Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Proving the Obvious?

There is an old derogatory definition of a sociologist as being a person who needs a fifty thousand dollar Research  grant in order to find the nearest whore house (an anthropologist, being a participant-observer, would, of course, have already be there). You might say this is a case of someone discovering the obvious.

I do not wish to take anything away from Thomas Pikklety’s fine and controversial book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, that seems to have thrown Republicans and Libertarians into fits of hysterics, but in my simple-minded view of economics it seems to me Pikkety has demonstrated the obvious: basically, that to make money (capital) you to have money, and in a capitalistic system, left unchecked (by high taxes on the wealthy and restrictive inheritance laws), where money itself makes more money, you would ultimately and inevitably be left with a dysfunctional, harmful, massively unequal distribution of wealth. I confess this has always seemed perfectly obvious to me. I am amazed it took Pikkety years of masterful research and 700 pages to finally make our greedy capitalists (perhaps) get the point. I just heard of another study that after years of effort demonstrated that the “elite” have greater influence than others. Wow, that’s good to know.

However, pointing out the obvious, especially when the truth hurts, can cause resentment and even retaliation. Who knows how many millions, perhaps billions, The “One Percent” will spend to try to discredit Pikkety’s definitive work, and quite possibly the author himself.

Another case in point, hypocritically amusing, has to do with John Kerry’s warning that if no peace deal can be reached between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel will become an apartheid state. That this is obvious might well be seen in the fact that even many high-level Israelis have said the same thing. Given Israeli obvious racist attitudes towards Palestinians and their Arab second class citizens, an apartheid state will be inevitable. Given the reaction on the part of many Israeli supporters you might think Kerry had said something so terrible he should resign forthwith, apologize, and claim he didn’t really mean it. Unfortunately hypocrisy seems to be one of the prevailing characteristics of Republicans (if not, sadly, of the human species itself).

Probably the most common approach to things that are unpleasantly obvious is to try to just ignore them. It is, for example, perfectly obvious that Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld, et al, committed rather heinous war crimes. They have even admitted it and in some cases even boasted of it. These unpleasant obvious facts have simply been ignored for years and no doubt will continue to be, at least in the United States.

A similar case in point has to do with the Israeli/Palestinian situation. It is perfectly obvious that Israel does not want peace with the Palestinians, does not want a Palestinian state, and also does not want a one state solution. They prefer instead to let things remain as they are with the Palestinians increasingly shoved out of the West Bank and robbed of more and more of their territory, unable, realistically, to do much about it. Anyone could have predicted that Kerry’s recent attempt to mediate an agreement would fail. Indeed, the very idea that Kerry and the U.S. could honestly mediate an agreement between the two parties is basically absurd given our obvious bias in favor of Israel. This has been obvious for years and while not completely ignored a pretense is made periodically for change and the charade begins again and again until Israel, perfectly predictably, kills it.

Racism, too, is most often ignored unless it becomes so scandalously public to the point where it cannot be completely ignored. The case of Sterling is an obvious example. Everyone in the NBA, and even the wider community, has known for years that Sterling is an out-and-out racist, but nothing much was done about until his recent appalling statements became public. While Sterling is (sort of) being punished for his racism the obvious Republican racism directed at President Obama and Attorney General, Eric Holder, is mostly inexcusably ignored. It is also perfectly obvious that some of the Big Banks have committed egregious criminal acts, but here again, nothing is done about it. When it comes to things like this I guess the idea is that if they are just ignored they might somehow magically disappear. This appears to be the strategy with respect to education, infrastructure, taxation of the rich, global warming, and etc. Thus, if you don’t like something just put your head in the sand and hope it goes away. Unfortunately, this can have disastrous consequences.

 “If it weren't for the last minute, nothing would get done.” 
Rita Mae Brown

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