the arms trade. My feeling is that you would- rightly- lose a lot goodwill from academics, goodwill that you rely on for them to publish in, review, edit and purchase your journals. You’ll be aware that Elsevier publishes the prestigious medical journal The Lancet – this seems especially incongruous with involvement in the arms trade. Can you really justify using profits from publicly funded medical research budgets to support the sale of arms around the world?

    I’d be very keen to hear back from you about these things. Specifically the three questions I’ve asked in this letter:

  • Will you stop helping to organise arms fairs, specifically DSEi (next scheduled for September 2005)?
  • How does your involvement in the arms trade square with playing ‘a positive role in our local and global communities’?
  • How should the members of academic and medical communities feel about this involvement?
  • I look forward to hearing from you.
    Yours,

    Tom Stafford

    We Already Know The Answers

    Walking back to work and thinking about the forthcoming G8 meetings in Scotland and Sheffield, I saw a SWP poster which showed a placard at a protest saying “Stop capitalism now” and I start thinking “What a fucking stupid thing to say”. As if capitalism means anything more in that context than a think-stop, you might as well say “stop badness”, and i was getting dismayed that the socialists will, again, be co-opting a rightful and necessary protest so that it appears to the rest of the world like all dissent is support for their outdated dogma. And then my mind spun off on this kind of fantasy number where I’m at a protest and someone with a TV camera uses the C-word in another stupid question: “Are you against capitalism?”, implying, of course, the whole ridiculous deadweight of assumptions that the socialists and free-traders have managed to calcify the debate into. And then this torrent rose up in reply and I’ve written it down below because, well, what’s a blog for if not to spill your brains onto. Oh, and i’d drunk way too much coffee as well…

    am i against capitalism? what does that mean exactly, what could that mean? nonsense! what i am against is a system of debt which is a legacy of colonial exploitation, a system of trade which only reinforces the historic exploitation of the third world. massive corporations hand in glove with western governments allows us to sit on the back of those nations and choke the economic air out of them, choke it so successfully that all we get shown of africa on our tv screens are pictures of war and famine which only serve to reinfoce the prejudice that “they can’t manage themselves” and so we continue to suck the rest of the world, and the earth itself, dry to maintain our comfortable affluence, all the while stood on their backs choking them, protesting that we’ll do all we can to help them, all we can that is, except getting off their backs and stopping choking them. i’m a democrat and a liberal and those values today imply an as radical agenda as they ever did. the globalisation of economics, of markets, implies a globalisation of responsibility, of morality. two hundred years ago if you were a merchant in london selling cotton or buying shares in railways running on cheap coal then you were responsible for the exploitation that was occuring in the cotton mills of lancashire and the coal-mines of yorkshire. we passed laws to stop that exploitation, we made that happen, we recognised our complicity and took that collective action – and that’s what we need to do today, that what i want the G8 to recognise now.

  • Make Poverty History
  • Image stolen from Tolstoy: I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means – except by getting off his back.
  • Zigmunt Bauman on the globalisation of responsibility
  • Why is capitalism boring?

    Fundamentally, trading allows specialisation, and this increases efficiency and diversity. So why is global trade resulting in more homogenisation, not more diversity? The same shops on every high street, the same stuff in all the shops. I remember the first time i went into a Toys R Us – A toy shop not just bigger than any i’d seen before, but vastly bigger than any i’d seen before. I expected a vastly larger choice of toys. And of course I was wrong, not more choice of toys, but larger piles of a smaller choice of toys. Why is the mass market operating to restrict choice?!

    I’d appreciate any systems-level or economics-based answers to this. Some possible angles I can think of off the top of my head:

  • Choice isn’t really being restricted: if I want to I don’t have to go to Toys R Us, I can go anywhere I want to buy whatever I want. That’s real choice. [I’d argue that in an important sense there is still and increase in homogenisation not diversivication, and that’s what I’d like explaining]
  • Trade only leads to specialisation of labour, indirectly it leads to standardisation of products (production lines, etc). Although there are an increasing number of economic roles for me to play in modern consumer society, there’s no reason why specialisation should make that society more diverse [in which case, why does consumerism seem to promote homogenisation?]
  • We’re seeing the effects of a false market, one that has been distorted (eg by government-supported monopolies, by trade laws, etc). A real free market would lead to more diversity. [I doubt this is true, not least because ‘free’ markets are impossible, markets are always societal constructions. Additionally I suspect that any market that is free in the sense of universally connected with total capital and labour mobility would be totally unstable and prone to epidemics like any ecosystem without semi-permeable barriers. [Er maybe this is a point to expand on in another post]. Secondly, even if this arguement is true, what is it about the current market system that reduces diversity?]
  • Answers on a postcard email please….