Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Pathfinders: Harpoons and Handy Gadgets (2014)

The Pathfinders Column from the May 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

The definition of science was briefly in the dock last month as Australia took Japan to the International Court of Justice over its continued defiance of the 1986 whaling ban under the laughable pretext of ‘scientific research’. The prosecution argued that this whaling was not ‘scientific’ in the least, pointing to the fact that while catches fluctuated all over the place, the stated scientific aims didn’t, suggesting that the harvest was the main goal all along. The Japanese retorted in court that it wasn’t for the prosecution to say what was or was not ‘scientific’, any more than they could say what was or was not art. Unfazed by this feeble bit of sophistry the Australian team pointed out that 3600 minke whales had been slaughtered since 2005 and yet not one peer-reviewed study had been published on whale stocks, supposedly the whole purpose of the ‘research’.
Not surprisingly the Japanese case sank without trace and m’Lud ordered Japan to cease whaling in the Antarctic forthwith, a ruling which left Japanese officials ‘deeply disappointed’. But perhaps not that disappointed, given that sales of whale meat in Japan have hit the seafloor in recent years, forcing the government to pump in subsidies to keep the ghost industry afloat, a fact that might explain the curiously crap courtroom performance.  
Just as you can’t claim things are scientific when they’re not, you also can’t claim things are scientifically correct when they’re not. The story last year that a Japanese team had found a simple way to stress ordinary cells into regressing to become pluripotent stem cells made world headlines, and no wonder. However the follow-up story, that the research papers turned out to contain manipulated or falsified images, didn’t get quite so much media attention. In fact you’d be forgiven for overlooking it altogether since it has mostly appeared in the form of brief paragraphs on back pages.  The Japanese researchers are highly embarrassed by this turn of events and are now embroiled in recrimination and some unfortunate vilification. Let’s hope they don’t end up hiring the Captain Ahab legal defence team.
In the larger picture however this is an example of science working well, not badly. From original claim to exposure of discrepancies took just a few weeks and other researchers were soon loudly complaining that they couldn’t replicate the test results. Imagine if politics worked the same way. No capitalist politician would last more than a fortnight. They’d all be ‘struck off’ and the Commons would be empty. Tempting thought. But then there’d be nobody to report this remarkable state of affairs as most of the journalists would have been struck off too.
Speaking of which, what became of the rather astonishing claim, discussed in April’s Pathfinders, that a study predicting global social collapse was funded by NASA? Our sceptical enquiries got not a squeak out of the Guardian journalist who was responsible for the claim. More accommodating were the Maryland authors of the research paper, who promptly passed on the text of a NASA press release that crossed our own printing date and which disclaimed in clear and unequivocal terms any involvement in or backing of the study. So, that clears that up. It’s easy to understand why a newspaper journalist might want to gild the lily for the sake of a headline-grabber, but it doesn’t help socialists or anyone else building a case against capitalism to have people on our own side of the fence dishing out bogus information.
The researchers also kindly sent a copy of their report, from which last month this column could only quote indirectly. We can make this available on request if anyone wants to read it. It’s easy to follow for the most part, though a little heavy on equations in places. The Human and Nature Dynamics or HANDY model is based on existing predator-prey models which look at how populations oscillate around lines of equilibrium. This is straightforward enough for two variables, say wolf and rabbit. If the wolf population goes up, the rabbits go down, forcing the wolf population back down, which in turn encourages the rabbit population up again, and so on. It’s like market economics with fur and teeth.
HANDY adopts the same basic approach, using human population as wolf and nature as rabbit, but it then introduces the idea of stratification by splitting population into two independent variables, worker and elite, and also splits the rabbit into two, giving natural resources as one variable and labour-derived wealth as the other. 
You can think of the model as a bit like an Etch-a-Sketch only with 4 inter-related knobs. As you turn one knob up, others are forced down. If workers are zero, wealth must be flat or falling, because only workers produce wealth. If wealth is high, nature must be low, because the one comes from the other. If elites are high, some or all of the others must be falling, because elites are the non-producing predator.
The challenge is to get all parameters into a sustainable straight line (equilibrium) but this is only possible in certain pre-set conditions (eg if Elite is set at zero).  HANDY models four main types of scenario, equating to soft or rough approaches to equilibrium (a good or tolerable result), perpetual boom and slump (not so good), and full unrecoverable collapse (definitely bad). Collapse is due either to natural resource depletion (Type-N collapse) or the labour force dying off (Type-L), but in either case all variables return to zero, the statues crumble and the desert sand blows in over the ruins.
Setting the dials how you want, you can model what would happen if population went up and resources were exhausted in an egalitarian society with no elite (socialism, say, with its brains on holiday), an ‘equitable’ society with a modest elite but broadly equal incomes (nursery-book capitalism), and a corrosively elitist society of the type we see today. The argument the researchers are making is that the outcomes they can produce are generally descriptive of actual historical collapses and also of observable traits in the modern world, and that a model which includes social stratification can reproduce these collapses better than one without. If the model can achieve a close synchronicity to the real world it can be considered in some sense diagnostic as well as descriptive. In other words it can predict.

Are there, or could there be other ‘dials’, factors which are universal rather than historically contingent? The researchers can’t think of any and neither can we, but hey, it’s a work in progress. The equations are algorithms of ratio (eg workers also consume wealth but at a far lower rate than elites) and these may also be open to challenge or refinement. HANDY doesn’t and can’t ‘prove’ that our socialist case is correct, but what it does do is take a previously unchallenged social assumption about property ownership and elite privilege and place it squarely on the table as an item for debate and scrutiny. And that’s something everybody should be doing.

Socialist Party of Great Britain Election Manifestos (2014)

From the May 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Socialist Party is contesting two regions, South East and Wales, in the elections to the European Parliament on 22 May and also wards in two London boroughs. We reproduce below our various election addresses, beginning with the one for the Wales region.
Wales Region

It’s election time again

The Socialist Party/World Socialist Movement is standing in the elections to the European Parliament on 22 May and we are presenting a full list of 4 candidates for Wales.

Our case, we are sure, you will find completely and refreshingly different from what all the other parties are offering. It should also cause you to see the world and its problems in a radically different way from anything you have come across before.

What we propose

What do we in the Socialist Party propose can be done? We propose the establishment by peaceful, democratic means (i.e. voting) of a truly direct participatory democratic society in which the majority determine how human needs are met.

This means a society without rich and poor, without owners and workers, without governments and governed, without leaders and led. Where buying and selling and money are no longer necessary.

In such a society people will cooperate to use all the world's abundant natural resources in their own interests. Production will be freed from the artificial dictate of profit and everyone will have free access to the benefits of civilisation.

It will mean an end to borders and frontiers, an end to organised violence and coercion, to waste, want and war. It really will be a civilised society where technology will be used to satisfy human needs and not profits.

A radically different way

Every few years groups of politicians compete for your vote to win themselves and their parties positions in the European or national parliament.

Yet you must have noticed that -once the dust has settled -there is no significant change to the way things are for the majority of people -except sometimes for the worse. Promises are made and broken, targets are set and not reached, statistics are selected and spun.

Any promises kept only represent minor changes to the way things are and none even touch the fundamental inequity of a society (not just in Wales or the UK but in all countries) in which the vast majority of the population have to sell their energies, mental and physical, to a tiny handful of privileged beings who effectively own the planet.

How much does it say about the subservience of most of us that we vote for politicians who support a system which keeps us exploited and struggling to survive?

Employment, one of the least democratic situations

It's said we live in a democracy, but the only real decision we are called on to make democratically is which political party will impose this system upon us for the next 5 years. Everything else is shop window dressing and the activity which dominates our lives, employment (if we can get it), is, as no one can fail to notice, one of the least democratic environments that can be imagined.

It's also said we live in a meritocratic society. But if that means anything, it means that the more dog-eat-dog, the more selfish we can be, the more we can maybe gain at the expense of others.

Despite politicians' rhetoric about us 'all being in it together', at bottom everyone knows that the reality that really applies is much closer to 'greed is good '.

Nor is that actually surprising given that the society we live in, often referred to as capitalism, is based on institutionalised selfishness, i.e. the making of profit. It breeds inequality, enmity, rivalries and, sometimes, the mass violence called war.

It’s absolutely possible

You may think socialism sounds great, but that it's a bit of a utopia. But we would say that it is absolutely possible once the idea takes hold and that the real Utopia is the belief that by supporting the conventional politicians with their old tired ideas and promises the world can be a truly better place.

One way to begin is to use your vote in these elections not to support candidates who you can be sure will give you the same old system but to show that you want to overturn it and end the problems it causes once and for all.

When enough of us join together, we can transform elections from a means of keeping a society of inequality, wealth monopoly and very limited democracy to a means of doing away with it in favour of a society of real democracy and social and economic equality.

If you agree with the idea of a society of free access and common and democratic ownership where no one is left behind and things are produced because they are needed not to make a profit, we would call on you to join with us by voting for the Socialist Party/World Socialist Movement list in Wales. In this way we can begin to make a difference.

South East Region

Make this world ours

In socialism the planet will be like the one you know, but also very different. There is no money. There is no war. There are no rich people. There are no poor people. There are no leaders. All decisions are shared. All responsibilities are shared. Instead of competing to survive, people cooperate to live.

This is Earth, under new management. Ours.

You now have no bills to pay, no rent, no mortgage, no debts. Everything is free, nothing is for sale, and neither are you. But you want to help, just like others do. There are a hundred things you could do, a thousand more you could train to do.

You might have chosen to drive a bus or a train, fix plumbing, coordinate a data network, plough a field, teach a child, organise an event, study engineering, cure a disease, brew beer, rehearse a play. You might choose to work four hours a week, or fourteen or forty. What you do makes everyone better off. That’s your recompense, and it’s better than money. It’s job satisfaction. It’s fulfilment. It’s a life on your own terms, a life worth living. It’s why you make the commitment to work.

This is Earth, as it could be in the near future. It won’t be created by the politicians of capitalism. It will created by us, all of us who now produce everything, working together. We can say ‘We want this’. Then we organise to make it happen.

Against our combined communications the billionaires can do nothing. Together we can force referendums, elections, votes and take control of nation states. Then abolish property laws and the agencies that enforce them and take control of factories, land, services. It can be democratic, peaceful, and effective. We take control. We take our lives back.

This new Earth is not Utopia. There are problems, issues, arguments, accidents, mistakes, false starts or blind alleys. But cooperative management solves the problems as today’s arrogant leaderships never did.

If you agree with this you can let others know that this is what you want by voting for the Socialist Party/World Socialist Movement list.

London boroughs

We need to change things

If you work hard, play by the rules, you’ll get on. So they say. We do all the hard work. Tidy the offices, fix the cars, file the paperwork, make the dinner, change the bed pans, teach the children. We work for the best hours of our days, the best years of our lives.

But we don’t get on.

If we’re not in work, we spend our time looking for work, training for work, applying for work. But we don’t find it.

Across Europe millions who have played by the rules to produce more and more wealth find themselves getting a smaller and smaller share of it.

Over the last four years our pay has fallen in real terms: we are being paid less for our work than we were. Yet that work needs to be done. At the same time, the people who don’t need to work, who get their money just because they are “the 1 percent“, are gaining more than ever.

We, the people who do the work, who make the whole of our society go round, are punished rather than rewarded. We find it increasingly hard to make the rent or mortgage and other household bills. We find our slight protections being taken away from us with attacks on benefits. They shackle our unions. We find ourselves last in every queue to the wealthy who waltz in to the front and get the best.

We work hard. We play by the rules.

But we don’t get on.

We need to show solidarity, and fight for a change that will enable us to get on. As long as we don’t own what we produce we will continue to be second class citizens. We need to organise to take control of the productive wealth of the world so we can use our own work to better our lives, instead of making the rich richer.

We can use these elections to show that we won’t take this lying down. That we can organise for common ownership of the world.

We can vote for the Socialist Party candidates, as a way of letting our fellow workers know: things need to change.

Lambeth: Clapham Town: Oliver Bond. Ferndale: Danny Lambert. Larkhall: Adam Buick

Islington: Junction: Bill Martin.

Elections to the European Parliament are being held the same day. As there are no socialist candidates standing in the London Region you can show you reject the profit system and want a world of common ownership and democratic control by writing “WORLD SOCIALISM” across your ballot paper.

And then get in touch to help bring an end to the system that can never be made to work in our interest.  For an information pack and free magazine, write to: The Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN.