Posts Tagged With: Karl Marx

Passion, politics and personal hygiene in Brazil

Tiririca the clown says: "If elected I promise I will help all Brazilian families... especially mine"

Tiririca the clown says: “If elected I promise I will help all Brazilian families… especially mine”

Today is a big day in Brazil. More than 100 million people will toddle along to their local polling station to cast their precious electronic vote. Today, Brazil’s huge population will not just decide who the next president will be, they also have to choose senators, governors and representatives at a municipal and local level. For weeks, every strip of grassland next to the main roads has been cluttered with billboards, huge photographs of dozens of well-heeled contenders and their electronic numbers. There are no written messages on the pictures, apart from the subliminal and obvious “Vote for Me”, which goes without saying.

Having found myself caught up in all the excitement and, as an outsider, mystified by all these names, numbers and bland photographs, I naturally consulted my colleagues and students to discover how they were going to choose their next political leaders. To my chagrin I discovered that the vast majority of these “delegates” are unknown; anonymous faces with numbers to match. In fact, it wouldn’t be stretching the truth to suggest that many people will vote for the person who, from their photographic portrait, appears to be the most sincere and reliable. I won’t say “trustworthy” as Brazil has a shameful history (one which runs right up to the present) of corruption in politics at all levels, leading most voters to adopt a cynical attitude to the electoral proceedings. It looks like a case of “meet the new boss – same as the old boss”, as The Who’s Pete Townsend  aptly put it in his ironically titled song, Won’t Get Fooled Again.

That's Dilma the president at the top...but who are the rest?

That’s Dilma the president at the top…but who are the rest?

What a daft system! Surely nobody should be voting for someone they have never heard of. But then that is the nature of metropolitan politics where huge numbers of people live together and know next to nothing about how their city is run. It may sound idealistic, but wouldn’t it be great to get to know your candidate, to sit down and have a little chat? Only then would you know if this was the kind of person who best represents your opinions. Not only could you broach all those touchy subjects like poverty, education and corruption, you could get a feeling whether this candidate was understanding, humane, kind – somebody worthy of your vote. You could also check whether they have bad breath and expect you to pay for the drinks (obviously a no-brainer).

The biggest issue, as I see it, is how to make our societies fairer: how to engender more equality of wealth and opportunity. The simple solution – to tax the rich and give to the poor, Robin Hood-style, is surely way too simplistic. Wouldn’t that just make rich people not want to work anymore and, at the same time, make poor people lazy? Well, it depends. Like all political ideals, the answers lie somewhere deep in the darker realms of philosophy. The bigger question is: are we human beings basically good-hearted, sharing, caring creatures, or are we selfish individuals out to get everything we can for ourselves and our precious families? More to the point – shouldn’t all those candidates with the big beaming faces know the answer to these quandaries?

Hobbes: without state control you would be a brute

Hobbes: without state control you would be a brute

Of course they should! So, here’s the thing – all the candidates should be made to sit a philosophy exam and the results made public before the election. You see, I’m full of great ideas! But hang on a minute – do I know myself what the philosophers say about human nature? Well, erm, let me see…

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679): Here we have a very influential English pessimist who wrote in his impressive tome Leviathan that human life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” without the powers that be keeping tight control on everybody. That’s because human beings have a natural tendency to fight with everybody else in the name of self-preservation. What Hobbes called “every man against every man” or what we call today, proverbially, “dog eat dog”. (Oh dear…not a good start!)

Jean-Jaques Rousseau (1712-1778) “Man was born free”, Rousseau famously proclaims, “and he is everywhere in chains.” Sounds familiar? Well, the Frenchman’s invention of the term “noble savage” might also ring a bell. But what does he mean? Well, unlike Hobbes, Rousseau is a bit of a romantic. He believes that in our true “natural” state, human beings do not know good and evil; in fact our ignorance of vice makes us unable to do bad things to others. Men and women are naturally peaceful and “passionate”. (Now this is more like it…sounds lovely!)

Adam Smith (1723-1790)

Adam Smith in Edinburgh: 'Just start up a business and everybody will be better off...honest!'

Adam Smith in Edinburgh: ‘Everybody is better off with Capitalism’

This Scottish economic philosopher has got a lot to answer for, my friends. He believed that yes, man is selfish, but that self-interest will actually benefit everybody else. Sounds dumb? Well, Smith argues in The Wealth of Nations that the creation and maintenance of business practices will benefit the whole of society, from the managing director to the cleaner who scrubs his floor. This is the thinking that spawned “neo-liberalism”, a free-market, no-holds-barred economic system which ultimately led to the chaotic global financial crisis we saw just a few years ago. Aggressive capitalism, Adam Smith-style, surely does not benefit everyone. How could it?

Karl Marx (1818-1883) My homeboy, in case you hadn’t guessed, this infamous German revolutionary believed that humans are naturally sociable “self-expressive animals who need one another to survive, but who come to fulfillment in that companionship over and above its social usefulness”, according to Marxist professor Terry Eagleton. Humans are political creatures, in the sense that we always have to organize ourselves and work together in order to produce the things we need. The problem is, in the advanced capitalist societies of today, little people don’t get a chance to voice their opinions or have the power to change the mighty economic system.

The very noble savage

The very noble savage

Which brings me back to the Brazilian elections today. Everyone I have spoken to here has very strong opinions about their beloved country. Brazilians are passionate about politics and have a wealth of ideas about how the country’s institutions need to change. How, for example, the cynicism of corrupt, selfish politicians can be traced back to a woefully underfunded education system which fails to enlighten schoolchildren about the crass limitations of consumerism and economic self-interest.

Luckily, being an ex-pat, I don’t have to vote today, but if I was Brazilian, I would be rooting for the candidate who regularly visited all the areas (including the very poor) of his or her constituency to actually speak with the people; to meet the voters – as many of them as humanly possible. That is true political representation. I would also be tempted to vote for someone who was stunningly attractive, of course – as long as they had read all three volumes of Das Kapital!

Categories: Brazil, Global Crisis, Great Minds | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’m alright Jack – keep your hands off my stack!

"Don't give me that do goody good bullshit"

“Don’t give me that do goody good bullshit”

Never trust anyone who keeps banging on about the evils of “capitalism”. Just nod and pretend you agree, but remember: such people are secret members of the dark and dangerous “loony left”. Their arguments may sometimes appear cogent and convincing, but leering beneath the rhetoric is a nutter who secretly dreams of overthrowing the state. These crypto-Marxists are living in cloud cuckoo land. Have they forgotten how Ronald Reagan buried all that socialist nonsense the day he proudly announced to Margaret Thatcher and the House of Commons that “freedom and democracy will leave Marxist-Leninism on the ash heap of history”? Well said, Ron, my man!

"The reds are everywhere, Maggie. I checked under my bed last night but only found Bonzo the chimp"

“The reds are everywhere, Maggie. I checked under my bed last night but only found Bonzo the chimp”

Capitalism – if I must use the word – is a natural thing, like the trees and the birds. It’s just plain common sense. Think of all the wonderful things it has provided for each and every one of us. TV sets in every room. Isn’t it great to watch TV in bed? Not to mention computers all over the house just waiting for us to surf the web and window shop on a global scale! Then there are those magical shopping malls we all love, full of glittering new products to pile into our giant trolleys. Don’t forget – it’s shopping that keeps us together. Where would we be without gadgets and stuff? And services have improved so much these days. Here in Brazil if we want a pizza, even at midnight when it’s pouring with rain, we just get on the blower and 15 minutes later it’s delivered to the door by a funny little guy on a moped. And nowadays we have maids to clean the house, cook the meals and look after the kids. Yes, folks, we have come a long way since those dark days of slavery.

Have I mentioned freedom yet? I don’t think I have. Do you know what gives us freedom today? Well, it’s private property, of course! Buying a place of your own gives you the glorious freedom of not having a rip-off landlord sucking away all your hard-earned cash every month. Freedom from those lazy, messy flatmates – the ones who didn’t clean the bath properly and kept stealing your yoghurt from the fridge. It’s so nice to feel the safety of my private space, secure in the knowledge that I won’t be bothered by nasty neighbours and that the police are out there catching those good-for-nothing criminals who seem to multiply like rabbits for some reason. In fact, I’m thinking of investing in security equipment to keep the scum off my property.

"Stop begging and try selling some firewood, woman!"

“Stop begging and try selling some firewood, woman!”

Freedom to make as much money as I want and keep it all for my family for generations to come. That’s what’s great about money. You can invest it and it grows and grows! It’s called profit, the best invention since the internal combustion engine. Profit for me means disposable income which I can spend on all those little luxuries. Like private schools and hospitals for my kids. My kids deserve it because they’re special. Making money gives me a thrill because life is competitive and I want to be with the front-runners in this world. It’s a jungle out there, we all know that. Dog eat dog. If I make a stack of money it’s up to me what I do with it. If I want to buy my kids an apartment each and a new motor, that’s my decision. There’s no law against it. It’s all about looking after number one. As Pink Floyd once sang:

Money, get back.
I’m all right Jack keep your hands off of my stack.
Money, it’s a hit.
Don’t give me that do goody good bullshit.
I’m in the high-fidelity first class travelling set
And I think I need a Lear jet.

OK, to be fair, not everybody can be filthy rich. We still need a few people to do the dirty work, be they Vietnamese, Polish, African or whatever. And to be honest some people have a knack of making piles of money for doing very little. Take bankers, for example – they make millions. But remember: it’s not their fault. They were just lucky enough to go to the right schools and meet the right kind of people to help them launch their careers and make a killing on the stock market. You wouldn’t say no to a Swiss bank account, would you?

Something tells me we are still in the tadpole stage...

Something tells me we are still in the tadpole stage…

And if the richest 85 people on earth own as much wealth as half the world’s population put together, so what? Believe me – those people must have worked really hard for every bean. Good, honest, hard work. They deserve to be billionaires and have lots of servants and security guards. And if they want to use their money to buy politicians, it’s up to them. That’s the freedom wealth gives you. It’s up to each and every one of us how we live our lives. Some of us seem quite content to have a crummy job with no prospects. I even see poor people laughing sometimes, so they can’t be that unhappy. People need to stop complaining and do some hard work for a change.

There are just not enough sticks in the world to go around...

It’s a dog eat dog world out there…with just not enough sticks to go around

Here’s a start-up idea I’ve just thought of for a really poor person, but in fact anybody can do it. Scrape together a couple of dollars to buy a bundle of firewood – that’s $2, right? Now here comes the stroke of genius: you sell that same bundle of firewood to some sucker for $4 and make 100% profit! Isn’t that amazing? And so simple – that’s the beauty of capitalism. There’s only one more thing to remember: just make sure it isn’t you that’s being conned.03 Karl_Marx

Categories: Global Crisis, Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Laughing all the way to the bench…

"Another Ferrari if you score a goal, OK?" Wayne Rooney and Sir Alex

“Another Ferrari if you score a goal, OK?”
Wayne Rooney and Sir Alex

Last week one of England’s most famous footballers got angry after the manager left him out of the team for a massive game. The story made the front pages of the newspapers. Now, it seems, Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney and boss Sir Alex Ferguson have made up. But what caught my eye was the magnitude of Rooney’s wage packet: £250,000 a week. Enough to buy a three-bedroom house (something young couples in the UK can only dream about) every week. That’s a million pounds a month. Is he worth it? Of course not. But United would argue that unless they give him that much he will move to another club. Here’s my answer: nobody else can afford him. More importantly, Wayne Rooney would play football every Saturday for £250. Why? Because he loves football and doesn’t know how to do anything else. There’s the madness – he doesn’t actually do it for the money.

I cannot wait for the day when the bubble bursts in football; when more fans get sick of seeing overpaid prima donnas prancing around and start staying away from the stadiums. Fans who are struggling to pay the mortgage and monthly bills while their “heroes” live like Caligula. The world economy is in meltdown but our precious footballers need millions of pounds to play with. Oh, and bankers too. They also need millions. Same argument: if you don’t pay them 3 million a year they will go abroad. I say let them go. After all, it was the bankers who triggered the economic collapse in the first place. It was they who gambled with people’s savings and lost it all, only to have their lavish lifestyles saved by government bailouts with taxpayers’ money.

Footballers can lose, but not bankers

Footballers can lose, but not bankers.

Now I’m not saying I wouldn’t mind a few million quid myself. I would be a hypocrite otherwise. If I won the lottery I would rush out and buy a big flashy Range Rover, a farm, a barrel of beer and a big diamond stylus for my record player. But would it make me any happier? I doubt it. What makes us happy is not consuming more, but – and this is going to sound mushy to some of you – doing good things; helping other people; being unselfish. There is nobody as unhappy as a millionaire with no friends.

Leonard Cohen knows the system is rigged

Leonard Cohen knows the system is rigged

Actually, you’ve got to hand it to the rich. They’ve still got the power and always have had. As Leonard Cohen puts it so aptly in his song Everybody Knows: ‘Everybody knows that the dice are loaded/ Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed/ Everybody knows the war is over/ Everybody knows the good guys lost/ Everybody knows the fight was fixed: the poor stay poor and the rich get rich/ That’s how it goes/ Everybody knows’.

In the USA, the Congress is full of white, conservative men who block everything that President Obama tries to do. Here’s my solution:

More women in power! Hilary Clinton and Aung San Suu Kyi

More women in power! Hilary Clinton and Aung San Suu Kyi

replace these dinosaurs with intelligent women who are active in their communities and understand people’s problems first-hand. In fact, I would go further. I would replace all the men in government in all the countries of the world with women. There would be no more guns, bombs and wars. No more rich and poor. Taxes would be spent on creating the conditions for people to live together as equals. Wayne Rooney can continue playing football, but he would earn the same as nurses and teachers.

Karl Marx believed that one day the poor, exploited workers would overthrow their masters and run the show themselves. Then George Orwell’s Animal Farm showed how the new bosses quickly become as bad as the old bosses. But does that mean it is always better to allow the rich and powerful to keep their millions? Try asking that question to some young people in Spain, Greece, and Portugal where jobs are virtually non-existent and future prospects bleaker than ever.

Just a flimsy fence separates rich and poor.That and cast-iron power structures

Just a flimsy fence separates rich and poor.
That, and cast-iron power structures.

So come on, Wayne Rooney, buy a few houses for the struggling, hard-workers of Manchester. Oh, and a Range Rover for yours truly while you’re at it.

Categories: Blighty, Football, Global Crisis, Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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