Belief and the believed

“If you believe,” he shouted to them, “clap your hands; don’t let Tink die.”

In JM Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan’ the fairy Tinkerbell was saved from death by belief, specifically, belief in fairies. Barrie uses the motif of mythology, specifically mythical creatures, to suggest that in some cases, belief actually CAUSES existence.

But is that true of things other than fairies? I want to suggest that it is.

Where this starts is with ideas – because it is ideas that rule our imagination. But an idea has no power until it is believed.

And like Tinkerbell, who needed lots of belief to make her well again, the more belief there is, the more power an idea has.

Let’s take money as an example. Money is only really an idea, we are long past the time when money actually meant something, if it ever really did. What gives money its power is not what it is actually worth, but what we believe it is worth. If we all stopped believing that money had worth, it would actually be worthless.

We could talk similarly about government, government has power because we believe it has power, and crucially some of us who believe that have decided to learn how to shoot people who don’t believe it.

Belief you see, must be protected, because the consequences of loss of belief are dire indeed.

This has implications for an awful lot of things – in Terry Pratchett’s ‘Small Gods’ we see a clear explanation of this issue, the god who is the main character of the book has suffered a great loss of belief, and as a result has shrunk away to almost total powerlessness.

Pratchett is actually very good on this stuff, he goes over much of the same kind of material in ‘Hogfather’ too, which also makes a good Christmas movie if you are interested.

So when it comes to it, we need to recognise that while it would appear that the power lies with the believed, actually it lies with the believer, and if unbelief could be manifested on a large enough scale, the power of the believed could be broken altogether.

This is based of course on the relativistic idea that ideas don’t exist objectively. That is something which I am not going to go into now, as it is an idea that I personally half believe (I think some things are objectively real, and others aren’t).

But of course on a deeper level you could question the entirety of existence in this way, do we actually exist in an objective sense, or is this all just an idea that we believe strongly enough to make it real?

Personally I’m not so concerned about that, but I am deeply interested in the idea that ideas which hold power over us can lose their power once they lose their belief, as it demonstrates our collective ability to make genuine and complex changes in the world around us, by making simple changes in what we believe.

Belief and the believed

Cyanide and Avocet… now Romanians complain of exploitation

Hot on the heels of the news of insecurities in the supply of cyanide to Inata Gold Mine owned by London based Avocet Mining, come reports that protestors have rallied to try and prevent former Avocet CEO Jonathon Henry from mining one of the world’s largest unexploited gold reserves in rural Romania.

Gold mining companies, it seems, do not change much from place to place. Just as Avocet trumpet environmental responsibility, while their suppliers topple trucks full of cyanide briquettes into reservoirs, so Gabriel Resources, the company Jonathon Henry joined after he stepped down as Avocet CEO, talk a lot of talk about sustainable environmental behaviour, but locals aren’t convinced.

Mr Henry oversaw Avocet’s ‘withdrawal’ from their ‘misadventure‘ at Zeravshan Gold Company in Tajikistan, where… things did not quite go to plan for the mining company . Somehow though Avocet managed to emerge with a profit, while the Tajiks were left with a new Chinese owner and a pay rate 15 or 16 times less than foreign experts.

Such disparity in remuneration may also be at the heart of recent labour force ‘issues’ at Inata gold mine.

When Jonathon Henry eventually left Avocet his shoes were swiftly filled by Brett Richards, whose experience working for alleged war profiteer George Forrest’s Congolese operations mean that he is no newcomer to the vagaries of African politics. Among other things, companies owned by Forrest are claimed to have helped Angolan rebels illegally extract millions of pounds of diamonds to fund armament purchases.

But despite promises of state of the art facilities, Romanians are less than convinced by Gabriel Resources, and why would they be – according to Gabriel Resources own investigations, the area has suffered widespread environmental damage at the hands of gold miners for hundreds if not thousands of years. Rivers are polluted, ground is poisoned with various poisons, including high concentrations of cyanide, and despite local streams being too poisonous to be drinkable, most houses in the vicinity do not have indoor plumbing.

Why anyone would expect another mining company to be welcomed into such an environment is hard to imagine.

Even new facilities such as roads promised by Gabriel resources have failed to live up to expectations, crumbling beneath the wheels of motor traffic.

You can register your support for indigenous Romanian activism against cyanide based gold mining at Respect Rosia Montana, you can also follow the protest on twitter @respectRosia.

<update> This is the official site of the protest, and the official site of the petition is here.

The huge financial muscle of large scale mining operations mean that countries such as Burkina Faso or Romania where large amounts of the populations live in poverty, environmental exploitation must be fiercely resisted by outsiders as well as locals if it is to be held in check.

Cyanide and Avocet… now Romanians complain of exploitation

the cotton war looms large

For some time now, a cold war has been rumbling on between India and China – Asia’s biggest economic powerhouses, and the predicted future global superpowers.

While tensions between these two nuclear neighbours have yet to reach USA – Soviet levels, there has been a long term antagonism between them as each strives for dominance in a new world of global economics.

One of the principal factors in the war has been commodities, both states are large scale producers of raw materials, as well as having massive amounts of cheap labour. The ability to vertically integrate production of items such as clothing for the export market has been massive for both China and India in terms of development and financial growth.

As I referred to clothing there, the obvious commodity which comes into play is cotton, the world’s most successful commodity. It is grown on vast scales in both countries by both small holder cooperative type arrangements, and monocultural agri-business.

But China has always grown much more cotton than India – there are various reasons for this – now the main one now seems to be that Indian cotton is generally hand picked, as opposed to the machine picking which is done in countries like Australia (reportedly the world’s most productive cotton country), the USA, Brazil, and indeed China.Even if this were to change, it seems unlikely that Indian soils, water supplies and farming practises would be able to sustain a greater level of production.

Per hectare Chinese cotton farmers may be able to plant more than ten times the amount of cotton plants than their Indian counterparts. This has an obvious affect on output.  Production yield per hectare then is about 1,301 kg in China, compared to a 2008 high of around 554kg per hectare in India, which has now dropped to 475kg.

This low level production, along with a dry year, a drop in global cotton prices and a corresponding likely future decline in acreage under cultivation means that for India to maintain or increase its garment production levels, it is likely to move from being an exporter of raw cotton, to needing to import cotton in only a few years.

Added in to the mix is the factor of a growing battle for acreage between cotton producers and food grain producers – the latter being likely to secure better subsidies, thereby luring farmers away from cotton. India’s growing demand for meat (as it develops a more western lifestyle) means greater demands on grains to be used as animal feed. That’s not even taking the population growth into account.

We may note that some experts have also suggested that India’s disasterous introduction of BT cotton into Maharashtra has also spoiled its chances of gaining dominance in the area of organic cotton production, this is my own area of particular interest – but not the subject of this article.

When it comes to textiles, China is the world’s largest exporter, with a global market share of 28.3 percent in 2010, approximately 7 times the size of India’s share of 4.3 percent.

It’s massive export volume requires China to maintain a huge cotton processing industry, and as that grows its reliance on imported cotton, particularly from the USA, will grow. For India to continue to try and compete with China, it will have to go toe to toe in the search for sources of cotton to import. This may be good news for some of the South East Asian countries looking for cash crops, but India is way behind China in terms of its cultural outreach – Chinese influence and financial clout has seen it extend agriculturally into countries as far away as Africa.

As these two antagonistic neighbours both seek new sources of raw cotton, I predict that by 2020 we will see a marked rise in demand for conventional cotton from places like Central and South East Asia, and Northern Africa.

But despite China’s dominant market share, India is used to pushing the odds, and to punching hard. Its vast population continues to grow exponentially and its financial muscle grows daily. If there is to be a cotton war, which seems highly likely to me, it could get very nasty, much may yet depend upon the USA’s relationship with China, and how it’s commitment to massive cotton subsidy holds up in the teeth of ongoin recession and growing demand for both bio fuels and food crops.

sources: Economic times; Tirupur exporters association; South Asian Idea

Previously on there goes rhymin simon – US Cotton change could save lives

the cotton war looms large

Arrested leader of Drug ‘cult’ had Wild At Heart as required reading

News broke yesterday that Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas aka El Chango (the monkey), the leader of ‘La Familia’ had been arrested by federal authorities in Mexico.

The arrest of the Cartel boss who had a $2M bounty on his head, may or may not spell the end of the group’s five year reign of terror.

La Familia was founded in 2006 by Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, who was killed in December. Gonzalez had split off from the Los Zetas cartel – a notorious group of gunmen who were originally set up as a mercenary army by former Mexican special forces soldiers. He set up La Familia as a kind of vigilante syndicate to crack down on crime in the state, but things changed very quickly, and after seizing control of drugs manufacture and smuggling routes, it became a massive organised crime body itself. Left: Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, right: Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas. 

But the story of La Familia, also known as La Familia Michoacana after the state in which they are based, is made all the more bizarre by its incorporation of evangelical Christian teachings into its indoctrination of new members.

And notably – or at least newsworthy, the bizarre inclusion of the evangelical Christian self help book ‘Wild At Heart’ by well known author John Eldredge – as a kind of ‘set text’ for gang members.

La Familia were/are known as the biggest exporters of methamphetamine into the USA. But they are involved in much more than just smuggling drugs, they have been running a kind of parallel economy in the state of Michoacan where they charge taxes and run a violent protection racket, seemingly controlling elements of local government across the state.

Their reputation is one of extreme violence, but that violence is only directed towards men (not women or children), and in particular only those who they say ‘deserve to die’. They mete out what they consider to be ‘divine justice’ via beheadings and other brutal actions, and celebrate family values through a commitment to a sort of evangelical Christianity.

The founder, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez aka El Mas Loco (the craziest one), who died last year wrote and self published a ‘bible’ of Christian aphorisms inspired by his own beliefs. These were of a kind of muscular Christianity, one which allwed for brutal killings so long as they were ‘just’ – and presumably allowed also for drug trafficking and other criminal activities, which suited a bigger purpose.

The cartel has become known for – as well as its extreme violence – establishing large scale poverty alleviation projects and encouraging people through de-tox programmes. These outlets invite comparison with the outlaw legend Robin Hood, who famously ‘robbed from the rich, and gave to the poor’ and had God on his side as he battled the corrupt authorities.

One of the strangest parts of the story is the incoporation of the book ‘Wild At Heart’ by American author John Eldredge in to the teachings of the cartel. Spanish translations of Wild At Heart, which has become a popular text for Evangelical Christians around the world who are eager to recapture an image of masculinity from an ‘emasculated’ church culture, have been found in the group’s safe houses. It is thought that it was originally brought back to Mexico by Gonzalez after a smuggling trip. He went on to incorporate many quotes from the book into the group’s handbook.

Critics have pointed to Eldredge’s characterisation of masculinity, which includes the idea that men instinctively love weapons, and that they need to have a ‘battle to fight’ and a ‘divine mission’ as having fueled the fire of Gonzalez’ messianic urges.

Eldredge on the other hand has defended his book, pointing out that many texts have been misinterpreted, and later suggesting that perhaps reading his book may help gang members change their ways.

He said that if gang members actually read the book: “they would know that submission to Jesus is central to the entire message. They seemed to have missed the central point, which gives context to everything else.”

It is not clear what will happen next with La Familia, the cartel which had begun life as a vigilante group claiming to protect the state from evil, had offered to do a deal with Federal authorities, saying they would disband if Mexican government officials promised to safeguard  Michoacan. They wrote: “We have decided to retreat and return to our daily productive activities if the federal and local authorities … promise to take control of the state with force and decision.”

La Familia’s claim that if they were to disband without an agreement, then their base would be taken over by rival gangs and corrupt authorities is probably true. At any rate, there is no shortage of candidates for the post of Jefe within the cartel, and if it does collapse, it is more likely to be through internal strife than because of this arrest. So whatever happens next, things are unlikely to get much better in Mexico, where President Calderon’s drug war has seen 4,000 people die in the last five years.

Arrested leader of Drug ‘cult’ had Wild At Heart as required reading

Osama – the making of a myth

In the much publicised end of Osama Bin Laden’s life this week, the US military seem less likely to have pulled off a geo political coup, than to have bolstered their president’s domestic popularity.

The reported killing, which will evidently not now be officially ‘proved’ by photographs, and which will probably always be questioned by conspiracists, is not going to bring an end to anything much, but is likely to put a upwards spike in Obama’s popularity ratings. ‘Hot damn!’

While it has been lauded and applauded in some circles, and sadly accepted or even mourned in others – the fact is that the killing of Osama Bin Laden is very unlikely to change much in terms of global terrorism or the Jihadi movement. I am unaware of any major conspiracy in which Bin Laden has been sited as a key player in the last few years. Indeed if he has indeed been hiding out all this time, it seems likely that a significant amount of effort and expense has been spent by the Mujahideen to keep him hidden, presumably those resources will now be redirected.

As I mentioned of course, there have been numerous conspiracy theories doing the rounds for the last decade or so – initially that Bin Laden was a CIA stooge, then later that he was already in captivity, or even dead. Now it seems that he actually is dead – will this news end the conspiracy speculation?

Unlikely – in fact the muddy waters surrounding his death are only likely to further fuel the theorists imaginations. Why no pictures? How could he have lived there in the first place? What about the conflicting reports from different intelligence agencies about who tipped of whom about the compound and when? Why the mysterious burial at sea?

As it goes, I have no problem believing it – but in a world where nothing is real unless its televised, simulcasted, micro blogged (actually this one was almost tweeted) or captured by video on a mobile phone – is Osama Bin Laden really dead?

In some ways of course, he isn’t. Bin Laden had long since stopped being the central mover of a global terror network – Al Quaida is a movement, its very strength is the fact that it is totally decentralised and capable to working independently in small cells. In some ways, you might say Bin Laden had long since stopped being a man. Rather Bin Laden was a centralised myth, an icon, a bogey man figure who represented the very otherness of the Jihadi movement. With his well photographed beard, turban and combat jacket he depicted for many ‘the evil of the east’. Variously described as a wealthy Saudi, a desert fighter, a plotter, a devout Muslim – he was everything the west had to fear in an age when old antipathy with communist Russia had died away.

But aside from a few videos and an ongoing drip drip of reports of his suspected wherabouts, Bin Laden has had little to contribute to the narrative of the West’s ongoing struggle against evil. His killing was, a cynic might say, rather well timed for the American cause. It also leaves the stage now open for a new focus on the evil of… well take your pick – could be Gadaffi, although we’ve not heard much about Iran recently, so perhaps they are in for it next.

Osama Bin Laden was less of a person, more of a talisman. He represents a personifiable evil which suits the dualistic approach of Western (and Muslim) thinking. For us to be good, someone somewhere must be evil. By focusing on him, we’ve endowed him with mythical status, the evil murdering Muslim who would slit your baby’s throat and set fire to your house as soon as look at you. They seek him here, they seek him there… But at the end it turns out he’s just a man, easily killed by the elite forces of good, who have God on their side.

I don’t know if this makes much sense to anyone but me, but I really see this whole story as much more to do with reinforcing a narrative than the death of a terrorist.

So while the man may indeed be dead (I think he is) Osama Bin Laden lives on. His name, his image, his ideology, his myth remains strong. What he represented to people on either side of the struggle remains – just in different form. Osama Bin Laden lives on in despised dictators, in turbaned Mujahideen, in council estate boys trying to come to terms with confused ethnic and religious identities, in geo political power struggles, in history which is now being written by everyone.

He was – is, a mythical figure for the digital age. Thousands of images peer out of websites into the hearts of presidents and teenage wannabes. His thin smile adorns the targets of rifle enthusiasts, who take careful aim at the spot between the eyes. His name lives on in the world where turbaned arabs are ‘rag heads’ and where an aeroplane crashlanding is automatically assumed to be a terrorist plot.

It’s a sad week really – those who live by the sword are indeed likely to die by it, but regardless – this miserable life ending means nothing in terms of bringing peace to a world full or hatred and pain. Rather we have endowed his myth with a measure of immortality, the same sort enjoyed by James Dean and Che Guevarra – and sold to another, future, generation the other myth of redemptive violence – which works for all of us, whether we believe in a martyr’s paradise or the triumph of God over his foes.

I won’t be mourning or celebrating his death, I am mourning the the ongoing death of a world which seems determined to tear itself apart, to demonise and antagonise, to find immortality in human endeavour, and to define itself by opposition and duality.

What this death reminds me of most powerfully, is the need to recall that there is no them – there is only us.

Osama – the making of a myth

whoever said the revolution would not be televised?

Whoever said the revolution would not be televised was wrong.

The revolution was not only widely televised.

It was blogged.

Tweeted.

Texted.

Uploaded.

And generally broadcast more widely than any other revolution ever has been.

Peace to Egypt.

Shame on the hypocrites around the world who have supported Mubarak’s dictatorship all this time. The question now becomes, what will happen next?

whoever said the revolution would not be televised?

ASBO RIP?

I understand that our political masters have decided to try and replace the ASBO, with a couple of new ideas, in particular the Criminal Behaviour Order.

The main problem with all this – is that ASBO sounds great.

You can call people ‘an ASBO’.

You can talk of ‘ASBOs’ as naughty people.

On our allotment site, there was an allotment which belonged to ‘the ASBOs’. Incidentally one of them set fire to their own shed. They havent been back.

What on earth are we going to say if they bring in this Criminal Behaviour order?I heard one wag suggest ‘CRIMBOs’ – which is seven types of wrong.

Where we live there are lots of ASBOs handed out, I’m amazed I havent got one myself, I’m the only person I know without one.

If you have a good idea for what we can call naughty people, why not leave it in the comments.

 

ASBO RIP?