November 2009

Climate Change and Sacrifice

by Limbic on November 20, 2009

These is a great interview with Howard Bloom on Scientific Blogging. He repeats something he said in his Interview with Jon Udell, about how sacrifice – an age old human habit – underpins some Environmentalist ideas:

I’m a skeptic about global warming.   With or without smokestacks, the big shifts of this globe’s weather kill.  There have been 146 mass extinctions that we can count. And there were probably many more whose evidence we haven’t yet learned to detect.  In some of this planet’s past climate shifts, the carbon dioxide level, the level of “greenhouse gas”, was 20 to 200 times what it is today. There were roughly 80 ice ages from 2.2 billion years ago until 12,000 years ago, when modern culture began. Twenty of those ice ages took place while we were evolving as human beings. In the last 120,000 years, there’ve been 20 global warmings in which temperature has shot up between 10 and 18 degrees in a decade.  None of these catastrophes were caused by man.  None were caused by industrial pollutants, automobile emissions, or human consumerist excess.  The message?  Forget about sacrificing to mother nature so she will make the earth a garden of Eden.  Mother Nature, to quote a chapter title of one of my books, The Lucifer Principle, is a “bloody bitch”.  She exults in creativity.  And she exults in destruction and death. She has doomed neutrons to find proton partners in 10.6 minutes or disintegrate. She has given birth to stars and killed them.  From that star death she has wrung 89 new forms of atoms, 89 new elements. Her ways of creation are not always nice.  To me our fixation on apocalypse, our fixation on global warming, is a sign that we are slipping into a new dark age.  Cultures that look up move up.  Cultures that look down sink and die.  The Global Warming fixation is our way of looking down, very far down indeed.  We feel that we have sinned and must sacrifice, that we must atone.  Our sin is the rape of the earth.  Our atonement is the self-denial we call “conservation” and  “sustainability”.

More at:

It brought to mind a quote by Bertrand Russell:

“Even more important than the domestication of animals was the invention of agriculture, which, however, introduced bloodthirsty practices into religion that lasted for many centuries. Fertility rites tended to involve human sacrifice and cannibalism. Moloch would not help the corn to grow unless he was allowed to feast on the blood of children. A similar opinion was adopted by the Evangelicals of Manchester in the early days of industrialism, when they kept six-year-old children working twelve to fourteen hours a day, in conditions that caused most of them to die. It has now been discovered that grain will grow, and cotton goods can be manufactured, without being watered by the blood of infants. In the case of the grain, the discovery took thousands of years; in the case of the cotton goods hardly a century. So perhaps there is some evidence of progress in the world.” – Bertrand Russell, “Ideas That Have Helped Mankind

For more posts on Howard Bloom, click here.


Al-Qaeda vs three person marriages

by Limbic on November 15, 2009

Several weeks ago I learned that three people on a mailing list I am involved in – two guys and a girl – had been just been married at a Wiccan ceremony in Johannesburg. They were now a three spouse family.

On the list the newlyweds were congratulated and several people asked about the practicalities of three way arrangements, but there was neither disapproval nor shock at the announcement. This is a very progressive group of people, but even so I was pleased to see how open people were to novel forms of family, something we are going to be seeing much more of in future.

The wedding also brought to mind some ideas I read recently in “The Next Hundred Years”“, a new book by George Friedman of .

Friedman is broadly speaking a social conservative, but he argues that a declining world population (yes, declining) and the radical changes affecting women, will rip apart traditional societies (in particular traditional families) and generate entirely new forms of “family” (like these three newly-weds for example) that will become increasingly commonplace.

It is this transformation of the family that traditionalists like Al-Qaeda are resisting, a resistance Friedman sees as futile.

Here is an excerpt from the book, which I recommend to all of you as a brilliant analysis of current geopolitical trends and their consequences;

From Chapter 3 (Pages 50 – 51)

   “In 2002, Osama bin Laden wrote in his “Letter to America”: “You are a nation that exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools, I calling upon customers to purchase them. You use women to serve passengers, visitors, and strangers to increase your profit margins. You then rant that you support the liberation of women.’

As this quote indicates, what al Qaeda is fighting for is a traditional understanding of the family. This is not a minor part of their program: it is at its heart. The traditional family is built around some clearly defined principles. First, the home is the domain of the woman and life outside the house is the purview of the man. Second, sexuality is something confined to the family and the home, and extramarital, extra familial sexuality/is unacceptable. Women who move outside the home invite extramarital sexuality just by being there. Third, women have as their primary tasks reproduction and nurturing of the next generation. Therefore, intense controls on women are necessary to maintain the integrity of the family and of society. In an interesting way it is all about women, and bin Laden’s letter drives. this home. What he hates about America is that it promotes a completely different view of women and the family.

Al Qaeda’s view is not unique to Osama bin Laden or Islam. The lengths to which that group is prepared to go may be unique, but the issue of women and the family defines most major religions. Traditional Catholicism, fundamentalist Protestantism, Orthodox Judaism, and various branches of Buddhism all take very similar positions. All of these religions are being split internally, as are all societies. In the United States, where we speak of the “culture wars,” the battlefield is the family and its definition. All societies are being torn between traditionalists and those who are attempting to redefine the family, women, and sexuality.

This conflict is going to intensify in the twenty-first century, but the traditionalists are fighting a defensive and ultimately losing battle. The reason is that over the past hundred years the very fabric of human life-and particularly the life of women-has been transformed, and with it the structure of the family. What has already happened in Europe, the United States, and Japan is spreading to the rest of the world. These issues will rip many societies apart, but in the end, the transformation of the family can’t be stopped.

This is not to say that transformation is inherently a good idea or a bad one. Instead, this trend is unstoppable because the demographic realities of the world are being transformed. The single most important demographic change in the world right now is the dramatic decline everywhere in birthrates. Let me repeat that: the most meaningful statistic in the world is an overall decline in birthrates. Women are having fewer and fewer children every year. That means not only that the population explosion of the last two centuries is coming to an end but also that women are spending much less time bearing and nurturing children, even as their life expectancy has soared.

This seems like a simple fact, and in a way it is, but what I want to show you is the way in which something so mundane can lead to groups like al Qaeda, why there will be more such groups, and why they can’t win. It also will illustrate why the European Age, which ‘was built on a perpetually expanding population (whether through conquering other people or having more babies), is being replaced by the American Age- a country in which living with under population has always been the norm.

Friedman then demonstrates that global population growth is slowing fast and likely to reverse from mid-century. He was way ahead of the game on this (writing in 2008). Even the Economist has caught on (see cover image above).
He continues on Pages 57 – 61


What does all this have to do with international power in the twenty-first century? The population bust affects all nations; as we will see in later chapters, But it also affects the life cycles of people within these nations. Lower populations affect everything from the number of troops that can fight in a war to how many people there are in the workforce to internal political conflicts. The process we are talking about will affect more than just the number of people in a country. It will change how those people live, and therefore how those countries behave.

Let’s start with three core facts. Life expectancy is moving toward a high of eighty years in the advanced industrial world; the number of children women have is declining; and it takes longer and longer to become educated. A college education is now considered the minimum for social and economic success in advanced countries. Most people graduate from college at twenty-two. Add in law or graduate school, and people are not entering the workforce until their mid-twenties. Not everyone follows this pattern, of course, but a sizable portion of the population does and that portion includes most of those who will be part of the political and economic leadership of these countries.

As a result, marriage patterns have shifted dramatically. People are putting off marriage longer and are having children even later. Let’s consider the effect on women. Two hundred years ago, women started having children·in their early teens. Women continued having children, nurturing them, and frequently burying them until they themselves died. This was necessary for the family’s well-being and that of society. Having and raising children was what women did for most of their lives.

In the twenty-first century this whole pattern changes. Assuming that a woman reaches puberty at age thirteen and enters menopause at age fifty, she will live twice as long as her ancestors and will for over half her life be incapable of reproduction. Let’s assume a woman has two children. She will spend eighteen months being pregnant, which is roughly 2 percent of her life. Now assume a fairly common pattern, which is that the woman will have these two children three years apart, that each child enters school at theage of five, and that the woman returns to work outside the home when the oldest starts school.

The total time the woman is engaged in reproduction and full-time nurturing is eight years of her life. Given a life expectancy of eighty years, the amount of time exclusively devoted to having and raising children will be reduced to an astounding 10 percent of her life. Childbearing is reduced from a woman’s primary activity to one activity among many. Add to this analysis the fact that many women have only one child, and that many use day care and other mass nurturing facilities for their children well before the age of five, and the entire structure of a woman’s life is transformed.

We can see the demographic roots of feminism right here. Since women spend less of their time having and nurturing children, they are much less dependent on men than even fifty years ago. For a woman to reproduce without a husband would have created economic disaster for her in the past. This is no longer the case, particularly for better-educated women. Marriage is no longer imposed by economic necessity.

This brings us to a place where marriages are not held together by need as much as by love. The problem with love is that it can be fickle. It comes and goes. If people stay married only for emotional reasons, there will inevitably be more divorce. The decline of economic necessity removes a powerful stabilizing force in marriage. Love may endure, and frequently does, but by itself it is less powerful than when linked to economic necessity.

Marriages used to be guaranteed “till death do us part.” In the past, that parting was early and frequent. There were a great many fifty-year marriages during the transition period when people were having ten surviving children. But prior to that, marriages ended early through death, and the survivor remarried or faced economic ruin. Europe practised what we might call serial polygamy, in which widowers (usually, since women tended to die in childbirth) remarried numerous times throughout their lives. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, habit kept marriages together for extraordinarily long periods of time. A new pattern emerged in the later. twentieth century, however, in which serial polygamy reasserted itself, but this time the trend was being driven by divorce rather than death.

Let’s add another pattern to this. Whereas many marriages used to take place when one or both partners were in their early teens, people are now marrying in their late twenties and early thirties. It was typical for men and women to remain sexually inactive until marriage at age fourteen, but today it is, shall we say, unrealistic to expect someone marrying at age thirty to remain a virgin. People would be living seventeen years after puberty without sexual activity. That’s not going to happen.

   There is now a period built into life patterns where people are going to be sexually active but not yet able to support themselves financially. There is also a period in which they can support themselves and are sexually active, but choose not to reproduce. The entire pattern of traditional life is collapsing, and no clear alternative patterns are emerging yet. Cohabitation used to be linked to formal, legal marriage, but the two are now completely decoupled. Even reproduction is being uncoupled from marriage, and perhaps even from cohabitation. Longer life, the decline in fertility rates, and the additional years of education have all contributed to the dissolution of previous life and social patterns.

This trend cannot be reversed. Women are having fewer children because supporting a lot of children in industrial, utban society is economic suicide. That won’t change. The cost of raising children will.not decline, nor will there be ways found to put six-year-olds to work. The rate of infant mortality is also not going to rise. So in the twenty-first century the trend toward having fewer, rather than more, children will continue.


The more educated segments of the population are the ones where life patterns have diverged the most. The very poorest, on the other hand, have lived in a world of dysfunctional families since the industrial revolution began. For them, chaotic patterns of reproduction have always been the norm. However, between the college-educated professional and business classes on the one side and the underclass on the other, there is a large layer of society that has only partially experienced the demographic shifts.

Among blue- and pink-collar workers there have been other trends, the most important of which is that they have shorter educations. The result is less of a gap between puberty and reproduction. These groups tend to marry earlier and have children earlier. They are far more dependent on each other economically, and it follows that the financial consequences of divorce can be far more damaging. There are non-emotional elements holding their marriages together, and divorce is seen as more consequential, as are extramarital and premarital sex.

This group comprises many social conservatives, a small but powerful social cohort. They are powerful because they speak for traditional values. The chaos of the more highly educated classes can’t be called values yet; it will be a century before their lifestyles congeal into a coherent moral system. Therefore social conservatives have an inherent advantage, speaking coherently from the authoritative position of tradition.

However, as we have seen, traditional distinctions between men and women are collapsing. As women live longer and have fewer children, they no longer are forced by circumstance into the traditional roles they had to maintain prior to urbanization and industrialization. Nor is family the critical economic instrument it once was. Divorce is no longer economically catastrophic, and premarital sex is inevitable. Homosexuality-and civil unions without reproduction-also becomes unextraordinary. If sentiment is the basis of marriage, then why indeed is gay marriage not as valid as heterosexual marriage? If marriage is decoupled from reproduction, then gay marriage logically follows. All these changes are derived from the radical shifts in life patterns that are part of the end of the population explosion.

It is no accident, therefore, that traditionalists within all religious groups Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and others-have focused on returning to traditional patterns of reproduction. They all argue for, and many have, large families. Maintaining traditional roles for women in this context makes sense, as do traditional expectations of early marriage, chastity, and the permanence of marriage. The key is having more children, which is a traditionalist principle.

Everything else follows.

The issue is not only cropping up in advanced industrial societies. One of the foundations of anti-Americanism, for example, is the argument that American society breeds immorality, that it celebrates immodesty among women and destroys the family. If you read the speeches of Osama bin Laden, this theme is repeated continually. The world is changing and, he argues, we are moving away from patterns of behavior that have traditionally been regarded. as moral. He wants to stop this process.

These issues have become a global battleground as well as an internal political maelstrom in most advanced industrial countries, particularly the United States. On one side there is a structured set of political forces that have their roots in existing religious organizations. On the other side, there is less a political force than an overwhelming pattern of behavior that is indifferent to the political consequences of the actions that are being taken. This pattern of behavior is driven by demographic necessity. Certainly there are movements defending various aspects of this evolution, like gay rights, but the transformation is not being planned. It is simply happening.


World War 1 Posters

by Limbic on November 12, 2009

The Serving Soldier » World War One Posters


The Fort Hood Ingannation

by Limbic on November 12, 2009

A post on Arts and Letters Daily altered me to some great articles about the media and US military’s silly and dishonest response to the Fort Hood massacre.

“After events like Fort Hood, why do public officials have to sound like college diversity deans? As though Americans will be hanging Muslims from lamp posts? Why not honesty?”

Here are the three articles, with excerpts:

The Rush to Therapy – David Brooks (New York Times)

When Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan did that in Fort Hood, Tex., last week, many Americans had an understandable and, in some ways, admirable reaction. They didn’t want the horror to become a pretext for anti-Muslim bigotry.

So immediately the coverage took on a certain cast. The possibility of Islamic extremism was immediately played down. This was an isolated personal breakdown, not an ideological assault, many people emphasized.

Major Hasan was portrayed as a disturbed individual who was under a lot of stress. We learned about pre-traumatic stress syndrome, and secondary stress disorder, which one gets from hearing about other people’s stress. We heard the theory (unlikely in retrospect) that Hasan was so traumatized by the thought of going into a combat zone that he decided to take a gun and create one of his own.

A shroud of political correctness settled over the conversation. Hasan was portrayed as a victim of society, a poor soul who was pushed over the edge by prejudice and unhappiness.

There was a national rush to therapy. Hasan was a loner who had trouble finding a wife and socializing with his neighbors.

This response was understandable. It’s important to tamp down vengeful hatreds in moments of passion. But it was also patronizing. Public commentators assumed the air of kindergarten teachers who had to protect their children from thinking certain impermissible and intolerant thoughts. If public commentary wasn’t carefully policed, the assumption seemed to be, then the great mass of unwashed yahoos in Middle America would go off on a racist rampage.

‘Going Muslim’ by Tunku Varadarajan (Forbes)

The difference between “going postal,” in the conventional sense, and “going Muslim,” in the sense that I suggest, is that there would not necessarily be a psychological “snapping” point in the case of the imminently violent Muslim; instead, there could be a calculated discarding of camouflage–the camouflage of integration–in an act of revelatory catharsis. In spite of suggestions by some who know him that he had a history of “harassment” as a Muslim in the army, Maj. Hasan did not “snap” in the “postal” manner. He gave away his possessions on the morning of his day of murder. He even gave away–to a neighbor–a packet of frozen broccoli that he did not wish to see go to waste, even as he mapped in his mind the laying waste of lives at Fort Hood. His was a meticulous, even punctilious “departure.”

Dr. Phil and the Fort Hood Killer – Dorothy Rabinovitz  (Wall Street Journal)

“It can by now come as no surprise that the Fort Hood massacre yielded an instant flow of exculpatory media meditations on the stresses that must have weighed on the killer who mowed down 13 Americans and wounded 29 others. Still, the intense drive to wrap this clear case in a fog of mystery is eminently worthy of notice.

The tide of pronouncements and ruminations pointing to every cause for this event other than the one obvious to everyone in the rational world continues apace. Commentators, reporters, psychologists and, indeed, army spokesmen continue to warn portentously, “We don’t yet know the motive for the shootings.”

What a puzzle this piece of vacuity must be to audiences hearing it, some, no doubt, with outrage. To those not terrorized by fear of offending Muslim sensitivities, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s motive was instantly clear: It was an act of terrorism by a man with a record of expressing virulent, anti-American, pro-jihadist sentiments. All were conspicuous signs of danger his Army superiors chose to ignore.”


Amazing Grace on the bagpipes

by Limbic on November 9, 2009

I have always loved the bagpipes and Amazing Grace is one of my all time favourite songs, especially on the pipes. My father also adored it. On his 50th birthday a piper played it all the way up our driveway and into our house.


“I have never seen such elation…”

by Limbic on November 9, 2009

Happy Anniversary Berlin!


Liquid modernity

by Limbic on November 8, 2009

Zygmunt Bauman – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

“Liquid Modernity” is Bauman’s term for the present condition of the world as contrasted with the “solid” modernity that preceded it. According to Bauman, the passage from “solid” to “liquid” modernity has created a new and unprecedented setting for individual life pursuits, confronting individuals with a series of challenges never before encountered. Social forms and institutions no longer have enough time to solidify and cannot serve as frames of reference for human actions and long-term life plans, so individuals have to find other ways to organise their lives. Individuals have to splice together an unending series of short-term projects and episodes that don’t add up to the kind of sequence to which concepts like “career” and “progress” could be meaningfully applied. Such fragmented lives require individuals to be flexible and adaptable — to be constantly ready and willing to change tactics at short notice, to abandon commitments and loyalties without regret and to pursue opportunities according to their current availability. In liquid modernity the individual must act, plan actions and calculate the likely gains and losses of acting (or failing to act) under conditions of endemic uncertainty.

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Postcard Lenindenkmal Ostberlin 1989

by Limbic on November 6, 2009

Love this photo. Was in Berlin recently and it is an amazing city.

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Ango-settlers not imperialists

by Limbic on November 3, 2009

A good review of a new book on the great European migrations of the 18th and 19th century.

“…The migration of the British people over the globe, including North America; with the aid of some state power, certainly – the general protection afforded by the Royal Navy, occasional military expeditions to pull the migrants out of trouble, charters and treaties – but not in order to dominate anyone. Rather, the aim was to reproduce British-type “free” societies, usually freer than Britain’s own, in what were conveniently regarded as the “waste” places of the earth. Belich calls this “cloning”. It was an entirely different process from the more dominating sort of “imperialism”, representing a different philosophy, involving different social classes, and mainly affecting different regions of the world. Belich believes that it was a far more important influence than what is generally understood as imperialism on the whole course of modern history.

Belich’s approach brings out two further features obscured by conventional models. First, “settlerism” was transnational, in several senses, quite apart from the obvious one that it pushed beyond national frontiers. Other peoples did it besides Britons or even northern Europeans: Belich has interesting sections on Iberian, Chinese and Russian movements of settlement, the last-named mainly in Siberia, uncannily similar in many ways to the great “Anglo” ones. Or, rather, the “Anglo” one; for Belich is insistent that the British colonization of Canada and Australasia, and the Americans’ opening up of their West, were not merely similar but essentially the same phenomenon, umbilically linked, to a far greater extent than national accounts of each of them – and especially the myth of American “exceptionalism” – would lead one to believe. That is the first thing you discover when the imperial element is filtered out.

The second is that this kind of colonization was not necessarily a case of the centre “exploiting” the periphery. Settlers positively sought out “oldland” goods and capital rather than having them forced on them. They arguably gained more from the exchange than the metropoles did. At the very worst, “exploitation was mutual”. The cultural ties between them were also voluntary. It was the Australians who wanted to retain their British identity, rather than its being forced on them, and Britain which eventually cut the tie between them (by joining the Common Market). Resentment over their rejection by Britain led Australians to reconfigure themselves thereafter, fashionably, as colonial victims; but for most of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Australians and Californians preferred to regard themselves as “co-owners” of the great British and American enterprises – even as superior partners: fitter, more democratic, less debilitated by “civilization”, “Better Britons” (or Americans) – rather than marginal to them. Some even dreamt of shifting the metropolises of their worlds to their new lands: to Bismarck, North Dakota, for example, which one optimist in the 1880s “predicted seriously would someday be the centre of Western civilization”. It was this kind of process and feeling that created what Belich calls the “Anglo-world”, and contributed – more than a more one-sided “imperialism” could possibly have done – to its success.”

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Who rules the World Island commands the world

by Limbic on November 3, 2009

This is an old and excellent article on Sir Halford Mackinder, the father of geopolitics:

“Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”

One such scribbler currently ruling the world is the Edwardian geographer Sir Halford Mackinder. Oxford professor, MP and imperialist, Sir Halford was the intellectual architect of modern geopolitics and the thinker who put the idea of “the Heartland” at the centre of global diplomacy.

Today, he is more relevant than ever. As Russia and Georgia continue their hot and cold war over South Ossetia, as the Kremlin attacks the European Union for its “eastern partnership” policy towards Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, and as America and Russia tussle over influence in Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, Mackinder’s realpolitik vision is at its most active for half a century. Few recall his name, but our foreign policy is now played out in his shadow.

Mackinder’s fame comes from a rather dry lecture delivered to the Royal Geographical Society in 1904, entitled The Geographical Pivot of History. In it he made two dynamite propositions. First, that the globalised world — crisscrossed by steam, telegram and train — had become a closed system. Since there was nowhere left to colonise, the world had become a unitary space with every strategic advance by one nation necessitating a rival power to retreat. In this closed geographical context, diplomacy was a zero-sum game and geopolitics meant successfully squaring political power with geographical setting.

Second, the key to world power lay in “the Heartland of the Old World”, the Eurasian land mass stretching from the mouth of the Elbe in Germany to the mouth of the Amur in Outer Manchuria. This vast land mass included the Iranian upland in the southwest and part of the Mongolian upland in the southeast, but its core was constituted by the Russian Empire. In centuries past this terrain had been the pivot of world history as the Huns, the Mongols and the Magyars swept into Europe. Ranged against this “Heartland” sat the representatives of the outer fringe, the sea powers — Great Britain, the United States and Japan. And what geopolitics came down to was an ongoing struggle between the Heartland and the sea powers. Mackinder, as a loyal servant of the British Empire, was desperately worried that an expansionist Russia would act to the detriment of British imperial interests.

He explored these themes further during the 1919 Versailles peace conference in his most significant work, Democratic Ideals and Reality (tellingly republished this summer under the Faber Find imprint of lost classics). In contrast to President Wilson’s visionary rhetoric of democracy and national self-determination, Mackinder argued that the First World War victors should base the new world order not on lofty ideals but the hard geopolitical realities underlying history. And the most pressing of those realities was the threat posed by a united Russia and Germany. Mackinder’s thesis was simple: “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; who rules the World Island commands the world.”

To prevent just such a terrifying power bloc, he advocated a cordon sanitaire of independent states in Eastern Europe — Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary — to act as a bulwark between Germany and Russia.

Unfortunately, in Britain Mackinder was a prophet without power. “

Read on: