Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Socialism vs capitalism

"The great worldwide interest in socialism - which continues, despite the way the original dream has been distorted in a number of countries around the world - is due, I believe, to what people have seen happen in capitalism - that the profit motive has had some terrible human consequences. People turned to socialism because of the belief that human beings - once their essential needs are taken care of - can be motivated to work and create by considerations other than monetary profit: self-respect, the respect of others, compassion for others, and community spirit."
(Howard Zinn, "Passionate Declarations", chapter "Economic justice: the American class system")

I feel driven by these motives, not at all by the profit motive of capitalism, like many people around the world I believe. That's why I think that capitalism is a very reductionist view of how humans interact with each other, how a society should work...

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The principle of simplicity

"Simplicity is (or should be) the object of scientific work [...] Theory, and its applications in observational work and numerical modeling, provide us with hope for simplicity. Without it, at least as an organizing principle if not as detailed 'prediction', we are left with a hopeless morass of detail, and become idiot savants reeling off accurate but unorganized masses of factual detail."
(Peter Rhines, in "Future of Physical Oceanography").

This reminds me of a well-known quotation from Albert Einstein:
"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler".

Friday, July 27, 2007

The principle of science

"The principle of science, the definition, almost, is the following: the test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific 'truth'".
(Richard Feynman, cited by Dan Rudnick in "Future of Physical Oceanography").

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The beauty of ideas

"I believe that the single most important reason why prosperity spread, and why it continues to spread, is the transmission of technologies and the ideas underlying them. Even more important than having specific resources in the ground, such as coal, was the ability to use modern, science-based ideas to organize production. The beauty of ideas is that they can be used over and over again, without ever being depleted. Economists call ideas nonrival in the sense that one person's use of an idea does not diminish the ability of others to use it as well. This is why we can envision a world in which everybody achieves prosperity. The essence of the first Industrial Revolution was not the coal; it was how to use the coal. Even more generally, it was about how to use a new form of energy. The lessons of coal eventually became the basis for many other energy systems as well, from hydropower, oil and gas, and nuclear power to new forms of renewable energy such as wind and solar power converted to electricity. These lessons are available to all of humanity, not just for the first individuals who discovered them."
(Jeffrey Sachs, "The end of poverty", chapter "The spread of economic prosperity").

This reminds me of the lyrics of the song "Au temps des colonies" by Michel Sardou:
"Y'a pas d'café pas de coton pas d'essence
En France mais des idées ça on en a
Nous on pense"

More seriously, this is a strong argument against patents, which try to prevent people from using freely some people's ideas, a concept which I have never liked.

Education of the people

This one really amazed me when I read it (Howard Zinn, "Passionate Declarations", chapter "Communism and anti-communism"):

Congressman Harold Velde of Illinois, a former FBI man and later chair of the House Un-American Activities Committee, spoke in the House in March 1950 opposing mobile library service in rural areas because, he said: "Educating Americans through the means of the library service could bring about a change of their political attitude quicker than any other method. The basis of Communism and socialistic influence is education of the people."

Monday, July 23, 2007

The ideal of communism

I know that Communism has done a lot of harm in the past and still does, and for that it is hated and feared by capitalists, especially in America. I believe this is because its original ideas have been betrayed by communists leaders, who as human beings have been corrupted by power. But I still believe like Howard Zinn ("Passionate Declarations", chapter "Communism and anti-communism") in this ideal:

"The ideal of communism - a classless society of equal abundance for all, based on highly developed technology, a very short workday, and, therefore, the possibility of real freedom for individuals to develop their aesthetic and personal interests as they like; a society free of the coercive apparatus of the state, organized by associated collectives, based on workplaces and neighborhoods, repudiating racial or sexual supremacy; a genuine participatory democracy, with full opportunity for free expression of all ideas, devoid of national hatreds, national boundaries, and war - this remains a wonderful goal.
Karl Max, I believe, envisioned such a society. Millions of people in the world have been inspired by that ideal and have been willing to sacrifice and risk all for it."

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Private property

Ah ! I was wondering what was the position of Christian religion on private property. Here is a quote from Pope Jean-Paul II, reported by Howard Zinn in "Passionate Declarations" (in Chapter "Communism and anti-communism"):

For instance, in 1981, Pope John Paul II issued a papal encyclical On Human Work, in which he said the Church believed in ownership and private property, but that "Christian tradition has never upheld this right as absolute and untouchable... The right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone."

Monday, July 16, 2007

An alternative to right and left

"Anarchists, I discovered, did not believe in anarchy as it is usually defined - disorder, disorganization, chaos, confusion, and everyone doing as they like. On the contrary, they believed that society should be organized in a thousand different ways, that people had to cooperate in work and in play, to create a good society. But, anarchists insisted, any organization must avoid hierarchy and command from the top; it must be democratic, consensual, reaching decisions through constant discussion and argument. What attracted me to anarchism was its rejection of any bullying authority - the authority of the state, of the church, or of the employer. Anarchism believes that if we can create an egalitarian society without extremes of poverty and wealth and join hands across all national boundaries, we will not need police forces, prisons, armies, or war, because the underlying causes of these will be gone."
(Howard Zinn, Passionate declarations).

Highly utopic, but I like utopies, without them life would be flavourless...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Choix de société

Comme le dit l'Abbé Pierre (Mémoire d'un croyant), "l'Évangile, s'il n'est pas directement un message politique, a nécessairement des conséquences, de profondes répercussions dans le domaine politique."
Voici un passage du chapitre intitulé "Frères humains":

"Voulons-nous une société solidaire, qui serve en premier les plus faibles et les plus souffrants ? Ou au contraire une société individualiste qui laisse les forts écraser les faibles ou qui les abandonne au bord du chemin ? Dans le premier cas, nous lutterons de toutes nos forces pour réduire les inégalités et nous garantirons une paix sociale durable. Dans l'autre, nous laisserons croître les disparités et les situations d'injustice, et nous serons confrontés à une constante colère sociale. N'est-ce pas malheureusement la voie dans laquelle nos sociétés les plus riches semblent avoir choisi de s'engager ?" [...]
"Je l'ai dit, c'est un véritable choix de société que nous avons à faire: servir en premier les plus forts ou bien les plus faibles. Et c'est ce choix qui détermine la grandeur ou la bassesse d'une famille, d'une tribu, d'un pays ou d'une civilisation."

Ce sont ces valeurs, que l'on peut avoir même sans être croyant, qui m'attirent plutôt vers les idées de gauche que vers les idées de droite. La droite essaie d'ailleurs toujours de se défendre de promouvoir l'individualisme et l'égoïsme, en invoquant des raisons pragmatiques ("nous sommes juste réalistes"), mais les résultats sont clairs !
Alors je me suis toujours demandé comment on pouvait être à la fois chrétien et de droite, à moins de ne pas avoir compris le message de partage et de solidarité du Christ...

Friday, July 13, 2007

L'homme d'affaires et le pêcheur

Voici une petite histoire qui illustre très bien le non-sens de notre idolâtrie de la croissance économique (Abbé Pierre, Mémoire d'un croyant):

C'est l'histoire d'un homme d'affaires qui est en vacances en Inde. Sur la grève, il voit un pêcheur qui revient avec un poisson. Il admire sa prise, et lui dit:
"C'est le bonheur ! Tu retournes en chercher ? Bon, je vais avec toi. Il faut que tu m'expliques comment tu pèche.
- Retourner en chercher, mais pour quoi faire ? demande le pêcheur.
- Mais parce que tu en auras davantage, répond l'homme d'affaires !
- Mais pour quoi faire ?
- Parce que quand tu en auras plus, tu en revendras.
- Mais pour quoi faire ?
- Parce que quand tu l'auras vendu, tu auras de l'argent.
- Mais pour quoi faire ?
- Parce que tu pourras t'acheter un petit bateau.
- Mais pour quoi faire ?
- Eh bien, avec ton petit bateau tu pourras avoir plus de poissons.
- Mais pour quoi faire ?
- Eh bien, tu pourras embaucher des ouvriers.
- Mais pour quoi faire ?
- Ils travailleront pour toi.
- Mais pour quoi faire ?
- Tu deviendras riche.
- Mais pour quoi faire ?
- Tu pourras te reposer."
Le pêcheur lui dit alors: "Mais c'est ce que je vais faire tout de suite !"

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Non-violent direct action !

OK, let's start getting back in my citations note-book.
This one is from Howard Zinn (Passionate Declarations):

"It is sad to see how, in so many countries, citizens have been led to war by the argument that it is necessary because there are tyrannies abroad, evil rulers, murderous juntas. But to make war is not to destroy the tyrants; it is to kill their subjects, their pawns, their conscripted soldiers, their subjugated civilians [...]
Freedom and justice, which so often have been the excuses for violence, are still our goals. But the means for achieving them must change, because violence, however tempting in the quickness of its action, undermines those goals immediately, and also in the long run. The means for achieving social change must match, morally, the ends."

So, what can we do ? The answer is: non-violent direct action !

"A determined population can not only force a domestic ruler to flee the country, but can make a would-be occupier retreat, by the use of a formidable arsenal of tactics: boycotts and demonstrations, occupations and sit-ins, sit-down strikes and general strikes, obstruction and sabotage, refusal to pay taxes, rent strikes, refusal to cooperate, refusal to obey curfew orders or gag orders, refusal to pay fines, fasts and pray-ins, draft resistance, and civil disobedience of various kinds [...]
Non-violent direct action is inextricably related to democracy. Violence to the point of terrorism is the desperate tactic of tiny groups who are incapable of building a mass base of popular support."

Monday, July 9, 2007


Un tres beau poème sur l'amour (Corinthiens, 1, 13):

"L'amour est longanime et serviable;
en lui ni jalousie, ni forfanterie, ni orgueil,
ni rien de malséant.

L'amour ne cherche pas son intérêt,
ignore la colère et la rancune,
ne se plaît pas dans l'injustice,
mais se réjouit de la vérité,
excuse tout, fait confiance en tout,
espère tout, endure tout.

L'amour jamais ne passe."

Sunday, July 8, 2007

J'aime, donc Dieu existe

Je me suis souvent demandé d'où venaient les valeurs morales, qui semblent universelles, tout comme les règles de la logique, qui semblent évidentes.
Les secondes peuvent peut-être s'expliquer par l'apprentissage du monde qui nous entoure, nous avons remarqué que certaines actions entrainaient certaines conséquences, que des règles régissaient certains phénomènes physiques et nous permettaient de prévoir leur évolution (avec plus ou moins de précision bien sûr). Mais la morale peut-elle s'expliquer logiquement ? Du genre "tu ne feras pas à autrui ce que tu n'aimerais pas qu'il te fasse" ? Mais en toute bonne logique la proposition suivante ne s'ensuit pas: "fais à autrui ce que tu aimerais qu'il te fasse", car si autrui ne te rend pas la pareille alors à quoi bon être bon envers lui ? Et pourtant cette proposition s'appelle l'altruisme, une valeur centrale de la morale. L'Amour non plus ne s'explique pas par la logique (je ne parle pas ici de l'amour charnel). Et si ces sentiments que nous ressentons n'étaient pas un signe fort de l'existence de Dieu ?
L'Abbé Pierre utilise des images pour l'expliquer (Mémoire d'un croyant):

"Imaginons qu'un écrou tombe quelque part au passage d'un camion dans un village primitif où l'on n'a jamais vu de mécanique. S'il se trouve un homme très intelligent, à force de regarder comment est fait l'écrou il saura ce qu'est un boulon. Imaginons maintenant la cire dont on vient de retirer le sceau: quand la cire est sèche, je peux, en l'observant, connaître jusqu'au plus petit détail du sceau. La cire a tout retenu, en creux. De la même manière nous pouvons avoir une certaine notion de Dieu en étant attentifs à nos aspirations, à nos désirs d'amour, puisque l'Écriture nous dit que nous sommes "à l'image de Dieu". Ainsi, en observant tout ce qui vient en désir, en appel, "en creux" en nous, nous pouvons deviner quelque chose de Dieu."

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Le coeur humain

"Et tel me semble bien être le coeur humain: tissé d'ombre et de lumière, susceptible d'actes héroïques et de terribles lâchetés, aspirant à de vastes horizons et butant sans cesse sur toutes sortes d'obstacles, le plus souvent intérieurs."
(Abbé Pierre, Mémoire d'un croyant)