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George Orwell was an English radical who wrote some of the most important books of the 20th Century, including Homage to Catalonia, about his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, Animal Farm (see cartoon adaptation), an allegory to Stalinism, and the infamous totalitarian novel 1984 (see film adaptation).
Orwell was an acclaimed writer because he wrote in clear and efficient English. He gave us this 1946 article, “Politics and the English Language” on how to write effectively. Check this out before penning/keying your next masterpiece! [alex]
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
- What am I trying to say?
- What words will express it?
- What image or idiom will make it clearer?
- Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
And he will probably ask himself two more:
- Could I put it more shortly?
- Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.
[Orwell goes on to explain how English writing is deteriorating from clear, crisp words into vague and opaque phrase-mongering, citing specific examples of particularly bad writing from intellectuals and politicians.]
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties.
Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.
Consider for instance Read the rest of this entry »
In a dispute which perfectly represents the struggle for “Green Jobs”, workers at the Vestas wind energy plant in the UK have occupied their factory to save 600 jobs and one of the largest wind turbine manufacturing sites in the country. A coalition of labor and environmental groups have organized to support them with daily rallies, while the workers inside wait for the government to step in and start production again. “Now I’m not sure about you but we think it’s about time that if the government can spend billions bailing out the banks – and even nationalise them – then surely they can do the same at Vestas.”
Send messages of support to firstname.lastname@example.org
The events at Vestas have been just one in a series of worker occupations around the world in the wake of the current economic crisis. Workers are not allowing their jobs to be closed down, when corporations and banks are receiving large financial bailouts. This article gives some of the highlights of the new wave of worker militancy. [alex]
Originally published by The Guardian, UK – July 24, 2009
Trade union leaders warned tonight that the direct action seen at the Vestas factory was likely to be repeated elsewhere as workers refused to “bend their knee and accept their fate” in the face of mass redundancies caused by recession.
The sit-in at the Isle of Wight wind turbine plant was the latest in Britain, they said, and was part of a wider trend of militant tactics being used as far afield as the US, South Korea and China.
In France, where such tactics have been more common, the manager of a British company was taken hostage by workers today in a dispute over redundancies. About 60 workers at Servisair Cargo at Roissy airport in Paris prevented the director, Abderrahmane El-Aouffir, from leaving the firm’s offices after he refused to meet their demands in the latest case of so-called “boss-napping” to hit France.
The four day Vestas sit-in, which is an embarrassment both to the world’s biggest turbine manufacturer and a government trying to launch a low-carbon jobs revolution, follows a similar occupation in April at three Visteon (car parts manufacturer) plants in the UK in addition to action at Waterford Crystal in Ireland and Prisme Packaging in Dundee.
Tony Woodley, the joint general secretary of the Unite union, whose members were involved at Visteon, said: “I think it is absolutely understandable and justified for workers to fight back where they feel there are no other alternatives and employers act badly.” Read the rest of this entry »
Is the economy “recovering”? What does a “jobless recovery” mean anyway? How should workers respond to a deteriorating situation? Professor Richard Wolff drops some knowledge and suggests that workers need to take control of their companies.
This story was also featured on today’s episode of Democracy Now! Check it out for an interview with Brendan Dunn, member of Olympia Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
Spy for the US Military Exposed: Spent Last Two Years Spying on Activists
Brendan Maslauskas Dunn
July 27, 2009
“John Jacob” was an activist well liked by many in Tacoma and Olympia, WA.
He was active in the anti-war and anarchist communities in both towns. He
did extensive work with the group Port Militarization Resistance (PMR)
which blocks military shipments to and from Iraq and Afghanistan through
Northwest ports. He went to numerous Students for a Democratic Society
(SDS) events and actions, was interested in starting a chapter or Movement
for a Democratic Society, worked closely with Iraq Veterans Against the
War, but spent most of his time with anarchists. Aside from attending
meetings, events and actions organized by activists, he spent much
personal and leisure time with other anarchists in the area.
But some recent records requests done through the City of Olympia, asking
the City for any information on anarchists/anarchism/anarchy, SDS and the
radical union Industrial Workers of the World, surfaced an email from a
John J Towery II from Fort Lewis Force Protection with a daily force
protection update for Fort Lewis. Interested in this email and the name
attached to it, several activists did some research that eventually
confirmed the identity of “John Jacob” as John J Towery II.
Two anarchists met with John Towery after this information was confirmed.
By his own admission, John Towery spent the past two years spying on
anarchists, Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans, SDSers and anti-war
activists in Tacoma, Olympia and the Pacific Northwest. He admitted that
he reported to an intelligence network that included county sheriffs from
Pierce, Thurston and other WA counties, municipal police agencies from
Tacoma, Olympia, Seattle and elsewhere, WA State Police, the US Army, FBI,
Homeland Security, Joint Terrorism Task Force, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency among other agencies. Read the rest of this entry »
An excellent talk on the relation between mental health and capitalism/neoliberalism. This is worth watching all the way through if you can. Dr. Stephen Bezruchka discusses the pharmaceutical/psychiatric industry and the spiraling rates of anti-depressants and other drugs given out to adults and children. This medicating of America doesn’t seem to be curbing mental illness or mental disorders, which are more prevalent in the US today than ever before, or in any other countries.
He suggests a more “caring and sharing” society, focused especially on better childhood development and reducing the gap between rich and poor, would do much to help us heal our over-stressed and depressed nation. This is a great line of thought, as understanding psychological disorder within the context of political decision-making allows us to imagine strategies to overcome it. Human-made problems have human solutions.
[The tremendous waste and planned destruction that is inherent to capitalism is really quite astounding, but acknowledging this opens a great doorway for all those concerned about social justice and protecting the environment. Rational production, organized by society rather than for profit, would allow a great reduction in environmental damage, without sacrificing social welfare. In fact, as Don Fitz points out, economic production scaled to meet human and ecological needs would be so much more efficient than capitalist production that we could produce far less, while simultaneously increasing quality of life dramatically.
This brief overview of the military, food, health care, etc. industries suggests ways to completely transform and down-scale the economy, which would actually make us all richer. Worth the read! -alex]
by Don Fitz
Originally published by ZNet, July 15, 2009.
A major gulf between environmental and social justice activists is “stuff.” Environmentalists (or at least serious ones) say “less.” Social justice organizers have the habit of saying “more.”
This divisive question cuts to the edge of the sort of society we want to build. Deep greens envision a world with much less stuff. A great outline is Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff.  An excess of human-produced objects destroys species habitat, poisons communities with toxins, depletes oil and intensifies climate change.
Social justice activists, however, have devoted centuries to denouncing capitalism as placing fetters on the expansion of production. Whether the struggle is against racism, for labor rights, or resistance to imperialism, the cry is for the oppressed to have a much bigger piece of the pie.
In response to the current economic crisis, a near-unanimous chorus sings “There must be a stimulus package.” There is considerable debate over the size of the stimulus and what should be stimulated but not a whimper asking whether growth is really a good idea. It is a rare Michael Moore suggesting that auto plants should not produce autos, but rather solar panels and windmills for a society without privately owned cars.  It is even more rare to hear suggestions that auto plants should manufacture less and that unemployment could be resolved by shortening the work week.
A shorter work week is not exactly of the top of most environmental agendas. In fact, environmentalists often shoot themselves in the foot when they call for “sacrifices” from those who have already done more than their fair share of doing without.
Production and consumption: A broken connection
These conceptual problems stem from progressives using corporate economic frameworks. The error is believing that there is a connection between the amount of production and the amount of consumption. The common misperception is that an increase in consumption requires increased production, and, conversely, a fall in production means there will be less available to consume.
Accepting corporate economics, environmentalists make the false conclusion that if CO2 levels are to drop, then people must consume less. Social justice activists mistakenly believe that putting people back to work and providing basic necessities for all requires an increase in production. Neither of these are true. The greatest decrease in CO2 levels would come with a change in production and requires no personal sacrifice. Increasing production would not guarantee enough jobs; but, changing production could.
The mistake in economic thinking is hardly surprising since there was a direct link between production and consumption during more than 99% of human history. In pre-capitalist societies, if people wanted more, they produced more of what they wanted. This characterized the first few centuries of capitalism.
But between WWI and WWII, something happened that could only be considered a problem within the capitalist mode of production: Industry had the ability to produce enough to satisfy everyone’s basic needs. The first capitalists to realize this were aghast.
Jeffrey Kaplan chronicles their dismay at the discovery “that the industrial capacity for turning out goods seemed to be increasing at a pace greater than people’s sense that they needed them.”  Though a tiny handful of business leaders thought that America should switch to a four hour workday, most concluded that such leisure could breed radicalism and that a failure to increase production would threaten profits.
In 1929 President Herbert Hoover’s Committee on Recent Economic Changes announced the growing corporate consensus that capitalism could best survive by creating artificial needs. The Committee gleefully announced that “Economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied.”  Read the rest of this entry »
“The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”
by Naomi Klein
2007 Metropolitan Books
I feel confident saying that The Shock Doctrine is one of the most important political non-fiction works of the last decade. This should be a high school textbook, or at least required reading in college. Naomi Klein applies her extensive vision and intellect to present us with a way of seeing our world that is extremely relevant and powerful: in the pursuit of enormous profits, those running the global economy intentionally exploit terrible catastrophes, or even create them, to take things for themselves that only shocked and traumatized populations would give up. This ambulance-chasing strategy of those in power is defined as the “shock doctrine,” and “disaster capitalism”, alternatively known as “neoliberalism” is the dominant social paradigm it has created.
Although there are flaws here, which I will mention, this book is both timely and well-written; Klein carries the reader through a story about grandiose topics like neoliberalism, torture, psychology, and international politics that is fundamentally readable.
The most important contribution made by this book in my view is the dismantling of the myth that capitalism’s global dominance is a function of democracy or destiny. This is the notion that with the defeat of the Soviet Union, all alternatives to “the free market” have naturally faded into history, presumably because capitalism is so irresistible. To the contrary, Naomi Klein provides numerous case studies to show us the exact opposite is true – the temporary triumph of global capitalism has been fertilized by the victims of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, wars, campaigns of torture, and economic calamity. In short, alternatives to capitalism have been shocked into submission wherever they’ve appeared.
This is no accident, it is part of a conscious crusade by market fundamentalists, those devoted to the pseudo-religious belief that “the market solves all.” Klein explains that the shock doctrine was developed (at least in part) by the patron saint of neoliberalism, free-market economist Milton Friedman. In his words, “only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” And he intended to provide those ideas. It was Friedman’s opus “Capitalism and Freedom” that proclaimed neoliberalism’s core edicts: deregulation, privatization and cutbacks to social services.
Since the 1970s, these teachings have been vigorously applied across the globe by the “holy trinity” of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Read the rest of this entry »
Last night I watched the movie Food Inc., which presents a damning critique of the industrial food system in the United States. The food industry is dominated by a few huge corporations making enormous profits producing non-nutritious, environmentally destructive, farmer-ruining, worker-exploiting, cruel-to-animals and even dangerous food in massive quantities. Worse, the food lobby dominates Washington and with millions of dollars systematically prevents federal regulations which could save lives.
But just as An Inconvenient Truth does, Food Inc. hurts its impressive presentation by missing the landing. The movie tells us exactly what the problem is, but neglects to present an adequate solution to the concerned audience, who by the end of the film is ready to take action. Instead, the makers of Food Inc. tell us that this horrible corrupt system can be undone if we “vote with our dollars” and buy organic yogurt from Wal-Mart, even though Michael Pollan in the film has already told us that organic and healthy foods cost more and many families can’t afford them. Is this film aimed at people who think social change means being more mindful about their personal consumption habits? This might make people feel better, but will it actually stop the machine of destruction that is the industrial food system?
In this essay (below), author Derrick Jensen refutes the logic of this sort of “change” as ineffective – consumers don’t make change, organized citizens/workers/students/communities do. He rightly argues that “moral purity” is a different, and ultimately less noble, goal than “to confront and take down those systems.” This is one of Jensen’s better essays, but I still find it lacking in another crucial measure: Does it inspire hope? Jensen tends towards the apocalyptic, which shuts down people’s ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel, a light which is crucial to help us find our path out of the darkness.
I hope my website provides real solutions to the enormous problems we face, while also inspiring hope that we can achieve those solutions, ourselves. Making better individual consumption/lifestyle decisions is a great thing, and part of the picture, but it’s not enough. We need to work together, to organize, to achieve the social change that is needed, and that we deserve. [alex]
Why personal change does not equal political change
by Derrick Jensen
Published in the July/August 2009 issue of Orion magazine
WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?
Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.
Or let’s talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect? Because I take showers, I’m responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.
Or let’s talk energy. Kirkpatrick Sale summarized it well: “For the past 15 years the story has been the same every year: individual consumption—residential, by private car, and so on—is never more than about a quarter of all consumption; the vast majority is commercial, industrial, corporate, by agribusiness and government [he forgot military]. So, even if we all took up cycling and wood stoves it would have a negligible impact on energy use, global warming and atmospheric pollution.”
Or let’s talk waste. In 2005, per-capita municipal waste production (basically everything that’s put out at the curb) in the U.S. was about 1,660 pounds. Let’s say you’re a die-hard simple-living activist, and you reduce this to zero. You recycle everything. You bring cloth bags shopping. You fix your toaster. Your toes poke out of old tennis shoes. You’re not done yet, though. Since municipal waste includes not just residential waste, but also waste from government offices and businesses, you march to those offices, waste reduction pamphlets in hand, and convince them to cut down on their waste enough to eliminate your share of it. Uh, I’ve got some bad news. Municipal waste accounts for only 3 percent of total waste production in the United States.
I want to be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change. Read the rest of this entry »