Quotulatiousness

December 30, 2012

The patron saint of Anarchy

Filed under: History, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:33

Another article from earlier this year looks at the fascinating career of Prince Piotr Kropotkin (who I really only knew of as a fictionalized minor character in L. Neil Smith’s books):

Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species sparked major battles. The most famous may have been between science and religion, but there were disputes within science as well. One of the most heated was whether natural selection favored cooperative or competitive behaviors, a battle that still rages today. For almost 100 years, no single person did more to promote the study of the evolution of cooperation than Peter Kropotkin.

Kropotkin traveled the world talking about the evolution of cooperation, which he called “mutual aid,” in both animals and humans. Sometime the travel was voluntary, but often it wasn’t: He was jailed, banned, or expelled from many of the most respectable countries of his day. For he was not only the face of the science of cooperation, he was also the face of the anarchist movement. He came to believe that his politics and science were united by the law of mutual aid: that cooperation was the predominant evolutionary force driving all social life, from microbes to humans.

[. . .]

One of the perks of being the top student at the Corps was that when he completed his studies in 1862, he had first choice of any government appointment. To the utter amazement of his friends and the bewilderment of his father, he requested an appointment in the newly annexed Amur region of Siberia. The odd choice caught the attention of Czar Alexander II, who inquired, “So you go to Siberia? Are you not afraid to go so far?” “No,” Peter replied, “I want to work.” “Well, go,” the Czar told him. “One can be useful everywhere.” And so, on July 27, 1862, he went.

Kropotkin’s adventures during his five years in Siberia were the stuff of movies. He crisscrossed 50,000 miles of the region, often “lying full length in the sled … wrapped in fur blankets, fur inside and fur outside … when the temperature is 40 or 60 degrees below zero …” His job was to inspect the dreaded prisons of Siberia, full of not just criminals but political agitators. He did so dutifully, but with disgust. The border of Siberia, he wrote, should have a sign like that from Dante’s Inferno: “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.” The rest of his time was devoted to learning more about anarchist philosophy (often from anarchist leaders who had been banished to Siberia) and, most importantly, studying the natural history of animals and humans there.

Kropotkin expected to see the brutal dog-eat-dog world of Darwinian competition. He searched high and low — but nothing. “I failed to find, although I was eagerly looking for it,” Kropotkin wrote, “that bitter struggle for the means of existence, among animals belonging to the same species, which was considered by most Darwinists (though not always by Darwin himself) as the dominant characteristic of the struggle for life, and the main factor of evolution.”

H/T to Derek Jones for the link.

The Gross National Happiness hoax

Filed under: Asia, Economics, Government, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:14

Remember the brief flicker of media interest in replacing the Gross National Product measurement with something called Gross National Happiness? It didn’t seem to catch on, which is fortunate, because the poster child for GNH is Bhutan:

Mainstream economists and almost all national bureaucracies around the world use measures such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or Gross National Product (GNP) to measure and track economic activity. These measurements are evidence-based. Hard data is aggregated and analyzed to come up with a picture of a national economy that is accurate and reliable. Based on such data, sound economic and development policies can be formulated. Not so for the Kingdom of Bhutan — a country ruled with an iron fist by its northern-based Buddhist Drukpa monarchy and elite with a transparent façade of democracy designed to obscure the true state of affairs in that country.

Having engaged in a massive ethnic cleansing campaign against its Lhotsampa minority of Nepalese origin from the mid 1980′s to the early 1990′s, Bhutan’s leadership prefers to use the amorphous and malleable measure of Gross National Happiness (GNH) to claim that their citizens — at least the ones that were not forcibly evicted from the country — are among the “happiest” in the world. Being a wholly subjective measure that utilizes no quantifiable data, GNH has been creatively utilized as a propaganda tool by the Drukpa leadership to project an image of Bhutan as a country of smiling Buddha’s. Little do most outside observers know the dark underbelly of this seemingly innocuous portrayal. It willfully ignores the history of ethnic cleansing and institutionalized racial intolerance against Lhotsampas inside Bhutan that continue unabated to this day.

[. . .]

With its record of ethnic cleansing and intolerance, it is morbidly amusing to hear propaganda that Bhutan is some sort of mythic “last Shangri-La,” a land of harmony and peace. Nothing could be more removed from the truth. The charade of ushering in a constitutional monarchy in the last few years and the ascension of the charismatic 31-year-old Oxford-educated King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk has led to a fresh burst of official Bhutanese propaganda expounding the unique nature of their happy people and of Gross National Happiness in general.

Hugh Trevor-Roper on the “invention” of Scotland

Filed under: Britain, History, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:33

In the Telegraph, Adam Sisman reviews a book by Hugh Trevor-Roper (an old article from 2008, but still of interest):

Trevor-Roper was repelled by Scottish nationalism’s appeal to atavistic tribal loyalties. He knew that historical myth, however innocently concocted, could have unforeseen, even pernicious, consequence; the romantic fantasies of Goethe and Wagner had fired the imagination of the Nazis.

Trevor-Roper believed that ‘the whole history of Scotland has been coloured by myth’, and he took it upon himself to address some of these myths in this book, largely written in the 1970s, but set aside while still in draft. His former pupil, Jeremy Cater, has skilfully edited the text and has added a useful foreword.

The Invention of Scotland identifies three overlapping myths that have shaped the self-image of that proud nation.

The first is the political myth of the ancient Scottish constitution: that pre-medieval Scotland had been governed by a form of limited monarchy. Time after time this anachronistic notion has been torpedoed; but after a while it has always resurfaced. To this day, the Declaration of Arbroath is brandished by patriotic Scotsmen as their equivalent of the American Declaration of Independence, albeit written in the 14th century.

[. . .]

The third myth is that of traditional Scots dress, which Trevor-Roper shows to have been got up, largely for commercial purposes, in the 19th century.

The kilt was devised by a Lancashire industrialist as a convenient form of dress for his Scottish employees; while the clan-based differentiation of the tartans was the invention of two brothers calling themselves the Sobieski Stuarts, who in 1842 published their Vestiarium Scoticum, an elaborate work of imagination which served as a pattern-book for tartan manufacturers.

[. . .]

A chapter entitled ‘The Coming of the Kilt’ traces what Trevor-Roper calls ‘the Highland takeover of Scotland’. In the 19th century ‘the apparatus of Celtic tribalism’ would be assumed by the Scots aristocracy, ‘those whose ancestors regarded Highland dress as the badge of barbarism, and shuddered at the squeal of the bagpipe’. The apotheosis of this tendency would come when George IV paraded in Edinburgh wearing a kilt of ‘Stuart tartan’: disguising himself, snorted Macaulay, ‘in what, before the Union, was considered by nine Scotchmen out of 10 as the dress of a thief’.

“We Have Passed The Point Of No Return”

Filed under: Economics, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:22

Zero Hedge recommends that everyone listen to outgoing Congressman Ron Paul’s analysis of the fiscal cliff negotiations:

In a little under three minutes, Ron Paul explains to a somewhat nonplussed CNBC anchor just how ridiculous the charade that is occurring in D.C. actually is. This succinct spin-free clip should be required viewing for each and every asset-manager, talking-head, propagandist, and mom-and-pop who are viewing the last-minute idiocy of the ‘fiscal cliff’ debacle with some hope that things will be different this time. “We have passed the point of no return where we can actually get our house back in order,” Paul begins, adding that “they pretend they are fighting up there, but they really aren’t. They are arguing over power, spin, who looks good, who looks bad; all trying to preserve the system where they can spend what they want, take care of their friends and print money when they need it.” With social safety nets available to rich and poor, there is no impetus for change and “the country loses,” but Paul concludes, the markets are starting to say “there is a limit to this.”

Win or lose against the Packers, 2012 has been a good year for the Vikings

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:56

Jim Souhan explains why today’s game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers is big, but won’t spoil the season if the Vikings can’t pull off the win:

The Packers will play at the Metrodome/Mall of America Field/Future Demolition Site Sunday in the biggest game for the Vikings franchise since their epic loss in the 2009 NFC title game in New Orleans, and the biggest game at the Dome since the Vikings whipped the Cowboys in the ’09 division playoffs.

[. . .]

It’s a big game because a victory puts the Vikings in the playoffs and dents the Packers’ aura of divisional invincibility, but in a lot of ways it’s more dessert than main course. In a lot of ways, the Vikings already have reached their goals for the season.

Four months ago, the Wilfs didn’t know whether Leslie Frazier could succeed as a head coach. Now Frazier is in line for a contract extension. While the Colts’ duo of Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians has helped revitalize their franchise, they’ve also won in a mediocre division and because the team tanked last season, while Frazier has had to slap a lot of mortar and super glue on his roster to win games. Frazier is as deserving as anyone of coach-of-the-year votes.

[. . .]

Four months ago, the Vikings coordinators were unproven, and a threat to Frazier’s job security. He had replaced Fred Pagac with the highly anonymous Alan Williams, and had invested great faith in Bill Musgrave’s ability to salvage Christian Ponder and establish a power-running offense. Williams has coached a defense that stuffed San Francisco and Houston, and Musgrave and his assistants have found creative ways to open holes for Peterson while coaxing competent play down the stretch from Ponder.

Four months ago, the schedule offered a few easy victories but threatened to crush the team down the stretch. It was hard to find any analysts outside the organization who believed that this team was capable of more than six or seven victories, or of surviving December. They enter Sunday’s game on a three-game winning streak, with their victory at Houston last Sunday providing their most impressive road victory since Brett Favre beat the Packers at Lambeau Field in 2009.

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