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Despite appearances, the idea of social progress is a myth August 4, 2017

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The lifting of billions of people globally out of poverty is a considerable achievement. But many of these individuals earn between $2 (£1.50) and $10 dollars a day. Their position is fragile, exposed to the vicissitudes of health, employment, economic conditions and political and societal stability. As William Gibson observed: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed”.

Despite appearances, the idea of social progress is a myth

Current growth, short-term profits and higher living standards for some are pursued at the expense of costs which are not evident immediately but will emerge later. Society has borrowed from and pushes problems into the future


By Satyajit Das,  Independent Voices

The world cannot countenance the idea that human progress might be at an end or even have stalled.

The belief that advances in science, technology as well as social and political systems can provide continuous improvement in human life is perhaps the most important idea in Western civilisation. Yet attempts to measure actual progress are curiously vague. In January 2016, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi dispensed with practicalities arguing that “Europe cannot just be a grey technical debate about constraints, but must again be a great dream”.

Thomas Carlyle’s 19th-century analysis of England provides a useful benchmark for assessing human achievements.

Carlyle was critical of a world “submerged in mamonism”. The undeniable improvement in living standards over the last 150 years is seen as evidence of progress. Improvements in diet, health, safe water, hygiene and education have been central to increased life spans and incomes.

The lifting of billions of people globally out of poverty is a considerable achievement. But many of these individuals earn between $2 (£1.50) and $10 dollars a day. Their position is fragile, exposed to the vicissitudes of health, employment, economic conditions and political and societal stability. As William Gibson observed: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed”.

Economic progress also has come at a cost. Growth and wealth is increasingly based on borrowed money, used to purchase something today against the uncertain promise of paying it back in the future. Debt levels are now unsustainable. Growth has been at the expense of existentially threatening environmental changes which are difficult to reverse. Higher living standards rely on the profligate use of under-priced, finite resources, especially water and energy, which have been utilised without concern about conservation for future use.

Current growth, short-term profits and higher living standards for some are pursued at the expense of costs which are not evident immediately but will emerge later. Society has borrowed from and pushes problems into the future.

The acquisition of material goods defines progress. The concept of leisure as shopping and consumption as the primary economic engine now dominate. Altering Bob Dylan’s lyrics, the Angry Brigade, an English anarchist group, described it as: “If you are not being born, you are busy buying”.

Carlyle, who distrusted the “mechanical age”, would have been puzzled at the unalloyed modern worship of technology. Much of our current problems, environmental damage and pollution, are the unintended consequences of technology, especially the internal combustion engine and exploitation of fossil fuels. The invention of the motor vehicle was also the invention of the car crash. Technology applied to war continues to create human suffering. Mankind’s romance with technology increasingly is born of a desperate need for economic growth and a painless, cheap fix to problems such as reducing in greenhouse gas without decreasing living standards.

Carlyle’s hope for an “aristocracy of talent” has not been fulfilled. After a brief period of decline in the years after the Second World War, inequality measured as concentration of wealth and income is rising. Less than 100 billionaires now own as much as 50 per cent of world’s population, down from around 400 billionaires a little more than five years ago. Hereditary monarchies and “an idle landowning aristocracy” are less prevalent than in Carlyle’s time, although the current US administration and many emerging nations still emphasise filial ties. Instead, a gang of industrial buccaneers and pirates and a powerful working aristocracy of politicians, business leaders, professional and bureaucrats dominate public affairs. These include graduates of elite educational establishments such as America’s ivy league school, Britain’s Oxbridge complex or French ‘enarques’, America’s technology entrepreneurs or alumni of prestigious institutions and think tanks, which function as shadow governments. The new feudalism is like the older model, with class, privilege and wealth still highly influential.

Pre-occupation with narcissistic self-fulfilment and escapist entertainment is consistent with Carlyle’s concern about the loss of social cohesiveness, spirituality and community. His fear of a pervasive “philosophy of simply looking on, of doing nothing, of laissez-faire … a total disappearance of all general interest, a universal despair of truth and humanity, and in consequence a universal isolation of men in their own ‘brute individuality” … a war of all against all … intolerable oppression and wretchedness” seems modern.

Carlyle’s fear of the loss of individual freedom has proved well founded. The Black Lives Matter movement, the treatment of women and minorities and growing racial and religious intolerance highlight the disappointing limits of social progress. Following the 9/11 attacks, a fearful population has acquiesced in an unprecedented loss of privacy and civil liberties. Technology and social media permit an extraordinary level of monitoring of private lives. The state and powerful interests have emerged as Stalin’s engineers of human souls.

Carlyle bemoaned “a parliament elected by bribery”. Two centuries later, the need for vast sums to finance political campaigns and hold onto political office has made elected officials captive to donors. Carlyle would have recognised the lack of political leadership, simplistic ideas that are selected to maximise popularity and the use of propaganda to polarise opinion along racial, regional or other demographic lines for electoral advantage.

Other than in some material elements the future is likely to be much like the past with the tragic or farcical repetition of the same things. Human achievements, even when they are considerable, rarely change things more than marginally. The power of individuals and society is overstated. Each epoch only creates transient winners and losers.

Progress is ultimately based on the idea of perfectibility, that education and ideas can improve human nature or behaviour. But man may not be perfectible. Human irrationality, destructiveness and selfishness may not be able to be overcome.

The idea of progress is an ‘innocent fraud’, a term coined by economist John Kenneth Galbraith to describe a lie or a half-truth that with repetition becomes common wisdom.

Satyajit Das is a former banker. His latest book is ‘A Banquet of Consequences’ (published in North America as The Age of Stagnation to avoid confusion as a cookbook). He is also the author of Extreme Money and Traders, Guns & Money.


The Independent: Kilinto fire: Ethiopian government accused of gunning down political prisoners as they flee burning jail September 8, 2016

Posted by OromianEconomist in #OromoProtests.
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#OromoLivesMatters!Boycott the fascist TPLF and its business. #OromoProtests at Naqamte 6 September 2016

The Independent

Kilinto fire: Ethiopian government accused of gunning down political prisoners as they flee burning jail

Exclusive: Rights groups raise concerns over fate of political prisoners held in facility at the time

By Adam Withnall, The Independent,  Africa Correspondent, 6 September 2016

Rights groups have raised serious concerns over the fate of political prisoners held at a facility on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa after 23 inmates died in a huge fire at the high-security complex.

While the cause of the blaze remains unknown, the Ethiopian government has admitted at least two of the prisoners were gunned down by the authorities as they fled the burning building.

The Kilinto prison has become notorious as a holding facility for jailed members of the opposition, including members of the Oromo ethnic group.

And the Oromo Federalist Congress, a key opposition party, said there were fears for the lives of its “entire leadership”, which it said was being detained at Kilinto at the time.

Amnesty International and New York-based Human Rights Watch, which has been monitoring the deaths of the Oromo people during a government crackdown on political protests, told The Independent it was vital the authorities released the names of those killed in the incident.

ESAT, a TV broadcaster based outside Ethiopia, showed grainy footage of the fire visible from a great distance (ESAT)

The fire broke out on Saturday, just hours after a leader of the Oromo ethnic group, Tiruneh Gamta, had called for the release of “all political prisoners”.

Local media groups reported gunfire could be heard from the scene, while a TV station based outside Ethiopia broadcast footage of the fire live.

Initially, the Ethiopian government said one person was killed in the fire. But in a statement released this week via the state affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate, it said 21 died from “stampede, fire burns and suffocation”.

Video of the fire also emerged on social media, though official reports were slow to come through (ESAT)

“The remaining two were killed while trying to escape from prison,” Fana reported, adding that two buildings were damaged in the blaze.

The government statement provided no details of how the fire began, only stating that the police were investigating, nor did it give the names of any of those killed.

And on Tuesday, OFC’s Assistant Deputy Chairman Mulatu Gemechu told the Reuters news agency: “Our entire leadership is being held in that place and we have no idea what has happened to them.

“The government has a responsibility to explain to the public, no less their families. We have no idea why it is taking that long.”

Some local media have questioned the official version of events. They cited unnamed witnesses saying the prisoners were shot by wardens.

Ethiopian journalist Tesfalem Waldyes, who was detained in Kilinto prison for more than a year before his release in July 2015, told The Independent it was hard to believe reports that the fire began as an attempted jailbreak.

“It is difficult for inmates to access fire,” he said. “Prisoners are not allowed to cook or smoke. And the remand facility is a highly guarded place and security cameras are everywhere.”

Though it has become known for political imprisonments, Kilinto is a facility where suspects of all sorts of crimes are held, sometimes for many years, before trial.

As such, none of its inmates have actually been convicted of their alleged crimes. Yet Tesfalem said the prison still operates under a ruthless regime, with those who complain about abusive treatment subjected to the “Kitat Bet” (punishment house) or the “dark house”, a form of isolation.

“The political prisoners mostly face harassment, intimidation, confiscation of their written materials, denial of their visitation rights and sometimes physical abuse,” he said.

It was impossible to know, until the government releases more information, how many of those killed were political prisoners. Tesfalem said all those who are arrested on political grounds are sent to the facility to await trial, and they make up a significant proportion of the 3,000 or so inmates, though not the majority.

Human Rights Watch says more than 500 people have been killed in clashes between the security forces and protesters demanding greater political freedoms in the province of Oromia.

Last week, the African Union – which is based in Addis Abiba – expressed concerns about the unrest for the first time, while on Sunday the US ambassador to the UN said her country had raised “grave concerns” about what it called the excessive use of force against protesters in Ethiopia, a long-time ally.

Felix Horne, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher in the Horn of Africa, told The Independent: “Numerous witnesses describe hearing heavy gunfire during the fire at Kilinto, raising serious questions about the safety and wellbeing of the prisoners held there.

“Family members of those held at Kilinto also still do not know the whereabouts of their loved ones. The authorities should immediately account for the whereabouts of all prisoners to their families, and provide details about those who died during the incident.”

Amnesty International’s Fisseha Tekle said the charity was concerned about all prisoners held at the facility, including those detained on political charges.

“We call on the authorities to inform the families of prisoners of the situation of their loved ones,” Ms Tekle said. “They have the right to know whether their relatives are dead or alive.”

Read related at:-  The Citizen: Families left in the dark after deadly prison fire

The Independent News: Ethiopian state TV censors #Rio2016 Olympic marathon runner’s finishing line #OromoProtests August 22, 2016

Posted by OromianEconomist in #OromoProtests, Athletic nation, Fayyisaa Lalisaa.
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Ethiopia’s state-owned TV network has refused to broadcast footage of one of its most successful Olympic athletes crossing the finishing line or receiving his medal after he staged a political protest against oppression back home.

Feyisa Lilesa won silver in the men’s marathon on the last day of events in Rio, making him Ethiopia’s joint second most successful performer after the country won just one gold in a disappointing campaign.

As he crossed the line on Sunday he raised his arms to form an “X”, a symbol of defiance that has been used by the Oromo people in Ethiopia as part of political protests against the government.

Lilesa repeated the act in a press conference after the race, and said he would repeat it at the medal ceremony later. He told reporters he faced being killed for doing so if he returns home after the Games.

EBC, the Ethiopian state broadcaster, was showing Lila’s race live on TV on Sunday afternoon. As such, it was unable to avoid airing his protest as it happened the first time.

But the moment he crossed the line was cut from subsequent bulletins and, unlike with its other champions, EBC refused entirely to show footage of Lilesa being given his silver medal.

Shown Live on TV “-n marathoner Fayisa shows protest gesture after winning Silver at http://debirhan.com/?p=10275 

Photo published for Ethiopian marathoner Fayisa shows gesture after winning Silver at #Rio2016

Ethiopian marathoner Fayisa shows gesture after winning Silver at #Rio2016

On its website, EBC carried a report on the result entitled “Ethiopia wins Silver medal in men’s marathon”.

While its online reports from other Rio events tended to show pictures of victorious athletes after they had finished competing, the Lilesa article was accompanied by an image of a group of the marathon runners halfway through the race.

Neither online nor on TV did the state-run broadcaster make direct reference to Lilesa’s protest.

The athlete is from Oromia, home to many of the 35 million Oroma people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. At the press conference, he said: “The Ethiopian government is killing my people, so I stand with all protests anywhere, as Oromo is my tribe. My relatives are in prison and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed.”

Lilesa told reporters he would be killed or put in prison if he returned home, and said he feared for his wife and two children who are still in Ethiopia. He said he plans to try and stay in Brazil or make his way to the US.

Klick here to read more at Independent