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“Openness and imagination: the human future towards freedom and uncertainty”, Roberta Consilvio

17.04.2021 – Rome, Italy – Centro Mundial de Estudios Humanistas

“Openness and imagination: the human future towards freedom and uncertainty”, Roberta Consilvio
(Image by Daniel Alvarez)

We publish here the paper presented by Roberta Consilvio, researcher at the Salvatore Puledda World Centre for Humanist Studies, in the framework of the International Symposium held virtually today Friday 16 April, tomorrow Saturday 17 and Sunday 18.

INTRODUCTION

Good Morning everyone. Let me thank the many people who made this Symposium possible, in this new interconnected form.

My speech today is about the human being, highlighting some of the characteristics that distinguish its psychic functioning and its relationship with the environment that surrounds it. In this way I would like to arrive at the conclusion that the human being, as an individual and as a species, is constitutively able to create new realities, changing the conditions in which he finds himself acting: he, or rather WE, are therefore capable of creating not only a new world but also a new human being.

Talking about the human being is not just about discussing it as an object of philosophical study, as if it were a natural entity to be observed from the outside. On the contrary, the invitation is that everyone does feel personally called to connect to the discourse, because I will talk about each of us, of our daily experience, of our inner knowledge, of how we perceive and articulate our existence.

In order to do it, I will ask myself some questions, from which I will start to unfold the many elements that I need to arrive at the conclusion.

  1. How does the human being relate to the environment? Or how does consciousness get in touch with the world and how does this contact manifest?
  2. How does the ability to create mental images work for evolution?
  3. How does the past affect me? And what about the future?
  4. How much freedom can I get compared to what limits me in my life today?

My answers find their roots in the work of Silo[1], literary pseudonym of Mario Rodriguez Cobos, Argentine thinker who founded the current of Universal Humanism and who also conceived this Symposium in 2008. Let me also thank all the scholars who have explored his themes and made further contributions.

DEVELOPMENT

I will therefore go into the heart of what I want to discuss. The first question is: In what way does the human being relate to the environment? That is, how does consciousness get in contact with the world and how does this contact manifest itself?

Here I use the word consciousness in a psychological sense, not in a moral one. With the word consciousness I mean the internal apparatus that makes us perceive the external world and organizes the responses that we give to this outside world. Consciousness does a great job: it continuously receives inputs from all the external and internal senses, it processes them by combining with those in memory, and organises actions. Consciousness aims at maintaining homeostasis of the functioning of the psychophysical unit of which it is an expression. So far we would not be very different from our cat.

What is the nature of the elaborations of consciousness? What does our consciousness  exactly do? It portrays the outside world, then plays a bit with these representations and at the end of the game does it come up with an action to do? Consciousness in this perspective would operate a reproduction of the world, as if    it were a passive entity in front of it, and it would mechanically devise solutions to the problems that the world poses.

It is not so simple; consciousness is not passively waiting for some signal from the external world. As Brentano, Husserl and Silo state, consciousness is incessantly in activity, searching relentlessly for mental objects, that is, the representations that best complete the acts it has launched. I represent the world to my inner self not because I find it in front of me, but because my consciousness does a continuous work of active construction. Inside of me I have no photographs, but original and unique elaborations.

This constructive and subjective process of consciousness is so real that, in the judiciary field for example, studies are carried out on the reliability of the testimonies given during trials or interrogations, since there are huge differences between the accounts of people who report the same event: everyone structured the event differently, with details that were even absent in the scene to be described.

So, we are active creators of reality, each of our own.

Ironically, if I had no perceptual or mnemonic data about the world, what would remain in me, as mental material to make my consciousness work? Very little: consciousness would have no representation and the world, ultimately, would not exist for me. Nor I would even exist, since my elaborations are based on my data of the world.

As a conscious being, I start to develop while I am still in my mother’s womb, in relation to the world I live in, intended as a material and as a social world. There, my peculiar way of perceiving is intertwined with the way I am perceived by other beings like me, and I interact with a world that exists only insofar as I can grasp the salient aspects of it – for my life, for my senses and for my consciousness.

I build the reality of my own world, and I can do it through what of the world is available to me. I am, ultimately, a world-consciousness structure in constant activity. The boundary between me and the outside world, that I can physically establish where the tactile limit of the skin is, represents an elastic, or rather theoretical, boundary that can be defined as a communication between open spaces.

Silo explains this concept with the term “landscape”. There is an internal landscape, given from all my mental representations, and an external one, the world that I can perceive, and it’s in the intertwining of these two landscapes that my world-consciousness structure unfolds, allowing me to learn (by acquiring new data from the interaction with the external landscape) and to operate on the external landscape through the action of my body – which is included in the process.

Grasping the inescapable embrace in which these two landscapes continually interact is part of a training, in order to grasp a particular internal register, the one of the gaze.

Another siloist concept, the internal gaze is the register we have of the observation point from which we see consciousness and all its acts. Any change of the gaze reflects on the way in which landscapes carry out their action.

This awareness of the gaze is very important if we want to change something about the situation of widespread violence in the world today. All the motivational books, such as “get back control of your life” emphasize the human capacity of becoming aware of the gaze and of modifying it in a desired way. The same approach is used in psychotherapy: the self-fulfilling prophecy is the clearest example of how the gaze affects our actions and the events we let occur.

The internal gaze is not only the individual one – on oneself and one’s landscape, but even that of entire categories of people, for example scientists. Starting from physical sciences, today in all fields of knowledge the anthropic principle is advancing, that is, the consideration of the role of the observer in the construction of reality.

We are abandoning the illusion of objective knowledge, in favor of a perspective that puts the interaction between the human being with its means – and the world to know – at the center of interest; from the microscopic level of subatomic particles to the macroscopic level of cosmology.

Taking into consideration the gaze of the human being, a new vision of the Universe emerges, one that is far more complex than a 100 years ago: the physicist Carlo Rovelli defines “a world that doesn’t exist in space and doesn’t evolve in time. A world only made of interacting quantum fields who teem with other quantum to generate, through a dense network of reciprocal interactions, space, time, particles, waves and light “[2].

The concept of interaction is becoming central to all sciences. The epistemic categories and their boundaries, useful until recently, today are an impediment for us to understand the nature of the new vision emerging from the current knowledge.

What I believed so far must now collapse, so that a new way of seeing things can rise. Facing this “new” complexity of the gaze, I understand how European explorers of the sixteenth century must have felt, discovering lands never even imagined before.

The Hubble telescope that captures the hundreds of thousands of galaxies of the deep universe, definitely puts on a side the geocentric perception of the world I have lived in so far. Suddenly, the Universe is infinite and unfolds thanks to my gaze that captures it.

Human consciousness on this small outlying planet becomes important because it ultimately represents, for the moment and according to what we know, one of the possible levels of interaction and one of the ways of building knowledge, but certainly the only one we have access to.

This reflection is affecting all fields of human knowledge, which must reconsider the epistemic foundations of the disciplines and elaborate a new cognitive program in which the gaze of the human being is included as a central element of the method.

We now come to the second question: How does the ability to create mental images work for evolution?

The world-consciousness dynamic is expressed through the activity of representing, that is, producing images, as they are commonly defined in psychology. Pictures are synthetic reconstructions that consciousness produces as a result of its own activity, therefore they are original, unique, although education and sociability constantly operate so that mutual communication of images is possible. Since we are young and throughout life, thanks to language we share concepts, that are meanings that we associate with our images.

It’s in the failure of actions and communication, in ambiguities and errors, that we notice the subjectivity of our images and our landscapes, and this forces us to agree, to find again a consensus on the pre-dialogue beliefs underlying our conversational exchanges. It is the nature of our knowledge, as Edgar Morin writes: “Each knowledge carries with it the risk of error and illusion”[3].

Historian Harari talks about “imagination constructs” that have accustomed people from birth to adapt to certain behaviors and to think in a certain way, thus creating “artificial instincts” which we call culture[4]. Beliefs are complex and prescriptive images, difficult to recognize due to their subjective character, because culture has a cooperative form based on large numbers and the evidence we have of it is proper the opposite: it is the “truth” since everyone believes it. Fortunately, many brilliant thinkers went against the current, they questioned what was believed to be true and they thus allowed access to new knowledge.

The images are flexible: they are continually reconstructed, changed, updated, to allow the adaptation of the psycho-physical structure to the physical and social world, and vice versa, to adapt the physical and social world to one’s desires. This reciprocal adaptation activity points to an evolutionary direction, since it operates through the instrument of the body, at the same time subject and object of the material and social world, to transform landscapes in the direction of overcoming physical pain and mental suffering. This basic intention of our species guides us from the earliest hominids, as the same conditions of finitude and lack are the engine of evolutionary intention.

We can then say that it is an implicit direction of Life itself, from its own simpler forms to the most complex.

This direction of the human being acts by articulating a time horizon in the consciousness, in which the past, the present and the future are intertwined with each other, but where the construction of the future excels, for the same intentional mechanics of the consciousness, always reaching forward in search of new mental objects. Therefore, we will call imagination the activity of representing in the direction of the future; what allows new contents to emerge, which overcomes old beliefs by discarding them or by integrating them into broader visions.

Giordano Bruno writes: “Every time we believe that some truth remains to be known, some good to reach, we always seek another truth and aspire to another good. In short, investigation and research will not be satisfied in the attainment of a limited truth and a defined good”[5].

This whole process, on an individual and species level, translates into a continuous change, and those positions that claim to preserve a present balance, or even worse to return to past situations that you considered positive in distant moments, are shortsighted.

And now the third question: How does the past affect me? And what about the future?

The temporality of consciousness arises from the articulation of the three times that we can build: past, present and future. The past is all that is memory, landscape of training, and always comes into play in the construction of new images. The past defines me: I am an historical being soaked in the culture in which I grew up. It also defines me as a social being, since it’s in the interaction with the intentions of others that I have configured my intention. The past predominates the more I accumulate in the memory. Yet the future prevails: it’s the planning dimension of existence, the program of my actions, it’s the intention that manifests itself in the body and in the world. The present is the crossing point of the images coming from the memory and the images resulting from the imaginative processes in which I project myself into future situations. It’s in the present that I act, I feel, I think, whereas I include the past, I am pushed into the future, expanding, in this way, the gaze that observes temporality in action.

And now the last question: How much freedom can I get compared to what limits me in my life today?

The push towards “futurization”, coming from the evolutionary direction that wants to transform the given conditions, corresponds in human history to a process of personal and social liberation in which we are, each of us, called to make our contribution. This liberation takes root in the body with actions to remove the pain and approach to pleasure; and as needs and possibilities have expanded, human beings have fought against disease and poverty, and the fear that generates suffering. The body itself can emerge transformed in this process of liberation: surgery, prosthesis, assisted fertilization are some of the ways in which we intervene on our body when this represents a limit to our intentions.

The process of human liberation has just begun. Last appeared on the planet, its evolution was fast, and in a virtuous feedback circle, the more it changed the more he was able to change. Representative possibility has accelerated even more the development of his abilities, since he didn’t have to go for trial and error, but he imagined situations and found solutions.

John Stewart, development of consciousness scholar, defines two fundamental characteristics of the human being: self-evolution and systemic self-management.

The first is the ability to get rid of the biological and cultural limitations of the past in order to choose what is necessary for the benefit of the future; the second is the ability to develop mental models of interaction between oneself and the environment, which allow to identify useful actions for the evolutionary future[6].

These abilities are present in all human beings as intrinsic possibilities in the functioning of consciousness itself. But only in the presence of an intentional choice we can become aware of them, develop them, put them at the service of improving the individual and collective life. What qualitative leap would human and non-human life have developed on this planet if everyone acted to free themselves from the limits imposed at each level?

This symposium is a moment of meeting and circulation of ideas that want to illuminate a part of the liberation path that awaits us in the future; to free ourselves from the tyranny of money, for example with the universal basic income; to free ourselves from the destructive threat with a reduction of weapons and the elimination of nuclear power; to free ourselves from gender disparity and in general from all kinds of discrimination; to free ourselves from the threat of an ecological disaster and to free ourselves from the violence that affects so many aspects of human life.

How far can we go on the path of liberation? Clearly, from the present where we observe, we can only glimpse in the distance crossroads that we could take and crossroads we hope to avoid, but the path is not defined in any way. From Heisenberg onwards, in the scientific field (but with consequences of epistemological relevance on the whole human knowledge), uncertainty described the non-mechanistic and non-deterministic behavior of some physical phenomena, to generalize this acquisition to the far more random phenomena of life e of the human.

Pico della Mirandola poetically describes this immense freedom that the human being has in front of him: “I have made you neither celestial nor earthly, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine”[7].

Certainly this dimension of uncertainty fascinates and scares at the same time. Sometimes it can take the concrete form of the question: “Will we become extinct or will we be able to transform our species and our environment in ways that we still don’t even imagine?” Abysses and bright perspectives coexist as a possibility to shape.

CONCLUSIONS

In conclusion, let me briefly recap.

The characteristic of the human being is openness, since its consciousness, intertwining the constructive activity in the interaction with the world, structures and shapes itself and the world. The ability to create images and project them into the future in the direction of overcoming pain and suffering, is the basis for the transformation of limited conditions in which he acts. The transformation takes place in the gaze that he uses to observe, both the internal and external landscapes that constitute the world. He has already encoded right through himself, his own destiny of personal, social and spiritual liberation.

This is all very important today. In the words of Hugo Novotny: “In the current historical moment, it has become essential for the human species to take on a protagonist role in overcoming the actual crisis and in passing to the future evolutionary stage of life on our planet; and for this to be possible, the intentional leap cannot be postponed towards a new level of consciousness, towards a new ethics and a new spirituality”[8].

The “superior orders whose life is divine” of Pico della Mirandola and the new spirituality of the next stage of human evolution, refers to the mystical dimension that the human being has been exploring for some thousands of years, looking for a way to a new level of consciousness and knowledge. The limits of individual identity are boundaries within which the register of the consciousness itself is contained, but there is a deep river with no banks, which relates to the contact experiences with the ineffable world of universal meanings.

Sasha Volkoff accurately describes the meditation process that can be used to reach it: “To the extent that silence is made and consciousness is emptied, the moment occurs when, with no content to use, consciousness looks inwards and records itself; at that moment, when the subject meets itself, the level break occurs. The consciousness finds itself ’empty’ and then sees itself not as an object but directly as the subject”[9].

The further step in the liberation process we aspire to is being able to imagine our own evolution beyond the limit of the death of the body. In the mystery and faith that accompany this passage, mystics of many religions have mentioned the path of the spirit, beyond the physical body and regardless of the ego we identify in life with,       that undertakes the way of transcendence.

I conclude with a beautiful quote from Silo’s story “The clay of the cosmos”:

“Thus, the visitor was expecting a new birth within that species in which he recognized the fear of death and the vertigo of destructive fury. He had observed how those beings vibrated with the hallucination of love, as if they felt anguished by facing the loneliness of the empty Universe, as they imagined their own future, as they struggled to decipher the first footprints left on the path where they had been thrown. Sooner or later this species, made with the clay of the cosmos, would take the path that will lead to discover its origins, but that path would be unpredictable”[10].

Thanks for your attention”.

[1] Silo, Complete Works, vol. 1 and 2, 2000-2003, Multimage, Florence.

[2] Carlo Rovelli, La realtà non è come ci appare, 2014, Raffaello Cortina, Milano.

[3] Edgar Morin, I sette saperi necessari all’evoluzione del futuro, 2001, Raffaello Cortina, Milano.

[4] Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens. Da animali a dèi, 2017, Giunti, Milano.

[5] Giordano Bruno, dalle Opere Latine, citato in Vincenzo Spampanato, Vita di Giordano Bruno, 1988, Gela editrice, Roma

[6] John Stewart, Evolution’s arrowhttp://users.tpg.com.au/users/jes999/EvArrow.htm (April 10th 2021)

[7] Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Della dignità dell’uomo, 2000, Multimage, Firenze.

[8] Hugo Novotny, Luce gravità e tempo, 2019, Parchi di Studio e Riflessione Carcarañá, Rosario.

[9] Sasha Volkoff, L’identità intenzionale, 2018, Parchi di Studio e Riflessione Odena, Barcellona.

[10] Silo, Il giorno del Leone Alato, 1991, Multimage, Firenze.

Translated by Flaminia Giuncato

16.04.2021 – US, United States – David Swanson

Hate Taxes But Love WWII? You Obviously Don’t Know Where Taxes Came From

The United States excels at hating taxes, and for good reason. The U.S. government gives you damn near nothing in return for them. You pay them at a higher rate than do billionaires or corporations. Cheating is permitted only if at a sufficiently large scale. And once you’ve paid your taxes, you still have to rush out and pay for everything that your taxes buy you in other countries: healthcare, childcare, education, recreation, retirement, transportation, etc. Pretty soon you’re broke, but all you hear from government spokespeople as they do soaring flips off high dives into swimming pools full of cash for weapons companies is “Sorry, we’re out of funds. Maybe if you donate to our campaigns that’ll help.”

By David Swanson

Who wouldn’t be disgusted?

Well, lovers of World War II, that’s who, if they had any clue where taxes came from. Ordinary people pay taxes in 2021 in the United states that were created to pay for WWII. And, like the military spending, foreign bases, occupations of Germany and Italy and Japan, and even the use of the Pentagon, they were supposed to end some day. Of course, choosing to love taxes when you find out that they’re associated with the number one topic of U.S. propaganda and the very worst thing humanity has ever done to itself in any short period of time is only one option, and not the one I recommend.

Here’s a little background.

Alexander Hamilton’s argument for the power to tax in Federalist #30 was in case anybody wanted some wars. Turns out they did. Between 1789 and 1815, tariffs produced 90 percent of government revenue. But taxes were needed for wars, including wars against protests of the taxes — such as President Washington’s quashing of the Whiskey Rebellion. A property tax was put in place in 1789 in order to build up a Navy (some people in what is now Libya allegedly needed killing for the good of humanity, oddly enough). More taxes were needed in 1798 because of the troublesome French. But taxation really got going with the War of 1812.

The War of 1812 was to be an easy cakewalk kind of war with Canadians welcoming invaders as liberators. But mistakes were made, as they say, and the bill grew hefty. Congress passed a tax program in 1812 that included a direct tax on land, and excise taxes on retailers, stills, auction sales, sugar, bank notes, and carriages. And in 1815, Congress added a new direct tax and restored that controversial whiskey tax as well, plus taxes on all kinds of items, luxurious and otherwise. The idea of an income tax was raised but rejected.

The income tax was brought to you courtesy of that famous act of mass stupidity that is somehow glorious despite most of the world ending slavery without it: the Civil War. The North began an income tax in 1862, and the Confederacy in 1863. This was after the routine promises of a cheap and easy war had worn out their welcome. Both sides were forcing men to leave their homes to kill and risk death, but effectively excusing the wealthy from that duty. Thus arose popular pressure to compel the rich to “sacrifice” financially. Both sides enacted progressive, graduated income taxes, and other taxes as well. The North taxed everything in sight, including inheritances and especially corporations. The financial cost of the Civil War was astronomical, and the veterans’ pension program was the first major social welfare program in the United States.

But with the end of war came the end of support for taxes, and the income tax and the inheritance tax lapsed temporarily in 1872. Taxation returned to primarily regressive forms, taxing consumption rather than taxing incomes at various levels. Advocacy remained strong in the country, its newspapers, and in Congress in the following years to restore the income and inheritance taxes. Major change would not come, however, until World War I and its army of patriotic propagandists. This is from War and Taxes by Steven Bank, Kirk Stark, and Joseph Thorndike:

“The transition from an almost exclusive reliance on customs duties to a substantial reliance on internal revenues, such as the income tax, the estate tax, and excise taxes, could not have occurred without the demand for fiscal sacrifice that accompanied wartime politics.”

What a bargain: you stop taxing foreign goods in order to tax yourself, in order to go kill the people who make the foreign goods — unless they kill you first.

“But this process did not flow naturally from the public mood in support of the war. Rather, for the first time, the notion of wartime fiscal sacrifice was cultivated, marketed, and sold to the American public.”

New taxes were created in 1914, 1916, 1917, and 1918. The income tax was now back in a big way, along with the estate tax, a munitions tax, an excess profits tax, and other heavy taxes on corporations. The munitions and profits taxes were results of an ongoing debate through most of U.S. history over how to tax war profiteering. Until the current century, profiting financially from war was widely considered unacceptable. The draft again served as an argument for taxing the wealthy. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claimed to be “undismayed at the prospect of great taxes,” and pledged “its full and unqualified support in the prosecution of the war.” The 1917 legislation drew 74% of its revenue from taxing the wealthy and another 13% from taxing luxuries.

Following World War I, various taxes were no longer needed. In 1921 and 1924 Congress repealed the excess profits tax but left the income tax in place, rather than adopting a sales tax favored by business groups. The top rate of taxation on income was reduced from 77% to 25%, but that was still more than double where it had been before the war. Meanwhile, the estate tax remained in place, and corporate taxes were actually increased during the 1920s. Taxation and progressive taxation survived the outbreak of peace.

Then came the most glorious war of all, and with it massive taxation for all. World War II spending, taxation, and — of course — the draft, were off and running long before Pearl Harbor. And by the end of this worst catastrophe in human history government funding had been transformed:

“The personal income tax, long confined to the upper strata of American society, became mainstream. Between 1939 and 1945, Congress lowered exemptions repeatedly, converting what had long been a ‘class tax’ into a full-fledged ‘mass tax.’ . . . [B]y 1945, more than 90 percent of American workers were filing income tax returns. At the same time, lawmakers significantly increased tax rates, with marginal tax rates peaking at 94%. . . . By the war’s end, the tax was raising 40% of total federal revenue, making it the largest source of federal funds.”

This required a new round of sweet smelling Donald Duck droppings, otherwise known as propaganda. Taxes were renamed “the Victory Tax.” In a Disney cartoon, the narrator warned Donald Duck that “It takes taxes to beat the Axis!” An Irving Berlin song was titled “I Paid My Income Tax Today.” Among the lyrics: “You see those bombers in the sky? Rockefeller helped to build them, So did I!”

In 1943 Congress overrode a presidential veto to shift the tax burden more heavily onto working people. Corporations would never again to this day shoulder the share of public funding that they had in the early years of World War II.

Taxes were reduced again after the war. But again, they were not returned to pre-war levels. The 1948 reduction was the only time taxes have been cut by overriding a presidential veto. President Truman was envisioning a permanent military state while millions of other Americans were hoping war had ended at least for a while.

But in 1950 and 1951, Congress passed new tax bills, including an excess profits tax, to pay for war in Korea, and to return the tax system to roughly what it had been during World War II. Truman won. You lost.

Happy Tax Day!

 The original article can be found on our partner’s website here

15.04.2021 – Quezon City – EcoWaste Coalition

Canadian and Filipino watchdog groups urge governments to take precautionary action vs. face masks containing graphene and other nanoparticles

13 April 2021, Quezon City.  The environmental health watchdog groups EcoWaste Coalition (based in Quezon City, Philippines) and ETC Group (based in Quebec, Canada) have called upon the health authorities to ensure that face masks sold in the market do not contain nanographene, a novel nanomaterial, that may cause harm to the lungs.

The groups’ push to rid the market of graphene-containing face masks came on the heels of a recent advisory by Health Canada advising the public not to use such masks “because there is a potential that they could inhale graphene particles, which may pose health risks.”

Health Canada, which is equivalent to the Department of Health of the Philippines, recalled face masks labeled to contain graphene or biomass graphene after receiving complaints of breathing difficulties from wearers  of such masks and after an assessment of available research indicated it had some potential to cause early lung toxicity in animals.

Through a letter sent to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the EcoWaste Coalition urged the government to issue a public health advisory, in line with the precautionary principle, that will warn the Filipino people against the potential health risks from wearing face masks containing nanographene, and to stop the manufacture, importation, distribution and sale of such products in retail stores and online shopping sites.

“As the wearing of face masks is an essential part of our country’s minimum public health protocols to curb the spread of COVID-19, the government must ensure that face masks and other personal protective equipment are safe from graphene and other potentially toxic nanoparticles that can be inhaled and get trapped in our lungs,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

Jim Thomas, Research Director of ETC Group, a Canadian-based watchdog that has been pushing for technology assessment and precaution, said: “Face masks are supposed to keep citizens safe not put them at further risk. Rushing untested nanomaterials into millions of face masks is an example of unscrupulous pandemic profiteering. Governments need to urgently reassure parents, workers and other citizens that commitment to the precautionary principle and protecting health will not be cast aside to let risky tech companies make a killing in a pandemic.”

Preliminary market monitoring conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition revealed that graphene face masks are being sold by third-party dealers in popular online shopping platforms.

The group also found wholesalers and retailers in Bambang and Binondo, Manila selling nano masks containing unidentified nano fibers.

In addition to issuing a public health advisory, the EcoWaste Coalition also requested the FDA to determine which of the 93 FDA-notified medical face masks, as well as the numerous unnotified face masks that have flooded the market, contain nanographene.

Acknowledging the consumer right to know, the group further urged the FDA to require medical face masks — as a requirement for the issuance of Product Notification Certificate — to provide labeling information as to their ingredients, including graphene or any other nanoparticles if any.

“Manufacturers must also conduct safety tests on nanomaterials used in the production of face masks and make the results publicly available before placing such products on the market,” the group insisted.

References:

https://healthycanadians.gc.ca/recall-alert-rappel-avis/hc-sc/2021/75309a-eng.php

https://www.etcgroup.org/content/health-and-environmental-groups-push-european-and-world-leaders-protect-citizens-masks

Backgrounder prepared by ETC Group:

  1. A concerned Canadian parent first alerted the authorities to the risks of nanographene masks in January 2021.
  2. Canada’s ban on nanographene masks sold under the ‘healfiber’ label first broke in Quebec in March 26thafter Health Canada sent an urgent memo instructing authorities to stop using them and for parents and schools to store the masks in an isolated place. The memo explained “Health Canada has conducted a preliminary risk assessment which identified potential for early pulmonary toxicity associated with the inhalation of nanoform graphene. To date, Health Canada has not received data to support the safety and efficacy of face masks containing nanoform graphene”. A number of individuals have come forward in Quebec reporting breathing problems, headaches, skin complaints, and other adverse effects from the ‘healfiber’ masks.
  3. On April 2nd, Health Canada issued a further public advisory  warning, “Do not use face masks labeled to contain graphene or biomass graphene.” And advised the public to “report any breathing difficulties or other adverse health effects.”
  4. general overview of toxicity concerns regarding nano-graphene in masks by Andrew Maynard, a leading nanotoxicologist.

15.04.2021 – Quezon City – EcoWaste Coalition

Canadian and Filipino watchdog groups urge governments to take precautionary action vs. face masks containing graphene and other nanoparticles

13 April 2021, Quezon City.  The environmental health watchdog groups EcoWaste Coalition (based in Quezon City, Philippines) and ETC Group (based in Quebec, Canada) have called upon the health authorities to ensure that face masks sold in the market do not contain nanographene, a novel nanomaterial, that may cause harm to the lungs.

The groups’ push to rid the market of graphene-containing face masks came on the heels of a recent advisory by Health Canada advising the public not to use such masks “because there is a potential that they could inhale graphene particles, which may pose health risks.”

Health Canada, which is equivalent to the Department of Health of the Philippines, recalled face masks labeled to contain graphene or biomass graphene after receiving complaints of breathing difficulties from wearers  of such masks and after an assessment of available research indicated it had some potential to cause early lung toxicity in animals.

Through a letter sent to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the EcoWaste Coalition urged the government to issue a public health advisory, in line with the precautionary principle, that will warn the Filipino people against the potential health risks from wearing face masks containing nanographene, and to stop the manufacture, importation, distribution and sale of such products in retail stores and online shopping sites.

“As the wearing of face masks is an essential part of our country’s minimum public health protocols to curb the spread of COVID-19, the government must ensure that face masks and other personal protective equipment are safe from graphene and other potentially toxic nanoparticles that can be inhaled and get trapped in our lungs,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

Jim Thomas, Research Director of ETC Group, a Canadian-based watchdog that has been pushing for technology assessment and precaution, said: “Face masks are supposed to keep citizens safe not put them at further risk. Rushing untested nanomaterials into millions of face masks is an example of unscrupulous pandemic profiteering. Governments need to urgently reassure parents, workers and other citizens that commitment to the precautionary principle and protecting health will not be cast aside to let risky tech companies make a killing in a pandemic.”

Preliminary market monitoring conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition revealed that graphene face masks are being sold by third-party dealers in popular online shopping platforms.

The group also found wholesalers and retailers in Bambang and Binondo, Manila selling nano masks containing unidentified nano fibers.

In addition to issuing a public health advisory, the EcoWaste Coalition also requested the FDA to determine which of the 93 FDA-notified medical face masks, as well as the numerous unnotified face masks that have flooded the market, contain nanographene.

Acknowledging the consumer right to know, the group further urged the FDA to require medical face masks — as a requirement for the issuance of Product Notification Certificate — to provide labeling information as to their ingredients, including graphene or any other nanoparticles if any.

“Manufacturers must also conduct safety tests on nanomaterials used in the production of face masks and make the results publicly available before placing such products on the market,” the group insisted.

References:

https://healthycanadians.gc.ca/recall-alert-rappel-avis/hc-sc/2021/75309a-eng.php

https://www.etcgroup.org/content/health-and-environmental-groups-push-european-and-world-leaders-protect-citizens-masks

Backgrounder prepared by ETC Group:

  1. A concerned Canadian parent first alerted the authorities to the risks of nanographene masks in January 2021.
  2. Canada’s ban on nanographene masks sold under the ‘healfiber’ label first broke in Quebec in March 26thafter Health Canada sent an urgent memo instructing authorities to stop using them and for parents and schools to store the masks in an isolated place. The memo explained “Health Canada has conducted a preliminary risk assessment which identified potential for early pulmonary toxicity associated with the inhalation of nanoform graphene. To date, Health Canada has not received data to support the safety and efficacy of face masks containing nanoform graphene”. A number of individuals have come forward in Quebec reporting breathing problems, headaches, skin complaints, and other adverse effects from the ‘healfiber’ masks.
  3. On April 2nd, Health Canada issued a further public advisory  warning, “Do not use face masks labeled to contain graphene or biomass graphene.” And advised the public to “report any breathing difficulties or other adverse health effects.”
  4. general overview of toxicity concerns regarding nano-graphene in masks by Andrew Maynard, a leading nanotoxicologist.

14.04.2021 – Pressenza Athens

This post is also available in: Greek

Initiative Against Authoritarianism in Greece
(Image by Chrysoula Patsou)

We are migrants from Greece. We are those who were forced to leave our country or cannot return, because of the financial crisis brought upon us by the memoranda agreements. The political developments in Greece and the intensifying state and police authoritarianism, brutality and oppression fill us with rage.

The handling of the Covid-19 pandemic by the European Union has proven the bankruptcy of neoliberal policies implemented across Europe. The profits of the pharmaceutical companies are prioritised over people’s needs during the pandemic. This comprises an escalation of the attack on all public goods that have been won by social movements. The European Union opted to unconditionally fund private companies to undertake vaccine research programmes using public money showcasing that the crisis is used as an opportunity for profit. Using the pandemic as an excuse, countries across Europe have escalated authoritarianism, have silenced and oppressed every progressive voice opposing these governmental arguments and practices.

In Greece, the pandemic is met by a deprived and discredited National Health System (ESY), a result of imposed austerity measures. The government is unwilling to increase the capacity of the healthcare system by hiring more healthcare workers and providing additional funding. Despite the death of many patients due to the inadequate number of intensive care units, the private clinics are yet to be called upon to contribute by the government.

The response to the pandemic has been a series of lockdowns, while workers are stacked in workplaces and public transport without adequate protection measures, a policy with a clear class character.

Another response to the pandemic has been to increase the police capacity by hiring more police officers and updating (replacing) their equipment to oppress demonstrations. The police force has issued an enormous number of fines in a discriminatory and abusive manner. The amount of the fine is equivalent to 60% of the minimum wage. The police are now present in every neighbourhood, oppressing and beating families and children on their daily walks in the local parks. The reported cases of police brutality are increasing with incidents of citizens’ abductions, tortures, targeting individuals of certain political ideologies, publicizing personal data within their political propaganda frame, the creation of unsound indictments from the counter-terrosism unit and more. All of which take place under the guidance and enclosure of the responsible political bodies. In parallel, new police units are being created not only to control demonstrations but to oppress the student movement. The government was a step away from the vengeful murder of the prisoner and hunger striker Dimitris Koufontinas, denying to acknowledge his lawful demands.

Taking advantage of the pandemic when citizens’ right to protest is already compromised, a law was voted to further restrict the right to protest. A law in education was also passed, one which also sees the creation and establishment of University policing. More laws are prepared that will crush workers’ rights.

Right from the start, the government invested in its image, channeling huge sums to specific systemic media but also to its strategic allies such as the Greek Church. In addition to the constant propaganda in favour of government policy, the media have been excluding dissenting voices and openly covering up any incidents of police violence while slandering the victims. Any criticism of the government is expressed solely through social media. Censorship and silencing efforts by the government have been observed even there however. The government chooses to ignore crowds in shopping streets and churches but bans all forms of mass gathering and protesting using the prevention of the coronavirus spread as an excuse. Every form of mobilization is suppressed by open violence, persecution of militants and the dismissal of trade unionists. In this context, the right to free expression is abolished in practice.

We, as immigrants, cannot tolerate the policy of the government and the EU towards migrants in Greece. People stacked in tents, without health care and basic necessities, are exposed to a number of diseases, including the coronavirus. If these people manage to survive the trip to Greece, they are in danger of attacks by port authorities who puncture their boats, fascists who try to burn them alive and finally the psychological state which they have reached, which together with their pauperization leads in some cases to suicide. We refuse to get used to barbarism.

We know that all this violence and repression is the only way for the government to continue the policies of large capital and its neoliberal plan. We condemn any form of state violence. We condemn any policies that lead people to poverty while elites are getting richer even during a pandemic. We express our solidarity with the struggling people who are trying to survive and resist government policies.

The grandiose demonstrations against the French “security law”, “kill the bill” in the UK, the massive demonstrations against authoritarianism and the resistance in Greek universities against the creation of a university police force, show the way. Fear is changing sides.

We declare our presence, support and solidarity to those who are still fighting hard, in Greece and Europe. Our goal is to coordinate and participate in a wider framework of pan-European and global actions in the same direction.

We are calling for two days of pan-European and global actions on April 17th and 18th, at 14:00 Central European time.

poster by Jo Di

Share the LIVE MAP of events, here: https://j.mp/3a7G9Ke

“History doesn’t repeat,” Mark Twain supposedly said, “but sometimes it rhymes.” Are the conflicts within so many American churches over LGBTQ and associated issues part of some cruel karmic sonnet? The Separation Generation’s three volumes approach this question in prose, by chronicling disruptions among five American Yearly Meetings extending roughly from 2011 to 2018 (along…

Broken Churches, Broken Nation (Again?) — A Friendly Letter

14.04.2021 – Al Arabiya

Kidnapped by ISIS, brainwashed and turned into a child soldier: A Yazidi’s story
Collage involving the Persecution of Yazidis by the Islamic State. (Image by Zfigueroa – CC BY-SA 4.0)

By Jennifer Bell

A former child soldier for ISIS has told Al Arabiya how he was kidnapped and recruited into the terrorist organization, revealing he was forced to convert to Islam and watch videos of brutal murders to train him how to kill on the battlefield.

Speaking to journalist Rola al-Khatib in the latest episode of the ‘Face-to-Face’ series, Ashrawi Qasem Abdullah recalled his memories from being taken from his Yazidi family and enlisted in the ISIS “Lion Cubs” – also known as “Ashabl” or Cubs of the Caliphate. The program sees kidnapped or recruited child soldiers sent to military and religious training camps where they are indoctrinated with the religious views of ISIS and its extreme vision of Islam.

Speaking from the Chamechco camp in Zakho district near the Iraqi-Turkish border in Dohuk Governorate in Kurdistan, home to hundreds of Yazidi families who fled away from ISIS, Abdullah explained how he has finally returned to his family, after being trained and turned by the terror group and used as a weapon of war.

Recalling his first memories with the terror group, Abdullah said he was sent to a military camp run by ISIS.

“They sent us to school to study Quran, and at night we would watch videos of ISIS slaughtering people. ISIS videos with killing, fighting, training,” he said.

“Sometimes in the afternoon they would make us recite Quran, and they would teach us how to pray. But we weren’t Muslims yet.”

Abdullah also recalled how ISIS leaders one day took 48 child soldiers and transferred them to Mosul, in northern Iraq. At a camp, the children began religious studies and were converted into Islam.

The children were taught anyone who was not with ISIS was against them – calling them “infidels” – and Abdullah said he and his young comrades came to believe the rhetoric that came with his training.

“All the guys believed it. Whoever got hold of an infidel, would kill them,” he told Al Arabiya.

Abdullah said he participated in battles with ISIS but cannot say with certainty if he has killed anyone, saying: “I don’t think I did. The battles I was in weren’t big ones.”

Recalling his experience on the frontline, Abdullah said he was not afraid.

“(We) went into battle either to die or to win. It was either martyrdom or victory.”

Symbolic Syrian boy soldiers, fans of the Syrian Army / Tasnim News Agency / Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

A promised after-life

Amid their horrors, the child soldiers were offered a grandiose imagery of after-life; with the boys being told they’re infidels and that they and their own families were destined for hell, they were the righteous ones who would be rewarded richly in heaven.

Martyrs were not afraid of death as they would go to heaven and “get 72 virgins,” said Abdullah.

“ISIS fighters were fearless. They were never scared.”

Life changed for Abdullah after he married a fellow Yazidi – Dalia – who had also been abducted and held prisoner by ISIS.

ISIS’ wartime loss of territory and its waning days as leaders of a would-be-state saw the group’s leaders themselves lose faith, said Abdullah.

“Syrian Democratic Forces invaded al-Deshisha. And I went to Hajin in Syria. After that, I saw that ISIS wasn’t the same as before.”

“ISIS… How do you say it? The leaders didn’t stay. They would leave at the first opportunity. So, I thought: what am I doing here? Honestly, I didn’t think of coming back at all.”

Abdullah frankly admits, at the time, he had no thoughts of returning home to his family, saying he was happy with ISIS. He had become more comfortable with the regime than with his own family and the Yazidi community.

He had become so convinced by their ideology, Abdullah believed he would die by blowing himself up with explosives – and would get his due reward in heaven.

“Honestly, firstly, we believed in their religion. We believed in those battles. We didn’t think about anything else.”

“I remember that one day I was in Iraq and the ISIS leader who oversaw us asked me how I wanted to fight, and said I wanted to blow myself up, but he didn’t approve. We believed in their religion and there were others before us who blew themselves up. Other Yazidi guys. Not just one or two.”

Abdullah said had ISIS not changed and remained powerful, he wouldn’t have left the regime.

“Had ISIS not changed, nobody would’ve thought of leaving. Dalia didn’t want to come back. We lived with an ISIS fighter who had been with the ISIS security force for four years,” he told Al Arabyia.

The Iraqi, Arshad, was good to them and protected them, explained Abdullah.

Life after ISIS

Today Abdullah and Dalia have a baby boy. Dalia, who converted to Islam during her time of capture, recalled how she was living with her captor, a man.

“Then he gave me my freedom and asked me if I wanted to marry Ashrawi and I accepted,” she told Al Arabiya.

While she says she was unhappy during her time with ISIS, Dalia admits she was afraid of coming back to her Yazidi roots.

“They said if we went back, we would be killed. They taught me to pray and taught me about religion and I became a Muslim.”

Dalia says many Yazidi’s bought into ISIS’s ideology.

“There are people who are still with them and they won’t come back. Some Yazidi women had children with ISIS fighters. Some of them decided to leave their children and come back, while others decided to stay with their children. But they are still not happy. They want to go back to their children,” she said.

Rola al-Khatib’s full interview with Abdullah is featured in episode seven of Al Arabiya’s eleven-part “Face to Face with ISIS” series.

 The original article can be found on our partner’s website here

Sarah Bourns

“What have you done? The voice of your brother’s [and sister’s] blood is crying out to Me from the ground.” Genesis 4:10
Oh God, what have we done?
Oh God, not another one.
Not another gun
Not another man
With shame in his heart and murder in his hands.
Oh God, not another one.
Oh God, not another drop of blood.
Not another buried love
Not another howling sound
Of tears poured out on lifeless ground.
Oh God, not another drop of blood.
Oh God, not another tragic day.
Not another word to say
Not another prayer to pray
Not another voice, now silenced to the grave.
Oh God, not another tragic day.
Oh God, there must be another way.
There must be healing for this hate
There must be freedom from this fate
There must be justice here today.
Oh God, show us the way.
.
Oh God, what have we done?
Or, is it…
What have we left
Undone?

I started writing this last week after #atlanta but couldn’t seem to finish it.
Then #boulder.
Lord have mercy. May we hear their blood crying out.

13.04.2021 – Washington DC – Inter Press Service

The Invisible Women in Energy: Biomass Producers Who Deserve More Recognition
Indian woman bends over her wood-burning stove in her home in northern India. (Image by Athar Parzaiv/IPS)

By Philippe Benoit and Jully Meriño

As the world looks to address issues of gender equity, development and climate change, the importance of increasing the participation of women in the energy sector is gaining attention. To date, this topic has generally been framed around the underrepresentation of women in the energy workforce.

But this ignores an important reality: millions of women already participate as producers of energy – specifically of bioenergy for poor households.  To support sustainable development and gender goals, more attention needs to be given to these women energy producers who have remained largely invisible in much of the energy discourse.

Women account for only 22% of the jobs in the oil and gas industry and only 32% in the renewables sector.  When it comes to managerial and other decision-making positions, the share of women is even lower; for example, their representation in energy company boardrooms is less than 5%.

In response, several programs have been launched to increase women’s participation in the energy sector. These programs are succeeding in raising awareness about the need for more women in the sector, building networks to support women practitioners, and giving visibility to the women already working in energy – albeit with a focus on the formal, professionalized segments that constitute the energy industry.

But this focus on addressing underrepresentation in the formal segments of the sector – a very important effort — can generate the misperception that women are in fact not active in producing the world’s energy. Many assume their role is largely limited to consuming energy (e.g., at home, at work, or for leisure), not supplying it.  And therein lies an overlooked reality: millions of women worldwide are producers of biomass, a form of bioenergy.

About 2.5 billion people globally rely for cooking on the traditional use of solid biomass, notably fuelwood, charcoal and dung.  This figure includes 680 million people in India and 800 million throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

Biomass is also used by the poor for other purposes, such as heating homes in colder regions.  In many lower-income countries, biomass can constitute over 90 percent of the energy that poor households use.  It is provided through small-scale commercial ventures, but much is also generated by households for their own use.

Around the developing world, women play a central role in producing this bioenergy, notably by gathering wood and making charcoal. In fact, this is a segment of the energy sector where women are often overrepresented.

As the World Bank reported last year, “across most of Sub-Saharan Arica and in parts of China, women are the primary fuel wood collectors,” which is also the case in areas of South Asia. This is time-consuming and physically demanding work that can involve “collecting and carrying loads of wood that weigh as much as 25-50 kilogrammes” and can “take up to 20 or more hours per week.”  Unfortunately, we lack hard data about the number of women engaged in this energy production.

Biomass has already been receiving attention in development circles because of the problems associated with its use in traditional cookstoves, such as negative health impacts on notably the women who cook and the burdens of collecting firewood.

To address this issue, the United Nations has adopted as one of its Sustainable Development Goals the replacement of traditional biomass use with clean cooking technologies. This targeting of biomass and its harmful impacts does not, however, negate the role its women producers play in the energy sector (just as the climate and environmental concerns surrounding coal do not erase the role of miners).

Several actions can help to make these women producers more visible in the energy discourse.

First, recognizing the role they play in energy supply can help to shift the notion and perception of dependency: women actively participate in the production, not just the use, of household energy.

Failing to understand women’s contribution to global energy production will continue to perpetuate the myth of women as mainly (dependent) energy users, which can hamper efforts to ensure their full participation in decision-making and leadership roles within all levels of society.

Second, there is a paucity of data regarding these women producers – a situation that reflects the lack of attention they receive and also contributes to their lack of visibility.

How many women work in producing biomass (generally as unpaid labor)? How many women will be affected by changes in biomass production systems?  What will they do in a changed world?  This type of information can help address their needs and to plan for their engagement in the energy transition.  We need more data.

Third, it is important to acknowledge and properly value this work in producing household bioenergy, and to report it in energy workforce statistics. When a company produces electricity for its own use, it is called a “self-producer.”

When a woman produces biomass for use in her home, it all too often goes nameless.  The recognition of this women’s labor would also help in the effort to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls,” the UN’s fifth Sustainable Development Goal.

Fourth, in developing programs and initiatives to shift households from traditional biomass use to clean cooking technologies, it is important not only to consider the effect on women as consumers, but also address the impact on women as energy producers to ensure that their needs are being met.

Moreover, because these efforts to shift how households use biomass will also affect greenhouse gas emissions, the topic has entered the climate discourse. As world leaders discuss how to limit climate change at the upcoming summit convened by US President Biden or thereafter at the international COP negotiations, it is important to ensure that the situation of these women producers — their voices, concerns, and aspirations — are adequately taken into account when planning the clean energy transition (just as the concerns of coal miners and others are also considered).

Acknowledging the central role that millions of women play in producing the world’s bioenergy can lead to a greater empowerment of women across the sector.

As efforts to boost the participation of women in energy mature, it will be important to better recognize and analyze the contributions of these women producers, and to design policies that will help improve their standards of living, including as part of the clean energy transition.

Philippe Benoit is managing director, Energy and Sustainability at Global Infrastructure Advisory Services 2050 and adjunct senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy where he leads the energy for development research initiative.

Jully Meriño Carela is the director of the Women in Energy program at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

The views expressed are those of the authors in their personal capacities.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We must act and dare the appropiateness and not whatever comes to our mind not floating in the likelihood but grasp the reality as brave as we can be freedom lies in action not in the absence of mind obedience knows the essence of good and satisfies it, freedom dares to act and returns God the ultimate judgment of what is right and what is wrong, Obedience performs blindly but Freedom is wide awake Freedom wants to know why, Obedience has its hands tied, Freedom is inventive obedient man respects God’s commands and by virtu of his Freedom, he creats new commands. Both Obedience and Freedom come true in responsability (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

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