[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] K [/yt_dropcap]arl G. Jung pointed out in his Modern Man in Search of a Soul that Man is naturally religious and when he throws religion out the window, it will promptly return via the back door in the form of a fanatical cult or a totalitarian ideology.
Giambattista Vico, the 18th century philosopher of history and civilizations who fully understood and explained the connection between myth and religion, points out in his New Science (1725) that the burial of the dead, hinting at belief in an after-life by primitive man, is a credible and concrete sign of some archaic form of religion, what he considers a sine qua non (together with language and the institution of marriage and family) for the beginning of any kind of primordial civilized society.
Indeed, religion and atheism (see Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura) have been around from time immemorial, but it is only with the arrival of nihilism in the 20th century that we witness the political installation and practice of the religion-less State, to wit Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union which descend into the cult of self-worship or race worship, not too dissimilar from that of the ancient Romans worshipping goddess Rome. The ideology is substituted to religion and given a name (Nazism or Marxism, for example) while religion is deemed as poisonous to the body-politic, a rival ideology of sort to be dispatched. We know quite well the nefarious fruits of those social experiments. Indeed, it is by their fruits that the wolves in sheep’s clothing are best known, not by their alleged good intentions and goals. Some of those wolves were brought to the Hague’s International Court of Law after World War II and most received quick justice. Others followed after Kosovo some fifty years later. The issue remains.
Christianity is not native to Europe, it arrives via the Middle East but, as hinted above, however, there were in Europe native archaic religions (called pagan religions by Christians) which can be traced back to the the Stone Age. Moreover, as Klaus Held points out in his essay on the origins of European culture, never was religion so discussed in ancient Greece as when science and democracy were making their debut in the 4th century BC. Perhaps the best example to support this assertion is Plato’s dialogue called Euthyphro. There we read about Socrates and Euthyphro discussing the nature of holiness. After some debating back and forth they finally come to agree that the holy is what all the gods agree in approving. Socrates however, true to form, follows with another more penetrating question: “Is the holy such because the gods approve it, or do they approve it because it is holy”? At first Euthyphro misses the import of the question. For this is the question of the “reasonableness” of the gods (or God as the case may be). To ask the same question in a slightly different way: “Would absolutely anything the gods approved of, be holy just because they approve of it, or are they also bound to approve only what is holy”? Which is to say, are they free to approve or disapprove or are they bound by reason just as humans are. For humans to remain ethical and human, they need to follow reason in assessing their own actions. Does this apply to the gods too; and if so, are they free or determined?
As Nietzsche well grasped in his Geneology of Morals, with that penetrating question Socrates has discovered the basic dilemma of the relationship between religion and morality. The dilemma is basically this: either goodness cannot be explained simply by reference to what the gods want, or else it is an empty tautology to assert that “the gods are good.” In that case the praise of the gods is simply power-worship. Those who have the power to do so impose their will; those who do not simply obey those who have it. Enter Machiavelli and modern political science.
For us moderns the question may be put thus: is Aquinas right in his faith in reason that leads him to found his theology on the scaffolding of Aristotelian rationality and discern no innate enmity between faith and reason? With that question we arrive at the statement of the US founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” Which is to say, it is universally evident to reason that human rights are universal and inalienable, independent of agreements among men or even among gods. If God created us human creatures with reason, She expects us to use it as a way of reaching the truth, and the truth shall make us free. Even God, if She respects truth, cannot let a Lucifer out of hell, the reprobate angel who said “evil be thou my god” (see Milton’s Paradise Lost).
Moreover, was Aquinas right in pointing out that Truth can be distinguished as scientific, religious, and philosophical but it neverthless remains one and indivisible? Perhaps the most important point of his Summa is that religious faith cannot contradict reason; when it does, then we have separated truths and we may be dealing with a fanatical cult of sort leading to falsehood.
By the 12th century the Olympian and Nordic gods have dwindled to one God and Western civilization is entirely monotheistic and Biblical. The Enlightenment however begins the work of God’s liquidation culminating with Nietzsche’s madman shout: “God is dead” at the end of the 19th century. Leibnitz basically poses the same dilemma as Socrates when he writes that: “Those who believe that God has established good and evil by an arbitrary decree…. deprive God of the designation “good”: for what cause could one have to praise him for what he does, if in doing something quite different he would have done equally well?”
The problem here, as Nietzsche and others within a Christian Western Civilization also saw quite well, is that Socrates really believes that “knowledge is virtue,” and that by merely discussing the virtues and clarifying their essence, one is then bound to become a virtuous person. Plato, who is actually the one who presents Socrates to us and narrates his trial, is more skeptical. He posits the irrational in the human soul which needs to be rained in (see the image of the charioteer and the two winged horses in The Phaedrus). He had observed the likes of Critias, Charmides and even Alcibiades, converse at length with Socrates and then go off and become elitist sophists, corrupt people who use language not as a means to a sincere dialogue aiming at truth, but as a tool to control and manipulate others. They were the precursors of Machiavelli and his philosophy, and our modern politicians, a philosophy alive and well within current Western Civilization.
And which are the modern views on virtue? On one extreme, as already hinted, there is Machiavelli’s position which takes hold of the Aristotelian concept of virtue (understood as a good habit as opposed to vice, a bad habit) and turns it up-side-down: virtue is nothing else but something well done, with competency and thorough skill. It is perfection of means or techne in any field. The virtuous Prince is he who gets a hold of power and holds on to it at any cost. Pushed to its ultimate conclusion, the logical rationalist who operates by pure reason, (what Vico calls “the barbarism of the intellect”) will make the trains run on time and efficiently, will gas millions of innocent women, children and men, and then conceive himself as a “virtuous” person; somebody to be admired and praised for his supreme competence in doing such a thorough and efficient job and meeting the goals he has proposed. Virtue is now power, as the father of the scientific method Francis Bacon well expressed it.
The other side of this coin is the Christian view as expressed by St. Paul: “I know the good but I do evil.” In other words, there is something within human nature that is perceived as flawed and less than ideal at its source which makes Socrates’ dictum “knowledge is virtue” sound a bit naïve and abstract. Paul and to a certain extent Plato are a bit more realistic about human nature. Plato knows about the irrational part of the soul, Paul knows that there is a garden which has been left behind, and that there is a snake in such a utopian garden and there are fallen angels as Milton points out. As pure spirits, they know what virtue is, rationally unencumbered by the weakness of the senses, but freely embrace evil nonetheless. There is no redemption for them, for there are no mitigating circumstances such as the weakness of the body.
It is conceivably naïve on Socrates’ part to think that nobody would choose evil by simply knowing what evil is. In a flawed universe, knowledge is not automatically convertible into virtue. In the same way, it is naïve to think that a Constitution proclaiming the universal rights of man with no appeal to a Creator of human nature (through which they become inalienable, not to be granted and not to be violated by any State no matter how powerful) but simply to abstract notions such “fraternitè” “egalitè” “libertè” is any kind of guarantee that those rights will be universally respected. To wit, the former Soviet Union and the present Russia and People’s Republic of China who have wonderful theoretical ideals in their constitutions, portending a utopia or blissful paradise on earth, but it is all on paper so to speak, for the most part violated in practice.
To be sure, these three understandings of virtue were proposed in one form or another under the guise of rationality, piety, morality or holiness at the Plenary Session of the Convention for the EU Constitution held in Brussels a decade or so ago. Unfortunately they were never thoroughly debated. One of the frequent contributors to the forum on the future of Europe (Carlos del Ama, a Spaniard who teaches philosophy in Madrid) submitted a document at the conclusion of the Convention, on which I assisted him with the English version. It showed that, contrary to what the modern anti-religion sophists and rationalists go around peddling nowadays, historically, most of the Constitutions of the world at the very least mention a Creator or a Providence in their preamble as a way of grounding themselves in something more durable than the historical vicissitudes of humankind and its relativistic power politick. The decision not to do so for the EU Constitution while enthusiastically invoking on the part of Mr.Valerie D’Estaing the goddess Europe at the opening session of the Constitutional Convention leaves one wondering if the above examined distinctions were at least discerned. They certainly were not discussed. Too philosophical, in our times the paradigms are usually economic, or political, or military. They are paradigms grounded in power.
And so it was not too surprising that the feast of the gods on the Mount Olympus to celebrate the EU Constitution proceeded full speed ahead on Rome’s Capitoline Hill where the draft Constitution was signed by the head of each member state. It contained plenty of lip service to democratic values and human rights but it never debated on what should those principles be grounded?
It now appears that an apple was thrown on the banquet table by an angry rival goddess who had not been invited at the party: the goddess of discord. The old nationalistic ideological centrifugal forces returned. The difficulties continued unabated for a decade and more and as of now one of the member states, of those which originally signed the Constitution, has withdrawn from the Union and others are mulling over the same step. No great surprises there, given that in general the people were not democratically consulted with a universal referendum on it.
Ultimately people get the Constitution and the government they deserve, for better or for worse. There are various ways of escaping from freedom (see Fromm’s Escape from Freedom). The flip side of that phenomenon is the dictum of Thomas Jefferson: “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” On November 8 there will be test of fire of that statement in the US, worth pondering by all Europeans who still treasure freedom and democracy.
From Davos to Munich
An overview of the views and attitudes of European officials during the Davos and Munich Conference and their comparison with each other suggests that the security, economic, and political concerns of European countries have not only not diminished but are increasing.
During the World Economic Summit in Davos, the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France both gave a significant warning about the return of nationalism and populism to Europe. This warning has been sent in a time when Far-Right movements in Europe have been able to gain unbelievable power and even seek to conquer a majority of parliaments and form governments.
In her speech, Angela Merkel emphasized that the twentieth century’s mistake shouldn’t be repeated. By this, the German Chancellor meant the tendency of European countries to nationalism. Although the German Chancellor warning was serious and necessary, the warning seems to be a little late. Perhaps it would have been better if the warning was forwarded after the European Parliamentary elections in 2014, and subsequently, more practical and deterrent measures were designed. However, Merkel and other European leaders ignored the representation of over a hundred right-wing extremist in the European Parliament in 2014 and merely saw it as a kind of social excitement.
This social excitement has now become a “political demand” in the West. The dissatisfaction of European citizens with their governments has caused them to explicitly demand the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe. The recent victories of right wing extremists in Austria, Germany and…, isn’t merely the result of the nationalist movement success in introducing its principles and manifestos. But it is also a result of the failure of the “European moderation” policy to resolve social, security and economic problems in the Eurozone and the European Union. In such a situation, European citizens find that the solutions offered by the moderate left parties didn’t work in removing the existing crises in Europe. Obviously, in this situation “crossing the traditional parties” would become a general demand in the West. Under such circumstances, Merkel’s and other European leaders’ warnings about the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe simply means the inability of the Eurozone authorities in preventing the Right-extremism in the West.
These concerns remain at the Munich Security Conference. As Reuters reported, The defense ministers of Germany and France pledged to redouble their military and foreign policy cooperation efforts on Friday, inviting other European countries to participate if they felt ready to do so.
In a speech to the Munich Security Conference, German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen said Europe’s countries would not be able to respond nimbly enough to global challenges if they were stymied by the need to decide joint foreign policy approaches unanimously.
“Europe has to up its pace in the face of global challenges from terrorism, poverty and climate change,” she said. “Those who want to must be able to advance without being blocked by individual countries.”
Her French counterpart Florence Parly said any such deepened cooperation would be complementary to the NATO alliance, which itself was based on the principle that members contributed differently depending on their capacities.
“The reality has always been that some countries are by choice more integrated and more able to act than others,” she said.
The push comes as Germany’s political class reluctantly concedes it must play a larger security role to match its economic pre-eminence in Europe, amid concerns that the European Union is unable to respond effectively to security concerns beyond its eastern and southern borders.
But in their deal for another four years of a “grand coalition” government, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats have agreed to boost spending on the armed forces after years of post-Cold War decline.
The deal, which must still be ratified by the Social Democrat membership, comes as Germany reluctantly takes on the role of the continent’s pre-eminent political power-broker, a role generations of post-war politicians have shied away from.
Days after U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis reiterated President Donald Trump’s demand that European countries spend more on their militaries, Von der Leyen pledged to spend more on its military and the United Nations, but called in return for other countries not to turn away from mulitlateralism.
The pledges come as the EU seeks a new basis on which to cooperate with Britain, traditionally one of the continent’s leading security players, after its vote to leave the EU.
Earlier on Friday, the leaders of the three countries’ security services said close security cooperation in areas like terrorism, illegal migration, proliferation and cyber attacks, must continue after Britain’s departure.
“Cooperation between European intelligence agencies combined with the values of liberal democracy is indispensable, especially against a background of diverse foreign and security challenges,” they said.
First published in our partner Tehran Times
Election Monitoring in 2018: What Not to Expect
This year’s election calendar released by OSCE showcases a broad display of future presidential, parliamentary and general elections with hefty political subjecthoods which have the potential of transforming in their entirety particularly the European Union, the African Union and the Latin American sub-continent. A wide sample of these countries welcoming elections are currently facing a breadth of challenges in terms of the level of transparency in their election processes. To this end, election observation campaigns conducted by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Council of Europe, the Organisation for American States (OAS), the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, the National Democratic Institute, Carter Center and even youth organisations such as AEGEE and Silba are of paramount importance in safeguarding the incorruptibility of election proceedings in fraudulent and what cannot be seen with the naked eye type of fraudulent political systems, making sure elections unfold abiding national legislation and international standards.
What exactly does an election observation mission supposed to accomplish?
An election monitoring mission consists of operational experts and analysts who are all part of a core team and are conducting their assignments for a period of time varying between 8 and 12 weeks. Aside from the core team experts and analysts, there can be short-term or long-term observers and seconded observers or funded observers. Joining them, there is usually a massive local support staff acting as interpreters and intermediaries. Generally, an election observer does not interfere with the process, but merely takes informative notes. With this in mind, it is imperative of the observer to make sure there isn’t any meddling with votes at polling stations by parties and individual candidates; that the people facilitating the election process are picked according to fair and rigorous benchmarks; that these same people can be held accountable for the final results and that, at the end of the day, the election system put in place by the national and local authorities is solid from both a physical and logical standpoint. Oftentimes, particularly in emerging democracies, the election monitoring process goes beyond the actual process of voting by extending to campaign monitoring.
In practical terms, the average election observer needs to abide by certain guidelines for a smooth and standardised monitoring process. Of course, these rules can vary slightly, depending on the sending institution. Typically, once the election observer has landed in the country awaiting elections, their first two days are normally filled with seminars on the electoral system of the country and on the electoral law. Meetings with candidates from the opposition are sometimes organised by the electoral commission. Talking to ordinary voters from builders to cleaners, from artists to businesspeople is another way through which an election observer can get a sense of what social classes pledged their allegiances to what candidates. After two days in training and the one day testing political preferences on the ground, election day begins. Since the early bird gets the worm, polling stations open at least two hours earlier than the work day starts, at around 7am. Throughout the day, observers ask voters whether they feel they need to complain about anything and whether they were asked to identify themselves when voting. Other details such as the polling stations opening on time are very much within the scope of investigation for election monitors. Observers visit both urban voting centres and rural ones. In the afternoon, counting begins with observers carefully watching the volunteers from at least 3 metres away. At the end of the day, observers go back to their hotels and begin filling in their initial questionnaires with their immediate reactions on the whole voting process. In a few weeks time, a detailed report would be issued in cooperation with all the other election observers deployed in various regions of the country and under the supervision of the mission coordinators.
Why are these upcoming elections particularly challenging to monitor?
Talks of potential Russian interference into the U.S. elections have led to full-on FBI investigations. Moreover, the idea of Russian interference in the Brexit vote is slowly creeping into the British political discourse. Therefore, it does not take a quantum physicist to see a pattern here. Hacking the voting mechanism is yet another not-so-classic conundrum election observers are facing. We’re in the midst of election hacking at the cognitive level in the form of influence operations, doxing and propaganda. But, even more disturbingly, we’re helpless witnesses to interference at the technical level as well. Removing opposition’s website from the Internet through DDOS attacks to downright political web-hacking in Ukraine’s Central Election Commission to show as winner a far-right candidate are only some of the ways which present an unprecedented political savviness and sophistication directed at the tampering of the election machinery. Even in a country such as the U.S. (or Sweden – their elections being held September of this year) where there is a great deal of control over the physical vote, there is not much election monitoring can do to enhance the transparency of it all when interference occurs by way of the cyber domain affecting palpable election-related infrastructure.
Sketching ideational terrains seems like a fruitful exercise in imagining worst-case scenarios which call for the design of a comprehensive pre-emptive approach for election fraud. But how do you prevent election fraud? Sometimes, the election observer needs to come to terms with the fact that they are merely a reporter, a pawn which notwithstanding the action of finding oneself in the middle of it all, can generally use only its hindsight perspective. Sometimes, that perspective is good enough when employed to draft comprehensive electoral reports, making a difference between the blurry lines of legitimate and illegitimate political and electoral systems.
Can Europe successfully rein in Big Tobacco?
In what looks set to become the ‘dieselgate’ of the tobacco industry, a French anti-smoking organization has filed a lawsuit against four major tobacco brands for knowingly selling cigarettes with tar and nicotine levels that were between 2 and 10 times higher than what was indicated on the packs. Because the firms had manipulated the testing process, smokers who thought they were smoking a pack a day were in fact lighting up the equivalent of up to 10, significantly raising their risk for lung cancer and other diseases.
According to the National Committee Against Smoking (CNCT), cigarettes sold by the four companies have small holes in the filter that ventilate smoke inhaled under test conditions. But when smoked by a person, the holes compress due to pressure from the lips and fingers, causing the smoker to inhale higher levels of tar and nicotine. According to the lawsuit, the irregularity “tricks smokers because they are unaware of the degree of risk they are taking.”
It was only the most recent example of what appears to be a deeply entrenched propensity for malfeasance in the tobacco industry. And unfortunately, regulatory authorities across Europe still appear unprepared to just say no to big tobacco.
Earlier this month, for instance, Public Health England published a report which shines a positive light on “tobacco heating products” and indicates that electronic cigarettes pose minimal health risks. Unsurprisingly, the UK report has been welcomed by big tobacco, with British American Tobacco praising the clear-sightedness of Public Health England.
Meanwhile, on an EU-wide level, lawmakers are cooperating too closely for comfort with tobacco industry executives in their efforts to craft new cigarette tracking rules for the bloc.
The new rules are part of a campaign to clamp down on tobacco smuggling, a problem that is particularly insidious in Europe and is often attributed to the tobacco industry’s own efforts to stiff the taxman. According to the WHO, the illicit cigarette market makes up between 6-10% of the total market, and Europe ranks first worldwide in terms of the number of seized cigarettes. According to studies, tobacco smuggling is also estimated to cost national and EU budgets more than €10 billion each year in lost public revenue and is a significant source of cash for organized crime. Not surprisingly, cheap availability of illegally traded cigarettes is also a major cause of persistently high smoking rates in the bloc.
To help curtail cigarette smuggling and set best practices in the fight against the tobacco epidemic, the WHO established the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005. The first protocol to the FCTC, the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, was adopted in 2012 and later ratified by the EU. Among other criteria, the Protocol requires all cigarette packs to be marked with unique identifiers to ensure they can be tracked and traced, thereby making smuggling more difficult.
Unsurprisingly, the tobacco industry has come up with its own candidates to meet track and trace requirements, notably Codentify, a system developed by PMI. From 2005 through 2016, PMI used Codentify as part of an anti-smuggling agreement with the EU. But the agreement was subject to withering criticism from the WHO and other stakeholders for going against the Protocol, which requires the EU and other parties to exclude the tobacco industry from participating in anti-smuggling efforts.
The EU-PMI agreement expired in 2016 and any hopes of reviving it collapsed after the European Parliament, at loggerheads with the Commission, overwhelmingly voted against a new deal and decided to ratify the WHO’s Protocol instead. Codentify has since been sold to the French firm Impala and was rebranded as Inexto – which critics say is nothing but a front company for PMI since its leadership is made out of former PMI executives. Nonetheless, due to lack of stringency in the EU’s draft track and trace proposal, there is still a chance that Inexto may play a role in any new track and trace system, sidelining efforts to set up a system that is completely independent of the tobacco industry.
This could end up by seriously derailing the EU’s efforts to curb tobacco smuggling, given the industry’s history of active involvement in covertly propping up the black market for cigarettes. In 2004, PMI paid $1.25 billion to the EU to settle claims that it was complicit in tobacco smuggling. As part of the settlement, PMI agreed to issue an annual report about tobacco smuggling in the EU, a report that independent researchers found “served the interests of PMI over those of the EU and its member states.”
Given the industry’s sordid history of efforts to prop up the illicit tobacco trade, it’s little surprise that critics are still dissatisfied with the current version of the EU’s track and trace proposal.
Now, the CNCT’s lawsuit against four major tobacco firms gives all the more reason to take a harder line against the industry. After all, if big tobacco can’t even be honest with authorities about the real levels of chemicals in their own products, what makes lawmakers think that they can play a viable role in any effort to quell the illegal cigarette trade – one that directly benefits the industry?
Later this month, the European Parliament will have a new chance to show they’re ready to get tough on tobacco, when they vote on the pending proposal for an EU-wide track and trace system. French MEP Younous Omarjee has already filed a motion against the system due to its incompatibility with the letter of the WHO. Perhaps a ‘dieselgate’ for the tobacco industry might be just the catalyst they need to finally say no to PMI and its co-conspirators.
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