In Vladivostok, the Russian Far East rises

September 26th, 2023


IMAGE/The Cradle

In Vladivostok this week, the ‘Russian Far East’ was on full, glorious display. Russia, China, India, and the Global South were all there to contribute to this trade, investment, infrastructure, transportation, and institutional renaissance.

Russian President Vladimir Putin opened and closed his quite detailed address to the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok with a resounding message: “The Far East is Russia’s strategic priority for the entire 21st century.”

And that’s exactly the feeling one would have prior to the address, interacting with business executives mingling across the stunning forum grounds at the Far Eastern Federal University (opened only 11 years ago), with the backdrop of the more than four kilometer-long suspension bridge to Russky Island across the Eastern Bosphorus strait.

The development possibilities of what is in effect Russian Asia, and one of the key nodes of Asia-Pacific, are literally mind-boggling. Data from the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and the Arctic – confirmed by several of the most eye-catching panels during the Forum – list a whopping 2,800 investment projects underway, 646 of which are already up and running, complete with the creation of several international Advanced Special Economic Zones (ASEZ) and the expansion of the Free Port of Vladivostok, home to several hundred small and midsize enterprises (SMEs).  

All that goes way beyond Russia’s “pivot to the East” which was announced by Putin in 2012, two years before the Maidan events in Kiev. For the rest of the planet, not to mention the collective west, it is impossible to understand the Russian Far East magic without being on the spot – starting with Vladivostok, the charming, unofficial capital of the Far East, with its gorgeous hills, striking architecture, verdant islands, sandy bays and of course the terminal of the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway. 

What Global South visitors did experience – the collective west was virtually absent from the Forum – was a work in progress in sustainable development: a sovereign state setting the tone in terms of integrating large swathes of its territory to the new, emerging, polycentric geoeconomic era. Delegations from ASEAN (Laos, Myanmar, Philippines) and the Arab world, not to mention India and China, totally understood the picture. 

Welcome to the ‘de-westernization movement’

In his speech, Putin stressed how the rate of investment in the Far East is three times the Russian region average; how the Far East is only 35 percent explored, with unlimited potential for natural resource industries; how the Power of Siberia and Sakhalin-Khabarovsk-Vladivostok gas pipelines will be connected; and how by 2030, liquified natural gas (LNG) production in the Russian Arctic will triple.

In a broader context, Putin made clear that “the global economy has changed and continues to change; the west, with its own hands, is destroying the system of trade and finance that it itself created.” It is no wonder then that Russia’s trade turnover with Asia-Pacific grew by 13.7 percent in 2022, and by another 18.3 percent in just the first half of 2023.

The Cradle for more

The Alexander Romance (book revuew)

September 26th, 2023


Sometimes scholars go on a search for “the historical Jesus”. They start with the Gospels, then subtract everything that seems magical or implausible, then declare whatever’s left to be the truth.

The Alexander Romance is what happens when you spend a thousand years running this process in reverse. Each generation, you make the story of Alexander the Great a little wackier. By the Middle Ages, Alexander is fighting dinosaurs and riding a chariot pulled by griffins up to Heaven.

People ate it up. The Romance stayed near the top of the best-seller lists for over a thousand years. Some people claim (without citing sources) that it was the #2 most-read book of antiquity and the Middle Ages, after only the Bible. The Koran endorses it, the Talmud embellishes it, a Mongol Khan gave it rave reviews. While historians and critics tend to use phrases like “contains nothing of historic or literary value”, this was the greatest page-turner of the ancient and medieval worlds.

There is no single Alexander Romance. Every culture from Ethiopia to Russia added their own bits and adapted it to their own needs. The Persian version changes things around so that Alexander is secretly the descendant of the rightful Shah of Persia; the Jewish version adds bits about how Alexander knelt before the High Priest of Jerusalem and said that the LORD was the one true God. Someone from Syria added the bits about Gog and Magog; nobody knows who added the parts with the 36-foot-tall giants, the three-eyed lions, the sphere-people, or the headless men. This makes it hard to review “the” Alexander Romance – some historians describe it as more of a genre than a single story.

The outline below will be based on Penguin’s The Greek Alexander Romance, a pastiche of several versions keeping the skeleton of a 15th century Sicilian manuscript. Its history ensures that it’s wildly uneven; some parts seem to be mostly a real history of Alexander with a few embellishments; others are obviously completely imaginary. I’m going to assume you know Alexander’s real conquests and focus on the imaginary parts:

The Birth Of Alexander

Nectanebo was a pharaoh who was also a wizard. He ruled Egypt wisely; when enemies attacked, he would magically vaporize their armies from afar. One day he scryed some enemies approaching Egypt’s border (probably the Persian army of Cambyses?); when he tried to vaporize them, the magic didn’t work. He realized that the gods had decreed that Egypt must fall, so he fled to Macedonia, working as a magician-for-hire to make ends meet.

Queen Olympias couldn’t produce an heir, so she hired the local magician to restore her fertility. Nectanebo fell in love and wanted to have sex with her. So he told her that she wasn’t conceiving because the god Ammon had destined her to bear his demigod son; her problem was that she was having sex with her husband, King Philip, instead of Ammon. When Olympias was skeptical, Nectanebo cast a spell that made her have a dream where Ammon appeared to her and said this was definitely true. Convinced, she agreed to lie in wait for Ammon when her husband was away on campaign. Nectanebo cast a spell to make himself look like Ammon and had sex with her, and she became pregnant.

King Philip came back from campaign and was angry, so Nectanebo transformed into a giant snake, slithered up to Olympias at a state event, kissed her, then transformed into an eagle and flew away. Everyone accepted this as proof that Olympias had been chosen by a god, and King Philip withdrew his complaint.

Nectanebo then became the court doctor, advising Queen Olympias on when to give birth. As her labor began, he advised her not to push, because the astrological chart was less than perfectly ideal. For hours, the poor woman tried to hold it in, as Nectanebo became increasingly agitated about improper positioning of Mercury or whatever. Finally, Nectanebo cast the horoscope and found that the destiny of someone born at that exact moment would be to rule the world. He told Olympias to push, the baby came out immediately, and they named him Alexander.

Alexander And Darius (yes, we are skipping a lot)

As Alexander advanced, King Darius of Persia sent him increasingly insulting letters, to which Alexander sent back letters with dazzlingly witty responses to the insults. For example, from Darius, heavily edited for length:

The king of kings, the race of the gods, who rises in heaven with the sun, the very god Darius, to Alexander my servant: I order and command you to return home to your parents, to be my slave and to rest in the lap of your mother Olympias. That is what suits your age: you still need to play and be nursed. Therefore I have sent you a whip, a ball, and a chest of gold, of which you may take what you prefer: the whip, to show that you still ought to be at play; the ball, so that you can play with your [friends] . . . I have enough gold and silver to fill the whole world, [so] I have sent you the chest of gold, so that if you are unable to feed your fellow bandits you can now give them what they need to return each to his country.

Alexander back to Darius:

Why did you write to me that you possess so much gold and silver? So that we should fight all the more bravely to win it? If I conquer you, I shall be famous and a great king among both Greeks and barbarian for conquering a ruler as great as Darius. But if you defeat me, you will have done nothing outstanding – simply defeated a bandit, as you wrote to me . . . you sent me a whip, a ball, and chest of gold to mock me, but I regard these as favorable omens. I accepted the whip, so as to flay the barbarians with my own hands . . . the ball, as a sign that I shall be ruler of the world, [which is] spherical like a ball. The chest of gold you sent me is a great sign: you will be conquered by me and pay tribute.

Darius then tried sending Alexander several more letters, all of which have a vibe of “yeah, well the jerk store called, and they’re out of you”.

When Alexander was camped outside the Persian capital, he (at the instigation of the god Ammon, or maybe Hermes) tried a crazy gambit: he pretended to be “Alexander’s messenger to Darius”, and went into the Persian capital to deliver a generic message. Darius invited him to stay for dinner, and all the Persians were awed by the godlike appearance of this “messenger” (also, the text offhandedly mentions, then never brings up again, that Alexander was only four feet tall, and everyone was surprised by this).

During the dinner, Alexander kept pocketing the gold and silver dishes in his cloak. Someone complained, and Alexander made a big show about how when King Alexander gave banquets in Macedonia, he always let guests take the dishes home as souvenirs, and he assumed the custom in Persia would be the same, but if they’re so stingy that they won’t even let him take a few dozen solid gold plates, then fine, he’ll just have to report that back to the Macedonian people. At this point the Persians started to feel like he was putting them on, one former ambassador recognized Alexander and sounded the alarm, and he had to get out of there quick. Luckily, Alexander outran everyone in Persepolis, slipped through the gates, and made it back to his own camp. Also, his camp was across a river that froze and melted in an alternating cycle once every few days, and he ran across it just at the moment it melted, so the Persians were stuck on the other side and couldn’t pursue him.

The next day, Alexander ordered battle against the Persians. The Macedonians were outnumbered but won easily; King Darius fled back to his city, plotting to raise another army and get revenge. However, two Persian traitors, hoping to be rewarded by Alexander, murdered Darius, then ran off. Alexander reached the city just as Darius was dying. With his last few breaths, Darius admitted Alexander had always been the better man, and that he was deeply happy Alexander would rule Persia from then on, and how he voluntarily relinquished the kingship to him, and how Alexander must marry his daughter. Alexander wept bitterly over Darius’ death, and vowed to rule Persia wisely and marry Darius’ daughter.

Then he went back to the crowd and said that the people who killed Darius should come forth so he could reward them – “I swear I will raise them up and make them conspicuous among men.” Darius’ killers came forth, and Alexander crucified them, explaining that he didn’t break his oath because he sure did make them high up and conspicuous.

Alexander In India

Perhaps you have heard that Alexander tried to conquer India, but his troops mutinied, and he had to turn back. This is an absurd lie. His troops tried to mutiny, but Alexander talked them down with a brilliant speech. Then he challenged Porus, King of India, to single combat, and won.

Astral Codex Ten for more

Why Barack Obama can’t shut up

September 26th, 2023


UK Prime Minister David Cameron (left) and Barack Obama in 2014, three years after they and others destroyed Libya. IMAGE/PA Images

Barack Obama devastated millions of people all over the world and speaks of his actions as if they were committed by someone else. It is a masterful performance by a man committed to deception.

“If you’re looking to help people impacted by the floods in Libya, check out these organizations providing relief”
Barack Obama

If it can be said that one person is responsible for the awful death toll from the recent flooding in eastern Libya, Barack Obama should be named as the culprit. If nothing else, Obama certainly has a lot of nerve. The person who was determined to destroy the Libyan state did just that. His personal hench lady, aka Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, carried out the dirty work. Along with allies like the UK and France, she made the case for a “no fly” zone, which prevented Libya’s army from being protected by its air force. For good measure she whipped up a phony human rights case, complete with claims about troops taking viagra in order to commit mass rapes.

The end result of these criminal machinations was a destroyed nation, a race war against African migrants and darker skinned Libyans, the murder of the president, and the beginning of a migration crisis which continues to this day. Obama can’t stop himself from commenting on that either. After the U.S. waged a war of aggression against Libya with the help of jihadist groups, the Obama administration then turned to Syria and tried to do the same thing. The Syrian state lives on but is diminished by the displacement of millions of people, sanctions, the U.S. theft of its oil, and its own migration crisis.

Citizens of western Asia and African nations flee instability on boats and rafts that are not seaworthy in hopes of reaching asylum in Europe. These risky trips result in terrible tragedies, as happened in June 2023 when an overloaded ship carried more than 700 migrants from Libya, trying to reach Greece. The boat sank and only 104 survivors were rescued.

There were no such conditions before the U.S. and NATO destroyed Libya, but Obama didn’t disappoint. He pondered why there was more news about the sinking of a small submersible at the site of the Titanic than about the migration tragedy. That question would be normal for anyone else, but not for a man who played a leading role in creating the conditions for some 20,000 people to die while trying to cross the Mediterranean between 2014 and 2023.

“Right here off the coast of Greece we had 700 people dead, 700 migrants who were apparently being smuggled into here. It’s made news but it’s not dominating in the same way. In some ways it’s indicative of the degree to which people’s life chances have grown so disparate. It’s very hard to sustain a democracy when you have such massive concentrations of wealth. And so part of my argument has been that unless we make people feel more economically secure and we’re taking more seriously the need to create ladders of opportunity and a stronger safety net that’s adapted to these new technologies and the displacements that are taking place around the world, if we don’t take care of that, that’s also going to fuel the kind of mostly far right populism, but it could also potentially come from the left that is undermining democracy because it makes people angry and resentful and scared.”

It isn’t just the Libya disaster that Obama opines upon as if he were uninvolved. In one fell swoop he managed to connect two disasters which were created entirely by him. Under his administration, the Federal Reserve’s Quantitative Easing transferred more than $1.5 trillion to Wall Street banks, fattening the pockets of the 1% in the biggest transfer of wealth in history while working people languished in precarity.

Black Agenda Report for more

The foreign actors lining up to replace France in the Sahel

September 25th, 2023


France’s President Emmanuel Macron (R) welcomes Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum (since deposed in a coup) in Paris, 16 February 2022 IMAGE/AFP

France must move away from military solutions and create more symmetrical relationships with its African partners, so that the Sahel can ultimately manage its own security

On 23 August, the leader of the Russian Wagner militia, Yevgeny Prigozhin, died when his plane crashed en route from Moscow to Saint Petersburg.

The death of the oligarch has raised a number of questions about the future of the Wagner group, particularly its activities in Africa.

Prigozhin‘s death came at a particularly turbulent time for the African continent, notably with the recent coup d’etat in Niger, which followed others in Sahelian states in recent years, notably in Mali and Burkina Faso.

The Wagner group is increasingly being seen as the solid military arm of the Kremlin in the Sahel and central Africa, part of a strategy that indirectly increases the presence and power of Russia on the continent.

At the same time, traditional non-African actors in the region, particularly France, seem to be gradually losing their foothold within these countries, which is key for regional security.

What is really happening? Is this a lasting and irreversible geopolitical transformation of the balance of power in Africa? Is this the end of France’s African policy or just a shift towards a more multipolar order? Could this be an opportunity for African countries and institutions to take the lead in the management of security issues, particularly in West and Sahelian Africa?

Security powers in Africa

Beyond the disappearance of Prigozhin – which in no way signifies the end of the Wagner group, given its usefulness to the Kremlin – a look at the new balance of power of external actors in Africa is an interesting first step.

Since at least 2013 and the French intervention in Mali, called Operation Serval, France has played an important role as a security power in Africa.

Serval was broadly accepted and recognised as legitimate, both by the international community and by African actors themselves, starting with the Malian state.

On the other hand, Operation Barkhane, the expansion of the Mali operation into four other Sahel countries – Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and Chad (together called the G5 Sahel) – tested the solidity and coherence of French policy over the eight years of its existence.

Ending in 2022, Barkhane did not achieve the intended results – strengthening the security of the Sahel and its key states through military combat against armed Islamist groups.

On the contrary, military withdrawal from Mali, Burkina Faso – and perhaps now Niger – has led to the loss of French influence in countries where historically it had been strong.

The French media and politicians tend to attribute the reasons for this withdrawal as being solely down to the activities of the Wager group in the region. But there are other factors in play.

The first concerns the orientation of France’s African policy over the last 20 years. The opening up of Africa to globalisation has led to a new balance of power for many countries on the continent, and in particular for the countries of French-speaking Africa.

The arrival of new political and economic players such as China, India, Turkey and Russia has enabled the development of real competition with France, which clearly no longer has the means to achieve its ambitions on the continent.

Major political crises

Middle East Eye for more

War in Ukraine is revealing a new global order – and the ‘power south’ is the winner

September 25th, 2023


(From left to right) China’s Xi Jinping, India’s Narendra Modi, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin IMAGE/Manish Swarup/AP © /The Guardian

It came as an unpleasant surprise to many in Europe and North America that so many countries – many more than the 30 or so that abstained in UN votes condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine – refused to go along with sanctions on Putin’s Russia. Forty countries sanction Russia, but two-thirds of the world’s population live in countries that do not.

The geopolitical split over Russia’s war on Ukraine emerged starkly again at the recent G20 summit in India in early September. A consensus could only be reached on a watered-down statement that referred to the “war in Ukraine” without mentioning Russia’s aggression.

This is not to say that countries who sat on the sidelines all back Russia’s invasion and don’t subscribe to Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The G20 statement, in fact, explicitly rejected the use of force in violation of independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. However, it does mean that they consider this to be a European war in which they have no stake, while still suffering its consequences in terms of food and energy security. It means they would prefer the war to end quickly, even if not necessarily justly; and it means they are unwilling to pay a price to ensure the respect for international law.

It was eye-opening then to take part, during a recent trip to Indonesia, in a global “town hall” debate in Jakarta on the theme of rebuilding bridges between the global north and south.

As a global north voice on the panel, alongside Indian and South African colleagues and after China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, delivered a blistering attack on Europe and the US, I was asked “Why does the west now take a greater interest in the global south?” The bluntness of the question got me thinking.

The questioner was right. The term “global south” is suddenly cropping up at almost every gathering in the west. But it is also increasingly used in the south too. Loosely, it includes what used to be called developing countries, and many formerly colonised nations. It includes economic powerhouses such as China and India, mid-sized powers such as Turkey, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, and poor countries that struggle to make their voices heard. The group is so heterogeneous that it begs the question of whether it makes sense to consider it as such at all. Yet these countries share a sense that their independent voices should be heard rather than being shaped or determined by the west.

To be heard, they are building and expanding organisations, such as the recent Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit enlarging the grouping to admit Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

They are taking stronger positions, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) going as far as suggesting a military intervention in response to the coup in Niger (although little action has followed). They want to be seen as international peace-builders: African leaders, including those from South Africa, Egypt, Senegal, the Republic of the Congo, Zambia and Uganda, travelled to Kyiv and Moscow to press for peace and continued grain exports; while Saudi Arabia hosted representatives of more than 40 countries in Jeddah to discuss the principles for ending Russia’s invasion.

The Guardian/MSN for more

The deaths to come

September 25th, 2023


Several Pakistani cities witnessed protestors burning their extremely high electricity bills and voicing slogans againstg the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA). IMAGE/Awami Web

The situation in the country has become dire. For the past year, nearly every month has brought with it a feeling of foreboding. This, many Pakistanis routinely tell themselves, is certainly the lowest and worst point.

To offset paying more than double the usual price for basic goods, they ration every drop of petrol by seeking alternative transportation options, buying less food, cheaper food, the cheapest food — but nothing seems to work. The continuing political instability, one government after another, the ever-looming threat of military intervention and the general uncertainty have not helped the situation.

All of this has happened, but there seems to be more in the offing. The regular hikes in the price of petrol, the imposition of electricity tariffs and increase in the sales tax have all turned an already unbearable situation into one that is potentially catastrophic.

Despite holding cabinet meetings on the issue of high electricity rates — a consequence of the deal with the IMF — the caretaker prime minister is unable to act against the exorbitant tariffs. Human Rights Watch has requested the IMF to review the impact of economic adjustments in countries where vulnerable groups will be affected. However, so far that help has not been forthcoming here.

There are only so many corners to cut, only so much water added to milk, sawdust added to flour and pebbles eaten with lentils. After some time, there is only water and no milk, only sawdust and no flour and only pebbles and no lentils. The latest increase in prices, which is apparently necessary to sustain the deal with the IMF, points to such a situation. For political scientists researching political decisions, matters proceed according to what people assess to be in their self-interest.

But such calculations break down when the people have nothing to lose. In Pakistan, there will soon be millions of people whose lives have been so utterly wrecked by unchecked inflation and the unaffordability of even basic goods that their reactions to hunger, homelessness and hopelessness will be entirely unpredictable.

Those whose lives are not immediately threatened by the unavailability of food and housing will possibly die in other ways. For instance, one of the major industries in Pakistan that is being affected by the economic crisis is the pharmaceutical industry. Banks are unwilling to open letters of credit due to the continuing lack of foreign exchange. For the current set-up, the pharmaceutical industry is an area of concern.

The foreign exchange shortage means that the country may be hurtling towards a dearth of lifesaving drugs and the raw material needed to manufacture them. One example of this was when Panadol became unavailable last year. While it is not a lifesaving drug, the fact that there was a shortage of such a commonly used medicine, which then persisted, reveals the weaknesses in the market.

Dawn for more

Weekend Edition

September 22nd, 2023

A for Africa, B for …

September 22nd, 2023


Africa MAP/A Learning Family/Duck Duck Go

communicating names and personal data on phone is challenging ..

problems arise due to …

accent, pronunciation, hearing difficulty, bad connection, and so on

to ease the complexity, people try spelling out names and words

there is nothing inherently wrong in spelling out to make things clear

the problem is when words used to clarify the letters of alphabet

i.e., B for boy, G for girl, J for Jane, N for Nancy, O for orange, T for Tom, …

people are not encouraged to be creative in this endeavor

formal education is meant to prepare most people for work and

to operate home appliances, medical equipment, factory machines, …

in the above situation, it would be nice to use names that impart knowledge

names of continents, planets, civilizations, oceans, countries,

such as …

A for Aztec or Albania or asteroid or Armenia or Antarctica or …

B for Bangladesh or Beijing or Big Ben or Bangkok or …

for Colombo or comet or Congo or Kolkata or Cairo or …

D for Durban or Damascus or Düsseldorf or Dakar or Dushanbe or …

E for Earth or Europe or Ethiopia or Edinburgh or …

F for France or Fiji or Florence or Franca or Furth or …

G for Guangzhou or Germany or Gilgit or Guinea or Guernica or …

H for Honduras or Himalayas or Havana or Helmand or …

I for Indus or Indonesia or India or Ireland or Isfahan or Ismailia or …

J for Jupiter or Jamaica or Jerusalem or Jakarta or Juba or Jaffa or …

K for Kilimanjaro or Karachi or Korea or Kashmir or Kyrgyzstan or …

L for Los Angeles or Libya or Lithuania or Laos or London or …

M for Moon or Mayan or Manila or Mercury or Malaysia or Marrakesh or …

N for Nairobi or Neptune or Nepal or Nigeria or Najf or Nis or Nitra or …

O for Oman or Oregon or Orion or Osaka or Oslo or …

P for Palestine or Pacific or Peru or Pakistan or pyramid or Pluto or …

Q for Qatar or Quebec or Queensland or quark or …

R or Roman or Rwanda or Reykjavik or Rio de Janeiro or Riga or …

S for Sweden or Santiago or Saturn or Sylhet or Singapore or …

T for Tanzania or Tokyo or Taj Mahal or Turkey or Taiwan or Tianjin or …

U for Universe or Ukraine or Uruguay or Uranus or Uzbekistan or …

V for Vietnam or Venus or Venezuela or Vancouver or …

W for Washington or Wyoming or Warsaw or Wabu or …

X for Xi’an or Xanadu or xyst or …

Y for Yemen or Yangtze or Yangon or Yogyakarta or Yazd or …

Z for Zambia or Zagreb or Zapotecs or Zibo or Zurich or Zamora or …

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

Not religious, not voting? The ‘nones’ are a powerful force in politics – but not yet a coalition

September 22nd, 2023


“Politicians all over the spectrum have long tried to appeal to religious voters. What about atheists, agnostics and nothing-in-particulars?” IMAGE/Y.Gurevich/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Nearly 30% of Americans say they have no religious affiliation. Today the so-called “nones” represent about 30% of Democrats and 12% of Republicans – and they are making their voices heard. Organizations lobby on behalf of atheists, agnostics, secular humanists and other nonreligious people.

As more people leave religious institutions, or never join them in the first place, it’s easy to assume this demographic will command more influence. But as a sociologist who studies politics and religion, I wanted to know whether there was evidence that this religious change could actually make a strong political impact.

There are reasons to be skeptical of unaffiliated Americans’ power at the ballot box. Religious institutions have long been key for mobilizing voters, both on the left and the right. Religiously unaffiliated people tend to be younger, and younger people tend to vote less often. What’s more, exit polls from recent elections show the religiously unaffiliated may be a smaller percentage of voters than of the general population.

Most importantly, it’s hard to put the “unaffiliated” in a box. Only a third of them identify as atheists or agnostics. While there is a smaller core of secular activists, they tend to hold different views from the larger group of people who are religiously unaffiliated, such as being more concerned about the separation of church and state.

By combining all unaffiliated people as “the nones,” researchers and political analysts risk missing key details about this large and diverse constituency.

Crunching the numbers

In order to learn more about which parts of religious unaffiliated populations turn out to vote, I used data from the Cooperative Election Study, or CES, for presidential elections in 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020. The CES collects large surveys and then matches individual respondents in those surveys to validated voter turnout records.

These surveys were different from exit polls in some key ways. For example, according to these survey samples, overall validated voter turnout looked higher in many groups, not just the unaffiliated, than exit polls suggested. But because each survey sample had over 100,000 respondents and detailed questions about religious affiliation, they allowed me to find some important differences between smaller groups within the unaffiliated.

My findings, published in June 2023 in the journal Sociology of Religion, were that the unaffiliated are divided in their voter turnout: Some unaffiliated groups are more likely to vote than religiously affiliated respondents, and some are less likely.

People who identified as atheists and agnostics were more likely to vote than religiously affiliated respondents, especially in more recent elections. For example, after controlling for key demographic predictors of voting – like age, education and income – I found that atheists and agnostics were each about 30% more likely to have a validated record of voting in the 2020 election than religiously affiliated respondents.

With those same controls, people who identified their religion as simply “nothing in particular,” who are about two-thirds of the unaffiliated, were actually less likely to turn out in all four elections. In the 2020 election sample, for example, I found that around 7 in 10 agnostics and atheists had a validated voter turnout record, versus only about half of the “nothing in particulars.”

Together, these groups’ voting behaviors tend to cancel each other out. Once I controlled for other predictors of voting like age and education, “the nones” as a whole were equally likely to have a turnout record as religiously affiliated respondents.

The Conversation for more

A wasted planet gone on sale

September 22nd, 2023


IMAGE/Raw Pixel

Amid the global trends of de-dollarization and de-neo-liberalization, the climate crisis has been relegated to a secondary concern. Not that it ever was a primary concern, since capital must destroy more than it creates to produce commodities, but there is less media hype on the issue. To waste people and nature is necessary for higher profit rates, and the hype is no more than an advertisement to market the wasted social nature. Still, at this juncture, the changing dynamics of the global power landscape drive countries to seek military advantage and technological superiority to fare better in the geopolitical convulsions, and even the lip service paid to the environment takes a back seat. 

In contrast to previous summers, this year has seen some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded. Wildfires, droughts, hazes, flash floods, and mudslides have increased in size, frequency, and intensity, while temperatures are predicted to rise. Crops and water basins are drying out, infectious diseases are spreading, and cancer rates are rising. Despite the token initiatives taken to address this crisis, the world increasingly faces the prospects of a climatic Armageddon. If more social nature must be metabolized to raise profit rates, history, under the command of the profiteers, will erode the basis for sane human existence. What is certain for all to see is that the current and future moneyed value of destroyed nature exceeds the value of the useful wealth already created.

By the many climate reports already published, global society steps closer and closer to the edge of the abyss. When capital’s science speaks of the natural disaster, it does so to financialize the debris capital has created and raise resource prices at present; since science commandeered by capital serves its functional purpose, and since wasted social nature increases capital gains, the climate crisis can no longer be shrugged off as pseudoscience.

Formulaically, to cut costs, capital must reduce much of nature and man to rubble. It requires a society sickened by war and pollution and deprived of autonomy to mark up prices in ways that maximize profits. Since it is man, and not nature, that negotiates prices, nature is destroyed to further reduce the negotiating power of society over its resources. The logic is that the subject in nature, man or society, must be weakened and, relatedly, a destroyed nature weakens the sovereignty of developing nations, which a fortiori means that the consequences of climate change on the environment are real. They are visible, continuous, and have an everlasting impact on the lives of people.

Attempts to formulate practical solutions are a chimera; so long as profit-maximizing capital manifest in its ideological forms reigns, a solution is not possible. Only labor, as a subject of history, may be able to conceptualize a plan of action that would bring about a remedial process of climatic ills. To be sure, the key takeaways from the last COP summit included the introduction of a fund for poorer countries, which would increase their financial dependency. More to the point, however, no blueprint has been laid out to reduce the ransacking of nature, natural resources, and society in the South, since these raise input/commodity costs in the North.

The notion of the reversibility ofnatural damage is a sham. The damage is permanent, and nothing could be reversed. Moreover, when profits are derived from the premature death of man and the concomitant erosion of nature, or when society perishes prematurely, less is spent on its reproduction, and more of the economic surplus goes to profits. Capital must lay the social foundation for its continuity, the immiseration of labor, and this is done over longer periods of time whose outcome is the recurrent positive quarterly profit rates of major corporations in the North. Hence, sickened social nature serves a profit-making function for capital.

However, rather than looking at the climate crisis as an inevitable outcome of the rationale of capital, mainstream reasoning, which is the ideological edifice of the capital class, places the cause of the crisis in personalized subjects or justifies the losses by the progress of Western civilizational discoveries. When the planet is about to cease supporting life, the latter argument is meaningless. Capitalism is regression rather than progression. It is no longer valid to say that it is worth it to eradicate natives as subjects of nature to push through with an agenda of progress. 

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