China implemented the most comprehensive mechanism to control Covid-19 compared the most of the Western countries, Dr Anil Jasinghe, a driving force behind the Covid-19 control in Sri Lanka said. He severedMore
There is nothing new about “chatbots” that are capable of maintaining a conversation in natural language, understanding a user’s basic intent, and offering responses based on preset rules and data. But the capacity of such chatbots has been dramatically augmented in recent months, leading to handwringing and panic in many circles.
Much has been said about chatbots auguring the end of the traditional student essay. But an issue that warrants closer attention is how chatbots should respond when human interlocutors use aggressive, sexist, or racist remarks to prompt the bot to present its own foul-mouthed fantasies in return. Should AIs be programmed to answer at the same level as the questions that are being posed?
If we decide that some kind of regulation is in order, we must then determine how far the censorship should go. Will political positions that some cohorts deem “offensive” be prohibited? What about expressions of solidarity with West Bank Palestinians, or the claim that Israel is an apartheid state (which former US President Jimmy Carter once put into the title of a book)? Will these be blocked as “anti-Semitic”?
The problem does not end there. As the artist and writer James Bridle warns, the new AIs are “based on the wholesale appropriation of existing culture,” and the belief that they are “actually knowledgeable or meaningful is actively dangerous.” Hence, we should also be very wary of the new AI image generators. “In their attempt to understand and replicate the entirety of human visual culture,” Bridle observes, “[they] seem to have recreated our darkest fears as well. Perhaps this is just a sign that these systems are very good indeed at aping human consciousness, all the way down to the horror that lurks in the depths of existence: our fears of filth, death, and corruption.”
But just how good are the new AIs at approximating human consciousness? Consider the bar that recently advertised a drink special with the following terms: “Buy one beer for the price of two and receive a second beer absolutely free!” To any human, this is obviously a joke. The classic “buy one, get one” special is reformulated to cancel itself out. It is an expression of cynicism that will be appreciated as comic honesty, all to boost sales. Would a chatbot pick up on any of this?
“Fuck” presents a similar problem. Although it designates something that most people enjoy doing (copulation), it also often acquires a negative valence (“We’re fucked!” “Go fuck yourself!”). Language and reality are messy. Is AI ready to discern such differences?
In his 1805 essay “On the gradual formation of thoughts in the process of speech” (first published posthumously in 1878), the German poet Heinrich von Kleist inverts the common wisdom that one should not open one’s mouth to speak unless one has a clear idea of what to say: “If therefore a thought is expressed in a fuzzy way, then it does not at all follow that this thought was conceived in a confused way. On the contrary, it is quite possible that the ideas that are expressed in the most confusing fashion are the ones that were thought out most clearly.”
The relationship between language and thought is extraordinarily complicated. In a passage from one of Stalin’s speeches from the early 1930s, he proposes radical measures to “detect and fight without mercy even those who oppose collectivization only in their thoughts – yes, I mean this, we should fight even people’s thoughts.” One can safely presume that this passage was not prepared in advance. After getting caught up in the moment, Stalin immediately became aware of what he had just said. But instead of backpedaling, he decided to stick with his hyperbole.
As Jacques Lacan later put it, this was a case of truth emerging by surprise through the act of enunciation. Louis Althusser identified a similar phenomenon in the interplay between prise and surprise. Someone who suddenly grasps (“prise”) an idea will be surprised by what she has accomplished. Again, can any chatbot do this?
The problem is not that chatbots are stupid; it is that they are not “stupid” enough. It is not that they are naive (missing irony and reflexivity); it is that they are not naive enough (missing when naivety is masking perspicacity). The real danger, then, is not that people will mistake a chatbot for a real person; it is that communicating with chatbots will make real persons talk like chatbots – missing all the nuances and ironies, obsessively saying only precisely what one thinks one wants to say.
When I was younger, a friend went to a psychoanalyst for treatment following a traumatic experience. This friend’s idea of what such analysts expect from their patients was a cliché, so he spent his first session delivering fake “free associations” about how he hated his father and wanted him dead. The analyst’s reaction was ingenious: he adopted a naive “pre-Freudian” stance and reproached my friend for not respecting his father (“How can you talk like that about the person who made you what you are?”). This feigned naivety sent a clear message: I don’t buy your fake “associations.” Would a chatbot be able to pick up on this subtext?
Most likely, it would not, because it is like Rowan Williams’s interpretation of Prince Myshkin in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. According to the standard reading, Myshkin, “the idiot,” is a saintly, “positively good and beautiful man” who is driven into isolated madness by the harsh brutalities and passions of the real world. But in Williams’s radical re-reading, Myshkin represents the eye of a storm: good and saintly though he may be, he is the one who triggers the havoc and death that he witnesses, owing to his role in the complex network of relationships around him.
It is not just that Myshkin is a naive simpleton. It is that his particular kind of obtuseness leaves him unaware of his disastrous effects on others. He is a flat person who literally talks like a chatbot. His “goodness” lies in the fact that, like a chatbot, he reacts to challenges without irony, offering platitudes bereft of any reflexivity, taking everything literally and relying on a mental auto-complete rather than authentic idea-formation. For this reason, the new chatbots will get along very well with ideologues of all stripes, from today’s “woke” crowd to “MAGA” nationalists who prefer to remain asleep.
Courtesy: Project Syndicate
Death is the handmaiden of the pilot. Sometimes it comes by accident, sometimes by an act of God. ~ Albert Scott Crossfield ~ Medical Aspects
On 11 March 2023 an article in the U.S. Sun reported that “a British Airways pilot collapsed and died shortly before he was due to captain a packed jet. He had been preparing to fly from Cairo in Egypt to Heathrow Airport but had a heart attack in the crew’s hotel”.
Infrequently, one hears news of such a sad event: of sudden pilot incapacitation and death, both while flying an aircraft and otherwise. The World Health Organization reported in 2020 that “in 2019, the top 10 causes of death accounted for 55% of the 55.4 million deaths worldwide. The top global causes of death, in order of total number of lives lost, are associated with three broad topics: cardiovascular (ischaemic heart disease, stroke), respiratory (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infections) and neonatal conditions – which include birth asphyxia and birth trauma, neonatal sepsis and infections, and preterm birth complications”. Of this, cardiovascular disease is one of the most prominent in occurrence.
Reports of pilot deaths, particularly while piloting aircraft, sometimes appear in media reports. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine in 2012 recorded that “In 2004 there were 16,145 UK/JAR professional pilot license holders. Of the notified medical events, 36 presented as incapacitations; half were cardiac or cerebrovascular… There were four sudden deaths. The type of incapacitation varied with age. A male pilot in his 60s had 5 times the risk of incapacitation of a male pilot in his 40s. The annual incapacitation rate was 40/16,145 = 0.25%”.
BBC on 6 October 2015 reported that “Capt Michael Johnston, 57, was flying the plane with 147 passengers and five crew on board when he “passed away while at work”, as per the announcement of the airline. It was also revealed that he had double bypass surgery in 2006. Live Science of 27 September 2013 reported “ A pilot’s heart attack turned a United Airlines flight to Seattle into a dramatic scene where passengers attempted to save the pilot’s life, and one helped the co-pilot make an emergency landing in Boise, Idaho. The pilot died at the hospital, according to news reports. A midair heart attack is a scary scenario for sure, but the incident last night (Sept. 26) was unusual — heart attacks on flights are rare, and deaths are even rarer. A study of medical emergencies on five major airlines over a nearly three-year period showed that, of the 12,000 passengers who experienced some form of medical emergency during a flight, 0.3 percent (38 people) suffered cardiac arrest, in which the heart stops. The number who died over the study period was 31, according to the study, which was published in May in the New England Journal of Medicine”.
Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine in March 2004 went on to say “The Chicago Convention in 1944 to standardize practices where uniformity would improve air navigation. In subsequent annexes to the original convention, the regulations that standardize personnel licensing and rules of the air were established that guide the medical requirements for pilots and aircrew today. After evaluation of available data and the potential risks at different times during a flight, ICAO set a goal of less than 1% risk of pilot incapacitation per year to guide the standards for medical examinations. Gastrointestinal issues, earaches, faintness, headache, and vertigo are the most common causes of incapacitation. Less common but more dangerous debilitations such as alcohol intoxication and sudden cardiac death have been implicated in mishaps, so screening for these risks carries high importance”.
Medical assessments carried out periodically on pilots are generally indicative of a pilot’s health but are not a guarantee against unforeseen health conditions.
The Aeromedical Office of the Airline Pilots Association reports that approximately 42 persons with rhythm disturbances contact the office annually. “Over one half of these persons have experienced syncopal episodes, with 5 to 10 in-cockpit syncopes per year. In a review of 102 syncopes over 5 years, less than half were attributed to ventricular arrhythmias. The majority of individuals with ventricular arrhythmias were permanently disqualified from flying, while most individuals with syncope believed to be bradyarrhythmic returned to flight after evaluation.
In Western Europe cardiovascular causes are the most common cause of loss of flying license, and the main cause for disqualification of pilots on medical grounds is cardiac arrhythmia – frequent ventricular premature beats, nonsustained VT, and paroxysmal atrial fibrillation were the most common problem arrhythmias
The evidence suggests that the incapacitation risk limits used by some states, particularly for cardiovascular disease, may be too restrictive when compared with other aircraft systems, and may adversely affect flight safety if experienced pilots are retired on overly stringent medical grounds. States using the 1% rule should consider relaxing the maximum acceptable sudden incapacitation risk to 2% per year”.
Legal and Regulatory Aspects
Legally, a pilot is in a special category: the same as a surgeon who is in charge of a person’s health and a can driver or bus driver in charge of a passenger’s security. Only, a pilot has to ensure the safety of hundreds of passengers all at once. Inasmuch as an airline would be guilty of negligent entrustment in handing over a plane full of passengers to an improperly licensed pilot, a pilot would be guilty of gross negligence – the highest form of negligence – if she jeopardizes the security and safety of the passenger in her charge.
The International Civil Aviation Organization addresses the issue of pilot’s health requirements under Annex 1 (Personnel Licensing) to the Chicago Convention of 1944 and provides further guidance in Procedures and requirements for the assessment of medical fitness which are contained in the Manual of Civil Aviation Medicine (Doc 8984). The International Air Transport Association (IATA) – the trade association of airlines – in its guidelines for flight crew requires the following: the absence of any medical condition or any suspected medical condition that may lead to any form of acute functional incapacity; the absence of any existing or former medical condition – acute, intermittent or chronic – that leads or may lead to any form of functional incapacity; the absence of any use of medication or substances which may impair functional capacity; minimal requirements to the necessary functions such as vision and hearing.
ICAO’s Annex 1 provides that, to satisfy the licensing requirements of medical fitness for the issue of various types of licenses, the applicant must meet certain appropriate medical requirements which are specified as three classes of Medical Assessment: Third Class: This is the most basic of the medical exams. It is required for those attempting to earn a student pilot license, recreational pilot license, and private pilot license.; Second Class: This one is required for anyone attempting to earn their commercial pilot license; First Class: A first class medical certificate is required in order to earn a airline transport pilot certificate.
The United States Federal Aviation Administration states that the main differences between these is how in depth the exam gets and how often you have to have it done. Much of the 3 tests are very similar although the first class medical exam is required to be done annually and includes an Electrocardiogram test if the applicant over the age of 40.
.Recommendation 18.104.22.168 of Annex 1 suggests that from 18 November 2010 States should apply, as part of their State safety programme, basic safety management principles to the medical assessment process of licence holders, that as a minimum include: routine analysis of in-flight incapacitation events and medical findings during medical assessments to identify areas of increased medical risk; and continuous re-evaluation of the medical assessment process to concentrate on identified areas of increased medical risk. This is followed by the recommendation that the period of validity of a Medical Assessment must begin on the day the medical examination is performed.
Here, validity means acceptance as truth or fact which would go towards recognizing a pilot’s suitability to fly an aircraft. An air carrier which wet leases an aircraft to another carrier would be guilty of negligent entrustment. So would any air carrier who employs pilots without checking if the pilot has a valid license.
Although we tend to glamourize those in aviation, from the confident captain to the glamourous cabin attendant even down to the humble chap in overalls who helps put he aircraft in the sky, they are all human, like the rest of us, subject to the vulnerabilities of humanity. When the I was working at ICAO I once had a meeting with an airline pilot who had been commanding a flight from Europe to Asia. His young first officer, just 38 years old, had been complaining about a pain in his back on the onward flight to Europe. He had informed the captain that it was “just a backache” and that he would get it checked by his brother who was practicing medicine in the city they were bound for. On the return flight the next day, over Zurich, the first officer had mentioned to the captain that his back ache had returned and that he would leave the flight deck for a few minutes to rest. A few minutes later a visibly upset cabin crew member had rushed into the flight deck and told the captain that the first officer had died.
The captain had been grief-stricken as the first officer was a good friend as well as a trusted colleague He had to fly alone the rest of the flight, with mental acuity and equanimity, and when I asked him how he managed the flight he said the worst feeling was the feeling of loneliness in the flight deck, which was overwhelming. The flight deck is a lonely place, even if there are two persons in it. Dr. Vivek Murthy, one time Surgeon General of the United States writing in the Harvard Business Review said: “Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may well be higher”.
Heart attacks often come from nowhere, with no prior warning. However, what must be borne in mind, in the case of pilots is that pilots have negative factors that affect them that other professionals may not have, such as crew fatigue due to overscheduling, disturbance of sleep cycles caused by night flying and missing family events and celebrations, not to mention being away from home constantly. The overbearing loneliness factor may add to this.
“The loss of MH370 points us to an immediate need. A large commercial airliner going missing without a trace for so long is unprecedented in modern aviation. It must not happen again”. ~ Tony Tyler, Director General, International Air Transport Association (2014)
Just after midnight on 8 March 2014 A Boeing 777 Malaysian Airlines aircraft operating Flight MH 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur on its way to Beijing. 227 passengers and 12 crew were on board. A short time later, the aircraft was lost on radar between the air traffic control areas of Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh City. Neither the aircraft nor the passengers or anything related thereto has been found so far except for a part of a wing and a few other pieces seemingly coming from the aircraft which were found off the coast of the French Reunion islands, Madagascar, and Mozambique, spawning theories that the plane could have veered off to somewhere in the Indian Ocean – a fact claimed to have been supported by data driven evidence.
All that is known is that at around 1.01 a.m. the aircraft had reached an altitude of 10,700 meters. The source of data transmission in the aircraft – The Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) – on the performance of the aircraft had send its last transmission at 1.07 am and blipped off at around 1:19 A.M. and at 1.21 the last communication from the crew had been recorded whereupon the plane’s communication between the aircraft and air traffic control ceased. This was when the transponder that communicated with the air-traffic control had got switched off just prior to Flight MH 370 entering Vietnamese airspace over the South China Sea.
Theories – unsubstantiated by cogent proof – abound. Netflix last week came out with a three-part series which had three theories. One was that it was the pilot who veered off into the Indian Ocean from the designated flight path and crashed the plane in the sea after it ran out of fuel. The second theory was that someone or some people hijacked the aircraft and flew it perhaps to Kazakhstan. The third theory was that the plane was carrying dangerous cargo (which had been loaded in Kuala Lumpur under armed escort) bound for China which was effectively precluded from getting there, perhaps by someone carrying out an armed attack on the plane in mid air.
The three theories came “supported” by some incredible facts. With regard to the first theory, the pilot in command – a seemingly respectable and respected family man who had tons of experience as a pilot with no history of professional irregularity, could have knocked off the electronics, thus making the aircraft invisible to radar; de pressurised the cabin; and put all persons on board to sleep (while he had put on a long lasting oxygen mask and despatched the First Officer out of the flight deck and locked the door), just to trash the aircraft in the Indian Ocean when the fuel tanks emptied. This drastic theory was based on the fact that the pilot had applied a similar deviating route (of going way South into the Indian Ocean) on his home simulator for fun. Thankfully, all concerned ruled out the pilot theory, when the other two theories saw light.
The second theory was that there could have been a Russian connection, as three Russians were on board. One was in first class where here was a “trap door” on the floor, unlocked, which led down to the computer centre of the aircraft. One of these three, it was surmised, could have surreptitiously gone down and disabled all electronic functions of the aircraft, disabled the flight crew and taken the aircraft to say, Kazakhstan.
The third theory – interception – was that someone thought the huge consignment of dangerous and sensitive cargo should not have been allowed to get into the hands of the Chinese, therefore two large aircraft (with huge dishes of some sort fixed on them that could disrupt electronics on any object below them) flew over MH 370 and somehow and possibly “blew up” the aircraft when the captain of MH 370 refused the commands from above to land in some place like the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean. Or the aircraft may have landed somewhere in the Indonesian Islands and that is why there is no debris flying around.
Reparation for Loss
Watching this series, I felt intensely sorry for the families left behind who were interviewed. All of the above do not help the grieving father and husband who had lost his wife and two children; a wife whose husband left for Beijing for a job; and a young wife whose husband was a member of the cabin crew on the flight. They never returned.
Technically, as both Malaysia and China have ratified the Montreal Convention of 1999, the dependants are entitled to compensation for death or injury of the passengers on board (not the crew as they were under an employment contract with the airline). But there is a snag. The passengers are not proven to be dead or injured. This compensation would come from the insurers of the airline. As for Malaysia, as the aircraft bore the nationality of the State, some accountability would have to accrue. The BBC reported in 2014 that “the families of passengers on the missing Malaysian passenger plane have begun to receive initial compensation payments of $50,000 (£30,000). So far six Malaysian families and one Chinese family have received the money, and insurers are assessing the claims of 40 more Chinese families. Relatives of all 239 missing passengers can claim up to $175,000 each”. How this was computed was not revealed, although in the context of Malaysian Airlines, the Montreal Convention is clear – that once death or injury is established, there will be a preliminary sum of 100, 000 Special Drawing Rights (around 132,720 US $) which is paid with no questions asked. The plaintiffs can claim more than this amount but beyond the 100,000 SDRs the carrier can circumvent a claim for a higher amount if the carrier proves that: (a) such damage was not due to the negligence or other wrongful act or omission of the carrier or its servants or agents; or (b) such damage was solely due to the negligence or other wrongful act or omission of a third party.
There is also a provision – Article 28 – which admits of advance payments or upfront payments if required by national law, where the carrier should make advance payments without delay to a natural person or persons who are entitled to claim compensation in order to meet the immediate economic needs of such persons. Such advance payments do not presuppose a recognition of liability and may be offset against any amounts subsequently paid as damages by the carrier.
This absolute mystery at this time of sophisticated technology available through the application of satellite tracking cries out the question “why can’t we have a system of global tracking of any aircraft wherever they are”? Admittedly, on the face of it this is a simple enough question. However, for there to be global tracking of airborne aircraft (or aircraft under the sea or anywhere in the world for that matter) there would have to be some sort of reporting apparatus installed in an aircraft. Of course, one size might not fit all types of aircraft and such a system might take years to perfect.
Whatever the cause might have been for us to believe “beyond reasonable doubt” that there are no survivors; or whether the aircraft disappeared as a result of human intervention or technical malfunction, it is not for us to question our faith in whatever religious doctrine we believe in. As someone crudely put it: “shit happens”.
Ultimately it boils down to the grief-stricken relatives who are still waiting for an answer from the authorities. There is no point in blaming divine intervention. We bring these things upon ourselves. Rabbi Kushner has some wise words to say in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People: “The painful things that happen to us are not punishments for our misbehavior, nor are they in any way part of some grand design on God’s part. Because the tragedy is not God’s will, we need not feel hurt or betrayed by God when tragedy strikes. We can turn to Him for help in overcoming it, precisely because we can tell ourselves that God is as outraged by it as we are”. Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner, in one of his articles alludes to the possibility that : “not everything that takes place in the world has a purpose or comes from God. Efforts to reconcile the existence of evil and suffering in the world with God’s justice are a waste of time because they proceed from the false premise that everything that takes place in the world comes from God and has a purpose”.
I believe it is definitely not appropriate to ascribe the disappearance of the aircraft to an inadequacy of divine intervention. As the Dalai Lama once said: “According to the Latin root of the word “religion” would mean “to bind again”. Now how does the concept of binding or tying up come to be applied as the common term for all our various teachings? The common enemy of all moral precepts laid down by the great teachers of mankind is selfishness of mind. For it is just this which causes ignorance, anger and passion which are at the root of all the troubles of the world”.
Perhaps it all boils down to randomness, which seems to leave me with no alternative but to accept Rabbi Kushner’s wise words: “If you have been brave enough to love, and sometimes you won and sometimes you lost; if you have cared enough to try, and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t; if you have been bold enough to dream and found yourself with some dreams that came true and a lot of broken pieces of dreams that didn’t, that fell to earth and shattered, then you can look back from the mountaintop you now find yourself standing on, like Moses contemplating the tablets that would guide human behavior for a millennia, resting in the Ark alongside the broken fragments of an earlier dream. And you, like Moses, can realize how full your life has been and how richly you are blessed. ”
This is how I see the passengers of Flight MH 370 to whom these thoughts are lovingly dedicated. I am still hoping they will come back to us.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has now moved the Doomsday Clock to 90 seconds to midnight, the closest it has been to the symbolic time of the annihilation of humanity and the Earth since 1947. This is alarming, which is why leaders in the Global South have been making the case to halt the warmongering over Ukraine and against China. As Namibia’s Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said, ‘We are promoting a peaceful resolution of that conflict so that the entire world and all the resources of the world can be focused on improving the conditions of people around the world instead of being spent on acquiring weapons, killing people, and actually creating hostilities’.
In line with the alarm from the Doomsday Clock and assertions from people such as Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, the rest of this newsletter features a new text called Eight Contradictions in the Imperialist ‘Rules-Based Order’ (which you can download as a PDF here). It was drafted by Kyeretwie Opoku (the convenor of the Socialist Movement of Ghana), Manuel Bertoldi (Patria Grande /Federación Rural para la producción y el arraigo), Deby Veneziale (senior fellow, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research), and me, with inputs from senior political leaders and intellectuals from across the world. We are offering this text as an invitation to a dialogue. We hope that you will read, circulate, and discuss it.
We are now entering a qualitatively new phase of world history. Significant global changes have emerged in the years since the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. This can be seen in a new phase of imperialism and changes in the particularities of eight contradictions.
1. The contradiction between moribund imperialism and an emerging successful socialism led by China.
This contradiction has intensified because of the peaceful rise of socialism with Chinese characteristics. For the first time in 500 years, the Atlantic imperialist powers are confronted by a large, non-white economic power that can compete with them. This became clear in 2013 when China’s GDP in purchasing power parity (PPP) overtook that of the United States. China accomplished this in a much shorter period than the West, with a significantly larger population and without colonies, enslaving others, or military conquest. Whilst China stands for peaceful relations, the US has become increasingly bellicose.
The US has led the imperialist camp since World War II. Post-Angela Merkel and with the advent of the Ukraine military operation, the US strategically subordinated dominant sections of the European and Japanese bourgeoisie. This has resulted in weakening intra-imperialist contradictions. The US first permitted and then demanded that both Japan (the third-largest economy in the world) and Germany (the fourth-largest economy) – two fascist powers during World War II – greatly increase their military expenditure. The result has been the ending of Europe’s economic relationship with Russia, damage to the European economy, and economic and political benefits for the US. Despite the capitulation of most of Europe’s political elite to full US subordination, some large sections of German capital are heavily dependent on trade with China, much more than on their US counterparts. The US, however, is now pressuring Europe to downgrade its ties to China.
More importantly, China and the socialist camp now face an even more dangerous entity: the consolidated structure of the Triad (the United States, Europe, and Japan). The US’s growing internal social decay should not mask the near absolute unity of its political elite on foreign policy. We are witnessing the bourgeoisie placing its political and military interests over its short-term economic interests.
The centre of the world economy is shifting, with Russia and the Global South (including China) now accounting for 65% of the world’s GDP (measured in PPP). From 1950 until the present, the US share of the global GDP (in PPP) has fallen from 27% to 15%. The growth of the US’s GDP has also been declining for more than five decades and has now fallen to only around 2% per year. It has no large new markets in which to expand. The West suffers from an ongoing general crisis of capitalism as well as the consequences of the long-term tendency of the rate of profit to decline.
2. The contradiction between the ruling classes of the narrow band of imperialist G7 countries and the political and economic elite of capitalist countries in the Global South.
This relationship has undergone a major change from the heydays of the 1990s and the height of US unilateral power and arrogance. Today, there are growing cracks in the alliance between the G7 and Global South power elites. Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani, India’s largest billionaires, need oil and coal from Russia. The far-right Modi-led government represents India’s monopoly bourgeoisie. Thus, the Indian foreign minister now makes occasional statements against US hegemony in finance, sanctions, and other areas. The West does not have the economic and political ability to always provide what power elites in India, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey need. This contradiction, however, has not sharpened to the degree that it can be a focal point of other contradictions, unlike the contradiction between socialist China and the US-led G7 bloc.
3. The contradiction between the broad urban and rural working class and sections of the lower petty bourgeoisie (collectively known as the popular classes) of the Global South versus the US-led imperial power elite.
This contradiction is slowly becoming sharper. The West has a great soft power advantage in the Global South amongst all classes. Yet, for the first time in decades, young Africans have come out to support the expulsion of French troops in Mali and Burkina Faso in West Africa. For the first time, the popular classes in Colombia were able to elect a new government that rejected the country’s status as a vassal outpost of US military and intelligence forces. Working-class women are at the forefront of many critical battles of both the working class and society at large. Young people are rising up against the environmental crimes of capitalism. Growing numbers of the working class are identifying their struggles for peace, development, and justice as explicitly anti-imperialist. They are now able to see through the lies of US ‘human rights’ ideology, the destruction of the environment by Western energy and mining companies, and the violence of US hybrid war and sanctions.
4. The contradiction between advanced rent-seeking finance capital versus the needs of the popular classes, and even some sections of capital in non-socialist countries, regarding the organisation of societies’ requirements for investment in industry, environmentally sustainable agriculture, employment, and development.
This contradiction is a result of the decline in the rate of profit and the difficulty of capital to increase the rate of exploitation of the working class to a sufficient level able to finance increasing investment requirements and remain competitive. Outside of the socialist camp, in almost all of the advanced capitalist countries and in most of the Global South – with some exceptions, especially in Asia – there is an investment crisis. New types of firms have arisen that include hedge funds such as Bridgewater Associates and private equity firms such as BlackRock. ‘Private markets’ controlled $9.8 trillion worth of assets in 2022. Derivatives, a form of fictitious and speculative capital, are now worth $18.3 trillion in ‘market’ value but have a $632 trillion notional value – a value more than five times higher than the world’s total actual GDP.
A new class of information technology-based network-effect monopolies, including Google, Facebook/Meta, and Amazon – all under full US control – have emerged to attract monopoly rents. US digital monopolies, under the direct supervision of US intelligence agencies, control the information architecture of the whole world, outside of a few socialist and nationalist countries. These monopolies are the basis for the rapid expansion of US soft power in the last 20 years. The military-industrial complex, the merchants of death, also attract growing investments.
This intensified speculative and monopoly rentier accumulation phase of capital is deepening a strike by capital against necessary social investments. South Africa and Brazil have seen dramatic levels of deindustrialisation under neoliberalism. Even advanced imperialist countries have ignored their own infrastructure, such as the electricity grid, bridges, and the railway. The global elite has engineered a tax strike by providing huge reductions in tax rates and taxes as well as legal tax havens for both individual capitalists and their corporations to increase their share of surplus value.
Tax evasion by capital and the privatisation of large swathes of the public sector have decimated the availability of basic public goods like education, healthcare, and transportation for billions of people. It has contributed to Western capital’s ability to manipulate and gain high interest income from the ‘manufactured’ debt crisis facing the Global South. At its highest level, hedge fund profiteers like George Soros speculate and destroy the finance of entire countries.
The impact on the working class is severe, as their work has become increasingly precarious and permanent unemployment is destroying large sections of the world’s youth. A growing section of the population is superfluous under capitalism. Social inequality, misery, and desperation are abundant.
5. The contradiction between the popular classes of the Global South and their domestic political and economic power elites.
This manifests quite differently by country and region. In socialist and progressive countries, contradictions amongst the people are resolved in peaceful and varied ways. However, in several countries in the Global South where the capitalist elite has been fully in bed with Western capital, wealth is held by a small percentage of the population. There is widespread misery amongst the poorest people, and the capitalist development model is failing to serve the interests of the majority. Due to the history of neocolonialism and Western soft power, there is a decidedly pro-West middle-class consensus in most of the large Global South countries. This class hegemony of the local bourgeoisie and the upper stratum of the petty bourgeoisie is used to block the popular classes (who make up most of the population) from accessing power and influence.
6. The contradiction between US-led imperialism versus nations strongly defending national sovereignty.
These nations fall into four main categories: socialist countries, progressive countries, other countries rejecting US control, and the special case of Russia. The US has created this antagonistic contradiction through hybrid warfare methods such as assassinations, invasions, NATO-led military aggression, sanctions, lawfare, trade war, and a now incessant propaganda war based on outright lies. Russia is in a special category, as it suffered more than 25 million deaths at the hands of European fascist invaders when it was a socialist country. Today, Russia – which notably has immense natural resources – is once again a target for complete annihilation as a state by NATO. Some elements of its socialist past are still present in the country, and there remains a high degree of patriotism. The US’s goal is to finish off what it started in 1992: at a minimum, to permanently destroy Russia’s nuclear military capacity and install a puppet regime in Moscow in order to dismember Russia in the long term and replace it with many smaller, permanently weakened vassal states of the West.
7. The contradiction between the millions of discarded working-class poor in the Global North versus the bourgeoisie who dominate these countries.
These workers are showing some signs of rebellion against their economic and social conditions. However, the imperialist bourgeoisie is playing the white supremacist card to prevent a larger unity of working people in these countries. At this moment, workers are not consistently able to avoid falling prey to racist war propaganda. The number of people present at public events against imperialism has diminished precipitously over the last thirty years.
8. The contradiction between Western capitalism versus the planet and human life.
The inexorable path of this system is to destroy the planet and human life, threaten nuclear annihilation, and work against the needs of humanity to collectively reclaim the planet’s air, water, and land and stop the nuclear military madness of the United States. Capitalism rejects planning and peace. The Global South (including China) can help the world build and expand a ‘zone of peace’ and commit to living in harmony with nature.
With these changes in the political landscape, we are witnessing the rise of an informal front against the US-dominated imperialist system. This front is constituted by the convergence of:
- Popular sentiment that this violent system is the main enemy of the people of the world.
- Popular desires for a more just, peaceful, and egalitarian world.
- The struggle of socialist or nationalist governments and political forces for their sovereignty.
- The desires of other Global South countries to reduce their dependence on this system.
The main forces against the US-dominated imperialist system are the peoples of the world and the socialist and nationalist governments. However, there must be space provided for integrating governments that wish to reduce their dependency on the imperialist system.
The world currently stands at the beginning of a new era in which we will witness the end of the US global empire. The neoliberal system is deteriorating under the weight of numerous internal contradictions, historical injustices, and economic unviability. Without a better alternative, the world will descend into even greater chaos. Our movements have revived hope that something other than this social torment is possible.
We hope that Eight Contradictions in the Imperialist ‘Rules-Based Order’ will stimulate debate and discussion and assist us in our broader Battle of Ideas against toxic social philosophies that seek to suffocate rational thought about our world.
In a remarkable new study, the broad-brush patterns between how we use and mark public space and our collective well-being were investigated in 2022 by Quynh C. Yue and colleagues who analyzed 164 million Google Street View images from locations across the United States. The study extracted information on the built environment with a focus on the directionality of traffic, the incidence of crosswalks and sidewalks, and the presence or absence of street signs, which foster way-finding. The information collected on the built environment was then compared with census-tract, health information for those neighborhoods that were included in the Google Street Views.
The researchers found that legible, accessible paths that eased movement and communication had positive health impacts. Traffic restrictions, like an abundance of single-lane roads, indicative of lower levels of urban connectivity, were correlated with chronic health conditions and lower levels of mental health. Walkability indicators such as crosswalks and sidewalks were associated with better health, including reductions in depression, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Street signs and streetlights were also found to be associated with decreased chronic conditions. Overall, living in neighborhoods with a built environment that supports social interaction and physical activity leads to positive health outcomes.
But what factors or social mechanisms underpin these correlations? For this contemporary study, that question is not easy to answer as we neither can pinpoint the history of town/urban planning for each street view, nor do we know the governmental or individual decisions and actions that created each different community-scape. Here, turning to archives of history and ground plans of past cities may hold some clues.
Humans interact, cooperate, and form social configurations at many different scales with the sizes of our social networks highly variable. Many of us are part of household units. Members of different households often join forces or get together to form sports teams, or block associations, or work groups. Some of us live in small communities, others live in neighborhoods of variable extents, and most of us are affiliated with metropolitan areas or cities, states, nations, along professional associations, and market networks. In general, human affiliations and groupings have systems of governance that encompass the rules of the game, the norms, institutions, and modes of leadership. For humans, past and present, institutions and governance to a degree set the different parameters in which we live, work, cooperate, and interact.
Archaeologists faced with the challenge of defining the nature of, as well as variation and change in, governance over time rely on the material remains and residues of past human behaviors and actions to extract clues about politics in the past. Monumental architecture, statues of rulers, written texts, material symbols of office or the markers of royal position all can provide essential glimpses of individual aggrandizement, the personalization of clout, or alternative political forms in which power was more shared and distributed. But of late, archaeologists also have begun to examine the spatial layouts and allocations that are visible through the plans of ancient cities, arrangements of urban architectural components, and other indicators of socio-spatial behaviors to compare the variation in governance across human institutions.
In their writings, which draw on a comparative, quantitative study of 30 premodern states and empires from across the globe, Richard Blanton and Lane Fargher have made a strong case that legible and open urban plans that afford widespread access to services and power tend to be associated with more collective, less autocratic forms of governance. Urban forms, like grid systems that facilitate way-finding, allow travel and access to be more open and equal. Broad public spaces afford opportunities for the exchange of both information and material. Blanton and Fargher opine that less transparent, less efficient uses of space tend to degrade participation, voice, and economic efficacy, thereby underpinning and indicating less equal political relations and consolidations of power.
Blanton and Fargher also link variation in governance to degrees of inequality with more collective political forms fostering broader well-being and economic equity, while more autocratic regimes tend to associate with higher amounts of inequality and more disparate outcomes in regard to health and well-being. In large part, these differences correlate with the greater provisioning of public goods and services by more collective governments, which contribute to biological, material, and emotional well-being. Additionally, more autocratic regimes were found to be more prone to social disruptions and unrest, which degrade well-being. Blanton and Fargher find statistical support for these relations in their sample. Their findings, in conjunction with recent studies in other historical regions, provide strong cross-cultural indications that governance, construction and uses of social space, and well-being are all behaviorally linked.
While caution is in order, the findings from the Google Street Map study do show clearly that socio-spatial arrangements have clear and direct impacts on human health and well-being, and that the built environments that we collectively construct can signal broader values and differences in governance. In a specific recent example in the news, the shift toward autocracy in Turkey coincides with restrictions in public access to what was the largest civic space in the nation’s biggest metropolis. Human cooperation and the institutions through which we implement it take different forms. These social ties and arrangements leave discreet on-the-ground signatures. How closely do these urban signatures and patterns correspond with equity, well-being, health, and sustainability? And, how much can we learn by examining these relationships in the past? The next era of archaeological research, aiming to document the relationship between shifts in governance and changes in urban layouts and access, should provide us with important answers.
This article was produced by Human Bridges, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
South Eastern University of Sri Lanka has had a very steady growth during the last two decades since its establishment. As a significant success story of the university, the establishment of the Engineering Faculty can be considered. This university is producing thousands of graduates in a year. The products of this university comprise students from all parts of the Island with different ethnicities, cultures and languages. The existence of this diversity at the South Eastern University of Sri Lanka makes it as a national asset. The main pillar of the university has been the academic integrity maintained throughout the last two decades since its establishment. Unfortunately, recent reports from the South Eastern University of Sri Lanka (SEUSL) is making shocking revelations regarding the current academic bankruptcy related to its academic members.
Academic integrity and academic quality are the main components of a university or an educational institute. The overall quality of the graduates produced from these institutes mainly depends on these factors. When these factors are compromised due to various reasons, then the downfall of an institute can be inevitable and it can affect the undergraduates produced. This can challenge their employability too. There are obvious evidences to show the downfall in the academic integrity and academic quality at South Eastern University of Sri Lanka.
The contributing factors for the loss of academic integrity should be looked very carefully. The appointment of Professor M.M.M. Najim as the Vice Chancellor to this institute has been the starting point to the downfall in administration, academic quality and integrity. Professor Najim has been encouraging the number of publications and professorships throughout his period as the vice chancellor. The numbers were astonishingly very high and the university had many hundreds of publications from the academic members. But Professor Najim has totally forgotten to maintain the quality of these publications.The evaluation of these publications and the professorships are giving evidence of significant poor quality in academic nature. It’s rational to raise a question; whether Professor Najim did this intentionally or he left these matters unnoticed. The harvests of these publication mafias can be seen at this university. There are many numbers of professors and academic staff at SEUSL without proper publication ethics and academic integrity. These staff members have been awarded Senate awards and Vice Chancellor awards during the period of Prof Najim being the vice chancellor. It’s astonishing to see where all those scrutinizing mechanisms gone away during his period! People with publications in predatory journals and false index metrics have been awarded as best researchers!! The similar scenarios are hardly to be seen in other universities and institutes. The same award-winning papers have been the instrumental to become the professors for such academics at SEUSL. Many questions can be raised about the measures which were taken by Prof. Najim to maintain the academic integrity at SEUSL!He himself being a professor left things going unnoticed in front of his eyes where a publication mafia was operating within the institute. The term ‘publication mafia’ can be used properly to explain the situation existing at SEUSL. Significant number professorships offered during the period of Prof Najim is an evidence to this scenario. The current vice chancellor Rameez Aboobacker and another professor with MSc from SLIIT at the department of Management and Information Technology (MIT), SEUSL are main examples. They had the boosted publication numbers within a year and have applied for the professorships during the next year. The professor at Department of MIT, SEUSL has published the maximum number of publications (nearly 20 indexed publications) during a period of one year and the next year he has become as a professor in Management and Information Technology, SEUSL. The academic community from other universities and the UGC, Sri Lanka might wonder how one individual can publish such a big number of indexed publications himself without involving at any major research projects. But the autopsy of these publications shows that there are various activities of fraudulences associated with these publications (this can be published as a separate investigative article). The SEUSL would be the only university in the whole Sri Lanka which was reluctant to provide the list of publications used by the existing professors to claim their professorships under the Right to Information Act!The Information Officer and the Designated Officers at SEUSL are purposefully violating the provisions in the Right to Information Act in many ways to hide the academic and administrative malpractices occurred within this institute.
The contribution done by Professor Najim in the loss of academic integrity and quality at SEUSL didn’t come to an end with his completion of two terms. The newly appointed vice chancellor, Professor A. Rameez is being another instrumental in bringing this institute to a standstill and to the graveyards. The readers may wonder why the vice chancellors are responsible to these downfalls. To explain precisely, they are the chief academic officers maintaining the academic quality and the smooth functioning of the university.
The story behind Professor A. Rameez is well known to the readers. He has been proven to be a research fraud and his academic integrity is in a big question. But he is the chief executive officer of this institute. When his research fraudulence are looked at in detail, they give a solid evidence for his unsuitability to continue as a vice chancellor and as an academic member. The undergraduates are not allowed to copy or plagiarize in their academic activities according to the examination rules. There are many examination rules and regulations in place to maintain the academic standard among undergraduates. But not a single regulation has been followed with regard to academics, especially in the case of A. Rameez. Professor. Prof. Najim promoted A. Rameez as a professor in sociology within a short period of time to prepare him for the vice chancellor’s chair. But Professor A. Rameez is making himself a greater example for various types of malpractices related to his academic achievements. One may wonder, whether the A. Rameez’s professorship application was properly evaluated at various levels! A question to ask is, whether a person with ALL these malpractices may focus on maintaining the academic standard of the programs offered at this institute. The answer is obvious; He cannot maintain the quality of the programs offered at SEUSL. Because he hasn’t had any feeling of guilty or inhibition in his fraudulence.
The history of downfall in academic integrity has started with Professor Najim and it has been accelerated with the appointment of Professor A. Rameez as the vice chancellor. The appointment of Professor A. Rameez as the vice chancellor to SEUSL has occurred in a controversial manner. He has been in the third place in the selection list and he has bypassed the top two candidates in the list by doing nasty politics. It is still a big question, how A. Rameez got appointed while he is having these academic inefficiencies. Even after getting appointed as the vice chancellor, he never tried to restore the academic integrity. The ongoing scenarios are making the situation worse and worse at SEUSL. He is trying to promote various academics as professors with poor academic quality and academic inefficiencies. This may increase the number of professorships at SEUSL, but a significant number of them may fail to prove their academic integrity.
SEUSL is catering for the whole nation. Thousands of students from all parts of the country are doing their studies here. Their academic standard is crucial for their better future and betterment of the nation. Billions of revenuesare being invested here annually. If there is no proper system to investigate and monitor the functioning of this institute by the government, then the responsible authorities also contribute knowingly or unknowingly to this downfall. When this institute reach an irreparable situation, the problem may become a national issue in various ways.
But the University Grants Commission, Sri Lanka has initiated investigation about the academic and administrative practices regarding Prof A. Rameez and it has been evidence that the UGC has suggested appointment of a Competing Authority to SEUSL while removing A. Rameez. Because, one cannot enquire an academic theft with administrative incapacity while he is serving in a big seat of the particular institution. The Minister of Education and H.E President have the main responsibility in this regard. This issue, if not attended immediately by the Minister of Education and H.E President, this is going to affect many generations who are undergraduates here. The quality of the courses, degrees and research programs offered at SEUSL will be in a huge turmoil!
It’s evident that the UGC has recommended the measures to be taken to rectify the situation at SEUSL; the delay in implementing the decision by the Ministry of Education is raising questions whether the government of Sri Lanka is treating this university with partiality without considering it as a national university under any political circumstances or any other reasons.The Ministry of Education and the Government of Sri Lanka should implement an absolute decision immediately to rectify the academic fraudulency and administrative inefficiency at SEUSL to open a way for the investigation and rectification. The delay in implementing the decision by UGC is a greater betrayal to the whole country, where the Ministry of Education allows the fraudulent professors to enjoy the tax payers’ money during this miserable situation of the country!
A few years ago, a minor medical problem took me to the Hospital Alemán-Nicaragüense in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua. While I was being treated, I asked the doctor, a kindly older man, if the hospital had been built in association with a German missionary organisation, given its name (in Spanish, alemán means ‘German’). No, he said: this hospital used to be called the Carlos Marx Hospital, and it was built in collaboration with the German Democratic Republic (DDR), or East Germany, in the 1980s. The DDR worked with Nicaragua’s Sandinista government to build the hospital in the working-class area of Xolotlán, where three hundred thousand people lived without access to health care. A massive solidarity campaign in the DDR helped raise funds for the project, and East German medical professionals travelled to Xolotlán to set up a camp of provisional medical tents before beginning construction. The brick-and-mortar hospital opened on 23 July 1985.
When the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) took power in 1979, the revolutionaries inherited a country where infant mortality rates had skyrocketed to 82 per thousand live births (which would be the highest rate in the world today) and where health care was a privilege restricted to a small minority of the population. Besides, by the time the FSLN rode into Managua, whatever health care apparatus had been built by the regime of the Somoza family during their 43-year rule had been shattered: the 1972 earthquake destroyed 70% of the city’s buildings, including the military and Baptist hospitals and most of its health care facilities. The Carlos Marx Hospital was an act of immense solidarity by the socialists, built in Managua on the ruins of a society brutalised by the country’s oligarchy and by their enablers in Washington (as US President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in 1939 of the dictator at the time, ‘Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch’). Socialist internationalism, from the DDR’s assistance to the efforts of Cuban medical personnel, along with the development of the Sandinista health campaigns, markedly improved the lives of Nicaraguans.
I was reminded of the Carlos Marx Hospital by the newest edition in our series Studies on the DDR, jointly produced by Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and the Internationale Forschungsstelle DDR (IFDDR) and entitled ‘Socialism Is the Best Prophylaxis’: The German Democratic Republic’s Health Care System. The information about the Carlos Marx Hospital comes from a brief section in the study on the DDR’s international medical solidarity, which also included, among many other examples, building a hospital in Vietnam during the US war on that country and training thousands of doctors from across the Third World in the DDR. But the study is not focused on medical solidarity, which was a part of the DDR’s wider socialist internationalism that will be taken up in a later edition in the series.
The study is about the DDR’s attempt to create a humane and just health care system in a country devastated by World War II, with few resources available (and a population one-third the size of West Germany’s). The title of the study, ‘Socialism Is the Best Prophylaxis’, comes from a statement made by Dr. Maxim Zetkin (1883–1965), the son of the communist and international women’s rights activist Clara Zetkin (1857–1933). Zetkin’s words became a widely propagated slogan in the DDR and the leitmotif for the public health care system that the DDR sought to build with and for its population, emphasising that health care must be preventative, or prophylactic, and not reactive, or merely concerned with treating illness and injury after they occur. Truly preventative care did not reduce health to medical treatment but focused on the general well-being of the population by continuously improving living and working conditions. The DDR recognised that health must be understood as a social responsibility and a priority in all policies, from workplace safety to women’s universal access to reproductive care, nutrition and check-ups in kindergarten and school, and the need to guarantee holidays for the working class. But Zetkin’s quote also highlights how preventive care can only be realised by a system that eliminates the profit motive, which inevitably results in the exploitation of care workers, inflated prices, patents on life-saving medication, and artificial scarcity.
The DDR created a network of medical institutions that worked to improve diet and lifestyle as well as to identify and treat ailments early on rather than wait for them to develop into more severe illnesses. All of this had to be built in a heavily sanctioned country where the physical infrastructure had been destroyed by the war and where many doctors fled to the West (largely because roughly 45 percent of German physicians had been Nazi Party members, and they knew that they would be treated leniently in the West while they would likely be prosecuted in the DDR and in the Soviet Union).
The DDR’s commitment to comprehensive health care was based on the idea of social medicine (Sozialhygiene), developed by the founder of modern pathology Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902) to examine the socio-political determinants of health, and on the Soviet Semashko ‘single payer’ health care system, developed by Nikolai Semashko, People’s Commissar for Health in the Soviet Union from 1918 to 1930.
Among the key aspects of the DDR’s health care system detailed in our study are polyclinics and the community nurse system. When a person in the DDR felt sick, that person would go to a polyclinic, which would be located within their neighbourhood or workplace. Any person could walk into the polyclinic, inform the staff of their ailment, and see a doctor, who would, in turn, direct them to one of the clinic’s many specialist departments (such as internal medicine, oral medicine, gynaecology, surgery, paediatrics, and general medicine). Medical professionals were publicly employed and remunerated and could thus focus on healing the patient rather than on prescribing unnecessary tests and medicines simply to overbill insurance companies or the patients. The different medical professionals and specialists who worked in a single polyclinic consulted each other to find the best course of treatment. Furthermore, on average, 18 to 19 doctors worked in each clinic, allowing for extended hours of operations.
The DDR was not the only place to build a health care system based on this kind of socialist polyclinic format: two years ago, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research published dossier no. 25 on the polyclinics run by communists in the Telugu-speaking regions of India, entitled People’s Polyclinics: The Initiative of the Telugu Communist Movement. The most vital aspect of these polyclinics for our time is that no money was exchanged for care (which is particularly notable in India, where there are extraordinarily high out-of-pocket expenses for health care).
One paragraph in our study stopped me in my tracks:
In order to extend preventive care to rural areas and scattered villages, rural outpatient centres were built and staffed with up to three doctors, with the number of these facilities rising from 250 in 1953 to 433 by 1989. In many towns, physicians worked in public medical practices or temporarily staffed field offices to provide residents with consultation hours and home visits, while mobile dental clinics visited remote villages to provide all children with preventive care. In addition, the profession of the community nurse was developed in the early 1950s to alleviate the initial shortage of doctors in the countryside, with the number of community nurses expanding from 3,571 in 1953 to 5,585 by 1989. This extensive rural infrastructure helped to provide less densely populated regions with medical services comparable to what was available in urban areas.
In 2015, the International Labour Organisation published a report that found that 56 per cent of rural population worldwide lacks health coverage, with the highest deficit found in Africa, followed by Latin America and Asia. Meanwhile, in the DDR – which lasted a mere forty-one years, from 1949 to 1990 – the socialist project built a rural health care system that linked every resident to the polyclinics in nearby towns through the Gemeindeschwester (community nurse) system. The nurse would get to know every one of the residents in the village, give preliminary diagnoses, and either offer treatments or await the weekly visit of a doctor to each village. When the DDR was dismantled and absorbed into unified Germany in 1990, the community nurse system was disbanded, all 5,585 community nurses were laid off, and rural health care in the country collapsed.
We hope you will join us in an online panel discussion on February 28 to discuss how socialist systems of the past and present have transformed health care to serve the needs of the people rather than profit.
Northwest of Managua, in the city of León, lived the poet Alfonso Cortés (1893–1969), who had been declared ‘mad’ at the age of 34 and chained in his bedroom. Another of Nicaragua’s great poets, Ernesto Cardenal (1925–2020), grew up not far from the home of Cortés. As a child, Cardenal said he used to walk by the Cortés home from the Christian Brothers School and once he saw the ‘poeta loco’ in his chains. A lack of health care condemned Cortés to this humiliation. On one occasion, on his way to see a doctor in Managua, Cortés was driven past a thousand-year-old Genízaro tree in Nagarote, a tree to whom the ‘poeta loco’ wrote a beautiful poem of hope:
I love you, old tree, because at all hours,
you generate mysteries and destinies
in the voice of the afternoon winds
or the birds at dawn.
You who the public plaza decorate,
thinking thoughts more divine
than those of man, indicating the paths
with your proud and sonorous branches.
Genízaro, your old scars
where, like an in an old book, it is written
what time does in its constant falling;
But your leaves are fresh and happy
and you make your treetop tremble into infinity
while humankind goes forward.
“The health of the people is really the foundation upon which all their happiness and all their powers as a state depend.” – Benjamin Disraeli, former British Prime Minister
The day Dr. Senaka Bibile died mysteriously in a foreign land, Sri Lanka’s future of public medicine was jeopardized. Dr. Bibile was not only an influencer in Sri Lanka but also in many South Asian and other developing countries. However, it was clear that the West, led by the United States, was not in favour of Bibile’s public health policy as their pharmaceutical companies struggled to penetrate the local market. With Bibile gone, his public health policy also disappeared, marking the beginning of the decline of Sri Lanka’s public health sector.
Since then, many pharmaceutical companies have flocked to Sri Lanka, and private hospitals have boomed. However, the public health sector has survived by overcoming greater challenges. Yet, the system itself is now in peril, and the entire system may soon shut down. While successive governments are responsible for this breakdown, the medical community as a whole bears a greater degree of responsibility. Irregularities in medical education, acutely politicized trade unions, and excessive staffing have added fuel to the fire.
Now, it is evident that giant corporations originating from the US and India will take over the entire system, and the once well-functioning, internationally acclaimed public health sector will soon be a thing of the past in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was not alone; many countries faced the same scenarios. Let’s take Chile as an example.
Chile is often cited as an example of how neoliberal policies can have a devastating impact on public health. In the 1970s, the Chilean government implemented a series of neoliberal reforms, including privatizing the health care system. The government provided subsidies for private health insurance while cutting funding for public hospitals and clinics. The result was a two-tiered health care system, where those who could afford private health insurance received quality health care, while the poor and vulnerable were left to suffer. The privatization of health care also led to skyrocketing healthcare costs, making it even more difficult for those who could not afford private insurance to access quality care.
The decline of Sri Lanka’s public health sector is a significant loss, not only for Sri Lankans but also for the entire South Asian region. Dr Bibile’s public health policy was based on the principles of affordability, availability, and accessibility of medicines. However, with the rise of multinational corporations, the focus has shifted from public health to profit-making. The multinational corporations’ primary objective is to make profits, which means that drugs are often expensive and inaccessible to the poor. This is not the case with Dr Bibile’s public health policy.
It is crucial to revive Sri Lanka’s public health sector and restore Dr Bibile’s vision if Sri Lankan policymakers have the mind and heart to protect the country’s basic foundation. This requires political will, a commitment to public health, and a shift in focus from profit-making to public service. The medical community must also play a significant role in restoring public confidence in the public health system. By working together, Sri Lanka can restore its once world-renowned public health system and once again provide affordable, accessible, and quality health care to its citizens.
The rise of private hospitals in Sri Lanka has also contributed to the decline of the public health sector. Some private hospitals operate like mafia enterprises, pursuing profit at the expense of human lives. Patients are often subjected to unnecessary tests, procedures, and surgeries, all in the name of maximizing profit. Doctors are incentivized to perform more procedures and prescribe expensive drugs, regardless of whether they are necessary or not.
Moreover, private hospitals often cherry-pick patients based on their ability to pay. Wealthy patients receive preferential treatment, while poor patients are left to fend for themselves in overcrowded public hospitals. This has created a two-tiered healthcare system in Sri Lanka, where those who can afford it receive the best care, while the poor and vulnerable are left to suffer. Private hospitals have also contributed to the brain drain of Sri Lanka’s healthcare system. Doctors and nurses are lured away by the promise of higher salaries and better working conditions in private hospitals, leaving the public health sector understaffed and under-resourced. This has further weakened the already fragile public health system, making it difficult for it to compete with the private sector.
To address this issue, there is a need for greater regulation of the private healthcare sector in Sri Lanka. The government must ensure that private hospitals are not operating like mafia enterprises and that they are held accountable for their actions. There is also a need for greater investment in the public health sector, to ensure that it can compete with the private sector and provide quality health care to all Sri Lankans, regardless of their ability to pay. As Dr David Satcher, former Surgeon General of the United State says that “public health is the science of social justice, the art of preventing disease, and the calling of healers and caregivers.”
The decline of Sri Lanka’s public health sector is a significant loss for the country and its people. The rise of private hospitals driven by profit has only exacerbated the problem, creating a two-tiered healthcare system that is inaccessible to the poor and vulnerable. It is time for Sri Lanka to prioritize public health over profit, and to restore the vision of Dr Senaka Bibile, who believed in affordable, accessible, and quality health care for all. Otherwise, successful control of the Covid-19 pandemic will be marked as the last national endeavour of Sri Lanka’s public health system.
Toxic “forever chemicals” are known to cause health problems in humans, and very low doses have been linked to suppression of the immune system. Research also increasingly suggests wildlife could suffer similar harms.
Widespread pollution from the toxic “forever chemicals,” known as Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS), is contaminating and potentially harming hundreds of species of wildlife around the world, said a new study published on Wednesday.
The study, released by the Environmental Working Group, an American nonprofit environmental group, reveals the global extent of the PFAS pollution problem with a first-of-its-kind map using rigorous data to show the sheer scale of the threat PFAS pose to wildlife.
Pollution from the “forever chemicals” contaminates polar bears, tigers, monkeys, pandas, dolphins and fish and has been documented in more than 330 other species of wildlife around the world, some endangered or threatened, said the study.
Researchers pointed out that hundreds of studies have found PFAS chemicals in a wide variety of other wildlife species globally, including many types of fish, birds, reptiles, frogs and other amphibians, large mammals, like horses, and small mammals, such as cats, otters and squirrels.
“From country to country, and across continents, PFAS pollution is everywhere. No matter the location, no matter the species, nearly every time that testing is done we find contamination from these toxic chemicals,” said researchers in the study.
PFAS are known to cause health problems in humans, and very low doses of PFAS have been linked to suppression of the immune system, said the study, adding that research increasingly suggests wildlife could suffer similar harms when exposed to PFAS.
There may be more than 40,000 industrial polluters that may discharge PFAS in the United States — tens of thousands of manufacturing facilities, municipal landfills and wastewater treatment plants, airports, and sites where PFAS-containing firefighting foam has been used are potential sources of PFAS discharges into surface water, according to the study.
Researchers noted that national and international regulatory action is urgently needed to protect wildlife from PFAS contamination.
In general, the dissolution of the USSR was marked as the triumph of liberal democracy over Communism by creating a rift in the ideological realm of the West. However, the euphoria erupted from the West, which was exaggerated as the end of history by Fukuyama was short-lived with the emergence of different narratives from the different corners of the earth. Especially, the ideologies appealing to civilizational romance replaced the vacuum created by Communism in the most fervent manner, which vehemently critiqued the pitfalls of the Western liberal discourse as a decadent machinery reflecting the demerits of crony capitalism. It was an interesting phenomenon that some of the intellectuals who hailed and nurtured themselves under the bliss of Communist ideology felt enthusiastic in seeking different approaches to confront the West.
The common feature which is palpably evident in tracing the ideological avenues between Alexander Dugin of Russia and Nalin de Silva in Sri Lanka is their initial encounters with Communism regardless of their later disinclination towards it. It may appear to be rather ironic in viewing both of their philosophical contributions to their own state apparatus. Silva has been largely hailed as the sage of current Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism which was used as the populist trumpet for the political victory of the ruling regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa in post-war Sri Lanka and Dugin is personified by the Western media as Putin’s Rasputin with his wider influence in creating Russia’s nostalgia for its imperial pre-Soviet past. The most vivid and consequential formulation of Dugin and Silva’s ideological narrative needs to be examined in the context of the socio-political unrest that pervaded their home spaces. Both Russia and Sri Lanka were swallowed by an unprecedented wave of discontent after both countries embraced the pure form of Western liberalism as the last resort at different junctures. A conspicuous step taken was the dismantling of all the traditional forms that existed in both countries as the hoorah for Liberalism that resulted in creating an ideological limbo and it was the moment both Dugin and Silva gave birth to the potency of their ideologies which were interwoven with the native culture in their respective countries.
Nalin de Silva took a rapid shift from his initial hobnobbing with Communism after authoring his seminal work “ MageLokaya” in the 1980’s, which remains to be his prime text questioning the Western perception in knowledge. In developing his theory on how the mind affects knowledge creation, Prof. Nalin de Silva applies his stance on the intrinsic relationship between the observer and the observation to the whole sensory world. In explaining this anomaly, Prof. Silva gives prominence to the cultural tradition that generates knowledge. The Indic and Buddhist traditions that prevailed in South Asia provided no ground for the construction of knowledge devoid of mind. Contrary to the traditional Popperian manner of falsification, Silva admits the presence of mystical knowledge as the foundation of Sinhalese Buddhist knowledge, which is a stark reflection of how Dugin tries to bring Orthodox mysticism and other forms of occultism to his views on knowledge.
Also, it should be noted that his writings often critique the knowledge in the West as a hegemonic discourse which is confined to a set of intellectuals devoid of Non-European upbringing. In Silva’s lexicon, this process is called “Greco-Jewish Christian” discourse, likewise, it has been reiterated by Dugin from a different term in his writings. His views posit Russia as a unique civilization, which is neither Western nor Eastern and his depiction of the West as modern-day Carthage, a decadent civilization echoing the need materialistic economic market approach relates to Nalin de Silva’s stark criticism of both Liberalism and Marxism which are endemic to the Western discourse. In making his criticism of the Western knowledge and sciences, Silva affirms the importance of creating a different knowledge system based on Sinhalese Buddhist ethos.
There is no doubt in denying any possible intellectual collaboration between these two ideologues living in two different geopolitical spaces, in a context both of them have carved their narratives on completely different premises. But, the commonality that links two them is rooted in their sheer reluctance to the Western ideology. Given their appealing nature, which tends to restore the nostalgia in their countries, both of these ideologues have become vocal advocates for nationalist politics in Russia and Sri Lanka. In particular, Putin’s legitimacy of his invasion of Ukraine has been frequently viewed as a gesture stemming from Dugin’s idea of a religiously tinged civilizational clash: Russia against Atlantism. In Putin’s view, bolstered by Dugin, a unified Ukraine without Russia is a pervasion of the spirituality of Ruskimir. In Sri Lanka, Nalin de Silva’s writings became stimulating rhetoric for the Rajapaksa administration in the post-civil war context in a situation where the government was lampooned by the West for alleged human rights violations. Especially, the political emergence of Gotabaya Rajapaksa was imbued with Silva’s favourable views that elevated Gotabaya to a strong candidate who has the competency in confronting the Western influence on Sri Lanka.
All in all, making a short comparative analysis between Alexander Dugin and Nalin de Silva raises our concern on the new ideological front arising outside the West as a significant factor influencing the non-liberal discourse. When “Sinhalese Buddhist chinthanaya (ideology ) becomes Silva’s main instrument in his narratives, Dugin yearns for Russia’s Orthodoxy and these two elements have solidly altered and impacted the early 21st-century socio-political consciousness in both Russia and Sri Lanka, which further proves the futility of liberal mantra in the political praxis of both countries.