Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Empathy and Social Justice

       Gary Olson, a professor in Pennsylvania, has written what I think is a powerful piece on empathy and social justice.  See the selection below.  While I recently completed my masters in the political economics of community sustainable development, events, people, and ideas keep reminding me that we are not talking about mechanistic philosophies like Adam Smith and others have done following DesCartes and forgetting their roots in St. Thomas of Aquinas and the role of spiritual ethics.  We are talking about how each and every one of us can get involved in worker co-op enterprises and communities which reflect our real selves and, I suggest, our real historical and cultural roots in the spiritual teachings of regarding the origins of the created and evolving universe and our neighbors with care and reverence as we do ourselves. 
      Michael Johnson has written on his early efforts to promote a "C-paradigm" based on compassion, for example, and I have reflected on related processes and principles here.

NEUROSCIENCE AND MORAL POLITICS: Chomsky’s Intellectual Progeny

Are humans "wired for empathy"? How does this affect what Chomsky calls the "manufacturing of consent"?

An essay by Gary Olson
Posted: October 16, 2007
Throughout the world, teachers, sociologists, policymakers and parents are discovering that empathy may be the single most important quality that must be nurtured to give peace a fighting chance.
—Arundhati Ray
The official directives needn’t be explicit to be well understood: Do not let too much empathy move in unauthorized directions.
—Norman Solomon
The nonprofit Edge Foundation recently asked some of the world’s most eminent scientists, “What are you optimistic about? Why?” In response, the prominent neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni cites the proliferating experimental work into the neural mechanisms that reveal how humans are “wired for empathy.”
Iacoboni’s optimism is grounded in his belief that, with the popularization of scientific insights, these recent findings in neuroscience will seep into public awareness and “. . . this explicit level of understanding our empathic nature will at some point dissolve the massive belief systems that dominate our societies and that threaten to destroy us.” (Iacoboni, 2007, p. 14)
While there are reasons to remain skeptical (see below) about the progressive political implications flowing from this work, a body of impressive empirical evidence reveals that the roots of prosocial behavior, including moral sentiments such as empathy, precede the evolution of culture. This work sustains Noam Chomsky’s visionary writing about a human moral instinct, and his assertion that, while the principles of our moral nature have been poorly understood, “we can hardly doubt their existence or their central role in our intellectual and moral lives.” (Chomsky, 1971, n.p., 1988; 2005, p. 263)
In his influential book Mutual Aid (1972, p. 57; 1902), the Russian revolutionary anarchist, geographer, and naturalist Petr Kropotkin, maintained that “. . . under any circumstances sociability is the greatest advantage in the struggle for life. Those species which willingly abandon it are doomed to decay.” Species cooperation provided an evolutionary advantage, a “natural” strategy for survival.
see the rest of the article by Gary Olson

      Gary Olson does not seem to have yet been informed about the solidarity economics movement and the co-operative business model.  I will be glad to try to communicate the possibility to him.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Rwanda: How Capitalism Caused the Genocide

In the last year or two I wrote an article for a University journal on the generous contributions by the modern international financial system and markets to causing the Rwandan genocide.  From the machinations of colonial powers and corporations to anti-communist militarism to the Bretton Woods institutions, none of these basic causes are discussed amongst the popularized images of Hutu-Tutsi conflict made for the disaster capitalism of the film Hotel Rwanda.
      Here is a selection from the introduction:

Because of the externalization of costs and asymmetries of power and resources between market participants, the cause of these disparities can be examined in the way commodities are priced. In fact, commodity pricing in markets has deviated from the theoretical assumptions of market behavior as discussed by Adam Smith. For example, free and efficient markets require symmetrical buyer and seller participants who do not influence the price of goods. Another free market principle says that sellers must be responsible for the entire cost of their product, and this must be reflected in the price.10 When pricing is efficient, bargaining allows producers to meet their costs. In actual practice, however, and in the case of commodities like coffee in particular, powerful participants manipulate the market to pay a price which ultimately disregards small producers’ costs, such as corporations in the London commodity markets. In addition, limitations of infrastructure and resources in the supply chain create these power dynamics even for relatively smaller participants, such as brokers who buy from small farmers in Asia, Africa, or Latin America. An end result is that many of these small producers have been receiving prices insufficient to meet their expenses. In fact, most global problems are linked to these market asymmetries and inefficiencies. While this paper will examine the circumstances of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, many familiar problems occur for similar reasons, include corporate crime,11 environmental degradation, the 1994 Chiapas, Mexico uprising of the same year,12 the Darfur conflict and genocide,13 drugs,14 domestic and international immigration pressures,15 and urban slums.16 This paper proposes that the policies of fair trade have made important progress in addressing the source of these problems, and can make significant further strides towards solving them.