Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Personal Rants

This is an article I wrote for the Op/Ed section of the November 6th, 2003 edition of the Argosy

Why Socialism? A new look at some old ideas

I have to admit, this isn't the first time a piece of writing has had this title. The original essay called "Why Socialism" was published in the leftist journal, Monthly Review, way back in 1949. You're probably asking yourself, "why in the name of God would someone want to bring up an out of date article concerning disproved ideas? Socialism fell with the Berlin Wall, didn't it?" Even the author of the original 1949 article must have had ill intentions; in 1949, most honest people should have known that the world's representative of socialism, Stalin, was nothing but a thug and a criminal. Anyway, intelligent, liberal people these days tend to read the Economist, not Z Magazine. Why socialism... hell, why even bring up the topic?

Before these legitimate concerns can be answered, it will be interesting to take a look at the sort of reaction that the 1949 author expected from his article. The introduction begins with the question: "Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is." To this fellow, the question of the legitimacy of socialism could be defended with leisure further on in the body of the text. Of course a knowledge of his likely readership may have been partly to blame, but his relaxed attitude also points to one major difference between 1949 and 2003: the U.S.S.R. had not already collapsed. Such an event, along with the exposure of the crimes of Stalin by his successor Kruschev, surely would have disgraced the author and his article.

I believe otherwise. I won't summarize his piece here; you can read it yourself by choosing your favorite search engine and typing "Socialism" alongside "Albert Einstein". Instead, I will show how Einstein reached the conclusions he did and hopefully clear up a few misconceptions that have led to an unnecessary separation amongst many well-intentioned people.

For this article, the case of Einstein is interesting not because he was a communist-sympathizing scientist but rather because he was a socialist Zionist. That term may seem somewhat oxymoronic, seeing how the representatives of "the left" these days are unanimously anti-Zionist. But remember, 1949 is only a year after the Israeli War of Independence, eighteen years before the Six Days' War; America has virtually no interest in Israel and thus the plight of the Jews is still a chic cause amongst the American-European left. In fact, one of the few accurate accusations that Hitler had made against the Jews was that they were largely responsible for communist ideology (Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky both had Jewish heritage). The 19th century Zionists themselves were largely ideologically communist and Israel was originally considered a socialist state.

Early Zionists believed that (a) a Jewish homeland is needed and (b) it should not reproduce the flawed Christian state-capitalist system. So, after entering the land of Israel, they built the Kibbutzim (workers' collectives) that evolved into arguably the most interesting example of a large-scale socialist project that has ever taken place.

In the early planning stages of the Kibbutzim, two schools of thought developed: one favoring a system where each Kibbutz had to adhere to a centralized authority, with the other believing that each community should function autonomously; they were politically connected to each other only through common ideology and vision. The latter school won the debate and many of the former went to Russia to participate in the coming revolution there. So a voluntary, decentralized, socialist project ensued and, though it has recently been deteriorating, it was an alternative system that was probably in the forefront of the minds of thinkers like Einstein when they were formulating their ideas.

But if a system that barely resembled 1917-1991 Russia was considered socialist, what the hell is socialism anyway?

The term socialism has always been contentious. To have a coherent discussion you have to first add qualifiers: American Communist Party socialism, Marx/Engels socialism, Soviet socialism, Bakunin/Proudhon/Anarchist socialism... etc., etc. And there seems to be hardly a common thread tying them together. It's as if socialism, as a generalized term, isn't a social system at all but simply a complaint.

Actually this is closer to the truth than one might think. Socialism is not a rigid idea of what society ought to be, but rather a common vision of what society ought to achieve--the maximum possible good for the maximum number of people. In fact, socialism and capitalism aren't really antonyms. But many active people have observed that, though capitalism has made improvements in society possible, those improvements often come to the masses only through organized groups acting in direct defiance of capitalist interests and institutions.

The people who had diagnosed this problem as chronic were also required to propose alternatives. Michael Albert, a prominent leftist thinker and main architect of Participatory Economics (see, summarized these alternative structures for society in four categories: those (i) based on centrally planned models, a la the Soviet experience, (ii) based on market models, a la the Yugoslav experience, (iii) based on a very decentralized approach in the name of face to face interaction and green localism and (iv) based on council democracy and participation. Albert's own model is supposed to be an improvement on the fourth category.

So it turns out that socialism isn't just a belief in the merits of benevolent dictatorship and the centrally controlled economy. A socialist (a) believes that not only is a future transformation of society possible but likely and (b) has a desire to creatively participate in that change. All we know of the future world is what sort of a place we want it to be: a place where human life has value in and of itself and it is not reduced to a marketable commodity; where the interests of society as a whole always take priority over the interests of the privileged few; where internationalism means human kinship and not exploitation; where cooperation, as a human attribute, is encouraged at least to the same degree as competitiveness; where the products of human creativity belong to the individual and the entire human race, not left fruitless to the majority in the fist of the "invisible hand".

I wrote this article because it seems to me that the ubiquitous ideological war has resulted in a misunderstanding and contempt for the left-wing program along with a distorted, one-sided understanding of social/historical movement. Who has even heard of the Winnipeg general strike, let alone understand its meaning? How did Canada end up with a universal health care system? How many "radicals" were beaten and killed before the "utopian" 8-hour-day/5-day work week was won? What was behind America's interventions in Latin America (the threat of a good example)? The Paris Commune? May Day? The history of the peace and internationalist movements? Social justice movements? The Zapatistas of Mexico? The new intentional communities and eco-villages?

In 1949 Albert Einstein summarized the "real purpose of socialism" as a need "to overcome and advance beyond the 'predatory phase' of human development." Why socialism? Because "the end of history" is only true for those at "the end" of their creative lives.

Appeared in Octorber 16th Argosy

Like Antennas to Heaven
Sackville's short wave radio towers explained
For me there is no greater symbol of time spent in Sackville than the Radio Canada International transmitter site. Omnipresent; in the daytime it resembles a giant spider web, switching to Godspeed You Black Emperor's "Antennas to Heaven" at night. If you enjoy bike rides or long walks you should be well acquainted with these towers: travel in any direction and there they are - giant glowing red arms. After four years of using these towers to remind me to take the next exit to Sackville when arriving in the fall and then to trigger a sense of nostalgia for those fall days when leaving in the spring, my curiosity got the best of me and I called up Radio Canada International and asked for a tour.

After a harrowing bike ride along the busy highway, I was greeted by Jason Godfrey, an electronics/transmitter technologist from Moncton who has worked for RCI for the last three years. It was obvious that he was a seasoned public relations man and indeed it turns out that technologists, ham radio fanatics and general curiosity seekers come to the site on a regular basis for the official tour.

We started with a small museum of old transistors and other obsolete but impressive technology inside the main building and a lecture on the history of the site. Construction on one of the first short wave radio tower transmitter sites in the world started here in 1943 and was completed in 1945. The official first broadcast was in late 1945, 50 years after Gugielmo Marconi sent the first wireless signal from what has since become known as Signal Hill in St. John's Newfoundland and just 25 years after Westinghouse began the first regular broadcasting station. The 3 huge vacuum tube transmitters that were built in that time were 50,000 watts each and filled an entire room. In 1970, new state of the art transmitters came in at 250,000 watts each, a fraction of the size of the old ones. There were only 8 of these transmitters built in the world of which 5 were built here. In 1950, 44 staff were needed, compared to the dozen or so today. When they wanted to broadcast at a different frequency, they had to physically change the components; now there are tunable capacitors and computer programs. Up until recently, Radio Canada International was its own entity but has since been integrated into the CBC.

To short wave radio technologists, the marsh has always been an obvious place for a radio tower site, but before appreciating why this is so, it may be necessary to first understand the basic science behind radio transmission.

When sound waves leave a radio announcer's mouth, a microphone will convert the waves frequency into a weak electrical signal. This signal is then amplified: increasing the amplitude of the waves while keeping the frequency the same. A wave generator creates a high frequency signal which will "carry" the audio signal over the air. The carrier signal is passed through a modulator, which alters the signal to reflect changes in the audio signal's amplitude. The radio signal then travels to the antenna where the incoming signal creates a corresponding electromagnetic field or a radio wave. The mechanism for this comes from basic electromagnetic theory. When a current is changing in a wire an electromagnetic field is created. If, for example, the electrons in the wire are moving back and forth at a rate of 200,000 times per second, an electromagnetic wave will be created with a frequency of 200,000Hz (cycles per second). This radio wave moves outward in all directions and is then picked up by a receiving antenna where the reverse process occurs: the wave is converted into an electrical signal. The signal is fed through a filter that removes the carrier wave, leaving the original audio signal. This signal causes the radio speaker's diaphragm to vibrate, creating sound waves the same as those that originally came from the radio announcer's mouth.

The three major types of transmitters are AM, FM and shortwave. With AM (amplitude modulation) and shortwave, the amplitude of the carrier wave is varied to correspond to the original signal when passing through the modulator. FM (frequency modulation) on the other hand, varies the frequency of the carrier wave. Differences also exist in the way the waves travel through the air: AM radio travels along the surface of the earth while FM travels in straight lines, requiring a radio tower at every physical barrier. Shortwave, the sort of transmitter site sticking out of our marsh, travels at an upward angle. The wave moves upward until it is at a vertical height of about 60 km where it will bounce off the free electrons present in the ionosphere (the layer of the atmosphere where solar radiation is so intense that when it strikes gas molecules they ionize, setting electrons free from the atom and creating positive "ions"). By varying the upward angle and by calculating the correct location to re-bounce the waves - shortwaves can also be bounced off of the earth's surface, sending the waves back up into the ionosphere - shortwave radio signals are capable of traveling to the other side of the globe.

There is no better location for a shortwave radio transmitter site then a marshy, flat area with high salt content, such as the Sackville area. The salty water acts simultaneously as a conductor of electricity and as a giant mirror to bounce the down moving waves off of. In fact, according to my tour guide, this is among the best locations in the world. In the past, the Sackville shortwave radio transmitters have broken the world record for the longest transmission (14,000 miles) and RCI now holds the record for the longest digital transmission, a signal sent to New Zealand and Australia.

The RCI radio towers, the only ones in Canada and among the few of their kind in North America, are responsible for broadcasting in French, English, Spanish, Arabic, Ukrainian, Russian and Chinese, and sending Canadian programming to many more countries around the world. Other countries also send their programming via the internet, to headquarters in Montreal before it is sent to the site and broadcasted all over North America.

After the scientific and historical overview, I was finally able to pick Jason's brain for clarifications to some concerns that have been weighing on my mind for the last few years. The first required some explanation since, to Jason, it was a fairly ludicrous question. A few years back some friends and I had it in our heads that we would climb one of the towers so we walked across the tower field, somehow missing the posted danger signs. After taking turns playing the hero and climbing the first few rungs of the tower's ladder only to chicken out, we eventually decided that it was too cold to climb and we would promptly come back when we each had a pair of gloves (the adventure has since been put off to "some other day"). Of course I didn't tell Jason that story exactly (or really anything like it) but I was able to, though awkwardly, spit out the question: "how dangerous would it be if some stupid local kids climbed one of the towers?"

His answer was piecemeal and subtle. The first part was a facial expression that said something like "those kids would have to be pretty stupid." For the second part of his answer he showed me the monitors that assiduously surveyed the outdoor site. These allowed the person inside to be sure that the person outside hadn't been zapped by an arc (a giant spark similar to a lightening rod) that can leap from the 250,000 watt copper power lines that are strung all over the field and maim the person walking underneath. The thought of someone climbing a tower while 250,000 watts of juice moved through the wires seemed too ridiculous to even consider. With a clear vision of my own death by electrocution/10 story drop in mind, his disconcertingly ambiguous answer to my second question in no way helped to calm my overactive imagination:

"Since they're an important communications tool, if there was another world war, would the RCI radio towers be a potential target?"

"It's possible."

M.t A Biologist Speaks on SARS (from September 19th Argosy)

The following is an interview via e-mail with Dr. Saleh, an assistant professor in Mount Allison's Biology department currently teaching Microorganisms and Microbial Diseases. His research interests are Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), an etiological agent of tuberculosis, pH stress response in Mtb, and the role of secreted hydrolytic enzymes of Mtb in intracellular survival in macrophages. Dr. Saleh received his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto.

What is SARS?

SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. This is the name given for the disease by the World Health Organization (WHO) following the report of an "atypical pneumonia" in China. It is caused by a new strain of a virus (coronavirus) that is normally associated with the typical cold. It requires chest X-ray in addition to clinical tests for diagnosis. It is a contagious (through air) and potentially fatal infection.

Where did it come from?

It is believed to have originated from the Chinese province of Guangdong.

How dangerous is it?

Any potentially fatal disease that is highly contagious should be treated as a serious disease. But we should remember that our health system is capable of dealing with such pathogens. Just consider how fast health authorities discovered and contained the virus.

At this moment is it "under control"?

Since this disease is transmitted through air, just like the typical cold, it may be difficult to contain 100%. However at this point in time and judging from the frequency of new SARS cases it may be considered under control.

Since roughly 900 people died altogether since the first outbreak (not comparable to epidemics like AIDS) would you say the media blew the danger out of proportion?

Again, the difference in numbers between victims of SARS and AIDS epidemics is partly due to our rapid response. But there are other factors that need to be considered, including for example the rapid progression of the disease. This feature allows for rapid diagnosis before the virus gets a chance to spread, unlike the AIDS virus. In terms of the media coverage, this is not unusual. The media always focuses on headline news and compete for new information. But this also has benefits for the public because the media keeps us informed on the progress of such epidemics.

Did you believe SARS had the potential of being a "dooms day disease?"

Personally, I did not believe so.

Will diseases like these occur more frequently in today's, globalized world?

Because of globalization and the nature of people, animals and viruses, diseases like this one and even new diseases will continue to occur.

Would you have traveled to Toronto last spring?

I would have acted on the recommendation of Health Canada. I don't recall what it was at that point in time. If Health Canada suggested it was safe to travel to Toronto, then I would have travelled to Toronto.

Is the world ready to deal with a new global disease?

I believe so.

October 2nd edition of Argosy

The Teachings of Juan
Why God hates Halifax

Although meteorologists have not been able to confirm if this most recent hurricane was conjured up by a wise Yaqui Brujo from Mexico, they do have a few alternative theories to explain what caused Hurricane Juan to hit Maritime Canada this past weekend. The storm that bypassed Sackville gave people in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island quite a run for their money. About 300,000 people in Nova Scotia had to go without electricity (some longer then others). According to the CBC "the winds Juan brought to shore uprooted trees, beached boats" and by blowing over trees, was responsible for the death of at least two people.

Although the carnage caused by the storm was widespread, Nova Scotia's premier John Hamm was optimistic, saying: "I'm happy with the weather forecasting, it was very accurate [and] I'm happy with what emergency measures did for us in the hours and minutes leading up to the storm." We have all had our problems with the weather forecast but at this point people must be asking themselves: what do meteorologists know that enabled them to make such accurate predictions, making possible the pre-storm "emergency measures" that Hamm was so proud of?

In fact scientists know quite a bit about hurricanes, though much room is left for future research. The generic name for the class of weather systems that includes hurricanes are known as Tropical Cyclones. In the Atlantic Ocean tropical cyclones are classified as hurricanes and tropical storms, typhoons in the Pacific Ocean and cyclones in the Indian Ocean. For a tropical cyclone to form, ocean water temperature, over which the storm grows, must be at least 26.5 degrees Celsius. The storm draws its energy from the warm water of the tropics and the heat released when water vapor condenses into a liquid (called latent heat of condensation). As the warm sea heats the air above it, a current of very warm moist air rises quickly, creating a centre of low pressure at the surface. This coupled with winds on the ground and up to 30,000 feet all moving in the same direction so the infant disturbance isn't ripped apart, will cause a disturbance to form. If all this occurs in a region at least 500 kilometers away from the equator, where the Coriolis force (an effect that results from the turning of the earth) is appreciable, the disturbance will begin to spiral. By drawing more and more energy from the latent heat of condensation, a hurricane may eventually form.

In the centre of the tropical cyclone is the eye, around which spiraling of the storm occurs. It is composed of air that is slowly sinking. As the eye passes over a site, the sky clears and calm prevails. Surrounding the eye is the eyewall. The eyewall is the area of highest surface winds in the tropical cyclone. It is composed of many strong updrafts and downdrafts. It is generally thought that the eye feature is similar to water that is going down a drain. This is surrounded by spiral rain bands. These are bands of heavy convective showers that spiral inward toward the storm's centre. This is the region where lightning develops.

Tropical cyclones are classified as tropical depressions that have a maximum sustained wind speed of 37 to 62 kilometers per hour, tropical storms have wind speeds of 63 to 117 kilometers per hour and hurricanes have wind speeds of 118 kilometers per hour or higher. Tropical storms and hurricanes are given human names, alternating between male and female. Every year a list of potential names is drawn up containing names beginning with the letter A up to names beginning with W. These lists are recycled every 6 years, though if a storm causes extreme damage or many deaths it is retired from use.

Hurricane Juan moved north with winds up to 150 kilometers per hour, hitting Halifax then Tatamagouche before moving into P.E.I. It is classified as a category 1 hurricane but boarders on category 2, which generally causes small amounts of property damage. A category 5 hurricane would be considered catastrophic.

(Information came from UK Met, The Canadian Hurricane Centre and San Diego State University Meteorology)

Argosy, October 23rd

Update on the International Space Station

Now in its third year orbiting the planet and just taking on its eighth crew, the International Space Station is nothing less then a slap in the face to anyone who has ever mocked people who like to speculate on the fantastic human achievements of the future.

The term "space station" was first used in 1923 by Romanian Hermann Oberth to describe a wheel-like facility that would serve as the jumping off place for human journeys to the Moon and Mars. In 1952, Dr. Werner von Braun published his concept of a space station in Collier's magazine. He envisioned a space station that would have a diameter of 250 feet, orbit more than 1,000 miles above the Earth, and spin to provide artificial gravity through centrifugal force. The Soviet Union was the first to put a space station into orbit in 1971, 2 years before the United States launched theirs.

The International Space Station, as it is today, was born in 1998 when two modules were launched and joined together in orbit. The first crew arrived in 2000. The ISS is now supported by 16 countries and employs 100,000 people. It has 14 major components, weighs 412,300 pounds, has a habitable volume of 425 square meters, a width of 73 meters, length of 44 meters and is 27.5 meters tall. Knowing that "crew 8" are, at this moment, hurtling around the earth.

Besides enjoying the view, the International Space Station's last crew were busy conducting not less then 18 experiments that spanned all the sciences, including: Cellular Biotechnology Operations Support System, Chromosomal Aberrations in Blood Lymphocytes of Astronauts, Crew Earth Observations, Crew-member and Crew-ground Interactions During International Space Station Missions, Earth Science Toward Exploration Research, Educational Payload Operations, Extravehicular Activity Radiation Monitoring, In Space Soldering Investigation, Investigating the Structure of Paramagnetic Aggregates in Colloidal Emulsions, Microgravity Acceleration Measurement System, Miscible Fluids in Microgravity, Protein Crystal Growth, Single-locker Thermal Enclosure System, Renal Stone Risk During Space Flight, Space Acceleration Measurement System, Assessment of Bone Loss in the Axial Skeleton in Long-term Space Flight, and Toward Understanding Pore Formation and Mobility During Controlled Directional Solidification in a Microgravity Environment

Argosy Halloween Special

Problems With Eating Children The science of fear

It was a few years ago when it happened. I was at home giving out candy for Halloween. It was early in the evening; around the time that all the really little kids were being driven around by their parents, little witches and goblins awkwardly wobbling up driveways, not understanding why they had to dress in such cumbersome clothing but still being vaguely aware that a sweet reward would come at the end of the day. I had gotten bored simply answering the door so I decided to put on some winter pants, a torn up plaid jacket, big winter boots and a wolfman mask and sat limp on my porch: much the same way one of those stuffed dummies that people put on their lawns do. A stuffed dummy is exactly what the next midget must have thought I was, because he walked right up beside me and knocked on the door as if I wasn't even there. I waited a minute for the kid to become discouraged and turn back when I jumped up and screamed "AHHH," picking the kid up and eating him whole. Well that's not exactly true but the poor little fellow did mimic my "ahhh" and ran down the driveway, grabbing onto his mother who stood frowning at me at the end of the driveway.

Not only did the tyke get some candy out of the experience (I gave him extra) but he also got to take part in a little science experiment. Now, years later, I ask myself: what would I have seen if I was able to remove part of that little rug-rat's skull and stick electric devices to his brain before I had jumped up and scared him?

According to "The Scientist" magazine, when an organism perceives a situation recognized as fearful, "neurons running from the eye or other sense organs stimulate the amygdala, a structure (about the size of a walnut in humans) deep in the brain. Nerves, which extend from the amygdala to another small brain structure, the hypothalamus, are then triggered, activating the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, which brings hormones into action. A hormone named CRF is released from the hypothalamus, which in turn causes the pituitary gland to release ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone). ACTH then causes the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Cortisol in a person's bloodstream is a hormonal sign of stress and signal for energy (glucose) to be distributed to the brain and throughout the body. Although it is hard to pinpoint the major mechanism for the fear response in this complex, interconnected arrangement, some researchers see CRF as being the master hormone in the process, offering the empirical evidence that monkeys with an excess of CRF tend to be particularly fearful.

But instigating the release of various chemicals in the brain may not have been the only result of my encounter with the little ankle-biter. The development of a phobia may also have ensued. According to Dr Terry Belke, a psychologist at Mount Allison, a simple phobia, or fear and anxiety response to simple objects, is often caused by a traumatic experience that occurred during the development of a person. However, Dr Belke also noted that virtually all members of a species tend to have a predetermined affinity for certain phobias. For example it was found that monkeys, whose natural predators are snakes, will learn a fear response to toy snakes while not developing the same response to other objects. While this area of research is far from complete, we conclude that phobias are largely a case of nature plus nurture. This explains why people tend to be so quick to develop a fear of snakes and spiders: both of which have long histories of killing and maiming people.

So my experiment, scaring a small child senseless, if followed up would likely yield a number of possible results: (a) I'm going to hell, (b) the little squirt is now addicted to the resultant adrenaline rush and has developed an obsession with scary movies, (c) the cherub may now refuse to approach houses with scarecrows or, worst of all (d) the little sprout might have a phobia of wolf-men.

Argosy, November 6th

Ra the Mighty Painter The science behind the Northern Lights

Solar flare and the earth's magnetic field Sackville residents who happened to be gazing at the sky this past Saturday night may have noticed a serious of mysterious swirling colours across the sky. Those who took the incident as the definitive proof for the existence of an all powerful painter that dwells in the sky above Sackville may be surprised to hear that the phenomenon known as the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights, has already been explained by a Norwegian physicist named Kristian Birkeland (1867-1917), who spent his life in pursuit of understanding solar-terrestrial relationships.

Although his physics was not complete and his ideas weren't accepted until they were experimentally proven in 1960, long after his death, Birkeland's main point, that the Northern Lights are caused by electrically charged particles from the Sun interacting with the Earth's magnetic field, is the cornerstone of our contemporary understanding of the Aurora Borealis.

The story of the Northern Lights begins 149 million kilometres away from the earth, where byproducts of thermonuclear reactions occurring inside the sun are emitted. These byproducts are the charged particles that make up the solar winds that travel from the sun to the earth at speeds up to 1000 kilometres per second. Upon arriving, the steady solar wind is deflected by the earth's magnetic field, or the magnetosphere. This distorts the shape of the magnetosphere from what it would be without the presence of the solar wind and a balance is maintained. When there is a disturbance on the surface of the sun, such as a solar flare, the solar wind changes and this balance is disturbed. At such a time electrons and protons are accelerated in the magnetosphere and travel along the field lines. These particles collide with molecules in the upper atmosphere where the field lines reach down to the surface of the earth near the North and South poles. The energy of the particles is transferred to the particles, bringing them to a higher state of energy. When the molecules return to their ground state they release energy in the form of light. Each molecule in the atmosphere releases a different colour when emitting light, creating the master piece of nature known as the Northern Lights.

Argosy, Remembrance Day special

War and Science
remembrance and responsibility

"My God...what have we done?"
-Robert Oppenheimer

"The release of atom power has changed everything...If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker."
-Albert Einstein

We invite this Congress, and through it the scientists of the world and the general public, to subscribe to the following resolution: "In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the Governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them."
-Max Born, Perry W. Bridgman, Albert Einstein, Leopold Infeld, Frederic Joliot-Curie, Herman J. Muller, Linus Pauling, Cecil F. Powell, Joseph Rotblat, Bertrand Russell, Hideki Yukawa

According to his memoirs, a prominent American inventor met a man while in Vienna who suggested for him to "'hang your chemistry and electricity! If you wish to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each other's throats with greater facility.'" And so he did. So goes the story of Sir Hiram S. Maxim and the maxim machine gun-an invention that helped to precipitate the unprecedented violence of the first world war. Maxim and his invention made it possible to kill dramatically higher numbers of people with greater efficiency then was previously possible, and heralded a new age of total warfare-an age starkly less civilized then the past age of "limited war."

Last year a group of Israeli scientists wrote a letter to the Guardian that suggested a scientist's strike as a form of protest to the Sharon government's draconian policies towards the Palestinian people. According to an article in the journal Nature, opponents of the boycott feared that it might endanger the freedom of science and may "interfere with our common pursuit of science: the unity and betterment of mankind." This statement raises interesting questions. If science's aims actually are "the unity and betterment of mankind," is it not the scientist's responsibility to ensure that "unity" and "betterment" are what the fruits of science will achieve?

The case of Einstein and the other scientists of his era is arguably the best example of science's need to answer this question. The history of their era is set up like a classic glory/tragedy work of fiction. When, in the early 20th century, it was obvious that classical physics was not going to be sufficient to explain all the empirical inconsistencies in the science, some of the greatest physicists alive at the time converged and collectively invented quantum mechanic-a complex theory that has fundamentally changed the way we talk about the universe. A few centuries later the same great scientists had a new problem to solve but this time they were divided. During World War Two and the pursuit of the atomic bomb, the famous physicist Werner Heisenberg, inventor of the "Heisenberg uncertainty principle", was working on the side of the Germans, while many of the other great names in theoretical physics were in the American desert, busily laying the foundations for the atomic age. Upon witnessing the first mushroom cloud at the Trinity Test Site in New Mexico, one of the same physicists who had previously reveled in the greatness of quantum theory wide eyed and open jawed, muttered to his fellow researcher, Robert Oppenheimer: "we're all sons of bitches now."

Once the bomb had been dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, scientists of the time became suddenly aware that theoretical physics was not simply on a harmless upward movement, but it now had the horrifying ability to stop all human advancement in its tracks. This realization prompted many scientists of the time to form the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), that would consist of scientists and serve as a government advisory board and activist group dedicated to the peaceful use of the products of science.

Not all scientists took part in the anti-nuclear weapons campaign. After Oppenheimer, the famous physicist who led the Manhattan Project, was kicked out of the government's laboratories for speaking against future atomic weapons research and was branded a "communist spy" by the American government, his scientific rival Edward Teller took over. Enrico Fermi had reluctantly told Teller to "go ahead with the work on the hydrogen bomb, if you must. I hope you will not succeed." But Teller did succeed and gave the world the Hydrogen Bomb-a weapon that makes the original atomic bombs that could kill 100,000 people in the blink of an eye, look like a pee-shooter.

This Remembrance Day, while pausing to pay homage to the lives that were lost in the past century's wars, students of science should not forget that the 20th century's status as being among the bloodiest in history is largely a consequence of scientific advancement. Although politicians may write the rules and soldiers play the game of warfare (while regular people suffer the consequences), it is the scientists who determine the boundaries that the game is played within. Although many scientists shut their doors and closed their pocket books to military financing after the atomic bomb experience and then during the unpopular Vietnam War, these days few scientists are so idealistic and much research all over the world is funded by the military establishment.

The assertion that science is something with a life of its own, independent of the scientists that facilitate it, makes little sense. It is true that scientists are able to solve most problems that they put their energy into, but there will always be an infinite amount of problems that are simply not worth solving. Why are there no scientists putting their energy into finding more advanced mechanisms for making people less healthy and more stupid? Maybe we should be working on a way to turn human beings back into monkeys? Pressure from society, the scientific community as well as individual choice accounts for what technologies science will bring into the real world.

The question of ethics and science and the scientist's place in world affairs, is a much debated issue. However if you ask any scientist what the real point of science is in the grand scheme of things, you will most likely hear something along the lines of "betterment and progression of mankind." Is it not then the scientists duty to ensure that their work will be used for this noble goal and not cause great harm?

Argosy, October 30th. News Section

Foundry Strike: Part 1: Union locked out of local foundry

For several weeks, a strike has been ongoing at the Fawcett Foundry. One of the opposing perspectives is presented below.

Few Mount Allison students venture farther down Lorne Street than George's Roadhouse or the train station. Many students even think the street ends after the Roadhouse. In reality, at the farthest end of Lorne Street is one of Sackville's oldest business and, for the last eight weeks, the site of a bitter labour dispute.

Roughly two months ago the Enterprise Fawcett owner, Michael Wheaton, locked the workers' union out of his business after failing to reach an agreement over a requested 20% wage decrease. Although fourteen union members crossed the line not long after the lockout began, a majority of the members, and thus the union itself, have been banned from the work place.

Arnold Hicks, employee for 39 years and union president, believes that "[the problem] might not be the owner, [Michael Wheaton], but his new management," which seems be trying to "break the union."

"I've been doing disputes for 22 years and have never come up against anything like this," Arnold said during an interview with the Argosy this past Thursday.

Hicks and a few other union members claim that the union responded to the company's financial instabilities in 2002 by offering the owner a $1.50 per hour per employee wage decrease. However, in a decision that led to Hick's belief that the new management is calling the shots, the offer was turned down by the company. The union has also offered other cuts that collectively add up to $103,000 of the $166,000 that the company claims it needs to save from labour. After this offer was also turned down and a majority of the union members had voted to not except the 20% wage decrease, the lockout followed. "It's not up to us to make proposals" said one worker at the picket line. "He should be bringing deals to us. We're negotiating."

Hicks also thinks the company isn't giving the union much to work with: "The union's looking for a settlement too. We're willing to sit at that table and hammer it out. He [Mike Wheaton] is the one not who's not talking. He wants a 20% cut and that's that."

Many union members wonder why the management and office workers are not participating in the cause to save money. As is often the case in labour disputes, the union members believe the company is trying to pay for its mistakes by putting all the burden on "the backs of the men."

When asked if he would be prepared to let the plant close down over the dispute, Hicks said: "it wouldn't be up to me one way or the other. It's up to the voting members of the union. His [financial] books don't mean much to us. The men don't trust Mike Wheaton, especially since he's using scabs."

"Scabs made the situation worse," Hicks continued. "A lot of the members have gotten stronger because of it. Some guys have worked there for 30-35 years. For 4-5 years all the men pooled together and worked without a foreman to help out the company. And that's how we're repaid for it?" The members now on the inside are considered "union members not in good standing" and can potentially be fined by the union when the dispute is settled. In fact, some union members go so far as to say that the men who crossed the picket line are "traitors to the union"--a charge said with indignation. "We're not going back until every member goes back," Hicks said, referring to the twenty workers left on the outside.

The union is calling for a boycott of George's Roadhouse and Ducky's, since both businesses are owned by Mike Wheaton. They are not asking the students to boycott the properties that Wheaton owns around town since "we don't expect students to leave their apartments." However, "students can go to other bars if they want to."

Along with students, the union also hopes to receive support from the liberal opposition Susan Purdy, since the conservative leader Peter Mesheau hasn't returned their calls. They hope that "the media will pay more attention [to the strikers] once the politicians get involved."

Regardless of these efforts, few of the men seem hopeful that they will be back to work before winter sets in. After having already resorted to huddling around a fire built in a metal barrel, they vow to continue making their way to the picket line even after the snow sets in. "We'll be out until it's solved," said Hicks. But after 22 years of union experience, the union's president doesn't see much of a negotiation process to work with: "it's an attitude I can't believe. You don't go to the table with 20% expecting to walk away with 20%."

Empathy, Understanding, Experience and Intuition

The majority of intellectual thought; of rational, “objective” analysis, is simply justification for the way one already intuitively feels. This is due to the fact that the object of the philosophers inquiry, whether he realizes it or not, is always himself. “This feels like truth” is where it begins. That the hypothesis is ‘logically true’ comes after. So the philosopher is merely attaching general arguments to a subjective truth. However, this primacy of intuition in “ideas” does not render objective thought meaningless. On the contrary, one can hardly dismiss a pursuit that has had such tangible effects on all of society. Ideas, one (such as Hegel) can argue, are the substance of society; the prime mover.

So how can something that has such an important effect on the outside, objective world be subjective in essence? The answer to this question hints at the limitations of the objective/subjective binary. Objective/subjective implies that human beings are in perfect isolation from the outside world and from one another. But “the outside world” is as much a conveyance of definition as is “species” to the biologist. The outside world begins where I arbitrarily decide it to begin. Some days it is convenient for me to end at the finger tips, other days I am contained wholly in my mind and actually my finger tips are a part of the ‘outside world.’ It is possible that in the future I will end at the tip of a cane or the stump of an amputated arm. The limitation of the outside/inside binary is actually a measure of the limitations of objective/subjective. Objectivity implies that what is ‘me’ is not effecting my analysis of what is not me; ie, the outside world. Conversely, pure subjectivity implies that the outside world is not preventing me from looking at myself in isolation. But yet one cannot look at himself in true isolation from the outside any more then one can look at the outside in isolation from the inside. The division does not exist.

Since the outside/inside and objective/subjective divisions are little more then ‘useful’ fictions, it is easily seen that the subjective ‘idea’ can represent objective truth. If what Hobbes or Kant or Marx were actually doing was rationalizing what they intuitively felt already, then there is a reason why they intuitively felt that way in the first place. Their particular understanding of the world can legitimately be a general understanding since their outlook is a consequence of their experience, an experience that is part and parcel with the social relations of their time; something all people within the society share in common.

All social relations are based on two primal means of relation: fear and empathy. Putting fear aside for now; empathy can be abstracted into various spheres. In the middle, the pillar holding up all others, is empathy for the self. Here self is defined by these levels of empathy; that which one empathizes with most will be called the self. To avoid a circular argument we have to introduce understanding. Human empathy comes from understanding, where understanding is defined as the activity associated with the uniqueness of the human species. Mostly, one has the highest level of understanding for that with which he spends the largest amount of time, and thus that one has a higher understanding (higher empathy) of the local body and mind is logical. All other levels are unique to the particular life experience, but as an example, the next level of empathy is what is known as ‘true love.’ Here, like the self, love is defined by quantity of empathy. Each sphere, being associated with understanding and empathy, is linked to life experience. Understanding comes from the sharing of common experience.

An example of this connection between, experience, understanding and empathy is of a mothers love for her baby. For 9 months a mother and her baby have common experience, in fact identical experience. Through this common experience the mother can easily know how the baby is feeling. Through her near perfect understanding of her child she has a near perfect ability to empathize with it. She doesn’t have to seek any outside reference to understand what her child is experiencing. This comes from the fact that ‘self’ is a fairly arbitrary, transient concept. Since everything in nature continually changes and the outside and inside are not completely distinct, the ‘self’ as an entity bound up with understanding, empathy and experience, is not permanent. When two ‘selves’ have common experience, they are on the track for achieving empathy. Their understanding of themselves become tied to their understanding of the other and the sensation of love may ensue.

So empathy is the consequence of common experience. What sort of common experiences do people share? Firstly one experiences the local body and mind. Next is the experience of his life activity, bound up with social relations. Human beings, after coming to terms with the Cartesian “I think therefor I am” will then realize that “I am therefor I must continue my existence” (of course this all happens intuitively and neither statement comes before the other or is even thought directly). People, having evolved in the way they did, tend to organize them selves in various social relations to collectively produce their means of subsistence. Life experience, understanding and empathy are then bound up with these social relations.

The, next grouping of increasing spheres of empathy will be based on these predetermined social relations. For example in the present social system the family will be before the rest of society. So on the next sphere of empathy and understanding, where another level of common life experience exists, is the family. If understanding seems to break down, it is common for one member to say, in a frustrated way, “we are all part of this family” or another way of putting it “we all share common experience.” Next could be close friends. Then school mates. Then townsmen and countrymen: (“we have the common experience of Canadians”). And then north Americans, Northerners, Westerners, Christians...each sphere of empathy extending outward. Eventually we reach a sphere that supersedes all social relations: we all have the common experience of human beings. All people are born, get sick, feel pain, procreate, for models to understand the world and experience death. This is the common human experience. This is a sphere of empathy that is unfortunately much less powerful then the inner spheres (each sphere weakens as it gets farther away from the middle). After this is the empathy for animals, then all of life and finally all of matter. Remember, however that these spheres of empathy are continually changing: as the external environment never stop changing, neither do human experience and human understanding.

The contemporary movement in the world today is the increasing of cross cultural understanding. When the colonizers sailed to the new world they encountered people that they had such a limited ability to empathize with that it was a simple thing to massacre them. When the slave ships brought back African slaves the people on board were so different from American people that it wasn’t a difficult task to treat them as oxen. The battles that resulted from the opening of the world to people who were only marginally empathetically connected are being fought and have been for a long time. This is the answer to the question of why there have been so many wars and atrocities in the twentieth century. But these battles are becoming less common and people increasingly perceive them as more unjust. Meanwhile science’s reach of the non-human world in extending farther and becoming more penetrating. The spheres of empathy are starting to close in.

Originally all things were in unity. This is true no matter how far one wishes to go back in time, be it the history of the universe, the history of evolution, or the history of the human species from the mother tribe in Africa. Perfection is the experience of this unity. The true nature of empathy is the experience of this unification. Einstein spoke of how the quest for the laws of the universe is about increasing the human sphere of understanding and empathy. He hinted at this by referring to his science as a pursuit for “the thoughts of God.” In an analogous way to the big bang and the theorized ‘big crunch,’ where the universe starts off in a perfect singularity, expands and recedes back into the singularity, the spheres of human empathy begin as a unity, expand and contract. We were all one people that splintered off and spread out throughout the world, having our experience of the world isolated from each other. The isolation is decreasing and the spheres of empathy are coming together. Perfection will be when the outermost sphere of empathy, that for the universe as a whole, is a part of a singularity with the self.

So the history of the “idea” is a history of the changing human experience. Kant’s description of the world was accurate enough for people to accept it (and us to hear about it) because he summarized the subjective experience that was felt by many people within his society. The experience of the world creates intuition that changes with various experience and various understandings of that experience. Collectively, the dominant excepted ideas of an era facilitates empathetic relations.

Justice and Evolution (written for an intro philosophy class in 2001)

It is hard to question the statement that people, above all else, strive for happiness. However, the idea of happiness, whether it be individual or societal, is complex to say the least and has numerous preconditions, which themselves are never concretely defined. Philosophers throughout history have had various ideas of happiness: Plato believed happiness to be the reunion of the soul with truth; Aristotle believed happiness is attained when we are living fully to our potential as human beings, while Hobbes believed happiness is simply freedom from war. These ideas all have a common thread that I will attempt to make obvious in this essay.

Many philosophers identify justice and freedom as necessary preconditions for happiness. John Rawls believes that people have an innate sense of justice which makes them free. He writes: “ virtue of their two moral powers (a capacity for a sense of justice and for a conception of the good) and the powers of reason (of judgment, thought, and inference connected with these powers), persons are free.” (Lopston,161) Justice for Rawls is “the capacity to understand, to apply, and to act from the public conception of justice which characterizes the fair terms of social cooperation.” (Loptson,161) However in order for happiness to be analysed as a concrete idea its obvious parts (namely justice and freedom) must become solidified. This cannot be achieved by leaving these ideas in a murky relativist standing, changing as Rawls’ “public conception of justice” changes, but they must be made universal and common to all beings that are capable of happiness.

Accepting justice and freedom as preconditions for happiness leads to the recognition that animals must experience both of these ideas. In speaking of the animals at the zoo John Berger writes, “...they treat any event which takes place around them – usually it is in front of them, where the public is – as marginal. (Hence their assumption of an otherwise exclusively human attitude – indifference)” (Berger, course pack) and “At most, the animal’s gaze flickers and passes on. They look sideways. They look blindly beyond. They scan mechanically. They have been immunised to encounter, because nothing can any more occupy a central place in their attention.” (Berger, course pack). By virtually anybody’s conception of the word, the animals, that were experiencing this sense of “indifference”, were not “happy.” Consequently justice and freedom, being considered preconditions for happiness, must include animals in their definitions. Justice and freedom can not be considered real, in the sense that they have detectable effects in the world, as long as the terms do not include animals and they remain simply terms, with little existence outside the human vocabulary constantly susceptible to revision. The proceeding paragraphs will rest on the assumption that justice and freedom are preconditions for happiness and animals experience justice/injustice and freedom or lack of it. Using these premises I will now attempt to show that justice and freedom, and thus happiness, actually do have detectable effects in the world and therefore can be discussed as tangible scientific phenomena.

First it must be made clear that the natural system (a term that encompasses all life on the planet) works on a time scale that is so far from human experience that it is exceedingly difficult for human beings to recognize its laws and complexities. An example of this is Einstein’s discovery that when one enlarges his scale of relative speeds to a point that is comparable to the speed of light many patterns and laws never before conceived begin to appear. A more earthy demonstration of this is that this is the very reason Darwin was able to postulate the laws of evolution as well as the why it had never been thought of before, since previously no one was thinking in terms of more than a few human lifetimes. It is possible that justice and freedom will reveal themselves in such a manner. Pain is a good analogy to justice and freedom. Pain informs and instructs. It tells the recipient that something detrimental to his health or physical security is occurring and instructs him to discontinue the activity. The “sense” of justice/injustice informs a person that they are being denied something important and instructs them to improve the situation. However, unlike pain, the reasons for these instructions are not at first completely obvious. As above discussed, it may be useful to look at these terms from a Darwinian time scale and when one does so, it is seen that only when justice and freedom are not present, will a species evolve. When a beaver is denied its right to be a beaver; when it is not “free” to build a dam, it can no longer survive as a beaver and can in fact be considered to have ceased being a beaver. If this injustice persists on a Darwinian time scale it is obvious that the beaver, through natural selection, will evolve into a different species. A law of nature must now be established: species’ abhor evolution. The beaver would fight tooth and nail (mind the pun) to have the freedom to continue making dams. Why? Because that is what beavers do, once they stop doing this they will evolve into a new species.

To return to the human context it can be said that the sense of freedom is the recognition that no external force is preventing a human from being human. To test this hypothesis we must now establish what traits are particular to humans and see if, in the absence of the trait, an injustice has occurred (or freedom has been denied).First, human beings have the ability to “understand” or “comprehend” According to Aristotle “one part of the soul...has reason.” The soul being the essential, eternal nature of being human elucidates the fundamentalness of understanding to human beings. There is no other injustice as profound as denying a person the ability to understand. Slaves were forced to work but people are still forced into labour without there being a clear consensus that an injustice is taking place. What made slavery an injustice was that slaves were not privileged with the ability to understand why they worked. The slave master would say “today you work because you have to work” and in turn the slave would experience a feeling of confusion in this explanation for the reason of his labour while thinking “this is not just”. These ideas of injustice and forced incomprehension may go hand in hand. If a large group of people continued to function as slaves over a time period proportional to the evolutionary time scale it is conceivable that, through natural selection, the individuals with the highest ability to be efficient labourers (physically strong and dexterous) and least propensity to desire explanation of their given situation would be selected and eventually a species not meeting the precise definition of human would arise. So by following his “instincts” and seeking to discontinue his injustice, the slave is actually seeking to secure the long term preservation of his species. Understanding may be just one human trait among many that collectively make a human a human and the same argument can be followed through with any other human trait.

Sigmund Freud writes “...what [do] men themselves show by their behaviour to be the purpose and intentions of their lives. What do they demand of life and wish to achieve in it? The answer can hardly be in doubt. They strive after happiness; they want to become happy and remain so.” (Civilization and its Discontents, in Lopston, 354). Species’ abhor evolution and long term unhappiness (or rather, long term injustice) leads to evolution. With these clearly defined terms it is possible to create conditions inducive to sustainable human happiness (and for the more selfless among us, sustainable animal happiness) By defining happiness as a whole where justice and freedom are the parts and defining justice as the freedom to actively partake in your species’ defining characteristics, from the societal standpoint only one variable remains: what are human beings’ defining characteristics? This is what must be chosen by a responsible society (or selected through scientific rigour) for a happy society to be created. This will lead to a society more concerned with positive freedoms then negative and to a less class divided populace. For example if it is recognized that the propensity to “understand” is a fundamental human trait then it is any just governments responsibility to ensure that all of its people have access to adequate education and to ensure that the exchange of information is not infringed upon or biassed in any way. The only ones who may disagree with the rightness of such behaviour are gods who are opposed to a society governed on the basis of inhibiting evolution. But humans can never truly stop evolution since it usually results from unpredictable environmental change. But I don’t know any gods anyway so they can go float a boat.

Towards a Buddhist Marxism (written for a class on Buddhism at Mount Allison University in 2003.)


The religion of Buddhism originated with the birth of Sakyamuni The Buddha in the sixth century BCE (Robinson 11). Although some who adhered to his teaching would eventually come to disagree on it’s interpretation and many opposing groups, each claiming to be the true expression of Buddhism, the story of Sakyamuni’s development remains quite simple and universal: A boy was born to a royal family, he noticed that misery was everywhere and discovered a way to put an end to it. Roughly 2500 years later, in the same month, another person was born whose biography can be grossly oversimplified in exactly the same manner. Karl Marx was born in 1818 to a well-to-do Jewish/German family, studied in Berlin and became “without a doubt the most influential socialist thinker to emerge in the 19th century.” (Kreis). According to Peter Lopston “very, very few individuals, men or women of action or theorists have had the degree of impact on the world that Karl Marx...has had” (Loptson 27).

Marxism as a doctrine and a practice, like Buddhism, has changed much over the years, with different interpretations of the original principles catalyzing the development of different schools of thought. In Marx’s own lifetime Marxism had gone through so much change that, in a conversation with his companion Frederick Engels, he said “...I myself am not a Marxist” (MIA). Given the difference in historical time scales, the capricious nature of Buddhism’s development is even more pronounced. Learning about Buddhism is similar to studying mathematics in grade school: it seems there is no rhyme or reason but, according to your teacher, it is all somehow connected. As one continues in their study one eventually comes to realize that overriding axioms do exist. The reason for the seemingly endless diversity of complicated models is that, as long as you don’t break any of the axiomatic rules, one can make a system that will look any way he or she pleases (although some systems turn out to be more useful then others). In this paper, in exploring the historical, doctrinal and practical relations of Buddhism and Marxism, I will not give special attention to, or reject, any particular school of thought, but try to keep to what is most generally recognized as the fundamental messages (axiomatic rules) of Buddhism and Marxism. I intend to show that, although on the surface the converse appears true, Buddhism and Marxism are not opposing doctrines but are actually capable of being adjoined within a society without compromising any of the fundamental principles of either doctrine. What we will come to discover is that Buddhism and Marxism are actually two sides of a whole; each representing the contradictory nature of the human condition: that the human species is composed of isolated individuals with isolated needs and the isolated individual is an appendage of the community with communal needs.

It will be assumed that no explanation is needed for the principles of Buddhism. However I will begin by giving a brief overview of Marxism. I will then show that the ideas of The Buddha and those of Marx are far from being contradictory or unrelated: Marx and The Buddha were both rationalist thinkers who reached the same conclusions. This will be followed by examples of past doctrinal and practical synthesis’ and then concluded by an explanation of the need of a synthesis and what a Buddho/Marxist society might look like. .


Although Marxism has changed over the decades, unlike Buddhism, it’s founder wrote his ideas down himself and his life is still in recent memory today. Thus the debate about “what He actually said” would be less vigorous between, say, a Menshevik and a Bolshevik then a Theravada Buddhist and a Mahayana Buddhist.

According to the Marxists Internet Archive (MIA) Marxism is “the theory of dialectical materialism based on communist practice” (MIA). Here dialectical materialism is the combining of dialectics (the method of reasoning that seeks to analyze phenomena in terms of its contradictory attributes) and materialism. From this philosophical basis Marx and Engels systematically analyzed the history of civilization. They concluded that history is composed of epochs that logically flow from one to the next as a result of the conflict between the forces of production (labor, technology, etc) and the relations of production (ownership of the means of production) which necessarily leads to revolution and the establishment of new relations of production, ie; a new social system. This movement is characterized by an increase in complexity of the division of labor and an eventual movement to a communist state (an advanced classless society).

Philosophical Parallels

Just as The Buddha’s ideas developed amongst an already present system of thought (Robinson 9) there was already a thriving tradition of western socialist thought before Marx came onto the scene. What most of these thinkers had in common was their predilection towards extreme rationalism. In America at the turn of the 20'th century this rationalist perspective led many thinkers to reject the traditional values of their homeland, including that of religion. According to Thomas Tweed in The American Encounter With Buddhism “some challenged...prevailing dietary habit, medical practices, research procedures, ethnic relations and gender roles. A handful even rejected elements of the accepted order as fundamental as capitalism and democracy” (81) and “many pondered ‘the labour question’ in the 1870s and 1880s as tensions between management and labour periodically erupted into violence” (Tweed 80). Some of the same minds who came to support the labour movement also took on a “significant interest in Buddhism” (Tweed 80). For example, Albert J. Edmunds who was, what Tweed terms, an “esoteric Buddhist sympathizer” said “Trade unions are beginning to talk revolution and I already foresee, not far off, the social war which I have believed in since 1884” (Tweed 84). Further Daniel Lum who “played a role in organizing the bookbinders into a union during the 1870's” (Tweed 84), in addition to partaking in many other radical socialist activities, felt that his discovery “of the superiority of Buddhism...was the result of a purely intellectual encounter with the tradition.” (Tweed 89). What led these rationalist/socialist activists and thinkers to believe Buddhism was an acceptable religion that “harmonized with science and reason” (Tweed 64)? According to Lum,

“Buddhists are not asked to ‘sacrifice reason’ by believing in notions that are contradicted by modern science - such as the belief in a supernatural being and an immortal soul. The doctrine of the moral law of cause and effect (karma), for instance, provides the basis for a religious view which is in perfect harmony with biological evolution, natural selection, and heredity. In its doctrine of karma Buddhism is able to account for the “moral government of the world, without a personal governor” (Tweed 65).

Of course this view will not be entirely satisfactory to a student of Buddhism since Lum’s encounter with the religion was limited to Theravada Buddhism and a brand of Theravada that was customized for a western audience. However, if we do not discriminate between various sects and focus instead on what are generally excepted to be the fundamental principles of Buddhism (as is the program of this paper), Lum’s assertion holds. Buddhism, then, stands with the historical foundation of socialism: rational thought.

In addition to being a rationalist, in his early years, Marx was among the Young Hegelians who drew radical conclusions from the philosophy of Hegel (MIA). Marx broke off from the Young Hegelians when he critiqued their Idealist perspective in The German Ideology but kept and continued to refine Hegel’s use of dialectics. Once Marx felt he had perfected dialectical materialism he used it as his principle philosophical tool. The conclusions he reached were reminiscent of the path he took and (following in the tradition of dialectics) the two can not be adequately understood in isolation from each other. Judging from the unique nature of his insights, The Buddha also must have used a unique philosophical tool for his analysis of man and society. The mode of thought evident in The Buddha’s insights shows that he too used a dialectical materialist approach. This will become apparent through looking at the approach itself, as used by Marx and Engels and through what they drew as its logical conclusions.

Hegel, the founder of dialectical reasoning, explained the difference in dialectical understanding with ordinary understanding in his work The Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences: The Logic when he writes:

“(a) Thought, as Understanding, sticks to fixity of characters and their distinctness from one another: every such limited abstract it treats as having a subsistence and being of its own.’ (b) ‘In the Dialectical stage these finite characterizations or formulae supersede themselves, and pass into their opposites.’” (MIA, reference writers, Hegel, works) The similarities with Buddhist thought are stark. The famous Chinese Buddhist thinker Chih-i (538-597) determined that “all true statements describing a principle can at best be only partially adequate; their opposites may also be partially true. Thus the statements that come closest to expressing the truth of principle are the middle ones that encompass seeming contradictions, pointing out how both sides of the contradiction are true although neither is fully true” (Robinson 186).

But this is just a rewording (or rather a post-wording) of Hegel’s theory of dialectics.

Another example of the relation between the Buddhist’s and Marxist’s mode of analysis is seen in each doctrine’s cosmology. According to one contemporary Buddhist, Buddhists view the universe as evolving over a cycle that runs over a huge time scale; “the virtually limitless extent of the universe as well as the incalculable length of time required in the past, present and future for the cycle of arising and passing away of spheres of phenomenal existence to run their course...the beginning of the whole of phenomenal existence of which the universe known to science is...incalculable; The material universe consists systems...each coming in to existence and passing away...” (Ratna). In using physics as an example to explain the concept of dialectics Engels writes: "It is an eternal cycle in which matter moves, a cycle that certainly only completes its orbit in periods of time for which our terrestrial year is no adequate measure, a cycle in which the time of highest development, the time of organic life and still more that of the life of being conscious of nature and of themselves, is just as narrowly restricted as the space in which life and self-consciousness come into operation. A cycle in which every finite mode of existence of matter, whether it be sun or nebular vapour, single animal or genus of animals, chemical combination or dissociation, is equally transient, and wherein nothing is eternal but eternally changing, eternally moving matter and the laws according to which it moves and changes. (MIA, Engels, Dialectics of Nature).

That these conceptions of the origin and natural development of the universe, so important to each world view, are so similar is not a coincidence. It is instead, the logical conclusion drawn from a common philosophical tool kit: dialectical materialism.

Dialectical Materialism is also seen to be used in more fundamental ways within the Buddhist doctrine. The Buddhist idea of “dependant co-arising” speaks of the natural cycle of the individual. According to Robinson “ one of the most distinct insights of the Buddha’s Awakening: the realization that personal experience and the entire conditioned universe all boil down to this single pattern, whose factors work over time...” (Robinson 25). In essence, the principle of dependant co-arising holds that an individual human being does not have a permanent soul (atman) but rather is the result of an ongoing cycle resulting from a determined series of cause and effects. This is precisely how Marx saw society. Analogous to the no-soul (an-atman) doctrine, Marx does away with the “soul,” or in other words, the primacy of the superstructure of society (ideas, beliefs, morals, laws, politics, religious views and philosophies) assumed by the idealistic perspective. He writes that the materialist conception of history "...shows that history does not end by being resolved into "self-consciousness as spirit of the spirit", but that in it at each stage there is found a material result: a sum of productive forces, a historically created relation of individuals to nature and to one another, which is handed down to each generation from its predecessor; a mass of productive forces, capital funds and conditions, which, on the one hand, is indeed modified by the new generation, but also on the other prescribes for it its conditions of life and gives it a definite development, a special character. It shows that circumstances make men just as much as men make circumstances.” (Marx, German Ideology). From this “social no-soul” (or in other words: no attribute that is independent of causes and change) doctrine, the Marxist counterpart to dependant co-arising is seen in the idea of the social cycle. This cycle is driven by the interaction of productive forces and the mode of production. Class antagonism results from it and, as with the Buddhism’s necessary ending of ignorance, it can only be ended by getting to the root of the problem: the ignorance of who actually participates in social production. .

Though we don’t have the space to explore it exhaustively, it is becoming clear that one may reformulate all the fundamental attributes of the Buddhist doctrine using the methods of Marx and vice-versa. A few more examples will be useful: the Buddhist concept of the middle way is directly related to the synthesis in the Hegelian idea of thesis - antithesis - synthesis, where antithesis is the contradiction of the thesis that arises as a result of the existence of the thesis. The synthesis is the coming together of the two. Hegel explains that this is the chief propelling agent of human and natural history. In the Marxist context, the thesis is primitive classless society, antithesis is class society and the synthesis is communism. Thus Hegel put the ancient Buddhist idea of the middle way on a firm theoretical basis. This generalization shows communism to be an example of a middle way class and class-less society. Also, a key Buddhist concept, that leads to many others, is that of impermanence: a fundamental attribute of nature is that nothing is permanent. According to Engels

"For dialectical philosophy nothing is final, absolute, sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything and in everything; nothing can endure before it except the uninterrupted process of becoming and of passing away, of endless ascendancy from the lower to the higher" (MIA, student’s section).

Finally, the most obvious connection, one that will be discussed further, is the similarities in the concepts of nirvana and utopia.

What is becoming apparent is that the Buddha and Marx, not only both being rationalists, were actually very similar thinkers that would agree on similar ideas. Perhaps the reason the connection is not immediately obvious is that they both used skill-full means. What would have been “skill-full” in the Buddha’s time and place was very different then in Marx’s.

Examples of Buddhist-Socialist syncreticism:

If Buddhism and Marxism are truly both concerned with solving the problem of the human condition then one would expect times when the two doctrines were used by the same people. In fact this is the case. As was seen previously, the early Buddhist encounter with America was entrenched in radicalism. Lum, who chose Buddhism as a superior religious perspective for the same reasons that he chose socialism as a superior political perspective, exemplifies this.

The opposite situation has also occurred. One important example is Lin Qiuwu (1903-1934) who is also known as Taiwan’s radical monk (Jones). Lin Qiuwu came onto to Marxism through the political currents that were a result of the Taiwanese youth’s opposition to Japanese rule. After much work as a radical socialist, having spent time in prison and suffered police persecution, to the surprise of his radical compatriots, he became an ordained Buddhist monk. After becoming a monk Qiuwu sought to reorient Buddhist thought away from what he saw as social passivity and towards social engagement. Although he died of tuberculosis before he could fully explore the outcome of the synthesis of his two world views, he did contribute much to what would become “engaged Buddhism.” To achieve these ends, rather then a thorough comparison of Marx and the Buddha’s ideas from first principles, Qiuwu, using skill-full means, attempted to fit socialist ideas into the Buddhist culture of his time and place. His greatest success was relating the ideas of Bodhisattva conduct with that of a social reformer. His transplantation of the idea of Bodhisattva into a Marxist context is seen when he writes:

“The one who cultivates bodhisattva conduct is thereby a harbinger of social revolution. His fundamental purpose is to build a heaven on earth, a western [Pure Land] in this land, to enable all of humanity (and eventually all beings whatsoever) to escape all suffering and attain all bliss. (quoted in Jiang 1990:5/4)” (Jones).

What makes Qiuwu an especially interesting example is that he not only attempted to convince Buddhists of Marxism’s utility but also gave himself the more difficult task of convincing Marxists of Buddhism’s. He excepted all of the Marxist criticism of religion but maintained that Buddhism was not actually a religion but a philosophy that unfortunately over the years fell into the trappings of a religion. Although Qiuwu did not take it to the next step and show that the two philosophies actually are intertwined, he did show how Buddhism as a philosophy would be useful to the Marxist revolution when he wrote: “Bodhisattva conduct means that, on the basis of a correct view of oneself, one works for the welfare of all people in society, acting without a trace of fear. "Benefitting self and others" (zi li li ta) is a saying that expresses this type of conduct.” (quoted in Li 1991:179) (Jones).

Pioneers like Lin Qiuwu led the way to the more recent phenomenon of socially engaged Buddhism (dubbed simply engaged Buddhism by scholars). An example of another Thai socially engaged Buddhist is Buddhadasa Bhikkhu who was active in the 1940's. He explains how Buddhism is the correct religion for social engagement: “Buddhism is neither materialism or mentalism, but is the correctness between the two or is both of them in the right proportions. The religion which can be taken as the best social science must not be a slave of materialism nor crazy about mental things” (Queen and King 155).

More recently, especially in western Buddhism, groups of engaged Buddhists have began cropping up. Even some entire monasteries have decided on the preferred mode of mediation to be peace-walking (walking long distances while carrying signs indicating their message). Other groups like The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) “aspire to build a new society through a range of public programs and enterprises.” This group has a “critical stance toward prevalent conditions of power distribution, and social-cultural and religious ideals...” (Queen 373). Besides being Buddhist, what all these examples have in common is their socialist slant. One would be hard pressed to find a group of engaged Buddhists that had any sort of right wing tendencies. Even the worlds most famous living Buddhist, the Dalai Lama - someone who has been affected in a very negative way by Marxism gone arry, said; “Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis and the equitable utilization of the means of production. It is also concerned with the fate of the working classes--that is, the majority--as well as with the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and Marxism cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and it seems fair”(Sonam). Thus, although through history Buddhism has not faired well with states who marched under the banner of Marxism, Buddhists and Marxists are connected, not only through similarities in philosophy, but increasingly through political tendencies.


If there is one thing that all Buddhists can agree on about The Buddha it is that he believed that there is an ideal state for the individual human being. He termed this state, Nirvana. Robinson points out that “in the time of the Buddha nirvana conveyed primarily the notion of freedom.” and “as experienced in life, it meant freedom from any attachment or agitation in terms of passion, aversion , or delusion...” (Robinson 40) However, from the Marxist viewpoint, “attachment” to worldly things is a necessary condition for the existence of the capitalist mode of production. According to Marxian thought, in a capitalist system, production and consumption are completely separate activities. This is due, in part, to the alienation of the worker from the products of his or her labour. The working class is taught that their life and their freedom is hinged on their existence as a consumer and it has little or nothing to do with production. Of course the Marxist would point out that this is a myth that has utility only for the class that happens to be in control of the means of production and, in reality, the idea that the majority of people in the world consume but do not produce does not hold up upon inspection. A Marxist would then explain that this myth’s true function is to feed the ignorance that production is, in reality, the activity of the society as a whole. Allowing a small group to have complete control of this activity is an injustice that can be remedied (in a similar way to escaping the cycle of death and rebirth) by doing away with this ignorance. But in order for this myth to continue, and capitalism to survive, the vast majority of a population have to be attached, or even addicted to, material goods. They have to be so afraid that they may lose access to these goods that they are willing to fight wars over it. Therefor the enemy of Buddhism is the same as the enemy of Marxism: attachment. Given that most people today live within a capitalist framework, no wonder so few people seek to attain Nirvana. No wonder so few people become communist.

Among the questions that arose in class, the one that seemed to be most difficult to answer was “Is it not hypocritical to preach enlightenment when, if all people sought it, the order of monks and nuns would not survive?” But it should now apparent that this is only a consequence of the fact that The Buddha only addressed one half of the whole of human nature and thus developed only a half theory of enlightenment. The group can not exist without the individual and the individual does not exist without the group. How then can one seek enlightenment as solely an independent struggle? It appears that one must first emancipate society before true human emancipation can be achieved.

The Buddha and Marx spoke of human emancipation on the levels of the individual and social respectively. But, in practise, how would these theories actually compliment each other? The answer may lie in time. Civilization has brought to humanity an increase in free time and it has been on a steady increase since (at least for the privileged). Agriculture, refrigerators, telephones and automobiles are all time saving devices. What have we done with our newly found free time? We have increased production, continued to build civilization and fought wars. Marx’s communist state is a vision of a future where all members of the society have collectively decided that wage labour and class division is no longer necessary; where the means of production can easily be controlled by all of society, for all of society; where time can be spent, not toiling away to survive but to affirming one’s humanity. But one may say that people will not know what to do with their time, that they are too conditioned to the present and past systems and will fall into the same old patterns. Is there an example of a group of people that spend very little time seeking their means of subsistence as the theoretical communist man and women would? It does not take long to see that The Buddhist sangha is the ideal example. Buddhists Monks and Nuns spend the vast majority of their time seeking an end to the problem of suffering (a problem that has only been able to be addressed since people have had time to address it). A Buddhist should quickly see that upon achieving Utopia all people will realize the four noble truths on their own. They will not be able to think “if I had more time and money I would be happy” or “if I had more justice, I would be happy.” The truth of universal suffering would be unavoidable and people would either revert to creating some new struggle for themselves and starting the whole cycle over again, or taking the example of the sangha and work on their own personal liberation. For Marxism and Buddhism to be complete theories, not only is a synthesis possible, it is necessary. Before individuals can be emancipated from human suffering, society has to be emancipated from restrictions of a lack of true freedom and equality, and before the members of society will have the time to focus of finding true happiness they have to be freed from the constraints of survival. Nirvana needs Utopia.

Works Cited

Dumoulin, Heinrich and John Maraldo. 1976. Buddhism in the Modern World. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Co. Jones, Charles. “Buddhism and Marxism in Taiwan: Lin Qiuwu's Religious Socialism and Its Legacy in Modern Times.” Global Buddhism. 2000. 10 March 2003. Karuna, Ratna. “Buddhist Cosmology.” 12 March 2003. Kreis, Steven. “Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History: Karl Marx, 1818-1883.” The History Guide. 2000. 10 March. 2003. Loptson, Peter. ed. 1998. Readings on Human Nature. Peterborough ON: Broadview Press. Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. 1970. The German Ideology as translated by C.J. Arthur. London: International Publishers Co. Marxist International Archive (MIA). 2003. 10 March 2003. Robinson, Richard, and Willard Johnson. 1997. The Buddhist Religion: A historical introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company. Queen, Christopher. 2000. Engaged Buddhism in the West. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. Queen, Christopher and Sallie King. 1996. Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist liberation movements in Asia. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Sonam, Tenzan. The Dalai Lama. “Tibet and China, Marxism, Nonviolence.” His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet. 2002. 8 March 2003. Strong, John. 2002. The Experience of Buddhism: Sources and interpretations. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company. Tweed, Thomas. 2000. The American Encounter With Buddhism, 1844-1912. NC: University of North Carolina Press. Welch, Holmes. 1972. Buddhism Under Mao. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.