Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Science Notes: Did Wind Help Moses Part The Waters?


reposted from Peoples World online

It is always risky to call upon science to verify a biblical story (and vice versa) but it can be interesting to see if a Biblical story and science can be reconciled. There is no real point though. A miracle is supposed to defy the laws of science, not be explained by them. Moses' parting of the Red Sea, as a religious doctrine, is purely a matter of faith (i.e., unwarranted belief) but could the religious myth have some basis in fact. A recent article in Science News reports on a scientific study that suggests the answer is yes.

Carl Drews of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado issued the following statement: "The parting of the waters can be understood through fluid dynamics. The wind moves the water in a way that's in accordance with physical laws, creating a safe passage with two sides and then abruptly allowing the water to rush back in."

Drews and his co-workers studied various atmospheric events worldwide where this phenomenon has been observed, and then did a very close study of Egypt and its possible typology and geography around 1250BC ( a possible setting for the legendary Exodus). Using computers they recreated several possible scenarios attempting to recreate the conditions that would allow for a "parting of the waters."

Drews said, "The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus."

However, the only place where all the factors coincide to replicate the "parting of the waters" happen far from the Red Sea and require "a U-shaped formation of the Nile River and a shallow lagoon along the shoreline." The location is in the north of the Sinai Peninsula along a now vanished branch of the Nile.

Biblical scholars tell us that the name "Red Sea" is a mistranslation of the Hebrew for the "Sea of Reeds;" so the Red Sea itself really didn't have much to do with whatever historical basis, if any, there is to the legend of the Exodus. The location of the Sea of Reeds is unknown but may have been a smaller body of water in the Sinai and may be compatible with the explanation given by Drews.

The upshot of all this is, while the Biblical romance remains one of the great fictional accounts of our past, along with the Iliad and the Mahabharata, there is, nevertheless, no scientific reason that some real historical event could not have lain behind the legend of the "parting of the waters."

Drews concluded: "People have always been fascinated by this Exodus story, wondering if it comes from historical facts. What this study shows is that the description of the waters parting indeed has a basis in physical laws."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Engels : The Force Theory of Herr Eugen Dühring

Thomas Riggins

Chapters two, three and four of Part Two of Anti-Dühring "Political Economy" deal with Dühring's theory that political systems and power are PRIMARY and economic relations are SECONDARY-- both historically and in the present day. Engels says Dühring gives no evidence or arguments in favor of this theory (which he claims is ORIGINAL) but simply asserts it as a given. Engels says this is old hash and has been the way history has been seen since the beginning. The true history of mankind has actually taken place behind the scenes and is the real basis for the pompous doings of the kings and presidents, popes and generals that strut the stage and are memorialized in the history books.

Dühring's idea that all the previous history of mankind is based on man's enslavement of man-- i.e., on force-- and that this is the only way we can explain it is exemplified by his example of Robinson Crusoe and Friday. Crusoe enslaves Friday. But why does he do this? Engels says "only in order that Friday should work for Crusoe's benefit." That is for an ECONOMIC MOTIVE. Dühring has reversed the true relation between political order and economic order and does not see "that force is only the means and that the aim is economic advantage."

Slavery, by the way, the condition from which Dühring starts out his "political force is the basis of history" nonsense is itself the result of prior historical and economic developments.
Slavery requires two preconditions: tools and material for the slave to work upon and a food supply to provide a basic subsistence for the slave. This means that a prior historical period in which distribution of social wealth has developed must have preceded the introduction of slavery.

Engels gives as examples primitive societies with common land ownership where there was no slavery or it "played only a very subordinate role." This is also true of ancient Rome before it became an imperial power. Even in the US, Engels says, the cotton industry of England was more important than force in maintaining slavery in the South so that "in those districts where no cotton was grown or which, unlike the border states, did not breed slaves for the cotton growing states, it died out of itself without any force being used, simply because it did not pay."

But wait a minute. Doesn't this sound right about the world we live in? Dühring says capitalist property today is the result of the use of force in the past and in fact all past property accumulations are also based on force (Rome, Egypt, etc.,) and force is, in Dühring's words, "that form of domination AT THE ROOT OF WHICH LIES not merely the exclusion of fellow-men from the use of the natural means of subsistence, but also... the subjection of man to make him do servile work." It sounds right. Big business and the oil giants use force to take over natural resources (Niger Delta, Iraq, the Amazon), they force masses of third world workers into sweat shops at low wages, etc. Why isn't Dühring right on?

Well, Engels says he is not: "Private property by no means makes it appearance in history as the result of robbery [so much for 'property is theft'] or force. On the contrary, it already existed ... in the ancient primitive communes of all civilized peoples." Engels gives many examples of the development of private property by trade, individual labor, and the accumulation of wealth in the form of domestication of animals-- none of which involved force or robbery. His logical argument is, however, that before you can use force to take someone's property or to steal it from him, it (i.e., property) must already exist "therefore force may be able to change the possession of, but cannot create, private property as such." If Dühring had meant this he would have been correct but force is NOT at the root of the domination of man by private property.

Nor is force the cause of the "subjection of man to make him do servile work" at least with respect to modern capitalism. At this point Engels gives a long quote from DAS KAPITAL [from Vol. 1: Section One of Chapter XXIV "Conversion of Surplus Value Into Capital"] the upshot of which is that economies based on commodity production where property is based on the labor put into it evolve into capitalist economies where surplus value develops and labor becomes separated from property and "property," Marx writes, "turns out to be the right, on the part of the capitalist, to appropriate the unpaid labour of others or its product, and to be the impossibility on the part of the labourer, of appropriating his own product. The separation of property from labour has become the necessary consequence of a law that apparently originated in their identity."

Engels points out that Dühring never mentions Marx's arguments (since they would demolish his own) and that the whole structure of modern exploitation and servitude "can be explained by purely economic causes; at no point whatever are robbery, force, the state, or political interference of any kind necessary."

Again, Dühring is totally wrong when he writes "political conditions are the decisive cause of the economic situation." If that were the case, Engels says, then capitalism would have been voluntarily brought about by the feudal system; but that didn't happen. In the struggle to overthrow feudalism "the decisive weapon" was the ECONOMIC power of the bourgeoisie. An example being the great French Revolution of 1789 which broke out because the capitalist system had become the dominant economic power but, "The 'political conditions' in France remained unaltered, while the 'economic situation' had outgrown them." As a result the nobles no longer had an important social function but they nevertheless tried to keep control of the social wealth "in the revenues that came to" them.

This is not unlike today (2010). We have a socialized economy in that the large industries and banks etc., could be kept running by their workers alone if the capitalist class vanished overnight-- they too have no important social function. Even though they are useless they still fight to control the social wealth and increase their revenues. When the workers finally wake up to this fact, and their living conditions are as desperate as the French in 1789, the game will be up for the capitalists. A few more depressions will suffice one hopes.

While the living standards of the world's working class approaches, day by day, the level of the French in 1789 we find, as Engels says, "the bourgeoisie has already come close to occupying the position held by the nobility in 1789 [in our day they are no longer "close" they have equaled the position of the old nobility-tr]: it is becoming more and more not only socially superfluous, but a social hindrance; it is more and more becoming separated from productive activity, and like the nobility in the past, becoming more and more a class merely drawing revenues...." All this not only points to a socialist future but decisively shows that Dühring's view that politics determines economics is a "delusion."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Secret World of the Chinese Communist Party?

Thomas Riggins

The New York Review of Books for 9-30-10 has an interesting article by Ian Johnson, former Beijing bureau chief for the WSJ, reviewing Richard McGregor's THE PARTY: THE SECRET WORLD OF CHINA'S COMMUNIST RULERS. I don't know how secret it can be if there is a whole book about it.

There are some interesting facts revealed in this review that readers of our sites will find useful. We are told that the CPC is basically the heart and soul of contemporary China and that the views of some, that the party is becoming irrelevant, are dead wrong. Johnson informs us that while many polices of the party are not actually "communist" it is still "Leninist in structure" and its organization and workings "would be recognizable to the leaders of the Russian Revolution." Coming from a WSJ reporter I don't know if this a compliment or not. McGregor's book also shows that despite its "secretive tendencies" the CP "can be usefully analyzed." Maybe the secret world is not really so secret after all.

Johnson says one big misunderstanding about China, and it is a BIG one, is that China "has been privatizing the economy." There is a stock market to be sure and many shares have been sold to investors around the world but "almost all Chinese companies of any size and importance remain in government hands." This is a socialist sine qua non I would think.

This fact is relatively unknown to outside investors due to "ignorant or unethical Western investment banks and lawyers." It seems that ultimate decision making in all really important Chinese companies is made by the Organization Department of the CPC and the NOT the board of directors of the company-- i.e., the party remains "in control of all personnel decisions." CEOs and directors thus dance to the tune of the party.

What about smaller companies, those not belonging to the commanding heights of the economy? Here too "government control still remains pervasive" if less direct. What Johnson means is that "the manager is often a former official or close to Party circles." Johnson is wrong to call this "government control" since even he admits "that these companies are run as the manager sees fit." What he really means is that there is a climate of shared values and aspirations between middle management and the party.

The party also has control of the government as the party, through the medium of "leading small groups" of experts and senior party leaders that have been set up to advise each of the ministries. These groups exist from the top "down to the grass roots." Westerners object to this system, especially in the legal system because judges are not independent and merely "translate court decisions made by Communist Party legal affairs committees into rulings." This objection is based on the Western notion that the only free and democratic organization of government has to be based on bourgeois notions of democracy and any other notions of democracy, especially socialist or people's democracy is bogus. This overlooks the fact that most bourgeois democracies are themselves bogus.

While many Western "experts" on China write off the CPC in the long term, Johnson shares the view that "the West has consistently underestimated the Party's ability to adapt and thus might be excessively negative about its future."

Johnson has some criticisms of his own but they seem to be motivated by his WSJ background. He thinks China needs more reform efforts and while he says "reforms haven't quite ground to a halt" nevertheless the state sector is making a comeback because the CPC has a policy "of recentralizing control." But this is what you would expect a socialist state to do.

He also faults Chinese foreign policy for being concerned with only two "narrow concerns." The first is territorial (Tibet and Taiwan) and the second is "resource extraction in Africa and Central America." Well the first is a concern with the territorial integrity of the country, which is actually being threatened, and is hardly a "narrow concern." Nor is the second, which deals with China's relation to the Third World and its trade policies. By all accounts most African and Central American countries have had better and fairer deals with the Chinese than with the West. Johnson doesn't even mention the CPC's push to increase the unionization of its workforce, which is in complete harmony with socialist principles.

All in all this is an interesting article which should be read by anyone interested in contemporary China and certainly by anyone contemplating buying and reading Richard McGregor's THE PARTY.