Flavio Del Santo
Revising Our Moral Values: A Society Not Based on Work
(Image by Public Domain)

By Flavio Del Santo

In memory of David Graeber (1961-2020), whose untimely death deprived contemporary anarchist ideology of one of its finest thinkers

  1. Why do we (and should we) work?

We are today going through a global pandemic which inevitably conditions some of the structures of our society. The places of social, political and cultural aggregation where to enjoy leisure are shut down, while most people are still keeping their usual working schemes, often regarding as simply “wrong” to interrupt their assigned role in the chain of “production” (under inverted commas, because today it is really only a minority of jobs that can claim to be productive). We should realize that we mostly live with a distorted perception of the role of work, regarded as something necessary, not only for the practical maintenance and advancement of society, but also and foremost as a moral value for each individual.

This is not surprising: both in the capitalistic doctrine and in Marxist ideology (arguably developed as a reaction to the capitalistic system of production) work plays a major role. For the former, work is the individual means to achieve success in a naturally competitive market; whereas for the latter it is work that creates the conditions for the revolution to happen by gathering in a “working class”. The strength of Marxism relied on the workers’ control over the means of production. However, what seems to make traditional Marxism obsolete, is the fact that a tremendous amount –between fifty and sixty percent [3]– of productive jobs have been automated away. And the next 20 years the number of employed workers will decrease by a ratio estimated to be between one third and one half of the total current amount [1]. Such a development does not come as a surprise: In 1930, John Maynard Keynes, had already predicted the “new disease of […] technological unemployment. This means unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses of labour.” [5]. Yet, in Keynes’ optimistic view, “we should endeavour […] to make what work is still to be done to be as widely shared as possible. Three-hour shifts or fifteen-hour”. This idea was shared by Bertrand Russel, who noticed that (in 1935!) “modern technique ha[d] made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labor required to secure the necessaries of life for everyone” [9]. And Karl Marx himself had expressed explicitly that automatization would lead to “the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific, etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them” [6].

While productive jobs are disappearing, a peculiar phenomenon takes place: contrarily to what logic might suggest, we are not redistributing the products and the tasks left to do, but new jobs are appearing to ensure that everybody is constantly kept busy, independently of the usefulness of these businesses. David Graeber, passed away early this year, has recently named this phenomenon the rise of Bullshit jobs: “A bullshit job is a form of payed employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence” [3]. These jobs are usually paperwork for white-collar workers, and they are not necessarily bad or humiliating jobs per se, but rather are so pointless to lead the worker to exhaustion.

Let us stop and recap. We are today technically capable of providing the primary livelihood to humans with little work, and yet a considerable part of people face starvation. Indeed, the lawless (and ruthless) capitalistic economy in which we live, allows that the “collective wealth of the 26 richest people equals that of the 3.8 billion poorest’” [8]. Meanwhile, our society creates new “bullshit jobs” in the desperate attempt to catch up with the technological unemployment and keep everybody at work. But why does work look for us so unavoidable, although we have good reasons to consider it unnecessary? In the words of Graeber,

the answer clearly isn’t economic: it is moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time is a mortal danger. […] And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserve nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

We grow with the conviction that work, an activity that involves physical or mental effort, is not only necessary for society but a keeper of order and discipline, a fundamental moral value in itself. “For the most of us, working is an entirely non-discretionary activity, an inescapable and irreducible fact of existence” –Gini and Sullivan maintain– “while many people don’t like their specific jobs, they want to work because they are aware at some level that work plays a crucial […] role in the formation of human character” [2]. Indeed, a typical reaction to a proposed drastic reduction of the amount of working hours is that people with no special talent would fall into a sort of decadent leisure, whereas the routine imposed by work prevents people from getting depressed and teaches them the rigor and the discipline that keeps society together. However, this is not necessarily so. As a provocative example, notice that there is a species on the planet that has experienced already this kind of issues. For millennia horses have been working on a plethora of tasks ranging from means of transportation and communication to the work in farms and warfare. What are horses doing today? Well, presumably they rest. In the words of the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk:
there are almost as many horses today as there were in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, but they have all been reassigned. They are almost all leisure horses, hardly any workhorses nowadays. Isn’t it an odd comment on today’s society that only horses have achieved emancipation?” [10].

Coming back to humans, I believe that they could be happy and productive even if the structure of work as we know it today was to be demolished. Moreover, a number of statistical studies, since the 1950s, showed that most people declare that they would be willing to work –perhaps in a more stimulating way– even if they would be set free from this obligation. To the question “if by chance you inherited enough money to live comfortably without working, do you think you would work anyway?”, 80% of the respondents replied positively [7]. Similar studies have been conducted at regular intervals since then, always finding similar results [2].

Moreover, note that leisure appears not only desirable but necessary to the development of culture. Looking at the past, a great deal of ground-breaking inventions, scientific discoveries, as well as poetry and art has been produced by the ‘boredom’ of those who could enjoy leisure (nobles and priests in the first place). But this progress came at the expense of a huge number of men and women who were told that their role in this world was to work hard. Quoting Russel again,

Leisure is essential to civilization, and in former times leisure for the few was only rendered possible by the labors of the many. But their labors were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good. [9]

Imagine what a whole population could do, provided with the time and education to enjoy leisure.

  1. Society without work?

Having reviewed some compelling arguments for revolutionizing the way we think about work, I wish to discuss some of the alternative conceptions of work:
(1) Instrumental jobs (or part-time freedom). One way of thinking about work, is to regard it as a mere instrument which allows one to enjoy the remaining free time. It can be summarized by the phrase: “I don’t like what I do, but it allows me to do what I like.” [2]. This describes the most common current situation. But, of course, given the problem of technological unemployment, this requires a continuous supply of “bullshit jobs” to keep people working without any practical necessity. Hence, a more intelligent solution seems desirable.
(2) Necessary jobs (or most-of-the-time freedom). An improvement of the previous view would be to still maintain a tension between free time and work, but drastically decrease the amount of hours devoted to the latter. This reduction can be implemented by estimating the necessary amount of work left to do, and then divide the workload among the people (roughly fairly). The result would still be a partial unhappiness do to possibly unstimulating jobs, but the amount of free time could be increased enough to secure social content.
(3) Stimulating jobs (or identification of work with free time). A famous aphorism attributed to Confucius tells: “Find something you love to do and you will never have to work a day in your life.” According to this view, one can conceive a system wherein the few practical jobs which are left to be done –considered unpleasant by the majority– should be redistributed, whereas for the rest of the time one can work on something that he or she really likes. This view is upheld by those who acknowledge the problems of the current system, but still consider work as a positive value (for instance in forming human character). As such, one can slowly reform (as opposed to revolutionize) the system of work by providing more room for stimulating remunerated activities. For instance, Gini and Sullivan maintain: “Good work is the ideal, but clearly good work is hard to find. Perhaps the only realistic compromise available to most of us is to find and embellish whatever good is possible in our work. As individuals we must find work that is good for us, as a society we must create work that is good for individuals.” [2]. However, such a view tends to limit actual free time and pushes in the direction of an identification of free time with pleasant work.
(4) Optional jobs (or the introduction of a Universal Basic Income). A solution – advocated today by a vast number of scholars, politicians and economists [4]– is the introduction of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) which would unconditionally guarantee to all citizens (and hopefully ultimately to all human beings) at the same time livelihood and free time. Provided that machines can supply for our basic needs, their products can be redistributed (or the wealth that derive from these products) to everybody, possibly leading to what certain British activists have defined a “fully automated luxury communism”. This looks today as the most promising way to achieve the desired disentanglement between livelihood and work. Several political forces are moving towards the direction of a UBI, and as a matter of fact this solution has been recently considered by whole countries and international agencies. Remarkably, in the 2017 report of the International Labour Organization (ILO) of the UN, one can read: “Additional challenges remain. Cuts in social protection systems in both the developed and developing world […] increased the risk of poverty.” While remaining to some extent sceptical, they argue that “as a response to these challenges, some scholars and policy-makers have argued for the need to delink social protection from employment by creating a universal basic income that would provide a flat unconditional […] benefit [that] can eliminate absolute poverty.” [4].
One should however be careful on how UBI would be implemented, because this could lead to serious political issues:

Problem 1: UBI is not necessarily socialist. While it is usually taken for granted that UBI fosters a leftist vision, one should be aware that this does not necessarily bring us closer to a socialist system. In fact, even in a fully capitalistic and conservative model of society UBI can be introduced “to provide a modest stipend as a pretext to completely eliminate existing welfare state provisions like free education or health care, and just submit everything to the market” [3].

Problem 2: fascism of machines. A crucial concept in Marxism is that workers own the means of production. This implies that through their unionization, and the tool of strikes, workers can claim contractual power and rights. However, once the production will be mostly carried out by machines and a UBI introduced, people will be at the mercy of those who have the control (or the property) of these machines. As such, UBI can lead to a ‘fascism of machines’, or rather of their owners, who could decide whether to grant a fair salary (in the form of a basic income) to everybody or otherwise, and under which conditions.

Problem 3: oligarchy of specialized workers. I assume that in the foreseeable future not all the jobs will be substituted by machines. In particular, there will be specialized workers who will be able to maintain these machines and only to those the Marxist motto that workers control the means of production will apply. Thus, we should make sure that these workers do not form a powerful lobby, being the only ones capable of having the means to stop the production.
We have seen that the reduction of human work and the introduction of a UBI does not directly lead us towards a fairer society. However, we could strive for an ideology –understood as a collection of political and economic priorities– based on uncompromisable human rights. Advocating a novel socialist not-based-on-work political theory, should lead us to state with even more strength what are the aims of society. I maintain that the priority of our politics should be securing fundamental human rights for everyone. In fact, we must strive for a society that is robust against authoritarian principles (such as in the scenario of the “fascism of the machines”), even though the Marxist tenet of the control of the workers’ control on means of production is dropped. I do not find it hard to imagine a serious political program that does not fear to state fundamental human rights as their political priority. We have the means to give to everybody simple basic needs, and yet declarations of human rights (such as the most famous one from UN [11]) remain formalities that are basically never seriously considered in the programs of the major political forces.

  1. Conclusions

In conclusion, capitalism, by its very nature, pursues a pragmatic view towards unbounded richness of (a few) individuals, even if this could be pernicious for the society as a whole and ultimately for the planet we live in. On the other hand, Marxist ideology has proven itself inadequate to deal with modern fluidity of the distribution of work. We should strive for a new leftist political theory that puts back humans, their happiness, their dignity as the uncompromisable priority of society. And any form of work can only be subordinated to this view.
I wish to end this paper by restating the final words of hope of Russel. However, we cannot avoid pronouncing them with a somewhat bitter taste in our mouths when looking at how little of this program has been realized in the almost one century that separate us from their drafting:
In a world where no one is compelled to work more than four hours a day, every person possessed of scientific curiosity will be able to indulge it, and every painter will be able to paint without starving […].

Above all, there will be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia […]. But it is not only in these exceptional cases that the advantages of leisure will appear. Ordinary men and women, having the opportunity of a happy life, will become more kindly and less persecuting and less inclined to view others with suspicion. The taste for war will die out, partly for this reason, and partly because it will involve long and severe work for all. Good nature is, of all moral qualities, the one that the world needs most, and good nature is the result of ease and security, not of a life of arduous struggle. Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for others. [9].

Acknowledgments
I would like to thank Veronika Baumann, Alexander Smith and Pierre Martin-Dussaud and the participants to the THINK V Conference for Interdisciplinary Exchange, for interesting discussions and comments. I acknowledge Filip Mistopoljac for the name “fascism of machines”.

References

[1] Bronzini, G. (2018). Il reddito di base e la metamorfosi del lavoro: Il dibattito internazionale ed europeo. Rivista del Diritto della Sicurezza Sociale, 4.
[2] Gini, A.R. and Sullivan, T. (1987). Work: The process and the person. Journal of Business Ethics, 6(8).
[3] Graeber, D. (2018). Bullshit Jobs. Simon and Schuster, United Kingdom.
[4] ILO. (2017). Report of the International Laubor Organization (ILO) of the UN. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—cabinet/documents/publication/wcms_591502.pdf.
[5] Keynes, J. M. (1930). Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. Essays in Persuasion. New York, W.W.Norton.
[6] Marx, K. (1857). Fragment on Machines. Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, Penguin Classic, United Kingdom.
[7] Morse, N. and Weiss, R. (1966). The Function and the Meaning of Work. American Sociological Review, 20(2).
[8] OXFAM. (2019). Report of the anti-poverty international organization: Public good or private wealth? (January 2019).
[9] Russell, B. (1935). In Praise of Idleness. In praise of Idleness and other Essays. Taylor and Francis, Psychology Press, Abingdon (repr. 2004).
[10] Sloterdijk, P. (2016). Selected exaggerations: conversations and interviews 1993-2012. John Wiley & Sons.
[11] UN. (1948). Universal declaration of human rights of the United Nations. https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/.

20.11.2020 – The Ecologist

Polluting investments not in our name
(Image by wikipedia.org/Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0))

Daniel Willis

Parliamentarians and NGOs across Europe have signed joint statements calling for public development banks to respect human rights and stop funding fossil fuels.

Last week saw the first ever international meeting of public finance institutions, dubbed the Finance in Common Summit, as development banks from around the world sought to agree on joint responses to the climate emergency and Covid-19 pandemic.

However, an international group of civil society organisations and parliamentarians have issued two joint statements that are highly critical of these financial institutions, arguing that they exacerbate climate change and inequality, whilst also undermining human rights.

Both statements draw attention to the case of Feronia Inc, a Canadian company that operates several palm oil plantations across DR Congo (as The Ecologist has reported on previously).

Commitments 

Feronia, which has received approximately $80 million from the UK development bank CDC Group, stands accused of failing to pay decent wages, endangering their workers with poor safety equipment, and of consistently failing to provide promised social infrastructure (such as adequate housing and healthcare facilities).

More shockingly, in September it was alleged that plantation workers and received racist abuse from Feronia staff and that public whipping had been illegally reintroduced on one plantation (CDC argues that these claims are unsubstantiated).

One of the letters also draws attention to the high levels of fossil fuel financing provided by development finance institutions (DFIs) and calls on them to repurpose these investments to work in the interests of people and planet.

Daniel Willis, finance campaigner at Global Justice Now, said: “This Summit should have been an opportunity to reimagine how development banks could act for the public good in the not quite post-Covid-19 world. However, there has been no joint commitment to stop funding fossil fuels or ensure proper human rights diligence. Instead, we can expect continuing adherence to the status quo – privatisation and financialisation.”

“Feronia is a case in point – not only has UK aid supported the awful labour practices of this extractivist enterprise, but the company is backed by numerous European DFIs as well. Now Feronia is set to be sold off to a private equity firm based in a tax haven – further denying justice to the communities in DR Congo.”

Impacts

The civil society statement, signed by over 80 organisations from across the world, argues that DFIs should invest taxpayers’ money in the public interest, not in the interests of corporations: “In contrast to development cooperation bodies, which provide grants and loans to governments of the global south”, the statement argues, “development banks invest in the private sector for a financial return.

“Some of the most damaging impacts of these investments can be seen in agriculture. The organisations collectively condemn the use of public funds to invest “primarily in agribusiness companies and an industrial model of agriculture that is a main driver of both pandemics and the climate crisis. Development banks have little track record for supporting locally-controlled food systems or peasant-led agroecological farming”.

The interparliamentary statement on DFI investments, signed by parliamentarians from Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, echoes these calls and argues that DFIs “need to change” to “contribute to genuinely sustainable development”.

In particular, this statement calls for urgent action to end any DFI investments that support fossil fuels or contribute to deforestation. “DFIs need to exclude fossil fuels & coal from their investment portfolios. Additionally … DFIs must have a clear policy to exclude any investments that contribute, directly or indirectly, to deforestation or other types of crucial biodiversity loss”.

Analysis from May this year shows that CDC Group has given a billion pounds to fossil fuel projects in the last decade alone.

Rights

However, despite this pressure, the joint declaration by organisations participating in the Finance in Common Summit left much to be desired.

Participants agreed that they should “consider ways and means of reducing” fossil fuel investments and “work towards applying more stringent investment criteria, such as explicit policies to exit from coal financing” – but no explicit ban on fossil fuels was forthcoming.

Similarly, warm words were given on the need to “share and apply best practices” on human, environmental and social rights – but little was said about the need to take action against those investments already harming communities.

The case study used in the statement is of Feronia Inc, a company which has received $80 million from the UK DFI CDC Group since 2013. Despite this, Feronia is now bankrupt and CDC is now going to write off $50 million of taxpayers’ money as the company is sold.

A wide range of concerns have been raised about DFIs investments in Feronia on a number of issues, including reports by Human Right Watch of unsafe and unjust working conditions, violent confrontations between Feronia security guards and local communities, and more recently the allegations of racist treatment of workers and the (illegal) reintroduction of public whipping.

Struggle 

These concerns were summed up in the joint statements as follows: “Feronia has a very difficult colonial legacy that includes unresolved land conflicts and a very authoritarian behaviour of the management towards the local population. DFIs promised that their engagement would lead to more jobs, better wages and a flourishing company.

“None of these goals have been achieved. To the contrary: Although DFIs have invested more than 200 million Euros, Feronia declared bankruptcy a few months ago. Working conditions remain very poor. Many people still work on a daily basis and do not even receive the minimum wage. Conflicts between the company and the local population have escalated several times within the last years, up to the point of violent encounters leaving three people dead and many more arrested.”

“[DFIs] have taken no action to address the historic conflicts over the nearly 100,000 hectares of land concessions or the allegations of corruption plaguing the project. Their environmental, social and governance (ESG) plans did nothing to alleviate poverty in the communities.

“And the involvement of the various banks did not reduce rampant human rights violations against villagers or workers. What’s worse, the banks have acted to undermine the community efforts to use the grievance mechanisms that they themselves established.”

For communities in DR Congo and the civil society organisations working in solidarity with them, the struggle continues.

This Author 

Daniel Willis is a policy & campaigns manager focussing on international development and climate justice at Global Justice Now. 

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

19.11.2020 – The Conversation

Solve suffering by blowing up the universe? The dubious philosophy of human extinction
(Image by Shutterstock / Free downloaden)

At a time when humans are threatening the extinction of so many other species, it might not seem so surprising that some people think that the extinction of our own species would be a good thing. Take, for example, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, whose founder believes that our extinction would put an end to the damage we inflict on each other and ecosystems more generally.

Or there’s the South African philosopher David Benatar, who argues that bringing people into existence always does them harm. He recommends we cease procreating and gradually desert the Earth.

But humans aren’t the only beings to feel pain. Non-human animals would continue suffering without us. So, driven by a desire to eliminate suffering entirely, some people have shockingly advocated taking the rest of nature with us. They recommend that we actively abolish the world, rather than simply desert it.

This disturbing and extremist position goes surprisingly far back in history.

Benevolent world-exploders

Around 1600 years ago, Saint Augustine suggested that humans stop procreating. He endorsed this, however, because he wanted to hasten the Last Judgement and the eternity of joy thereafter.

If you don’t believe in an afterlife, this becomes a less attractive option. You’d have to be motivated exclusively by removing suffering from nature, without any promise of gaining supernatural rewards. Probably the first person to advocate human extinction in this way was Arthur Schopenhauer. He did so 200 years ago, in 1819, urging that we “spare” the “coming generations” of “the burden of existence”.

Schopenhauer saw existence as pain so he believed we should stop bringing humans into existence. And he was clear about the result if everyone obeyed: “The human race would die out.”

But what about the pain of non-human animals? Schopenhauer had an answer, but it wasn’t a convincing one. He was a philosophical idealist, believing that the existence of external nature depends on our self-consciousness of it. So, with the abolition of human brains, the sufferings of less self-aware animals would also “vanish” as they ceased to exist without us around to perceive them.

Even on Schopenhauer’s own terms, there’s a problem. What if other intelligent and self-conscious beings exist? Perhaps on other planets? Surely, then, our sacrifice would mean nothing; existence and painful perception of it would continue. It fell to Schopenhauer’s disciple, Eduard von Hartmann, to propose a more complete solution.

Abolishing the universe

Hartmann, born in Berlin in 1842, wrote a system of pessimistic philosophy that was almost as lengthy as his impressive beard. Infamous in his own time, but completely forgotten in ours, Hartmann proposed a shockingly radical vision.

Writing in 1869, Hartmann rebuked Schopenhauer for thinking of the problem of suffering in only a local and temporary sense. His predecessor’s vision of human extinction “by sexual continence” would not suffice. Hartmann was convinced that, after a few aeons, another self-conscious species would re-evolve on Earth. This would merely “perpetuate the misery of existence”.

Hartmann also believed that life exists on other planets. Given his belief that most of it was probably unintelligent, the suffering of such beings would be helpless. They wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.

So, rather than only destroying our own kind, Hartmann thought that, as intelligent beings, we are obligated to find a way to eliminate suffering, permanently and universally. He believed that it is up to humanity to “annihilate” the universe: it is our duty, he wrote, to “cause the whole kosmos to disappear”.

Hartmann hoped that if humanity did not prove up to this task then some planets might evolve beings that would be, long after our own sun is frozen. But he didn’t think this meant we could be complacent. He noted the stringency of conditions required for a planet to be habitable (let alone evolve creatures with complex brains), and concluded that the duty might fall exclusively on humans, here and now.

Euthanasia shockwaves

Hartmann was convinced this was the purpose of creation: that our universe exists in order to evolve beings compassionate and clever enough to decide to abolish existence itself. He imagined this final moment as a shockwave of deadly euthanasia rippling outwards from Earth, blotting out the “existence of this cosmos” until “all its world-lenses and nebulae have been abolished”.

He remained unclear as to exactly how this goal would be achieved. Speaking vaguely of humanity’s increasing global unification and spiritual disillusion, he hinted to future scientific and technological discoveries. He was, thankfully, a metaphysician not a physicist.

Hartmann’s philosophy is fascinating. It is also unimaginably wrong. This is because he confuses the eradication of suffering with the eradication of sufferers. Conflating this distinction leads to crazy visions of omnicide. To get rid of suffering you don’t need to get rid of sufferers: you could instead try removing the causes of pain. We should eliminate suffering, not the sufferer.

Indeed, so long as there are intelligent beings around, there’s at least the opportunity for a radical removal of suffering. Philosophers such as David Pearce even argue that, in the future, technologies like genetic engineering will be able to entirely phase it out, abolishing pain from the Earth. With the right interventions, Pearce contends, humans and non-humans could plausibly be driven by “gradients of bliss”, not privation and pain.

This wouldn’t necessarily need to be a Brave New World, populated by blissed-out, stupefied beings: plausibly, people could still be highly motivated, just by pursuing a range of sublime joys, rather than avoiding negative feeling. Pearce even argues that, in the far future, our descendents might be able to effect the same change on other biospheres, throughout the observable universe.

So, even if you think removing suffering is our absolute priority, there is astronomical value in us sticking around. We may owe it to sufferers generally.

We are excited to announce our panels for this year’s Quaker Theological Discussion Group! Due to COVID-19, these sessions will occur entirely online, as with most events this year. We hope this will make it possible for many Friends to join us who would not otherwise be able to be there. Register here. We will […]

Quaker Theological Discussion Group | December 11–12, 2020

18.11.2020 – The Conversation

Massive project on African DNA sets out to close the knowledge gap on mental illness
DNA chain (Image by licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

In July 2009, a woman brought her husband to the hospital where our colleagues work in western Kenya. She reported that for several years he had been behaving abnormally, sleeping poorly, hearing voices that no one else could hear, and believing that people were talking about him and plotting to harm him.

She was seeking help because he was no longer able to work. The man was admitted to the inpatient Mental Health Unit and diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Then the man’s daughter came to visit him. Her clothes and her hair were dishevelled. She described people plotting against her and giving her dirty looks when she walked in the street. She said she was having trouble sleeping. The clinicians looked at each other with apprehension: Might she have schizophrenia too?

Ultimately, the daughter and four more members of the family were diagnosed with schizophrenia. While having six members of the same family diagnosed with schizophrenia is unusual, it has long been recognised that mental disorders can run in families. And often members of such families differ in their symptoms.

For reasons that we are just beginning to understand, one family member might be diagnosed with schizophrenia and another with bipolar disorder or depression. In Eldoret, Kenya, where this health facility is located, it is not unusual to have two or three relatives receiving care for mental illnesses.

Such an occurrence is not unique. Research has found that severe mental illness is influenced by genes more than by any other risk factor. And genes are emerging as important clues for new treatments.

But research on the genetic basis of mental illness has so far largely excluded populations that are not of European heritage. That means that this Kenyan family, and other people of African descent, might not benefit from the new biological insights into mental illness.

To help remedy this problem in psychiatric research, researchers from the United States and four countries in Africa are working together to study the genetics of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. They are drawn from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Broad Institute of MIT in the US, Moi University and KEMRI-Wellcome Trust in Kenya, Makerere University in Uganda and Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. Rounding out southern Africa is the team from the University of Cape Town.

The initiative aims to do something that has never been done on this scale before: recruit 35,000 people in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda to answer questions about their health, lifestyle and mental illness, and donate two teaspoons of saliva for DNA testing.

Diversity problem

The finding that severe and chronic mental illnesses tend to cluster in families has spurred efforts to understand the genetic differences between people with these illnesses and those without. By looking at DNA and untangling what is going awry in the brain to cause these mental disorders, we hope to spur the creation of new medications to treat these debilitating illnesses and reduce the suffering that comes with them.

Unfortunately, recent efforts to study the genetics of a number of illnesses have what many of us are calling a “diversity problem.” Most of the work in human genetics so far has focused on people of Northern European descent, skewing the data in a way that makes it less useful to the majority of people in the world.

The world is perilously close to an era of “white-people-only DNA tests.” In existing databases, 78% of the DNA data comes from people of European ancestries, who make up only about 16% of the world’s population.

One of the main issues presented by this diversity problem is that any solutions (including new medications) are likely to work best for the people whose DNA the research was based on – people of European descent. In fact, most residents in a diverse city like the US city of Boston, made up of white, black, Hispanic and Asian people among others, may not benefit the way they could from research efforts emanating from only a section of the world’s population.

Potential targets for new medicines

Our large collaborative effort in Africa is called Neuropsychiatric Genetics of African Populations-Psychosis, “NeuroGAP-Psychosis” for short.

With the data collected from the 35,000 people recruited for the project we will be looking for important, clinically relevant genetic differences that might be found in people of African descent and may be less common in people of European descent.

The information could lead to potential targets for new medicines that will help people of African descent and likely people of all ancestries around the globe due to the way human populations originated in Africa and migrated to other continents.

In truth, genetics research cannot be done effectively in a narrow slice of humanity. Our hope is that the genetic data found in the NeuroGAP-Psychosis study, and in similar studies underway in Mexico, China, Japan, Finland and many other countries, will be combined to help solve the mystery of the causes of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Our greatest wish? To see better treatments reach all people suffering from severe mental illness, whether they are in western Kenya or in Boston.

18.11.2020 – Global Voices Online

Moldovans elect their first female president
President-elect of Moldova Maia Sandu in a November 12 campaign video (Image by Maia Sandu’s Facebook page)

Maia Sandu beat Igor Dodon in Sunday’s runoff vote

Maia Sandu is set to become Moldova’s first female president after winning a landslide victory in Sunday’s election.

According to preliminary figures from Moldova’s Central Electoral Commission (CEC), Sandu took 57.7 percent of the vote compared to 42.3 percent for the incumbent Igor Dodon. Sandu, a former World Bank economist, ran on an anti-corruption platform, draw investment to one of Europe’s poorest countries, reform the judicial system and bring transparency to its scandal-ridden politics.

This was their second duel. Dodon, who is affiliated with the Party of Socialists (PSRM) became president in 2016, narrowly beating Sandu with a five percent lead. Dodon, who flaunts his pro-Moscow credentials, promised “stability” and sang the praises of closer economic ties with Moscow. Sandu, who also leads the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS), is regarded as more pro-European.

Foreign observers generally regard all Moldovan elections as geopolitical, even civilisational, choices between Russia and Europe. But for many voters, the priority is economic. In any case, the country is deeply entwined with both — Moldova does most of its trade with the EU, with which it signed an association agreement in 2014. Meanwhile, Russian soldiers and Russian money guarantee the status quo in Transnistria, a self-proclaimed republic occupying a sliver of land on the left bank of the River Dniester.

Hundreds of thousands of Moldovans have headed East and increasingly West in search of the economic prospects their country cannot offer them. In a country with one of the world’s highest rates of depopulation, citizens abroad have an inordinate clout during elections.

Sandu received over 948,000 votes; the highest number cast for any presidential candidate in Moldova’s history. Many of these voters were Moldovans abroad — particularly in the EU. The following scenes at a polling station in Germany indicate that emigres are not ambivalent towards politics back home:https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=PressenzaIPA&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-1&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1327959417040625665&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pressenza.com%2F2020%2F11%2Fmoldovans-elect-their-first-female-president%2F&siteScreenName=PressenzaIPA&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=500px

Their engagement has been newly charged by the scale of Moldova’s recent political turmoil.

In 2014, a billion dollars was siphoned out of three local banks with the connivance of influential politicians. The scandal enraged public opinion and led to the downfall of former Prime Minister Vlad Filat, one of the country’s most powerful men. From then on, Moldova’s politics was dominated by the oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc. A succession of nominally pro-European coalition governments led by Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party (DPM) faced off against the pro-Russian PSRM and a group of anti-Plahotniuc but pro-European parties, one of which was led by Sandu. By 2018 the EU had declared Moldova a state “captured by oligarchic interests”.

After inconclusive parliamentary elections last spring, Plahotniuc’s rule collapsed and he fled the country, leaving the PSRM and Sandu to form a unity government for “de-oligarchisation”. Sandu served as prime minister for a few months, before that government too fell last November at the hands of a no-confidence vote by the PSRM and some of the DPM’s remaining MPs.

A second term for Dodon could have been a chance for the PSRM to consolidate its already considerable influence over Moldovan politics.

If Sandu’s election is an obstacle to that goal, it may not be an insurmountable one. With a few exceptions — such as appointing the prime minister and calling national referendums — Moldova’s presidency is largely a ceremonial office. However, it is a prominent position and allows the holder to set the tenor of political debate. If these gestures clash with government policy, the president can quickly become a real headache for governments of the day, as the DPM-led coalition discovered after Dodon’s election.

“The victory of Maia Sandu represents a double revenge — for the ousted government in 2019 and for the lost elections in 2016. The success of Sandu should not be in any case assumed as an absolute support for her political agenda. A big share of voters like and support her and the party that stands behind her. But a smaller segment has voted against Igor Dodon and like other leaders than Sandu, like Renato Usatîi or Ilan Shor”, explains Dionis Cenusa, a Moldovan political analyst and researcher at the Institute of Political Studies at the Justus-Liebig University in Giessen.

“So, in a nutshell, the votes for Maia Sandu is the run-off is not equal to her real popularity at the moment. This should not mean that things can change if her presidency obtains good results“, Cenusa told GlobalVoices.

Therefore Sandu’s support came from a diverse group, including her competitors from the first round, the liberal and centre-right politicians Andrei Năstase and Dorin Chirtoacă, whose politics are associated with unification with neighbouring Romania, a position widely loathed by pro-Russian voters.

This time, they were joined by an unlikely ally. Renato Usatîi, mayor of Moldova’s second largest city Bălți, took ten percent of the vote in the first round. Usatîi heads Our Party, a pro-Russian populist opposition grouping whose base somewhat overlaps with Dodon’s electorate. But when Usatîi did not make it through to the second round, he called on his supporters to vote “against Dodon”.

Along with the looming threat of COVID-19, Usatîi‘s participation strongly distinguished this vote from the presidential race in 2016. But much remained the same — particularly the candidates’ talking points.

Both campaigns accused the other of corruption. Prominent PSRM politician Bogdan Țîrdea suggested that Sandu’s allies and leading independent media were the agents of the billionaire philanthropist George Soros, while Sandu’s campaign drew attention to a surreptitiously recorded meeting in June 2019 between Dodon and Plahotniuc.

Dodon’s campaign materials played some very real concerns among Moldovan voters about “optimisation”, the shrinking of the state sector which Sandu’s style of politics has advocated. However, the dominant tone was one of a culture war: flyers suggested that Sandu’s election would downgrade the status of the Russian language in Moldova, forbid public celebration of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany, and undermine Orthodox Christian values by legalising same-sex marriage. They proclaimed: “Moldova has something to lose!”

These compelled Sandu to release a Russian-language Facebook video on November 12 in which she dismissed each of these accusations.

Dodon has alleged large-scale electoral fraud, but accepted the election result. He now has no other choice: on November 16, Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Sandu on her election victory.

In recent interviews with Russian media, such as TV Rain, Sandu has reiterated her desire to preserve strong ties with Russia, even while breathing new life into the 2014 association agreement with the EU. Her key priority with Moscow, she says, is to restore Moldovan exports to Russia, which have been impeded due to poor relations in recent years.

Vladimir Soloviev, a former Moldova correspondent for the Russian daily Kommersant, writes for Carnegie Moscow that the Kremlin might even be able to find a common language with Sandu. The journalist suggests that Russia may have rested on its laurels in recent years, content to sit back as successive unpopular pro-European governments damaged the EU’s credibility with ordinary Moldovans. But as Moscow invested its hopes in one politician, he remarks, Brussels had embarked on a wider programme to regain that trust, repairing roads and rebuilding schools. And despite the apparent assistance of Kremlin spin doctors in assisting Dodon, a vague appeal against change was not appealing enough.

The symbolism of Sandu’s victory is not trivial, particularly given that she has faced sexist language, attempts to spread falsehoods about her personal life, and criticism from religious figures for being unmarried into her 40s. The hope is that Moldova’s first female president can set a new tenor on equality in public life, which the office’s symbolism of the position will certainly allow her.

Crucially, the role will also allow Sandu to call for snap parliamentary elections, which she has already stated is a priority. The stakes will then be even higher.

17.11.2020 – Pressenza Berlin

This post is also available in: German

Genetic engineering research is a secret: How the federal government and the EU want to let us run blindly into a high-risk adventure
(Image from pxhere.com | CC0)

Classified information: Millions and millions are spent on genetic engineering projects, but research into the risks of genome changes and into detection methods that make it possible to detect genetically modified organisms, for example in food, is completely underfunded.

Genetic engineering on the plate or in the field: Most people reject that. The nature awareness study is a regular survey of how citizens feel about environmental protection, nature and food security. For years, a very clear majority of those surveyed have been in favor of the fact that foods must be clearly labeled if they contain genetically modified organisms. Farmers for feed and seeds are also calling for this. And more than 80 percent of those surveyed generally reject genetic engineering in food.

The federal government now had to admit – with great reluctance – that tax money is generously distributed for research into new genetic engineering processes, while research funding on risks or detection methods is skimpy. Harald Ebner, spokesman for the Greens for genetic engineering policy, sums it up: “While the federal government is nurturing research on new genetic engineering processes such as CRISPR / Cas & Co( (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) with more than 27 million euros,“ detection and risk research is currently in progress times 2 million available! ”This reveals a“ huge imbalance to the detriment of environmental and health care and to the detriment of the enforcement of the rule of law ”. Such one-sided research funding in an area that is massively funded by the biotechnology industry itself is in clear contradiction to the government’s consumer protection mandate, emphasizes Harald Ebner.

The crux of the matter is: So far there are hardly any detection methods with which a gene change that was carried out using methods of the new genetic engineering can be determined. Labeling is therefore only possible if the manufacturer expressly indicates this. Contamination, however, would not be noticed during controls. And this despite the fact that new genetic engineering methods are already being used in the fields of seeds and animal feed. Nevertheless, the federal government is saving funding for research into detection methods – not to mention risk research. So we’re walking blindly into a genetic engineering adventure.

No wonder the federal government initially classified this information as classified, i.e. secret – not to be published!

More on this and a more comprehensive statement in the background here:

Regarding genetic engineering in agriculture and nutrition (so-called agro-genetic engineering), the EU applies that organisms such as seeds, plants, animals, or even feed and, of course, especially food must be labeled if they contain genetically modified organisms or if such animal feed has been used. This is to protect the freedom of choice of farmers and consumers. The European Court of Justice ruled in 2018 that this labeling requirement also expressly applies to methods of new genetic engineering, such as CRISPR/Cas&Co. There is a catch: Up to now, there have hardly been any detection procedures for organisms that have been modified using the methods of the new genetic engineering, so that labeling cannot be carried out safely.

The EU Commission was commissioned to promote relevant evidence research and to present a study by April 2021 on the status of the research. In order to be able to offer this study, the EU Commission has sent a questionnaire with relevant questions about research and research funding to each individual member state.

Harald Ebner, spokesman for the Green Group for genetic engineering policy, has sent a so-called “written question” to the federal government on exactly this state of research and research funding in Germany. The answer came – and is very informative – but it was classified as classified, i.e. secret, not for publication. “If the federal government really wants to conduct the discourse with the citizens on the new methods of genetic engineering seriously and objectively, it should also pour pure wine for the consumer,” explains Harald Ebner and refers to the concerns of the citizens if there are possible consequences of genetically modified plants and animals.

Precisely because, the overwhelming majority in this country rejects genetic engineering, from field to fork, transparency, for example, about the use of taxpayers’ money to promote research in this area, is the top priority. Otherwise one could already get the impression that information is to be hidden that contradicts the will of consumers for a comprehensive technical impact assessment in dealing with the new genetic engineering methods. ”

It was only through a parliamentary procedure, a “minor inquiry”, that the answer from the federal government, more precisely from the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, was now public.

Harald Ebner MdB, spokesman for genetic engineering and bioeconomy policy, explains the answer from the federal government, which has now finally become publicly available:

The answer proves what we have been criticizing for years: while the federal government is nurturing research on new genetic engineering processes such as CRISPR / Cas & Co with over 27 million euros, just 2 billion euros are available for detection and risk research. This reveals a huge imbalance to the detriment of environmental and health care and to the detriment of the enforcement of the rule of law. Such one-sided research funding in an area that is massively funded by the biotechnology industry itself is in clear contradiction to the government’s consumer protection mandate. What is fatal is that the federal government itself has to admit that the inspection and control of organisms that have been produced by new genetic engineering processes would only be possible if detection methods were available. The federal government must protect the freedom of choice of farmers and consumers and ensure that genetic engineering law is implemented. What is urgently needed now is an immediate program for the promotion of detection methods and risk research in order to finally provide the still-young technology with an appropriate technology impact assessment. It is also noteworthy that the federal government, of all people, is dispelling the myth that the new genetic engineering could open up business areas for many small and medium-sized breeding companies. Because that is by no means the case: The Federal Government assumes that, just as with the old genetic engineering, there will also be concentration processes on the market with organisms that have been produced using new methods. “

Press release from Harald Ebner Member of the Bundestag

16.11.2020 – United States – Beyond Nuclear International

Science, or nuclear fiction?
(Image by Ra Dragon on Unsplash)

Biden-Harris must reject the nuclear path

Although possibly a sad comment on his predecessors, incoming U.S. president, Joe Biden, is offering the most progressive climate policy so far of any who have previously held his position.

As Paul Gipe points out in his recent blog, the Democratic Party platform — and now the Biden-Harris climate plan — use the word “revolution” right in the headline — a bit of a departure from the usual cautious rhetoric of the centrist-controlled Democratic Party.

But ‘revolution’ is proceeded by two words which let us know we are still lingering in conservative ‘safe’ territory. They call it a “clean energy revolution”, which Gipe rightly refers to as “focus-group shopped terminology.” He goes on:

”Clean energy is a term forged by Madison Avenue advertising mavens in the crucible of focus groups. It ‘polls well,’ as they say. It means one thing to one interest group, something else to another. So it’s perfect for politics in America.

“To environmentalists, it means wind and solar energy, often only those two forms of renewable energy, and sometimes only solar. It also means good times to the coal and nuclear industry. (Ever hear of ‘clean coal’?)

“So clean energy is one of those misleading words that party leaders and, importantly, fundraisers can use to elicit money from donors of all stripes. Why say renewable energy, when you want to raise money from the coal and nuclear industries?”

Sign on Highway 101 outside of Lincoln City, Oregon.

The Biden-Harris energy plan hits all the right notes in its opening paragraphs, focusing on a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 (20 years too late but better than nothing) and emphasizing infrastructure, international collaboration and the protection of poor communities of color, who suffer the most harm from unfettered polluters.

As we know from his public statements, Biden will bring the US straight back into the Paris Agreement on climate and sees the climate crisis as the “number one issue facing humanity”. The Paris Agreement isn’t enough, but the US absence weakens it further.

Still on the right track, the Biden-Harris climate plan looks to the rights and wellbeing of workers and jobs creation. It will adhere to “science, not fiction” and recognizes that energy efficiency has an essential role to play.

And then it goes very badly — if predictably — wrong.

In the section entitled “Biden’s Year One Legislative Agenda on Climate Change,” the document proclaims “We have to get rid of the old way of thinking,” then reverts precisely to that, clinging on to nuclear power as a necessary component of its plan.

So the Biden-Harris agenda lists small modular reactors under its “game-changing technologies.” In a way, that’s correct. Diverting money into small modular reactors will be game-changing. It will put us firmly on the road to climate failure.

The good news is that nuclear power does not play much of a role in the Biden-Harris plan. But the bad news is that, when it comes to nuclear power, the Biden camp has indeed chosen fiction over science.

A bullet point called “Identify the future of nuclear energy” reverts right back to the failed Obama “all of the above” approach to “look at all low- and zero-carbon technologies”, instead of recognizing that nuclear power, a failed 20th century technology, does not have a future.

As Amory Lovins points out, this “low-carbon” approach is a perpetual mistake made by politicians and seized on and influenced by the nuclear industry — to look only at carbon savings, and not at cost and time as well.

“Costly options save less carbon per dollar than cheaper options,” Lovins writes. “Slow options save less carbon per year than faster options. Thus even a low- or no-carbon option that is too costly or too slow will reduce and retard achievableclimate protection. Being carbon-free does not establish climate-effectiveness.”

When you look at the precipitating drop in renewable energy costs versus the ever soaring nuclear ones; when you examine how you can reduce more carbon emissions faster and more cheaply with renewables than nuclear; and when you observe the real life examples of countries whose carbon reductions are greater after investing in renewables rather than clinging onto nuclear; then the only reason to include nuclear power in a climate plan is political.

Countries like Denmark, which have chosen renewables, are reducing carbon emissions faster than countries continuing with nuclear power

The Biden-Harris platform will likely continue to listen to the old school. After all, it’s who they know. But if they really want that revolution, they should open their eyes to the reality on the ground.

A recent article in the Socialist magazine, Jacobin, pointed to an example in the Netherlands where a decision was made not to expand an existing nuclear power plant and instead build two offshore wind farms. Although the Fukushima disaster slightly influenced the decision, at the end of the day, as the article pointed out, it was all about “the law of value”, in other words, money. “With the declining cost of renewable energy, nuclear power simply does not make economic sense,” it said.

In an important new study out of Sussex University in the UK — Differences in carbon emissions reduction between countries pursuing renewables versus nuclear power — the researchers concluded that choosing nuclear crowds out renewables and vice versa. This means that continuing to use old uneconomical nuclear plants — or investing in new ones — actually hampers renewable energy development, and thereby progress on climate change, and results in smaller carbon reductions and at a much higher cost.

The study notes that, “per dollar invested, the modularity of renewables projects offers quicker emissions reductions than do large-scale, delay-prone nuclear projects,” the same point made by Lovins. And, as the study also says, the more we use renewables, the more improved their performance, exactly the opposite of nuclear which sees “rising costs or reduced performance with the next generation of technology.”

This last is an important point for the Biden-Harris energy team to note. By including so-called new nuclear, they are dooming themselves to wasting both time and money better spent focused on renewables. Small modular reactors will not, as their plan asserts, come in at “half the construction cost of today’s reactors.” They will be far more expensive in relation to the electricity they would eventually produce. And of course they would arrive too late, and in too small a quantity and generate too little — and very expensive — electricity to make any difference to climate change at all.

Biden-Harris must look at empirical data, not listen to spin doctors and establishment cronies who will keep them anchored to the status quo, thus deferring the very energy revolution they claim they will lead. If Biden-Harris remain in favor of action on climate AND for nuclear power, then they are part of the problem, not the solution.

This article first appeared on Counterpunch.

Linda Pentz Gunter is the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear and writes for and edits Beyond Nuclear International.

15.11.2020 – IDN InDepthNews

Faith-based & Other NGOs Look Forward to Entry into Force of the Nuclear Ban Treaty
(Image by Albin Hillert / WCC, 2017)

By Ramesh Jaura

When she learned that the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) reached the 50 states parties required for its entry into force, Setsuko Thurlow said: “I was not able to stand. I remained in my chair and put my head in my hands, and I cried tears of joy. … I found myself speaking with the spirits of hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I was immediately in conversation with these beloved souls. …I was reporting to the dead, sharing this good news first with them, because they paid the ultimate price with their precious lives.”

Setsuko Thurlow is a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and long-time campaigner for nuclear weapons abolition. “I have a tremendous sense of accomplishment and fulfilment, a sense of satisfaction and gratitude. I know other survivors share these emotions — whether we are survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki; or test survivors from South Pacific island nations, Kazakhstan, Australia and Algeria; or survivors from uranium mining in Canada, the United States or the Congo,” she said in the statement published on the website of the 2017 Nobel Peace laureate International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

A joint interfaith statement on the 75th Anniversary of the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 signed by 189 organizations around the world reaffirmed that “the presence of even one nuclear weapon violates the core principles of our different faith traditions and threatens the unimaginable destruction of everything we hold dear”.

“As a wide coalition of faith-based communities from around the world, we have committed to speaking with one voice that rejects the existential threat to humanity that nuclear weapons pose,” declared the statement.

Less than four months later, a broad spectrum of the non-governmental organization (NGOs) including churches, and a major Buddhist group have hailed the TPNW, which seeks for the first time to establish a comprehensive ban on atomic weapons.

The treaty aimed at destroying all nuclear weapons and prohibiting their use forever crossed a decisive milestone October 24 and will enter into force on January 22, 2021.

“The Holy See and the popes have vigorously supported the effort of the UN and the world against nuclear weapons,” Vatican News reported. In a video message on September 25 on the occasion of the UN’s 75th anniversary this year, Pope Francis reiterated his call for increased support for the principal international and legal instruments on nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and prohibition.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) representing more than 550 million mainly Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant Christians also welcomed on October 26 the ratification of the prohibition treaty.

“It has now triggered the 90-day period after which the treaty will enter into legal force, meaning that a new normative standard in international law has been created, and that – for those States which are parties to it – the treaty must now be implemented,” said Peter Prove, director of the WCC’ Commission of the Churches on International Affairs.

According to the SPRI Yearbook, an “estimated 13,400 warheads” at the start of 2020 were threatening the survival of humankind. But the governments of the nine countries – Russia, USA, China, France, Britain, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea – which continue to hold and develop nuclear weapons have been staunch critics of the TPNW.

The director-general for Peace and Global Issues Hirotsugu Terasaki of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a community-based Buddhist organization, spanning 192 countries and territories around the world, said: “The entry into force of the TPNW establishes the fundamental norm that nuclear weapons are subject to comprehensive prohibition. This has a profound historical significance.”

He expressed the hope that more countries will ratify the treaty by the time of its entry into force, thus further strengthening it as a prohibitory norm. “At the same time, I sincerely hope that the significance and spirit of the treaty will be widely disseminated among the world’s people,” Mr Terasaki said.

He noted that some have taken a critical view that the TPNW, by failing to take realistic security perspectives into account, has deepened the divide between nuclear-weapon and nuclear-dependent states and the non-nuclear-weapon states.

“As citizens, however, we absolutely cannot entrust the security of our lives and property to nuclear weapons. And to the extent there is a divide, this is due to the stalled implementation of the nuclear-weapon states’ obligation to achieve nuclear disarmament set forth in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The TPNW was established as a concrete measure to implement this obligation.”

Mr Terasaki further expressed the hope that “the nuclear-weapon and nuclear-dependent states, including Japan, will participate (as permitted by the Treaty) in the first meeting of States Parties to the TPNW to be held within one year from its entry into force, where they can consider a full range of concrete steps to abolish nuclear weapons and how best to fulfil their nuclear disarmament obligations”.

The statement added: “In this sense, we strongly hope that the nuclear-weapon and nuclear-dependent states, including Japan, will participate (as permitted by the Treaty) in the first meeting of States Parties to the TPNW to be held within one year from its entry into force, where they can consider a full range of concrete steps to abolish nuclear weapons and how best to fulfil their nuclear disarmament obligations.”

The significance of the entry into force of the TPNW is “truly profound” also in view of the fact that “a grievous new arms race is beginning around the world”. The modernization and miniaturization of nuclear weapons are advancing, threatening to make them more ‘usable’”.

Mr Terasaki concluded: “Under such circumstances, it is up to civil society to decide if we will continue to tolerate humanity being held hostage by nuclear weapons, or whether we will raise our voices as an irresistible force for their banning and abolition. The Soka Gakkai and the SGI are fully committed to continuing our efforts to expand global people’s solidarity toward the realization of a world free from nuclear weapons.”

SGI expressed “deepest respect and appreciation to all those involved in the long struggle for a world free from the scourge of nuclear weapons, including the hibakusha, the states that played a leading role in this effort, the United Nations and its agencies, international organizations, as well as our friends and colleagues in the NGO community, such as the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons … with whom we have worked over the years”.

In a statement, Sergio Duarte, President, and Paolo Cotta Ramusino, Secretary-General of the 1995 Nobel Peace Laureate Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs said the TPNW is “based on the common-sense notion that their use would have unacceptable humanitarian and environmental consequences”.

Pugwash expects the number of parties to the TPNW to increase in the near future to include in particular States that belong to existing or planned nuclear-weapon-free zones. “The TPNW is fully consistent with the NPT and is the only treaty that explicitly forbids its members from hosting nuclear weapons belonging to other states. Nuclear and non-nuclear-weapon States must work cooperatively to achieve the elimination of all nuclear arsenals and the risk they pose to every nation’s security,” added the statement.

Blue Banner, Mongolian NGO and a partner organization of the ICAN welcomed the 50th ratification of TPNW “as a major political impulse and a step in making this most dangerous weapon of mass destruction illegal under international law”.

Blue Banner is pledged to continue to work for “the speediest accession by Mongolia to the Treaty”, a state with internationally recognized nuclear-weapon-free status, that endorsed the “humanitarian pledge”, participated in negotiating the treaty and voted in its support. “The entry into force of the TPNW will stigmatize further nuclear weapons and their possession and advance the goal of their ultimate total elimination,” the statement said.

At the regional level, Blue Banner will continue to work with other regional civil society organizations to promote confidence in the Northeast Asian region and, until the nuclear weapons are totally eliminated, work to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region.

It called on all states to sign and accede to the treaty and will work with its partner organizations to raise the awareness of the importance of the treaty for world peace and realizing the Sustainable Development Goals.

Blue Banner was established in 2005 to promote nuclear non-proliferation and Mongolia’s initiative to turn the country into a nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ). Chairman of the organization is the former Mongolian Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr Jargalsaikhany Enkhsaikhan.

Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP) and Western States Legal Foundation (WSLF) urge the United States to “roll back its opposition to the TPNW and instead … embrace the treaty’s vision of a more democratic world in which nuclear weapons have no place and of a paradigm shift toward human security rather than the security of states”. The two organizations are affiliates of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), which is a partner of ICAN. [IDN-InDepthNews – 10 November 2020]

Photo: Albin Hillert / WCC, 2017

14.11.2020 – Global Voices Online

Spain’s official linguistic institution steps back from gender-neutral pronoun
The facade of the Royal Spanish Academy (Image by Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0))

The institution added and removed the pronoun from new portal

The Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), a cultural institution dedicated to the linguistic regulation of the Spanish-speaking world, inaugurated the “Observatory of Words” portal on October 27. The portal is a provisional collection of terms and expressions that do not appear in the Spanish Language Dictionary (DLE) but have generated public debate or confusion.

Media outlets began writing about the inclusion of gender-neutral pronoun elle in the Observatory collection almost immediately, prompting the RAE to reiterate that it did not officially approve the pronoun’s use nor include it in the dictionary.

The pronoun elle can be used as an alternative to el/ella (he/she). The Observatory of Words defined the pronoun elle as follows:

The pronoun elle is a solution created and promoted in certain sectors to refer to those who may not feel identified with either of the two traditionally existing genders. Its use is not widespread or well-established.

After the Observatory’s launch, academics, journalists, and the public weighed in on the pronoun’s inclusion in the RAE’s latest initiative.

Many people understood the move as a sign that the RAE was beginning to accept the new third-person pronoun and could potentially warm to other linguistic proposals that seek to neutralize sexism embedded in the language.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=PressenzaIPA&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-1&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1321139319839535104&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pressenza.com%2F2020%2F11%2Fspains-official-linguistic-institution-steps-back-from-gender-neutral-pronoun%2F&siteScreenName=PressenzaIPA&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=500px

Hello, the RAE incorporated the pronoun ELLE. This is a very strong acknowledgement, given their resistance. The RAE is a bit like the Pope: we don’t care what they say, but that they say is half the battle.

You might like: Are Romance languages becoming more gender-neutral?

However, the RAE was quick to refute this suggestion by reiterating that the institution’s position on the use of elle had not changed and it was still not being considered for incorporation into the dictionary.

The RAE went one step further and removed the portal entry “to avoid confusion” on October 31.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=PressenzaIPA&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-2&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1322243379787386880&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pressenza.com%2F2020%2F11%2Fspains-official-linguistic-institution-steps-back-from-gender-neutral-pronoun%2F&siteScreenName=PressenzaIPA&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=500px

Thank you for your interest. Due to the confusion generated by the presence of “elle” in the “Observatory of Words,” it has been considered preferable to remove this entry. When the role and functioning of this section is more comprehensive, it will be reassessed.

Reactions to this abrupt shift were swift:https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=PressenzaIPA&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-3&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1322026378494050305&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pressenza.com%2F2020%2F11%2Fspains-official-linguistic-institution-steps-back-from-gender-neutral-pronoun%2F&siteScreenName=PressenzaIPA&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=500px

What do you thiiiiink? That @RAEinforma deleted “elle” from its Observatory of Words. Could it be that they are being corrected? Could it be that Pérez Reverte, Vargas Llosa and company had a heart attack?
What do you all think?

[Note: Arturo Pérez-Reverte is a prominent Spanish writer, journalist, and academic at the RAE since 2003, and Mario Vargas Llosa is a Peruvian writer and politician, also with Spanish citizenship, winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, among other awards, and academic at the RAE since 1996.]https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=PressenzaIPA&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-4&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1322152976186806278&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pressenza.com%2F2020%2F11%2Fspains-official-linguistic-institution-steps-back-from-gender-neutral-pronoun%2F&siteScreenName=PressenzaIPA&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=500px

Since there were people who did not have a clear idea, it was best to stop explaining it? That doesn’t make much sense… In any case, since some people are bothered by language evolving, the RAE gives up doing its job, which is to communicate that evolution.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=PressenzaIPA&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-5&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1323215676350304265&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pressenza.com%2F2020%2F11%2Fspains-official-linguistic-institution-steps-back-from-gender-neutral-pronoun%2F&siteScreenName=PressenzaIPA&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=500px

I did a thing, even though I’m a little late for Halloween

Institutional acceptance of gender-neutral pronouns

In English, the pronoun “they”, which is commonly used to refer to the third person plural, began to be used frequently to refer to a third person singular. Its use became increasingly common on social networks and in the media, and a large number of entertainment figures asked to be referred to with the singular personal pronoun “they/them”. This new usage prompted many studies and inquiries until Merriam-Webster Dictionary included the new meaning in the entry for “they” and named it the Word of the Year in 2019.

In Swedish, the neutral pronoun hen is used as an alternative to han  (he) and hon (she). It was first proposed by feminists during the 1960s and was later incorporated into trans activism circles. Since the language has no gendered endings in other parts of speech, it became easier to incorporate the new pronoun into everyday speech, especially among young people. In late 2015, the Swedish Academy added it to the dictionary.

One of the oldest neutral personal pronouns, the Finnish hän, which can be equivalent to “he” or “she” interchangeably, was the inspiration for Swedish feminists to come up with a neutral pronoun in their own language. This pronoun has been registered in Finnish since 1543.

It should be noted that including a neutral personal pronoun in a Romance language such as Spanish is much more cumbersome than in the cases mentioned above, as the grammatical gender marker is not limited to third-person pronouns, but also manifests itself in nouns, adjectives and determiners, and that makes it very difficult to avoid gender in fluent speech. Consequently, using elle correctly would imply a very profound structural change in the grammar we know — this change has already been proposed.

Every living language undergoes constant and imperceptible evolution, but morphological changes, in particular, take centuries to settle into natural speech, and frequency of use is a key factor in normalizing new forms. This is why feminist and LGTBQ+ groups have sought to promote forms of communication that would break with sexism, traditional binary systems and, especially, the predominance of masculine forms.

For now, the RAE has suspended the assessment of elle in its Observatory of Words, but in light of the recent abrupt changes, it’s possible to think that it could be reinstated at a later time.

Written by :

Romina Navarro /Violeta Camarasa /Melissa Wise

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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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