The Contribution of Unitarian-Universalists to Isocracy

Unitarian-Universalist chalice

Initially I felt some unease when approached to present today's address on 'isocracy'. I do not particularly care for presentations here which are solely dedicated to political issues that do not refer to our liberal religious tradition, least of all by members of the church. If I want strictly social and political discussion there are these organisations called "political parties" where one's contributions are far more useful and effective. But then I was reminded of my very first encounter with Unitarian-Universalism, over twenty years ago through reading a book entitled "Legitimation Crisis" by Jürgen Habermas. This short, dense, carefully researched book of extraordinary scope was first published in 1973 is arguably the most important contributions to social theory in the last fifty years. The author, an extremely well-known as a "public intellectual" in Europe and in the academic world, is the main contemporary representative of a school of thought known as critical theory a body of intellectuals initially centered around the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research in Germany in the 1920s.

Voluntaryism: Exploitation Pretending to Be Anarchism

Voluntaryist logo
'Voluntaryism' is a new word for 'anarchism' being used by pro-capitalist, right-wing "libertarians" who tired of defending their views on the wage system and absentee land ownership from criticism by actual anarchists. Yes, 'actual anarchists'; anarchists are historically and ideologically anti-capitalist. Anarchism is the belief in the creation of human societies where all individuals are free to reach their greatest possible potential absent coercion, not a clean slate where individuals can position themselves above others in society and use that position to extract wealth from their labor.

In contrast, voluntaryists like to reduce all matters of moral action down to the voluntary consent of individuals while completely ignoring presupposed environmental variables which they sneak in the backdoor. For instance, one can easily say that I "voluntarily" pay rent to live in this apartment. And indeed, I of my own will cash my check and deposit the money into the landlord’s account on a monthly basis. Indeed, I signed the contract agreeing to pay this amount monthly. What voluntaryists ignore however, is that I by my very nature do not have a choice in whether I occupy space on the planet, or whether the "right" to occupy that specific space has been claimed by someone else. They ignore the consequences of not paying rent, homelessness, while claiming that the payment of rent represents a voluntary agreement. The threat of homelessness in this case could be easily equated to the threat of an armed robbers gun. Sure it can be said one voluntarily gives up their valuables to the robber if we choose to ignore the coercive variable which compel them to do so, their own necessity. It could just as easily be said that a 19th century English peasant voluntarily accepted monarchy by bowing to royalty if we ignore the law commanding them to do so.

Are Wars Inevitable?

"We've always had wars. Humans are a warring species. Without an army to defend us, someone will always try to conquer us."

These assumptions have become axioms of our culture. They generate despair but also a certain comfort because they relieve us of the responsibility to change.

Some politicians and pundits declare that human nature makes peace impossible, that war is built into our genes. They point to research by evolutionary biologists that indicates our closest genetic relatives, the chimpanzees, make war. Therefore war must be part of our heredity.

Peace with Justice in Syria

The reaction of progressive activists to the bombing of Gaza by Israel, such as the events of this week (Operation Pillar of Defense) or more extensively to Operation Cast Lead, is immediate and justifiable. How passionate we were, and rightly so, when Israel engaged in its onslaught against Gaza in Operation Cast Lead just a few years ago. But today in Syria the regime has killed more than ten times as many civilians and the only protests we see are those carried out by a handful of Syrian expatriates. Robert Fisk wryly remarks "we demand justice and the right to life for Arabs if they are butchered by the West and its Israeli allies; but not when they are being butchered by their fellow Arabs". [1] Fisk is equally wise in suggesting that for those who engage in an amoral calculus, that this is a proxy war on Iran.

It is nevertheless perplexing to witness the lack of concern; Jonathan Freedland wonders about this strange pariochial internationalism [2], however in the comments that follow that something can be discerned. There are fears that the Syrian opposition is largely controlled by foreign Islamist forces, and that they are no friends of the liberal and democratic Arab Spring of the successful revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya. On a related matters, there are those who argue that the the Syrian opposition has been as guilty, at least, at human rights abuses in the civil war. Others are concerned with the potential of international intervention and liberal imperialism, especially after the events of Libya. These are reasonable claims for concern. On a politically amoral level, there are those progressives who do not speak out because of the geopolitical implications, or even because they have sympathy with the Baathist regime and its ideology. Unsurprisingly, because these positions are the most distant from the internationalist libertarian socialist perspective of isocracy they can be dealt with first.

Book Review: Rising Up and Rising Down


Rising Up and Rising Down, William T. Vollmann’s enormous catalog of human violence and the thin, nearly-plausible excuses we make for it, is indispensable reading for the radical activist. In its initial printing, it fills seven encyclopedic volumes, requiring an almost superhuman effort to read. Written over more than two decades of journalism and spentt in the teeth of the worst political upheaval, Rising was often researched at very real risk to Vollmann’s life and seems to have drained all but the most bitter humor or levity from his prose. The “readable” trade paperback is a work that Vollmann himself says was done “for the money,” and “in hope that it might actually be read.” Indeed, after a reading of Rising Up and Rising Down in even this abridged format, the thought of wading in up to your neck with a seven volume collection seems almost suicidal.

Rising Up and Rising Down is not subtle with its metaphors. The front cover depicts a dove - a symbol of peace - tumbling down upon a darkened floor, wings haplessly outstretched, its neck forlornly broken, or perhaps breaking. The back cover, beneath the text, depicts a blurry hammer smashing something unseen. The first pages are in narrative form, ‘Three Meditations on Death,’ and give the reader precisely the proper mindset for absorbing the rest of the book. Vollmann wearily catalogues his stream-of-consciousness ruminations about mortality in three places - the Paris Catacombs, amidst bare skulls and yellowed bones dating back to the Roman era; a forensic morgue in the midst of the investigations that will (or will not) close the book on the questionable deaths of a few of violence’s victims; and the battlefield-streets of Bosnia, that defy the forensic search with their senseless slaughter.

Australian Radical History - Franceso Fantin and Book Review: "Never Give In"

Francesco Fantin was born near Vicenza in Northern Italy in 1901. He left school at 14 and began working in a textile factory to help support his family. Fantin grew up differently, he came from a “reverso” family – “one who is against”. The growth of fascism in Italy posed a significant challenge for Fantin, an avowed anarchist. Faced with increasing repression in Italy, in fear of his life, Francesco immigrated to Australia in 1924. He moved to North Queensland working as a labourer in Queensland and Victoria. His brothers, Alfonso and Luigi, joined him in North Queensland a few years later. Francesco Fantin was actively involved with many other Italian anti-fascists in North Queensland in struggles against the local fascists. Italy joined the war on the 10th June 1940. Three days later on the 13th June 1940 the Australian Aliens Registration Central Bureau received information Fantin was a fascist active around Cairns. Military intelligence soon took an active interest in Fantin. On the 13th February 1942, an order was issued to arrest the enemy alien Fantin (Q18 117) from Edmonton. After his arrest police officers from Cairns searched a room occupied by Fantin at Sawmill Pocket Edmonton and among other incriminating evidence found a colourful handkerchief with a picture of Durriti.

Fantin had been transferred to an internment camp in Loveday, South Australia, despite the anarchist and anti-fascist Francesco Carmagnola making representations told the authorities that Fantin was an anti-fascist, not a fascist. Ironically, Francesco Fantin, Valentino Ciccotti and Francesco Carmagnola opened the anti-fascist club, the Matteotti Club, in Melbourne in 1927. Around 60 anti-fascists were interned with over 350 fascists, at Camp Loveday. Fantin was targeted by the fascists because of his stringent anti-fascist views. He was beaten on a number of occasions. He was murdered on the 16th November 1942. Francesco was struck from behind with a piece of wood while drinking at a tap. When he fell to the ground he was beaten and kicked to death. Giovanni Casotti, a fascist from Western Australia, was sentenced to two years imprisonment for manslaughter. It has been proven beyond doubt the authorities, realising they were responsible for Fantin’s death, organised a cover up. To add insult to injury, Fantin was buried outside the internment camp’s cemetery. His bones were removed from his grave and destroyed a few years after his burial.

Le printemps érable ("The Maple Spring")

On September 5, after nine months of protests by students and their supporters, Le Conseil exécutif du Québec ("the Québec cabinet"), declared a freeze on tuition fee increases. This decision did not come from the benevolence of the new cabinet, led by Pauline Marois of Parti Québécois. Nor did it just come from the simple fact of a large number of people engaged in protest over time. In a period where victories such as these are less common, it is necessary to understand what happened in Québec that was different, so that lessons can be learned and perhaps replicated.

The campaign began with the proposal by the cabinet, by Jean Charest of the Parti libéral du Québec, to raise tuition fees by almost 75% between 2012 and 2017, or over 125% from the relaxation of tuition fees from 2007. Students responded quickly, The first National Day of Action scheduled on November 10th, 2011. Social science students at the Université Laval went strike on February 13, followed by some at Université du Québec à Montréal. Over the next two months, the number of striking students rose to at least 180,000, but with over 200,000 attending a protest on March 22. By this stage the protests had the support of the major student organisations, especially Coalition large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE), and increasingly members of the community.

It was quite clear by this stage the protest had reached major proportions. Certainly, it also had dramatic moments. Around one hundred student protesters were arrested on March 20, after demonstrators blocked a bridge with concrete blocks. On May 6, protesters were attacked when outsiders (and possibly agents provocateurs) started throwing projectiles into the crowd. In the reaction that followed, and with clashes between the police and protesters, ten were injured, and two seriously, one losing and eye and another a skull fracture.

Isocracy Network November 2012 Newsletter

1. Put Public First! Dr. Joseph Toscano and Dr. Jean Ely for Melbourne, 27th October
2. Big Steps: Wage Justice for Early Childhood Workers, November 17
3. Isocracy Network Annual General Meeting, November 24
4. Reclaim the Spirit of the Eureka, December 3

Foods are the new oil, land is the new gold

by Nairi Porter, Cape Town, South Africa

Food riots will become part of people's everyday life, environmental analyst Lester Brown says in his book Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity.

The UN Food & Agriculture Organization recently reported that the food prices have started rising again, now reaching a 6-month record. And they are approaching the levels last reached at the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis. And of course the high food prices were one of the main factors for the riots in the Middle East that caused the Arab spring. Sure, there are no indications for new mass riots because of the food prices for the time being, but Brown predicts that sooner or later this will happen.

There is much truth in that, I think. On one side, the demand on the food market is constantly growing due to the increasing Earth population. Every year about 80 million people are added to that number, and what's more, now that more and more people are moving to a higher social segment (with the advent of the middle class in the emerging economies), more than 3 billion people will be consuming more meat, dairy products and eggs - all products that require intensive use of grain cultures. The growing affluence overall could substitute population growth as a main factor for the rising food prices.

Meanwhile, about 1/3 of the corn that is produced in the US goes for the production of ethanol, which is used as a biofuel. Nowadays more grain is used for making fuel for cars than fodder for livestock, Brown explains. This is already causing major concerns, which have prompted the UN to call for the suspension of biofuel production.

Protecting Yourself in a Surveillance State

Everywhere we go, everywhere we turn we are being watched, tracked, surveilled. It's impossible to walk to the shops without being caught on someone's cameras. Everyone carries with them a portable tracking device with GPS and a microphone, we've been enticed into spying on ourselves for a shiny toy and apparent convenience.

There was a time when this wasn't the case, when CCTV cameras were rare and not placed every few feet along a shopping strip. There was a time when a person could walk down the street without some nameless entity being able to press a button and see where they were with accuracy down to a few metres.

This is not George Orwell's 1984, this is far more insidious and it's getting worse every day. The business of surveillance is worth billions in the currency of your choice. The agenda of surveillance of everyone all the time is vigourously promoted by both corporate capitalists and the state.

The corporate world wishes to protect their monetary fiefdoms. One of the largest examples of which being the self-proclaimed intellectual property lobby. They have successfully managed to gain state support for the notion that a civil dispute, such as copyright infringement (e.g. downloading a digital copy of a song or video), is a crime. Thus enabling their subornment of the apparatus of law enforcement for their private financial benefit.

The state, on the other hand, has been in the business of watching the people, both its own and those of other states, for far longer. For the state the purpose is control and the maintaining of power of those running the state. They tell the people they want to control that it is to protect those people from the Bad People; terrorists, organised criminals and pædophiles. It's always the same bogeymen and it plays on the politics of fear. The state tells people that there are lots of Bad People out there, but the state can protect them just as long as the people do what they're told and live their lives the way the state dictates.

If you aren't doing something wrong then you don't have anything to fear.1

One of the most common, usually pro-state, arguments is that you have nothing to hide then there is nothing to fear from the prying eyes of state based surveillance. This argument is flawed in very fundamental ways, as has been repeatedly proven, both in writing and practice. Daniel Solove, professor of law at George Washington University, demonstrated this in both his book, Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security, and his related article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.2

It doesn't even take corrupt practices by those with the power to pry into the lives of regular people to demonstrate the flaws in the “nothing to hide” argument. Especially when this is extended to corporate surveillance. It is also very easy for those engaging in surveillance to blur the line between what they view as legitimate surveillance and what may not be or definitely is not in any way legitimate.

The revelations last year of the practices of News International staff in the pursuit of private information to sell newspapers is a prime example of the how easy it is for those with the ability to pry into the lives and business of others to go too far in the pursuit of their goals.

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