On this week’s anniversary of Peter Kropotkin’s death I found myself traveling to India for a reprise of my periodic lecture series with Indian Institute for Management – Ahmedabad Professor Anil Gupta. For three days, we would circumnavigate the topic of intellectual property and its role in competitive and collaborative market utility with a group of technocrats and business managers from across India. Vainly I set into motion an effort to locate the original works of Kropotkin’s self-proclaimed inspiration, Karl F. Kessler, Dean of the University of St. Petersburg which set into motion the quite popular notion of Mutual Aid contrasting the Malthusian – Darwinism inspired Survival of the Fittest. Regrettably, the trail for his work, save copious references thereto, were entombed in the Artic ice below the plane – long lost to the West’s loving (albeit seasoned with schizophrenic disdain) embrace of Darwin’s laws of competition over collaboration.
In a world teeming with ideological conflict, it is perfectly reasonable to see why, in the 1880s, the social debate had equivalent fuel arguing for an aspirational emergence of humanity actively choosing a path away from barbarism and bloodshed while confronting the empirical evidence of gladiatorial predispositions sacrificing humanity on the industrial alter of Labor. Thomas H. Huxley’s The Struggle for Existence fatalistically preconditions his arguments with what amounts to his epitaph on the species.
“The finer spirits look to an ideal civitas Dei; a state when, every man having reached the point of absolute self-negation and having nothing but moral perfection to strive after, peace will truly reign, not merely among nations but among men, and the struggle for existence will be at an end.”
“Whether human nature is competent, under any circumstances, to reach, or even seriously advance toward, this ideal condition, is a question which need not be discussed. It will be admitted that mankind has not yet reached this stage by a very long way, and my business is with the present.”
"…the weakest and stupidest went to the wall, while the toughest and shrewdest, those who were best fitted to cope with their circumstances, but not the best in another way, survived. Life was a continuous free fight, and beyond the limited and temporary relations of the family, the Hobbesian war of each against all was the normal state of existence.”
Anyone feel like they wished they hadn’t started reading this post long about now? Well, read on, my intrepid friends because the evidence of Huxley’s despondency is alive and well. But before we hurl ourselves over the ledge, I will do my level best to argue for Kessler once more.
I’ve frequently mentioned the prevailing utility of “Ignorance Arbitrage” in our current micro- and macro economic systems. I was visited by this phantasm on several occasions across the past several days. An Australian apologist for abusive business practices in selected corporations in the mining sector attempted to defend practices which explicitly violate the laws of host countries and induce governments into indebted faux ownership in illiquid shell corporations while being seduced by World Bank and IFC sirens promoting ‘economic development’. Countless voices in our conference echoed the empty mantra that intellectual property protection generally, and patents specifically, are an essential element of ‘defending innovation’ while knowing full well that the WTO elixir is more akin to Socrates’ hemlock. U.S. representatives implored their Indian counterparties to pile economic sanctions on the citizens of Iran while President Ahmadineajad amplified his rhetoric and while the Times of India quietly ran an article on the commercial bonanza potential to expand trade with Iran as the sanctions created their inevitable vacuum. An investment manager for a $10 billion fund callously told me that the Mining Minister in Papua New Guinea was “irrelevant” as he had no “real consequence” in the operating reality of resource extractors in the country. Over a year after we delivered a report to the Government of Mongolia on the debt-trap they were placed in by a Goldman Sachs-advised financing racket, a now more indebted request came to re-examine our evidence as it suddenly appeared to be somehow more relevant than when it was drafted at the outset.
I suppose I should take some solace in the fact that George Orwell’s Animal Farm, written in the shadow of the Spanish Civil War and on the eve of the Second World War, was rejected by publishers for years because it was too critical of Stalin’s tyranny tolerable as he was an ally of the U.S. and Britain while being criticized on the other hand as being to ‘communist’. Then, as now, in a world where dogmatic adherence to ideology provides noxious sanctuary for the masses, we find ourselves predictably succumbing to the python of prevailing propaganda rather than becoming animated by information accumulated through engagement.
My Australian anonymous heckler has apparently not read the audited financial statements of companies like New Guinea Gold which reported “fully impairing” $4,841,978 in accrued debt (a liability nearly 7000% greater than the total consideration paid to the community) charged against the entity in which the landowners of Sinivit were allegedly going to receive equity benefit. The company’s accountants at BDO clearly had reason to believe that the illiquid, indebted shell corporation in which the landowners were going to receive “benefit” was unlikely to ever pay out. However, while writing down Gold Mines of Niugini Holdings Ltd., the company insisted on having state police protection to “defend their interests” against landowners who felt that they were being abused. The Indian Government and its agencies must have failed to see that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission report indicting the patent system as not serving its intended purpose or Dr. Sara Boettiger’s seminal work empirically showing the ineffectiveness of the Bayh-Dole Act. And let’s face it, when it comes to sanctions against regimes, can anyone say Cuba? They hurt citizens, not autocrats or dictators. Masking our campaign against Iran under the guise of the trumped up, “If they build it, Israel will succumb” rhetoric ignores our inconsistent nuclear weapons record across the globe. The British Mandate of Palestine was colonialism writ large in 1922 and if we don’t address that legacy, we should just transparently state an alliance rather than hiding behind a manufactured common enemy (ironically also a legacy of British map drawing skills). But, and here comes the sunrise of my reason for Kesslerian optimism, they have all made one significant error in their calculation. Information and a new class of its purveyors!
You see, the Old Majors and Napoleons count on the fact that they can drive out Snowball and that, at best, morality will serve the patronizing role of the paternalistic Clover. But what they don’t expect is the emergence of an internuncio who is willing to first exchange education and then inform. And vital in this is the EXCHANGE of education. You see, industrial colonialists have presumed themselves to be the sole keepers of alacritous cunning and have held community values and knowledge with benign or violent disdain. However in an emerging reality, the fig leaf of ignorance that has shielded both the actors and their apologists has been gnawed to its proverbial stem exposing the naked truth of inequitable conduct. And given the hubris of the abusers, the caterpillar doesn’t have to suffer a varied appetite. The same predictable cheats conduct themselves with the same behavior whether it’s in Central Asia, the Pacific, South America or Africa. In fact, it is the very fact of their predictable conduct that makes their identification so effortless and the unmasking of the fraud so efficient.
Kropotkin, Kessler and Orwell suffered marginalization from their clarion calls for an alternative hypothesis to the Huxley-Darwin-Malthus dogmatic underpinning of a Rockefeller animated industrial juggernaut. Only a fool would argue that the last century was largely owned by the latter ever seeking to exterminate the former. Yet it is equally the fool that sees the economies of Europe and the U.S. – the alleged victors – entirely embrace selective aristocratic socialism in the form of absolute state intervention and conclude that calculated consumerism and capitalism (in its current manifestation in the same countries) performed suitably. So, on this sunny day in India, I would encourage you to celebrate the fact that, at long last, the seeds of cooperation are landing in fertile soil far faster than Monsanto’s back-room can concoct their herbicide. And, with a little bit of luck, a few of you will forward this post and be the wind that insures their scatter as far and wide as possible. Your choice: Huxley’s “…the weakest and stupidest went to the wall, while the toughest and shrewdest, those who were best fitted to cope with their circumstances, but not the best in another way, survived” OR become a disseminator of the seeds of knowledge and collaboration which fruits into a world where “…peace will truly reign, not merely among nations but among men, and the struggle for existence will be at an end.”