Secular Education in State Schools

secular comment

There's a debate on in NSW about religion in state schools. It seems that in NSW, state secular schools are, in practice, not secular. ‘Scripture’ lessons, or Religious Education, are mandated. And there was a talk about it on Radio National. It annoyed infuriated and enraged me. So let me demolish the ‘arguments’ in parts.

Elphinstone's Mistake Again: What Are We Doing In Afghanistan?

As the tenth year of the US-led invasion by the UN-endorsed International Security Assistance Force [1] occupation approaches, debate has began over the continued role of the coalition troops in that country, with increasing concern that the war is unwinnable, the coalition supported government is incurably corrupt and the armed forces of official Afghani government would be incapable of maintenance of any sense of law and order without foreign support [2]. The Taleban, partially religious extremists, partially local partisans, are believed to be winning the ground war and the support of the local population. Despite this honestly bleak assessment the situation, conservative politicians are comitted [3] to a failed policy of military occupation, with at least the nominal claim that they are denying Islamicist terrorists a safe haven for operations, and with the admitted policy of supporting international alliances; almost fifty states have currently committed troops to ISAF, total casulties are at least 100,000 [4], and billions of dollars pledged in aid.

Despite this the existential circumstances in Afghanistan remain dire; the average life expectancy is less than 45 years. Only 28% of the population is literate. GDP per capita is $1,000 USD, with 35% unemployment and an equivalent number living below the poverty line. Tellingly these are not dramatic improvements from 1990 or 2000, and in some cases the metrics are worse (47, 46 years life expectancy, 12 and 31% literacy, GDP per capita $200 and $800, 8% estimated unemployment in 1995) [4]. In 2010 Terrorist attacks, those who systematically use violence against non-combatants for political ends, increased in 2010 (to 7,400 attacks between January and September), among an increasing illegal trade in narcotics, elections with an enormous degree of fraud [6], the retention of the death penalty, arbitrary detention and torture, and serious abuses of basic human rights especially toward women.

With the monthly military cost of $6.7 billion from the US budget alone [7], the continuing defense of a lackey government in Kabul, which faces deep resentment among the Pashtun tribal loyalists, cannot be considered a sustainable proposition. It seems that many recognise this, but few are able to offer truly viable alternatives. The occupation forces have recently spoken about alliances with the Taleban (apparently overstated [8]) and NGOs are asked to seek permission from the same in order to carry out their work [9].

Opponents of the occupation and the Islamic republican government and the fundamentalists of the Taliban, such is common in leftist and libertarian circles, must present this opposition with a viable alternative. Few have genuinely considered a principled and practical position that places human rights and national self-determination with an understanding of the context. The first step in this process is the conversion of the existing military strategy to defeat the Taleban/Al-Qaeda to an economic one. Religious fundamentalism struggles to survive in places of economic prosperity, US-style evangelicism notwithstanding. Unwelcome military occupation generates resentment; providers of infrastructure are more often welcomed. Literacy, health-care, housing, sanitation - all of these are desparately needed by the people in Afghanistan. Improving their lives is the priority, of far greater importance than abstract geostrategic concerns.

Venezuelan Elections and the Bolivarian Revolution

On the 26th of September parliamentary elections were held in Venezuela, the first serious electoral challenge to governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) given that five opposition parties boycotted the last poll, even though a dispute over the voting process had been resolved with the support of the Organization of American States (OAS). Nevertheless in this election, the vote was very close with the PSUV receiving 48.3% of the vote and 96 seats, the Coalition for Democratic Unity 47.2% and 64 seats and the Fatherland for all 3.1% and 2 seats.

The curse and the blessing of the blood diamonds

by Nairi Porter (image by Ariel Payopay)

Here is a question. Who or what is the dictator's best friend? The ignorance of the public, the mediocrity of the social institutions, or the weak economy?

Diamonds. Usually we see them shining in small boxes behind protected glass screens. Or on the necks and fingers of the Hollywood celebrities. Maybe that is why Naomi Campbell couldn't realise the true significance of the dirty gems in that box which two strange looking men gave her in 1997. Now she is testifying in the Hague where the international Tribunal for war crimes is investigating the atrocities in Sierra Leone which also involved the former Liberian president Charles Taylor. Naomi still remembers that dinner with the president 13 years ago in Cape Town. It was organised by Nelson Mandela who was president of South Africa at the time. The investigators suspect that the diamonds she received as a gift from the fascinated Taylor were "blood diamonds". Now this gift could expose the role of Taylor in smuggling weapons for the rebels in Sierra Leone during the horrific civil war in the 90's.

In her testimony, Naomi Campbell explains that she didn't know anything about any "blood diamonds" and she knew nothing of the genocide in Sierra Leone and she wasn't sure if the gift really came from Charles Taylor whom by the way she had never met before, although she kind of "suspected" it was the case.

Yes, probably no-one in the world of glamour and fashion has heard a thing about the so called blood diamonds. The celebrities probably do not even suspect that some of the gems of the "clean, sparkling, in a box" type which they are used to possess, may sometimes originate in muddy African mines and are extracted by people with the statute of semi-slaves. Neither do they contemplate about the blood, sweat and tears which used to be and most probably are still shed in this dirty trade with these beautiful pieces of carbon. And occasionally they need some star dust to be spilled around and some uproar to erupt in order to cast some light on the matter and to be reminded about the inconvenient facts surrounding the diamonds, and about the ugly conflicts on the poorest continent in the world which they are intertwined with.

Here is why they are called "blood diamonds". In the 80's and 90's, a portion of the diamonds of Africa were used to finance brutal conflicts in places like Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, Cote d'Ivoire, Congo and Zaire. These clamours were marked by mass murder, rape and mutilations. During that period nearly 4% of the mined diamonds in the world were stained with blood. Today the estimates claim this has dropped to 1%.

Review: Hannah Arendt - The Human Condition

Hannah Arendt is considered one of the most important political philosophers of the twentieth century and, it must be stated, a profoundly influential contributor to the social and political theory of the Isocracy network. Two of her major works include The Origins of Totalitarianism, a sociological study of the Stalinist terror and Nazi genocide, and On Revolution, which combined political science with history, both highly important for an isocratic perspective. Arendt is difficult to position in a traditional political sense; she is a supporter of constitutionalism and the rule of law, yet she also disparaged representative democracy in favour of high levels of deliberative participatory democracy and the revolutionary spirit. Both anarchistic in her love of political pluralism, political involvement, and direct democracy she also emphasised the fundamental roles of government in establishing lasting institutions and laws as the free agreements of behaviour between members of the polis.

The Human Condition, reviewed here in summary form, emphasised the vita activa and distinguished between three fundamental activity; labor, work and action, distinguishing the "human condition" from "human nature", the latter existing within human beings, the former between. The vita activa, or active life, is necessarily distinguished by what has been more popular in the western philosophical tradition which concentrated on vita contemplativa (contemplative life). Famously Arendt refused to describe herself as a philosopher precisely because of the historical attachment of that discipline to contemplativa; Arendt (to use the Platonic philosophical language which she targets) attended to the world temporary 'appearances', rather than the world of eternal 'forms'. For her, life was to be lived with others in the practical tasks of common activity i.e., praxis.

Review: Joseph A Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies

The Collapse of Complex Societies (1st paperback ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tainter aims to provide a theory as to why most complex societies so far have not just faded away but abruptly collapsed, short of the current world-wide one, there we don't know yet. But he fails. He repeats the phrase "diminishing marginal returns on complexity" a lot but it sounds like something he overheard someone in the economics department saying (which he is not from, he's an archaeologist) and now just repeats it. Just repeating it doesn't make it true.

However in the course of building his case for his theory, he's providing a lot of detail about societies past & current that you can use to come up with your own theory. Now here is mine: Complexity requires a lot of communication and, short of the Internet, communication is expensive, so they start building hierarchies. A society's political/social/economic hierarchy is simply a communication hierarchy the same way we build our star-shaped networks, hierarchical DNS etc. Any more decentralized communication structure requires redundancy and that was too expensive in the old times and may or may not be too expensive in our time, time will tell.

The Country of Palestine: A Zero State Solution


For over half a century the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the centre of the world's three Abrahamic monotheisms, has raged. Space is not sufficient here of course to detail the main events of this conflict, except in title alone: The British Mandate in Palestine and the Balfour Declaration, the Arab revolts of the 1930s, the declaration of the State of Israel (with scant regard of local opinion) and the subsequent war in the late 1940s, raids and counter-raids in the 1950s, the 1956 Suez Crisis, the 1967 Six Day War, the 1973 Yom Kipper War, the 1982 Lebanon War, the First and Second Intifada, the 2006 Lebanon War, and the Gaza War of 2008-2009. With over 100,000 casulties since 1945 and with economists estimating that the opportunity cost of the various conflicts representating trillions of dollars [1].

The dead are many, the costs are high and the divisions are deep. David Hacohen, a supposedly left-wing member of the Israeli Knesset for six terms once described Arabs as "... they are not human beings, they are not people". At the start of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the first secretary-general of the Arab League, Azzam Pasha, announced: "This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades" [2]. These are just illustrative examples of how deep the hatred has often reached; there are plenty of others and from equally senior positions.

Peace efforts have only had a modicum of success. The two United Nations Security Concil Resolutions, 242 and 338, have provided a temporary cessation of hostilities, but have not been unable to unravel the continuing damage, let alone implement, the original UN General Assembly Resolution 181 for the partition of Palestine. Resolution 242 called for Israel to give up the occupied territories and the resolution passed was passed 15 to 0. It has not, of course, ever been implemented. Indeed the opposite has been the case; there are now 0.5 million Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jersualem, turning the region into a "pastrimi" [3] of harshly discriminatory settlement policy, of restricted movements, of concrete and iron 'separation barriers' - of kibosh ha'adama - "conquest of the land". The 1993 Oslo Accords fared somewhat better - they allowed for the formation of the Palestinian National Authority, providing the 'right' for Palestinians to police their own imprisonment.

Born of desperation and hopelessness some Palestinians fight back against this systematic, grinding humiliation with the predictable tools of people in such a situation; the use of violence against non-combatants for political ends, better known as terrorism. A tragic shortlist can easily be rattled off - the 1972 Munich Olymipics massacre, the 1974 Ma'alot massacre, the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, the 1989 Tel Aviv-Jerusalem bus attack, the 1993 Mehola Junction bombing, the 2003 Maxim restaurant suicide bombing, the 2008 Mercaz HaRav massacre, along with thousands of Qassam and similar rockets being launched indiscriminately into civilian areas. All, it must be grimly accounted, with relatively few fatalities and absolutely no threat to the Israeli State. But of particular note as the conflict drags on, the desparation of the Palestinian people grows, along with their acceptance of the use of violence against civilian targets and support for less flexible religous doctrine [4]. Without freedom, there is nothing left to lose.

The Evolution of the Human Spirit

Development and Spirit

"Evolution" means change, an "unrolling", according to the Latin root evolvere. There is something naturalistic, remorseless and in some cases even tragic about it. Because of this, Alex Callinicos, Professor of Politics at the University of York, prefers the term "development" to indicate those changes where conscious human agency is involved, where human beings can direct change itself. "Development", of course, is a French-derived words "développement", or "from evolution". Callinicos is quite correct to make this distinction and it is particularly important in reference to the subject matter. There is no suggestion here that the human spirit is evolving in a naturalistic fashion. Thus I will cede to Callinicos that "development", in lieu of anything else, is a better description; consider the presentation to be better entitled "The Development of the Human Spirit".

Nature of the Period: Background and Perspectives

Social systems don't live forever. They have their own internal contradictions, which produce systemic crises. Capitalism is no different; someday it will end. The question we are addressing is whether it will be followed by barbarism, mass death, and barrenness, or by a better world. The current crisis is not only one of greatly increased attacks on the working class and oppressed people but is also a fundamental crisis of the system itself. We cannot predict the demise of the system, something in which the working class and oppressed people must also play a conscious part. We can, however, state that this is the most serious crisis of capitalism since the 1930's--and that one was only "solved" by World War II.

An understanding of today's world crisis must begin at the end of that previous crisis.

From World War I to the Great Depression and then World War II, the world capitalist system went through 30 years of crisis and decay, politically reflected in revolutions in Russia, Europe and Asia, the rise of fascism in Italy, Germany, Spain and elsewhere, and the counterrevolutionary consolidation of the Marxist-Leninist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union.

After World War II, the U.S. emerged as the dominant world power. The Axis was in ashes. The old British and French empires were greatly weakened, and the USSR was a weak rival to the USA. World dominance—imperialism—was the basis for the long postwar boom in the U.S. Although it contained several recessions that didn't threaten the system, that relative and limited prosperity (for European-Americans, anyway) lasted through the '50's and '60's. It was based on enormous military power and spending (what some have called the Permanent Arms Economy), industrial superiority, financial control (the Bretton Woods agreement and gold reserve standard), and oil. Consequentially, there was a vast expansion of car ownership and suburban living (again, at least for white folks). There was a vast looting of natural resources, treating the natural world as a limitless mine, while undercutting our biological basis of existence. Growing from the experiences of the Depression and war came the dominance of the liberal idea of contra-cyclical government intervention to stabilize the economy (Keynesianism).

Isocracy Network Inaugural General Meeting

The Isocracy Network is establishing a formal Melbourne group. This meeting will be held on Saturday, June 12 at 2pm at 110 Grey Street East Melbourne; the date coincides with the adoption of Virginian Declaration of Rights, one of the earliest and strongest modern statements on the limitations of government and the rights of individuals. Light refreshments will be provided.


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