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Could a blueprint for a happier and more successful society come a little-known French philosopher?

John Lichfield, Independent/UK
How to save the world

… The West-knows-best, free-market-fundamentalism of the 1980s and triumphalist 1990s lasted until 2001-2008, when it was exploded by 9/11, the sub-prime crash, global warming and the rise of China.

Since then, nothing. Countless thinkers have examined parts of the puzzle. How can we halt climate change when the world is incurably addicted to growth? Can the Western values of openness and democracy survive the anti-Western radicalisation of Islam?

… Into this jungle, there has stepped, in recent days, the French philosopher Edgar Morin, one of the most original and joined-up thinkers in the world. Mr Morin, 89, the apostle of “the politics of civilisation” and what he calls “complex thought”, is a leftist political thinker (which, as he demonstrates, need not be an oxymoron).

Mr Morin is well known in continental Europe and Latin America. He deserves to be better known in the Anglo-Saxon world.

His new book La Voie [The Way] (Fayard, £16) is selling by the tens of thousand in France. It appeared in early January and has already gone into a second impression.

… The success of both books points to an inchoate hunger – and not just in France – for a new, post-2008, post 9/11, post Copenhagen “unified” theory of politics. Neo-liberalism is discredited but the old statist, left-wing arguments are dead. What will emerge as the Next Big Thing?

Will it be something greener, softer, more local, more social democratic? Or something crassly nationalist and crypto-racist?

… The idea that “growth” is inevitable and endless must, he says, be replaced by the idea that some growth is good and some is bad. There must be “growth” in renewable, soft industries and “de-growth” in polluting, energy-hungry industries. That may seem obvious but how many mainstream politicians are arguing for de-growth?

The compartmentalisation of education into science and humanities, or into more exclusive domains, must be reversed, Mr Morin says. Modern education fails to teach children to understand the world they live in: neither its technology, nor its politics, nor the way that global media industries lead them by the nose. We have unprecedented access to information (through the internet), he says, but we understand our world less and less.

“Only a way of thinking which can grasp the complexity of our lives… can help us to understand our present course towards the abyss and define the new directions which will help us to accept the reforms which are vitally necessary.” There is much more. Morin calls for “planetary” great works of infrastructure to soak up unemployment.

He rejects the traditional model of Western-led, Third World “development” as crass and counter-productive. Something closer to local patterns of society and economy, especially local patterns of farming, is needed.

He is very optimistic about the importance of small acts of resistance and rebellion and creativity, from local currencies to “micro-credit”. He wants more and stronger local government and citizen participation in government.
(1 March 2011)

Reflections on the Early Global Springtime of Peoples

Paul Street, Dissident Voice
Pardon me while I interrupt my usual narrative of corporate and imperial hegemony to report that popular resistance is on the rise around the world. Things are looking up, comrades. If you are paying attention in the first quarter of 2011 you can mark the outlines of a great global stirring – a burgeoning springtime of peoples blooming in advance of the technical onset of spring.

The most dramatic, regime-toppling revolts have taken place in Tunisia and Egypt, where millions poured into the streets to end the reign of long-term U.S.-backed dictators. The wave of protest spread to the authoritarian Arab states Yemen and Bahrain, to Iraq, Iran, and to Libya. (It even spread to totalitarian, state-capitalist China, where Egypt-inspired calls for democracy protest put hundreds in the streets in Beijing and Shanghai, leading authorities to put dozens of activists under arrest and to deep censorship of the Internet.) Economically marginalized youth without prospects have figured prominently in the democracy upsurge that has rocked the Middle East, 1848-style.

Turning to Europe, there has been an uprising in Albania, where Tunisia-inspired protests led to violent government repression at the end of last January. In Albania’s southern neighbor Greece, workers and students have carried on their struggle against harsh neoliberal austerity measures and recently launched a one-day general strike. Fully 250,000 workers and citizens hit the streets across a large number of Greek cities. According to ABC News, “the 24-hour strike by public and private sector employees grounded flights, closed schools and paralyzed public transport … In the biggest march since riots in December 2008 brought the country to a standstill for weeks, Greeks marched through the streets of Athens chanting ‘We are not paying’ and ‘No sacrifice for plutocracy.’”

The renewed popular agitation in Greece is consistent with widespread 2009 protests there and with significant mass actions against austerity measures and layoffs in Belgium, France, Spain, Ireland, and Italy last year. Millions of European citizens, workers, students flooded the streets in major social movements and marches to resist budget, wage, and pension cuts and tuition hikes last fall and early winter. Expect millions more to hit the streets and occupy their offices, factories, and universities in Europe this spring and summer.

Here in the Western Hemisphere, mid-February of 2011 brought a nationwide general strike during a popular rebellion against food price hikes in Bolivia. All of Bolivia’s major cities — La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and Oruro — were paralyzed three Fridays ago, as “workers marched in city centers and blockaded roads and highways to demand that the government increase wages and take measures to combat rising prices and food shortages….” As the World Socialist Web Site reported, “Long lines of workers marched through Cochabamba in a steady downpour, while thousands of factory workers, teachers, health care workers, other public employees and students took over the center of the capital of La Paz, punctuating their chanting of demands with explosions of dynamite.”

So what if Bolivia’s president Evo Morales is left-leaning and indigenous? The nation’s popular forces expect him to respect the power of the their social movements and their determination to resist the drastically increased cost of food and fuel imposed by capitalist elites.

And then there’s the remarkable state-level progressive labor rebellion that has erupted in the United States, where right wing governors’ and state legislators’ attack on public worker benefit levels and negotiating rights amounts to the largest assault on labor’s political and collective bargaining power in recent United States history.
(5 March 2011)

1 million workers. 90 million iPhones. 17 suicides. Who’s to Blame?

Joel Johnson, Wired
It’s hard not to look at the nets. Every building is skirted in them. They drape every precipice, steel poles jutting out 20 feet above the sidewalk, loosely tangled like volleyball nets in winter.

The nets went up in May, after the 11th jumper in less than a year died here. They carried a message: You can throw yourself off any building you like, as long as it isn’t one of these. And they seem to have worked. Since they were installed, the suicide rate has slowed to a trickle.

My tour guides don’t mention the nets until I do. Not to avoid the topic, I don’t think—the suicides are the reason I am at a Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, a bustling industrial city in southern China—but simply because they are so prevalent. Foxconn, the single largest private employer in mainland China, manufactures many of the products—motherboards, camera components, MP3 players—that make up the world’s $150 billion consumer-electronics industry. Foxconn’s output accounts for nearly 40 percent of that revenue. Altogether, the company employs about a million people, nearly half of whom work at the 20-year-old Shenzhen plant. But until two summers ago, most Americans had never heard of Foxconn.

That all changed with the suicides. There had been a few since 2007. Then a spate of nine between March and May 2010—all jumpers.

… I am here because I want to know: Did my iPhone kill 17 people?

My hosts are eager to help me answer that question in the negative by pointing out how pleasant life in the factory can be. They are quick with the college analogies: The canteens and mess halls are “like a college food court.” The living quarters, where up to eight workers share rooms about the size of a two-car garage, are “like college dorms.” The avenues and boulevards in the less industrial parts of the campus are “like malls.”

For all their defensiveness, my guides are not far off the mark. The avenues certainly look more like a college campus than the dingy design-by-Communism concrete canyons I half expected to find. Sure, everything on the Foxconn campus is a bit shabby—errant woody saplings creep out of sidewalk cracks, and the signage is sometimes rusty or faded—more community college than Ivy League, perhaps. But it’s generally clean. Workers stroll the sidewalks chatting and laughing, smoking together under trees, as amiable as any group of factory workers in the first world.

But “college campus” doesn’t quite capture the vastness of the place. It’s more like a nation-state, a gated complex covering just over a square mile, separated from the rest of Shenzhen’s buildings by chain link and concrete. It houses one of the largest industrial kitchens in Asia …
(28 February 2011)