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The Power of the Powerless

“The Power of the Powerless” (http://www.vaclavhavel.cz/index.php?sec=6&id=2&kat&from=6&setln=2) is an essay written in October 1978 by Vaclav Havel about the political situation of Czechoslovak. It is written in terms of the cold war rhetoric and compares the realities of soviet-style central controlled society with an idealized referent of western democracy. It is main point is that political systems are perpetuated  by compliance of the citizen fueled by convenience, apathy, and inertia.

Havel considers a political system as an unavoidable evil and warns of the cost of putting the system before human dignity, an approach in which people are first organized in one way or another (by someone who always knows best “what the people need”) so they may then allegedly be liberated.

Havel recognized that the crisis of democracy expressed by Heidegger is a planetary challenge to the position of human beings in the world. The traditional parliamentary democracies can offer no fundamental opposition to the automatism of technological civilization and the industrial-consumer society.

Historical experience teaches us that any genuinely meaningful point of departure in an individual’s life usually has an element of universality about it. In other words, it is not something partial, accessible only to a restricted community, and not transferable to any other. On the contrary, it must be potentially accessible to everyone; it must foreshadow a general solution and, thus, it is not just the expression of an introverted, self-contained responsibility that individuals must and for themselves alone, but responsibility to and for the world.

Our attention, therefore, inevitably turns to the most essential matter: the crisis of contemporary technological society. We look on helplessly as that coldly functioning machine we have created inevitably engulfs us, tearing us away from our natural affiliations (for instance, from our habitat in the widest sense of that word, including our habitat in the biosphere) just as it removes us from the experience of Being and casts us into the world of “existences.” This situation has already been described from many different angles and many individuals and social groups have sought, often painfully, to find ways out of it (for instance, through oriental thought or by forming communes). The only social, or rather political, attempt to do something about it that contains the necessary element of universality (responsibility to and for the whole) is the desperate and, given the turmoil the world is in, fading voice of the ecological movement, and even there the attempt is limited to a particular notion of how to use technology to oppose the dictatorship of technology.

Havel is writing about Czechoslovakia in 1978 and makes references to events that happened 1968. Nonetheless, when he talks about the “post-totalitarian” society, he is talking about Mexico, including the bloody pre-Olympic events of 1968. In Mexico, like in soviet-era Czechoslovakia, the principle of legality is used to legitimize the system. In paper, the Mexican legal system was, now it is a hodgepodge of ad hoc resolutions, in the letter a good framework. Why, in conditions where a widespread and arbitrary abuse of power is the rule, is there such a general and spontaneous acceptance of the principle of legality? Like ideology, the legal code functions as an excuse. It wraps the base exercise of power in the noble apparel of the letter of the law; it creates the pleasing illusion that justice is done, society protected, and the exercise of power objectively regulated. All this is done to conceal the real essence of post-totalitarian legal practice: the total manipulation of society. The hidden political manipulation of the courts and of public prosecutors, the limitations placed on lawyers’ ability to defend their clients, the closed nature, de facto, of trials, the arbitrary actions of the security forces, their position of authority over the judiciary, the absurdly broad application of several deliberately vague sections of that code, and of course the state’s utter disregard for the positive sections of that code (the rights of citizens): all of this is part of Mexican reality.

Havel says that the key to a humane, dignified, rich, and happy life does not lie either in the constitution or in the Criminal Code.

Ideological pressure manifests internally as cognitive biases, and externally as group thinking and social pressure to conform.

Cognitive biases are impossible to eliminate but one can compensate for them somehow by the scientific method of relaying in hard data and to try to disprove one’s own position.

Groupthinking can be compensated some by interacting with an open-minded attitude with outsiders.

To overcome social pressure to conform is essential to have deep convictions and a clear sense of direction. In other words, it is extremely hard to do.

The current zeitgeist is the neoliberal capitalism dogma and the pseudo ideology of political correctness. For the libertarians, the new religion is technology, a magical provider of eternal growth and prosperity for the chosen ones (for the unchosen, Darwinian oblivion).

Despite the claim of IQ dominance of their proponents, neoliberal theory is simplistic and disregards historical facts and physical laws (http://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries/planetary-boundaries/about-the-research/the-nine-planetary-boundaries.html ).  The high priest Milton Friedman actually got a chance to walk the walk ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_Chile) in Chile. The “Miracle of Chile” was a term used by economist Milton Friedman to describe the reorientation of the Chilean economy in the 1980s and the effects of the economic policies applied by a large group of Chilean economists who collectively came to be known as the Chicago Boys, having studied at the University of Chicago where Friedman taught. He said the “Chilean economy did very well, but more importantly, in the end the central government, the military junta, was replaced by a democratic society. So the really important thing about the Chilean business is that free markets did work their way in bringing about a free society.” Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, among others, have argued that the experience of Chile in this period indicates a failure of the economic liberalism posited by thinkers such as Friedman, claiming that there was little net economic growth from 1975 to 1982 (during the so-called “pure Monetarist experiment”). After the catastrophic banking crisis of 1982 the state controlled more of the economy than it had under the previous socialist regime, and sustained economic growth only came after the later reforms that privatized the economy, while social indicators remained poor. Pinochet’s dictatorship made the unpopular economic reorientation possible by repressing opposition to it. Rather than a triumph of the free market, the OECD economist Javier Santiso described this reorientation as “combining neo-liberal sutures and interventionist cures”. By the time of sustained growth, the Chilean government had “cooled its neo-liberal ideological fever” and “controlled its exposure to world financial markets and maintained its efficient copper company in public hands”.

The problem with neoliberalism is not some theoretical shortcomings, but that it rationalizes and legitimizes psychopathic disregard of people’s wellbeing, overexploitation of resources, and destruction of the environment. For example, Friedman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jltnBOrCB7I) is on record saying that, in reference to the Pinto story, arguing the morality of saving  (or spending) 11 dollars per car to increase the safety of the Pinto is not subtle nor sophisticated. He does so in a smirking patronizing manner.

However, it is very hard to change the inertia of the global socio-economic system. For example, the ecological footprint (https://www.footprintnetwork.org/our-work/ecological-footprint/) of a person is mostly determined by location. Any effort to deviate from social norms of consumption, transportation patterns, and energy usage, are severely limited by local customs, infrastructure, and availability of resources. Ironically, the well-to-do, members of the upper-middle-class, are the ones that have the resources and knowledge to adopt green-energy sources and organic produce.

Regardless, one should take Havel and Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk notion of “small-scale work” (drobna práce), and do honest and responsible work, within the existing social order, that would stimulate communal creativity and self-confidence. Humanity’s first task was to create the conditions for a more human life; and in Masaryk’s view, the task of transforming the stature of the nation began with the transformation of human beings. At the very least, one must be aware of the positive and negative impacts of one own actions. This is very hard to do, yet we can always follow the rule to do what it is necessary with as little as possible.

It is natural to differentiate between us and them. But as Rachel Corrie (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iz0Vef4Fu8U ) said, they are us, we are them. We must see beyond chauvinism and narrow identities and recognize that the end is closing, and the only chance of survival is to affront the challange united.

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Five-step Strategy for Student Success with Online Learning

Online Learning Insights

Students that are enthusiastic about online learning cite numerous reasons for preferring the virtual format, yet it’s flexibility that is extolled most often – the ability to study and learn on ‘my time’. Ironically, it is this convenience factor that can cause some online students to procrastinate, or worse fail to engage in the learning process at all, which often leads to students dropping out or performing poorly.

As discussed in previous posts, a key factor to student success in the online environment is self-direction, the capability and willingness to direct one’s own eduction. Online students, more so than traditional students, need to be independent and take responsibility for their learning. Self-directed learning involves a specific skill set: organization, motivation, and a sense of confidence.

The question—can online students ‘learn’ to be self-directed, or is self-direction innate? Most educators would agree there is an element of…

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March for Our Lives

we survived the shooting at our school, but too many of our classmates did not. And since then, Members of Congress have done NOTHING to ensure that gun violence like this never happens again. That’s why we’re marching to demand that the lives of every student and every American become a priority, and we want you there by our side. Join us and RSVP for March for Our Lives:

March for Our Lives – Washington DC
March 24

Pennsylvania Avenue NW, between 3rd NW and 12th NW, Washington, DC
March for our Lives Laredo
March 24

From the front of the Civic Center (San Bernardo) to the Pan American Courts
Laredo, TX

One month ago today, 17 of our classmates, friends, and educators were shot and killed, and dozens more injured during a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — our school. Devastated, our country is grieving and demanding that our elected officials offer more than just their thoughts and prayers — we need action. And, one month later, these politicians have shown yet again that they are incapable of enacting common sense gun measures. So now, thousands of people will be marching to demand that they do what’s right to ensure our lives are a priority over the gun lobby.

When our country experiences a mass shooting, the NRA and their supporters in Congress always wait for our voices to quiet down. But we’re not going to quiet down. School is a place where we should feel safe, and if the politicans won’t do what’s right to keep us safe, then we’re going to be too loud for them to ignore.

We’re marching in Washington, D.C. on March 24 for ALL of our fellow students and for the victims and survivors of gun violence in every community.

Right now, there are nearly 700 events planned on March 24, and counting. Americans across the country will be marching in Washington, D.C. and at local events in every state. This will be a march for all of our voices to be heard. This will be a march for our lives.

Thank you for marching alongside us.

Emma González
March for Our Lives

Paid for by Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund. Contributions to Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund are not tax-deductible.

Contributions or gifts to Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund are not tax deductible as charitable contributions or as business expenses under IRC Section 162(e). A gift may qualify you for annual membership in the Action Fund. If you are interested in other ways to give, including making a tax-deductible gift, please click here or call 202.630.8673.

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Watching the Stockholmers – it’s not a coincidence

Watching the Swedes

A promo film on all that is good about Stockholm has created an internet storm. Really informative, and entertaining. Check it out.

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From the lecture on The Role of Government in supporting the growth of Entrepreneurship, it is obvious that the example of the State of Ohio is very unique. The uniqueness of the Ohio case can be traced to the motivation of the government to support the growth of the economy through funding entrepreneurs. To achieve this, the Ohio Third Frontier was formed in 2002 as a government program to provide financial support to entrepreneurs.

In terms of timing, we are made to understand that over a period of ten years, the government of Ohio had helped to provide capital to investable entrepreneurial ideas like CardioInsight co-founded by Charu Ramanathan. Cleveland’s entrepreneurial boost was ignited by the obvious decline in investments which aroused the interest of government and entrepreneurs to do something about the declining economy. The catalyzing…

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The Bards of The Odyssey: Commentary on the Role of Narrative in Homer’s Epic


The Odyssey, as it is well known, falls into the category of “epic poetry.” The term signals that an adventurous tale that was forged in antiquity and delivered orally in front of a crowd is being described. This method of distribution, that is the oral performance, is crucial to understanding The Odyssey. The communal setting in which this performance would have been delivered is also important when analyzing the text. Though today we read the Odyssey alone, with the exceptions of class discussion, we must be conscious that the form we are now receiving is different than the form that the epic was originally conceived with. Keeping in mind that The Odyssey was a product of a larger bardic tradition in the ancient world, we may see the way that the bards within the text signal reflection on the work as a whole. I will argue that in The Odyssey

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The war on Syria

The Syrian conflict has created the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Half the country’s pre-war population — more than 11 million people — have been killed or forced to flee their homes.

I just watched the documentary Salam neighbor about Syrian refugees in Jordan’s Za’atari camp.  The documentary is part of a campaign,  SalamNeighbor.org, to help Syrian refugees. While the people making the documentary, Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci, seem to be genuinely moved by a humanitarian interest in the refugees, the underlying premise, that out of thin air one day the Syrian Government decided to rain hell on their own people is unsettling. The war on Syria is neither madness of her own government, nor a natural disaster that cannot be stopped. It is manufactured mayhem explicitly engineered to destroy Syria.

I have been following the war on Syria since 2012. The experience has made me aware of how difficult it is to get unbiased information about World affairs. Despite uncontroversial and widely available evidence that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United States, Turkey, Israel are financing and logistically supporting the war against Syria, the crisis is portrayed in the Media as a civil war provoked and fueled by the Syrian government. The Wall Street Journal, for example, has reported that Israeli authorities have provided significant amounts of cash, food, fuel and medical supplies to Sunni rebels fighting against Bashar al-Assad’s government.

In 2012, while the Media was reporting violent Syrian government repression of peaceful demonstrations, Syrians themselves were witnessing armed insurrection. One morning in August 2012, renowned Syrian photographer Issa Touma saw young men lugging sandbags into his street. It turned out to be the start of the Syrian uprising in the city of Aleppo. Touma grabbed his camera and spent nine days holed up in his apartment, recording what was happening outside.

A YouGov Siraj poll on Syria commissioned by The Doha Debates in 2012, funded by the Qatar Foundation. Qatar’s royal family has taken one of the most hawkish lines against Assad – the emir has just called for Arab troops to intervene – . The key finding was that, 55% of Syrians wanted Assad to stay.

Presidential elections were held in Syria on 3 June 2014. It was the first multi-candidate election in decades since the Ba’ath party came to power in a coup. In late April 2014, Bashar al-Assad announced he would run for a third term in Syria’s first multi-candidate direct presidential election.

As a result of the ongoing Syrian Civil War since March 2011, Syria has the largest refugee population in the world, and voting for refugees in certain foreign countries began at Syrian embassies several days before voting took place in Syria itself. Domestic and foreign-based Syrian opposition groups boycotted the election, and the vote did not take place in large parts of Syria under rebel control. The areas under Kurdish militia control also did not allow voting due to the refusal of the government to recognize their regional autonomy, though some people still traveled to the government–controlled areas to vote.

Some rebel groups vowed to disrupt the elections in any way possible, including bombing and shelling polling stations and government-controlled areas. Another statement, issued by the Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union, the Sham Corps, the Army of Mujahedeen, and the Islamic Front, said they would not target voters but warned people to stay at home in case the Syrian government did”. There were 50 reported deaths from the shelling by the rebels.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was re-elected in a landslide. Syria’s parliament speaker, Jihad Lahan, announced the results, saying Assad garnered 10,319,723 votes, or 88.7%. Laham said Assad’s two challengers, Hassan al-Nouri and Maher Hajjar, won 4.3% and 3.2% respectively. The Syrian supreme constitutional court put turnout at 73.42%.

While the anti-Assad position of the Media is almost universal, there are a few dissenting voices. Canadian independent journalist Eva Bartlett became well recognized after a press conference at the United Nations during which she debunked the information provided by the major western media about the war in Syria and the sources on which they rely. Bartlett and the controversy about the White Helmets is an example of how difficult is to find unbiased information about the Syrian crisis. While there is ample support for the White Helmets, there is an Oscar-winning documentary about them, and any criticism is dismissed as propaganda, there is video footage that undermine those claims.

Among the reports I find most compelling, are those of the catholic church, in particular the testimony of  sister Maria Guadalupe Rodrigo. Sr. Guadalupe has been a missionary in the Middle East for nearly 20 years. During her time in the community of Aleppo, violent conflicts, which were especially anti-Christian, broke out in Syria. In an interview, she joyfully explains the change that the Christian community experienced due to this religious persecution; from more or less lukewarm Christians, they’ve awoken to the reality of their faith and the real possibility of martyrdom. Now, in the Western world, Sr. Guadalupe longs for the joy and passion for the Gospel, which is so alive in the persecuted Church.

While refugees must be protected and helped, it is better if there were no refugees in the first place. I live in a country with a corrupt ineffective government that once in a while commits atrocities, but under no circumstances I want foreign powers to come and destroy my country to liberate me. The billions spend in the destruction of Syria could be used to build a better world for everybody. Why not?

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