Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Apple and the Ant

Antonio Turiel keeps what I think is one of the best blogs in the world (perhaps the best) dedicated to energy and fossil fuels: The Oil Crash. Too bad that, despite the title, the blog is written in Spanish. But if you can read Spanish or are willing to spend some time to decipher a Google translation, then you can truly learn a lot from Tutiel's blog. One of the best recent posts is titled "De hormigas y hombres," that is "Of ants and men". 
Image "Ant man" from the 2015 movie.

Reality can be only what you can perceive and it would seem that nothing can exist - for you - beyond your perception sphere. Out of it, there is the realm of the "unknown unknowns" as defined by Donald Rumsfeld, the "black swans" described by Nassim Taleb. But, in practice, there is a twilight zone in which you can vaguely perceive that "something" exist out there. Some only partly unknown unknown that you perceive enough that you realize you should be worried about it. But you don't know how and why. 

One way to perceive the unperceivable is to imagine yourself as someone or something who/which faces a similar plight, but one that you can understand. The task of understanding dimensions beyond the third for creatures like us, who live in a three-dimensional world, was beautifully described by Edwin Abbott in "Flatland," a story set in a purely two-dimensional world.

Another metaphor for the difficulty we have in understanding some concepts is that of ants or other social insects: splendidly organized creatures but very limited in their capabilities as single members of the group. Do ants understand that they are part of an ant colony? Probably not; they only perceive other ants. The colony is an emergent phenomenon that no single ant or group of ants ever planned or even perceived. 

In his post on ants and men, Antonio Turiel describes a metaphor that starts from another characteristic of ants, their very poor eyesight. That serves to underline another kind of human limitation: the inability of seeing beyond the narrow limits of what we see and hear in the media. Turiel describes an "ant-man" who has good smelling abilities but cannot see beyond a very short distance ahead. This ant-man is more intelligent than a regular ant and can plan ahead, even by sophisticated ways of reasoning. But he lacks the capability of seeing above himself at any distance. 

Let's assume that this ant-man smells an apple. He knows that the apple exists and he moves in the direction that makes the smell stronger, knowing that he is getting closer and closer to it. But, at some moment, he finds that, bizarrely, the smell starts diminishing while no apple is perceived by the ant-man's antennas or mandibles. So, the ant-man embarks in a series of scanning strategies to try to find the apple; first going linearly up and down, then moving in a spiral, and more. But he cannot find the apple for the simple reason that it is above him, hanging from the branch of a tree. Eventually, the ant-man dies of starvation. 

Here is an excerpt from Turiel's post (translated from Spanish):

"The metaphor of the ant-man is useful for us to illustrate the dilemma that the Western Societies have been facing lately: the lack of dimensional of the debate. During the past two years, we saw several countries engaging in a crucial elections, always with just two choices: the Greek Referendum, Brexit, the election of Donald Trump... Last week-end, it was France's turn, with the competition between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. The winner was the former, with great solace of the financial markets and of the European Commission. In all these cases, a society that sees its way of life in danger, a society that knows it is being slowly but inexorably moving toward collapse, looks for new directions to move. In the same way as the ant-man of our story, society first moves following straight lines; initially in the classic alternative of left and right, but being those lines totally discredited (as in France, where neither the Socialist party nor the conservative UPM reached the second turn in the elections) people start looking for new directions. It is not casual that all this succession of elections that we have been discussing were choices among two alternatives: it is a movement between two extreme points, it is a straight line search. It is the most banal strategy, but the way in which our society has been working up to now. There was no need of anything more complex." <..>

"There will come a time, as desperation spreads among the dispossessed middle classes, when this linear movement between two opposing and equally useless options will be abandoned and a spiral movement will begin, probably when the level of abstention is so high that it will destroy the legitimacy of two-choice elections. Arriving at this point, desperate solutions will be pushed by the dire conditions of the majority of the population. We commented on this point recently when discussing the end of growth: more than a quarter of the Spanish population is at risk of poverty and exclusion, and that when GDP saw two years of growth, unlike other countries around us. The whole possibility of getting out of the hole in which we find ourselves is that growth continues and at a good pace, but that is a chimera."

And there we are: totally unable to conceive the real terms of the problem. Nobody realizes that behind everything that's happening around us there is a physical problem: the deadly combination of resource depletion and ecosystem disruption. Our society is an emergent phenomenon which we cannot really perceive, full of unknown unknowns and our desperate two-dimensional search of something that will save us is hopeless: left or right, it doesn't matter. We are blind like ants unable to see the apple hanging from a tree above them.

Read Turiel's whole post (in Spanish) on "The Oil Crash"


  1. splendido articolo. Le formiche sono giustificabili perchè si presume non abbiano studiato nè la filosofia kantiana nè le speculazioni matematiche sulle extra-dimensioni; gli uomini sono meno giustificabili perchè hanno gli strumenti culturali per comprendere la situazione, ma non ne fanno uso perchè prigionieri del paradigma economico dominante: TINA, there is no alternative. I frequentatori di questo blog sanno che il paradigma TINA è falso, ma si tratta di poche formiche cui la Regina non accorderà mai udienza

  2. Enough Prof. Bardi, this is bs. Left or right matters, and we better not make the mistake of forgetting that.

    It was the from the left where critical thinking about the future of our planet started. It is almost exclusively thinkers that leaned to the left that incorporated the idea of physical limits to our economy.

    Marvin Harris, the author of "cultural materialism" has build upon Marx materialism and seamelessly incorporated ecology into marxist theory as early as the 70s.

    It is an utter failure of the degrowth community to underestimate the destructive forces of capitalism and the neoliberal ideology. Its not "humans" who destroyed our planet, it is this rapacious economic system we have invented 180 years ago. This is NOT the Anthropocene!

    As Donna Harroway writes in Tentacular Thinking:
    " if we could only have one word for these SF times, surely it must be the Capitalocene."

    What WOULD be our plans for saving this planet without questioning the destructive forces of capitalism?
    Where would we start?

    This planet is NOT destroyed in the name and to the benefit of humans, but to the benefit of capital.

    So please spare this "left or right does not matter" bs in the future. Exploitation is just another name for capitalism, be it the worker or the planet.

    Without taking down capitalism, there will be no hope for this planet.

    1. Alien

      Unfortunately, your obsessive ideology doesn't work.

      We have indeed moved beyond the old simplicities of 'Left' and 'Right' in this developing crisis of a poisoned and depleted planet.

      I am very familiar with the 'radical' Left in Europe, and these young people, while saying that they are Green and want a 'sustainable' and 'fair' system, want all the goods of capitalist techno -industrial society pre-2008, based on Asian slave-labour production and massive resource extraction: free university, however dim you are, great well-paid jobs, lots of holidays, cheap i-phones, etc, etc.

      Actually, what Trump promised the Americans, in essence. Some Marxists!

      They haven't the faintest idea what global industrial system brings them all these goods. Their record is stuck on the class-struggle track, -taught by their elders, the 'radicals' of yesterday - when what we face is the crushing and degradation of nearly all life on Earth. Not much point in flying the tri-colour of Revolution then.

      The planet, by the way, is done with offering us the room to play our games of over-exploitation of resources.

      We may have a little space left if we are lucky on the other side of collapse, in some places, for very small numbers of people.

    2. By the way, Alien, are you aware of the eco-destruction wrought by early humans with their spears, axes and the first cities surrounded by intensively-farmed fields?

      Were they wicked capitalists as well? :)

  3. @Alien Observer

    " Left or right matters"

    I don't know.

    What I see is that there are people who are proud to be "on the Left". Each of them has very different ideas of what it means.

    The people "on the Left" are everywhere a minority, and they call the rest of mankind "the Right".

    A category which includes libertine millionaires, Catholic monks, Polish nationalists who hate Germans, poor people who hate the rich, Islamophobes, Muslims, people who believe in the Nation State, extreme ecologists, climate change deniers, localists who want to break up the Nation State, NATO, Russia, the Taliban, the Shiites who fight the Taliban, people who don't pay taxes... anybody, practically.

  4. A further note on the right-left issue.

    the "Left" everywhere is a minority, often tiny (imagine how many people will say they are "of the Left" in Turkey).

    No problem, but the "Leftists" claim to speak in the name of various "everybodies" (the working class, all humanity regardless of race, sex, etc.).

    The number of people who say they are "on the Right" is even smaller, because "The Right" is almost exclusively a term used by "The Left", other people identify themselves in totally different ways and couldn't care less what "The Left" thinks of them.

    The interesting result is that the "Left" usually considers itself to be opposed - in the name of all humanity - to 90% of humanity who - they believe - are on "the Right".

    1. "(imagine how many people will say they are "of the Left" in Turkey)"

      What ignorance and eurocentric worldview makes you believe that? In a country with probably the most visible workers party of the world (PKK)?

      There is sooo much ignorance about the left in your comments, its embarrassing, really. Please wise up.

    2. Alien, this is not the way to comment here. Please moderate your tones or I won't pass any more comments of yours.

  5. A third note, then I'll relax and listen to some Persian poetry :-)

    Alien Observer says:

    1) he is on the Left

    2) he is against capitalism

    Fine, but the great majority of those who call themselves "Leftists" are in favour of some form of capitalism. Let's say, "a free, global market which protects some social rights".

    Of course, one can claim that all those are really "rightists" posing as "leftists", but that simply increases the number of rightists in the world. Say from 90% of humanity to 95%.

    1. Miguel, you are a sane man, evidenced by how much you upset true believers.

      We can also be amused by the Left arguing fiercely among themselves as to who is 'most Left': 'pure' or 'traitor'?

      My radical Left Vegan Anti-Heterosexual Anti-System Anti-Capitalist (wow at 22!) little sister has a new slogan:

      'When someone says they are 'neither Right nor Left', I know it means they are really a fascist bastard!'

      How they love creating categories, of sheep and goats, and branding their enemies (of the Faith)!

      Enjoy the poetry: Omar Khayyam or Rumi? Both teach mental flexibility which these people so often lack. And humility.


    2. You forgot Sa'adi al-Shirazi.

  6. There is definetly a lot of justified criticism about "the left". I never argued this, Being a leftist, I criticise the left more than most.

    My comment above was about the totally untenable statement of the last post that "Left or right doesn't matter", nothing else. So please, enough with the tangents people.

  7. Ok, enough with the trolling from my side.

    What I really want, is the degrowth and left opposition to business as usual to come together and promote a way forward into a world that is both, ecologicaly and socially sound.

    We do not have the luxury of being divisive, time is short and the destructive forces in this world hold all the power.

    1. Dear Alien

      But that is, exactly, your problem: you want the groups of The Virtuous -identified by you, 'de-growth' and 'anti-capitalist' ('opposition to business' - I suggest you take at look at the trading and accumulation propensities of primitive humans, it's innate) to come together and eliminate the Non-Virtuous and make a bright, shiny New World.

      It's the old Left delusion, which,understandable in the 19thc, a brutal period of exploitation, the history of the 20th c with several large-scale experiments along this line should have invalidated, to an objective rather than an emotional observer.

      It is,in fact,your religion.

      Free yourself from it,it is clouding your vision.

      Why do you not free yourself? Vanity, an attachment to the property of your old -and sincere, I don't doubt it - beliefs, or as the Sufi said: 'Everyone wants to escape drowning, but they insist on carrying their sack of cabbages with them.'

      The Left -one of the most destructive forces in history, is, I'm afraid, itself in the dustbin of history, along with every other out-moded belief generated in the last 200 years.

    2. Well, at lest this has been lively. Prof. Bardi, you do deserve more comments on this site, do please keep it up!

  8. By the way, the view I present here, is also shared by Graeme Maxton, Director of the Club of Rome, and Jorgen Randers, Coauthor of Limits to Groth, in their book "reinventing prosperity".

    With that book, the Club of Rome has aligned itself strongly with left thinking, and prominent left thinkers, as Naomi Klein (Capitalism vs. the Climate) or Slavoj Žižek ("The Delusion of Green Capitalism"), and rightly so.

    PS: there seems to be some trouble in finding out what being left means here. The core of left thinking is, that we as a society produce wealth and form the "subject". People, their identity, believe and social class are produced by society itself.

    Right (neoliberal) ideology places all culpability at the subject and none to society. Basically "its the poor peoples fault that they are poor, and the rich earned their wealth."

    So if you are unclear about somebody being left or right, just ask the simple question: "are the poor responsible for being poor", and you have your answer.

  9. @Alien Observer

    "What I really want, is the degrowth and left opposition to business as usual to come together and promote a way forward into a world that is both, ecologicaly and socially sound."

    I completely agree, and I have no love for polemics.

    The point is, you think keeping the words "Left vs Right" can help in our common cause; I disagree.

    Let's start with what you say.

    I don't know exactly what "society" is.

    I do agree that we exist insofar as our mothers gave us birth, ancestors of a hundred generations ago gave us the language we use to communicate, and we live largely thinking of our children; we can't stop breathing for more than a minute, and the same atoms we breathe are shared by every living creature; we live in a landscape which influences us enormously; and most of our life is spent sharing with, desiring, hating, fearing or loving other living creatures.

    The "free market rational actor" is a criminal delusion.

    So we might say, these are the two poles of human life: the feeling of belonging, sharing, protecting, and of being mortal and not so important after all; and the feeling of being an all-powerful, deathless individual who can conquer, smash up, paint over or buy the planet.

    This is a very basic division, which runs inside each of us, and affects our every decision. But only a very small minority in the world call it "Left vs Right"; and there is no sure way of saying on which side of the divide the word will fall.

  10. @Anonymous

    I suggest you sign your comments in some way: it gives continuity to a discussion.

    I think Alien Observer responded quite rationally, and I respect his point of view while disagreeing with it.

    However, the kind of people you criticize certainly do exist.

    They always make me a bit sad, thinking how much energy they put into doing nothing.

    So much anger, "a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

    But it is easy for everyone to fall into the same trap.

  11. Left and right are not only conflicting theories about the inner workings of society. Whatever your political point of view, if you are concerned about the direction in which our industrial societies are heading, it will clarify your understanding to read the science about what social psychology defines as the "Right Wing Athoritarian" personality.

    Somebody recommended this to me on this very forum not long ago and I picked up the authoritarians" immediatly to read it in three says.

    If we consider the question if "right or left matters", we need at least to understand the mindset of those who ar at the far right and why they fight any change to climate policies and even fight science itself.

    Bob Altemeyer's findings are good science. As all science its value can off course be discussed, but it can undeniably deliver very profound insights into some of the dynamics that shape our societies today.

    Why are tyranny and fascism even possible? Why do politics from all sides today often use fear and hate more than arguments and empathy to secure their power?

    Why are right wing politics succesfull even after Hitler, Mussolini or Stalin? And Yes, "right wing authoritarians", as Altemeyer and his colleagues found out, are the same in the Soviet Russia Communist Party and in the US right wing Republican Party.

    After reading this book, the question who will partner up with the degrowth community to stop climate change and where and who are the enemies of such an undertaking, be they "right or left" might be answered.


    Alien Observer

  12. In essence I urge everybody to make an effort to understand that we are at war. This war is fought by a plutacratic elite and its victims are the poor and our planet. If we do not understand who is the enemy in this war, it is lost.

    As Sun Tzu says:
    “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
    If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
    If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

    1. Unfortunately, Alien, we are not 'at war.'

      I must emphasize that I fully share your concern to save the ecosystem in some form of viability, if at all possible, and I loathe the callousness and short-sightedness of corporations and Wall St/the City quite as much as I detest self-appointed heralds of perpetual revolution.

      I just do not observe that the mass of people are any more ethically superior or clear-sighted than the corporate string-pullers.

      But where are the armies? The alliances,the 'fronts', etc? (And isn't this talk of war another reversion to the rhetoric of Marxism of the 20thc?)

      This tragic situation in which we find ourselves is perhaps the final playing out of a process of destructive development - with some huge pay-offs along the way for many humans, above all most of us living in considerable material if not spiritual comfort in the advanced economies - of our species.

      The culmination of the consumption and destruction of resources, using tools, begun by our most distant ancestors, rising to a frenetic crescendo with us (the appalling abuse of natural resources by China for instance in the last decade or so).

      'Left' or 'Right', corporate ruler or citizen subject, nearly everyone seems to want and unthinkingly use and discard the same toys this civilization conjures up for us.

      And this when, ironically, we have never been so able to quantify and model the effects of our depredations, and disseminate information about it to those who care to pay attention.

      Best wishes to you.

    2. "Unfortunately, Alien, we are not 'at war.' "

      We are not, but they are, and they do say so.

      “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” (Warren Buffet)

    3. @ Alien I don't speak so much english, I use google translator. But I hope it is understandable for you. I having read 2052 and I think Randers is too cynical. I've got two little children and I'm listening his voice. I bought Nintendo for children's games but I don't think it's the right way for combat the modern times. I try on my skin that it's not. Children is so cunning and sure of itself, they don't listen to me. They are too sure for respect me. Perhaps rules mediate. But it's not enough. Only manual games, or the practice help this little ones. The remainder is surplus.

    4. @mariana

      we have to trust our children. There is reason to do so. There is a statistic about young peoplein western countries.

      See here:

      "Young Europeans are sick of the status quo in Europe. And they’re ready to take to the streets to bring about change, according to a recent survey.

      Around 580,000 respondents in 35 countries were asked the question: Would you actively participate in large-scale uprising against the generation in power if it happened in the next days or months? More than half of 18- to 34-year-olds said yes."

    5. Thank you alien for your reponse. You made me think to this words: "Everything has to change because everything remains as before."

  13. As somebody writing from that bastion of Exceptionalism, the USA, the idea that the labels "left" & "right" have any meaning is amusing. After all, a corrupt creature like Hellary Klinton is considered a progressive leftist.

    What I see is an entire species called homo sapiens marching along the road to Consumerism. One hears the cadence, left-right-left-right, but that is just a chant to keep the bipeds coordinated as they march toward the cliff.

    1. Maybe for readers like you, I should point out some things. I consider people like Noam Chomsky or David Graeber to be "as left" as me. (and yes I also favor anarchy).

      From an european standpoint even Bernie Sanders is a standard social democrat and would represent a popular "center left" party, as the german SPD, french "socialists or UK Labour party.

      The german party "Die Linke" (the left) is worthy of all the critcism voiced here concerning their inability to really understand the heart of the problems this blog concerns itself with.

      But, here in germany the green party (that is quite strong) has hijacked the "sustainability" domain of political interest, so Die Linke's focus naturally is on social justice and redistribution and not so much on ecology. Their favored people are the unionized workers, who are mostly auto workers that whould have a real fit if you would tell them that builing cars is a very stupid idea in the age of climate change and peak oil.

      The green party here keeps dreaming of a "green new deal" and "green growth", which is utter nonsense but gets them the vote of their middle class followers. They would loose those votes if they really told the people the real truth about ecological and social issues.

      But all that is party politics, which I am really not that concerned with anymore.

  14. Left or right matters, because the "center" is failing as the final crisis of capitalism takes its course. As capitalism, which I will define here as "making money with money" (something very different to "the market" or "free economy"), will fail in the next decades, some sort of post-capitalist system will follow it. Many of you will probably agree with me, that the ressource crisis will have a very profound role in the downfall of capitalism.

    Other arguments for this can be read in publications of numerous ranking social scientists as Immanuel Wallerstein (Yale) or Wolfgang Streeck (director of Max Planck Institute for the Studies of Societies)
    Link: Wallerstein: Crisis of Capitalism
    Link: Streeck: the Crisis of Democratic Capitalism

    They are just two examples of many very influencial scientists in their field forming a view on the current state of the global world order that is about to become orthodoxy. Another related read might be Tariq Ali: "The Extreme Centre: A Warning".

    As mentioned above, the Club of Rome also has fallen in line with this view in "Reinventing Prosperity".

    So how could these post-capitalist systems look like? I would say there is almost no chance to predict this, but I have an opinion of how we get there.

    The most probable transformation that I see is that the far right (oligarchs) will take over more and more power and replace the democratic capitalist system in many countries with totalitarian schemes of exploitation and further ruin of our ecosphere. In doing so the legitimacy of the state as a benefitial institution to provide (democratic) communal services (justice, administration, social security, health, policing, schooling, universities ...) will be eroded.

    This path of action on "the right" will then result in dysfunctional failing states and upheavals that will in turn result in movements that seize local autonomy where the state has no longer any interest in functioning properly.

    I get this view from observing countries where democratic capitalism has allready failed. The most prominent example of post-capitalism development today might be found in Syria. Syria is off course much a more complicated issue than just a failing of capitalism, but it will serve to make my point.

    ISIS/Daesh is the ultimate fascist post-capitalist system we can find. Freedom and markets have been eradicated to the benefit of a view gangsters that rule by terror, dogma, fear, hate and warmongering. This is what you ultimately get from the far right.

    The "Kurdish Revolution" that formed a socialist, ecologist and anarchist self governed, radical, feminist, pluralistic, democratic union of cities/villages, is the "left" opposite of ISIS. And Yes, the strong left in turkey had a lot to do with this movement, as it builds on the left ideas of incarcerated PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. (which is why I thought that above comment by Miguel was embarrassing).

    We can see similar developments all over the world where states fail, like in Greece, where many local self governed communities have taken over the duties of the state, as it is no longer able or willing to provide basic services (like healthcare). Another known example might be the Zapatistas in Mexico. Similar movements also start in the USA, as the state fails to provide the most basic services (security, justice, health care, schooling, administration) in some areas allready (i.e. Detroit).

    Observing these developments, the statement that "left or right" does not matter, fills me with horror. It will be up to us where between the extremes of Syria our future post capitalism will fall into.

  15. FWIW I welcome this discussion on a blog devoted to both resource limits and the ‘unpinning’ of the environment. Sometimes reading the press in Britain, and I guess in the USA and perhaps in continental Europe, one would think the future was all about Google, Microsoft, Amazon and up-market Apple, and robotics etc., and that 'failed states' are just places that have not seen the light. To me it actually seems very different and more likely we are witnessing a broad failure of technocratic/financial ‘solutions – I link the two together.

    I guess the terms Left/Right have been meaningful mostly in our westernised democracies in the context of class, and imperial interests. Whatever happens to these democracies, these contexts are not going to go away. Nor will, I guess another perennial dimension: the conflict between ‘middle classes’ and oligarchs.

    Far from the ‘end of history’, in my view what we are going to get is a great deal more 'history' than we could ever imagine. This will include a great deal of ‘politics'. It might be a good idea - there seems some agreement on this – to save whatever structure we can and to continue with democratic participation. Class interests will need attention and representation. These interests certainly have not gone away, whatever names we give to the collective strands they give rise to.


    1. As it came up more than once, I want to point out a prejudice about left movements being centered in europe, it could not be further from the truth.

      Currently the most active left movements can be found in south america where they rose up from brutal confrontations with dictators that have been installed by the west.

      Those movements are very much aware of the ressource crisis. The "Buen Vivir" or "Good Life" movement is very active all over south america and they have been an inspiration all over the world.

      As a german, I am also very aware of the very strong persian communist party, that is very influencial here, as many refugees from Iran ended up in germany. It today serves as a voice for many immigrants from the middle east in germany (and the UK as far as I know).

      It seems to be lost history in the west, that the Iran revolution 1979 was a socialist revolution before it was hijacked by the Ayatollahs.

      The history of the Islamist movements is very much intertwined with the cold war, in a very similar fashion to the neo-fascist movements here in europe.

      Neo-Fascists and Islamists haven been the favored instrument of western intelligence services to suppress "communist" movements around the world during the cold war and even after.

      Again, this is better known in Italy or Germany, as especially in Italy there have been official investigations into the "stay behind" fascist organisations (Gladio) by the courts.

      The most viscious example of western imperialist support of fascism might be the indonesian Suharto regime, where countless leftists, unionists and intellectuals on black lists delivered by western intelligence services were murdered by fascist kill squads in the name of "anti communism".

      In a similar fashion, the western intelligence found islamist groups to be the perfect tool against soviet influence and alleged "communist" movements in the middle east.

      Todays fascism and islamism are therefore much more a result of cold war imperialism than of "grassroots" movements and have much in common.

      In all such cases, the alleged left that fought for participation, democracy and the western humanist values has bled and died at the hands of fascist terorists armed and trained by the west.

      I wish that there was more respect for those on the left all over the world who gave their lifes for the basic human rights that we in the west take for granted and who's blood is also on our hands.

    2. AO
      "In all such cases, the alleged left that fought for participation, democracy and the western humanist values has bled and died at the hands of fascist terrorists armed and trained by the west."

      Well, yes ... of course. I did not see my reference to L/R as being meaningful in the context of class in westernised democracies, as "prejudice". But thank you for raising the point. I grant you that I may have misunderstood the universal value of Left politics (alongside our "western humanist values"). I understand that this ‘universality’ is central to your (AO) position. I did nevertheless refer also to the 'imperial context'. As you say, the struggle for these values has been of immense importance in subordinate countries round the world when dominated by historical imperialism and globalised conflict. Globalisation and the roll-out of industrialisation could be seen as inherently an imperial venture. I tend to think of it that way.

      I read somewhere ('Leftish' source, I think) that the Labour Movement never was able quite to square the prosperities achieved in Britain - or the dream of better lives for the working class - with the dependence on imperial trading structures, including those developed since the end of the British Empire. Personally, I came to realise well enough how the infrastructure of my childhood in suburban London immediately after Second World War depended on 700,000 British coal miners;(an industry that of course now barely exists). More recently we owe, I think, much of our precarious prosperity to the vast industry supported on the backs of China's coal miners since they tripled coal production. It can be argued these kept the sagging western industrial or post-industrial structure from falling apart during the last 10 years.

      When global and globalised economic activity begins its decline I have no idea what kind of political, social or technocratic structures will emerge in any of the world regions.


  16. Comment deleted by mistake (Why the hell does Google place the "delete" button so close to the "accept" one?). Reposting.

    Miguel Martinez has left a new comment on your post "The Apple and the Ant":

    @Alien Observer

    You have some interesting points.

    One I disagree with however is this, "ISIS/Daesh is the ultimate fascist post-capitalist system we can find."

    The context of Fascism seems very different to me. First, the ideological background was a century of state-driven nationalist rhetoric, derived ultimately from the French revolutionary discourse, but merged with the interests of the Savoy monarchy. I see no continuity at all of this kind between, say, Arab nationalism and Isis.

    The political context of Fascism was the crisis after WWI: factories reconverting to civilian use, the sharecroppers in a sudden position of power over the cities, the landowners trying to modernise agriculture to keep up with international competition.

    And in the background the nightmare (for landowners and industrialists) of the Russian Revolution, the idea that factories and farms could be taken over in a moment by the "toiling masses".

    Fascists, working in close contact with the army bureaucracy and paid by landowners and industrialists, physically crushed the sharecroppers and workers in the name of "national harmony".

    Not at all, by the way, in the name of religion (the Concordat came much later and "the Catholics" were always quite distinct from "the Fascists", even when they worked together).

    I have never read a serious social analysis of class structures, property, investments, etc. in relation to the Syrian crisis, but I see very little in common between Isis and Fascism.

    1. Well, when entering "ISIS Fascism" into google, I get 562000 results.

      I surely don't want to brag about something that is the result of the very horrible history of my country, but understanding the underlying traits of fascism, is something that in germany is of more public interest than elsewhere, except mayby italy.

      As this is an italian blog, I will refer to Umberto Eco's famous definition of the traits of fascism, as it urns out, ISIS checks all the buttons.

      Umberto Eco traits of Fascism:

      1 The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”

      2 The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”

      3 The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”

      4 Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”

      5 Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”

      6 Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”

      7 The obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.”

      9 The enemy is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”

      10 Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”

      11 Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”

      12 Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”

      13 Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”

      14 Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”

      15 Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”

    2. @Alien Observer

      "Well, when entering "ISIS Fascism" into google, I get 562000 results."

      Try something like, "Shiah was invented by the Jews" and you will get a lot of results too.

      "As this is an italian blog, I will refer to Umberto Eco's famous definition of the traits of fascism, as it urns out, ISIS checks all the buttons."

      Eco's analysis is applicable to practically any strongly felt movement where a lot of young armed males are involved (try to check the buttons, say, on the French revolutionary volunteers in 1792 or on Chileno militants of the MIR in the 1970s - you will get most).

      Some points apply to ISIS, some don't (for example 9, 12, 13 certainly do, 1, 2, 3, 11, 14 don't).

      However, I think discussing Eternal Archetypes like this is not very useful: Marx a hundred and fifty years ago taught us to look for the social relations underlying political movements. He was not always right, there are lots of limits, but it is better key than moralism.

      We need a social analysis of ISIS much more than we need comparisons to Italian politics of the 1920s. And the easy step of calling ISIS "Fascist" prevents any serious analysis of the kind.

      The problem is that I live in Tuscany, which together with Emilia-Romagna and (partly) Lombardy, is where Fascism began, and - like you know something about the roots of German national-socialism, I know something about the roots of Fascism.

      There is a lot of discussion about the roots of Fascism, but I think the version I quickly gave would be agreed upon by most.

      Like you, however, I am not interested in quarrelling about words. What interests me is that a comparison of ISIS with anything should serve to understand and cope with it.

      Italy 1920:

      - a country split in two, with the north inhabited mainly by sharecroppers and day labourers, all thinking the future lies in heavy industry

      - landowners with a strict classic education, brainwashed in decades of anti-German "risorgimentalismo", owners of the only private cars, terrified by their restless sharecroppers, with the nightmare of a "revolution of the undertrodden" overwhelming them

      landowners belonging to centuries old families trying to modernize their farms... and force the sharecroppers to share in the costs

      the idea that resources come from having colonies, and that Italy deserves colonies just as much as French and England

      a fascination with heavy machinery, trains, airplanes, huge factories, steel and iron, the joy of feeling "modern" and "futuristic" and godless and fast

      factory owners terrified by the idea of the workers being able to decide what would be produced in the factory

      all of this in the context of the first bureaucratic war in the world, which turned millions of farmers into industrial products, all run by orders from above




      does all this information really help us to understand why people in Falluja or people in Parisian suburbs support ISIS in the age of Facebook and climate change?

    3. No, it does not matter. If its not fascism for you, I don't care. Its mincing words as you say. If it is not fascism but just barbarism it still gets the poin across I wanted to make.

    4. @Alien Observer

      "Its mincing words as you say. If it is not fascism but just barbarism it still gets the point across I wanted to make."

      Fine, I get you mean.

      But again, if we don't use words just to play with or to fight with each other, words can help us get a clearer understanding of many things.

      Discussing is useful to achieve results together...

      ISIS worked on two fronts:

      1) the resentment of young emigrants and especially their descendants in the West (another word needing definition, but let's leave it pending)

      2) bringing order into disorder, that is into the civil war in Syria.

      First, the Syrian state is based on the "pagan" nature of the countryside, which was never really dominated by the market-class of the Muslim cities.

      The Baathist party was very similar, originally, to the sharecropper movement that fought Fascism in Italy, except that unlike Italy, it achieved power.

      And this farmer movement united with the religious minorities to suppress more or less the same class that made Fascism in Italy.

      This is the major problem in Syria: those who "should" be underlings are on top, and have no intention of letting themselves be slaughtered.

      When climate change brought about the collapse of agriculture, this led to the civil war.

      And civil war automatically creates gangs of young males whose job is to kill. And the way they get paid for killing is by sacking.

      ISIS put it itself across as the alternative to this: the possibility of order and justice in what had become pure hell. And they managed to get the message across at first - they cut every thief's hand off, whatever side he was on, whipped everybody caught smoking a cigarette, gave widows back their properties and took very little for themselves - self-denial is a vital part of the "heroic" myth you talked about, and where ISIS is at least as "fascist" as the Viet Cong :-)

      However, ISIS' enormous ideological motivation made them deny every local identity: remember the videos of young men from all over the world, burning passports, because class, race, origin, borders no longer exist. Which meant that an 18 year old from British slums was allowed to overlord a village five thousand years old.

      And this is what destroyed ISIS, much more than its outside enemies.

      I suggest you read some of the great articles Tam Hussein has written on the topic.

      However, Tam Hussein is a (genius) journalist; we still need a great social historian to explain what happened in Syria, and I would be glad to change some of the things I wrote, if I could only find one :-)

    5. Really dont want to get into syria here and I dont really know what you are talking about.

      I think it is a fail to try to explain ISIS without a post colonial perspective, I suggest Edward Said's "Orientalism", which is a book everybody should read.

  17. I realize I am at the extreme of the axis of anxiety about the potentials for abrupt global warming. My anxieties about resource depletion and other issues including social inequality are relatively insignificant by comparison. As I formulate the solution path, it is necessary for most species' survival, for humanity to achieve a near term state of economic semi- hibernation. The only palatable way for that to happen is by way of a massive redistribution of available resources across a multitude of dimensions to sustain and care for the living while re-fashioning a functionally sustainable society. Most likely this would adopt micro- environment locally based economies with a minimally augmented network of global connections. Possibly, the measureably smallest impact economy is assigned the highest priority for 'augmentation' and in the face of constricted global resources, that priority is highly valued and not unwisely dissipated (spent) by importing 'augmentations'.(so economies are 'inverted' from current ideals) Clearly a step change in consciousness is needed before we seriously face up to a semi hibernated economy and even more radical step changes of consciousness are needed in the ensuing transformations. However slim the chances of anything like the above developing, the only political quarter likely to provide initial support to such a necessary redistribution on the road to essential (imo) transformation is the political left ( and perhaps greens in some places). So my conclusion, on reflection, left is needed and matters.

    1. It is not anxiety, its the opposite!

      And I really want to make apoint of that, because fear is what is keeping us from doing the right thing.

      I think that we of the "degrowth community" (in lack of a better word) are unafraid to look at the available data, at the sicence, to do our own calculations and to come to a result that is not biased by fear.

      It takes a lot of courage to look at the reality today and admit to yourself, that the way your society is functioning has no future.

      You have to be unafraid to insist that you are right because you have done your homeweork, when everybody around you just "feels" that you can't be right but is just to afraid to admit the truth.

      It takes guts to see that those we chose to be our leaders have no idea how to address the issues we face, to see that there is no responsible leader "taking care" of the problem for you.

      I am not afraid, because I am mentally prepared to face collapse and know what it means.

  18. Maybe I could add my two liras to the debate on left vs. right. And the comment I have is that I have been seeing myself as "left" for most of my life, never in a very enthusiastic way, but in a moderate way, yes. Except that the latest events have changed my viewpoint; I think forever.

    The election of Donald Trump was a shock, I understand. But, instead of looking at the reasons for the disaster, by far and large the left preferred to find a scapegoat. And this scapegoat was the American people, accused of having voted for Donald Trump because they were so dumb that they were easily swayed by the Russian secret services. In one sweep, the Left has destroyed the very concept of "democracy" on which most of the left narrative is based. If you think the people are so dumb, then you cannot also support democracy. And so it goes.

    1. So maybe if I nudge you a little you may cross over from the moderate left to the anarchist left. :)

      We have cookies and democracy-

    2. I allready have outed myself as being in the same political sphere as Noam Chomsky or David Graeber.

      As its democracy, participation, transparency and accountability that have almost been eradicated to non existence today, and anarchy that has allways prioritized those, I think it is worthwile to support the anarchists struggle.

      It has been anarchists who started the occupy movement and became its spokespersons and are thus conceived as the most dire threat to the current hegemony.

      Concerning the threat that we as humans face today, nobody has been more coherent and outspoken than Noam Chomsky, (who has also called the whole russian conspiracy meme a joke), be they climate change or the sovcial devide.
      see i.e.: this recent Interview:

    3. @alien observer
      I hate me because I don't express myself with some words I know. My daughter is 13, she's too little for help me. But I'm curious, I would like to understand better your point of you about "anarchist left". Let me ask you a personal question: Have you got a smartphone?

    4. Me too. But it's for a commingling of cases if I don't have. The more time passes, the more I am convinced that it is the best choice. I'm in part emarginate, but not completely and so I can't exclude wholly the use in future.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)