Portuguese-Jewish-Dutch philosopher Spinoza


This video says about itself:

Spinoza

4 February 2009

Roundtable discussion with Akeel Bilgrami, Jonathan Israel, Steven Nadler, Joel Whitebook, and Catherine Wilson.

By Derek Wall in Britain:

Critical thinking: On the importance of reading Spinoza

Thursday 26th June 2014

The foundations of free-thinking and modern secular societies were laid down by a fearless Dutch philosopher who used logic to dismantle prejudice, writes DEREK WALL

I must admit that I am somewhat mystified by my favourite philosopher. Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), a Dutchman and member of the Jewish community excommunicated for unknown transgressions, is increasingly in fashion. However, he is far from readable and easily misunderstood.

I think that for a whole number of reasons his ideas are hugely inspiring especially for those of us on the left and in particular to members of the Green Party like me.

He is notoriously difficult to read and many recent authors who have looked at his work, in my opinion, obscure rather than enlighten.

Today he is seen as a prophet of radical green politics and as the most important philosopher to challenge religion and superstition.

Steven Nadler’s recently published A Book Forged In Hell is a clear and fascinating guide to Spinoza’s most controversial work — the Theological-Political Treatise. The very title of the treatise shouts out dullness and obscurity but as Nadler recounts its effect when it was first published in 1670 was explosive.

It is a materialist guide to religion that shocked the Dutch authorities.

Nadler’s book is a biography of the treatise and very much a page turner, a philosophical and political thriller, which demands to be bought, read and shared.

Spinoza was a political thinker inspired by the Dutch republic and the need to create a real democracy, which put the people — described by him as “the multitude” — in charge.

While he feared that the multitude might be manipulated by an elite, he has been seen as a radical democrat or even an early communist because of his opposition to hierarchy.

In 21st century terms he would have supported the 99 per cent and challenged the elite. He argued that God and nature, in Latin “Deus sive Natura,” were the same.

He was a materialist and felt that it was wrong to see humanity as separate from the rest of nature, or to see reality divided into “spirit” and “matter.”

So his connection to green politics is obvious. If we are part of nature, we should respect nature. Animal welfare has a strong foundation in his thinking because, while we are different from other species, we and they are part of a common substance.

Georgi Plekhanov described Spinoza as “Marx without the beard.” While I think this is a massive over simplification, Engels famously noted that Spinoza’s materialist outlook was consistent with a Marxist philosophy noting: “Old Spinoza was quite right.”

Marx read the Theological-Political Treatise and made detailed notes on it as part of his preparation for his PhD on philosophy.

Warren Montag has produced a very readable Marxist perspective of Spinoza’s ideas in his book Bodies, Masses, Power: Spinoza And His Contemporaries.

Nadler’s book focuses more on Spinoza’s views of religion which I find fascinating.

It’s fair to say that I am so taken with Spinoza’s views on religion that whenever I see a group of Jehovah Witnesses I can hardly contain my urge to proclaim the good news to them.

Whether you class him as an atheist, pantheist or believer in the god of the Bible, there is no doubt that he shook things up quite dramatically.

Spinoza was alarmed that religion in the Dutch republic was used to suppress free thought, with various churches and sects denouncing nonconformists.

Religion for Spinoza was intrinsically political, often used as a means of social control, but it could instead be used to promote mutual love and the common good.

Free thinking was only possible if the social control element of religion — based on empty rituals and irrelevant dogmatism — was exposed and rejected.

The treatise is an examination of the Bible that rejects all elements of superstition because superstition is a means of social control.

It is almost as if he went through the Old Testament with a black marker pen, crossing out anything that he saw as false.

Spinoza rejected Genesis — God was timeless and identical with nature, so the idea of a creation story, where God creates the universe is obviously theologically untenable.

Spinoza rejected the concept of miracles — why would God suspend rules of nature and perform tricks. This was undignified and profoundly irreligious.

Moses could not have written about his own death, so the belief that he wrote the first books of the Old Testament was false argued Spinoza. And on, and on — any suggestion that prophets had special insights or God acted, or appeared like a human being, was also crossed out from Spinoza’s Bible.

He seemed to have run out of energy, or at least marker pens, by the New Testament where considerably less is crossed out, although the various miracles performed by Jesus were of course binned.

Spinoza’s materialist and critical reading of the Bible has been seen as paving the way for a secular society.

He argued that the Bible was not the direct word of God but the work of human authors in a given historical context. If they distorted the true religion in their confusion, it was sacrilege not to throw their words away or reread them in the light of reason.

Nadler’s book shows how Spinoza’s critical reading of the Bible contributed to the creation of free-thinking, secular societies.

He argues that in creating the modern world, which values science and reason, Spinoza’s treatise was a vital text.

From religious tolerance to sexual freedom, Spinoza paved the way by criticising superstition and irrationality founded on the Bible.

Nadler also shows that Spinoza’s book created panic and provoked hatred, even in the relatively tolerant Dutch republic.

The treatise was condemned in the words of Nadler’s book title as A book Forged In Hell.

Spinoza was condemned, in contradictory fashion, as both a Jew and an atheist.

The book was banned and became subject to a trans-European hate campaign. Nonetheless in the longer term, Nadler argues, the treatise changed everything.

Spinoza rejected the label atheist, arguing that religion, politics and science, could be brought together, although personal belief and personal freedom to pursue philosophical enquiry were vital.

For him, once the constructed historical nature of the Bible was understood, the true religion could be pursued.

So what did Spinoza recognise as the true religion, once everything else has been stripped from the Bible? He argued simply that true religion was based on obedience to a simple moral principle of mutual love.

While there are always likely to be intense theological debates, the truth of religion is simple for Spinoza — if it promotes mutual love it is true, if it promotes hatred and repression it is false.

I think this formulation has implications for politics too.

Whatever its origin, politics that promotes human cooperation and trust is right, if it promotes inequality, elite rule and intolerance is wrong.

Spinoza can be criticised in various ways but he is a key inspiration for both socialist and ecological politics and should not be forgotten.

In his day — as Nadler reminds us — he upset people. The Calvinist Synod condemned the treatise as “spawned in Hell by a renegade Jew and the Devil.”

While his writing, inspired by Descartes’s geometric method, is tough and often uninspiring, the effects of his words make Spinoza continually worth re-reading.

Derek Wall is international coordinator of the Green Party of England and Wales.

Dutch people lose faith in churches


This video says about itself:

6 September 2010

This is an interview with Gary Bergeron, clergy abuse survivor, aired on VRT Belgian/Dutch TV.

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Less and less confidence in church

Update: Monday 28 May 2014, 07:33

Trust of Dutch people in churches is the lowest now for the last twenty years. Especially among Roman Catholics trust in the church between 2008 and 2010 declined strongly, says the Social and Cultural Planning Office.

The number of church members has declined from 75 percent of the population in 1958 to 30 percent in 2012. Even fewer people go to church. In the 1980′s 17 percent went to the church every week. Now that is still 10 per cent.

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CIA made doctors torture


This video about the USA says about itself:

CIA Torture Dr. Gets Contract

15 Oct 2010

The government keeps rewarding contracts to private security firms like Blackwater, despite the murder, fraud, drugs, and prostitutes, as if there’s no one else available to do the job. And today famed psychologist Martin Seligman, whose theory in many ways was the inspiration for the CIA’s interrogation program during Bush. But it turns out earlier this year the Army awarded a contract to the University of Pennsylvania where Dr. Seligman works. Mark Benjamin investigative reporter with Salon.com explains the bases of the CIA’s torture process that was inspired by Seligman.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

CIA made doctors torture suspected terrorists after 9/11, taskforce finds

Doctors were asked to torture detainees for intelligence gathering, and unethical practices continue, review concludes

Sarah Boseley, health editor

Monday 4 November 2013

Doctors and psychologists working for the US military violated the ethical codes of their profession under instruction from the defence department and the CIA to become involved in the torture and degrading treatment of suspected terrorists, an investigation has concluded.

The report of the Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centres concludes that after 9/11, health professionals working with the military and intelligence services “designed and participated in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees“.

Medical professionals were in effect told that their ethical mantra “first do no harm” did not apply, because they were not treating people who were ill.

The report lays blame primarily on the defence department (DoD) and the CIA, which required their healthcare staff to put aside any scruples in the interests of intelligence gathering and security practices that caused severe harm to detainees, from waterboarding to sleep deprivation and force-feeding.

The two-year review by the 19-member taskforce, Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror, supported by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) and the Open Society Foundations, says that the DoD termed those involved in interrogation “safety officers” rather than doctors. Doctors and nurses were required to participate in the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike, against the rules of the World Medical Association and the American Medical Association. Doctors and psychologists working for the DoD were required to breach patient confidentiality and share what they knew of the prisoner’s physical and psychological condition with interrogators and were used as interrogators themselves. They also failed to comply with recommendations from the army surgeon general on reporting abuse of detainees.

The CIA’s office of medical services played a critical role in advising the justice department that “enhanced interrogation” methods, such as extended sleep deprivation and waterboarding, which are recognised as forms of torture, were medically acceptable. CIA medical personnel were present when waterboarding was taking place, the taskforce says.

Although the DoD has taken steps to address concerns over practices at Guantánamo Bay in recent years, and the CIA has said it no longer has suspects in detention, the taskforce says that these “changed roles for health professionals and anaemic ethical standards” remain.

“The American public has a right to know that the covenant with its physicians to follow professional ethical expectations is firm regardless of where they serve,” said Dr Gerald Thomson, professor of medicine emeritus at Columbia University and member of the taskforce.

He added: “It’s clear that in the name of national security the military trumped that covenant, and physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice. We have a responsibility to make sure this never happens again.” The taskforce says that unethical practices by medical personnel, required by the military, continue today. The DoD “continues to follow policies that undermine standards of professional conduct” for interrogation, hunger strikes, and reporting abuse. Protocols have been issued requiring doctors and nurses to participate in the force-feeding of detainees, including forced extensive bodily restraints for up to two hours twice a day.

Doctors are still required to give interrogators access to medical and psychological information about detainees which they can use to exert pressure on them. Detainees are not permitted to receive treatment for the distress caused by their torture.

“Putting on a uniform does not and should not abrogate the fundamental principles of medical professionalism,” said IMAP president David Rothman. “‘Do no harm’ and ‘put patient interest first’ must apply to all physicians regardless of where they practise.” The taskforce wants a full investigation into the involvement of the medical profession in detention centres. It is also calling for publication of the Senate intelligence committee’s inquiry into CIA practices and wants rules to ensure doctors and psychiatrists working for the military are allowed to abide by the ethical obligations of their profession; they should be prohibited from taking part in interrogation, sharing information from detainees’ medical records with interrogators, or participating in force-feeding, and they should be required to report abuse of detainees.

Since September 11, 2001 medical professionals under the direction of the CIA and the US Department of Defense were ordered to disregard the core “do no harm” principles of medical ethics in their dealings with detainees held by the US in the so-called “war on terror.” Health professionals were required to engage in practices which included “designing, participating in, and enabling cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” of prisoners: here.

DOCTORS WERE INSTRUCTED TO INFLICT SEVERE HARM ON GUANTANAMO BAY DETAINEES: here.

Exposed: American Doctors and Psychologists Engaged in Frightening Torture Programs Since 9/11: here.

Aboriginal Australians suffered from Ice Age


This video is called Discovery Channel, Prehistoric Predators of the Past, 1 of 3. What Killed the Mega Beasts part 1.

From Australian Geographic:

Ice Age struck indigenous Australians hard

By: Wes Judd

September 27, 2013

Population numbers plummeted due to harsh conditions at the peak of the last Ice Age, says a new study.

A NEW STUDY HAS revealed how indigenous Australians coped with the last Ice Age, roughly 20,000 years ago.

Researchers say that when the climate cooled dramatically, Aboriginal groups sought refuge in well-watered areas, such as along rivers, and populations were condensed into small habitable areas.

Professor Sean Ulm, lead author of the research at James Cook University in Townsville, says the vast majority of Australia was simply uninhabitable at this time. “Forests disappeared, animals went extinct; major areas of Australia would have been deprived of surface water.”

How humans coped with the last Ice Age

To understand how Aboriginal people responded to the conditions, a team of experts from Australia, England, and Canada used the radiocarbon dates of thousands of archaeological sites to study the distribution of people across the landscape over time.

The findings, published recently in The Journal of Archaeological Science, suggest that about 21,000 years ago, almost all people in modern-day Australia migrated into smaller areas, abandoning as much as 80 per cent of the continent.

“In Lawn Hill Gorge in northwestern Queensland, at the coldest point of the last glacial period, all of the stone, raw materials and food remains are exclusively from the Gorge area,” says Sean. “This indicated very limited or no use of the surrounding broader landscape.”

This massive consolidation had drastic effects on the population as well. “There was likely a birth rate decline of over 60 per cent,” says Alan Williams, a PhD student at the Australian Nation University who worked on the study. “It would have been very ugly.”

Can humans cope with climate change?

Sean says the next step would ideally be to study the resulting cultural shifts, however, this may prove to be difficult given that close to one third of what was Australia at the time of the Ice Age is now underwater. “By 10,000 years ago, sea levels were visibly rising, sometimes on a daily basis,” says Sean.

Extreme changes in the environment continued for thousands of years, and Aboriginal life readjusted in the process. Sean says this makes it unlikely that researchers will ever know the full societal ramifications of the Ice Age.

What the study does reveal, however, is that humans have withstood massive climate change on this continent in the past, and this might prove vital for preparing for future events.

“A lot of the current climate reports that we read about in Australia…their records only go back a couple of hundred years,” says Sean. “That’s a very short time span to base our model for future climate change on.”

Sean adds that, thanks to studies like this, archaeologists may soon have the potential to extend these data sets.