Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Presenters of Sam Seder’s Majority Report Defend Themselves against Accusations of Anti-Semitism

August 15, 2017

Readers of this blog will know very well that the Zionist lobby in Britain and America has repeatedly smeared decent, anti-racist people with the accusation that they are anti-Semites, when their only offence is that they have dared to hold Israel to the same moral standards as the rest of the world.

Israel is a racist state, which occupies the Palestinian territories on the West Bank, and which has engaged in a decades long campaign of brutalization and ethnic cleansing towards the indigenous Arabs population.

Those, who oppose this policy of massacre, persecution and expulsion include Torah-observant, and secular Jews as well as decent, anti-racist gentiles. Despite the fact that very many anti-Zionists and supporters of Palestinian rights are self-respecting Jews, who may be active members of their community, they are vilified as anti-Semitic, or self-hating, every bit as much as the non-Jewish opponents of the Israeli state. Indeed, some are subject to worse abuse.

Sam Seder’s Majority Report is a left-wing internet news programme. Mr. Seder and at least one other of his fellow presenters and staffers on the show is Jewish. In 2014 they made a series of videos reporting the carnage in Gaza, and fiercely criticized the Israeli state’s oppression of the Palestinian people. They also attacked and mocked a Republican mouthpiece, Ben Shapiro, for his stupid accusations about Obama’s administration similarly being anti-Semitic.

So, inevitably, the show received a message from a viewer accusing them of anti-Semitism. In this clip below, the presenters Michael Brooks and Matt Binder, defend themselves and the show from these accusations and make the point that criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitism. The presenter begins by stating that he reported the numbers of Palestinian and Israeli casualties, 500 Palestinians to 15 or 16 Israelis, not because he believed that they should be higher or more equal, but because he felt that there should be none at all. No-one should have died, regardless of whether they were Israeli or Palestinian. He also makes the point that his Jewish identity, which is specifically a German Jewish identity, is very important to him.

He states that the use of the accusation of anti-Semitism to close down a conversation about the systemic abuse of human rights by Israel, a sovereign state, is cynical and cheapens anti-Semitism. He states that he doesn’t often read the comments on YouTube. Sometimes the comments are anti-Semitic. Sometimes, after condemning actions by Hamas, and then offering an objective assessment condemning occupation, bombardment and civilians (by Israel), they have been called anti-Semitic. He states that he cannot understand the mindset, but believes some of those, who make the accusation are too caught up emotionally to make a rational judgement.

But with others, it is just a cynical ploy to stop criticism. And one which he states insults the long history of genocide, exodus, expulsion, torture and persecution that the Jewish people have suffered down the centuries. It cheapens also the Jews, who have been tortured and killed simply because of their Jewish identity by terrorists and suicide bombers. It’s a cheap, disgusting parlour trick. He states very clearly that Israel needs to be held to the same moral standards as a normal nation state, not criticized because it is Jewish, nor excused for its wrongful actions for the same reasons either.

The Israeli government and those before it have a policy of expanding Israeli settlement and limiting those of Palestinians. This is a vital issue, and using the accusation of anti-Semitism to stop it is disgusting and disingenuous.

Sam Seder is attacked because he mocked Ben Shapiro, who called Obama’s government one of the most anti-Semitic administrations. The presenter states that this is stupid, and calling Seder himself anti-Semitic is moronic. Seder, he states, is one of the most Jewish people around, outside the Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who live in Crown Heights. Many of whom, he says, are lovely people, as he used to live around there. If you’re going to describe him as ‘anti-Semitic’, at least say he’s self-hating instead.

As for Ben Shapiro, the presenter describes him as ‘a prepubescent little schmuck’ whose statement was too much even for Trump’s spokeswoman, Megyn Kelly. To call them, the producers of the show, anti-Semitic because they spent three minutes mocking him, shows how stupid the caller is, and they have to have compassion on that. But he also makes the point that it’s clearly wrong to call this mockery anti-Semitic, and claim it comes from the same motives as the Holocaust and the murder and torture of Jewish people, such as those, who were killed by the terrorists in Mumbai.

He and the producer then make a few sarcastic, but very accurate points about being called ‘anti-Semitic’ and accused of denying the Holocaust in their turn, simply because they have told their accusers that they’re morons and made even more comments mocking Shapiro.

I’ve put this up as this response to the accusations of anti-Semitism by Sam Seder’s fellow broadcasters – Seder himself goes on to rebut it himself in a later video – because it’s also an excellent response to the smears made by the Zionist lobby over here against Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker and the many other decent people, who were targeted simply because they supported Jeremy Corbyn, as well as people like Mike, who was smeared simply because he dared to defend Livingstone, Walker and several of the others on grounds of historical accuracy.

Many of those smeared and suspended from the party were Jews, or of Jewish heritage, and had suffered genuine anti-Semitic abuse. One person had had her son attacked by a British Nazi. As for the non-Jews smeared as anti-Semites, like Mike, these were anti-racists, and many of whom similarly had a proud personal history of attacking anti-Semitism. Like Red Ken, who attacks it, along with anti-Black racism, and the British state’s recruitment of real Nazis in their battle with Communism during the Cold War, in his 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour. These were real Nazis, who had committed horrific crimes against Jews during the Holocaust.

For the non-Jewish people smeared as anti-Semites, the other point the presenter raised remains valid: the accusation of anti-Semitism is a cheap, disgusting rhetorical smear to try to shut down their pertinent criticism of the state of Israel for its crimes. And by using anti-Semitism in this way to deflect criticism of a sovereign nation – Israel- for its disgusting human rights abuses on the same grounds as other nations are attacked and criticized, grotesquely cheapens and insults the real history of Jewish persecution and the memory of those, who suffered.

Critics of Israel, who have suffered these smears, like Norman Finkelstein, have made the same point again and again. But the Zionist lobby carries on with the same vile libels. And the point needs to be made: as well as being a cheap response in itself, it’s also a case of crying wolf. As we’ve seen from the events in Charlottesville several days ago, there are now real Nazis on the march, killing people. These are the real anti-Semites, and if that accusation has to retain its power to shock and reveal just how vile the real Nazis are, then it should not be squandered on vilifying decent people, just for the benefits of the supporters of a vile, racist state, who can only defend their country by smearing decent people as the type of goose-stepping, chanting thugs, who killed an innocent woman and injured 19 others in Charlottesville.

Hyper Evolution – The Rise of the Robots Part 2

August 5, 2017

Wednesday evening I sat down to watch the second part of the BBC 4 documentary, Hyperevolution: the Rise of the Robots, in which the evolutionary biologist Ben Garrod and the electronics engineer Prof. Danielle George trace the development of robots from the beginning of the 20th century to today. I blogged about the first part of the show on Tuesday in a post about another forthcoming programme on the negative consequences of IT and automation, Secrets of Silicon Valley. The tone of Hyperevolution is optimistic and enthusiastic, with one or two qualms from Garrod, who fears that robots may pose a threat to humanity. The programme states that robots are an evolving species, and that we are well on the way to developing true Artificial Intelligence.

Last week, Garrod went off to meet a Japanese robotics engineer, whose creation had been sent up to keep a Japanese astronaut company of the International Space Station. Rocket launches are notoriously expensive, and space is a very, very expensive premium. So it was no surprise that the robot was only about four inches tall. It’s been designed as a device to keep people company, which the programme explained was a growing problem in Japan. Japan has a falling birthrate and thus an aging population. The robot is programmed to ask and respond to questions, and to look at the person, who’s speaking to it. It doesn’t really understand what is being said, but simply gives an answer according to its programming. Nevertheless, it gives the impression of being able to follow and respond intelligently to conversation. It also has the very ‘cute’ look that characterizes much Japanese technology, and which I think comes from the conventions of Manga art. Garrod noted how it was like baby animals in having a large head and eyes, which made the parents love them.

It’s extremely clever, but it struck me as being a development of the Tamagotchi, the robotic ‘pet’ which was all over the place a few years ago. As for companionship, I could help thinking of a line from Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic Solaris, based on the novel by the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem. The film follow the cosmonaut, Kris, on his mission to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The planet’s vast ocean is alive, and has attempted to establish contact with the station’s crew by dredging their memories, and sending them replicas of people they know. The planet does this to Kris, creating a replica of a former girlfriend. At one point, pondering the human condition in a vast, incomprehensible cosmos, Kris states ‘There are only four billion of us…a mere handful. We don’t need spaceships, aliens…What man needs is man.’ Or words to that effect. I forget the exact quote. I dare say robots will have their uses caring for and providing mental stimulation for the elderly, but this can’t replace real, human contact.

George went to America to NASA, where the space agency is building Valkyrie to help with the future exploration of Mars in 2030. Valkyrie is certainly not small and cute. She’s six foot, and built very much like the police machines in Andrew Blomkamp’s Chappie. George stated that they were trying to teach the robot how to walk through a door using trial and error. But each time the machine stumbled. The computer scientists then went through the robot’s programming trying to find and correct the error. After they thought they had solved it, they tried again. And again the machine stumbled.

George, however, remained optimistic. She told ‘those of you, who think this experiment is a failure’, that this was precisely what the learning process entailed, as the machine was meant to learn from its mistakes, just like her own toddler now learning to walk. She’s right, and I don’t doubt that the robot will eventually learn to walk upright, like the humanoid robots devised by their competitors over at DARPA. However, there’s no guarantee that this will be the case. People do learn from their mistakes, but if mistakes keep being made and can’t be correctly, then it’s fair to say that a person has failed to learn from them. And if a robot fails to learn from its mistakes, then it would also be fair to say that the experiment has failed.

Holy Joe Smith! I was also a reminded of another piece of classic SF in this segment. Not film, but 2000 AD’s ‘Robohunter’ strip. In its debut story, the aged robohunter, Sam Slade – ‘that’s S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’ – his robometer, Kewtie and pilot, Kidd, are sent to Verdus to investigate what has happened to the human colonists. Verdus is so far away, that robots have been despatched to prepare it for human colonization, and a special hyperdrive has to be used to get Slade there. This rejuvenates him from an old man in his seventies to an energetic guy in his thirties. Kidd, his foul mouthed, obnoxious pilot, who is in his 30s, is transformed into a foul-mouthed, obnoxious, gun-toting baby.

The robot pioneers have indeed prepared Verdus for human habitation. They’ve built vast, sophisticated cities, with shops and apartments just waiting to be occupied, along with a plethora of entertainment channels, all of whose hosts and performers are robotic. However, their evolution has outpaced that of humanity, so that they are now superior, both physically and mentally. They continue to expect humans to be the superiors, and so when humans have come to Verdus, they’ve imprisoned, killed and experimented on them as ‘Sims’ – simulated humans, not realizing that these are the very beings they were created to serve. In which case, Martian colonists should beware. And carry a good blaster, just in case.

Garrod and George then went to another lab, where the robot unnerved Garrod by looking at him, and following him around with its eye. George really couldn’t understand why this should upset him. Talking about it afterwards, Garrod said that he was worried about the threat robots pose to humanity. George replied by stating her belief that they also promise to bring immense benefits, and that this was worth any possible danger. And that was the end of that conversation before they went on to the next adventure.

George’s reply isn’t entirely convincing. This is what opponents of nuclear power were told back in the ’50s and ’60s, however. Through nuclear energy we were going to have ships and planes that could span the globe in a couple of minutes, and electricity was going to be so plentiful and cheap that it would barely be metered. This failed, because the scientists and politicians advocating nuclear energy hadn’t really worked out what would need to be done to isolate and protect against the toxic waste products. Hence nearly six decades later, nuclear power and the real health and environmental problems it poses are still very much controversial issues. And there’s also that quote from Bertrand Russell. Russell was a very staunch member of CND. When he was asked why he opposed nuclear weapons, he stated that it was because they threatened to destroy humanity. ‘And some of us think that would be a very great pity’.

Back in America, George went to a bar to meet Alpha, a robot created by a British inventor/showman in 1932. Alpha was claimed to be an autonomous robot, answering questions by choosing appropriate answers from recordings on wax cylinders. George noted that this was extremely advanced for the time, if true. Finding the machine resting in a display case, filled with other bizarre items like bongo drums, she took an access plate off the machine to examine its innards. She was disappointed. Although there were wires to work the machine’s limbs, there were no wax cylinders or any other similar devices. She concluded that the robot was probably worked by a human operator hiding behind a curtain.

Then it was off to Japan again, to see another robot, which, like Valkyrie, was learning for itself. This was to be a robot shop assistant. In order to teach it to be shop assistant, its creators had built an entire replica camera shop, and employed real shop workers to play out their roles, surrounded by various cameras recording the proceedings. So Garrod also entered the scenario, where he pretended to be interested in buying a camera, asking questions about shutter speeds and such like. The robot duly answered his questions, and moved about the shop showing him various cameras at different prices. Like the robotic companion, the machine didn’t really know or understand what it was saying or doing. It was just following the motions it had learned from its human counterparts.

I was left wondering how realistic the role-playing had actually been. The way it was presented on camera, everything was very polite and straightforward, with the customer politely asking the price, thanking the assistant and moving on to ask to see the next of their wares. I wondered if they had ever played at being a difficult customer in front of it. Someone who came in and, when asked what they were looking for, sucked their teeth and said, ‘I dunno really,’ or who got angry at the prices being asked, or otherwise got irate at not being able to find something suitable.

Through the programme, Japanese society is held up as being admirably progressive and accepting of robots. Earlier in that edition, Garrod finished a piece on one Japanese robot by asking why it was that a car manufacturer was turning to robotics. The answer’s simple. The market for Japanese cars and motorcycles is more or less glutted, and they’re facing competition from other countries, like Indonesia and Tokyo. So the manufacturers are turning to electronics.

The positive attitude the Japanese have to computers and robots is also questionable. The Japanese are very interested in developing these machines, but actually don’t like using them themselves. The number of robots in Japan can easily be exaggerated, as they include any machine tool as a robot. And while many British shops and businesses will use a computer, the Japanese prefer to do things the old way by hand. For example, if you go to a post office in Japan, the assistant, rather than look something up on computer, will pull out a ledger. Way back in the 1990s someone worked out that if the Japanese were to mechanise their industry to the same extent as the West, they’d throw half their population out of work.

As for using robots, there’s a racist and sexist dimension to this. The Japanese birthrate it falling, and so there is real fear of a labour shortage. Robots are being developed to fill it. But Japanese society is also extremely nationalistic and xenophobic. Only people, whose parents are both Japanese, are properly Japanese citizens with full civil rights. There are third-generation Koreans, constituting an underclass, who, despite having lived there for three generations, are still a discriminated against underclass. The Japanese are developing robots, so they don’t have to import foreign workers, and so face the problems and strains of a multicultural society.

Japanese society also has some very conservative attitudes towards women. So much so, in fact, that the chapter on the subject in a book I read two decades ago on Japan, written by a Times journalist, was entitled ‘A Woman’s Place Is In the Wrong’. Married women are expected to stay at home to raise the kids, and the removal of a large number of women from the workplace was one cause of the low unemployment rate in Japan. There’s clearly a conflict between opening up the workplace to allow more married women to have a career, and employing more robots.

Garrod also went off to Bristol University, where he met the ‘turtles’ created by the neuroscientist, Grey Walter. Walter was interested in using robots to explore how the brain functioned. The turtles were simple robots, consisting of a light-detecting diode. The machine was constructed to follow and move towards light sources. As Garrod himself pointed out, this was like the very primitive organisms he’d studied, which also only had a light-sensitive spot.

However, the view that the human brain is really a form of computer have also been discredited by recent research. Hubert L. Dreyfus in his book, What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Intelligence, describes how, after the failure of Good Old Fashioned A.I. (GOFAI), computer engineers then hoped to create it through exploring the connections between different computing elements, modelled on the way individual brain cells are connected to each by a complex web of neurons. Way back in 1966, Walter Rosenblith of MIT, one of the pioneers in the use of computers in neuropsychology, wrote

We no longer hold the earlier widespread belief that the so-called all-or-none law from nerve impulses makes it legitimate to think of relays as adequate models for neurons. In addition, we have become increasingly impressed with the interactions that take place among neurons: in some instances a sequence of nerve impulses may reflect the activities of literally thousands of neurons in a finely graded manner. In a system whose numerous elements interact so strongly with each other, the functioning of the system is not necessarily best understood by proceeding on a neuron-by-neuron basis as if each had an independent personality…Detailed comparisons of the organization of computer systems and brains would prove equally frustrating and inconclusive. (Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can’t Do, p. 162).

Put simply, brain’s don’t work like computers. This was written fifty years ago, but it’s fair to ask if the problem still exists today, despite some of the highly optimistic statements to the contrary.

Almost inevitably, driverless cars made their appearance. The Germans have been developing them, and Garrod went for a spin in one, surrounded by two or three engineers. He laughed with delight when the car told him he could take his hands off the wheel and let the vehicle continue on its own. However, the car only works in the comparatively simply environment of the autobahn. When it came off the junction, back into the normal road system, the machine told him to start driving himself. So, not quite the victory for A.I. it at first appears.

Garrod did raise the question of the legal issues. Who would be responsible if the car crashed while working automatically – the car, or the driver? The engineers told him it would be the car. Garrod nevertheless concluded that segment by noting that there were still knotty legal issues around it. But I don’t know anyone who wants one, or necessarily would trust one to operate on its own. A recent Counterpunch article I blogged about stated that driverless cars are largely being pushed by a car industry, trying to expand a market that is already saturated, and the insurance companies. The latter see it as a golden opportunity to charge people, who don’t want one, higher premiums on the grounds that driverless cars are safer.

Garrod also went to meet researchers in A.I. at Plymouth University, who were also developing a robot which as part of their research into the future creation of genuine consciousness in machines. Talking to one of the scientists afterwards, Garrod heard that there could indeed be a disruptive aspect to this research. Human society was based on conscious decision making. But if the creation of consciousness was comparatively easy, so that it could be done in an afternoon, it could have a ‘disruptive’ effect. It may indeed be the case that machines will one day arise which will be conscious, sentient entities, but this does not mean that the development of consciousness is easy. You think of the vast ages of geologic time it took evolution to go from simple, single-celled organisms to complex creatures like worms, fish, insects and so on, right up to the emergence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens within the last 200,000 years.

Nevertheless, the programme ended with Garrod and George talking the matter over on the banks of the Thames in London. George concluded that the rise of robots would bring immense benefits and the development of A.I. was ‘inevitable’.

This is very optimistic, to the point where I think you could be justified by calling it hype. I’ve said in a previous article how Dreyfus’ book describes how robotics scientists and engineers have made endless predictions since Norbert Wiener and Alan Turing, predicting the rise of Artificial Intelligence, and each time they’ve been wrong. He’s also described the sheer rage with which many of those same researchers respond to criticism and doubt. In one passage he discusses a secret meeting of scientists at MIT to discuss A.I., in which a previous edition of his book came up. The scientists present howled at it with derision and abuse. He comments that why scientists should persist in responding so hostilely to criticism, and to persist in their optimistic belief that they will eventually solve the problem of A.I., is a question for psychology and the sociology of knowledge.

But there are also very strong issues about human rights, which would have to be confronted if genuine A.I. was ever created. Back in the 1970s or early ’80s, the British SF magazine, New Voyager, reviewed Roderick Random. Subtitled, ‘The Education of a Young Machine’, this is all about the creation of a robot child. The reviewer stated that the development of truly sentient machines would constitute the return of slavery. A similar point was made in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in an episode where another ship’s captain wished to take Data apart, so that he could be properly investigated and more like him built. Data refused, and so the captain sued to gain custody of him, arguing that he wasn’t really sentient, and so should be legally considered property. And in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the book that launched the Cyberpunk SF genre, the hero, Case, finds out that the vast computer for which he’s working, Wintermute, has Swiss citizenship, but its programming are the property of the company that built it. This, he considers, is like humans having their thoughts and memories made the property of a corporation.

Back to 2000 AD, the Robusters strip portrayed exactly what such slavery would mean for genuinely intelligent machines. Hammerstein, an old war droid, and his crude sidekick, the sewer droid Rojaws and their fellows live with the constant threat of outliving their usefulness, and taking a trip down to be torn apart by the thick and sadistic Mek-Quake. Such a situation should, if it ever became a reality, be utterly intolerable to anyone who believes in the dignity of sentient beings.

I think we’re a long way off that point just yet. And despite Prof. George’s statements to the contrary, I’m not sure we will ever get there. Hyperevolution is a fascinating programme, but like many of the depictions of cutting edge research, it’s probably wise to take some of its optimistic pronouncements with a pinch of salt.

Forthcoming Programme on the Destructive Consequence of IT

August 1, 2017

Next Sunday, the 6th August, BBC 2 is showing a documentary at 8.00 pm on the negative aspects of automation and information technology. Entitled Secrets of Silicon Valley, it’s the first part of a two-part series. The blurb for it in the Radio Times reads

The Tech Gods – who run the biggest technology companies – say they’re creating a better world. Their utopian visions sound persuasive: Uber say the app reduces car pollution and could transform how cities are designed; Airbnb believes its website empowers ordinary people. some hope to reverser climate change or replace doctors with software.

In this doc, social media expert Jamie Bartlett investigates the consequences of “disruption” – replacing old industries with new ones. The Gods are optimistic about our automated future but one former Facebook exec is living off-grid because he fears the fallout from the tech revolution. (p. 54).

A bit more information is given on the listings page for the programmes on that evening. This gives the title of the episode – ‘The Disruptors’, and states

Jamie Bartlett uncovers the dark reality behind Silicon Valley’s glittering promise to build a better world. He visits Uber’s offices in San Francisco and hears how the company believes it is improving our cities. But Hyderabad, India, Jamie sees for himself the apparent human consequences of Uber’s utopian vision and asks what the next wave of Silicon Valley’s global disruption – the automation of millions of jobs – will mean for us. He gets a stark warning from an artificial intelligence pioneer who is replacing doctors with software. Jamie’s journey ends in the remote island hideout of a former social media executive who fears this new industrial revolution could lead to social breakdown and the collapse of capitalism. (p. 56).

I find the critical tone of this documentary refreshing after the relentless optimism of last Wednesday’s first instalment of another two-part documentary on robotics, Hyper Evolution: the Rise of the Robots. This was broadcast at 9 O’clock on BBC 4, with second part shown tomorrow – the second of August – at the same time slot.

This programme featured two scientists, the evolutionary biologist, Dr. Ben Garrod, and the electronics engineer Professor Danielle George, looking over the last century or so of robot development. Garrod stated that he was worried by how rapidly robots had evolved, and saw them as a possible threat to humanity. George, on the other hand, was massively enthusiastic. On visiting a car factory, where the vehicles were being assembled by robots, she said it was slightly scary to be around these huge machines, moving like dinosaurs, but declared proudly, ‘I love it’. At the end of the programme she concluded that whatever view we had of robotic development, we should embrace it as that way we would have control over it. Which prompts the opposing response that you could also control the technology, or its development, by rejecting it outright, minimizing it or limiting its application.

At first I wondered if Garrod was there simply because Richard Dawkins was unavailable. Dawko was voted the nation’s favourite public intellectual by the readers of one of the technology or current affairs magazines a few years ago, and to many people’s he’s the face of scientific rationality, in the same way as the cosmologist Stephen Hawking. However, there was a solid scientific reason he was involved through the way robotics engineers had solved certain problems by copying animal and human physiology. For example, Japanese cyberneticists had studied the structure of the human body to create the first robots shown in the programme. These were two androids that looked and sounded extremely lifelike. One of them, the earlier model, was modelled on its creator to the point where it was at one time an identical likeness. When the man was asked how he felt about getting older and less like his creation, he replied that he was having plastic surgery so that he continued to look as youthful and like his robot as was possible.

Japanese engineers had also studied the human hand, in order to create a robot pianist that, when it was unveiled over a decade ago, could play faster than a human performer. They had also solved the problem of getting machines to walk as bipeds like humans by giving them a pelvis, modeled on the human bone structure. But now the machines were going their own way. Instead of confining themselves to copying the human form, they were taking new shapes in order to fulfil specific functions. The programme makers wanted to leave you in new doubt that, although artificial, these machines were nevertheless living creatures. They were described as ‘a new species’. Actually, they aren’t, if you want to pursue the biological analogy. They aren’t a new species for the simple reason that there isn’t simply one variety of them. Instead, they take a plethora of shapes according to their different functions. They’re far more like a phylum, or even a kingdom, like the plant and animal kingdoms. The metal kingdom, perhaps?

It’s also highly problematic comparing them to biological creatures in another way. So far, none of the robots created have been able to reproduce themselves, in the same way biological organisms from the most primitive bacteria through to far more complex organisms, not least ourselves, do. Robots are manufactured by humans in laboratories, and heavily dependent on their creators both for their existence and continued functioning. This may well change, but we haven’t yet got to that stage.

The programme raced through the development of robots from Eric, the robot that greeted Americans at the World’s Fair, talking to one of the engineers, who’d built it and a similar metal man created by the Beeb in 1929. It also looked at the creation of walking robots, the robot pianist and other humanoid machines by the Japanese from the 1980s to today. It then hopped over the Atlantic to talk to one of the leading engineers at DARPA, the robotics technology firm for the American defence establishment. Visiting the labs, George was thrilled, as the company receives thousands of media requests, to she was exceptionally privileged. She was shown the latest humanoid robots, as well as ‘Big Dog’, the quadruped robot carrier, that does indeed look and act eerily like a large dog.

George was upbeat and enthusiastic. Any doubts you might have about robots taking people’s jobs were answered when she met a spokesman for the automated car factory. He stated that the human workers had been replaced by machines because, while machines weren’t better, they were more reliable. But the factory also employed 650 humans running around here and there to make sure that everything was running properly. So people were still being employed. And by using robots they’d cut the price on the cars, which was good for the consumer, so everyone benefits.

This was very different from some of the news reports I remember from my childhood, when computers and industrial robots were just coming in. There was shock by news reports of factories, where the human workers had been laid off, except for a crew of six. These men spent all day playing cards. They weren’t employed because they were experts, but simply because it would have been more expensive to sack them than to keep them on with nothing to do.

Despite the answers given by the car plant’s spokesman, you’re still quite justified in questioning how beneficial the replacement of human workers with robots actually is. For example, before the staff were replaced with robots, how many people were employed at the factory? Clearly, financial savings had to be made by replacing skilled workers with machines in order to make it economic. At the same time, what skill level were the 650 or so people now running around behind the machines? It’s possible that they are less skilled than the former car assembly workers. If that’s the case, they’d be paid less.

As for the fear of robots, the documentary traced this from Karel Capek’s 1920’s play, R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robot, which gave the word ‘robot’ to the English language. The word ‘robot’ means ‘serf, slave’ or ‘forced feudal labour’ in Czech. This was the first play to deal with a robot uprising. In Japan, however, the attitude was different. Workers were being taught to accept robots as one of themselves. This was because of the animist nature of traditional Japanese religion. Shinto, the indigenous religion besides Buddhism, considers that there are kami, roughly spirits or gods, throughout nature, even inanimate objects. When asked what he thought the difference was between humans and robots, one of the engineers said there was none.

Geoff Simons also deals with the western fear of robots compared to the Japanese acceptance of them in his book, Robots: The Quest for Living Machines. He felt that it came from the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. This is suspicious of robots, as it allows humans to usurp the Lord as the creator of living beings. See, for example, the subtitle of Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein – ‘the Modern Prometheus’. Prometheus was the tAstritan, who stole fire from the gods to give to humanity. Victor Frankenstein was similarly stealing a divine secret through the manufacture of his creature.

I think the situation is rather more complex than this, however. Firstly, I don’t think the Japanese are as comfortable with robots as the programme tried to make out. One Japanese scientist, for example, has recommended that robots should not be made too humanlike, as too close a resemblance is deeply unsettling to the humans, who have to work with it. Presumably the scientist was basing this on the experience of Japanese as well as Europeans and Americans.

Much Japanese SF also pretty much like its western counterpart, including robot heroes. One of the long-time comic favourites in Japan is Astroboy, a robot boy with awesome abilities, gadgets and weapons. But over here, I can remember reading the Robot Archie strip in Valiant in the 1970s, along with the later Robusters and A.B.C. Warriors strips in 2000 AD. R2D2 and C3PO are two of the central characters in Star Wars, while Doctor Who had K9 as his faithful robot dog.

And the idea of robot creatures goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Hephaestus, the ancient Greek god of fire, was a smith. Lame, he forged three metal girls to help him walk. Pioneering inventors like Hero of Alexandria created miniature theatres and other automata. After the fall of the Roman Empire, this technology was taken up by the Muslim Arabs. The Banu Musa brothers in the 9th century AD created a whole series of machines, which they simply called ‘ingenious devices’, and Baghdad had a water clock which included various automatic figures, like the sun and moon, and the movement of the stars. This technology then passed to medieval Europe, so that by the end of the Middle Ages, lords and ladies filled their pleasure gardens with mechanical animals. The 18th century saw the fascinating clockwork machines of Vaucanson, Droz and other European inventors. With the development of steam power, and then electricity in the 19th century came stories about mechanical humans. One of the earliest was the ‘Steam Man’, about a steam-powered robot, which ran in one of the American magazines. This carried on into the early 20th century. One of the very earliest Italian films was about a ‘uomo machina’, or ‘man machine’. A seductive but evil female robot also appears in Fritz Lang’s epic Metropolis. Both films appeared before R.U.R., and so don’t use the term robot. Lang just calls his robot a ‘maschinemensch’ – machine person.

It’s also very problematic whether robots will ever really take human’s jobs, or even develop genuine consciousness and artificial intelligence. I’m going to have to deal with this topic in more detail later, but the questions posed by the programme prompted me to buy a copy of Hubert L. Dreyfus’ What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason. Initially published in the 1970s, and then updated in the 1990s, this describes the repeated problems computer scientists and engineers have faced trying to develop Artificial Intelligence. Again and again, these scientists predicted that ‘next year’ ,’in five years’ time’, ‘in the next ten years’ or ‘soon’, robots would achieve human level intelligence, and would make all of us unemployed. The last such prediction I recall reading was way back in 1999 – 2000, when we were all told that by 2025 robots would be as intelligent as cats. All these forecasts have proven wrong. But they’re still being made.

In tomorrow’s edition of Hyperevolution, the programme asks the question of whether robots will ever achieve consciousness. My guess is that they’ll conclude that they will. I think we need to be a little more skeptical.

Aide Who Walked Out on May Wants British Public to Stop Trolling Her

July 5, 2017

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting that Katie Perrior, who was one of the two aides, who walked out of May’s cabinet a week or so ago, appeared on Paul Ross’ show on Talk Radio to tell the country that we should all stop sending the PM nasty messages on Twitter.

She said: “We need to stop with the abuse, we need to stop trolling our politicians on Twitter”, and followed this with the comments that there is no money, people need to realise that” and “She [May] would be devastated right now.” She also said that “people need to get real” and allow Mrs May to do her job.”

Mike points out that there are perfectly good reasons why May is receiving abuse: she’s been the worst excuse for a Prime Minister we’ve ever suffered. He points out that she called a snap election, which she lost, and is now spending £1 billion of our money to keep herself in power through an alliance with the terrorist-linked bigots of the DUP. Mike also points out that her remark that there is no more money also undermines her credibility, but concurs that May should be left to do one job: clear out.

He concludes

The only way we can have any kind of “strong and stable” government – as Mrs May herself described it – is by holding another general election and electing a Labour government.

I really don’t have any sympathy with Perrior or her former mistress in No. 10. Despite May’s repeated statements that there is no ‘magic money tree’, there clearly is if it means securing an alliance that will shore up her tottering minority government.

It’s also a flat-out lie. The budget for the NHS has been cut disastrously, to the point where tens of NHS healthcare trusts are millions in debt, and just about ready for privatisation by a Tory government intent on destroying this most precious of British institutions. But in 1979 a report concluded that, contrary to Maggie Thatcher’s ideas about privatising the Health Service, the NHS provided excellent value for money and would easily be funded by expected changes in taxation.

The Tories have gone back to lying about ‘high spending Labour’ to justify their brutal, swingeing cuts, but the Labour party never overspent on the NHS, which was in budget when they left office. Unlike now, after Andrew Lansley, Jeremy Hunt, and their masters David Cameron and Theresa May. Furthermore, Labour actually spent less than previous Tory administrations.

Perrior and the rest of them are, of course, terrified of the spectre of Jeremy Corbyn getting into No. 10, and undoing the forty years of harm successive Thatcherite regimes have done to this country. Hence all the bleating about there being no money. But there is money available. Corbyn and Labour costed all their proposals, unlike May and the Tories. And the La Chat Francaise Philosophique over at Guy Debord’s Cat has pointed out that it actually costs money to cut taxes. All that needs to be done to fund the renationalisation of the NHS, stop benefit sanctions and renationalise part of the energy industry and the other proposals, is to start taxing the upper five per cent of the population again.

But this gives the Tories a fit of the vapours, as it means taxing the rich to support the poor, while everything the Tories do is the reverse: to impoverish the poor in order to give greater power and wealth to those, who already have more than enough of it.

I also don’t have any sympathy for the supposed personal distress this is causing to May herself. In fact I find this highly hypocritical.

Thatcherite welfare policy, since the days of Thatcher herself, is modelled very much on the principle of Less Eligibility, which was at the heart of the Liberal’s New Poor Law of 1833. Conditions on welfare are to be made so harsh, that it will deter everyone except the very needy from going on it. Hence if you sign on at the jobcentre, the clerk will belittle you and put immense amounts of pressure on you to get a job, even if it is unsuitable. And it works. I personally know people, who are unemployed and who have not signed on, because of the insulting, demeaning way jobcentre staff have treated them.

That’s if you are sufficiently lucky to qualify for benefit in the first place. The government, like the Thatcherite administrations before it, is committed to dismantling the welfare state. And this means making qualification for jobseeker’s allowance and disability benefit as difficult as possible. This means that Maximus, like Atos, regularly and fraudulently decides that severely disabled, and even terminally ill people, are capable of holding down a job. And unemployed people have been sanctioned for the flimsiest of reasons.

The result of this is misery, mass poverty and starvation.

I’ve mentioned enough times the number of deaths this has caused, the numbers forced to use food banks, and the millions who don’t know if they’ll be able to eat tomorrow. But psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals have warned several times about the rise in mental illness caused by the distress those with such problems suffer in filling out the forms and going through the assessment process.

One very graphic illustration of the distress this has caused ordinary Brits is the case Mike put up on his blog a few years ago. This described how members of the public came to comfort a young man, who was left crying outside the jobcentre, when they turned his application for benefit down.

Where the cries of Perrior’s and her colleagues then about distress? There weren’t any. Indeed, the whole attitude of the Conservative party, and its vile organs like the Daily Heil is that those on welfare are scroungers and malingers, who should be demeaned and vilified at every turn.

So I have absolutely no sympathy with Perrior’s wails about how upsetting it is for her former employer to get such horrible Tweets. May is presiding over a malign political system, which sees humiliation and distress as legitimate tools for managing the hoi polloi.

The best thing May can do is to end the distress she’s causing the rest of us, and resign to make way for a Labour government.

The Tory, Privatise Enterprise Cure for Stressed Teachers: Electrostimulate their Brains!

July 3, 2017

Everything about this says Bad Science, as in the book by Ben Goldacre. And ‘bad’ in every definition of the word. Not only wrong scientifically, but also morally. But it’s what you get all too often with the Tories in charge.

Mike over at Vox Political has today posted up a piece commenting on a story in today’s Torygraph, hyping the use of an electronic device, the Alpha-Stim, which Leigh Academies Trust are offering to their staff at seven secondary schools, seven primary schools and a special educational needs school in Kent to treat the symptoms of stress amongst their staff. The Torygraph says that the device is the size of a mobile phone, and works by sending micro-pulses of electricity to the brain to stimulate the production of alpha waves. This supposedly helps relieve anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. The Trust is offering it along with other therapies. The extract Mike includes in his piece quotes one Peter Caunt of Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust, who says ‘We know this type of therapy works’ before going on to say that the question is whether it is cost-effective.

Mike compares it to the shock treatment used on very disturbed people, which works by burning out part of their frontal lobes. He states that he personally knows people, who’ve had it done, and they have not been the same afterwards.
He asks why the schools management company isn’t trying to solve the problem by making teachers’ lives less stressful.

He wonders if the real reason is that the company’s bosses want to turn their staff into compliant little teaching zombies, who won’t complain, because they’ve had their conscience burned out of them along with the stress.

He also makes the point that the Trust used to be headed by Frank Green, who was appointed to a two-year stint as schools commissioner by Michael Gove. This shows the strong connection between the company and the Tory party.

The device should, apparently, be used for 20 minutes each, but some teaching staff are using it twice or three times. So Mike asks the obvious question of what kind of teachers they’re like afterwards.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/03/the-tory-cure-for-stressed-teachers-is-electrocute-their-brains/

Everything about this is highly dubious. It looks very much like something straight out of the accounts of bad, if not pathological science, from the pages of Ben Goldacre, Martin Gardner and others. Ben Goldacre, you may remember, wrote a book, Bad Science, about this kind of nonsense a few years ago. the Sceptic, Martin Gardner also attacked bad and pernicious science a few decades ago in his Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. This looks like a prime example of it, to go with other, earlier pseudo-sciences like eugenics, lobotomies, Lysenkoism, Nazi ‘race science’ and monkey glands.

As for electro-convulsive therapy, it was devised by a German Jewish doctor, who fled Nazi Germany to Fascist Italy. Deciding that it could be an effective method of treating the mentally ill, he started by testing it on tramps he and the authorities rounded up off the street. Adam Parfrey published an essay on it, ‘Gimme Shock Treatment’, in one of his books on the extremes of belief in 1990s America, Apocalypse Culture or Cult Rapture. That essay made it very clear just how nasty it was.

It’s still used, but proper medical professionals only resort to it in the case of severely disturbed people, where there really isn’t much choice.

And everything known about the brain should say that tinkering with it, unless you know exactly what you’re doing, is an appallingly bad idea. The brain is the most complex structure in the known universe. Modern neuroscience has succeeded in identifying which parts of the brain produces which mental function, but even so, there is a vast amount we don’t know. Raymond Tallis, who is a Humanist and former neurologist and neurosurgeon, wrote a book, Aping Mankind, with the aim to show that much human thought and mind couldn’t be reduced to neurological functions. He stated clearly that he wanted to show that thinking was ‘as mysterious as walking on water’. Given the vast complexity of the brain, and its vulnerability, it really is stupid and dangerous to mess around with it in this manner.

Remember a few years ago, when many doctors started to worry about possible brain damage caused by putting mobile phones next to your ear? They were afraid of the health risks posed by putting what is a microwave source next to your brain when talking on the phone.

It also reminds me of the ‘feedback cult’ of the ’70s. This also noted the connection between alpha waves and mood. It therefore encouraged people to hook themselves up to special monitors, which registered their alpha waves, and then learn how to control them and so altered their mood, all for supposedly beneficial purposes. That was also debunked some time ago.

The alpha-stim also sounds to be me like something that escaped from the Human Potential labs in the ’60s and ’70s. The Human Potential movement was one of those weird movements based on psychology that emerged in the 1960s, promising to bring people fulfilment and happiness through their programme of therapies. It still survives in various forms, and developed strong links with corporate capitalism, to the point where its detractors have called it a corporate mind control cult.

Adam Curtis devoted a programme to it in his documentary about the legacy of Freudianism, The Century of the Self, over a decade ago now. And what the programme revealed about it was truly chilling. The movement and its doctors managed to convince the medical profession to let them try to treat a selection of patients suffering from schizophrenia. The treatment consisted of dosing these poor souls up to the gills with LSD, and then attaching electrodes to electrify their brains. And all the while they were taught to repeat to themselves, ‘I am comfortable in myself’.

They interviewed one poor young woman, who’d been a victim of this nonsense. The treatment was a horrible, ghastly failure. It was perhaps a mercy that the woman said that she couldn’t remember much about it now, except that sometimes she had it done several times a day. It was this kind of appalling medical experimentation that the producers of Classic Star Trek took solid aim at in the episode ‘Dagger of the Mind’.

As for this latest rubbish, it also reminds me of an episode in Star Trek: Deep Space 9, when Doctor Bashir is called on treat Garak, the station’s Kardassian tailor and spy. Garak, like many other Kardassian secret agents, had a device implanted in his brain to stimulate his pleasure centres, so he could get through being tortured. Garak, however, has become so miserable that he started using it recreationally, and so has become addicted. Bashir has no choice but to find out what he can about the device, and try to remove it from his friend.

Which all sounds dangerously close to what’s going on here, with the exception that it’s teachers being treated with it, not alien spies.

I am really not at all surprised that it’s the Tories, or a company that’s associated with them, that’s peddling this nonsense. The Tories just love pseudoscience. I’ve reblogged stuff from Kitty S. Jones and other disability bloggers about the model of sickness devised by Unum and their pet psychiatrists at Cardiff University to have people thrown off benefit and declared fit for work, has been roundly debunked by other medical professionals.

And a little while ago, Private Eye in its ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column took a pot shot at a Tory-controlled council in Kent or that part of the world, where the local authority had cut council services, but was funnelling tens of thousands of pounds to a company headed by one of its female members, which specialised in using Neuro-Linguistic Programming or some other kind of dodgy therapy to offer spurious treatment to council staff.

Which, again, sounds very much like what’s going on here.

And then there was the case of the Leaderene herself, Maggie Thatcher. Thatcher was into Ayur Veda, a system of alternative therapies brought to the world by one of the dodgy Indian gurus, who rocked up here in the 1960s. Thatcher treated herself to baths, where along with the water there was a weak electric current. Obviously, she thought it would do her some good. I’m quite sure there were many others, who wish the voltage had been somewhat stronger.

This looks to me very much like a potentially harmful pseudoscience. As for Caunt’s statement that ‘we know it works’, that’s what Tory spokespeople have said about work improving people’s mental health, and other mental professionals, not to mention normal, ordinary people without a financial or ideological stake in it, pointing out that it’s rubbish. And I’ve no doubt it’s the same here.

This is just bad science, which is being hyped by company that obviously finds it cheaper to have their staff trying to make themselves less miserable by running electricity through their brains, than actually trying to do something more positive and concrete to improve conditions for them.

Pretty much like British society as a whole, where instead of offering real guidance and support to the unemployed, their harangued and demeaned by Jobcentre Staff through stupid, nonsensical models of unemployment and disability supported as government policy.

Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones Claims NASA Operating Child Slave Labour Base on Mars

July 1, 2017

More madness from the very warped mind of Alex Jones. Jones is the head honcho behind the internet conspiracy theory show, Infowars, and its companion website, Prison Planet. Jones believes, or affects to believe, that the American government, the UN, the ‘globalists’, the elite and liberals, Socialists and feminists are engaged in dire and foul conspiracies against the world and its people, and particularly those in America.

Over the years he has claimed that the richest 1 per cent of American society and industry, or at least their menfolk, sacrifice children in Satanic rituals at their annual secret meetings in Bohemian Grove in California. The Twin Towers collapsed because of a conspiracy by the American government, and not because Saudi-backed terrorists hijacked and flew two planes into them. President Obama was going to use to the legislation permitting the establishment of refugee camps to house disaster victims to seize power and herd people into what were really concentration camps. Humanity and the world were under attack by evil extradimensional entities, who might be demons or simply alien intelligences. And Barack Obama was fully under their control. He was truly the Devil’s emissary, because, apparently, he looked demonic, smelt bad and flies were always hovering around him.

Ditto Hillary Clinton. She was also under Satanic influence. She was part of a vast, paedophile conspiracy supplying children to leading politicians from a pizza parlour in Boston. She was also some kind of robot or cyborg, because something metal fell out of her trouser leg when she had a fainting fit during her campaigning. When she momentarily had some kind of problem swallowing a glass of water, Jones seized on this as evidence that she was either demonically possessed, or carrying some kind of alien spawn, which was about to come bursting out of her like the xenomorphs in the Alien movies. She was herself also a participant, with Bill, in black magic ‘spirit eating’ orgies put on by a performance artist.

The UN, Socialists and feminists are all engaged in some weird plot to take over the world and enslave everybody in it, particularly White men. Gay and transgender rights activists are a ‘transhumanist UFO cult’ to create a new, genderless, form of humanity.

How much of this Jones actually believes is a moot point. His ex-wife was suing him for custody of their children, on the grounds that he was utterly made and it was damaging their kids to see their Dad ranting and raving in the TV studio he has at his home. Jones’ lawyers responded by stating that Jones didn’t believe any of it, and it was all ‘performance art’.

Recently Jones has also been forced to issue apologies to people he has libelled on his programme. Someone took his comments about the pizza parlour in Boston very seriously indeed, and walked into it waving a gun around in order to free the child captives in the basement. There weren’t any children kept prisoner there, in the basement or anywhere else. Fortunately, no-one was shot or hurt in this incident.

Then he was threatened with legal action from the Turkish owner of a Yoghurt factory, who had a deliberately policy of employing immigrants. Many of these were Middle Eastern. Jones claimed that this, entirely respectable businessman, who was another paedophile, and that his employees had been responsible for a series of rapes. The businessman wasn’t, and his employees were also innocent. After being threatened with a writ, Jones ended up making a statement that he was entirely mistaken about it all on air.

Now he’s done the same to NASA. On Thursday, Jones had on his programme Robert David Steele, a former Reform Party presidential candidate, who claims to have been a case officer with the CIA. Steele spun a yarn that NASA had been kidnapping children to send them on a 20 year journey to be used as slave labour on Mars. Oh yes, and they were also been frightened and then killed, so that their blood and bone marrow could be harvested for use by the elites. The children had to be terrified when they died as this would enrich it with adrenaline.

NASA responded by denying everything, and pointing out that they didn’t have any kind of child labour camp on the Red Planet.

See: http://www.news18.com/news/buzz/we-do-not-have-a-child-slave-colony-on-mars-nasa-1447965.html

This story is, of course, absolute nonsense. For a start, 20 years is far too long for a journey to Mars. Spacecraft have to go at a certain speed – escape velocity – to escape the Earth’s gravitational pull if they are to go anywhere else in the Solar system, whether it’s the Moon or the other planets. I think current plans for a Mars mission estimate that it would take about 2-3 years or so to get there. A long time, certainly, but not as long as 20.

Then there’s the logistics and engineering problems of getting people to Mars. You need rockets of a certain size and power. Furthermore, any colonists for Mars, whether free or not, would have to carry all their food, water and air with them. The spaceships will also have to be shielded against cosmic radiation and solar flares. These weren’t much of a problem when going to the Moon, because of the relatively short length of the journey – about a week. Even so, if a coronal mass ejection – a type of massive flare known as a sun storm – had occurred, it would have fried the Apollo astronauts. These are a real threat for those intrepid souls going on the lengthy journey to the Red Planet.

There are also other medical problems caused by the lack of gravity in space. As the astronauts’ bodies don’t have to fight against the pull of the Earth’s gravity, muscles shrink. They also go to the toilet more than they would on Earth, and so start to lose calcium, weakening their bones. Hence their health is monitored, and those crews staying in space for a long time, such as during the Skylab programme from 1973-5, have to devote a certain amount of time each day to doing their exercise.

As there is no ‘up’ or ‘down’ in zero gravity, and the fluid in your inner ear that tells you which is which also starts to float along with the rest of you, some astronauts suffer from ‘space sickness’, similar to the sea sickness some people feel travelling by ship.

There are also psychological hazards that may endanger the lives of the space travellers. I heard Dr Kevin Fong, who’s a specialist in space medicine, talking about them one year at the Cheltenham Festival of Science. Fong pointed out that the strange environment of space can also affect astronauts’ mental health. Several of them have reported hearing sounds, such as dogs barking and babies crying, while in orbit. They can also find themselves doing strange, irrational things, which can potentially kill them, before being snapped out of it. One astronaut aboard Mir described how he was asleep one night, before being suddenly awoken by a noise. He then found one of his fellow astronauts suited up, ready to take a spacewalk. But the poor fellow hadn’t connected the air hoses. It takes about seven hours or so to put on and inflate a spacesuit, so that it protects its wearer from the hard vacuum outside their craft. None of this had been done, and if the astronaut had walked through the airlock, he would have been killed. Fortunately, the other astronaut was able to wake his friends and colleagues, who woke up and managed to stop him.

These are the hazards facing the extremely healthy men and women, who manage to pass the rigorous testing and gruelling grueling training programmes. Hopefully, one day we’ll have learned enough to make space travel sufficiently safe so that families with children can venture into the Deep Black. But we very definitely aren’t anyway near that level now.

This is sheer bullsh*t, and it’s not hard to see where it’s ultimately coming from. Somewhere in there is the influence of Alternative 3. This was an April Fool’s Day joke, broadcast by ITV in 1975. It was a bogus edition of a fake science programme, ‘Science Report’, which claimed that the Earth was dying, and so the Americans and Russians had secretly shelved their differences in order to colonise Mars secretly. Leading scientists were disappearing as they took up their new lives on the Red Planet. Ordinary people, meanwhile, were also disappearing. They were being kidnapped, lobotomised and ‘de-sexed’ to turn them into slaves as ‘batch consignments’, serving their elite masters.

The programme was a hoax, but unfortunately many people were genuinely taken in and didn’t realise that it was a joke. There was also a tie-in novelisation, which until recently was unavailable in the US. This led to rumours that it was all true, and had been deliberately suppressed by Them.

The result has been that a number of other conspiracy theories about secret government space projects have grown up around it, or been inspired by it. This latest nonsense appears to be one of them.

I don’t know how many people actually believe Steele’s story. Possibly very few, the kind of people, who bought into the lurid revelations of Commander X and his tales about secret collaboration with aliens. Or the late Bill English and his rubbish about meeting the Zeta Reticulan ambassador, Omnipotent Highness Krill, at a military base.

I doubt very many people actually believe the story, but that hasn’t stopped Jones having an effect. During the American presidential elections, he gave very vocal support to Donald Trump, who was a guest on his programme several times. He has libelled various blameless individuals, such as the Turkish yoghourt manufacturer. It’s a mercy that his stories about paedophile gangs didn’t result in someone being shot at that pizza place. He also notoriously claimed that the Sandy Hook school shooting was all staged, and that the children and others, who were killed and injured were ‘crisis actors’. This has led to people approaching and accusing the kids’ grieving parents with these claims.

And anti-racist activists are worried about the links Jones and his show have with the racist Alt-Right. This includes his fellow presenter, Paul Joseph Watson, who has inveighed against the threat Islam and Muslim immigration supposedly poses to western civilisation.

Jones is a clown, and his ranting can be hilarious, but there’s a very serious, very dark side to his show. It’s almost the very definition of ‘fake news’, and it is having a pernicious effect on politics in the US, as more citizens are encouraged to fear the terrible, but entirely imaginary Others that mean to harm and enslave them. While, of course, supporting right-wing Libertarian policies, which will deny them proper, decent medicine, welfare support, housing, clean water and education.

French Academic Olivier Roy on the Nihilistic Psychology of Suicide Bombers

June 15, 2017

Hope Not Hate, the anti-racist, anti-religious extremism website put up a very interesting interview last week with Olivier Roy, a French academic and expert in terrorism at the European University Institute in Florence, by Safya Khan-Ruf. Roy has published a book, Jihad and Death, about the motivations of Islamist terrorists, based on his own research. He states he first became interested in the topic while working in Afghanistan, and from his own experience growing up in Dreaux, a French town where immigrants constitute 30 per cent of the population.

Olivier states that from his sample of youths, who had belonged to a terrorist network, 65 per cent were second generation immigrants, 25 per cent converts. 50 per cent were juvenile delinquents, and none of them had been religious, belonged to a mosque or tried to spread Islam through preaching.

He also makes the point that ISIS’ terrorist methods differ strongly from those of Islamic terrorist groups in the 1970s and ’80s. These groups did not intend to die during their atrocities, and made every effort to escape.

Now the situation is reversed. The suicide bombers actively intend to die. He also argues that it isn’t racism or marginalisation that motivates the bombers either, and points to the fact that British Libyans are actually well integrated.

He argues instead that they have a powerful need for very rigorous, extreme forms of religion, coupled with a violent nihilism that is ultimately drawn from western individualism and the idea of the solitary hero. They use selected teachings from Islam to justify their atrocities like the KKK and other extremist groups in the west used Christianity as the justification for their attacks and terrorisation of others, such as Blacks in America. He states

Despite what many people say, these youth are not the products of unemployment, of racism, or a lack of integration. It’s just not true. For Abedi for example, Libyans are pretty well integrated and while he had a chaotic past, it wasn’t because of his family life.

And then people are ‘stuck’.

My thesis is that these are youth in revolt: nihilists that are suicidal and will ascribe their revolt into the narrative provided by IS. For those that have a Muslim background, it’s easy to adopt the narrative because the keys are already there.

But we also see hundreds of converts that adopt this. IS placed a very sophisticated narrative in play that combines references from Islam at the time of the Prophet with a modern type of extreme individualism – the image of the solitary hero – and a modern aesthetic of violence and death. That is what is working.

So we first need to attack the narrative of IS and the fascination it causes.

In these youths there is a demand for spirituality and mysticism. We’ve known since the anarchists and Dostoyevsky that there is a spiritual dimension to terrorists. The problem is, we fight this demand of spirituality by secularising and using our rational thought. I think our society has a problem with the religious – it doesn’t understand the religious anymore.

He then goes on to argue that people of faith should be allowed to express their religious beliefs freely, without being forced to adapt them to the demands of the secular state. For example, secular society should not demand that religious people alter their traditional hostile view of homosexuality.

He also states that we should be very careful not to overreact to these atrocities. He makes the point that similar killings occur regularly, such as the German pilot who committed suicide, killing all his passengers with him when he crashed the plane. These murders don’t have the same effect as Islamist or White Fascist killings.

http://hopenothate.org.uk/2017/06/05/nihilist-youths-turn-islamic-state-terrorists/

It’s an interesting viewpoint into the murderous, self-destructive psychology of suicide bombers. He’s right in that there is a similarity between their attitudes and the figure of the great, destructive, supremely individual hero that emerged in European Romanticism.

While I don’t dismiss the idea that the ‘great, bad man’ of Romantic literature hasn’t exerted some influence on their psychology, I also think it’s a mistake to downplay their links to organised Middle Eastern terrorism in favour of ascribing their motives to their own, individual psychology. A week or so ago Counterpunch published an article making the point that many Islamist terrorists were imported by Western secret services, who wished to use them for their own neocolonial schemes against secular leaders and regimes in the Middle East. Salman Abedi’s family was part of one such militant Islamist group, set up to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi.

The Counterpunch article further argues that ignoring these connections in favour of pursuing policies based on supposed radicalisation through the internet or in the Muslim community generally are misguided and ultimately harmful. Very few terrorists are recruited through online propaganda, and the ‘Prevent’ strategy of scrutinising all Muslims to check against radicalisation risks alienating British Muslims further. Far from being deterred from joining terrorist networks, they may feel that they are being unfairly suspected of being a terrorist or terrorist sympathiser, simply because of their faith.

And the emphasis on looking for indications of terrorist sympathies in the particular psychology of individual Muslims can lead instead to the mistaken condemnation or suspicion of the victims of violence from the Middle East. The article cites the case of a young boy, whose family had sought asylum in Britain from one of the war-torn countries in the Middle East. In his drawings in class, the lad depicted the planes and violence he had witnessed in his country of origin. Unfortunately, his teachers became alarmed as they thought this showed he had terrorist sympathies, and the poor lad was packed off to be investigated by the authorities and psychologists.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/06/12/britain-refuses-to-accept-how-terrorists-really-work/

Uri Avnery on Trump and Israel’s Anti-Semitic Zionists

May 9, 2017

The accusation that Ken Livingstone is a anti-Semite is partly based on his historically accurate statement that there was initially an agreement between the Zionists, or at least, some of them, and the Nazi party, to take Jews out of Nazi Germany and smuggle them into Palestine, then under the British Mandate. This was when sections of the Nazis didn’t care where Jews went, so long as they weren’t in Germany. It’s the Haavara agreement, and is recorded fact. There is an entry for it on the website of the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Israel. The agreement didn’t last very long. Nevertheless, it existed. And at the end of last year, Uri Avnery, an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom, wrote a piece in Counterpunch describing other collaborations between Zionists and anti-Semites.

His article was a response to Netanyahu’s reaction to a UN motion condemning Israel for its expansionism and maltreatment of the Palestinians. The UN had attempted to have similar motions passed many times before, but had been blocked by the US, using its veto. This time Barack Obama had not blocked it, and the motion had passed.

Netanyahu was furious. He withdrew Israeli ambassadors from Senegal and New Zealand, nations that have always been friend to Israel, called in foreign ambassadors to upbraid them, and generally ranted and raved.

Avnery states that while it was monumentally stupid on a diplomatic level, it was a very astute move domestically. It allowed Netanyahu to present himself as the virtuous defender of his nation, another David pitted against the Goliath of the UN. He makes the point that Jews and Israelis have taken a perverse satisfaction from the rest of the world’s opposition to them. In his view

For some reason, Jews derive satisfaction from a world-wide condemnation. It affirms what we have known all the time: that all the nations of the world hate us. It shows how special and superior we are. It has nothing to do with our own behavior, God forbid. It is just pure anti-Semitism.

As an example of this bizarre mentality, back in the days of Golda Meir one of the Israeli army’s dance band used to play a tune with the lyrics ‘The whole world is against us/ But we don’t give a damn…’

He goes on to say that the establishment of the state of Israel was supposed to put an end to this, by making Israel a normal country. But it hasn’t. He goes on to observe how Donald Trump has sent a rabidly right-wing Jewish American to Israel as his representative, a man so right-wing he makes Netanyahu seem liberal, while also appointing as one of his closest aides an anti-Semitic White racist. He states that Trump can support both anti-Semites and Zionists simultaneously as both have the same goal of taking Jews out of their historic homelands and relocating them in Israel.

He states that Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, tried the same tactic with the anti-Semites of Tsarist Russia. Herzl offered to persuade the Jews to emigrate, if the Russians helped them. This was during the horrific pogroms of the late 19th century. it didn’t quite work as Herzl wanted, as the Jewish emigrants largely went to America, not Palestine, then part of the Ottoman Empire.

He also gives as an example of such anti-Semitic Zionism the British and American evangelicals, who preached that the Jews should return to Israel. This was before the foundation of the Zionist movement proper, though he suggests it may have served as one of the inspirations for it. These evangelicals did so in the belief that the return of the Jews to their ancestral homeland would result in the Second Coming of Christ. This would be followed by the conversion of a minority of Jews to Christianity. Those, who did not convert, would be destroyed.

Later other members of the Zionist movement cooperated with anti-Semites in Poland and Nazi-occupied Europe. 1939 the extreme Zionist leader, Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky approached the anti-Semitic commanders of the Polish army with a similar deal to the Haavara Agreement. If they took on and trained Jews, the Zionists would send them to Palestine to liberate the country from the British, and the Jews would then leave Poland to emigrate there. This plan collapsed after the Nazi invasion.

During the War, but before the Holocaust, Abraham Stern, the founder of the Irgun, approached Adolf Hitler through an intermediary in neutral Turkey, offering to aid the Nazis against the British. Hitler didn’t reply.

Adolf Eichmann, the SS officer in charge of the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz also attempted to make a number of deals with the Zionists. Eichmann approached Israel Kastner and his group in Budapest. If the allies gave the Nazis a thousand trucks, he would halt the deportations. As a good will gesture, he allowed a few hundred Jews to escape to Switzerland. Kastner sent Yoel Brand as his messenger to the Zionist leadership in Jerusalem. However, he caught by the British and so the deportation and extermination of Hungarian Jews continued.

Netanyahu’s right-wing minister of defence, Avigdor Lieberman, also went berserk at the French plan to convene a meeting to secure a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in Paris. Avnery notes that the French plan was almost identical with one he and his friend published in 1957. Lieberman, however, went off ranting that it was the notorious Dreyfus Affair all over again, referring to the case in which a Jewish officer in the French army was court-martialed and sent to Devil’s Island on trumped up charges motivated by his accuser’s anti-Semitism.

Despite the French offer of a peaceful settlement, the Israelis still want Trump, with the Zionists and anti-Semites in his administration, to support them.

See http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/30/trump-and-israels-anti-semitic-zionists/

Johnny Ropata on Kevin McDonald and the Anti-Semitism of the Alt-Right

March 22, 2017

This is reblogged from Kevin Logan’s mirror of Ropata’s piece. This is more about the Alt Right and its denizens, I’m sorry to say. In this piece, Johnny Ropata discusses the career and ideas of Kevin McDonald, one of the leading ideologues of the Alt Right and the man dubbed by another leading figure in the movement, John Derbyshire, ‘the Karl Marx of the Alt Right’. McDonald is one of the directors of the American Freedom Party, the neo-Nazi group that publicly endorsed Donald Trump. He was also one of the speakers introduced by the Alt Right’s leader and founder, Richard Spencer, at that notorious conference in the Texas A&M University. From 1985 to 2015, McDonald taught child psychology at the University of California at Long Beach, where he kept at low profile. He did his doctoral thesis on evolutionary psychology, and group selection amongst wolves. He published a series of three books in the 1990s applying his views to Jews – A People That Shall Dwell Alone, Separation and Its Discontents, and the Culture of Critique. In the first book, McDonald lays out his theory that humanity is composed of different groups all competing for resources. The Jews are able to dominate in this, as they have a ‘Group Evolutionary Strategy’, founded on the Talmud as a eugenics text.

Ropata also believes that Jews see Whites as more of an enemy than Muslims, because Muslims are less intelligent and more easily dominated. He considers that Jews are motivated by a bitter hostility towards White, Christian civilisation, based on their own history of persecution, from the destruction of the Temple by the Romans through to the expulsions from Christian Europe during the Middle Ages. In Separation and Its Discontents, McDonald considered anti-Semitism to be rational strategy against Jewish domination, and saw the anti-Semitic campaigns of the Spanish Inquisition and Nazi Germany very much along these lines. In the Culture of Critique, McDonald examines Jewish involvement in western 20th century cultural movements, and concludes that they are actively trying to destroy White, Christian society in order to create an order more favourable to them.

Ropata here states that ‘this is straight-up bullsh*t’ without any hard data, and directs his viewers to a detailed critique of McDonald’s rubbish by JHate at bit.ly/2ktaauD. He has done little to understand or contextualise Jewish beliefs and practices, and his work is not accepted by scholars. He is simply a crank, and the only people, who take him seriously are other Nazis.

Among his other daft, poisonous ideas, he’s claimed on the David Duke Show on the radio that pornography is the Jews’ revenge for Christian persecution. he has also said that Jews want to set up Soviet-type gulags in the West for White Christians, when these become a minority in America. He bases this on his perception of Jewish involvement in the Russian Revolution and Nazi regime. Ropata says about this ‘This is what projection sounds like.’ After Anders Breivik horrific murder of 77 children at a Young Socialist summer camp in Norway, he wrote on his blog praising the butcher for being a great thinker with good practical ideas on strategy. Ropata also points out that McDonald is dangerous as he has forged a connection between the anti-Semitism of the early 20th century and that of the contemporary Nazi right. In this part of the video, he shows a Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda movie denouncing Jews, even assimilated Jews, of enemies of western civilisation provoking discontent and protest. He also plays a section from ‘The Daily Shoah’, a modern neo-Nazi podcast, whose hosts rant on about Jewish control of the media and how they were responsible for Stalin’s gulags. This ends with the host citing McDonald’s Culture of Critique as a source for further information. He also shows a clip of Richard Heimbach of the Traditionalist Worker Party stating that the ideals of White nationalism did not die in the bunker with Adolf Hitler, but are rising amongst ‘free peoples’ today, and that the Jews are waging a war against western civilisation. Heimbach also was shown pushing around a Black woman at a Trump rally. He regularly speaks at rallies of the American Freedom Party. Another regular speaker at these is the Holocaust denier Mark Weber, of the International Historical Review. He notes that these groups have become emboldened since the election of Donald Trump.

Pamphlet by Robert Owen on Self-Governing Communes

March 4, 2017

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Robert Owen’s pamphlet on reforming Britain into federation of autonomous socialist communities: front cover

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Rear cover listing other works written by Owen.

Looking through my bookshelves yesterday, I managed to find an old copy of a pamphlet by Robert Owen that I’d read when I was at college. It’s a facsimile edition of the Utopian Socialist’s Outline of the Rational System of Society, published by his Home Colonization Society at their headquarters in Pall Mall in London in 1841. The modern edition was republished by a small, private press on Guernsey.

Inside the front cover is a short piece by the Home Colonization Society’s secretary, A.C. Cuddon, giving a brief overview of its aims and activities. It states

Whatever may be said or written on the improvement of all classes of society, it is now evident to those who reflect, that that which is necessary to this end is a SOUND, GOOD, PRACTICAL EDUCATION, AND PERMANENT BENEFICIAL EMPLOYMENT to all who require them; in fact, that any other measures are mere palliatives, and can produce only temporary benefits, at an extravagant waste of time, capital and labour.

It will also be obvious to those who have thoroughly investigated the subject, that a sound education and permanent beneficial employment cannot be given under the present competitive arrangements of society; and that the best mode of securing these benefits to the population will be by the establishment of SELF-SUPPORTING HOME COLONIES, on account of their complete efficiency for the purpose, and their great economy over the present system.

A Society has therefore been formed to promote the establishment of these colonies; having for its object-
1stly. To submit the plans of the Colonies in all their details to the most scientific and experienced men in every department of life.
2ndly. To make these plans extensively known to the public, and to demonstrate their efficiency for the purposes designed.
3rdly. To demonstrate that these Colonies, in consequence of their very superior economical arrangements, will afford a secure and profitable investment for capital.
4thly To arrange the preliminaries for Joint-Stock Companies to carry the same gradually into extensive execution.
5thly. To publish the most useful and authentic works explanatory of the principles on which the system of Home Colonisation is based, in order to convey to the public correct information on this most important subject.

The expenses attendant on the above will be met by Subscriptions of £5 each and upwards; which shall, at the option of the subscriber, be placed to his or her credit in behalf of one or more shares, which the subscriber may choose to take in the first Joint-Stock Company established, and by donations.

A Subscription of Donation to the above amount will constitute a member of the Society.

The Society have published a statement of their views and the measures they propose, in a work entitled “A Development of the Principles and Plans on which to establish Self-supporting Home Colonies; as a secure and profitable investment for capital, and effectual means permanently to remove the causes of ignorance, poverty, and crime, and most materially to benefit all classes of society, by giving a right application to the now greatly misdirected powers of the human faculties, and of physical and moral science.”

This Society is not confined to any particular class, sect or party, but invites the cooperation of all who will unite in practical measures for the relief and amelioration of humanity. And the proposed Colonies will contain arrangements for the accommodation of every religion; the only religious requisition being, the practice and charity and kindness to all.

The pamphlet consists of several short sections, in which Owen lists the basic facts or principles on which his communities will be built, which mostly consisted of his views of human nature and psychological needs and influences of human society. The sections are entitled:

The Five Fundamental Facts on Which the Rational System of Society is Founded;

The Fundamental Laws of Human Nature, Or First Principles of the Science of Man;

The Conditions Requisite for Human Happiness;

The Principles and Practice of the Rational Religion; and

The Elements of the Science of Society, Or Of the Social State of Man.

He then gives on pages 10 to 14 of the pamphlet his proposed constitution for these colonies. He writes

A rational Government will attend solely to the Happiness of the governed.
It will ascertain what human nature is;-what are the laws of its organisation and of its existence, from birth to death;-what is necessary for the happiness of a being so formed and matured;-and what are the best means by which to attain those requisites, and to secure them permanently for all the governed.

It will devise and execute the arrangements by which the condition essential to human happiness shall be fully and permanently obtained for all the governed; and its laws will be few, easily understood by all the governed, and perfectly in unison with the laws of human nature.

Liberty of Mind or Conscience

1. Every one shall have equal and full liberty to express the dictates of his conscience on religious, and all other, subjects.
II. No one shall have any other power than fair argument to control the opinions or belief of another.
III. No praise or blame, no merit or demerit, no reward or punishment, shall be awarded for any opinions or belief.
IV. But all, of every religion, shall have equal right to express their opinions respecting the Incomprehensible Power which moves the atom and controls the universe, and to worship that Power under any form, or in any manner agreeable to their consciences,-not interfering with the equal rights of others.

Providing For and Educating the Population

I. Every one shall be equally provided, through life, with the best of every thing for human nature, by public arrangements; which arrangements shall give the best known direction to the industry and talents of every individual.
II. All shall be educated, from infancy to maturity, in the best manner known at the time.
III. All shall pass through the same general routine of education, domestic teaching, and employment.
IV. All children, from their birth, shall be under the especial care of the community in which they are born; but their parents shall have free access to them at all times.
V. All children shall be trained and educated together, as children of the same family; and shall be taught a knowledge of the laws of their nature.
VI. Every individual shall be encouraged to express his feelings and convictions only; or, in other words, to speak the truth solely upon all occasions.
VII. Both sexes shall have equal education, rights, privileges, and personal liberty; their marriages will arise from the general sympathies of their nature, uninfluenced by artificial distinctions.

General Arrangements for the Population

VIII. Under the Rational System of Society,-after the children shall have been trained to acquire new habits and new feelings, derived from the laws of human nature,-there shall be no useless private property.
IX. As soon as the members of these communities shall have been educated from infancy in a knowledge of the laws of their nature, trained to act in obedience to them, and surrounded by circumstances all in unison with them, there shall be no individual punishment or reward.
X. Society shall not be composed, as at present, of single families, but of communities or associations of men, women, and children, in the usual proportions, from three hundred to two thousand, as local circumstances may determine.
XI. As these new communities increase in number, unions of them shall be formed for local and general purposes, in tens, hundreds, thousands, &c., according to the less or more extended objects and interests which shall require their consideration and direction.
XII. Each of these communities shall possess around it land sufficient for the support, for ever, of all its members, even when it shall contain the maximum in number.
XIII. These communities shall be so arranged as to give to all the members of each of them, as nearly as possible, the same advantages; and to afford the most easy communication with each other.

Government of the Population and Duties of the Council.

XIV. Each community shall be governed in its home department by a general council, composed of all its members between the ages of thirty and forty; and each department shall be under the immediate direction of a committee, formed of members of the general council, chose by the latter, in the order to be determined upon; and in its external or foreign department, by all its members from forty to sixty years of age.
XV. After all the members of the community shall have been rendered capable of taking their full share of the duties in the general council of government, there shall be no selection or election of any individuals to office.
XVI. All the members at thirty years of age, who shall have been trained from infancy in the communities, shall be officially called upon to undertake their full share of the duties of management in the home department; and at forty they shall be excused from officially performing them: at forty they will be officially called upon to undertake the duties of the external or foreign department; and at sixty they will be excused from officially attending to them.
XVII. The duties of the general council of
home department shall be, to govern all the circumstances within the boundaries of its community,-to organise the various departments of production, distribution, and formation of character,-to remove all those circumstances which are the least favourable to happiness,-and to replace them with the best that can be devised among themselves, or of which they can obtain a knowledge from other communities. The duties of the general council of the external or foreign department will be, to receive visitors or delegates from other associations or communities,-to communicate with other similar associations,-to visit them and arrange with them the best means of forming roads, and conveying surplus produce to each other,-to travel, to give and receive information of inventions, discoveries, and improvements, and of every other kind that can be useful;-and also to regulate and assist in the establishment of new associations, composed of the surplus population of the community from among themselves, and to send to delegates to the circle of communities to which their community shall be attached.
XVIII. The general councils, home and foreign, shall have full power of government
in all things under their direction, as long as they shall act in unison with the laws of human nature, which shall be their sole guidance upon all occasions.
XIX. All individuals trained, educated, and placed, in conformity to the laws of their nature, must of necessity, at all times, think and act rationally, except they become physically, intellectually or morally diseased; in which case the council shall remove them into the hospital form bodily, mental, or moral invalids, where they shall remain until they shall be recovered by the mildest treatment that can effect their cure.
XX. The council, whenever it shall be necessary, shall call to its aid the practical abilities and advice of any of the members not in the council.

Adjustment of Differences

XXI. If the general councils should ever attempt to contravene the laws of human nature,-which is scarcely possible,-the elders of the community who have passed the councils shall call a general meeting of all the members of the community between sixteen and thirty years of age, who have been trained from infancy within it. This meeting shall calmly and patiently investigate the conduct of the general councils; and if a majority shall determine that they have acted, or attempted to act, in opposition to these laws, the general government shall devolve upon the members of the community who have passed the councils are above sixty years of age, united with those who have not entered the council and are between thirty and sixteen years of age. It is scarcely possible to conceive that this clause will ever be required; and, if required, it can only be of temporary application.
XXII. All other differences of every description,-if indeed it be possible for any to exist in these communities,-shall be immediately determined and amicably adjusted between the parties, by the decision of a majority of the three senior members of the council: except when the difference shall ex9ist between members of the councils,-when it shall be, in like manner, decided by the three members who have last passed the councils.

This is followed by a conclusion and a section of concluding remarks, in which Owen looks forward to as many as 2000 individuals being supported per mile of average quality soil, without any further discoveries and much less labour and capital than needed under the present system.

The pamphlet shows Owen’s basis in 18th century philosophy and its concern for establishing the basic principles of human nature, including morality, as well as Owen’s Deist belief. Owen states in his section on religion that God, whatever the individual religions wanted to call Him, exists, but that the precise nature of the Almighty has not been discovered. Which seems to suggest that he believed that someday science would also solve the mysteries of theology as well as the natural world.

His communities themselves are very much like the federation of small, independent communes advocated by Thomas Spence and his followers in the late 18th and early 19th century, and in France by Comte and then Fourier, who recommended reforming the country into a similar system of autonomous phalansteries. It seems to me that these ideas owe much to Rousseau and his ideas of democracy, based on his experience of the Swiss cantons, which were similarly bound together in a federation. They also seem to go back even further to the ancient Greek city states, and the constitutions suggested for them by Plato and Aristotle.

Although Owen went to America to try to found colonies there, his system proved massively impractical and all of them collapsed, as did similar plans by other Utopian Socialists. His schemes offer no rewards for excellence, or punishments for incompetence or laziness, defects which have led to the collapse of many similar experiments in communal life since then. Also, few would really want to embrace a system in which the community has almost absolute power of their children. According to William Blum, this was used as a scare in Venezuela a few years ago to prevent people voting for Hugo Chavez, and his right-wing and far right opponents told people that if they elected him, their children would become the property of the state.

The section where he recommends sending moral invalids, as well as those physically or mentally sick, to the community hospital is also sinister. It recalls the way twentieth century totalitarian governments, like Soviet Russia or Mao’s China, used psychiatry to persecute and incarcerate political dissidents, or sent them to ‘re-education’ camps. Even so, I think its very clear that ‘moral invalid’ certainly describes large numbers of the Tory, Lib Dem and Blairite sections of the Labour party. Particularly Damian Green, his mistress Theresa May, and Jeremy Hunt, and their forerunners in the last government.

Nevertheless, Owen was a major pioneer in the formation of Socialism, and in challenging the injustice, exploitation and poverty of traditional capitalist society, and so still remains important in that sense.

Apart from this pamphlet, Penguin Classics published a collected edition of his works, which I’ve reviewed elsewhere on this blog.