Monday, January 12, 2015

Here on Earth, Tell Me What's a Black Life Worth?

In the coverage of the January 7, 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, France, another major story was arising in West Africa. This story also featured massacres committed by violent Islamists. I am referring to the recent massacre of some 2,000 Nigerian villagers by Boko Haram in the northeastern state of Borno. Compared to the loud and widespread outcry over the Charlie Hebdo murders, there has been barely a peep on the much more extensive destruction of black African lives by Islamists.

Of course, none of this is surprising. Black African lives are simply not valued as highly as those of Westerners. The more favorable treatment accorded to Western Ebola patients compared to Africans afflicted with the same disease is just one example of this phenomenon. As Owen Jones writes:
"When aid workers have succumbed to Ebola, they have been invariably flown out and given ZMapp, an experimental drug that seems to have saved their lives. British nurse William Pooley is one and – having been flown out and saved – he wants to return. But this treatment is denied to Africans dying from an agonising hemorrhagic fever, which leaves victims bleeding on both the outside and the inside."
Similar stories can be found relating to a number of issues. As the Catholic Bishops of Kenya noted in 2012, the aggressive promotion of contraception in African countries by wealthy Western organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, while millions of Africans are mired in poverty, is both insulting and dehumanizing. Such policies assume that the best way to solve the problem of poverty is to simply do away with the poor.

There is little discussion of alternatives such as native African control of natural resources, as this would clash with the neoliberal Washington Consensus that denies to poor countries those same national development strategies used by the rich nations when they were in the process of industrialization. African countries are thus left with few palatable policy choices, and most countries are forced to adopt a neoliberal model. African life becomes a secondary or even tertiary concern, if it is even on the table at all. An outcome that is all too familiar to the people of Africa.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Don't Add Fuel to the Fire

There is no doubt that the vicious attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris which left twelve people dead was a criminal act of ferocious violence. In addition to the bloodshed, there is also the possibility that this attack will increase tensions between France’s Muslim minority and the rest of the country and empower both Islamist radicals and the far-right in France and Europe generally. 
Left out of the discussion, however, is the impact that the Charlie Hebdo attack will have on the fortunes of the virulent New Atheist movement.  The New Atheism represents an aggressive and confrontational brand of irreligion that has benefited immensely from the rise of political Islam and the violence that has followed in its wake.
It is not surprising that the New Atheist movement shot to prominence following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. The 9/11 attacks and the resulting American-led War on Terror gave the New Atheists a platform to present the view that religion is inherently violent and divisive. In an ironic twist, some New Atheists, such as Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens, defended the violent, divisive, and ultimately disastrous war in Iraq, a war that has likely exacerbated the problem of violent Islamism instead of containing and destroying it.
I fear that this latest high-profile terror attack will be used as yet another excuse to smear religion as a dangerous mental illness instead of prompting an investigation into the political origins of violent Islamism. The inability to view Islamism as an essentially political movement is a major reason why the West has fumbled so badly when dealing with the problem.
Charlie Hebdo, which lampooned Christianity and Judaism along with Islam, represents the privileged schoolboy view of politics that cannot imagine anybody taking anything seriously besides sex and money. This perhaps explains why Charlie Hebdo is so beloved by the New Atheists and their allies who have essentially the same mentality. Unfortunately, this attitude has hampered any serious debate about the role of Islam in the modern world and has only helped to increase bigotry against all religious people, most of whom are peaceful.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The French Model of Pro-Life Socialism

      Maurice Thorez, Jeannette Vermeersch and family

A recent article in The New Yorker regarding the rising abortion rate for poor women and women of color despite an overall decline of the U.S. abortion rate is a strong reminder of not only the growing class divide in the United States, but also the essentially anti-working class nature of abortion itself. While pro-choice figures will certainly discuss the need for better access to contraception, I doubt many prominent voices in the mainstream media will call for an end to the underlying economic problems that cause low-income women to seek abortions in the first place.
The anti-capitalist pro-life position receives little attention in the United States. France, on the other hand, has had a more interesting history of combining unabashedly socialist economics with strong pro-life positions. The French Communist Party once had a strong pro-life platform that not only included opposition to abortion and contraception as weapons aimed at the throat of the working class, but also supported positive policies such as generous supplemental salaries for the fathers of large families. More recently,  the French organization Socialistes Pour la Vie, held a march with signs baring slogans such as “Protect the Workers of Tomorrow” and "Right to Housing, Right to Work, Right to Life.”
The persistence of pro-life socialism in France is likely a product of the failure of Social Darwinism and eugenics in that country. As the French scholar Andr√© Pichot notes:
"France, as we have said, never had any specifically eugenic legislation, nor even a very strong eugenic movement. What is sometimes called eugenics in France is more properly described as public health policy. To speak of eugenics in this case is a play on words: etymologically, 'eugenics' simply means the science of good births, and in France these good births were seen as resulting from the health of the pregnant woman, conditions of childbirth and breast-feeding, rather than from selectionist measures to sterilize individuals deemed genetically incorrect. This particular aspect of French 'eugenics' was chiefly due to the influence of Pasteur and Lamarck, and no doubt also to Catholicism. France was strongly attached to the work of Pasteur, a national hero, and long remained reticent towards Darwinism, preferring the work of Lamarck. It is good form nowadays to claim that this held back the development of biology and genetics in our country (which remains to be proved), but it at least had the benefit of sparing us eugenic folly." (Pichot 2009: 161).
A "French" model of pro-life activism would therefore combine a reverence for the life of the unborn along with a public health platform focused on improving the health of pregnant women and their children. This platform is opposed to the selectionist eugenics that heavily influenced the pro-abortion movement in the United States through such malignant figures as Margaret Sanger.  

The socialist element would be similar to that advocated by former French Communist Part leader Maurice Thorez and his wife Jeannette Vermeersch and would include full employment, the nationalization of key industries, and supplemental salaries for the fathers of large families. A pro-life movement that holds unborn life sacred while promising economic reform measures designed to end unemployment and poverty would effectively destroy the argument that abortion is necessary for the welfare of poor women.


Pichot, Andr√©. The Pure Society: From Darwin to Hitler (New York: Verso, 2009).

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Chinese Workers and their Share of National Income

In an excellent article at Monthly Review, Hao Qi discusses the labor share question in China. The weakening of the power of the Chinese working class during the period of the transition to capitalism can be observed in the decline of labor's share of the national income. Today, however, workers' struggles for higher wages and better living conditions are becoming more common, pointing to possible changes in the Chinese economy. Hao Qi's article is very interesting and I strongly suggest giving it a read.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Eric Draitser has a fine article on the far-right elements of the Ukrainian opposition and the rise of the far right across Europe generally. A must read for sure.

Edit: Neil Clark also has a great piece on the subject of the Ukrainian far-right, here.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Eugenics and Biological Determinism: Then and Now

Jeffrey St. Clair discusses the shameful history of the American eugenics movement in his recent piece in CounterPunch. Also, Pankaj Mehta discusses the reemergence of biological determinism and Social Darwinism in recent decades as a result of certain political interpretations of modern genetic science. Both articles are timely and essential reading.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Crisis of Neo-Americanism

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly has an excellent article regarding more negative reactions to Pope Francis' calls for social justice. Apparently Home Depot founder Ken Langone and the American Enterprise Institute are now lecturing the Holy Father on his failure to understand that American capitalism is exceptional and good while the Pope's experiences in Argentina, a country where free enterprise is supposedly "a combination of socialism and crony capitalism," give him the wrong impression about capitalism as a whole. And hey, as Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute points out, Pope Francis is "not an economist and not an American," so what does he know?

We are clearly witnessing a crisis moment for the conservative wing of neo-Americanism (hat tip to the incomparable David Lindsay for the excellent term) as it is becoming harder and harder to dilute, twist, ignore, or otherwise reject papal critiques of  capitalism while still claiming the mantle of Catholic orthodoxy.