Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Canadian Zionism Question

A fruitful research avenue for tenured university professors?

By Denis G. Rancourt

(See new "Follow Up" section below.)

“This is the kind of obviousness that a child can see—though the child may, later in life, become browbeaten into believing that the obvious problems are "non-problems", to be argued into nonexistence by careful reasoning and clever choices of definition.”
-- Roger Penrose

“... so obvious that it takes really impressive discipline to miss it ...”
-- Noam Chomsky

Here we have Israel as an internationally recognized thug, keeper of the largest open-air prison on earth, regularly practicing war crimes against civilians, targeting civilian infrastructure and continuously disregarding the Geneva Conventions – virtually unanimously denounced by the international community, by every human rights watch group on the globe, and by international civil society for the last many decades [1] – and how do Canadian politicians and parliamentarians respond?

Israel, the modern sate that shamelessly uses the Nazi holocaust to justify overtly racist domestic and foreign national policies, stock piles nuclear weapons, incites wars on its neighbours, overtly funds propaganda in foreign countries, routinely practices international pirating, kidnappings and murders, openly performs political assassinations [1]... and how do Canadian politicians and parliamentarians respond?

Israel has no significant economic exchanges with Canada [a] and performs no significant geopolitical service of benefit to Canada; a Canada with virtually no economic ties with the Middle East and a Canada that is a net exporter of oil and gas.

Yet, apart from the independent-thinking Bloc Quebecois, it seems that half the time that English Canadian politicians open their mouths it’s to denounce a “new anti-Semitism” that social scientists and statisticians tell us is a media fabrication or to express Israel’s “right to defend itself” or to declare Canada’s “unwavering support for Israel.” Not to mention Israel’s “right to exist”! [2]

What about unwavering support for human rights and international law?

And I count the NDP (New Democratic Party) establishment prepared to sacrifice one of its own for stating a historic fact and happy to stand silent in the face of Zio-zeal.

The Canadian Zionism Question is: Why?

Why has Zio-zeal become English Canada’s new political religion? If Canada is Israel’s friend why doesn’t Canada help Israel abandon violence as its main diplomatic tool and facilitate Israel’s integration into the community of nations that denounce violence and racism? Why doesn’t Canada help Israel and its people?

How do English Canada politicians benefit from being subservient to US geopolitical doctrine? Or how would they suffer from not trading away Canada’s sovereignty; and how are most Quebec politicians immune?

Would it be so difficult for English Canada politicians to not so enthusiastically kiss the ass of the Middle East tyrant? And not adopt unanimous parliamentary resolutions to suppress criticism of Israel on university campuses? And not spend valuable parliamentary resources “investigating” imagined new anti-Semitism in Canada?

How in God’s name can we understand this new madness?

What happened? Sure there was CanWest but it died, despite the government’s best efforts to covertly bail it out.

What is going on?

Some prominent cover-up artists have suggested that English Canada politicians are overly preoccupied with pleasing Jewish voters. But there just aren’t enough Jewish voters to explain transforming the Parliament into the embarrassing Zio-zeal fest that it has become, in the face of an opposing world consensus view. In addition there are growing numbers of Jewish Canadians who are critical of Israel and of Canada’s uncritical support for Israel and its policies. [3]

No there has to be more to it than Jewish voters. Not to mention that 56% of Canadians have a “mainly negative view of Israel”. [4] (The average global opinion for “mainly positive view of Israel” is 17%. [4])

Given the overwhelming evidence for the Zio-zeal phenomenon and given its obvious sovereignty implications, it seems fair to ask the Canadian Zionism Question: Why?

There are at least two categories of possible answers: One that involves the obedience of service intellectuals and political caretakers and a related one that involves “following the money”. There is also of course the always useful appeal to mythology:

“And then, you know, there's the obvious one - you love someone so much that you would do anything to spend all of eternity with them.”
-- The Vampire Diaries (TV series)

Is not the Zionism Question a worthy research question – brimming with societal implications – for tenured university professors? Or is everyone afraid of Stanley Fish and his crasser cohorts? Hey, those goons are in the US – remember?


[a] Background on the question of Israel's economy:
[1] See the work of Norman Finkelstein:
[2] “On Israel's 'Right to Exist' and on Racism” by Denis G. Rancourt, Palestine Chronicle, June 30, 2010:
[3] e.g. Independent Jewish Voices (Canada):
[4] 2007 global opinion survey, as reported in “For Israel, every traveller is an ambassador” by Patrick Martin, Globe and Mail, February 23, 2010.

New terms

Zionism Question – Why all the unconditional support for Israel and its crimes from Western politicians?
Zio-zeal – Western politicians’ beyond-the-call-of-duty enthusiasm to publicly support Israel and its crimes.

Denis G. Rancourt was a tenured and full professor of physics at the University of Ottawa in Canada. He practiced several areas of science which were funded by a national agency and ran an internationally recognized laboratory. He published over 100 articles in leading scientific journals. He developed popular activism courses and was an outspoken critic of the university administration and a defender of student and Palestinian rights. He was fired for his dissidence in 2009 by a president who is a staunch supporter of Israeli policy. [See]

This article has been reposted on several news blogs and discussion sites. As a result several tentative answers (research directions) have been suggested. Here is a sample list, with additions:

  • The Israel Lobby owns the media, via direct ownership and advertisement.
  • Canada is a client-state of the US on which it is economically dependent: This determines its foreign policy.
  • The Politicians are ideological, arising from Zionist Christian pressures.
  • Significant political campaign donations are tied to Israel Lobby leverage.
  • Business interests for political after-life are tied to Israel Lobby leverage (pay back).
  • Politicians who step out of line on Israel are subjected to career-damaging media mobbing.
  • Politicians who do not support Zionist initiatives are subjected to sustained media harassment.
  • Actual politician and elite indoctrination from Israeli diplomacy campaigns including the well known courtesy and diplomatic and exchange trips to Israel.
  • Islamophobia and identification of Israel as fighting Arabs (i.e., anti-Arab racism).
  • Israel Lobby status and funding derives from Israel.
  • Israel is a stable and significant generator for the US military economy and a major military and intelligence ally in maintaining US hegemony.
  • Politicians instinctively feel and follow power.
Note that the suggested academic research would be aimed at identifying and describing the actual dominant psycho-social mechanisms operating on individual politicians to give rise to Zio-zeal. The research would further quantify the relative importance of concomitant influences. A powerful research approach would be to obtain research interviews with politicians and/or their aids and advisers.

In particular, there are many informative comments and important links in the COMMENTS section here: Dissident Voices.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur

This is the most beautiful and rewarding book I have read in a long time [1].

As an old white First World male, there are not a lot of books that emotionally stir me to tears. This is a rare gem for me in that regard.

The book reaches into growing up black, self-discovery through bold exploration, and dignity-preserving rebellion that should not be driven from any soul.

The experiences are real and positioned in history with a candid view of the outside turmoil and its impact on self, family, and the black nation.

Assata was in many places in the 1960s and 1970s and directly involved: segregated USA, grunge-job exploitation, aspiring middle-class climbers, campus mobilization, community education, black liberation, American Indian Movement resistance, Black Panther outreach, underground, COINTELPRO repression, mammoth legal system battles, giving life as struggle, and her own near-death survival and escape from maximum security prison to Cuba.

The critics that bash the book as Shakur's political ranting are out to lunch. The book is mostly a personal and historic voyage recounted with extreme sensitivity and flair. It is not a political essay or party propaganda by any stretch!

I had a few criticisms regarding Shakur's recommendations for the struggle.

Shakur's pedagogy with young children is inspired but her view of the importance of formal education in black struggle, in my opinion, is misguided. She was not aware of the work of Paulo Freire which was first published in English in 1970. Although she knew about theology of liberation, Shakur did not have theoretical knowledge about the central role of the praxis of liberation in learning [2]. This despite the fact that her own learning was predominantly achieved by praxis.

As a result, Shakur would have designed formal college-style education for Black Panther cadres. This suggests that her development was partially polluted by institutional college education.

Similarly, Shakur appears to not have been aware of the anarchist critiques of socialism and communism. Her suggestion to moderate the rebellion of independent Black Panther operatives driven underground in view of its perception by the mainstream struggle is a carbon copy of present activist discussions around "violence" and, in my opinion, is counterproductive [3].

This is a minor point in the book but whereas Shakur correctly taps into her own rebellion and life force throughout this period in her life she fails to realize that tapping into such individual rebellion is the life-source of emancipatory revolution [3]; rather than depending only on organizational discipline coupled with ideological education.

[1] "Assata: An Autobiography" by Assata Shakur
[2] "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" by Paulo Freire
[3] "Symbiosis of anarchy and hierarchy" by Denis G. Rancourt

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Symbiosis of anarchy and hierarchy: Towards understanding the continuous revolution of liberation and the barrier that is the oppressor within

Or, if you can’t fucking cheer a burning cop car...

By Denis G. Rancourt

This is my reaction to the recent North American Anarchism Study Network conference held in Toronto, at which the divide between the study of anarchism and the practice of anarchy was made abundantly clear. An overview would bring one to the overly hasty conclusion that anarchy is dead. I found myself compelled to express that anarchists should celebrate acts of anarchy, at an anarchism conference!

We are born anarchists and we are born into hierarchy.

We have a built-in desire to make decisions that are good for our individual selves in all circumstances. This can lead us to want to cooperate, to want to rebel, to accept sacrifice for an anticipated greater good or future good, and to accept oppressive circumstances when we do not perceive a possibility of escaping these circumstances.

We seek to survive and to project ourselves within the limits of what we perceive to be achievable. Projection is both biological (reproductive, genetic) and political (influence, authority).

In making individual decisions, our perception is largely societal, in that it is modulated and defined by societal norms and the societal world view.

It is the overriding influence of society on individual perception that mostly keeps the individual embedded within society’s structure. Cracks in the mental environment allow dissidence and deviance – anarchy.

The seasons, the elements, and natural competitors have taught humans to foresee and guard against attacks and other threats to safety. More planning implies greater organization and specialization. Organization and specialization, if it is not constrained by non-exploitive tradition, can in turn become resiliently tied to gender, race, other human characteristics and affinity groups of conspiring profiteers to become class-defined hierarchy.

Hierarchy is a resilient structure of societal stratification that is maintained by force, rather than simply a form of societal organization consciously and willingly supported by free participants.

Control of the many by the few is achieved by socio-psychological methods (gangsterism, the risk of being mobbed, mythology, divide and conquer tactics, strategic control of key resources, and so on) and by one-sided use of the most advanced technology, in particular weapons technology.

Once initiated, a hierarchy has a life and a will of its own. All hierarchical pyramids spontaneously sharpen. All hierarchies spontaneously tend to become more hierarchical. This is driven by the individuals and groups who benefit from more hierarchy. The sharpening ultimately leads to fascism.

At the same time, there is spontaneous resistance to sharpening of the hierarchical pyramid from those who suffer from the sharpening. But this resistance typically only occurs to the degree that the hierarchical sharpening and its consequences are perceived.

The anarchist understands hierarchy as inherently oppressive and as necessarily violent. Here Paulo Freire’s definition of violence is particularly relevant [1]:

“Any situation in which “A” objectively exploits “B” or hinders his and her pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression. Such a situation in itself constitutes violence even when sweetened by false generosity; because it interferes with the individual’s ontological and historical vocation to be more fully human. With the establishment of a relationship of oppression, violence has already begun.”

“If people, as historical beings necessarily engaged with other people in a movement of inquiry, did not control that movement, it would be (and is) a violation of their humanity. Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence. The means used are not important; to alienate human beings from their own decision-making is to change them into objects.”

Therefore, hierarchy is bad.

All acts that attack hierarchy and its structures are acts of anarchy. To practice anarchy is to attack hierarchy. Of course there is a backlash to the practice of anarchy, as any hierarchy will react to protect and reinforce itself.

To not attack hierarchy for fear of the backlash, or to postpone attacking hierarchy in order to prepare for the backlash in a protracted avoidance period of “organizing”, is to not practice anarchy.

A praxis of liberation fighting one’s own oppression and driven by authentic rebellion is a sustainable practice of anarchy. In this model, the subject of liberation does not plan a definitive revolution but rather engages in a life of acquiring his/her freedom [1]:

“Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man [woman]; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.”

“[Otherwise, the participants] aspire to revolution as a means of domination, rather than as a road to liberation.”

A revolution cannot lead to a post-revolutionary period with less hierarchy unless it is a revolution of dismantling hierarchy as part of the process of liberation. And this revolution can have ups and downs and accelerated moments; it can mesh, coalesce, fragment and more; but it is never complete, never done.

Anarchy will never run out of hierarchy.

In this view, we prioritize the process of liberation by fighting the oppressor over the severed distractions of “building alternatives”, “building community” and “organizing to resist”. The latter are seen as at best empty or superficial and at worst strengthening the oppressor’s presence within when not accompanied by a praxis of self-defence spirited by authentic rebellion. Only direct self-defence or push-back against oppression and towards liberation can produce dignity, true solidarity, and personal and communal emancipation.

We reject the isolationist and segregationist tendency to rationalize-out rebellion and its direct expressions. In this sense, we see the current rejections and qualifications of direct action as pathological pacifism [2]. We also understand any absence of or suppression of the instinct to celebrate all acts of anarchy as a deadly internalization of the oppressor.

We further reject the notion that visceral, vehement, and cathartic acts of anarchy are the hallmark of societal and political immaturity, a phase that it is healthy to grow out of by turning towards cooperative suppression and consensus-based imprisonment. Instead, the individual’s intensity of praxis can match the individual’s growing experience and stature; as opposed to accommodation of the oppressor within.

If you can’t fucking cheer at a burning cop car in a city replete with racist and classist police violence then you have seriously invested the oppressor within you; and likewise if you can’t celebrate targeted property damage against the main institutions of economic predation – G20 or no G20.

The whole idea of anarchy is that, although it can be coordinated and strategic within groups of consenting individuals, it is always within the grasp of the individual, it can spread spontaneously, and it is distributed. The anarchist does not need permission or approval from any community or societal group to enact anarchy in self-defence [3].

That the master will be pissed (or that the master’s media will give a bad image in the internalized masters’ eyes) is no reason for not practicing anarchy. The anarchist takes the risk of the backlash and makes the decision. That the master will punish others by association is primarily a matter for the others to consider. No informed bystanders are innocent.

To not attack hierarchy is to support it. To attack anarchists is to support hierarchy. Hierarchy is violent oppression on a mass scale. These are not elusive points.

[1] “Pedagogy of the oppressed” by Paulo Freire
[2] “Pacifism as pathology” by Ward Churchill
[3] Canadian Animal Liberation Movement Collective: Until every cage is empty...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On the theory of a middle-class war for justice

By Denis G. Rancourt

Activists in the First World middle-class need to get real.

They are an avant-garde minority against a police state. Given their small number and given the relatively low degree of state violence directed at them, there is no point practicing armed urban guerrilla tactics unless the activists become targeted themselves by COINTELPRO-style executions.

Would the Black Panthers and their breakfast programs have survived if they had an organized covert counter assassination unit which killed cops in answer to every state assassination or abduction? There are way more black folks than cops in the US: Less than 2% (0.7M vs. 40M today) and the cops are busy with lots of stuff.

As long as the State refrains from summary executions of political dissidents there is no practical reason to practice armed guerrilla warfare; in view of the State’s predictable response which would be supported by a majority of the middle-class.

One can argue that the racist large scale prison attack against the lower economic class in the US is violent to the extent of justifying an armed guerrilla response but this response is primarily the self-defence responsibility of the targeted lower economic class and middle-class activists are not about to participate in large numbers.

Middle-class activists should concentrate on fighting their own oppressions using the methods to which they have access. These methods go far beyond petitions, letters to members of parliament, letters to the media, street protests, and one-day occupations of government facilities.

The State has assembled a large-scale anti-democracy apparatus which targets middle-class political dissidents. The State apparatus practices extensive surveillance and infiltration, pre-emptive arrests, intimidation of activists and their friends and family, police harassment, targeted and exaggerated or false criminal prosecutions, unconstitutional bail and undertaking conditions, and so on. [a]

Unfortunately, too many middle-class activists who fall prey to these state abuses of power are intimidated away from defending themselves and away from effective activism. Every such successful intimidation is a soul-breaker. The activist makes the demoralizing choice of accepting defeat and imposed conditions in exchange for a compromised political existence.

These humiliating defeats are not necessary. Rebel means rebel.

Framed Black Panther activist Assata Shakur, defending herself from prison against fabricated bank robbery charges in 1976 in the US put it this way:

“The trial had a lighthearted feel to it. Everyone had kind of decided that we would enjoy the fight and fight as hard as we could, without worrying about whether we were gonna win or lose. … The atmosphere was electric. The kourtroom was packed every day with sisters and brothers who had come to watch the circus. ... One little girl broke up the whole kourtroom when she asked out loud, ‘Is that the fascist pig, Mommy?’ pointing up at the judge...”

Shakur was acquitted. After she was later found guilty in 1977 of the fabricated charge of killing a cop in an ambush of several colleagues in which she almost died, Shakur escaped to Cuba from a maximum security jail.

In 1953 Fidel Castro self-represented himself before a kangaroo court that sentenced him to life. In his famous and lengthy “History Will Absolve Me” closing arguments he uncompromisingly put it this way:

“As attorney [I have] not even been able to take a look at the indictment. As accused, for the past seventy-six days [I have] been locked away in solitary confinement, held totally and absolutely incommunicado, in violation of every human and legal right. ... only one who has been so deeply wounded, who has seen his country so forsaken and its justice trampled so, can speak at a moment like this with words that spring from the blood of his heart and the truth of his very gut. ... If all the weight of the law does not fall upon the guilty because of cowardice or because of domination of the courts, and if then all the judges do not resign, I pity your honor. And I regret the unprecedented shame that will fall upon the Judicial Power.

I know that imprisonment will be harder for me than it has ever been for anyone, filled with cowardly threats and hideous cruelty. But I do not fear prison, as I do not fear the fury of the miserable tyrant who took the lives of 70 of my comrades. Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.”

Castro spoke the truth as he saw it, irrespective of the consequences, without any illusion about the nature of the kourt.

I’m suggesting that First World activists should fully and without compromise engage society via the institutions that oppress them: the kourts, the skhools, the workplace, the prisons, the hospitals, the associations, the unions, the ministries, the societies, the departments, and so on.

These institutions are tied to middle-class and upper-class self-image and this cultural identity tie makes their rules less malleable than power would like, especially when the battle is done publicly – with the full transparency of internet accessibility. [b][c]

In addition, such battles against societal institutions are “news worthy” because power must pay attention to them. The same institutions that exercise oppressive controls over people can also be used to expose power and constrain it, thereby making space for increasing dissidence. Media coverage, in turn, whether good or bad, helps to raise public consciousness and contributes to changing the culture of passivity.

I’m suggesting that middle-class activists put their educations to work and defend themselves without compromise using their privileged ties to upper-class sensitivities by taking on the institutions precisely when and where the institutions are personally oppressive against the individual activists.

Each instance of oppression is an opportunity, an open door for one’s Trojan horse. They don’t expect you to be non-compromising, nor do they expect you to have your own voice, to represent yourself without the buffer of a trained (and therefore almost always compromised) lawyer. [d]

Welcome to praxis if you go there. Freire’s mantra is that you can only fight your own oppression. And this is what it means; from your position of power in society and to maximum impact. [1][2]

Learn the law and do it yourself. Use lawyers as consultants but stay in charge. You are not minimizing risk to the client; you are reshaping society to make space for more justice.

Make every battle a learning experience. Don’t repeat tactics that don’t work. Don’t evaluate “success” wearing fairytale glasses. Rampage as far as you can go. Fight to win irrespective of the odds and enjoy the fight!

You have to enjoy the fight because they can’t kill you. You are middle-class. Connect up and make it work. Experience liberation.

[This essay is dedicated to the memory of David F. Noble [3].]

Monday, January 10, 2011

911 Truth and Nanothermite: I Tried...

This follows a previous post about the nanothermite paper of Harrit et al.: HERE

Following my critical expert review of the Harrit et al. paper, Niels Harrit agreed to respond and we had several email exchanges about the matter. These email exchanges included more than twenty prominent 911 Truth Movement proponents in cc (see posted exchanges).
The emails are quite instructive about how science operates, how some 911 truthers operate and about persistent uncertainties regarding the Harrit et al. paper.
Therefore, I have decided to make these email exchanges public: HERE-1, HERE-2, HERE-3, HERE-4. (fresh link to the email exchanges:

As you can see from the main exchange (HERE-1), I was trying to treat one point at a time in order to go down the list, in the order of Harrit's first response. 

The first point was: Is there conclusive measurement evidence for the presence of aluminum in the red layer? 

After several back and forth contributions, Harrit simply quit without providing any of the extra data that he had mentioned and without answering the crux of the aluminum question. He ended with "Enough. It ends here.

See last email in the main exchange. Here, my point is not that there is no aluminum in the red layer. My point is that the Harrit paper does not provide conclusive evidence that there is aluminum in the red layer. More and better measurements (without the measurement design problems used by Harrit et al.) are needed yet it has been more than two years now since the original work was done and the needed measurements have not been reported, nor has any other research group confirmed the findings. 

To be fair, Harrit is not an expert in electron microprobe analysis (EMPA/EDX/SEM) and this was the first time that he was co-author on a paper that used this measurement method whereas I have taught the technique at the graduate level and used it in my research for over a decade and had my own electron microprobe analysis instrument in my lab until 2008 at the University of Ottawa. 

Then we were going to move on to all the other points (one at a time, see email exchange) but we never got past the first point. For example, I would have been happy to correct Harrit's Newtonian physics errors (see email exchange) if he agreed to publicly exchange about these points. Physicist David Griscom (who was a referee on the Harrit et al. paper) was even more vitriolic than Harrit (see exchanges, especially HERE-4). 

None of the other more than twenty prominent 911 Truth Movement proponents said a peep on the email exchange, not even just to appeal to reason and calm.
In my opinion, the Harrit et al. paper has no merit as it stands and the exchange I proposed was aimed at helping the authors either correct the paper or correct their conclusions. Harrit's behaviour, reinforced by Griscom, gives the impression of a cover up rather than a dedication to truth seeking.
I think a movement based on truth should call for logic and reason in evaluating the scientific claims, not appeal-to-authority arguments, verbal intimidation, and a refusal to intellectually engage.

Friday, January 7, 2011


On police brutality in the Claude Haridge case, Ottawa, Canada

Which of the following two violations is the most despicable and the most threatening to democracy?

(a) An anti-war protester throws a paint-filled rubber balloon at a bus exiting a major military weapons show in Canada's capital city, thereby splattering some paint on at least one police officer.

(b) Following arrest, the same protester is gratuitously verbally and physically assaulted in a holding cell by an attending police officer while in handcuffs and while another officer looks on and both officers then lie in kourt that there was no assault.

If you answered (a), then you agree with Justice Ann Alder who read a ruling today, Friday January 7, 2011, in the Claude Haridge case, superior kourt of Ontario, Ottawa, Canada.

In plain language, the Justice ruled that assault by police officers is OK.

Alder concluded that there had been a significant physical assault and inappropriate verbal intimidation perpetrated by one officer and that two officers had lied to the kourt to cover this up. However, in her ruling Alder spent much time advancing tenuous evidence that Mr. Haridge had exaggerated the gravity of the physical assault against him and she discredited the expert medical testimony based on an ancillary point whereas she did not reprimand police or make any criticism of detention procedures.

No charges of assault or perjury where handed down to the police officers. Imagine if the same gratuitous violence, proven in kourt to the same "balance of probability" standard, had been against a police officer...

In addition, Alder stated that the charge of throwing the paint balloon was of concern enough to "society" that the case should proceed to trial. Our guess is that the judge does not mean that it is of interest for society to question Canada's militarism and a citizen's moral duty to oppose this militarism.

Somehow, we don't think the latter will be a consideration entertained by the kourt - although some misguided observer might propose that this should be the central issue of the case (ah, yes).

"This case is just another example of what has been going on in this country. Throughout amerika's history, people have been imprisoned because of their beliefs and charged with criminal acts in order to justify that imprisonment."
-- Assata Shakur, self-defendant, u.s. district kourt, July 19, 1973

Do you feel you are living in a nightmare yet?
Have you noticed the rising temperature of the aquarium water?

[The correct answer is (b).]

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

On the False Science of a Fundamental Basis for Progress

By Denis G. Rancourt

The Basis Mantra of Science vs. Reality

A narrative that pervades establishment science is that technological advances are grounded in and enabled by a developing fundamental scientific basis. Actually scientific theory is not needed for technological developments and the theory and its priests serve more for societal control than anything else.

For example, it is advanced by practicing scientists, educators and policy makers that our knowledge about atoms, the elements and molecules allows us to invent new chemical reactions, new materials, new electronic components and so on.

It is further advanced that the functioning of the cell and of life itself can be understood in terms of chemical bonds and reactions and that, for example, increases in fundamental knowledge about molecules leads to increases in understanding cells, organs, life systems, organisms, the human person, and society.

It is advanced that development of theory leads to medical and technological progress. For example, it is not uncommon for a physicist to claim that quantum mechanics has led to advances in electronic device technology or that Einstein’s E = mc2 equation was required for the development of the atomic bomb.

Although the atomic model of matter is a central and powerful conceptual construct that allows one to visualize and discuss phase transformations (solid, gas, liquid) and chemical reactions (e.g., synthesis, combustion) and even to calculate the behaviours of gases for example, in the present essay I question the notion that invention is dependent on or even aided by the development of theory.

I distinguish conceptual aids such as the atomic model of matter, the atomic model of heat and heat exchanges, the electromagnetic wave picture of light, the Newtonian understanding of forces and actions, and so on, from the development of highly mathematical theory related to quantum mechanics, general relativity, elementary particle physics, non-linear physics, electrodynamics, and so on.

Whereas conceptual aids partially determine the scientist’s perspective in examining nature, generally, it is not true that the theoretical endeavour helps in the enterprise of invention and discovery.

Theory and its calculations can sometimes assist in managing growth and planning the economy, such as electromagnetic calculations for emitter antenna placements, but theory does not catalyze or enable invention and significant technological discoveries.

In addition, most professional biologists, for example, function and publish without any reliable understanding of Newton’s laws of forces, as do many chemists and physicists also. So even the most fundamental conceptual constructs are not shared among scientists in different disciplines.

Each scientific group becomes fluent only in those foundational elements that are considered essential to converse in the chosen field of specialization, and only to the extent required to maintain appearances when publishing or speaking.

A False Basis

My main point is that in terms of the actual process of technological invention, science theory is virtually irrelevant.

Invention is produced by tinkering, by doing, by manipulating, by building. And the doer has his/her own logic, own intuition and own imagery, in interaction with colleagues and others. Technology is the product of modified recipes (manufacturing processes), adjustments and accidents; it is not an outflow from theory.

If you want to train a master engine designer you don’t start by teaching him/her all of known metallurgy. And in training a metallurgist, you don’t teach him/her the quantum mechanics of solids. Well you might but it would be a waste of time.

Each area of development has its practices and methods and borrows from other areas but the new ideas come from spark and often from incorrect concepts, not from theory.

At the time the high-Tc (high transition temperature) superconductors were discovered (in 1984 or so) the theoretical consensus was that the value of Tc was limited to 20 K (Kelvin) or so. But the discoverers had an insight – one that would have been difficult to convince theorists to work on or to get funding for – and they discovered. After the discovery, dozens of competing theoretical models for the new phenomenon were vehemently advanced.

Following the discovery, what mattered most in producing new high-Tc superconductors were one’s creative recipes for synthesizing novel solid materials with heavy elements, not the extent to which one was familiar with solid state theory.

When organic chemists make new molecules they rarely even talk to theoretical chemists but instead imagine the steps in the laboratory soup they are going to make. And they don’t know what they have made until they characterize it. Then they draw incorrect pictograms and talk about interpretations (based on personalized inferred molecular behaviours) in published papers.

It’s actually quite difficult to get theorists and doers (experimentalists, analysts, synthesists, field workers, etc.) to even talk to each other. When it happens and they collaborate it’s considered quite novel. And the typical collaborative reports have separate experimental and theory sections.

Theory-Practice Divide

It is exceedingly rare for theorists to help guide experimentalists. And it can lead to disasters where experimentalists interpret their findings according to theoretical proposals rather than strictly according to empirical observations. Indeed, this scenario somewhat typifies the history of science: The sun revolves around the earth, Newtonian physics removes free will, heat flows in and out of bodies, etc.

Thermodynamics is a most powerful theoretical construct. It was largely developed by a mechanical engineer of the steam engine epoch. Whereas it provides a theoretical limit to engine efficiency and methods for calculating energy transfers and wastes, engine development was never limited by thermodynamic theoretical knowledge. Smoother piston motion was not the result of thermodynamic theory, nor was the idea of internal combustion.

Similarly, predictive understanding of failure in construction materials (including Eiffel Tower steel, nuclear fuel rods, etc.) has come from repeated tests and microscope observations, not from condensed matter physics theory which can only trail behind.

The zero-thermal-expansion alloy known as Invar (Physics Nobel Prize 1905) was discovered by exhaustive trial and error, contradicted known laws of metallurgy and metal physics, and took more than one hundred years of theoretical work to be tentatively explained. During this time, development of better, stainless, non-magnetic, and stronger Invar alloys progressed unimpeded by the incompetence of theoretical stutterings and flourished into an entire area of materials engineering.

When has theoretical “understanding” ever led to a technological advance? The high priests of technological development are all trained in the language of theory as part of a common culture of technological elitism but when has theory actually led to advancement?

Technology as Genesis of Technology

Technology advances from technology. Manufacturing processes are developed, changed by necessity of changing circumstances, and perfected. New processes have their genesis in what is available. Theory only provides language, concepts, memory aids and, in the logic of corporate fascism, needed packaging for the purpose of patenting and needed isolating of independent entrepreneurs. Theory also constrains thought and perception and thereby imprisons potential inventors.

Miniaturization of integrated circuitry advances at a staggering pace. Is it driven by advances in quantum mechanics? Hardly! In this sector corporate managers typically say: Anyway theory costs relatively little so let the publicly funded theorists theorize and they may save us a few bucks here and there and entertain our inventors (also publicly funded), as long as they don’t disrupt the real work…

In the days of Bell Labs and IBM theory and associated fundamental pursuits were used as a recruiting tool into the basic science labs of these companies for the “brightest” and most motivated minds then conveniently oriented towards more practical pursuits; back in the days when originator-based invention mattered before markets were so extensively monopolized.

Did the atomic bomb arise out of the theory leading to E=mc2? Hardly! It resulted from tedious nuclear physics experiments inducing nuclear reactions and estimating reaction cross sections. It resulted from the empirical observations of nuclear spontaneous and induced fission and from painstaking isotope separation work and experimentation. Only basic known concepts of the chain reaction and empirical measurements of reaction rates and probabilities were needed to guide prototype construction. The calculation of a critical mass is a simple geometric one that does not require relativity or nuclear physics theory. And ultimately it needs to be tested by experiment.

Indeed, the best estimates of explosive yield at the time were off by a significant factor, even given the best measured parameters that money could buy. And some theorists tentatively advanced that the chain reaction could engulf the planet.

It is rightly said that very few trained scientists (including physicists) understand general relativity or quantum mechanics. Is technological advancement constrained by the small number of thus illuminated scientists? Absolutely not.

And what are the successes of quantum mechanics? It is barely able to correctly model the simplest hydrogen atom, with the needed so-called fine and hyperfine interactions, and only approximately and using phenomenological factors. There has not been an analytic solution to the simplest chemical bond of the H2 molecule and the correct crystal structures of the pure elements cannot even be “predicted” or reproduced. Let’s not even touch on nuclear structure or nuclear spectroscopy – and elementary particle physics is at the stage of theory-aided phenomenon zoology. Yet these are the simplest systems in nature.

Statistics and Medicine

The only statistically significant advances in medicine (distinct from public health) are in trauma intervention (less young folks in urban centers die of heart attacks and more car accident victims survive) and these advances result from trial and error with short-term-effect drugs and interventions. Effective medical practice for the big killers (cancer and heart disease) evolves at a deafeningly slow pace irrespective of stellar technological advances in intrusive and non-intrusive medical imagery. Surgical advances for specific ailments follow the developmental model of all other technological advances, without reference to theory. We are no closer to understanding the human body and this has no bearing on medicine – which continues to kill as much as ever in the past [1].

Does theoretical molecular chemistry guide drug design? Try “drug peddling” and it is guided by mega-profits, political lobbying, and corrupt licensing agencies; in a world where main effects are called “side effects” and where the “benefits” are demonstrated in bought and paid-for tenuous statistical trials and then pushed on MDs in industry-financed “continuing education” parties. The theory serves to make nice pictures and to dress societal-scale corporate-professional pharma criminality in a costume of legitimacy.

A rare area where theory is rigorous and has a large potential for benefit to society is in the mathematical area of significance or error or sensitivity analysis. Here an ethical theorist with a sharp mind and courageous talk could cut through a lot of crap. To avoid this, we separate the statistical error analysis from any analysis of the meaning of and intrinsic error in the “measured” input data. This way, garbage in equals garbage out even when the statistical manipulations are correct, when they are correct. The result is the use of chemotherapy in palliative oncology and a mean global temperature that is rising [1].

Mostly though theory exists in its own sphere and serves primarily to eliticize science and technology. Theorists provide the language for the religion of technology to constrain consumers to their limited roles much like theologians provided the normative language of heaven, hell and the sacraments to constrain subjects to be subjects.

Inventors know how to invent. Scientists think they know. And all obey the corporate masters after being suitably trained in the art of bluffing [2].

The division between theory and technological invention as distinct endeavours is apparent in institutional behaviours and the economic legal framework: Theory is free whereas technology is protected. Theorists have open exchanges which do not threaten profits or national “security” whereas corporate technological secrecy and enforceable patent “protection” are important concerns with significant resource allocations.

Time Reverse Engineering Implications

In an extension to the above discussion we should also ask whether there even is progress, in the sense portrayed in the science narrative.

Each time period has its technology meshed with all the technologies of that period. As a result, technology is not reversible. Contrary to the view that as science advances, building on a broader and broader base, everything that was technologically possible in the recorded past continues to be possible at every present, former technologies cannot be recreated.

Past technologies used the materials and methods of their times and these materials and methods are gone. We will never be able to make steel and steel engines the way we did for the Ford Model T. The casting and machining tools and manufacturing methods are different. Steel itself is different. Reverse engineering into the past is a virtually impossible task.

Furthermore, culture changes and this includes our attitudes about risk and work. Workers and their bosses are different. Methods of the past often could not be recreated even if the tools were the same and the recipes known.

Do we make better food now than we did in the past? Could we make the food of the past? Are our inter-personal relationships better now, thanks to thousands of peer-reviewed psychology papers, than they were in the past? Can we ever know what the music of lost instruments sounded like? Is science itself better now that it is “peer reviewed” in the journal editing process? None of Albert Einstein’s scientific papers were peer reviewed; indeed he opposed peer review [3].

Could we walk on the moon again without expending a formidable effort, greater than the original effort? Sure flip up into the upper atmosphere for a joy ride and visit an orbiting “space” can, but walk on the moon?

If all this only depended on a fundamental scientific basis, then reverse engineering into the past would be immediate.

No. Technology is changing practice tied to culture, not a result of advancing scientific understanding. In the connected world, establishment science is at best an amusement and at worst the machinations of service intellectuals vying for position and knowingly or unknowingly contributing to the social engineering imposed by the corporate-finance regime.


See also “The Religion of Technology” by David F. Noble.

Denis G. Rancourt is a former tenured and full professor of physics at the University of Ottawa, Canada. He practiced several areas of science which were funded by a national agency and ran an internationally recognized laboratory. He has published over 100 articles in leading scientific journals and many social commentary essays. He developed popular activism courses and was an outspoken critic of the university administration and a defender of student and Palestinian rights. He was fired for his dissidence in 2009.

In relation to the present essay, Rancourt has published in areas including metallurgy, Invar physics, synthetic chemistry, materials science, nuclear spectroscopy, theoretical condensed matter physics, environmental science and geochemistry, mineralogy, statistical analysis, sensitivity analysis, soil science, measurement methods, magnetometry, diffraction physics, and pedagogy. For over 20 years he also taught courses in quantum mechanics, measurement theory and methods, spectroscopy, solid state physics, magnetism, introductory physics, and science and society.

Are physicists smart?

Monday, January 3, 2011

On the Justification for Profit and Interest

Proposal for an economic theory of renewed capitalism

By Denis G. Rancourt

Profit is where you extract more than you put in; more than your work and more than the goods you put in. You get back your material investment, you pay yourself for all your work, and then you get profit on top of that [1].

["the difference between total revenue and ALL costs"]

Where does the profit come from?

Well it comes from others who get less for their work, pay more for what they need, and don’t get any profit.

Profit is a very clever invention.

One kind of profit is interest on a loan. You get back the capital, pay yourself for the work of lending, pay yourself for the risk of lending – for the few times that you lose your capital in all those loans – and then you get as much extra as the borrower can be convinced to pay.

And of course the borrower really needs the money to get himself or herself started in some business to earn a living or just to get out of the cold into a home.

But with interest it’s even more perverse than that. You see bankers have invented something called fractional reserve banking. This means that bankers can lend money that they don’t even have and then collect both a real capital and the imposed interest from the borrowers.

I shit you not.

Bankers lend out ten or more times more money than they actually have while all those borrowers kill themselves paying back money that never was. Indeed, that is how money is made in our debt-based monetary system. Bankers write a number on your bank account book and then you work your ass off to make that money from real work to give it to the banks.

Ever wonder how some people can be so very rich…?

Now that would only be fair distribution if the bank was publicly owned and democratically controlled and interest rates were limited to the costs of lending. But guess what? Virtually all banks, including the so called US “Federal Reserve”, are privately owned.

No shit. And every time a politician has tried to nationalize the banks or avoid the private banks or create and use alternative banks he/she has been mysteriously killed, from Abraham Lincoln to Saddam Hussein, or driven from power by mysteriously well funded opponents.

OK I digress. The simple point is that profit is a scam in which the profiter, who is always a profiteer, extracts more than he/she puts in at the expense of others who either have little choice or are simply duped.

My point is that profit, by definition, is a scam. The only way it can be justified is to take the view that the profiter has some natural or God-given right to profit.

But now the profiters have hired themselves service intellectuals called economists who have the job of making the profiters appear both noble and needed. Indeed, if we believed economists, then all of progress and development would be due to the cleverness and motivation of profiters.

So the way the economists have worked this out is that we need the profiters to re-invest their (mostly non-existent, see above) spoils in such a way as to extract as much more capital and profit as possible so that we can all benefit from this extraction out of the pockets of everyone and into the pockets of the profiters.

No shit. They actually say this.

Oh and they have another great smoke and mirror thing called “supply and demand”. It’s like this fiction where price is set by how hard it is to make something and how much folks want the thing. And this magic controls profit so it never gets “exploitative”.

Ya, and I have this bridge I want to sell you.

Here’s a reality check: The profiters set the price and manipulate both supply and demand to extract maximum profit. Oh shit, a new economic theory. Oh, oh, and the profiters conspire to cause all-out destruction (called war and economic predation) so they can profit both from making the destruction and from forcing exploitative reconstruction entirely on their terms.

Would you pay exorbitant interest for a chance to live after everything has been destroyed?

Oh, oh, and the profiters buy out the politicians and ruling elites to take on over-the-top public debts financed into the next century. Why not? Do we have a new economic theory yet?

Fucking post-academic freedom economists [2].

OK so you get the equation:

Profit = Exploitation.

Hello. Everyone in human history has always understood this. Interest on loans, in particular, was called usury and was against Christian religious principles. Riba is the corresponding Arabic term. And ribbit is the Hebrew term. It was unambiguously immoral and forbidden.

When did robbing the oppressed become the foundational economic model for the planet?

You are going to take more than you give and more than you pay yourself from someone who is poorer than you… And then you are going to call that helping them. And you are going to keep a straight face, at least in public.

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist or a Harvard economist to understand the violation of natural justice here. In fact, it takes a lot of hard working economists to not understand it.

Just remember the equation and rebel.

On the prison of delayed fertility*

The right to choose death vs. life imposing choices

By Denis G. Rancourt

In this note I suggest that the mainstream political thrust of “right to choose” proponents is harmful, as viewed in a meta-picture of society.

In the First World, the system separates us from ourselves and from each other. It’s more than atomization. It includes ionization, loss of self.

School is a major instrument. We are made obedient but also made sterile for use in non-life tasks. We are conditioned to delay entry into adulthood, into responsibility, into participation and into meaning.

We are barred from creation of life as discovery of self and conditioned to view procreation as a disaster in our reproductive prime and as an optional distraction and luxury in our reproductive decline.

The system needs dedicated managers and workers who only reproduce to replicate economic extraction. There is no time or space for self-discovery and self-organization.

We are conditioned into a death culture where our imposed primary purpose is to serve the exploitation machine.

Where life gave life which sustained life, now death is manufactured in order to serve death.

The First World is the land of the walking dead. No community, no nature, no self.

Walk off the plane in the developing world and step into life creation, bonds, vibrancy, family and community. Only military onslaught and sustained merciless economic predation can destroy a life-based people.

By comparison, the death-based people that we are fall prey to depression, futility, emptiness, pharma-cure, consuma-cure, entertaina-cure, and the rest. We don’t have a chance because we have been designed to be dead – in order to be manageable and malleable.

And the design must be strictly enforced. Rebellious teenage parents must pay the price and suffer the system’s wrath: Economic punishment, child removal, societal exclusion, stigmatization, isolation …

There may as well be prison walls keeping us from our own fertility; and in addition there is technology – the pill, the abortion, surgical intervention, and the food we eat.

And on the privileged left there is a mental environment industry to justify the prison: “A woman’s right to choose.” A woman’s right to be fairly exploited and oppressed equally to men.

The right to life movement is in part an earnest revolutionary impulse against the culture of death, the culture of the market; the expanding and globalizing market that destroys traditional family types centered on procreation.

The life vs. choice debate confronts more traditional modes against corporate-oriented organization. It is a fundamental battle touching the heart of the single most important defining characteristic of any culture: The culture’s reproductive paradigm.

The “right to choose” in the mainstream is a misguided political venture and a harmful slogan that preserves class inequality. Does woman choose to be in a culture of delayed fertility or is this an unquestioned given defined by market forces?

As radical choosers know, the right to choose must be the right to choose economic and class justice; before it makes any sense beyond accommodating middle class death management for dedicated house slaves to the system.

There is no choice without personal safety and healthy conditions. And there is no choice in a prison.

I agree that a foetus that cannot survive outside the womb can be subjected to choice and that women have not had choice and that an individual should be allowed to choose his/her own death but the best way to gain all these choices is to take down the prison, starting with the prison of delayed fertility.

*This essay was inspired by the autobiography of Assata Shakur.