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Those with an interest in the origin of altruism have to deal with an unnecessary complicating factor; an intrusion by evolutionary biologists into the discussion, which has had serious negative outcomes.

The ascendancy of gene-centric thinking in evolutionary biology led to the perceived need to analyse altruism in a way that is consistent with the gene-centric world view. That is, with evolution being seen incorrectly as a process of continuous struggle and competition from which the development of selfishness and individuality are allegedly inevitable, the very existence of altruism was a challenge to that view. Two linked definitions were involved in solving the problem of altruism, biological altruism and biological fitness. [1]

Biological fitness is seen as the capacity of an organism to produce adult offspring. Biological altruism is an act which lowers the fitness of the actor while raising the fitness of the recipient. The alleged existence of biological altruism means that we now see the existence of two forms, biological and psychological altruism. The difference between the two is explained here:

This biological notion of altruism is not identical to the everyday concept. In everyday parlance, an action would only be called ‘altruistic’ if it was done with the conscious intention of helping another. But in the biological sense there is no such requirement. Indeed, some of the most interesting examples of biological altruism are found among creatures that are (presumably) not capable of conscious thought at all, e.g. insects. For the biologist, it is the consequences of an action for reproductive fitness that determine whether the action counts as altruistic, not the intentions, if any, with which the action is performed. [2] (more…)


I am writing this (may God forgive me) on Yom Kippur.

Exactly 43 years ago, at this exact moment, the sirens sounded.

We were sitting in the living room, looking out on one of Tel Aviv’s main streets. The city was completely silent. No cars. No traffic of any kind. A few children were riding about on their bicycles, which is allowed on Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day. Just like now.

Rachel, my wife, I, and our guest, Professor Hans Kreitler, were in deep conversation. The professor, a renowned psychologist, was living nearby, so he could come on foot.

And then the silence was pierced by a siren. For a moment we thought that it was a mistake, but then it was joined by another and another. We went to the window and saw a commotion. The street, that had been totally empty a few minutes before, began to fill up with vehicles, military and civilian.

And then the radio, which had been silent for Yom Kippur, came on. War had broken out.

A few days ago I was asked if I was prepared to talk on TV about the role of Henry Kissinger in this war. I agreed, but at the last moment the program was canceled, because the station had to devote the time to showing Jews asking God for forgiveness at the Western Wall (alias the Wailing Wall). In these Netanyahu times, God, of course, comes first. (more…)


What happens to a society when thinking is eviscerated and is disdained in favor of raw emotion? [1] What happens when political discourse functions as a bunker rather than a bridge? What happens when the spheres of morality and spirituality give way to the naked instrumentalism of a savage market rationality? What happens when time becomes a burden for most people and surviving becomes more crucial than trying to lead a life with dignity? What happens when domestic terrorism, disposability, and social death become the new signposts and defining features of a society? What happens to a social order ruled by an “economics of contempt” that blames the poor for their condition and wallows in a culture of shaming? [2] What happens when loneliness and isolation become the preferred modes of sociality? What happens to a polity when it retreats into private silos and is no longer able to connect personal suffering with larger social issues? What happens to thinking when a society is addicted to speed and over-stimulation? What happens to a country when the presiding principles of a society are violence and ignorance? What happens is that democracy withers not just as an ideal but also as a reality, and individual and social agency become weaponized as part of the larger spectacle and matrix of violence? [3]

The forces normalizing and contributing to such violence are too expansive to cite, but surely they would include: the absurdity of celebrity culture; the blight of rampant consumerism; state-legitimated pedagogies of repression that kill the imagination of students; a culture of immediacy in which accelerated time leaves no room for reflection; the reduction of education to training; the transformation of mainstream media into a mix of advertisements, propaganda, and entertainment; the emergence of an economic system which argues that only the market can provide remedies for the endless problems it produces, extending from massive poverty and unemployment to decaying schools and a war on poor minority youth; the expanding use of state secrecy and the fear-producing surveillance state; and a Hollywood fluff machine that rarely relies on anything but an endless spectacle of mind-numbing violence. Historical memory has been reduced to the likes of a Disney theme park and a culture of instant gratification has a lock on producing new levels of social amnesia. (more…)


Former Israeli Prime Minister and President, Shimon Peres, was a very successful brand. He was presented to the world as stately, wise, a relentless advocate of peace, and a sane voice amidst a conflict deemed senseless and unending.

Now that he is dead at 93, international media are rife with touching tributes and heartwarming eulogies of the Nobel Peace Prize winner, one of Israel’s most sagacious ‘founding fathers’, who was also seen as a ‘giant among men‘.

These attributes were mostly based on sentiment rather than fact, however, full knowledge of the man’s legacy certainly lingers among many Palestinians, Lebanese and advocates of peace and justice in the Middle East.

The truth is, Peres was never truly a peacemaker – he never labored to achieve fair and just political compromises that would preserve the dignity and rights of the Palestinians, along with securing the future of his people. In fact, he was a maximalist, a man who blatantly shoved his ideas forward in order to achieve his goals, no matter what the method or the price. (more…)


The network WatchTheMed Alarm Phone responds to violent ‘border protection’ practices and the unabated mass dying in maritime spaces around Europe, and offers travellers alternative ways to make their distress heard, in real-time.

Activists from the network WatchTheMed Alarm Phone created a ‘hotline’ for people in distress at sea in 2014 and have since engaged with tens of thousands in emergency situations in the Mediterranean. Advocating freedom of movement for all, the activists understand their maritime intervention as a challenge to Europe’s exclusionary border regime and its production of Mediterranean ‘death zones’. In solidarity with unruly human mobilities, the phone-line seeks to foster new modalities of collective political struggle in unlikely spaces.

A boat leaves the Turkish shore, in deep darkness. It is on Saturday June 11, 2016, a few hours past midnight, that fifty-three people, including fourteen children, risk their lives at sea. They hope to reach the Greek island of Chios and, thereby, Europe.

The fifty-three have come a long way. They fled from Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and elsewhere, only to find that Europe does not want them, that Turkey is supposed to be the final stage of their journey, or even the place of their forcible return, back to war, fear, poverty. (more…)

Turkey Protest

A striking feature of the aftermath of the attempted coup in Turkey are the mass gatherings and demonstrations that have been taking place on a nightly basis in towns across the country. But what has spurred people to take to the streets in such numbers? And how is the government’s narrative of traitors and infiltrators, in opposition to defenders of democracy, likely to shape future developments in Turkey?

Whereas significant incidents, such as the spate of recent terrorist attacks, have generally been met by an immediate media blackout in Turkey, this time the media clearly had a crucial role to play. It was in a live broadcast on CNN Turk that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched his appeal for people to take to the streets to ‘defend their democracy’, as the military coup attempt was unfolding on July 15th. The call was made via mobile application Facetime and was then widely disseminated via social media – an irony given Erdoğan’s well-known aversion to such platforms.

In what may have come as a surprise to those familiar with Erdoğan’s polarising rhetoric, people across the country heeded the call in vast numbers. Zehra Aydoğan, living in an area close to Istanbul’s main airport, reported that within an hour the streets of her neighbourhood were flooded with men and boys streaming towards the airport. In surreal scenes, crowds marched to areas and buildings occupied by the army – among these were the offices of Hürriyet, a newspaper which, less than a year ago, was attacked by supporters of the government, who threw stones and smashed windows, to vent their fury about the newspaper’s reporting of events. This time, some of the same individuals turned up to ‘liberate’ the media outlet, explains a source working for the Doğan Media Group, speaking on condition of anonymity. (more…)


The wolf is entitled to the lamb.
The Mountain Wreath (1847)

Hearken unto me, fellow creatures. I who have dwelt in a form unmatched with my desire, I whose flesh has become an assemblage of incongruous anatomical parts, I who achieve the similitude of a natural body only through an unnatural process, I offer you this warning: the Nature you bedevil me with is a lie. Do not trust it to protect you from what I represent, for it is a fabrication that cloaks the groundlessness of the privilege you seek to maintain for yourself at my expense. You are as constructed as me; the same anarchic Womb has birthed us both. I call upon you to investigate your nature as I have been compelled to confront mine. I challenge you to risk abjection and flourish as well as have I. Heed my words, and you may discover the seams and sutures in yourself.
Susan Stryker (1994)

For months now, I’ve seemed to live in a crowd of stories. I have a lot of company there.

The second epigraph to Edna O’Brien’s recent novel, The Little Red Chairs, takes me close to the looming character of these stories, how The Mountain Wreath argues, long before the Yugoslav Wars that burned through the 1990s, that the wolf and the lamb can be joined together by the human claim to entitlement, so that both become our surrogates. The human-wolf enacts what the strong do, propelled by natural law, while the human-lamb succumbs to a victimhood ordained at birth. These enchained performances, looped into a whole by the qualifying vision at which our species excels, even when misaligned, by the effort to conceive of rightfulness, justice, and their costs, will be significant for Nietzsche when he maintains, in 1887, that “the large birds of prey,” tangling “little lambs” between their beaks, show what strength exacts from the beings who must be identical with its exactions. Hearing such tales that appear to represent the family of human and non-human animals, both groups blurred by a metaphorical athletics, I pause. (more…)


An attempt to clarify some very general aspects, psycho-social contexts and motifs of right-wing populism as it has manifested across the advanced industrialised world for several decades starting with the end of the post-war boom in the mid-70s and now increasing again after the global financial crisis since 2008: Australian Hansonism, French NF, UKIP, German AfD, Austrian FPO, US Trumpism…

1. The fertile soil of all right-wing populism (RWP) and fascism everywhere is powerlessness.

2. RWP is the revolt of the marginalised and powerless ‘ordinary or little man‘ (and woman) which, although it has the potential, has not yet become militant fascism.

3. RWP and its fascist potential always increase under worsening economic conditions when material standards of living decline and reasons and solutions are being sought.

4. The RWP revolt is ambiguous. Like fascism, it is an unstable amalgam of revolt and conformity, rebelliousness and belief in leaders/authority, left and right policies and resentments. (more…)


All the wrong people are cheering. Farage, bulbous eyes swivelling and moist, lauded a victory for “the real people, for the ordinary people, for the decent people”. The citrine-tinged Trump, with customary intuition, praises the Scots (who overwhelmingly voted for Remain) for taking their country back. Marine Le Pen, hailing a “victory for freedom,” demands a similar referendum in France. Certainly, George Galloway, having joined Farage in demonising ‘mass immigration,’ is also pleased, and there are a few saps who think that Tony Benn’s democratic socialist dream is on the brink of fruition. But the serried ranks of red-faced, Toryboy rosbifs, delightedly fluttering their Union Jacks while sinking glass after glass of celebratory fizz, know that tomorrow belongs to them.

How did it happen? The Remain campaign had the broadest possible coalition, the most money, and ample media backing. It had the CBI, the TUC, the City, the leaderships of all the major parties and most of the minor ones, the Mirror, the Times, the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Independent, the Observer, even the Mail on Sunday. All the big class battalions were for Remain. Most of the big intellectual artillery was lined up behind Remain. World leaders intervened on its behalf. Ukip, the Tory Right, small-to-medium sized capital, and the ranks of Poujadist patriots out to restore Britishness, surely had little chance. (more…)


1.Two Clowns

Kierkegaard tells a nice story in his 19th century existentialist tract Either/Or:

A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that’s just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it’s a joke.

Although he is perhaps the epitome of the archetype of the sinister political clown, Donald the Trumpet isn’t the warning clown in this essay, I am.

2.Trump in a Nutshell

Like other right-wing populists, Trump speaks mainly to those materially impoverished or marginalised by the march of neoliberal globalization and its new international division of labour, and psychologically overwhelmed by, and resentful of, rapid technological and cultural change and immigration: male white manual workers and others, at least a third of the population.

There is one straight line from Thatcher-Reagan to Marine le Pen and Trump: right-wing populism and proto-fascism are the chickens of neoliberalism and imperial interventionism coming home to roost under multi-critical conditions where people are radically disillusioned with mainstream politics but there is no strong left-wing alternative able to speak to them. (more…)