North Korea and the Status Quo


It could be argued that North Korea qualifies as a failed state. The regime is so unstable and insecure it requires a totalitarian grip on every citizen in order to survive. The government aspires to control every aspect of life to ensure the perpetuation of its power. It mainly achieves this by indoctrinating its citizens from birth and maintaining an atmosphere of fear and constant battle against invisible foreign enemies.

In reality, the allegedly perfect regime is ludicrously incompetent and inconsistent. Supposedly, there is housing for everyone, but no citizen can choose where to live. Supposedly, there is schooling for everyone, but no one can choose what they want to learn. Supposedly, there is universal healthcare, but there are no medicines to cure patients. On the one hand, individual initiative of any kind is stamped out, on the other hand, the government cannot provide basic necessities for its citizens, most importantly, food. On top of that, dissenters, nonconformists, critics and others who are considered traitors to the regime are regularly imprisoned, tortured or executed, often together with their entire family. (The list of known human rights violations is too long to go into any further.)

This begs the question, with such a tenuous grip on power, how does the North Korean regime manage to survive?
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There was such a thing as HUAC


Established in 1938, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives that conducted investigations through the 1940s and 1950s into alleged communist activities.

Its actions resulted in several contempt-of-Congress convictions and the blacklisting of many who refused to answer its questions. Highly controversial for its tactics, it was criticized for violating First Amendment rights.

The following transcript of an excerpt from the interrogation of screenwriter John Howard Lawson by HUAC chairman J. Parnell Thomas gives an example of an alternative wording of the question and a sense of the tenor of some of the exchanges: Continue reading

Conversations: Evil Atheists?


Lysandra
If you are right to believe that religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, then atheists should be less moral than believers. In fact, they should be utterly immoral. Are they?

Helena
No. Do members of atheist organizations in the United States commit more than their fair share of violent crimes? Do the members of the National Academy of Sciences, 93 percent of whom reject the idea of God, lie and cheat and steal with abandon? We can be reasonably confident that these groups are at least as well behaved as the general population. And yet, atheists are the most reviled minority in the United States. Continue reading

Self-interests in Politics


Plantagenet: You’re very young. I don’t think you’ve thought about this very much.

Silverbridge: But I have sir, I have developed my own ideas. We’ve got to protect ourselves against those radicals and communists.

Plantagenet: Do your politics begin and end with your own self-interests? You’re advocating self-protection.

Silverbridge: Not only our own protection, sir, but that of our class. The people will look after themselves, but we are so few and they are so many that we will have quite enough to do.

Plantagenet: You would desert a family allegiance of centuries for such childish thinking as that?

Silverbridge: I know I’m a fool sir. Perhaps that’s why I’m a Tory. Well, the radicals are always saying that it must be a fool, so perhaps a fool ought to be a Conservative. I am very sorry if this upsets you father.

Plantagenet: I will not be upset sir, but I thought you had studied the conservative philosophy with some serious thought and consideration, but as it is…

– Lisemore, M. (Producer), David, H. and Wilson, R. (Directors). (1974). The Pallisers [Television Series]. United Kingdom: BBC

Orwell on Orthodoxy


‘Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.’

– Orwell. G. 1949. Nineteen Eighty-Four London, Great Britain: Penguin Books (2008) p. 56

The Little Red Book is Non-secular


In order for institutions based on Lyotardian grand narratives to flourish, such as totalitarian regimes and organised religions, a certain amount of unquestioned belief is needed. Consider the following excerpts out of the preface to Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book, published in China as the Red Treasure Book in 1964:[1]

‘Study the writings of chairman Mao, obey the words of chairman Mao and act according to the words of chairman Mao.’
– Lin Biao, Vice Chairman of the Communist Party of China 1958-1971 and Marshal of the People’s Republic of China (p. 5)

‘Over the past few years, the ‘Thinking of Mao Zedong’ has been dressed in the aura of the one and only universal truth. More so than the explicitly confessed Marxist-Leninism are the sayings and writings of Mao Zedong that are revered and studied, and are used by everyone from the professor to the melon salesman, and the marine engineer to the table tennis champion to achieve greater accomplishments.’
– Cornelis Schepel, Institute of Sinology, Leiden (p. 7)


[1] These citations were not featured in the original Chinese publication of Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book, but have been translated to English from a Dutch translation of Zedong’s most famous work, first published as Het Rode Boekje in 1967 by A.W. Bruna & Zonen and reprinted in 2005 by Forum.

Opium of the People


‘Probably the most popular misquotation of modern times—certainly the most popular in this argument—is the assertion that Marx dismissed religion as “the opium of the people.” On the contrary, this son of a rabbinical line took belief very seriously and wrote, in his Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, as follows:

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusions about its condition is the demand to
give up a condition that needs illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of the vale of woe, the halo of which is religion. Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers from the chain, not so that man will wear the chain without any fantasy or consolation but so that he will shake off the chain and cull the living flower.

So the famous misquotation is not so much a “misquotation” but rather a very crude attempt to misrepresent the philosophical case against religion. Those who have believed what the priests and rabbis and imams tell them about what the unbelievers think and about how they think, will find further such surprises as we go along. They will perhaps come to distrust what they are told—or not to take it “on faith,” which is the problem to begin with.

Marx and Freud, it has to be conceded, were not doctors or exact scientists. It is better to think of them as great and fallible imaginative essayists. When the intellectual universe alters, in other words, I don’t feel arrogant enough to exempt myself from self-criticism. And I am content to think that some contradictions will remain contradictory, some problems will never be resolved by the mammalian equipment of the human cerebral cortex, and some things are indefinitely unknowable. If the universe was found to be finite or infinite, either discovery would be equally stupefying and impenetrable to me. And though I have met many people much wiser and more clever than myself, I know of nobody who could be wise or intelligent enough to say differently.’

Hitchens. C. 2007. God Is Not Great London, Great Britain: Atlantic Books (2008) p. 9-10

20th century Russian -isms


The history of Russian modern politics can be confusing. To that end, here is a basic overview to clarify some of the main -isms of Russian left wing politics of the 20th century:

  • Communism is a political philosophy. It is a redistribution of wealth, capital and all the means of production away from the capitalists and to the workers.
  • Marxism is a philosophy. It is a critique and analysis of capitalism; the analysis of history through the lens of class struggle, and application of Hegelian dialectics to labour and economics, known as dialectical materialism.
  • Leninism is a historical style of government. It is a socialist revolution led by the working class under the strong leadership of a Revolutionary Party – a style of government which became known as Democratic Centralism.
  • Stalinism is a historical style of government. It is the rule of an authoritarian vanguard party which represses opposition and free speech, frequently purges dissidents, and mainly implements state centralization and collectivization of industry.
  • Trotskyism is a political theory. It is the idea of permanent revolution in which the needs of the worker are central to everything. As opposed to Stalinism, it holds that the cause of the proletariat is universal.

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” – Hélder Câmara