Karl Kraus: The Last Days of Mankind. God created Man not as a Consumer but as a Human Being

May 23rd, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

We are living in a world in which conflicts, be they economic, military, cultural or religious, are getting worse with little inclination of the various “players” to compromise and find a solution acceptable to all. Each side believes or pretends to believe that it has the right on its side, or, in other words, that it has reached the pinnacle of history. In this, the world situation closely resembles that just before the first world war. If we want solutions, it may be helpful to look at how the world situation 100 years ago was reflected in intelligent/perceptive minds. One such mind was Karl Kraus, the famous Viennese satirist and critic who died in 1936. The “grumbler” or “begrudger” (original German “der Nörgler”, a character based on himself), in his satirical antiwar play “The last days of mankind” (Die letzten Tage der Menscheit, 200 loosely connected scenes largely based on actual events and characters, written during and in the first years after the first world war) says, according to http://www.thebaffler.com/salvos/hail-grumbler

God created man not as a consumer or producer but rather as a human being. That the means of life should not be the goal of life. That the stomach should not outgrow the head. That life is not exclusively based on the profit motive. That a human being is allotted time in order to have time and not to arrive somewhere faster with his legs than with his heart.

And, according to: http://thelastdaysofmankind.com/, referring to Kraus’s readings of portions of the play,

organized group travels to the battelfields of the war and the graves of the dead are a disgrace:

“The dead in their millions are hardly cold in the ground. What Kraus reads invokes the sacrifices made in passing, barely, cynically, tritely, before the details of itineraries, highlights, hotels, travel arrangements, their great advantages and pleasures of first class seats and tickets, etc., are expounded with an extraordinary gusto. This is some holiday! It is as grotesque and shameful as Kraus’s reading makes it.”

The play terminates in an apokalyptic scene, the extinction of mankind. Mankind in its entirety is the “antihero”, unworthy of life on earth because it has permitted the cruelties of war.

Kraus had written earlier in the play: “Lord forgive them for they do know what they do.”

 

Not to forget, Kraus wrote for German/Austrian readers and audiences. I am not aware of any English writers, excepting perhaps Thomas Hardy on  a much milder note, who attacked their leaders and compatriots with a similar degree of causticity.

 

Karl Kraus has been largely neglected in the anglophone countries, but translations of some of his works are now becoming more frequent. And considering the situation in the world today, his insights are of considerable importance. Indeed, it seems that little has changed over the last 100 years. The political situation worldwide is now as unstable as it was before the first world war when Karl Kraus wrote his play (conflicts between Russia and the EU over the Ukraine, between China and the USA over Southeast Asian islands; almost total collapse of social structures in Libya/Syria/Iraq/Afghanistan/some African countries largely as the result of wars; overpopulation pressure in Bangladesh and many other countries in Africa and elsewhere leading to mass migrations of refugees into more affluent countries). And: the economic outlook of the populace and its rulers in the so-called “Western”countries is similar: consume! consume! steered into this fallacy by much of the media which are largely under the thumb of the rich “elite”. Elections are won or lost not because of the merits of a policy concerning the future of the nation and indeed of mankind, but because of promises of short-term profits. – The results of the first world war were disastrous, directly leading to the vastly more devastating events of the second world war. However, what is happening now may be even worse: the survival of mankind is under threat if the effects of overpopulation, overconsumption and enviromental destruction, particularly that caused by climate change, are not brought under control.

Abridged English translation: The last days of mankind; a tragedy in five acts. an abridgement translated by Alexander Gode and Sue Allen Wright. New York: F. Ungar Pub. Co. 1974. ISBN 9780804424844.

In the preface to the book edition Karl Kraus wrote ” Die Aufführung des Dramas, dessen Umfang nach irdischem Zeitmaß etwa zehn Abende umfassen würde, ist einem Marstheater zugedacht. Theatergänger dieser Welt vermöchten ihm nicht standzuhalten.” (The performance of the play, which would comprise about ten evenings, is meant for a Mars theatre. People of this world would not be able to take it).

Free Markets and Free Trade, Ecology and Economics

May 13th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

(This article was first published as a Google knol and then transferred to wordpress.com. I re-publish it here as a basis for discussion. © Klaus Rohde).

9 Comments

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  1. Marco Parigi

    December 2, 2008

    One implicit assumption of your knol here is that Ricardo’s principle is not legitimate for cases where the axioms are not reflected in reality. My view regarding these kind of principles is that what is important is that the dynamics predicted by the principle are reflected in reality, and that the mathematics behind the model based on these axioms is tenable and usable at the same time. The test to determine when to stop using Ricardo’s principle is when alternative models show better predictive value. Predictions of Malthusian catastrophes seem to be very unreliable at the least.From what I can tell, countries often behave as if those 7 assumptions were true, even if most of them are false.I am not really clear on the dependence of concepts on whether a system is in or not in equilibrium. When is an economy thought of as being in equilibrium? Are there tests independent of the economic models used?

    • Klaus Rohde

      December 2, 2008

      Concerning your question:”When is an economy thought of as being in equilibrium?”Below are some definitions for economic, genetic and ecological equilibrium. Economists would have to answer the question concerning relevant tests, but it seems to me that only an actual evaluation of data a posteriori could show whether equilibrium has existed or not.From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equilibrium):“In economics, economic equilibrium is simply a state of the world where economic forces are balanced and in the absence of external influences the (equilibrium) values of economic variables will not change. Market equilibrium, for example, refers to a condition where a market price is established through competition such that the amount of goods or services sought by buyers is equal to the amount of goods or services produced by sellers. This price is often called the equilibrium price or market clearing price and will tend not to change unless demand or supply change.”“A genetic equilibrium occurs when an allele within a gene pool is not changing in frequency (i.e. evolving). For this to be the case, evolutionary forces acting upon the allele must be equal and opposite. The only basic requirement is that the population be large enough that the effects of genetic drift are minimised. One example is Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium.” There is nothing in Wikipedia on ecological equilibrium, which I would define as follows: An equilibrium point in an ecological system is the population (or community) density to which the population (or community), which has temporarily deviated from it, will always return. Or: an ecological system is an equilibrium system when its density fluctuates around a midpoint. – One might be inclined to add that fluctuations around the midpoint should not be excessively large, although this introduces a subjective aspect to the definition: what is excessive?As pointed out above for economic equilibrium, it seems to me that only an evaluation of data a posteriori can distinguish equilibrium from nonequilibrium ecological systems. One might then make projections for the future development of the system on the basis of whether conditions are likely to change.

    • Klaus Rohde

      December 2, 2008

      Concerning the first part of your comment:”The test to determine when to stop using Ricardo’s principle is when alternative models show better predictive value.”I commented on this already in my knol: it is not so much another model that is needed, but”a careful analysis of local conditions permitting a decision on the benefits of free trade may often be useful, in particular when a powerful nation deals with a small developing one.”

  2. Ryan Faulk

    January 23, 2010

    Horrible — 1. “Since this knol was published, Paul Krugman was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics for work which clearly implies that Ricardo’s principle does not realistically describe what is actually happening.”- And Obama won a Nobel Peace prize, and Hayek also won a Nobel in economics. Do you even know who decides who wins a nobel prize in economics?2. You are treating freedom as some prescriptive model. It is not, it is what happens when you don’t threaten with imprisonment. These are not dueling prescriptions, but the violent imposition of rules vs. resistance to them.There is “free market dogma” in the same way there is “no murder dogma” and “anti violent theft dogma”. I’m also dogmatic in there not being a god.3. Your characterization of competition is hideously ham-fisted. Firms make deals with each other in supply lines, as do animals in nature. You clearly have not explored arguments for freedom in good faith.4. States control the money supply. See fiat currency and central banks, and in the US see the federal reserve system. The financial market is perhaps the most state-controlled market there is, and thus is chaotic because the false certainty of a state decree leads to chaos.5. Hysterical citizens voting for war is only an issue if there is a state. That’s a failure of your ideology, not freedom.6. The Oil lobby is powerful and does things to prevent alternative energy from coming on line. The state enables cartelization by creating a “web of difficulty” that large firms can bypass, or only apply to new firms entering an industry, or are fixed costs (like a license) which disproportionately hurt small firms. Again, this is a problem of the state.

    • Klaus Rohde

      January 22, 2010

      Thanks for the comment, it is always good to hear somebody who does not agree with you.1. I commented on earlier Nobel prizes in economics and Obama’s peace prize in my blog http://blog.une.edu.au/klausrohde/ .Comments welcome;2. When I say free market dogma I mean (and I believe this is perfectly clear) that free markets are often but not always useful; an examination of local conditions may be important;3. Yes, to a degree, but unfortunately weaker economies are often forced into deals unfavourable to them because they have no other choice; and it is not always companies but governments which determine the rules;4. May be but perhaps not controlled enough;5. ????;6. Yes, indeed, this may well be the case, but wrong rules imposed by a state do not mean there should be no rules.

    • Peter Baskerville

      January 23, 2010

      Anonymous, now that you have taken the trouble to register, why not write a Knol that best outlines your view of the topic that Klaus has developed here. It would be great to read your views in an article rather than just responses to this one.

  3. Michael Pathak

    February 7, 2010

    Industrial Symbiosis as a way of meeting Ecological Economics needs — Industrial Symbiosis is a means of achieving continued growth in the economy whilst minimizing the impact on the environment. It is claimed that an industrial ecosystem in industrial symbiosis may behave similar to the natural ecosystem where everything gets recycled. Technological tools such as open source virtual globes like Google Earth can be used to determine that locations for optimizing symbiosis. A good resource is the following.W. Doyle and J. M. Pearce, “Utilization of Virtual Globes for OpenSource Industrial Symbiosis”, Open Environmental Sciences, 3, 88-96.The link to the article is herehttp://www.bentham-open.org/crdsb/?TOENVIRSJ/2009/00000003/00000001

  4. Seema Singh

    September 30, 2011

    nifty tips — Markets dramatically change they their flow and no one exactly produce or expect 100% from their profits . Choosing the right indicator or analyzing software blended with human aspect gives better results.regards:- http://www.trade4target.com/

Booms and busts in the global economy. Fuzzy Chaos Modelling in Ecology and Economics

May 12th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde
This is an article published originally as a Google knol and later transferred to wordpress.com, © Klaus Rohde. It addresses the important question whether globalization increases the likelihood of chaotic fluctuations in the economy, i.e. excessive booms and busts. It is re-published here with the intention of stimulating a discussion.

 

4 Comments

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  1. Gerd Zeitler

    November 27, 2008

    Your comment to my knol “Aussenhandel” — Dear Mr. Rohde,yes, a very unusual but convincing approach to view economic problems in a globalized world. Although the causes of todays recuring problems are very obvious in economic terms. Nevertheless, there seem to be synergies between the two scientific approaches.Best regardsGerd Zeitler

  2. Peter Greenfinch

    January 4, 2009

    Is less fluctuation a goal? — Hello, Mr RodheI’m not too sure that many subpopulations make things more stable, among human beings at least, as the more populations, the more divisions there are, and the more source of interpopulation conflicts might arise. Another thing, quite contradictory to what I just said I admit: the less fluctuation in a system, the more static it is, therefore the less it can evolve and make progress.Where is the truth ? Where does that lead ? I’m all the more interested in your topic that I wrote two related knols: “fuzzy logic” and “democratic globalization” http://knol.google.com/k/peter-greenfinch/fuzzy-logic/2m7299842u04v/44#http://knol.google.com/k/peter-greenfinch/democratic-globalization/2m7299842u04v/50#Peter

  3. Klaus Rohde

    January 30, 2009

    Empirical evidence for my suggestion — Here is empirical evidence for my suggestion that globalization can lead to synchronized global recessions. The Economics Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald writes in “What started the global crisis rolling” on January 31 – February 1, 2009.“This is the most synchronized world recession we’ve had since the mid-1970s. In the world recessions of the early’80s there was a lot of variation in timing between countries. In the world recession of the early ‘90s the US went in first, with Europe following later. – In the mild world recession of 2001, not all countries had a recession.”“Question is, why is the world economy now more synchronized? Is it a product of globalisation – the greater integration of national economies, particularly through greatly increased trade and flows of funds between countries?”He gives the answer in the last paragraph of his article:“ So, yes, globalisation probably has a part to play in propagating the global recession we’re about to experience. But the most obvious bit is media globalisation.”

The Chief Business Adviser to the Prime Minister on Climate Change, and Continuing Rise in Global Carbon Dioxide Levels

May 9th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

According to the Sydney Morning Herald 9.5.2015, ”

“Climate change is a hoax led by the United Nations so that it can end democracy and impose authoritarian rule, according to Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s chief business adviser.

Maurice Newman, the chairman of the Prime Minister’s business advisory council, has written in The Australian that scientific modelling showing the link between humans and climate change is wrong and the real agenda is a world takeover for the UN.

This is not about facts or logic. It’s about a new world order under the control of the UN “

Full article here:

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/climate-change-a-unled-ruse-says-tony-abbotts-business-adviser-maurice-newman-20150508-ggwuzt.html

Perhaps Maurice Newman can explain the following:

The Global Monitoring Division of NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory has published data which show that for the first time since measurements began, the global monthly mean carbon dioxide level has exceeded 400 parts per million in March 2015, a rise of more than 120 parts per million during the industrial age.

 

 

co2_trend_gl

 

(Graph from Ed Dlugokencky and Pieter Tans, NOAA/ESRL (www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/)

For methods, interpretation and links to other relevant sites see:

http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/global.html

 

 

 

Deutscher Widerstand gegen Hitler/ German Resistance against Hitler

May 9th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

An Ethical Basis for Nature Conservation: Arthur Schopenhauer

May 6th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

In the last chapter of  the book edited by me “The Balance of Nature and Human Impact, Cambridge University Press 2013″, we, i.e.  Klaus Rohde, Hugh Ford, Nigel R.Andrew and Harold Heatwole”  deal with “How to Conserve Biodiversity in a Nonequilibrium World”. The first section of the chapter discusses economic, esthetic and ethical arguments for conserving biodiversity. We conclude that in the modern world people are most impressed by economic arguments, whereas the ethics of the problem is very rarely considered. Are there ethical reasons for conserving biodiversity? We point out that there indeed are, convincingly demonstrated by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. His philosophy is particularly suitable, because it appeals not only to philosophically educated Westerners, but also to all those who have a Buddhist or Hinduistic background, i.e. a very large proportion of mankind. Schopenhauer was the first Western philosopher who taught that ethical (moral) behaviour must be based on compassion with humans and animals. 

I have given a concise outline of Schopenhauer’s philosophy of ethics and justice earlier:

https://krohde.wordpress.com/article/arthur-schopenhauer-ethics-and-theory-xk923bc3gp4-106/

Here I mention a few important points in excerpts taken from my earlier essay:

Schopenhauer’s ethics and theory of justice follow from his epistemology, according to which the world as it appears to us, as we perceive it, is to a large degree shaped by our mental apparatus. Following Immanuel Kant, he assumes that time, space and causality are not characteristics of the thing-in-itself (“Ding an sich”) but categories of our mind. All distinctions between individuals disappear once these categories are taken away. In other words, all beings are in essence One.

Schopenhauer’s ethics has had a deep influence on many philosophers and writers after him. Albert Einstein, for example, mentions Schopenhauer as an important influence on his views. Schopenhauer was the first who arrived at conclusions similar to those in Eastern philosophy, in particular Hinduism and Buddhism. And he was the first in Western philosophy who based ethics on compassion with man and animals.

………  Schopenhauer develops a theory of ownership, of natural justice and law in general. Injustice is the original and positive, justice the derived and negative concept. “The only purpose of law is determent from encroaching on others’ rights”. Schopenhauer considers Kant’s thesis that humans should always be considered to be the end (“Zweck”) and never as means, as vague and problematic, because “a murderer sentenced to death must with full justification be used as means”, as a determent and for the re-establishment of public security. However, this applies only to justice in time (“zeitliche Gerechtigkeit”), eternal justice which applies to the entire world (that is, lies in its essence) and does not depend on human constructions (“Einrichtungen”), cannot be retaliatory, because it lies not in time unlike justice in time which is based on retaliation. “Punishment must here (in eternal justice) be connected with the crime in such a way that both are one.” If one wants to know what humans as a whole and in general are worth from a moral perspective, one only has to look at their fate as a whole and in general. This is indigence (“Mangel”), misery, agony and death. Eternal justice at work…..”. However, the “crude individual” has a different view, since he knows only the temporally and spatially separate appearances: he sees tormentors and murderers on the one side and sufferers and victims on the other, who are really only One. Nevertheless, in the depth of his consciousness he sometimes has the “somewhat dark hunch” that “all this is not entirely foreign to him”. Horror (“Grausen”) is founded on this sometimes appearing hunch. All evil in the world derives from the Will which is the real essence of each single person. Hence (Schopenhauer quotes Calderon’s “Life as Dream”, in which the Christian dogma of original sin is expressed: “Since the greatest guilt of man is that he was born”). – Esoterically depicted in the Vedas and especially in the Upanishads, the myth of transmigration expresses the cognition of eternal justice in an easily understandable form for the people. You must not kill an animal, because at a time in eternity you will be born as such an animal and suffer the same death”. This is the meaning of “tat twam asi” (This is you), which is the foundation of Hindu teaching. – In the same sense Christian ethics forbids retaliation of evil with evil and submits to eternal justice (“Revenge is mine, I shall retaliate, says the Lord”).

Our discussion to this point permits a description of the ethical significance of action. According to Schopenhauer, genuine virtue can come only from the insight which recognizes in a foreign being the same being as one’s own. “In principle (“an sich”) all deeds…. are just empty images, and only the attitude (ethos, “Gesinnung”) that leads to them, lends them moral significance.” The principle of justice (based on the negation of evil) commands that one must not hurt others.” Genuine goodness goes much further and leads to love of mankind  (“Menschenliebe”): one distinguishes much less than usually between oneself and others, one sacrifices one’s property and even oneself to one’s neighbour (“Nächster”) and one does not torture an animal. Love is based on the recognition of foreign suffering and pure love is therefore by its nature compassion. All this is in direct contradiction to Kant’s view that any truly good and virtuous deed is based on abstract reflection, on the concept of duty and the categorical imperative.

In Schopenhauer’s time (the first half of the 19th century), destruction of the environment had not become the important issue it is today. Hence, he does not deal with conserving the environment as such. However, his conclusion that moral behaviour of humans must be based on compassion with fellow humans and animals should be interpreted as meaning that animals must be protected and therefore also their habitats and the environment in general. In other words, we must not preserve organisms and the environment as a whole because they are of economic benefit to us, we must conserve them because we have an ethical responsibility towards nature, i.e., not only to the next generations of humans, but also to other living beings.

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom of speech in Australia 2015

May 3rd, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

Where is the limit of free speech in a Western democracy? A recent example.

Since the Liberal-National took over government with Tony Abbott as Prime Minister in 2013, worrying trends have emerged to make media reporting even more one-sided than it already had been. Two thirds of printed media are controlled by Rupert Murdoch (of Fox News in the USA fame), whose reporting is ridiculously one-sided, supporting right-wing economics and politics, but this was to a certain degree balanced by the two public broadcasters, ABC and SBS, which followed a more or less “neutral” line. The Liberal/National government, soon after taking office, reduced funding for the two public broadcasters, leading to the dismissal of many staff, changed the rules with the intention of making government appointed members of he boards more directly responsible for broadcasting policy, and forced the broadcasters to rely more on private advertising. Most recently, the Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, “drew attention” of the Chairman of SBS to some tweets by Scott McIntyre, a prominent sports-commentator employed by SBS. He claimed not to have asked for the firing of McIntyre, but the result was that he was immediately fired, without discussion, without warning. What were these “offensive” tweets?

ANZAC day commemorations throughout Australia, which commemorate the landings at Gallipoli, Turkey, in 1915, by morning services in (more or less) all towns, even small ones, by marches, flights of airforce jets etc. were particularly elaborate this year, the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the failed campaign which led to 10,000’s of deaths of British, Australian, New Zealand, French, Indian, Canadian soldiers, as well as over 90,000 deaths on the Turkish side. They were the culmination of months of almost daily reporting on the first world war, with stories of heroism etc. on t.v. and in the printed media. Scott McIntyre did not like this reporting and published some tweets objecting to it.

According to The Australian, a Murdoch-run newspaper, 27.4.2015:

“An SBS presenter has been sacked over a vicious public attack on Australian Diggers in which he implied that Anzacs were rapists and terrorists. SBS managing director Michael Ebeid labelled the remarks inappropriate and disrespectful, saying they breached the broadcaster’s code of conduct and social media policy. “It’s not tenable to remain on air if your audience doesn’t respect or trust you,” he said. Soccer reporter Scott McIntyre, who has a Twitter following of 30,000 people, shocked followers with a post which implied that Australians commemorating Anzac Day were “poorly-read … drinkers and gamblers”.
He began his tirade about 5pm, calling Australia’s involvement in the World Wars an “imperialist invasion of a foreign nation”.
Later tweets read: “Wonder if the poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers pause today to consider the horror that all mankind suffered.” “Remembering the summary execution, widespread rape and theft committed by these ‘brave’ Anzacs in Egypt, Palestine and Japan,” said another post.”

Here are his tweets as reported by some newspapers:

“The cultification of an imperialist invasion of a foreign nation that Australia had no quarrel with is against all ideals of modern society.”

“Wonder if the poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers pause today to consider the horror that all mankind suffered.”

“Remembering the summary execution, widespread rape and theft committed by these ‘brave’ Anzacs in Egypt, Palestine and Japan.”

“Not forgetting that the largest single-day terrorist attacks in history were committed by this nation & their allies in Hiroshima & Nagasaki”

“Innocent children, on the way to school, murdered. Their shadows seared into the concrete of Hiroshima”

According to The Australian, “The tweets sparked outrage from Australian leaders, including Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull who labelled his comments “despicable”. “Difficult to think of more offensive or inappropriate comments,” Mr Turnbull tweeted. “Despicable remarks which deserve to be condemned.””

“SBS issued a statement today from its managing director Mr Ebeid and its sport director Ken Shipp that McIntyre had been sacked: “Late on Anzac Day, sports presenter Scott McIntyre made highly inappropriate and disrespectful comments via his twitter account which have caused his on-air position at SBS to become untenable,” the statement read.
“Mr McIntyre’s actions have breached the SBS Code of Conduct and social media policy and as a result, SBS has taken decisive action to terminate Mr McIntyre’s position at SBS, with immediate effect.”

According to The Guardian, 27.4. 2015, “However, some criticised SBS for firing McIntyre, including journalist Hugh Riminton, who is also a board member of Soldier On, an organisation that supports injured soldiers. Riminton said the tweets were untimely, immature and in one case offensively wrong. “But lest we forget, our diggers also died for free speech,” he said.
The human rights commissioner, Tim Wilson, said McIntyre’s freedom of speech was not being curtailed.
“We’re talking about political interpretations of history and that is open for debate,” he said. “And he will be judged very harshly.”

Most comments in various newspapers strongly condemned McIntyre and did not object to his dismissal. For example, the comedian Merrick Watts wrote: “Today’s comments by @mcintinhos are as sad as they are ill informed. Gutless. Stupid. Disgraceful. I am truly furious.”
According to The Guardian, McIntyre had not deleted his tweets by Sunday morning and had favourited several which supported his views including one that said: “Good on you @mcintinhos for posting this. Usual twitter shit storm, as one would expect, from white Aussie bogans.”

Interestingly, a professor of journalism said that McIntyre had the right to free speech but not to keep his job for it.

John Pilger, the well known Australian writer living in Britain, strongly defended McIntyre’s remarks and agreed with the essence of them. Here are some excerpts of an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald 29.4.2015, in which he “saluted not only Scott McIntyre but also the aboriginal freedom fighter Ray Jackson:

“He exposed cynical drivel by offending in the best tradition of freedom of speech.” “Aboriginal campaigner shone a light on deaths in custody for 30 years. Following a week in which the words “heroes” and “heroism” bobbed on a tsunami of raw propaganda, a tribute is due to two unrecognised Australian heroes. The first is Ray Jackson, who died on April 23.
Ray spoke and fought for a truth…… He said this was a land not of brave Anzac “legacies”, but of dirty secrets and enduring injustices that only a national cowardice could sustain. “Conformity is widely understood and obeyed in Australia,” he wrote to me, “freedom is not……… Australia incarcerates black Australians at a higher rate than that of apartheid South Africa……Ray loathed warmongering and would approve of my second hero. This is Scott McIntyre, the young SBS soccer journalist who, in four now famous tweets, set out to counter the authoritarian sludge that demands we celebrate the criminal waste of life in the British imperial invasion of Turkey a century ago, rather than recognise unpalatable truths about our past and present……..Why? Australia, a nation without enemies, is spending $28billion a year on the military and war and armaments in order to fulfil a tragic, entirely colonial and obsequious role, as Washington’s “deputy sheriff”……..
Scott McIntyre drove the Twitter equivalent of a five-ton truck through such maudlin, cynical drivel. He tweeted the unsayable, much of it the truth; and all decent journalists – or dare I say, freedom-loving Australians – should be standing up for him. That Malcolm Turnbull, who made his name unctuously shouting about freedom of speech, should have been involved in the saga with McIntyre’s employer, SBS, in whatever form, is a measure of the state of public and media life in Australia.
That a journalism professor of long standing, John Henningham, can tweet that “freedom of speech meant that journalists had the right to speak without breaking the law but did not have the right to keep their job when offending others” is a glimpse of the obstacles faced by aspiring young journalists as they navigate the university mills.
Many young people reject this, of course, and maintain their sense of the bogus, and McIntyre is one of them. He offended in the highest tradition of freedom of thought and speech. Knowing the personal consequences would be serious, he displayed moral courage. When his union – the MEAA – locates its spine and its responsibility, it must demand he is given his job back. I salute him.”

Professor Gillian Triggs, the Human Rights Commissioner, who a number of weeks ago was asked by the Attorney General to resign from her post because she had criticized the government’s policy concerning children in detention, but refused to do so, is a very distinguished academic lawyer. Her opinion on freedom of speech in Australia, arising from the sacking of a sports reporter by the SBS for tweets he had published on his personal twitter account, was published in Fairfax newspapers including The Age (Melbourne) and The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney).

http://www.theage.com.au/comment/right-to-freedom-of-speech-cannot-breach-employment-contract-20150430-1mwn9f.html

Some excerpts:

“The disciplining or sacking of employees whose emails breach industry codes of conduct – most recently of Scott McIntyre, who alleged crimes by the Anzacs – raise the vexed question of the proper constraints on freedom of speech. Does an employer have the right to sack, demote or otherwise sanction an employee for speech that both breaches its code of conduct and may be substantially inaccurate, in bad faith and deeply hurtful to most Australians?”

“Ask any citizen if they have a right to freedom of speech and they will robustly assert “yes, of course” . However, under Australian law, there is no such formal legal right. While, in practice, everyone is free to say and write whatever they like, this freedom is significantly qualified by exceptions. Prohibitions abound in respect of statements that are libellous or slanderous, in contempt of court, a breach of copyright, obscene or seditious, or that incite mutiny, commission a crime or disclose official secrets.”

“It is probable that …….. decision reflects Australian law in the absence of any legislation confirming the common law right to freedom of speech. While we may say what we please, subject to defined prohibitions, a practical, chilling outcome of freedom of speech is that we must suffer the consequences if that speech is also a breach of an employment contract.”

“……. Public officials, government agencies and contracted service providers will be guaranteed anonymity and immunity if they disclose an abuse of public trust, corruption, acts that endanger the environment, or unjust, oppressive or negligent conduct, among other wrongs. However, the act is significantly limited and does not cover judicial conduct, ASIO or ASIS, politicians or the private sector.
Scott McIntyre may not have the benefit of the “whistleblower’s” law, but it is at least arguable that to be peremptorily sacked is disproportionate to the reasonable interests of his employer. These are matters of judgment in light of all the circumstances.”

Concerning the truth of what Scott McIntyre wrote, see the article by Professor Philip Dwyer, Director of the Centre for the History of Violence, School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle:
https://theconversation.com/anzacs-behaving-badly-scott-mcintyre-and-contested-history-40955?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=The+Weekend+Conversation+-+2707&utm_content=The+Weekend+Conversation+-+2707+{0}CID_3c5b7c063d17861725846adb514b29fe&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=Anzacs%20behaving%20badly%20Scott%20McIntyre%20and%20contested%20history

Returning to our question at the beginning of this post “Where is the limit to free speech in a Western democracy?”, the example discussed seems to suggest that for journalists there is such a limit, at least if they do not want to lose their job. Is this acceptable? Should an academic, for example, fear for his job because he/she publishes posts with which the university does not agree? I know of a case in which an Australian academic was asked by his university to remove a post in which he had criticized the teaching of homeopathy (for which there is no scientific evidence) at his university, which had plans to introduce such a course.

Third book review of Klaus Rohde ed., The Balance of Nature and Human Impact, Cambridge University Press 2013.

April 23rd, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

The third review of the book edited by me has just been published in Biological Conservation 182, 281-283 (February 2015)
Reviewer is Brian Drayton, TERC Cambridge, MA, USA, who gave me permission to use excerpts from his review.

For earlier reviews see here:
http://blog.une.edu.au/klausrohde/2013/11/10/review-of-klaus-rohde-ed-the-balance-of-nature-and-human-impact-cambridge-university-press-2013/

http://blog.une.edu.au/klausrohde/2013/12/17/2nd-book-review-of-klaus-rohde-ed-the-balance-of-nature-and-human-impact-cambridge-university-press-2013/

This latest review covers two books:

Green Equilibrium: The Vital Balance of Humans and Nature, Christopher Wills. Oxford University Press (2013). xxviii+280 pp.,
and The Balance of Nature and Human Impact, Klaus Rohde (Ed.) Cambridge University Press (2013). xvi+413 pp.

Excerpts dealing with the book edited by me follow:

“These two books make good companions, and it is instructive to read them side by side. In doing so, the reader can reflect upon a central challenge to conservation science, and to the societies within which it carries out its business.”

……………..

“Klaus Rohde’s fascinating edited volume The Balance of Nature and Human Impact offers a snapshot of current research, exploring
evidence for or against equilibrium processes from an array of systems, interspersed with reviews of literature on selected topics. A brief gallop through the table of contents can only suggest its wealth of provocative entries.
Part I: ‘‘Nonequilibrium and equilibrium in populations and metapopulations’’ examines reef fishes ……..
ectoparasites on terrestrial hosts …….. and marine parasites. Part II: “Nonequilibrium and equilibrium in communities’’ examines plankton communities ……, community stability in relation to fire ……., marine and freshwater ectoparasite communities ….. and small mammal ectoparasites …. , and bird populations and communities. Part III addresses ‘‘Nonequilibrium and equilibrium on geographical scales’’ in the context of island flora and fauna …… and arctic vascular plant diversity and spatial variation ……… Part IV: ‘‘Latitudinal gradients’’ focuses on diversity gradients…..reviews the literature providing evidence for and against equilibrium and nonequilibrium explanations,” and ‘‘effective evolutionary time.’’
Part V: ‘‘Effects due to invasive species, habitat loss and climate change’’ is by far the largest section. …….. the section marks a transition, as all the rest of the book looks at ‘‘biocomplex’’ (coupled humannonhuman)systems—where the nonhuman component may include insects … coral reefs ….. , emerging infectious diseases ……., human impacts on biodiversity …… , amphibians …….. , and reptiles ……. Part VI: ‘‘Autecological studies’’ comprises two articles: ‘‘Autecology and the balance of nature—ecological laws and human-induced invasions’’ …… and ‘‘The intricacy of structural and ecological adaptations: micromorphology and ecology of some Aspidogastrea’’.
Part VII: ‘‘An overall view’’ sets much of the foregoing into a larger theoretical and practical context, coming back to the
challenges faced by conservation biology in a world in at least one kind of chronic disequilibrium: anthropogenic climate change. Rohde discusses interspecific competition as a regulator of communities, and the status of evolutionarily stable strategies. Finally, Rohde and co-authors discuss ‘‘How to conserve biodiversity in a nonequilibrium world.’’ Here we come to the crux of the matter. As Wallington et al. (2005) argue, much conservation strategy betrays an underlying ‘‘balance’’ orientation, which often takes the form of creating reserves and assuming that they will ‘‘do the job’’……….; or of reintroducing species or otherwise restoring a system, and then assuming that short-term success will last (also not a safe assumption……………. Rohde et al. argue cogently that in the world we now inhabit, equilibrium assumptions will result in deep design weaknesses in many conservation strategies, and the kind of reflective research represented by this volume as a whole must result in substantial innovation.”

……………

“Both books under review make the case ……. that the unexamined assumption of ‘‘balance’’ has contributed to many of our current ecological crises, and inhibits proper responses to them. In some cases, a naive reading of ‘‘balance’’ contributes to the assumption that in time, any disturbance caused by human activities will be remedied by Nature as it comes back into balance. In other cases, the ‘‘balance of nature’’ is reified without sufficient understanding of ecological systems and their dynamics, so that intended remedies result in further, different disturbance or even system transformation. Our challenge …….. is to convey a much richer, but perhaps just as satisfying, understanding of the way things work, and the implications of that understanding for what conservation must become. As Donald Worster (1994) wrote in his seminal treatment: ‘‘It is a pattern of behavior based on the idea that preserving a diversity of change ought to stand high in our system of values, that promoting the coexistence of many beings and many kinds of change is a rational thing to do. . . .Such a strategy of trying to conserve a diversity of changes may seem paradoxical, but it is founded on a crucial and reasonable insight. We may have to live with change, may even be the products of change, but we do not always know—indeed, we cannot always know—which changes are vital and which are deadly.’’

Australian universities: cracks open up in the ivory towers. Neoliberal economics at its ugliest

April 22nd, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

A number of years ago I was sitting in the breakfast room of a hotel in Münster/Westphalia next to a German professor, we were talking about the university system in Germany. He dropped some remarks about universities in Australia: “yes, and in Australia degrees are for sale, at least that is what I was told by an Australian colleague.” I was sceptical about that remark, because during my active days at an Australian university I did not encounter cases of degrees for cash. But the situation has changed. Governments have cut funding for universities, funding is based on student numbers, and a large proportion of universities’ funding is supplied by fee-paying foreign students. Foreign students represent one of the largest sources of income for the Australian government. Students expect something (a degree, not necessarily quality) for their money, and so standards have continually been watered down, even at the most prestigious universities. Students have even employed agencies to have their essays written for them and employed people to sit in for them at examinations. And these are not exceptions, such cases are widespread. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald, 22.4.2015 gives a brief and concise overview of what is happening. See here:

http://www.smh.com.au/comment/smh-editorial/gaping-cracks-open-up-in-the-ivory-towers-20150421-1mq4do.html

Extracts:
Concerning foreign students: ” Fifty per cent of all work submitted now is plagiarised, according to one source – a huge increase on what was happening only five years ago. Students who can barely speak English are initially failed, and then, when their work is re-marked, are given a pass, allowed to register as professionals, and enter the workforce.”
Lecturers “know which students are cheating, and which are plagiarising the work of others; they know whose English is too poor to pass, and who lacks the knowledge or intelligence to graduate. It is when they attempt to act on what they know in an intellectually honest manner, however, that they find obstructions in their way.”
“Decades of government policies in higher education which have destroyed the traditional university as an independent community of scholars and turned it into a degree factory serving the ephemeral interests of the economy are the real cause.”
“The expectation that all courses in all faculties must have some vocational end in view; the destruction of student life with the end of compulsory unionism; the insistence that all research must have immediate practical application – these different trends, all of them market-based, all of them philistine, have all transformed our universities for the worse.”

The government has plans to make the situation even worse by deregulating university fees, i.e. allowing universities to set their own fees in order to get their hands on more cash. These plans have so far been blocked by the Senate, but the government has not given up. Neoliberal economics at its ugliest!

Don’t support science but obscurantism!

April 18th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

If you don’t know the meaning of obscurantism, here it is (from the source of all wisdom, Wikipedia): “Obscurantism (/ɵbˈskjʊərəntɪsm/) is the practice of deliberately preventing the facts or the full details of some matter from becoming known.”

This is what the Australian government is doing, in this case represented by the Minister of Education Christopher Pyne. See here:

http://www.smh.com.au/environment/call-for-pynes-resignation-over-4-million-funding-to-climate-contrarian-20150417-1mnp51.html

It cut many millions of Dollars in funding from the budget of CSIRO, the foremost research organisation in Australia which has done much work on the science of climate change, and many other science projects, but is quite happy to invest four million in a centre to be located at the Business School of the University of Western Australia and devoted to misleading the public (officially “The new centre will focus on applying an economic lens to proposals to achieve good for Australia, the region and the world,” said a statement from UWA).

An extract from the article:
“The government would cover roughly a third of the cost for an Australian iteration of Dr Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Centre at the University of Western Australia (UWA), confirmed Mr Pyne’s office following an investigation by The Guardian Australia.

The news comes on the heels of the Danish economist’s move to the UWA’s school of business and his appointed as Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s advisors on foreign aid.

Labor and environmental activists heavily criticised the appointment, questioning why someone who played down the effects of global warming should be advising on policy concerning developing countries in the Pacific that were exceptionally vulnerable to climate change.”

Dr.Lomborg is not an environmental, but a political scientist and is highly sceptical of the importance of climate change. He has lectured on statistics and the new centre at UWA is in the business and not the science school. He does not deny that climate change is real and human-induced, but thinks it is “not the end of the world”. Climate scientists do not claim that climate change is necessarily “the end of the world”, but Dr.Lomborg’s views differ sharply from those of the vast majority of climate scientists who take the risks much more seriously and want to do something about it. The establishment of the Consensus Centre and the appointment of Dr.Lomborg can only mean that the Liberal-National Government will continue its politics based on the denial of the seriousness of the threat posed by climate change, and shown by the reduction in the clean energy target, the abolishment of the carbon tax, etc.

More about the Copenhagen Consensus Center, the Danish equivalent of the Australan version and run by Dr.Lomborg, and the donors supporting it here:
http://desmogblog.com/2014/06/25/millions-behind-bjorn-lomborg-copenhagen-consensus-center