The importance of Karl Polanyi’s analysis to understanding current neoliberalism

September 28th, 2016

by KARI POLANYI LEVITT & MARIO SECCARECCIA

Karl Polanyi is the author of The Great Transformation, a seminal piece of political-economic theory. PHOTO/Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy

“The Political Movement that Dared not Speak its Own Name”: Thoughts on Neoliberalism from a Polanyian Perspective

Laissez faire was planned, explained Karl Polanyi in The Great Transformation: The origins of the market system go back to the intentional project of institutional transformation initiated in England in the 19th century, establishing a free labor market, free trade and the gold standard. Institutions such as the unions, the industrial cartels and the Welfare State instead emerged subsequently as spontaneous counter-reactions to laissez faire. Kari Polanyi Levitt and Mario Seccareccia show, with a new periodization, how this dialectic interaction, or ‘double movement’ can still guide the understanding of today’s Neoliberalism.

Philip Mirowski has produced some truly exceptional works on the historical roots and intellectual history of what is described as the Neoliberal Thought Collective (NTC). These works have been rightly celebrated for deepening our understanding of the continued popularity and dominance of neoliberal policy ideas in the second decade of the twenty-first century (see, for, instance, Mirowski [2013] and Mirowski and Plehwe [2009]).

Neoliberalism, just like some other overworked buzzwords du jour (to use his expression) such as globalization and financialization, has slipped into the common lexicon, especially of political economists, over the last few decades. This expression is normally connected with the rise of the visible hand of the so-called “pro-market” minimalist state in seeking to remove all vestiges of the postwar Keynesian welfare state that had resulted from social struggles rejecting the old economic liberalism of the nineteenth century.

For this reason, it cannot be associated merely with the dominance of neoclassical economic ideas and methodology. As he correctly depicts in Figure 3 of his working paper (Mirowski 2014, p. 10), those are quite distinct in nature. An example of these divisions are the differences and tensions within the large NTC over such matters as how economic agents behave in processing information: the neo-Austrians reject outright models of perfect knowledge and point to the market as the only correct source of information, while the Chicago rational expectations tribe starts with the presupposition of quasi-perfect knowledge. Because of differing presuppositions, there ensue differences in how, for instance, the neoliberals view the state as an instrument to protect the “market” from the demands of the “people”, while the neoclassicals see it as an exogenous entity potentially generating market “imperfections”. Yet, as Mirowski (2014) rightly points out, there remains among most economists much skepticism as to the existence of neoliberalism as an intellectual movement itself. This is so despite the fact that neoliberalism has slowly achieved such a global political influence in government policy circles since its beginnings during the interwar era of the last century and in the immediate post-WWII years with the founding of the Mont Pèlerin Society in 1947.

We are in complete agreement with Philip Mirowski (2014) on the existence of an organized Neoliberal Political Project (NPP) — whose presence he tries to detect and measure by using various analytical tools of research. For instance, he provides an empirical review of the number of books and articles referring to neoliberalism, particularly since the 1980s, and he studies the proliferation of neoliberal think-tanks and other such lobby groups, often masquerading as research institutes that can hijack government policies at the local and national levels and end up almost as in camera advisors to elected representatives. A very good example of this is right here in Canada over the last decade. In this country, there has been much suspicion about the relationship between the previous Conservative government that was defeated recently in the October 2015 election and such neoliberal think-tanks as the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute, and lobby groups such as the Toronto-based National Citizens Coalition. The latter had actually once been headed by none other than our former Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who is himself a political ideologue associated with the broad NPP.

However, this kind of capture of the state is hardly new. A similar takeover is discussed by Karl Polanyi in The Great Transformation, in reference to the emergence and development of what he dubbed the liberal creed in Ricardian and post-Ricardian England of the nineteenth century. His historical reconstruction focused precisely on the political strategies that were deployed by groups adhering to this creed to capture the state and redefine its role. Indeed, it is surprising that Karl Polanyi is not mentioned or cited once in Mirowski (2014).

This avoidance of Polanyi is somewhat surprising, since he had been the most solid opponent of many of the early twentieth-century neoliberal writers that Mirowski mentions. It was the case particularly with Ludwig von Mises already during the 1920s and early 1930s in Vienna, that is, much before the Keynes-Hayek debates that ensued in the late 1930s. But he also engaged debates with other liberal/neoliberal writers and eventual members of the Mont Pèlerin Society, such as Walter Lippmann (Polanyi 1944, p. 148). Indeed, while they did not actually know each other personally, Friedrich von Hayek and Karl Polanyi followed parallel paths from the two diametrically-opposed intellectual circles emerging in the Red Vienna of the 1920s, with each of them leaving for Britain in the early 1930s and then eventually to the United States (see, for more details, Polanyi Levitt 2012-13; 2013).

The Importance of Karl Polanyi’s Analysis to Understanding Current Neoliberalism

For Karl Polanyi, the liberal creed was the set of organizing principles that guided the nineteenth-century movement after the Great Reform Act of 1832, that had represented the political defeat of the British aristocracy by the then rising industrial class or bourgeoisie. Its purpose was to design and establish a self-regulating market system that would include the creation of markets for fictitious commodities, namely pseudo-markets for labor, land and money.

Global Research for more

Roaming charges: More pricks than kicks

September 28th, 2016

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

+ People seem excited about the debates on Monday. I find the anticipation inexplicable. The much-hyped standoff at Hofstra shows all the hallmarks of being a great dud on the order of the Pacquiao/Mayweather fight/tap dance. Trump will endeavor, probably with the aid an ample dosing of Prozac administered by the amicable Dr. Bornstein, to be on his best behavior and Hillary, her head stuffed to the brim with briefing books, will come off like a prolix Ph.D. student defending her dissertation on the subversive role of milkmaids in the agrarian novels of Thomas Hardy. A defanged Trump isn’t worth watching. And no one needs to endure another pedantic lecture on Smarty-Pants Power from Hillary Clinton.

+ Most presidential and vice-presidential debates are about the unexpected moments: Nixon’s face sweating like Niagara Falls, Gerald Ford’s bizarre blurt that there was “no Soviet domination of eastern Europe,” Reagan’s aphasia moment, Poppy Bush glancing repeatedly at his watch, Admiral Stockdale asking rhetorically why he was there, Al Gore stalking George W. around the stage like Freddy Krueger, and a punch-drunk Obama staggering through his first debate with Romney. In the end, none of these moments altered the course of the elections, as much as the media might want us to believe. Elections, of course, are decided by deep structural issues (and hackable voting machines).

+ Of course, there’s always a chance that Hillary, having rejected Charlie Crist’s genteel offer to loan her his podium fan, might over-heat again and collapse onstage. But do we really need to watch that live in the Age of YouTube?

+ This year with the two major parties in free-fall, it might have been different if Gary Johnson and/or Jill Stein had been permitted access to the stage by the so-called Commission on Presidential Debates. The CPD is not a commission, of course, but a corporation created and run by-and-for the Democratic and Republican Parties in order to preserve their increasingly fragile stranglehold on the electoral franchise. The League of Women Voters, which used to run the debates, apparently proved too demanding for either party.

+ Without Johnson or Stein on the stage, we are left with the unappetizing prospect of Donald Trump as the lone sorta-kinda-maybe-anti-trade-anti-war candidate. Deplorable. These non-debates are bound to deliver more pricks than kicks. They should be boycotted by anyone committed to real democracy or looking for true comedy.

+ That said, I went to see a glorious new print of Dr. Strangelove this week and it strikes me that with all the current national anxiety about the Russians, the Mine Shaft Gap must have widened. Perhaps we will get some new intelligence on this vital matter in the debate on Monday night.

+ It’s been 52 years since the premier of Dr. Strangelove, but the Russia Scare thrives. Earlier this week General Sir Richard Barrons, a former NATO chief, ominously warned that Russia could invade Europe in a mere 48 hours. Get ready for the remake of The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming, the Euro 2016 version, filmed in PanicVision.

(No one stopped to ask the generals, if the Russians could storm across Europe in less than two days, why then do we still need those 150 US nuclear missiles scattered across Belgium, Germany and Italy. Or have those all been re-targeted at France?)

+ In the 1950s, at the peak of a previous Red Panic, the editorial page of the Washington Post helped strap the Rosenbergs to their electric chairs for allegedly violating the (unconstitutional) Espionage Act. Now the Post’s editorial page wants to do the same to their own source, the man who helped them win a Pulitzer Prize, Edward Snowden. Can you spell: D-e-p-l-o-r-a-b-l-e?

+ The call to prosecute Snowden is predictable. As Alexander Cockburn and I reported in Whiteout, the Washington Post’s reputation as a fierce and unflinching journalistic enterprise is over-inflated, an aberration based on a few years at the end of the Nixon administration. But the fall of Nixon frightened the Post’s publisher Katherine Graham, who feared the paper had over-reached. It’s been in retreat ever since.

Here’s what we wrote:

In late 1974, after Nixon had been tumbled, Mrs Graham addressed the Magazine Publishers’ Association and issued a warning: “The press these days should be rather careful about its role. We may have acquired some tendencies about over-involvement that we had better overcome. We had better not yield to the temptation to go on refighting the next war and see conspiracy and cover-up where they do not exist.” She called for a return to basics. Journalists should “stop trying to be sleuths.” In other words: The party’s over, boys and girls! It’s not our business to rock the boat.

She repeated the message in 1988 in a speech to CIA recruits titled “Secrecy and the Press”: “We live in a dirty and dangerous world. There are some things the general public does not need to know, and shouldn’t. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows.”

+ The more furiously the DC political and media elites try to gag, jail and bury Edward Snowden, the more emphatically they prove his point.

+ Oliver Stone’s movie, Snowden, is worth paying the extortionate ticket price to view on a large screen in the company of a live audience. Kimberly and I went to see it at the theater in our little mill town of Oregon City, once a stronghold of the Klan in Oregon. It’s still a city of blue-collar people, featuring regular sightings of pick-up trucks with big American flags jammed into the tailgates and Trump lawn signs. This is Tanya Harding country, where people buy their beer at 7/11 and bitch about the craft brew Hipsters up in Portland. The Hilltop theater was about half-full, a bigger crowd than showed up for opening night of the deplorable “Ben-Hur” remake. (I was there for that one, too. I’m a sucker for all films featuring ancient Rome.)

Counterpunch for more

Can Korea save the global economy?

September 28th, 2016

by JOHN FEFFER

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (in green jacket) PHOTO/Wikimedia

The Korean economy has hit the skids. Could this be a moment for a radical rethink?

Over the last five years, South Koreans have worried that their economy has slipped deeper into stagnation. Growth rates have hovered between 2 and 3 percent. Consumer spending is weak, and household debt has risen to record levels. Because global demand has fallen, the world is not buying Korean exports as eagerly as before.

This is not just an economic crisis. It is an identity crisis.

South Korea has long been identified with rapid economic growth and a corresponding ppali ppali spirit. Koreans can take a lot of pride in their country’s amazing trajectory from the devastation of the Korean War to a place among the top industrialized nations of the world in the space of a single generation.

It’s no surprise, then, that Korean politicians are searching for a magic formula that can restore economic health to the country in the same way that those small bottles you can buy at a Korean store promise to “boost vitality.”

But such a cure may not exist. It’s very possible that Korea’s miraculous growth rates are a thing of the past, never to return. It’s not about a flaw in the Korean economy or in Korean thinking. Rather, developed countries all over the world – Japan, Europe, the United States – have settled into a similar malaise.

According to economist Robert Gordon, the era of dramatic growth is over. For the United States, that era ended in 1970 after an unprecedented series of inventions.

“Manual outdoor jobs were replaced by work in air-conditioned environments, housework was increasingly performed by electric appliances, darkness was replaced by light, and isolation was replaced not just by travel, but also by color television images bringing the world into the living room,” writes Gordon in his new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth. “The economic revolution of 1870 to 1970 was unique in human history, unrepeatable because so many of its achievements could happen only once.”

The data supports Gordon’s initial conclusion, that the hundred years between 1870 and 1970 were truly a time of miracles. His second conclusion, that this age of miracles will never return, is considerably more controversial.

His argument consists of two parts. First, a set of unique inventions made it possible for an extraordinary increase in human productivity. People could make more things, make them faster, and put them in the hands of more people. Farmers became factory workers. Industrial workers became white-collar workers. Office workers became virtual employees. Most importantly, these developments can only happen once.

Second, these innovations not only spurred dramatic economic growth, they pulled huge numbers of people out of poverty and created an enormous middle class. We continue to innovate. But new technologies are more likely to create jobless growth, for instance through automation.

This slowdown in economic growth has obviously affected countries at a different pace. The United States began to see signs of stagnation beginning around 1972. Then Western Europe began to slow down. Japan wouldn’t hit the wall until 1990.

Now it’s South Korea’s turn. Perhaps there is some consolation for Koreans to realize that their economic woes are part of a larger pattern. But it doesn’t make the unemployment, stagnant wages, or rising debt any easier to swallow.

So, that’s the diagnosis. What’s the prescription?

Foreign Policy In Focus for more

A century of U.S. intervention in the Dominican Republic

September 27th, 2016

TELESUR

Latin America has endured indirect intervention and occupation by U.S. forces for the last 100 years. From Mexico all the way down to Argentina, its people have seen how the political and military force of the northern country have determined their present and formed their future.

The Dominican Republic has experienced some of the worst of U.S. invasions and interventions in a century of attempts at domination that have shaped the current state of the country.

First U.S. occupation in 1916

In 1911, the Dominican President Ramon Caceres was assassinated and a civil war ensued. Five years later the political crisis grew, as supporters of president Juan Isidro Jimenez led a fierce battle against those supporting General Desiderio Arias, former minister of war who later became his rival.

With an economic downfall, and the country having troubles paying its debts, the U.S. government cleverly exploited this and invaded the Dominican Republic in 1916 and didn’t leave until 1924.

The invaders wanted to secure their economic interests in the region, collect their debt and assure a steady income by controlling customs offices at major Dominican ports.

With its proximity to the Panama Canal, which was completed in 1914, the Dominican Republic became a key figure for the U.S. to watch and control in the region.

The U.S. Navy controlled the government and military forces around the country, and even controlled who was appointed president, which had to be a supporter of the invading force.

The 8-year-occupation was highly unpopular within the Dominican Republic as well as in the U.S. for its high economic cost.

By 1922 both countries reached an agreement to move the troops out of the island, which was completed in 1924.

The U.S. would continue to hold customs duties. It was only in 1941 that the Dominican Republic regained its sovereignty over the customs revenues.

Support for a ruthless dictator

The Dominican National Guard was formed by the U.S. military members that were part of the 1916 invasion, and Rafael Trujillo, one of the deadliest dictators in Latin America, was shaped and trained in its premises.

Trujillo, trained by U.S. marines, became chief of the army after 9 years in the service, and is believed to be responsible for the deaths of 60,000 people.

During his more than 30 years as a military dictator, from 1930 to 1961, his enemies and opponents were victims of brutal repression, torture and killing.

In December 1962 the country held its first free elections in almost four decades, and elected Juan Bosch as president, a leading writer and intellectual and a strong supporter of the Cuban revolution, a development that alarmed the U.S.

Seven months later a military coup supported by the U.S. installed a military junta in 1963.

Second occupation in 1965

Telesur for more

Is it Esmeralda?

September 27th, 2016

by JASON URBANUS

Divers excavate a wreck thought to be Esmeralda, Oman PHOTO/David Mearns

In 1498, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama created shock waves in Europe when he reached and returned from the Indian coast—and its valuable spices—by sailing all the way around Africa, a 24,000-mile journey. Da Gama found both success and hostility in the Indian Ocean, so when Portuguese king Manuel I dispatched him to the Indies again, in 1502, he went equipped with an armada of 20 ships and instructions not only to acquire spices, but also to harass and destroy the Muslim shipping industry that had monopolized the spice trade. One of these ships, Esmeralda, was captained by da Gama’s uncle, Vicente Sodré. Though the infamously brutal Sodré was directed by da Gama to patrol the Indian coast and protect Portuguese interests, he opted to sail toward the Arabian Peninsula in search of conquest and the rich plunder of Muslim ships. In 1503, Esmeralda and its crew, including Sodré, were lost in a storm off the coast of present-day Oman.

For five hundred years, Esmeralda remained a footnote to the Age of Discovery—until divers discovered its possible wreck site in 1998, on the island of Al Hallaniyah, 25 miles south of the Omani coast. Over the past three years, an archaeological project led by the Oman Ministry of Heritage and Culture and Blue Water Recoveries Ltd. has investigated the early sixteenth-century shipwreck. More than 2,800 artifacts have been recovered by archaeologists, including elements of the ship’s rigging, ceramics, coins, artillery, firearms, munitions, and trade goods. These objects are not only helping to confirm the ship’s identity, but are also providing valuable information about early Portuguese exploration. “As the earliest ‘Ship of Discovery’ ever to be found and excavated by archaeologists,” says project director David Mearns, “we knew that virtually every artifact recovered could provide new insights into how the Portuguese conducted navigation, trade, and naval warfare during this historically important period.”

Archaeology for more

Palestinians lose in US military aid deal with Israel

September 27th, 2016

by JONATHAN COOK

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama meet Wednesday in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly PHOTO/Drew Angerer/Getty Images/Los Angeles Times

The announcement last week by the United States of the largest military aid package in its history – to Israel – was a win for both sides.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu could boast that his lobbying had boosted aid from $3.1 billion a year to $3.8bn – a 22 per cent increase – for a decade starting in 2019.

Mr Netanyahu has presented this as a rebuff to those who accuse him of jeopardising Israeli security interests with his government’s repeated affronts to the White House.

In the past weeks alone, defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has compared last year’s nuclear deal between Washington and Iran with the 1938 Munich pact, which bolstered Hitler; and Mr Netanyahu has implied that US opposition to settlement expansion is the same as support for the “ethnic cleansing” of Jews.

American president Barack Obama, meanwhile, hopes to stifle his own critics who insinuate that he is anti-Israel. The deal should serve as a fillip too for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic party’s candidate to succeed Mr Obama in November’s election.

In reality, however, the Obama administration has quietly punished Mr Netanyahu for his misbehaviour. Israeli expectations of a $4.5bn-a-year deal were whittled down after Mr Netanyahu stalled negotiations last year as he sought to recruit Congress to his battle against the Iran deal.

In fact, Israel already receives roughly $3.8bn – if Congress’s assistance on developing missile defence programmes is factored in. Notably, Israel has been forced to promise not to approach Congress for extra funds.

The deal takes into account neither inflation nor the dollar’s depreciation against the shekel.

A bigger blow still is the White House’s demand to phase out a special exemption that allowed Israel to spend nearly 40 per cent of aid locally on weapon and fuel purchases. Israel will soon have to buy all its armaments from the US, ending what amounted to a subsidy to its own arms industry.

Nonetheless, Washington’s renewed military largesse – in the face of almost continual insults – inevitably fuels claims that the Israeli tail is wagging the US dog. Even The New York Times has described the aid package as “too big”.

Since the 1973 war, Israel has received at least $100bn in military aid, with more assistance hidden from view. Back in the 1970s, Washington paid half of Israel’s military budget. Today it still foots a fifth of the bill, despite Israel’s economic success.

But the US expects a return on its massive investment. As the late Israeli politician-general Ariel Sharon once observed, ­Israel has been a US “aircraft carrier” in the Middle East, acting as the regional bully and carrying out operations that benefit Washington.

Almost no one blames the US for Israeli attacks that wiped out Iraq’s and Syria’s nuclear programmes. A nuclear-armed Iraq or Syria would have deterred later US-backed moves at regime overthrow, as well as countering the strategic advantage Israel derives from its own nuclear arsenal.

In addition, Israel’s US-sponsored military prowess is a triple boon to the US weapons industry, the country’s most powerful lobby. Public funds are siphoned off to let Israel buy goodies from American arms makers. That, in turn, serves as a shop window for other customers and spurs an endless and lucrative game of catch-up in the rest of the Middle East.

The first F-35 fighter jets to arrive in Israel in December – their various components produced in 46 US states – will increase the clamour for the cutting-edge warplane.

Jonathan Cook for more

Indians are the fastest-growing illegal immigrant population in the US

September 26th, 2016

by ANANYA BHATTACHARYA

Desi me rollin’, they hatin’. PHOTO/Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Indians are staying in the US illegally at far higher rates than any other nationality.

In 2014, there were nearly half a million unauthorized Indian immigrants, according to a recent Pew Research Center report. The influx represented a nearly 43% spike since 2009, when the number was 350,000.

The Department of Homeland Security attributes the growing immigrant populations from Asia and other far-off places to people who initially “arrived with legal status and overstayed their visas.” Last year, 14,000 Indians on tourist or business visas overstayed their legally-permitted welcome. It beats all other Asian nations when it comes to illegal entrants.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s favorite punching bag, Mexico, saw its illegal immigrant population fall by almost half a million over the five-year period from 2009 to 2014, though it is still by far the biggest source of illegal immigrants to the US.

Quartz for more

(Thanks to reader)

How morality changes in a foreign language

September 26th, 2016

by JULIE SEDIVY

IMAGE/Matt Kenyon

Fascinating ethical shifts come with thinking in a different language

What defines who we are? Our habits? Our aesthetic tastes? Our memories? If pressed, I would answer that if there is any part of me that sits at my core, that is an essential part of who I am, then surely it must be my moral center, my deep-seated sense of right and wrong.

And yet, like many other people who speak more than one language, I often have the sense that I’m a slightly different person in each of my languages—more assertive in English, more relaxed in French, more sentimental in Czech. Is it possible that, along with these differences, my moral compass also points in somewhat different directions depending on the language I’m using at the time?

Psychologists who study moral judgments have become very interested in this question. Several recent studies have focused on how people think about ethics in a non-native language—as might take place, for example, among a group of delegates at the United Nations using a lingua franca to hash out a resolution. The findings suggest that when people are confronted with moral dilemmas, they do indeed respond differently when considering them in a foreign language than when using their native tongue.

In a 2014 paper led by Albert Costa, volunteers were presented with a moral dilemma known as the “trolley problem”: imagine that a runaway trolley is careening toward a group of five people standing on the tracks, unable to move. You are next to a switch that can shift the trolley to a different set of tracks, thereby sparing the five people, but resulting in the death of one who is standing on the side tracks. Do you pull the switch?

Most people agree that they would. But what if the only way to stop the trolley is by pushing a large stranger off a footbridge into its path? People tend to be very reluctant to say they would do this, even though in both scenarios, one person is sacrificed to save five. But Costa and his colleagues found that posing the dilemma in a language that volunteers had learned as a foreign tongue dramatically increased their stated willingness to shove the sacrificial person off the footbridge, from fewer than 20% of respondents working in their native language to about 50% of those using the foreign one. (Both native Spanish- and English-speakers were included, with English and Spanish as their respective foreign languages; the results were the same for both groups, showing that the effect was about using a foreign language, and not about which particular language—English or Spanish—was used.)

Using a very different experimental setup, Janet Geipel and her colleagues also found that using a foreign language shifted their participants’ moral verdicts. In their study, volunteers read descriptions of acts that appeared to harm no one, but that many people find morally reprehensible—for example, stories in which siblings enjoyed entirely consensual and safe sex, or someone cooked and ate his dog after it had been killed by a car. Those who read the stories in a foreign language (either English or Italian) judged these actions to be less wrong than those who read them in their native tongue.

Why does it matter whether we judge morality in our native language or a foreign one? According to one explanation, such judgments involve two separate and competing modes of thinking—one of these, a quick, gut-level “feeling,” and the other, careful deliberation about the greatest good for the greatest number. When we use a foreign language, we unconsciously sink into the more deliberate mode simply because the effort of operating in our non-native language cues our cognitive system to prepare for strenuous activity. This may seem paradoxical, but is in line with findings that reading math problems in a hard-to-read font makes people less likely to make careless mistakes (although these results have proven difficult to replicate).

An alternative explanation is that differences arise between native and foreign tongues because our childhood languages vibrate with greater emotional intensity than do those learned in more academic settings. As a result, moral judgments made in a foreign language are less laden with the emotional reactions that surface when we use a language learned in childhood.

There’s strong evidence that memory intertwines a language with the experiences and interactions through which that language was learned. For example, people who are bilingual are more likely to recall an experience if prompted in the language in which that event occurred. Our childhood languages, learned in the throes of passionate emotion—whose childhood, after all, is not streaked through with an abundance of love, rage, wonder, and punishment?—become infused with deep feeling. By comparison, languages acquired late in life, especially if they are learned through restrained interactions in the classroom or blandly delivered over computer screens and headphones, enter our minds bleached of the emotionality that is present for their native speakers.

Scientific American for more

World’s largest matrilineal society

September 26th, 2016

by RATHINA SANKARI

PHOTO/Rathina Sankari

In the highlands of West Sumatra, a man is considered a guest in his wife’s home.

Ruled by women

Indigenous to the highlands of West Sumatra, Indonesia, the Minangkabau ethnic group is the world’s largest matrilineal society.

Legend has it that in the mid-12th Century, King Maharajo Dirajo, who established the Koto Batu kingdom, died, leaving behind three infant sons from his three wives. The first wife, Puti Indo Jalito, took charge of the children and the kingdom, thus sowing the seeds of a matrilineal society.

Women take it all

In this unique and complex social structure, ancestral property, such as rice paddies and houses, is inherited by the daughters. Children take their mother’s name, and a man is considered a guest in his wife’s home.

BBC for more

Weekend Edition

September 23rd, 2016